The Zoo Story By LAB Theatre

“Hey, I’ve been to the zoo.”

There is no first line in an English-language play that is harder for an actor to execute than the above. The setting a man in a suit sitting in a park on his lunch break. Another man approaches. He looks around for a bit and boom. “I’ve been to the zoo.” It’s that kind of nightmare line that has no source, no origin, other than the character’s own psychosis, which the actor must traverse before they can utter a word.

Fortunately, this is LAB Theatre. Also fortunately, this is Dennis Manahan. One of the most disciplined and emotionally connected actors in all of the Actor’s Lab, in the hands of director Peter Kalos, he manages to burst into the scene and into the line with an unnerving ease that sets the tone for the rest of the play.

Zoo Story is a psychological thriller by one of the reigning masters of the genre; Edward Albee. This most famous play, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”, is over two hours of slow-building tension and unease until the final destruction. Zoo Story is much the same, but on a much smaller scale and with only two actors, one clearly out of his mind, the other unwittingly trapped in an emotional and intellectual game of cat and mouse that raises questions of masculinity, loneliness and, eventually, who the real monsters inside our society are.

Zoo Story is a New York City story, in it’s time, but the personal claustrophobia and feelings of utter insignificance that created the desperate figures who walk the streets of NYC looking for something, someone – anything – to form some kind of connection which have slowly spread to the entire globe in the years since it’s writing and created a relevance that is at once touching and alarming.

Steve Carroll is Manahan’s unwitting and unwilling victim, and his slow descent into mania as Manahan picks tiny pieces off him until he finally hits the right note to create a raging monster of him is hypnotically true to life.

The big ticket for LAB Theatre, the reason why everyone goes, is because they are one of the few consistent theatre makers in the state that consistently produce plays that make you forget you’re watching a play. With a work like Zoo Story, Peter Kalos, Dennis Manahan and Steve Carroll make for a truly harrowing experience.

 

Review by Max Davine for Good Vibes Melbourne

Review: Burke’s Company – The Basin Theatre Co

In 1860, Irish-born explorer William O’Hara Burke led an ill-fated expedition from Melbourne to the Gulf of Carpentaria. The Basin Theatre’s production of Burke’s Company by Bill Reed brings the Burke and Wills story to life by showing not only the plight of Burke and Wills, but also the consequences of the choices made by those who were supposed to meet them.

The Basin Theatre is a lovely little venue located in The Basin near the Dandenongs. The Australian native plants seen driving to the theatre definitely help set the scene. Graham Fly and Gary Bott, both of whom also make cameo roles in the play, have taken a simplistic approach to their set design yet have managed to transform the stage into an outback stockade effectively, facilitated by the warm lighting designed by Natalia McKinna. Perhaps unnecessary, however, is a series of landscape photographs that are projected to the side of the stage. Whilst the images do help viewers discern the location of the scene taking place, the transitions between different images did tend to be somewhat clunky on the night of the review, with location images jarringly changing mid-scene at points.

A soundscape by Fly and Daniel Koster also adds to the feel of the show, with both ambient noises played during scenes and musical interludes playing during transition. It seemed, however, that the ambient noises weren’t used as frequently in the second act which did not make the play feel as much like a cohesive whole as it could have.

The play’s story is told in a non-linear fashion, which, to someone unfamiliar with the Burke and Wills story, may seem slightly confusing at first. The play switches between the characters’ conversations together, internal monologues and the written statements of the Cooper’s Creek Party that were supposed to meet Burke and Wills’ party. The actors all truly look as if they’ve been wandering the outback for months, thanks to detailed costumes by Eileen Ervine, Graham Fly and Natalie McKinna and makeup by Tamara Hill. It is clear that the cast are putting their all into deciphering the difficult, often meaty content of the script. Whilst some performances lack the nuance needed to portray the tougher scenes, the cast work well together to encapsulate the endlessness of the Australian desert and futility of Burke and co.’s journey to Mount Hopeless.

