China National Symphony Orchestra – Review

China National Symphony Orchestra

As someone who listens non-stop to ABC Classic on the radio, I can embarrassingly admit the years between attending the Symphony in person are often long and unpredictable.

For whatever reason, when I plan a weekend or evening out of entertainment, an in-person visit to the Symphony is rarely on my radar. This is something I was wholeheartedly reminded to correct recently as I had the pleasure of attending the China National Symphony Orchestra at Hamer Hall. (A sophisticated and easily accessible venue that is a part of the Arts Centre Melbourne complex in the middle of the City.)

From the moment of arrival, I felt welcomed and at ease as I navigated the venue and got myself some items from the concession. I easily found my seat and started taking pictures, as did almost everyone around me. Hamer Hall is simply beautiful, and honestly, there can be no bad seat in the house. 

As part of the 2023 Australian Tour of Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne, the China National Symphony Orchestra arranged a concert composed of the Chinese classical masterpiece ‘Dance of the Yao People’, a violin concerto ‘The Butterfly Lovers’ and Beethoven’s Symphony No.7 in A Minor.

Words cannot give justice to the incredible compilations attendees enjoyed. 

Dance of the Yao People, composed by Liu Tieshan and Mao Yuan, is one of the most recognizable and popular Chinese instrumental compositions of the 20th Century. Fun fact: the first 18 notes of the 1998 song “When You Believe’ by Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey for The Prince of Egypt movie were based on Dance of the Yao People. (Although the composers remained uncredited.)

It is easy to become rapt in the music and entranced by the motion of the orchestra as they weave through the lingering notes or rhythmically pluck chords and lean into the faster tempos. Maybe it is a vivid imagination of a youth spent watching Disney’s Fantasia, yet in many moments I could almost see the shapes and colours of the music in my mind’s eye. The music was vivid, expertly crafted and performed.

The Butterfly Lovers, composed by He Zhanhao and Chen Gang, is a Violin Concerto and one of the most famous Chinese works of orchestral music.

The concerto is one movement but comprises seven sections that tell the story of Zhu Yingtai and Liang Shanbo, her lover. Zhu and Liang are represented by the solo Violinist and Cello, respectively.

It was an exceptional treat to listen to one of the foremost and influential Chinese violinists today, Lu Siqing. His exceptional mastery of the instrument is evident, and his confident command of the work and his craft is inspiring to see.

China National Symphony Orchestra

Chief Conductor Li Xincao is enthusiastic and exceptional; his long list of achievements and international recognition is a testament to a young man at the epitome of his craft.

Completing the afternoon was Beethoven’s Symphony No.7 in A Minor, which perfectly fused the East meets West program and continued to reinforce the beauty of the music.

The China National Symphony Orchestra enhanced my understanding of Chinese culture, deepened my love of classical music and inspired me to remember to include a visit to the Symphony much more regularly in my entertainment planning. I would be the one missing out were I not to do so, and as music has an intrinsic way of speaking to us all, I believe that applies to most of us! 

Follow the China National Symphony Orchestra here so you don’t miss their next visit to Australia!

And don’t forget to check programming at Arts Centre Melbourne here, so you don’t miss out on future classical music offerings!

This review also appears at It’s On The House.

Cork Pops into the Spanish Film Festival

The Spanish Film Festival is back this June and July and celebrating it’s 25th year! Presented by Palace, the film festival is accessible online, or in person, in major cities Adelaide, Brisbane, Byron Bay, Canberra, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney.

There are plentiful films to choose from with helpful category groupings such as ‘New Spanish Cinema’, ‘Spotlight on Argentina’, ‘Focus on Female Filmmakers’ and more.

I had the pleasure of viewing ‘Cork’ (‘Suro’), a Drama/Thriller feature film debut from Director Mikel Gurrea, that is creating a lot of excitement in its New Spanish Cinema category. It has already won a slew of awards at the Zurich Film Festival (2022), San Sebastian International Film Festival (2022) and Gaudi Awards (2023). And justifiably so.

Newlywed couple Elena (Vicky Luengo) and Ivan (Pol Lopez) have recently inherited an old stone farmhouse and cork forest from Elena’s deceased aunt. With their first child on it’s way, they set about navigating the realities of managing and profiting from the 1,200 acre cork forest, whilst achieving their budding goals of a life lived in harmony, ethically, in nature.

