Last Tango in Smithfield Plains

Willunga Show Hall, November 2012

 

Hearty thanks to STARS for inviting us - my colleague Jenn Havelberg and me - to give a World Premiere of 'Last Tango in Smithfield Plains' at the Willunga Show Hall for two nights in late November 2012. I wrote the play, with Jenn acting as dramaturg and director Lisa Lanzi having considerable input. Jenn and I performed it, in our roles of Peter the ageing clown and Elise the mature-age dance teacher. We were delighted with the response to the piece and went on to perform a two week season of it at The Bakehouse in Adelaide. STARS have asked us to perform it again at Waverley House in April, as part of the tango season.

I include here a few photos from The Bakehouse season, plus two of the excellent reviews we received.

Wayne Anthoney.

Herbert the Clown - Peter Albright - arrives for his tango lesson.

Elise is somewhat startled

An earnest discussion

A budding relationship

Nightmare makes his appearance

The strange puppets, Nightmare and Nostalgia


 

LAST TANGO IN SMITHFIELD PLAINS

Martin Christmas in Barefoot Review

 Presented by Forge Theatre. Blackbox. Bakehouse Theatre. 30 Nov 2012

 What does Last Tango in Smithfield Plains have in common with Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom? Not a lot and certainly not the spaciousness of the film’s dance rehearsal space. No matter. Last Tangos miniscule dance rehearsal space is the result of ingenious planning and very good design sense. It works. A portable clothes rack of glitzy costumes; sound equipment; a bar fridge; folding screens covered with Art Nouveau Sarah Bernhardt posters; and a red velvet chaise lounge surround the dance floor.

 Enter Peter (Bozo the Clown), or in real life Wayne Anthoney (loved for many years by children and adults as Humboldt the Clown), who wants to learn the tango for his one lesson fling. Peter has a spot as clown entertainer on a cruise ship. Enter, startled at this strange clown image of a man in her dance studio, the faded dance instructor Elise, or in real life Jenn Havelberg (Adelaide Centre for the Arts movement instructor to many students). Elise is coming to the end of her dance instructing career and is deep in debt. He has a gun in his bag. She has booze in her fridge. Both have troubled pasts and secrets that are covered up either by clowning or by drink. Somewhere in the middle of this production, the buffoonery and comic one-liners give way to deeper emotional investigation. Peter and Elise begin stripping away their masks, confronting what lies underneath, and realise that they have more in common than they first thought (this includes traumatic experiences in the Vietnam War). A clever recipe for 60 minutes of deft clown work, captivating choreography, lost aspirations and re-kindled sensitivity.

 The script is written and performed by Wayne Anthoney and Jenn Havelberg, but at the core of this production are the mature skills of two seasoned performers. To watch Anthoneys control over comic timing, mime and one-liners and to get a serve of Havelberg’s movement agility is a rare treat.

 Director Lisa Lanzi must have walked a fine line between giving Anthoney and Havelberg free reign, and bringing the production to focus. On opening night the pace was a bit down, but the run of shows will solve this. Tricky falls and physical sleight of hand moments have been integrated into the dialogue exchanges. Once these have been embedded, the production should give the audience a run for its money.

 Without giving too much away, I have failed to mention two other important characters. Mister Nightmare and the Sexy French Seductress both constructed of nothing more than overcoats, scarves, wigs and the extraordinary puppetry manipulation skills of Anthoney and Havelberg. The moment when these two characters are brought to life is sheer magic. With their appearance, this quirky little production takes on a whole new darker, deeper, bizarre aspect. When they take their bows alongside Anthoney and Havelberg at the end of the show, you applaud because they have been made real.

 The enjoyment of being in the audience, for me, was watching two mature performers strutting their stuff so capably. Hopefully this will not be the last time that Adelaide gets to see Anthoney and Havelberg work together. This production made for a delightful ending to this inaugural Blackbox run of shows at the Bakehouse.

 Martin Christmas



Last Tango in Smithfield Plains
Reviewed by: Stephen House on Saturday 01 December 2012
Aussie Theatre Review

The charming thing about this new play is that the actors (who are also the writers) know their characters and story so very well.

Wayne Anthoney, a well-known Adelaide clown and Jenn Havelberg, a movement teacher have taken their many years of performing and life experiences and poured them into creating this piece. And it’s good fun, and also thought-provoking at times too.

A seventy year old clown, deserted by his life-long wife and still looking for the big break meets down and out dance instructor — who never really made it… and a special bond forms. Could the dance lesson deliver much more than a new routine for the clown’s tired old act?

From the moment Anthony walks on to the stage we feel the clown at work. “God I’m funny” he says. And he is — as he presents generous helpings of slap-stick, one liners, dry wry comments and pleasantly predictable jokes. This is Anthony at his very best. He has managed to take the clown persona and art form and immerse it completely into his acting of the clown character… and it is beautiful, raw, sad, funny and at times – dark and desperate.

In the same way Havelberg uses her many years of experience of presenting the body to portray the ways of an old dancer and we are with her character entirely. Jen’s strength is in her movement and articulated delivery — and the honesty that she approaches this role with has us all convinced.

We believe this gentle, endearing story, and that’s the key to this play’s success.

Director Lisa Lanzi has done a marvellous job – setting it in a simple and convincing surround and finding a style which compliments the story and each of the actor’s distinctiveness.

There is some excellent movement, dance and puppetry type work — using coats and wigs. It’s clever, well-rehearsed, breaks up the action and drips a sweetly stylised extra layer over the production.

And although the script falters a bit at times – particularly in presenting, but then not dealing with some possibly interesting sub-plots, the obvious comfort that the two actors have with each other, their material and the audience allows us to be with — what just is, not fall into — what just isn’t.

This is an enjoyable one hour new work about being a human being, realising that you’ve missed the bus, and trying to get a bit of joy out of life, before it’s all too late.  With a tad more script development… I reckon this one could have legs.

The third piece in the Bakehouse Black Box series gets my tick as the winner, and also hits home that this innovative program has allowed three new interesting and very original all South Australian plays to go from page to stage, and isn’t that something to really dance about!