A standout is Matt Phillips as King, Burke’s youngest party member. A voice of hope on the journey, Phillips delivers the most nuanced performance of the cast and did well to convey his character’s journey and progression. Kudos should also be given to Robert Trott who stepped into the role of Wright a week before the play’s opening. With script in hand, Trott made a valiant effort to decipher the difficult material of his scene whilst still reading the dialogue off the page, acting alongside Zane Kelly as the conflicted Brahe. It would be interesting to see what could be done with this scene after Trott has had the chance to become more comfortable in his role and get off-book.

Graham Fry’s direction was effective in dialogue scenes; however the biggest problem the play experienced was its pacing issues. The play, much like Burke’s journey, felt long with several audience members becoming restless before the end of the first act. Whilst the slow pace did definitely help to convey the endlessness and hopelessness of the journey, more rise and fall in the pacing of the scenes could be useful to still convey the same themes, but also keep the play moving. Some actors also appeared stuck playing a ‘mood’, although this might be fixed should the pace be picked up.

Burke’s Company tells a familiar tale from a new angle. If you have an interest in Australian history and supporting local works, make sure you see the show before it closes. Just be sure to bring some water so you don’t feel as though you’re literally along for the ride.

Written by Chloe Towan for Good Vibes Melbourne

True Colours Cabaret

Without a doubt, the True Colours Cabaret had to be one of the liveliest and most creative shows I’ve seen. The night truly encompassed an array of talents to showcase the wierd and wonderful world of cabaret.

Marilyn Mocktail started things off with a suitably colourful twirling act, before passing the night over to the incredibly energetic MC: Matt Hadgraft.

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Matt led us through the performances with unmatched eagerness and reckless abandon. I’ve never witnessed more successful audience engagement and involvement from a cabaret.

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The night included a varied selection of vocalists, from Matt’s cheeky verses and Sugar St Claire’s raw and scarcastic musical story, to the velvety smooth notes of Esther Rix. There were also a couple of takes on mesmerizing the audience, with the swirls of fabric and lights of Timothy Christopher Ryan being somewhat more successful than that of the comedic toilet paper tosses from Matt and a willing audience member.

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Rosie Roulette, Queen Bea, and Carletta the Great all offered up acts that highlighted their own creativity as individuals and their ability to experiment  with ideas on a stage.

The two stand-out performances were from Ana Diction and Justin Teliqure, both with equally captivating acts – though wildly different. Ana Diction was poised and delicate throughout, crafting an aura of a bygone era with every seductive glimpse of legs through feathered fans. Closing the show with colour and precise choregraphy was Justin Teliqure who, while exhibiting a fantastic stage presence, managed to nail every move and lip synch every word to the rap song that tied everything together.

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The True Colours Cabaret was one of the most engaging and varied shows you could choose to see. It truly captured the spirit of Pride. Pride in who we all are inside and out. Pride in loving ourselves. Pride in showing our True Colours to the world. Or at least to a small crowd at a time!

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The next True Colours Cabaret is just around the on OCT 12 –  you won’t want to miss it!

Get your tix here now!

Review written by Alyssa Baker

Images by Jeevan Surendran

Featured Image: Rosie Roulette Matt Hadgraft , Marilyn Mocktail, Esther Rix, Justin Teliqure

 

“Chicago” By Theatre of the Damned

Theatre of the Damned really are a breath of fresh air that Melbourne should be envious of. Not only are they a seemingly well-funded (for a production company of their stature) little group that knows how to entertain audiences, but they show a diversity of casting and an intuition for nailing just some of those roles that surpasses so much of the safe succession of “Cosi” renditions ever-available to the Melbourne public.

In their third production, one of those absolutely nailed roles is Kethly Hemsworth as Velma Kelly. The first time I saw her, it was in “Abigail’s Party” at The Potato Shed, just outside of Geelong, and I was struck by the power she seemed to carry in her slight frame. A few years later, she’s a version of Velma that’s never, to my knowledge, been seen before; she’s forty years old. She’s had three children. She’s got some rockin’ tattoos. As soon as she and the chorus dancers, some of whom also sport some cool ink, it was obvious that this was Chicago in much the same way the dancers in Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” were cheerleaders. There’s an edge. It’s called Theatre of the Damned, after all. But more than just physicality, Hemsworth gives Velma a wold-weariness, a desperation to cling on to what once was, a mature edge on her rival Roxie Hart that didn’t show itself even in the Oscar-winning film. An inspired choice.

