‘Masquerade’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by April 27, 2017

‘Masquerade’ is a beautifully illustrated book, written and exquisitely drawn by Kit Williams. When it was published in the UK, late 1979, it became an instant best seller. Each page had hidden amongst the intricate drawings, clues as to where in England, a solid gold hare encrusted with gems was secretly buried at Ampthill in England.

At the time of publication, playwright Kate Mulvany was only a young child. She was very sick and spent many months in hospital, studying Kit’s visual celebration of intricate illustrations. Many years later, this Curtin Theatre Arts’ graduate has become an internationally recognised playwright, and with Kit William’s blessing, Kate has fulfilled an ambition, by adapting the book to this wondrous play. Kit Williams insisted that Kate blend her tragic hospital experiences in with his light-hearted tale, and this she has done, giving a great deal of extra depth to the story’s sad background. Perhaps in awe of the talents of her ex-flatmate, Tim Minchin, Kate then went on skilfully to add lyrics to her play.

‘Masquerade’ has been selected to be the opening show of the Theatre Arts course ‘New Hayman Theatre’. The original Hayman Theatre Company, now in its 44th year, has seen numerous well-known, award-winning actors pass through its stage door over the years. Thanks to Phil Miolin’s hard work and persistence, the new theatre has now been relocated from the site it occupied since 1977. The new theatre is to be found in building 302, near the bus station within Curtin University. To reach the nearest carpark – C9 – enter via Manning Road and follow signs along Brand Drive.

During this emotional move, the theatre’s beloved father figure, Leigh Brennan, has guided the students.

The show opens on Wednesday 26th April, with curtain up at 7.00 pm, however, the first two nights were sold out ‘instantly’. The other shows are on Friday 28th at 5.00 pm and 8.00 pm, Saturday 29th at 2.00 pm and 7.00 pm, with one matinée on Sunday 29th April at 2.00 pm. A total of seven magic-packed shows.

After a warm didgeridoo welcome, an Elder blessed the new theatre with the smoke blessing given to a newborn. The Honourable David Templeman MLA, Minister for Heritage, Culture and Arts, Western Australia officially opened the new venue on Curtin’s Bentley Campus on Wednesday the 26th at 6.00 pm.

 

The theatre seating comprises 60 seats divided in four rows; thankfully, there is now a decent leg space. The stage is at auditorium floor level. With pale grey walls and effective air-conditioning, the general ambience is very pleasant. The Bio Box on the rear wall is four times the size of the old one. Many thanks should go to tech. lecturer, Stephen Carr, for overseeing the new theatre’s technical installation.

Considering that the old theatre lighting, mainly incandescent lamps are still being used – only a few new LEDs at the moment – Lighting designer, Stephen Carr, with operators Stuart Williamson and Stephanie Conduit, has created an enchanted backdrop along with all the levels of lighting and colour changes seen throughout the day (as demanded by the story). The Sound designer, Clarissa Lee, assisted by Keely Moloney, has added even more mystery and atmosphere to the storyline.

 

A massive oak tree trunk is centre stage. Behind is a high grassy ridge. A tremendous amount of work has gone into giving the whole scene a fairy, magic like appearance. At one side of the stage is a hospital ward, on the other a group of talented musicians. On keyboard are musical director, Timothy How and Taysiya Payne, with Calah Bennett on ukulele and Jess Nyanda Moyle on guitar performing Mikelangelo and Pip Branson inspired music.

The set assistant was Sian Creed, who with Bryan Chin has produced a wonderful range of props, including the all-important hare amulet, an accurate copy of that in the book. The production manager was Stephen Carr, with the reliable Dylan Dorotich as Stage Manager. Dylan’s deputy was Diana Moss, assisted by Samuel Addison, Holly Miller, Ellen Parfrey, Julian Sewell, and Bronte Tomkins.

  

       Lying under a tree is Fat Pig Nurse (Kharla Fannon), who is being serenaded by a flautist known as ‘The Man Who Plays the Music That Makes the World Go Round’ (Cameron Norton). A bright glow appears on the ridge as Moon (Shona Schutz) enters, she is searching for her idol, the Sun (Matthew Arnold). She meets Jack Hare (Max Gipson) and recruits him to deliver a message to her heavenly hero.

       Meanwhile, in a hospital cancer ward, teenage Joe (Samuel Ireland) is being washed and comforted by his loving mother, Tessa (Molly Earnshaw). Fat pig nurse tries to console him, but makes the situation worse by asking for payment for better treatment. Joe reads his new book, and tries to answer to logic puzzles. In his dream, Joe is visited by Sir Isaac Newton (Malek Domkoc), who gives him a lesson about gravity.

     In the forest, Tara Treetops (Amber Gilmour) crows away in a Tourette’s manner, becoming thoroughly confused with Jack Hare’s situation. Toffee-nosed, Penny Pockets (Holly Mason) is in search of someone gullible enough to give her money or valuables. Likewise, an antiques dealer, The Practical Man (Ellis R. Kinnear) also tries to con Jack Hare. Three nearby shopkeepers, a barbershop quartet – but one decided to leave – Barber Bob (Taisiya Payne), Barber Bill (Nicole Tomlinson) and Barber Barbara (Maddy Mullins) are keen to help Joe and his mother.

     Will Jack Hare deliver the secret message to the Sun? Will Joe become healthy again?

 

The award-winning director, Dr Leah Mercer, who is Senior Lecturer in Theatre Arts at Curtin and is Head of Department for Communication and Cultural Studies, has directed this demanding play. Demanding because the underlying story was distressingly sad; whilst the book’s tale was mysterious, melodic, fast paced, with each and every character being larger than life – almost every challenge for a director was there, and all perfectly conquered. Leah’s assistant director was Terence Smith, with further dramaturg supervision by Alexander Gerrans.

The actors’ performances were excellent. The leads put every ounce of effort into their characters, whilst being backed by a solid team of extras. Not a weak link to be seen.

A brief, fast moving, nightmare scene may be a little difficult for the younger audience members. However, the stunning and fascinating shadow puppetry (puppeteer Ming Yang Lim) – directed by Anna Lindstedt – coupled with the antics and flatulence of the Fat Pig Nurse, soon brought the smiles back.

The Costume Designer, Julie Reeves, along with her seamstresses and costumes constructors, Kiri Siva, Taisiya Payne and Bianca Roose have produced some of the best amateur costumes I have seen in decades. Many a professional company would have been so jealous at the patterns and superiority. The Moon’s dress was sumptuous; Tara Treetop’s guise was imaginative and perfectly constructed. Then of course, there were Jack Hare and Penny Pocket’s outfits. The colour scheme for each was perfect. Penny’s wig was unique in its style and construction. Every character had a huge amount of thought behind the costume. Brilliant.

A beautifully structured play for everyone from 9 to 90. Enchanting and memorable.

A high quality, encouraging and exciting start to the future of this new theatre.