This week saw the presentation of 43 Helpmann Awards in honour of the most outstanding live performances in Australia in the past year, two of which I found particularly notable.
Best Male Actor in a Play: Colin Friels – “Death of a Salesman” (Belvoir)
How wonderful it is to see recognition of the performances within productions of classic texts such as “Death of a Salesman”. I’ve only seen an Edinburgh Fringe production of Arthur Miller’s masterpiece and I long to see it staged in Brisbane, such is my affection for the story of Willy Loman’s rapture for and betrayal by The American Dream. Despite the humility of the Close Up Theatre production, fortunately, its reality did not transcend the work’s place in the theatrical cannon as the greatest play of the 20th century. So much more than the story of a salesman, this is like Gatsby for the everyman and an essential examination of the nature of Aristotelian tragedy in a modern context. Indeed, the poignancy and honesty of the story of the disintegration of Willy Loman’s world when he is made redundant resonates now as much as ever.
Colin Friels can certainly act. He showed this in the Queensland Theatre Company’s “Red” earlier this year when he effortless took the audience on a physical and emotional interpretation of volatile, self-absorbed American painter Mark Rothko’s journey working on his series of artworks for The Four Seasons restaurant. Unfortunately, Friels was not as well-served by the show’s production elements as he could have been. The authentic set was impressive, but could have been used more effectively and though the script contained many thought-provoking monologues of Rothko’s passionate intellectualism, they were overwritten almost to the point of drowning the story in their verbosity.
Best Musical: “Legally Blonde – The Musical”
Am I the only person not tickled pink about this? Because when it comes to “Legally Blonde – The Musical”, I just don’t get it. Yes, it is superficially colourful and camp but is that enough? Since I first became acquainted with the stage Elle Woods in the UK, to me, the answer has been no. Hyperactivity alone does not create a wow factor and comparative to other tightly choreographed shows, it lacks the triumph of a high profile show.