Glorious! The story of Florence Foster Jenkins

 

Upon discovering that Frankston Arts Centre is showing Glorious! next month, a play about the story of Florence Foster Jenkins, I immediately booked tickets. I recall how much I loved the 2016 film Florence Foster Jenkins starring Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant. The biographical film is set in the 1940s and is based on the heart-warming and funny story of a wealthy New York heiress who becomes well-known for her off-pitch voice but is determined to sing anyway.

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Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant feature in the 2016 movie Florence Foster Jenkins

In Glorious! Australian actress Diana McLean, who is best-known for The Young Doctors, Number 96 and All Saints, stars as Florence. The play was premiered in 2005 and its success has taken it over the world to over two million audience members.  Nominated for a Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Comedy in 2005, the production has been described by The Independent as “infectiously joyous … At once hysterically funny and strangely moving”. There is nothing quite like live theatre to captivate the senses and convey the nuances of a good story.

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Diana McLean stars as Florence Foster Jenkins in the hit play Glorious! showing at Frankston Arts Centre on Thursday 5 April 

Much has been written about the life of Florence Foster Jenkins and yet, the details seem to vary depending on who is telling the story. What is certain is that young Florence Foster was born into a wealthy Pennsylvania family in 1868, and when her father died in 1909, she was left with an inheritance that gave her the freedom to pursue her love of singing in New York. She used her finances to support local opera companies and exclusive clubs, and funded her own concerts, including her sell-out performance at Carnegie Hall just days before her death at age 76.

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The real Florence vs Meryl Streep

Florence contracted syphilis, an incurable disease at the time, which precipitated an end to her marriage to Frank Thornton Jenkins. Despite this, she kept the Jenkins name throughout her life.  In New York, Florence met actor St. Clair Bayfield who became her manager and with which she had an obscure life-long partnership.

 

It is thought that Bayfield, amongst others, gave Florence a false sense of confidence in her abilities and protected her from public criticism. Despite her inability to pitch notes correctly, sing rhythmically or sustain musical phrases, it remains a contentious issue whether Florence realised how badly she sang or whether she realised that her audiences’ enjoyment was in comedy-value rather than appreciation. Florence’s poor health is purported to be a contributing factor to her lack of perception, but it is possible that being ill simply made her all the more determined to do what she loved despite what others thought of her.

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Diana McLean plays Florence Foster Jenkins in Glorious!

Florence Foster Jenkins loved singing with her heart and soul. Her story appeals to the heart of each of us who enjoys pursuing an activity in which we have little talent. It is the expression and participation amongst others with shared interest that is important, giving a sense of joy, empowerment and satisfaction. If Florence did know how bad she sounded and yet sang anyway for the pure joy of performing, she leaves a legacy far greater than being known for poor vocal skills. The story of Florence Foster Jenkins teaches us to never let a lack of talent stop us from pursuing our dreams.

I look forward to seeing Diana McLean bring to life the hilarity and eccentricities of Florence Foster Jenkins in Glorious!

Glorious! is showing at the Frankston Arts Centre on Thursday 5th April at 7:30pm.

Book your tickets here

 

 

Shirley Valentine

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Friday 5 May 2017, 8pm in Frankston Arts Centre main theatre
130 min duration including 20 min interval

What makes for a satisfying life? This is one of the most sought-after questions of the human journey. It is a question that the HIT Productions play Shirley Valentine explores.

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Shirley Valentine tells the story of a woman who, disillusioned by her “unused life”, takes a holiday to Greece to discover the person she wants to be. Highly acclaimed, British-born actress and singer Mandi Lodge stars as Shirley Valentine in this funny and thought-provoking one-woman show. The play was written by Willy Russell in 1986 and made into film in 1989, thematically drawing upon the bittersweet realities of marriage and the human desire to find a place to express the essential self.

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The character of Shirley is portrayed as a suburban wife to a husband who wants “everything to be as it’s always been” and a mother to adult children who take her for granted. After a brief but moving encounter with an old school friend, it dawns on Shirley that her life has made her into a shadow of her former self. This is not necessarily because she is a wife and mother but because of the belittling ways that she has been treated and the restrictions that this has placed upon her personal development. Shirley has devoted her whole life to caring for her family’s needs, only to be taken for granted and treated as though her efforts are insubstantial, as if her life has amounted to nothing.