That said, if Theatre of the Damned can improve anywhere, it’s in the acting. Shani Clarke plays young Roxie, and it’s clear she understands character work, as evidenced by her performance as Melvin’s blind beloved in “The Toxic Avenger”, she is also a wonderful dancer and has a gorgeous and expertly refined singing voice, but her truth as an actor needs to come from within. She doesn’t trust the emotional truth that our bodies all create when we read a script in private, and the result is, as in Toxie, a well-overblown performance. She has a certain charisma; it’s hard to look at other people when she’s on, and with good tutoring and long hours she could become a wonderful, intuitive and disciplined actor to complete her triple-threat. Andrew Perry as Billy Flynn was much the same; truly a magnificent singer but requiring less focus on the lines and more on the truth behind them, and finding it internally, would make him the formidable performer he could be.

Ditto much of the chorus. Beautiful dancers and singers, utterly captivating in every pirouette and coupling high-note, but less would be more. “Cell Block Tango” needs more than just expert timing and scales and arpeggios, it needs honesty.

Shaynbe Lowe’s Matron Morton was a great example of acting-singing-dancing, and she uses her physical presence brilliantly in every scene, from the humorous to the heartbreaking. Another two treats are the return from Toxie of Liam Erk and Alicia Miller, Erk this time showing his range in drag by playing Mary Sunshine and Miller playing Magyar inmate Hunyak, both are their usual great form.

As usual, the music was brilliant and provided by a live orchestra, this time conducted by William Conway, while the captivating dances were choreographed by Jordan Punsalang. Theatre of the Damned have come from the far-afield fringe of Toxie to the very heartland of musical theatre with this beloved classic, and shown that they can make either one endearing, entertaining and somehow strangely sweet. A fine night out, because we all need something a little different, from time to time.

 

Written by Max Davine

“Pvt. Wars” At the Alex Theatre

It’s another (male dominated) classic American play from the breakthrough of the “Method” (1950-1980) playwrights, this time James McClure’s “Pvt. Wars”. Super-fast paced, delirious and relentlessly witty, it is the tale of three US war vets from Vietnam stuck together in a psychiatric care facility, seeming to waver between utter delusion and actually trying to grapple with the reality that they are back in a world that has changed, as men who have been irretrievably damaged.

It is an intensely delicate operation to draw comedy from such a dark, upsetting subject. The writing of the time and place was all about the slow, simmering reveal, regardless of the genre, and in this instance, we are learning scene by scene just how completely broken these men are. But as the play progresses through it’s maze of brutality and hilarity, the intimacy and truth each actor brings to their role shows enough honesty and respect that the audience gives themselves subconscious permission to laugh, without ever stopping to judge the play or themselves. And laugh they do; hysterically, at times. This is an achievement that requires the utmost discipline and devotion from the actors in their work.

Nobody makes a point of mentioning the hard work that goes into acting like Peter Kalos. Of all his catchy phrases “work your ass off” (in an LA accent) has to be the most oft-quoted, if mostly by him. But that’s what you do at the Lab, whether you’re a student or their teacher; you work. This isn’t acting as a dream or as a hobby, this is acting as a job, and take it from me, you will sweat, cry and bleed to earn it your place amongst them. Nothing stands as testament to the work ethic pushed at the Lab as clearly as Lab Theatre’s shows. Even if someone knows absolutely nothing about what actually goes into a performance, has no idea about the fine points of the craft, the sheer volume of plays that they’ve staged since they first started producing last year should be a clear indication. When you do know just how much these actors are suffering and sacrificing to be up there as intensely authentic as they are, that’s when you really have to be astonished. The rest of the audience; they’ll never know. That’s the sign of a great actor – nobody notices the acting. They say things like its “raw” or its “very convincing” and then move along. The irony is, that means they’ve done their job right.

John Massarotti and Indigo Parer are exceptional as Silvio and Gately, two men from opposing worlds thrust together by the way and driven to the same strange psychological limbo of completely uprooted unreality. The hours spent venturing these surreal confines of the human psyche couldn’t be counted, but they were there, and as I write this, I don’t imagine they’re coming down easily.

