Review: Deft professionalism from NIDA graduates

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TO many in the audience last night at Gorman House, the return to Canberra of the National Institute of Dramatic Art with a triple bill of plays hearkened back to the years when NIDA regularly brought main stage productions to the nation’s capital.

Guy Edmonds in 'The Witches'
Guy Edmonds in ‘The Witches’
The refreshing aspect of this collaboration between the institute and Gorman House Arts Centre (preceded by two such tours to Victoria and one to South Australia) was that the directors were all the newest and brightest – recent graduates of NIDA’s postgraduate directing course.

The event also provided a welcome opportunity to showcase Gorman House’s unique garden setting, as the audience moved between the performance spaces of Canberra Youth Theatre and QL2.

A deft and professional approach from the production team and other creatives saw the fast scene changes, stylishly-designed costumes and props and snappy lighting that you would expect from Australia’s leading drama school. In the two intervals audience members viewed the exhibition “EXPONIDA 2012,” showcasing work by 2012 students, with a project of designing costumes from paper especially challenging.

A Dickson College student I noticed admiring this work told me it was the acting course she’d really like to get into, but that what she saw in the exhibition confirmed her impression that of NIDA as the place to which would-be professionals still aspired.

The three plays chosen for Canberra from a possible six 2012 graduation shows, were performed by guest artists, (many of them also NIDA graduates) who provided object lessons in different acting styles.

Luke Rogers, director of the first play “Play House,” came to NIDA with swag of professional productions under his belt. This play by UK writer Martin Crimp consisted of a series of 13 “snapshots” of a relationships, brought the two actors Sam   ‘Sullivan and Kate Skinner, into unusually close proximity to the audience. The reactions of their characters, Simon and Katrina, were thus scrutinised closely, and they did not disappoint, providing textbook perfection in handling and relating to stage props as well as engaging representations of the changing emotions in a live-in relationship.

The second show, the American musical “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change,” was directed by Derek Walker, a former Canberran (and winner of a 2011 CAT award for directing “Les Miz”)  who has a combined background in classical singing and drama teaching.

His choice of a contemporary ensemble musical gave scope to guest artist Nat Jobe, Simon Brook McLachlan, Cinzia Lee and Canberra’s Amy Louis Dunham to exhibit their vocal skills and to inhabit a cross-section of roles as partners in a changing line-up of couples. This was a cut-down version of the musical we will see at The Q later in April, but, with Chris Pitcairn’s deceptively simple set, it enabled quick changes that kept it moving along smoothly.

Walker’s choice of a mid-Atlantic (should that be mid-Pacific?) accent for his characters is standard practice in musicals, but given the universal character of the subject matter, I wondered whether an Australian accent mightn’t   have worked more effectively. Here there was a contrast between the first and the second productions.

Finally,  Roald Dahl’s “The Witches,” was directed by dancer and choreographer Lucas Jervies. Performed by a single actor, the chameleon-like Guy Edmonds, who shifts from character to character without drawing breath, this interpretation of Dahl’s scariest tale is full of life, physical movement, mischief and even audience interaction as people are singled out for witchery.

This triple-bill of play not only served to showcase the talents of NIDA’s latest directing crop, but provided a fine example to us of near-perfect programming. I can hardly wait for the next Expo.

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Helen Musa
“CityNews” arts editor

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