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When her friend offers her a trip to Greece, Shirley leaves her family life behind for two weeks despite the protests of her husband and daughter who think it is “not right”. Shirley goes anyway, knowing that the trip will free her from the “terrible weight” of her “unused life”. Reflecting on the hopes and dreams she had a young woman, Shirley breaks out of her cocoon and the expectations of her family and community when she is swept off her feet by Costa, a seaside barman. As Shirley discovers, “When you’re with someone who likes you, it makes you feel alive.” She later admits that she has “fallen in love with the idea of living”. Greece gives Shirley an open space to reflect on what is inside herself, who she wants to be, and what is important to her – to enjoy the pleasures of realising her deepest desires.

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Shirley Valentine is touching, bittersweet and funny. Mandi Lodge’s brilliant performance as Shirley keeps the energy going and the laughs coming for the full two hour duration of the show. Lodge cleverly weaves elements of conversation into the solo delivery of her story to give the impression that a range of different characters are part of the play. She does this by using different voices to introduce new characters and uses an interesting variety of vocal inflections. Time flies as warm, inclusive physical gestures and fluent monologue draws the audience into the story she is telling. Lodge’s friendly, familiar and upbeat tone makes her funny anecdotes and jokes seem effortless, allowing the audience to make light of the questions that are embedded deeply within us all – How did I get here? Am I living a fulfilled life? What is important to me?

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Like a person who goes on retreat seeking inner reflection, so too Mandi Lodge in Shirley Valentine takes the audience on a journey within themselves and out again – all with a touch of sexuality, abandon and plenty of fun!

Shirley Valentine is currently touring Australia. See HIT Productions Facebook page for more information.

Copyright © 2017 Jade Barker

Mr Stink live on stage

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Friday 17th March at 6pm, Frankston Arts Centre main theatre

Those who love British comedy will probably be familiar with David Walliams, the writer of, and lead actor in the popular BBC television series, Little Britain. Less commonly known, is the array of children’s books that Walliams has written, including a book called Mr Stink (2009). Maryam Master, Australian writer of children’s productions, who has also written 80 episodes for Home and Away, adapted the book into a play that premiered at the Sydney Opera House in April last year. A team of this calibre, including award-winning Australian director, Jonathan Biggins, indicates that there is more to Mr Stink than pure children’s entertainment.

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David Walliams Promotes His Book “Mr Stink” At Bluewater Shopping Centre In Kent. (Photo by Mark Cuthbert/UK Press via Getty Images)

 

Like any good comedic art, Mr Stink engages people of all ages in fun and laughter, but also raises and addresses moral challenges that our society faces today.

Twelve-year old Chloe (played by Romy Watson) faces bullying and cyberbullying by her school peers and is downtrodden by her overbearing, career-driven mother Mrs Crumb (Anna Cheney), who fails to listen to or recognise her daughter’s talents. Chloe is a wonderful story-writer with a vivid imagination and has a talent for listening and engaging compassionately with others. Instead of praising Chloe, Mrs Crumb favours her other daughter Annabelle (Amanda Laing) for going along with her wishes in engaging in an exhausting regimen of extra-curricular activities such as ballet, panpipe lessons, basketball and yoga. Even Chloe’s father (Darren Sabadina) is too scared of Mrs Crumb to admit that he has lost his job, resorting to locking himself in the cupboard under the stairs, but “only during business hours”.

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Things start to change for Chloe when she meets Mr Stink (John O’Hare), a homeless man living in a nearby park. Although Mr Stink is very stinky and behaves oddly and amusingly at times, he has an innate gift of being real, honest and a good listener. Mr Stink tears down all pretences and in doing so, creates the avenues needed for Chloe’s family to talk to one another and remember the things that are truly important.

This delightful play is hilariously brought to life by skilful actors. Anna Cheney fabulously portrays Chloe’s highly-driven mother falling apart at the seams. Darren Sabadina cleverly switches between three very different but engaging characters: Raj the shopkeeper, Mr Crumb and the Prime Minister. John O’Hare, Amanda Laing and Romy Watson create convincing characters that the audience can relate to. Skilful acting aside, Mr Stink is also thought-provoking. The play encourages the audience to consider a range of issues that contemporary children and young people are grappling with, and provides insight on how to help young people deal with those issues. Mr Stink may be at the bottom of society’s hierarchy, but his kindness, humility and ability to stand up for the justice of others, heals a family and a community.