However, the reality of managing a cork farm and life in the countryside becomes a harsh lesson as the couple juggle various onslaughts to their relationship, lifestyle and dreams – often from unexpected quarters, each other.

Actor Ilyass El Ouahdani, also delivers a convincing portrayal of Karim, a cork farm worker whose presence leads events to spiral out of control.

Cork explores the balance of power in relationships and the film delves into and makes home of delivering a story that unfolds methodically, with stunning cinematography, minimal dialogue and the use of the rustic environment to reflect the tension brewing.

Both lead actors inhabit their characters with restrained composure and intelligence. There is a love between Elena and Pol, but there is friction as each face the other as an opponent on matters moral and ethical. Opinions are divided, yet as a unit they persist and resist caving in to the other, standing their ground in their beliefs and convictions.

Strewn with many taught moments, subtle character reactions and loaded, often unspoken, dialogue, Cork is a film where a small decision or reaction reverberates throughout the story. The cork forest becomes a tapestry for the power plays and dynamics to wield battle.

In juxtaposition to the scenic countryside, at times idyllic, at times land of deviousness, there are a few sequences inserted that uncover the characters roguish and devilish natures. Neither Elena or Pol are completely likeable, in fact in many ways they are far from it. Yet neither are disagreeable, they are human, fallible and at times downright nasty.

They represent us, the audience, in a chillingly accurate snapshot. As much pieces, and pawns, of the rugged tapestry that is this film.

The lingering takeaway is how real this film feels when watching. The acting is incredibly understated, there are moments you think you’re watching real people and this film is simply an elevated documentary.

It is seamless in it’s execution of this. The cork forest is itself an imposing character, as is the north wind and dry summer conditions. The land is truly alive and contributing to the theme of power and dynamic.

The Director has achieved capturing a vividness to life on a cork farm, and the stress and realities those who manage one must face. It is subtle, it is at times confusing and it is very confronting.

This film as a slow burn thriller is uncomfortable and relishes in it’s understated grit. With a run time of 116 minutes, it will keep you guessing how each character with respond to the pressure of the moment until those credits roll.

This review also appears on It’s On The House.

Deathtrap – Review

A visit to Malvern Theatre is surprisingly exquisite as I arrive to watch their latest in the 2023 season lineup, Deathtrap.

The venue is well appointed, the theatre itself is just adorable, very accessible, and offers a comfortable evening out. The volunteer staff are approachable and attentive. As I find my seat I realize there is simply no bad view within the theatre of the stage.

Nestled in my spot I notice many framed season brochures and photographs adorning the walls and made notes to explore these during intermission. The theatre’s history is on proud display and very inviting. I find myself excited as the lights go down to watch this comic thriller of a show, it feels like a treat!

Lights up and the set has been dressed in intimate detail. We are definitely in the 1970s, but not nauseatingly so. We are in the writing and living space of Sidney Bruhl, a once-successful writer of Broadway thrillers. Various paraphernalia hangs on the walls, weapons of all kinds – collectables and memorabilia from his past successful shows. There is a small fire in the fireplace, double doors leading to a porch and an entryway behind the prominent sofa centre stage. It’s cozy, and just a little captivating as the story unfolds in this one-room setting.

The leading character Sydney Bruhl, played by actor Brett Whittingham, offers a very nuanced performance. As we follow his character arc throughout the show, the actor deftly reveals aspects to Sidney in such a way that draws you in. You can’t help but watch this actor.

Bruhl’s wife Myra, played by Helen Ellis, convincingly portrays a woman very quickly concerned with the lengths to which her husband may imminently be willing to go to, to get what he wants. Walking the line between ‘will he, won’t he’, the character of Myra has a load of emotional heavy lifting to navigate.

Travis Handcock, portraying student Clifford Anderson, shifts and morphs throughout the story and in mere moments convincingly portrays a new aspect to the character that is increasingly multifaceted. From innocent to vengeful, supportive to calculating. It is restrained, and very convincing.

The story uncoils as Sidney recognizes that his student Clifford has a script that is a potential Broadway smash hit. With financial problems and a few failures piled up behind him in recent years, Sidney weighs in on collaborating with the student, or simply eliminating him entirely to claim the script as his own.

The tale develops in sometimes predictable ways, and sometimes unpredictable ways. Regardless, it is enjoyable. Witticisms in the script will make you smile or give a tiny chuckle when you catch them.

