In Fine Voice – Garth Wiltshire for the Capital Times

Have Voice Will Sing, Ruth Armishaw with the Honest 3, Meow Café, February 21.
Reviewed by Garth Wilshere for Capital Times

THIS perfectly designed show entertained us with singer Ruth Armishaw’s musical journey..

The pithy original lyrics by Paul Jenden, whilst ironically and humorously reflecting her life and personality, take on a universal quality representing the life for any musician or singer striving to build a career.

Her compositional has style has variety, and as a graduate jazz singer with choral and operatic experience, she has excellent resources to call on. She uses her strong voice eloquently and powerfully. She also has great musical chops on the piano which work well with the jazz trio of guitar (Jimmy Perkins), drums (Cory Champion) and double bass (Adrian Laird).

Jazz, Pop, Latin, Bossa Nova, Samba rhythms gave tonal variety, and her singing from belting and bold to softer, sentimental and excellent scat vocals had character.

To add visual interest, there were her retro styled dress and quirky visual designs by Sara Pattison, while projections of videos and photos behind the performers gave mood and context.

Retro, kitschy styled Meow proved an ideal venue.

These songs were memorable in a gig that would suit touring the festival circuit.

Hooligan and the Lady

STRONG SOCIAL MESSAGE EMBEDDED WITHIN A ROLLICKING GOOD ENTERTAINMENT

NZ Fringe Festival 2011
The Hooligan and the Lady
by Pauleen Hayes
Director: Susan Dugdale
Presented by Porthole Productions

at BATS, Wellington
From 24 Feb 2011 to 27 Feb 2011
Reviewed by John Smythe, 25 Feb 2011

Plucked from a century of obscurity, the story of Flossie LeMar – a formidable force to be reckoned with – is splendidly evoked in The Hooligan and the Lady, named for the vaudeville act she and show-biz pugilist Joe Gardiner, her husband-to-be, brought to Australasian stages in the 1910s.

We have playwright Pauleen Hayes (also a school teacher and former self-defence instructor) to thank for a decade’s dedication in researching, writing, revising and producing this highly entertaining – and instructive – celebration of a ‘women’s right to move through the world unmolested’ pioneer.

The Life and Adventures of Miss Florence LeMar, the World’s Famous Ju-Jitsu Girl by Joe Gardiner and Florence LeMar (privately published by the authors in Wellington, 1913) is the starting point. The other characters who bring it to theatrical life are extremely well conceived and crafted to manifest the prevailing attitudes and gender roles of Edwardian times while provoking us to consider how little has changed.

Impresario Quintus Penumbra, played with black-bearded bravura by Alex Greig, has a very limited view of a woman’s place but knows a good ‘novelty act’ when he sees one. His tussle between principles – or lack of them – and profits captures the essence of the misogynist business man.

Rachel More’s wonderfully phoney fortune teller, Madam Adamantine, represents the hard-line conservative who cannot abide women who attempt to rise above their class let alone ‘betray’ their femininity – and yet …

As the flimsy little ingénue Fanciforia Mooncake (I love these names!), Bailey McCormack epitomises the vulnerable single girl trying to stand upright on a deck were a man holds all the cards. And Patrick Keenan’s benign strongman Hubert Heft is a powerful presence.

Central to the whole conceit, of course, are Flossie and Joe.

Ailsa Kreft is determinedly un-theatrical in characterising Florence and because she looks decidedly un-athletic her adeptness at ju-jitsu is a revelation. Her focus on Flo’s purpose and determination largely transcends the odd shortcoming in vocal projection.

Allan Henry is brilliant as Joseph, vacillating between wanting to control and wanting to be part of a successful enterprise. His physical enactments of a range of vile predators are simultaneously fearsome and comical, and his prowess in this form of stage combat is worth the price of admission alone.

Director Susan Dugdale keeps the action moving along, abetted by Ruth Armishaw’s silent movie-style piano accompaniment – which the actors have to be more aware of and project above at times. And play to the back row, please, not the front row just because you can see them better. (As any vaudevillian will tell you, when you play to the back everyone in between feels included.)

Along with the strong social message embedded within a rollicking good entertainment, there is some apt commentary on theatrical priorities and notions of what the punters can stand, as when Florence is blocked from mounting a soapbox to deliver her polemical speech.

Congratulations to all who have worked so well to rehabilitate Flossie LeMar and her message into our consciousness – and thank you, too, for rehabilitating the adjective condign: (of a punishment etc) fitting; well deserved.

Given the short Bats season is sold out, we can only hope it achieves a well-deserved return.