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See FAC website for details on exciting upcoming shows for families, including Seussical, We’re Going On a Bearhunt, Diary of a Wombat, Saltbush and Horrible Harriet.

Copyright © 2017 Jade Barker

Circus Oz – Intrigue, amazement, live music and laughs for all

Sunday 9 October 2016 at 1:30pm, in Frankston Arts Centre’s main theatre

Glittering in a silver A-line dress, a large spiky, silver fascinator on her head and sporting a baritone saxophone, musical director Ania Reynolds stood in front of the red velvet curtains. The show began with a few deliberate, wild honks of her instrument. The curtain was raised to reveal other musicians playing unusual-looking instruments. A musical game ensued, setting the theatrical tone for the show.

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The drum kit player and keyboard player were positioned at the rear and centre of the stage and anchored the musical narrative throughout. At some point during the show, nearly all of the performers played various instruments. This not only added to the richness of the soundscapes, but demonstrated that the performers are capable of an impressive diversity of skills in addition to a great variety of circus acts. For example, I observed performer Matt Wilson, at various points throughout the show, play the guitar, juggle silver batons amongst a group, play percussion, balance on one leg atop chairs stacked seven-high, and perform tricks on vertical poles.

Of course, the show was not about what one person can do in isolation. Circus Oz created magic and intrigue by seamlessly bringing together performing artists and art forms to complement each other. For each circus act, a unique atmospheric mood was cleverly created with live music. I was impressed and delighted by the wide range of musical genres and atmospheres married with each act. Fun Latin rhythms met dancing and tumble turns through hoops stacked three-high; funk grooves set the tone for a clever display of baton juggling amongst a group of seven people; a hard rock beat backed a ‘fire fighter’ climbing a ‘hose’ rope suspended from the ceiling, performing death-defying tumbles and falls; sparse jazz, eerie toy piano or slow ethereal keyboard effects were used for more still acts such as slow acrobatics focussing on strength and grace.

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In true Circus Oz fashion, the performance content was subtly interwoven with themes relevant to Australian culture now. Hosting the show was a character wearing a jacket sequined with colours forming an Indigenous flag. References to gay culture, transgender and the ‘new age’ spiritual movement were dropped here and there. A character by the name of ‘Infinity Love Beads’, whose narrative throughout the show was to perform a convincing ‘levitation’, used clever plays on words for tongue-in-cheek digs at the ‘new age’ movement and the current generation. Mixing up words such as ‘terrorist’ with ‘tarot-ist’ and ‘entitlement’ with ‘enlightenment’ provided some laughs for the adults in the theatre. There were many opportunities for all-ages comedy too, with the use of good-old slapstick humour.

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Having only seen Circus Oz perform under the big top prior to this show, I was interested to see how they adapted their performance for a much smaller theatre space. A large four-pronged, reinforced frame was arced high over the stage and this was used to suspend ropes, cables and trapeze. Though not immediately obvious to the audience, there was a strong person climbing up and down the structure like a concealed Spiderman, responsible for changing the various apparatus needed for each act, and using his body-weight to adjust the length of the cable suspended from the frame.

Though the show was packed full of quirk, amazement, live music and humour for all, I must admit that my favourite part of the show was more subdued, atmospheric and dance-like. After the interval, an intriguing percussion contraption was left in front of the curtain. On it, hung two drums, various bells, triangles, woodblocks and gongs. This contraption was played by three people to produce an eerie, ambient aura with string sounds, scrapes, ‘tocks’, gentle bells and cymbals. The sounds were used to respond sensitively to the graceful movements of a young man who was slowly twisting, turning, arcing and flexing his body on the floor to roll and cradle juggling balls around his body with ultimate control. It was a mesmerising display of sophisticated ensemble and movement, demonstrating the breadth of skill and artistic mastery that Circus Oz is capable of. For those seeking laughs and awe-inspiring spectacle, to those who enjoy fine artistry, Circus Oz 2016 is truly a show for everyone.

Copyright © 2016 Jade Barker

‘Inspired’ by Gary Lang NT Dance Company

Saturday 3 September 7:30pm at Cube 37, Frankston Arts Centre – 50 min. duration.

