Gold rush: Cate Blanchett and cast members in The War of the Roses at  Sydney Theatre. The production has top billing for next monthÂ’s Perth International Arts Festival. WAN ONLINE OUT
Gold rush: Cate Blanchett and cast members in The War of the Roses at Sydney Theatre. The production has top billing for next monthÂ’s Perth International Arts Festival. WAN ONLINE OUT

An Oscar winner, a phantom, a dying swan, a nude stable boy and a bunch of foul-mouthed puppets all contributed to a memorable year on the local stage in 2009.

The curtain was raised on the performance year with a glittering show from Cate Blanchett, the star of stage and screen resplendent as Richard II, the doomed king frozen in formality beneath a shower of gold in *The War of the Roses *at the Perth International Arts Festival.

It came down with memories still fresh of another, less-heralded golden moment: the crazy-braze secessionist musical *Heart of Gold *from WA artists turned independent theatre-makers Pilar Mata Dupont, Tarryn Gill and Thea Costantino, and guided by young director Zoe Pepper.

This deliciously surreal satire laced with kitsch Australiana, Ziegfeld Follies extravagance and gothic melodrama was let down by its singing (a more than slight inconvenience for a musical) and a few technical issues. However, its creators could teach their better-credentialed local theatre counterparts a thing or two about the alchemical potential of mixing a rich imagination, ambition and dogged persistence.

It would be wonderful to see Heart of Gold picked up and developed by a main-stage company in a vein similar to the way Neil Armfield smoothed out the rough edges of the musical satire Keating!

PIAF opened in February up against two blockbuster rivals for ticket sales in what had threatened to be a tight year in the wake of the financial downturn. The Cirque du Soleil juggernaut showed no sign of abating with its fifth Perth season, the exotic oriental-flavoured *Dralion *at Langley Park. Over at the Burswood Theatre, Anthony Warlow brought down the chandelier as *The Phantom of the Opera *in Perth for the first time since donning the famous white mask nearly 20 years ago.

Other touring performances throughout the year included the junkyard percussionists *Stomp *, Cuba's grand old musical daddies from *The Bar at Buena Vista *, the incorrigible puppets of the Tony Award-winning musical *Avenue Q * and the whimsical light and shade of the clowns in *Slava's Snowshow *. Cabaret trouper *Liza Minnelli *radiated showbiz energy despite being downgraded from the Burswood Dome to the Riverside Theatre.

Locally, as progress continued on the new State Theatre Centre, the year in drama was distinguished by the first full season from Black Swan State Theatre artistic director Kate Cherry, who delivered solid productions of *The Year of Magical Thinking *, *The Glass Menagerie *and *Much Ado About Nothing *. Adam Mitchell continued to impress with productions of *Pool (No Water) *and *The Dark Room *for Black Swan's Hotbed emerging artists program.

Many theatre-goers were anxious to see what new Perth Theatre Company artistic director Melissa Cantwell would make of the perhaps career-turning challenge of taking the reins of *Equus *, Peter Shaffer's psycho-drama about the disturbed stable boy who challenges the middle-aged hang-ups of his therapist. The production, starring William McInnes as psychiatrist Martin Dysart and Khan Chittenden as the youth Alan Strang, was for the most part vivid and forceful, augmented by the skittish horsepower of dancers choreographed by Gavin Webber.

Down in Fremantle, Deckchair Theatre Company began its revival under Chris Bendall with successful productions of *The * *Lonely Hearts Club/Checklist * *for an Armed Robber *double bill and the Reg Cribb play *Krakouer * about the 1980s footballers from Mt Barker.

Tim Watts, who starred in Heart of Gold, struck a rich inventive seam of his own with his solo show *The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer, *a delightful performance mix of animation, puppetry and music which won fans at the New York International Fringe Festival and has been picked up by PTC for a national tour.

Sally Burton, widow of legendary actor Richard Burton, used royalties from her late husband's films to launch her Onward Productions company on the WA scene but the first two shows were somewhat underwhelming, particularly the *Seven Deadly Sins, Four Deadly Sinners *monologues show featuring Jenny and Rebecca Davis, Alison Van Reeken and Wendy Hughes.