However, it is Joseph Baldwin as rich boy Natwick who really steals the show. His psychosis is wrapped in so many layers of attempted normality that it adds a whole new dimension to the character; one who lives in a fantasy of control and order. He gives us glimpses of his shattered state between the long and bombastic eruptions from his co-stars, but never lets the big boys see it.

Dana Pout, meanwhile, has the thankless task of filling the role of the woman. Is she a nurse, or a therapist? It doesn’t matter. McClure didn’t care for female characters any more than his other male contemporaries, and in fact one might say a great deal less so. One of her scenes even sees her performing from just beyond the spotlight. With the wings of Lab theatre absolutely bursting with the richest assortment of hard-working, talented female actors that can be found in Melbourne – Katharine Innes, Nicole Chamoun, Davini Malcolm, Vanessa Moltzen, Elise Guy, just to name a few – Kalos is going to have to start thinking further afield than Ireland to find work for them to do. And soon.

Writen by Max Davine for Good Vibes Melbourne

Featured image by Jack Zapsalis

“Cracked Smiles” At Chapel off Chapel

When talking about stories, plays or films about power dynamics in psychiatric institutions, it is invariable that one finds oneself discussing the power dynamics of society itself. It’s just one of those little ironies; we’re all living in one big nuthouse. Arguably the finest example of this is “Girl, Interrupted”, the 1993 memoir of Susanna Kaysen who, in the 1960’s, was incarcerated in what was then known as an asylum after being diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. In 1999 it was adapted into an unforgettable film starring Wynona Ryder, Angelina Jolie and the late Brittany Murphy. Before them was Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and it’s 1975 film adaptation starring Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher, both giving the performances of a lifetime. Kesey had been a porter in an institution in the 1950’s, before writing then novel. “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” was adapted into a stage play as well, performed at Chapel off Chapel back in 2011.

There is more that sets these two so vastly apart from the new show at Chapel off Chapel, “Cracked Smiles” than the fact that neither writer and producer Kieran Gould-Dowen or directors Jacinta Scadden and Gemma Flannery have clearly never even set foot in a psych ward, unlike myself. However, the depiction of eight “psychopaths” contained within the confines of a single room is a monumental task to tackle, and a concept that could, given proper work, research and intuition, be a deeply moving and confronting experience.

The reason it is not is evident as soon as the audience enter the theatre: we are brought in via the stage, where we see the various characters engaged in their leisurely pastimes, amongst which are a woman, Holly (played quite well by Rebecca Brigden) listening to headphones with a large, black chord – contraband inside such an institution. As are the pen wannabe journalist Emma Cox writes with and the black scarf hanging from former model Shamita Sivabalan’s coat rack. As the play progresses, we learn that these are dangerous cases; possibly murderers, all. They then assault staff entirely without consequence, despite mention of strict security guards in the dialogue. Research is everything when it comes to addressing the souls of those who still live, albeit in a cocoon outside of a society they can’t bear to exist in. It is not confronting in the way the creators intended to see them reduced to poor stereotypes and clichés.

Another few drafts and a consultation with a more experienced writer would have also saved the script from a lot of the undercooked dialogue and gaping plot holes. “Do you fear me?” asks Aaron James Campbell’s villain, at one point. Such pantomimic cartoonery has no place in what is advertised as a gritty, realistic depiction of the cracks in our society. What the crew of Thatcher’s Boy Theatre are trying to do is huge, and it is commendable that they are taking on such a project, given their apparent age. But they must do it well. This script has so much that could be improved upon, and such potential if they only took the time to nurture and grow this ambitious undertaking. What we saw tonight was born prematurely. It needs more incubation, more time and much more care.

The effort was not saved by the acting. Performances lacked intimacy and truth. The directors needed to put less emphasis on how to say lines and blocking and work more from an organic place – finding character and honesty with the performers. Seb Muirhead as Nigel was a notable exception, a lot more homework was evident on his part, as was the aforementioned Brigden as Holly, giving far more natural performances.

This seedling could truly grow into something powerful, but it isn’t there yet. I strongly encourage the creators to work on it, after the season is done, and bring it back when it – and they – are truly ready to shine. I am certain they will.