Gary Lang NT Dance Company, with dancers Catherine Young, Michele Dott, Bryn Wackett, Kara Handsberg and Darren Edwards, delighted a ‘family’ audience with two contemporary dance pieces. The first was an airy flirtation with Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake and the second, an earthy Indigenous exploration of the spirit realm.

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The synthesised music recording of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake with overlaid NT bird sounds in the first dance piece induced a wide, open-sky atmosphere reminiscent of the outback Australian landscape. The performers used classical dance influences with synchronised movements and black lace and tulle costumes to accentuate delicate swan-like gestures.

The second piece immediately exuded a transformation into a ghostly realm with the use of vivid lighting and dark shadows, gaunt expressions and the use of white, liquid body-clay. The wet clay was ‘dipped into’ throughout the piece to increasingly cover each other until the dancers and the stage were practically white. Entitled Journey of the Soul from a larger work, Mokuy, the piece expressed the post-death journey of the human spirit, drawing upon Gary Lang’s experiences with youth suicide in his community.

Digeridoo-like drones articulated with haunting Australian bird calls drew the audience into the earthy, sensuous dance movements. I was particularly stirred by the male-female duets in which each female dancer took turns intertwining with the male ‘spirit’ dancer.

The performance was followed by a Q&A session in which Gary, who identifies as a Larrakia man, explained that several of the movements used in Journey of the Soul are borrowed from traditional Indigenous dances that he has seen performed by his family. As these ‘borrowed’ movements are intensely meaningful to Indigenous people, Gary takes great care to ask the permission of his family as to how and when particular gestures can be used. Gary’s conversation with the audience, in which he declared that all people he meets are welcomed into his life as ‘family’, encouraged a feeling of connectedness to the Dance Company, our country and our communities. Gary Lang NT Dance Company’s performance of Inspired is a fine example of art that is not only uplifting, beautiful and expressive but encourages social unity by fostering warmth and openness between different cultures.

Copyright © 2016 Jade Barker

Cube 37 – your community, your creativity

Have you ever wandered down Davey Street and passed the Frankston Arts Centre? Perhaps you have visited the Centre to see a show? If the answer is “yes”, you may have noticed a smaller building right next door with a big, intriguing glass front and a sign that says Cube 37.

Cube 37 is a place where all members of our community – artists, art-lovers and art-curious people – can go to enjoy art, participate in art and create art.

There is a well-equipped, versatile performance space that can be hired out so that artists and community groups can put on their own shows and events.

Wooden, sprung floors for theatre and dance, and high-quality audio and lighting gear enables every show to be presented professionally.

A tiered seating system can be set-up to accommodate an audience of 194 or discreetly packed away for cabaret and other events where a large floor space is needed.

There is even a kitchen and bar area for pre-show drinks, backstage dressing rooms, an education room equipped with a projection screen and a large, outdoor courtyard.

World-class artists perform here regularly, often to sell-out audiences. You don’t need to be a professional artist to hire or visit Cube 37 though – just someone who is passionate about community arts, like we are! Community groups even receive a discounted hire fee.

The diversity of activities that occurred during a recent day in Cube 37 included the Gary Lang NT Dance Company rehearsing in the performance space, Karingal Training providing an education course in the labs and Dangerous Deeds exhibition opening in the foyer.

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If you are someone who would like to participate in art, you are in luck! Cube 37 is home to a diverse and dazzling array of hands-on programs specifically tailored to community and school groups. There’s the Hip Cat Circus teaching circus skills to young people, and an exciting range of educational programs are available for school students. Depending on the season, there are workshops in craft, dance, bookmaking, storytelling and make-your-own artworks for people of all ages and abilities. This is just a taste of the broad range of workshops on offer.

For those who enjoy visual art or create it themselves, there are two art-spaces in Cube 37. The foyer displays free exhibitions all year round. The glass art space at the front of Cube 37, visible 24/7 to passers-by and motorists, allows artists the scope to create interactive, digital and projected artworks, as well as installations.

If you are enticed at the thought of perusing the latest visual art exhibition or displaying your own, building an artistic creation amongst like-minded people, seeing an exciting show or performing your own, visit Cube 37. It is a place where all members of our community can come together, develop skills and have fun through art. Cube 37 – your community, your creativity.

Check out the latest What’s On booklet from the foyer of Frankston Arts Centre or Cube 37, or visit the website for more information: thefac.com.au

Copyright © 2016 Jade Barker