At the end of Act One enters the amusing character of Helga ten Dorp, hilariously portrayed by Glenda May. The actor performs with glee, is appealing to watch and doesn’t miss a beat of writer, Ira Levin’s, masterfully written comedic relief. It is the palate cleanser exactly as required and the audience is won over in mere moments.

It speaks to Levin’s legacy that the longevity of his plays is evident, that decades later they still deliver delightful entertainment.

At the onset of Act Two the cast is rounded out with Porter Milgrim, a lawyer played by Greg Barison. The character feeds us necessary exposition that serves to keep the story evolving and progressing forward.

At no point is Deathtrap eerie, but it definitely has its jump-scare moments. Simply, it is a methodically well-written thriller, a crime story with an adventure!

Deathtrap at Malvern Theatre offers a lovely night out and is a reminder of why supporting the Arts in your community is such an important thing to do. What these smaller-sized theatres offer is an exceptional experience, with high-level entertainment and hospitality. A welcome and evening on par with a visit to a good friend or neighbour.

From the complimentary tea, coffee and biscuits served at intermission, to exploring the theatre’s history across its walls, to walking away into the night having thoroughly enjoyed the effort put into the show – it is pleasant and pleasurable entertainment.

Whether you’re a fan of the crime genre or not, Deathtrap has just enough comedy in it that will appeal to many ages and audiences alike. Keep artists employed, and Arts venues supported, by attending shows such as this in your community. You will be very happily rewarded.

Deathtrap – Malvern Theatre

Saturday April 29th – 8 pm

Sunday April 30th – 8 pm

Wednesday May 3rd – 8 pm

Thursday May 4th – 8 pm

Friday May 5th – 8 pm

Saturday May 6th – 2 pm

Sunday May 6th – 8 pm

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The Improvised Superhero Movie – Review

For those attending the Melbourne Comedy Festival, you have a few more days to see the exciting and enjoyable ‘The Improvised Superhero Movie’ presented by The Improv Pit at the UBQ Basement Blackbox Theatre.

This delightful 60 minute show is unique to every performance since it is Improv comedy. For those who are unfamiliar with the live entertainment form of Improv Comedy, each show is made up completely on the spot, unscripted, by an ensemble of improvisers. Styles of Improv can be theatrical or competitive in content, and are inspired by audience suggestions. Due to the spontaneous nature of Improv, each performance is a unique one off and will never been seen ‘exactly’ that same way again.

The Improv Pit seem to perform in a style pretty notorious to Chicago, and The Improvised Superhero Movie reflects this. (Often jamming on a ‘game’ or ‘tilt’ in the scene work.) The format of the Superhero Movie unfolds in a progression of scenes, very closely resembling a format called the Harold (But not an actual Harold). Ensemble members contributing frequently and frenetically to the story line as it evolves.

The night I attended saw a Robot superhero navigate Asimov’s three laws of robotics, while seeking to vanquish a Wiccan-Eugenic Villain with their murderous pet lizard in tow. All of this unfolded in the unsuspecting suburb of Nunawading.

Most players had characters and scenes in which they could shine, and while some parts of the story became chaotic with improvisers speaking over each other, the ensemble frequently course corrected and came back to the story line.

Anybody newer to watching Improv comedy, the success of a show generally rests on the ensembles ability to listen, share and ‘yes, and’ each other. The work is elevated when improvisers fully commit to character choices and use physicality to flesh out the imaginative environment they are performing within. This was all on consistent display at the show I saw with players negotiating any blocks they had inadvertently given another in their enthusiasm.

For those attending who are concerned about being called on to provide a suggestion for the show, do not fear. Only once was the audience asked to yell out suggestions for The Improvised Superhero Movie, that being the title of that evenings movie at the top of the show. This ensemble doesn’t seem to warm up the audience prior to asking for the suggestion, so here’s a tip!

Feel free to brainstorm some fun titles of a superhero movie, that don’t already exist, prior to the show. It will give you something to yell out when asked as an audience to do so. This will avoid inducing the common audience reaction of ‘panic’ to come up with something on the spot. Leave that to the ensemble!

‘The Improvised Superhero Movie’ – UBQ Basement Blackbox Theatre

Thursday 20th April – 7.30 pm

Friday 21st April – 7.30 pm

Saturday 22nd April – 7.30 pm

Sunday 23rd April – 7.30 pm

This review also appears in On The House

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