The year in classical music was headlined by the visit of young Russian-born maestro Vladimir Jurowski leading the *London Philharmonic Orchestra *on its first visit to Perth in more than two decades. Reviewer Neville Cohn described the two October concerts as a gloriously satisfying experience highlighted by an account of Rachmaninov's Isle of the Dead which was steeped in the deepest melancholy.

Comparable emotional heights were reached when the *Theatre of Voices *under Paul Hillier performed American composer David Lang's Pulitzer Prize-winning oratorio for four voices and percussion at PIAF earlier in the year. Similarly, famed American soprano *Dawn Upshaw * came, sang and conquered on her long-anticipated visit to Perth with the Australian Chamber Orchestra.

In July, comedy and classical music led the WA assault on the national Helpmann Awards, with *Tim Minchin *and the *WA Symphony Orchestra *among the winners dominated by *The War of the Roses *and the hit musical *Wicked *, which each picked up six awards. Minchin, now based in London, won as best comedy performer for his show *Ready for This? * which was so popular in May that he returned to Perth with an "encore tour" last month. The Australian premiere of the John Adams' opera *A Flowering Tree *also bore sweet fruit for WASO and co-producers WA Opera and PIAF.

The Helpmann award capped the WASO's strong year, which was notable for the arrival of chief conductor *Paul Daniel *, who led the orchestra in a top reading of Shostakovich's First Symphony in May. Two months later, *Simone Young *demonstrated her formidable form as the orchestra turned in a stellar performance of Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony.

The WASO and its chorus was disappointing, though, in an account of *Mozart's Requiem *- a low point of the year along with their performance of Julian Anderson's *Alleluia *, which sounded devoid of celebration.

Mozart's memory was redeemed with a magnificent joint venture between the St George's Cathedral choir and the WA Ballet in the lead-up to Easter. Dancers performed choreographer Natalie Weir's *Lacrimosa *, which is set to Mozart's music, accompanied by singers and a chamber orchestra in the cathedral.

The ballet company continued its renaissance under artistic director Ivan Cavallari while developing the bright choreographic talent of dancers such as Tim O'Donnell (who won a major international choreographic competition in the US) and Cass Mortimer Eipper.


  • Soul Searching *, Eipper's quirky, gestural work inspired by southern American folk songs, was a highlight of WA Ballet's *Genesis * season and the *Counter Point *triple-bill, which was STRUT Dance's first main-stage season. The standing ovations, cheers and whistles on the opening night of Counter Point, which also featured the masterly Harakiri a Rite from France's Didier Theron, was affirmation of a big step forward for the local independent dance sector.

Dance lovers also were able to pick other ripe plums such as Chrissie Parrott's phantasmagorical *The Garden *at the Moores Building in Fremantle.

The Australian Ballet sold out seven shows at the Burswood Theatre in October with its sumptuous rendition of Graeme Murphy's internationally hailed *Swan Lake *, whose famous dying swan scene was lovingly mocked by the boy-ballet group Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo during its recent visit to His Majesty's Theatre.

International dance came in the form of two Festival shows, the intoxicating precision of the Ballet du Grand Theatre de Geneve and the Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre's unhinged version of *Giselle * packed with sex, violence and vulgarity - with a dance or two thrown in for good measure.

The year in jazz told of a tale of two cities - one in which a little venue in Northbridge won a two-year campaign to secure the first new nightclub licence in Perth in eight years, and one in which a commercial promoter battled to overcome the factional jealousies that have dogged repeated efforts to host a jazz festival in York.

WA Academy of Performing Arts music director Graham Wood and business partner Bernard Kong opened the doors to the *Ellington Jazz Club * in March, providing a welcoming hot spot for audiences to soak up the vibe from visiting international acts such as George Garzone, Bob Malone and Martin Taylor.

On a larger scale, the *York Jazz and Soul Festival *took a box-office battering in October, reflecting rifts in the local jazz scene and undermining the efforts of promoter Supersonic to establish it as an iconic WA event. Let's hope they have more success in 2010.

The West Australian

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