Review written by Max Davine for Good Vibes Media

“Coral Browne: This Fucking Lady” At 45 Downstairs

“She left behind an emptiness,

A gap, A void, a tough,

The world is quite a good deal less,

Since Coral Browne fucked off”

So said Barry Humphries at the funeral of Coral Browne in 1991. She’d died of breast cancer at the age of 77. Just how much of a good deal less the world was is just what audiences heading to Flinders Lane’s 45 Downstairs for the show run of “Coral Browne: This Fucking Lady” are going to find out.

When the stage and screen entered its first Golden Age in the early 1930’s, on both sides of the Atlantic, it became a quite literal breeding ground for the flamboyant von-vivant, the glorious queer, the outspoken jazz-age flapper and the shameless lothario. Thus came to prominence kings and queens of hotel-smashing, spouse-swapping, booze-guzzling decadence; Rex Harrison, Ava Gardner, Robert Newton, Elizabeth Taylor, John Barrymore, Trevor Howard, Joan Crawford Richard Burton, Bette Davis and the “wicked” woman by which all others shall be forever judged: Tallulah “Pure as the Driven Slush, Darling” Bankhead. But it wasn’t all fun and games in the darker corners of glitter Babylon, particularly if you happened to be held to the standards of a woman; Frances Farmer was institutionalized and eventually lobotomized for her free spirit, for one extreme example, while the talented likes of Jean Seaborg and Rachael Roberts were driven to suicide. It took toughness to be so dandy in such a conservative time.

You’d be forgiven to thinking perhaps an oddly named Australian woman, born in the industrial suburb of West Footscray in 1913, would rate amongst these glorious, if slightly unprofessional, camps. But then again, you’d be forgiven for not being too aware of Coral Browne. Despite the fact that she ruled the West End for a time, toured the world many times over, had a movie made about her encounter with a Russian spy and won two best actress BAFTAS, Australia, as it does with some of it’s finest luminaries, has all but forgotten her.

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Yet, she could quip with the very best of them. When informed that her former lover, Cecil Beaton, was gay, she quickly remarked “Not with me, darling. Like a rat up a drainpipe.” And though talent and skill played a minor role in what constituted a star in those days, Browne was not only good looking and charismatic, as were necessities, she was talented enough that she was able to penetrate the deeply xenophobic English stage long before the likes of a slightly sozzled Welshman and his two Irish counterparts turned up to “change West End forever”. Coral was a foreigner in a time when it was simply unheard of, and of all things, one hailing from the bastard child of John Bull’s days; ghastly Australia.

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Her story is not only being told, but colorfully and brilliantly played out by uncannily similar-looking Genevieve Mooy. In one lengthy soliloquy, she plays out her remarkable life, from troubled relationship with her mother to her autumn spent in loving bliss with second husband Vincent Price. Mooy is visibly nervous, but with relaxation over the coming season, she’s only going to improve on an already stellar performance. Not too much can be said without giving it away, but it’s elegant, dazzling and peppered with language befitting of “this fucking lady.”

Go see for yourself.

Reviw by Max Davine for Good Vibes Media 

Photo credit: Rob George

 

Burrinja Circus Festival: Ruccis Student Showcase

Walking into the Burrinja Cultural Centre on the final day of their Circus Festival to enjoy the Ruccis Student Showcase felt very much like I had travelled back in time to one of my many dance recitals from my childhood. Everywhere I looked there were students in costumes and makeup milling around, greeting family and friends before the show. My walk down memory lane ended when I entered the theatre however, as the juggling batons placed carefully onstage quickly brought me back to the present.

The showcase jumped right into things with its opening piece — a lively group juggling performance. We were treated to a common circus act in uncommon variety, with balls, batons, blocks, and rings, as well as some dexterous and theatrical hat tricks. As I was expecting the performances to include some overlap of different students using the same apparatuses, I was pleasantly surprised that every act was entirely unique. As an audience member who practices in an aerial studio already, the variety of aerial apparatuses (Straps, Rope, and Trapeze for those wondering), and the aerialists that flew on them, made me itch to get in the air and learn new ways to enjoy a fearless flight of my own. I can only assume that my fellow audience members were similarly inspired by these talented students.

