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Ghosts in the Scheme

Ghosts of the Scheme. Canberra Theatre. Written and directed by Scott Rankin, starring Lex Marinos, Bruce Myles, Anne Grigg with music by Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen. Review by Stephen Harrison.

Scheme:

1) A large scale systematic plan or arrangement for attaining some particular object or putting an idea into effect.

2) Make plans, especially in a devious way or with intent to do something illegal or wrong.

Cooma has always been seen, for some people of Canberra, as a weird and very cold place- it’s isolation making it even weirder and colder. You just know something strange is happening in some houses there. In some ways this is quite close to how it is, but within that there are the people that call Cooma home, who are as varied and mixed and strange and nice and nasty and cranky and problematic and loving and smiling as humans can be.

Ghosts of the Scheme is set historically, the backdrop being the Snowy Mountains Scheme of the 50’s and 60’s, and personally, focussing on three Cooma residents who happen to be friends and lovers: a kind of triangle of entanglement.

It is a play essentially about Memory, of time passing- the set enhancing this beautifully: veils and overlays of screens with dappled films projected in the fore and backgrounds. A few Beckett-like snow gums and multi-levelled walkways further enriching the interweaving of the personal and historical. Cooma is one of those places that tragedy seems to go hand-in-hand with everyday life. Or so it seems- It’s also a place where things happen slowly, and that passage of time, of memories and half remembered loves and lovers and car crashes and absent fathers and addictions and selfish mothers and all the things that make up our lives, are all here, in Ghosts in the Scheme.

Theatre is an art form that uses all the arts in great combination, from writing to sculpture and installation, light and shade, acting etc. But it is the sound of this play that really sets the ongoing mournful mood of the work: the disconnected echoing soundscape of voices and effects, coupled with the brilliant melancholic songs and music. Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen are maestros; these guys are seasoned performers, each one comfortable, confident, having a profound affinity with their instruments. They are a joy to listen to anytime, and the theatre experience is tailor-made for their skills.

Scott Rankin has skilfully combined visuals and sound with fantastic performances from the cast: it can’t have been easy to distil what was close to two years of research into a coherent and enjoyable experience for viewers. Sometimes research and story-gathering can shift the original intentions of what the production was meant to be, and transform it into another beast altogether. Harnessing this beast and asserting a theatre ascetic is the Directors task, and Ghosts in the Scheme fully delivers. The actors do a fine job, combining humour and playfulness with the tragedies and miscommunications that befall them. This is powerful, because all the things that happen to these three characters have happened to us, and the play becomes a Humanist play.

BighART theatre does a great job in bringing art closer to ordinary people. They work in communities to talk and engage, to listen, learn and adapt the stories that come from these people and transform the narratives into powerful theatre works. I think grass-roots projects such as these are wonderful, and should be awarded ongoing funding- they really can transform lives. Especially in weird and cold places like Cooma.

Oxjam

OXJAM at The Polo. Friday 21st, Polish White Eagle Club
by Little Dove

Once again The Canberra Musicians Club and The Polo pool their talents and create a party with a cracking line-up of musos. And this one was indeed extra special. OXJAM gigs were organised around Australia during August to raise funds for (duh) Oxfam and their fight against world poverty. Canberra represented well. The crowd were, as is my experience of the CMC/Polo combo, culturally and age diverse. And refreshingly, so was the music.

The programme kicked off with some Canberra stalwarts of indo-jazz who have combined in recent years to become Mohona. It was a pleasure to enter the room to the Bengali sounds of multi instrumentalists Nitya, Andrew and Robin. And they played to an attentive audience. My friend mentioned that Mohona sometimes cover The Face of Love by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Eddie Vedder. Sure enough after they announced their last song, they began that tune and led the room to that place of blissful listening where you feel a crescendo build in your belly before the rise of the sound. It was beautiful only…. Mr McRae cut them off just a few minutes in and they were unable to complete the song. I saw him enter the room, walk on stage and whisper in Robin’s ear, and I was like No, no, Nigel please don’t, there’s magic happening here. But he did. And they stopped. I’ll be keeping ears pricked for the chance to hear the song in its entirety. Of course, Nigel was just making necessary space for the many other acts to follow.

The evening seemed to flow well and conversation flourished in the moments between musical highlights.

The MC was late, his enthusiasm was low and he lacked his usual pizazz. He was actually the main reason that I attended so this was disappointing. But I guess everyone has off days.

Our first information about the Oxjam cause actually came from The Blue Angel and Dr Wiedemann who spoke knowledgeably at the start of their set. The pair brought their usual quirky presence. I really appreciate the risks that these two take in creating something truly unique. The commitment to their dark clown Weimar characters is a refreshing injection into any program. The vocals in each song are drawn and lengthy however, and as someone that struggles to listen to words for too long, I find this challenging. I would like to hear more space between words. But I certainly can’t get enough of the Blue Angel tap dancing.

The Cyrenes Choir of Women was committed in their performance and evidently passionate for the cause.  “We are who we are because of each other – spread that secret” was a lovely sentiment spoken by their leader. That general feeling of love and respect seemed to carry through their set and the room. Plus they did a sing-a-long with the crowd, which is always a winner. Generally a fan of thoughtful costuming, I liked the addition of the blue scarves they each wore.

CHOIR were sensational with their harmonies and enthusiasm. It was great to see a boy girl mix on the stage and everyone carrying their own unique style. I loved their Stiff Gins cover and the sharing of personal stories. Like how the following day a choir member was getting married and that they would all sing at the wedding. It was sweet, and showed the special unity that is essential in a good choir.

Teddy Conrick brought us home with super cool guitar slapping and soulful acoustic stylings. His gravelly vocals were gorgeous afloat his original songs. I really enjoyed hearing this dude for the first time.

The People I Love brought the fresh flavor of a New Orleans kinda Dixieland sound. With a groove and a swagger like carefree days on the Mississippi, Emma Dryden was a Diva O’naturale. And what would a major event in the Berra be, without the musical accompaniment of Mr Cam Smith on trumpet. The whole band was sensational and prepped us well for the finale.

Zambezi Sound System got the whole crowd jumping. If anyone else was lacking enthusiasm, these guys made up for it. Their big smiles, expansive hearts, reggae beats and killer vocals were a perfect fit for Oxjam.

What a combo. What a night. I love how this town bands together (excuse the pun). Yay Oxjam.