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There were two standout performances in the show that absolutely took my breath away. Sam and his Cyr Wheel was easily one of the most mesmerising acts that I’ve ever been treated to. Where most performers need to work on smooth transitions between stunts and poses, he whirled effortlessly around the stage, absolutely hypnotizing everyone. Maddi and Liam finished the show with a both physically and emotionally powerful piece. They literally took aerial hoop to a whole new level by mounting a hoop on a pole and bracing the creation on Liam’s shoulder. The control displayed by the duo was captivating, and the chemistry and trust evident in their dance would have made it my favourite act regardless of song choice; the fact that they choreographed this to a magnificently slow cover of ‘Wicked Game’ made a flawless performance, somehow, even better.

Overall, Ruccis put together a wonderful showcase. Although it wasn’t lengthy, they truly packed the best performances in for the audience to enjoy. It was the definition of an ideal student showcase. I don’t doubt that they will be getting enquiries about their classes after tonight, and I highly encourage everyone to check out Ruccis and everything they have to offer.

Review by Alyssa Baker for Good Vibes Media 

Images by Tania Pendlebury

Ruccis Circus School 

Departure Lounge Burrinja Circus Festival-8986

“Barefoot in the Park” At the Woodbin Theatre

Neil Simon is arguably one of the most popular playwrights of all time. His resume boasts some of the most beloved and frequently staged plays ever to grace the off-Broadway stage: “The Odd Couple”, “Lost in Yonkers”, “Sweet Charity”, Rumors”, “Little Me”, “The Good Doctor”, “The Goodbye Girl”, the list goes on and on. In fact, the only list longer are the names of acting legends who cut their teeth performing his plays, and often returned for the film adaptations. In the case of the immortal, hilarious and effortlessly relatable “Barefoot in the Park”, there are luminaries like Robert Redford, Elizabeth Ashley, Myrna Loy, Amanda Peet, Maureen Lipman, Patrick Wilson and, in the 1967 film, the formidable Jane Fonda.  Needless to say, the cast picked by Kelly Clifford for the play’s run at the Woodbin Theatre in Geelong had some mighty shoes to fill. Just how difficult a play we have here is evident at any of the shows put on in Melbourne – as a Lab actor, I’ve seen scenes performed hundreds of times (and done them myself), as well as going to shows – all of which have been drastically inferior to Simon’s writing. I was nervous for Clifford. I did not expect a little community theatre in Geelong to outdo any venue or cast I’ve thus far seen in Melbourne. But I was wrong.

The treat we were in for was evident from the moment we entered the theatre; set design was wonderful. Enter Corie and Paul Bratter.

Chemistry that comes alive and electrifies the audience at every cheeky glimmer and cutting line. Even their fights are so charged by passion that the audience couldn’t help but be taken up by it. Kelly Clifford clearly understands actors, and the script – to kindle such an explosive formula in such an obviously restrictive rehearsal period is impossible. It’s all in her casting choices, and that shows a keen and perceptive instinct far surpassing many.

As Corie, Georgia Chara is able to get away with anything with her cheeky glint and idiosyncratic mannerisms. Lucky enough to call her a friend, I can testify that this is as close to the experience of actually knowing Chara that I’ve ever seen on stage; it is her most intimate and personal performance by far.

Ian Nash-Gilchrist, in the role of Paul, lets himself be as exasperated, baffled and utterly charmed as he must be, being thrust on a tiny stage in such an intimate role with such a live-wire. Paul Bratter is a set of eyes through which the audience may perceive of Corie, and Nash-Gilchrist is expertly subtle and intimate enough for us to connect to.

But the casting expertise exceeds Corie and Paul here – Robyn Birrell, in the role of Corie’s Mother Ethel Banks, shares a relationship with Chara that rings subtly and irritatingly true, while David MacKay’s Victor Velasco compliments her perfectly, although he could have spent a little more time amongst the likes of Bela Lugosi and Peter Lorre to get that accent down…but, who’d have thought he’d get a reviewer so acutely versed in the Hungarian syntax as I?

Clifford and co have pulled off a fun, breezy rendition of a Simon classic, as refreshing as walking barefoot in the park.

Review by Max Davine for Good Vibes Media 

Images by Sandy Gray