On Wednesday morning I viewed the first of three Top Class Drama concerts (10:00am) organised by the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority as part of the Season of Excellence. Top Class Drama showcases some of the very best solo performance examinations from previous Year 12 students, performed before current students, teachers, family and friends. The 10:00am Drama concert is always popular and on this occasion was a full house of 1,000 people in the audience.
Bendigo Senior Secondary College
The Wartime Entertainer: Gail McRae
Using a ribbon as her transformable object, the highlights from Paige’s performance of Gail McRae from the movie The Sapphires was her strong singing voice and aspects of movement snippets without dialogue. Student performers often forget that not every moment of a solo performance needs to be filled with spoken text. As one of the four expressive skills, movement regularly plays an integral part in successful solos and can readily communicate information to assessors in non-naturalistic ways.
Ballarat Clarendon College
The Master of Suspense: Alfred Hitchcock
Jack’s portrayal of Alfred Hitchcock was outstanding! His costume was a suit and the objects used were a director’s chair and a tie. The shirt and director’s chair were symbolically slashed with red paint/blood. The tie was cleverly manipulated to be transformed into a variety of other objects, including a camera, while the tie was also used wisely for a number of objects such as a film script. This was a highly sophisticated and tightly edited performance that employed a well-researched and smartly written script. Jack’s performance was very energetic and engaging from start to finish, demonstrating excellent contrast between characters that allowed the audience to easily follow the plot.
Korowa Anglican Girls’ School
The Celebrity Chef: Fanny Cradock
Set in the 70s with the first recognised celebrity television chef, Ariella’s costume consisted of a blouse and skirt. Her object was a tea-towel. This performance cleverly used a soundscape that assisted in moments of tension and suspense. One of the highlights of this solo was the witty concept of ‘Dining for the Deceased’, with Fanny pitching her idea of being the world’s first psychic chef conjuring up Elvis and Hitler in the style of a ouija (talking spirit) board. Hilarious!
Melbourne Grammar School
The Hired Help: Manuel
Jonathon’s performance of the character Manuel from the 70s television series Fawlty Towers had some really strong moments. The highlight for me was using the object of the large, round silver serving tray as a method of character transformation. I love it when students use objects in sophisticated ways in performances: in this case manipulating the prop in such a way that it denoted the transition from one character to another during back-and-forth dialogue involving one actor. Dressed in the typical Manuel costume, Jonathon’s performance was also a good example of exaggerated movement in performance, both with Manuel’s arms and legs. When I think of Fawlty Towers and the use of exaggerated movement, I am immediately reminded of Basil’s silly walk in The German’s episode, but Jonathon reminded us that Manuel is like Mr Bean in that his character foundation is centred on a silly use of exaggerated movement and gestures with hands, arms and legs.
Essendon Keilor College
Arielle’s performance of Mr Moon (Luna Park) was highly physical, involving a bright yellow top, red pants, rainbow braces and multicoloured runners. Exaggerated movement was a also a key factor in this performance, as was an effective use of space. While I prefer my own students to use a chosen object that directly relates to the primary character before transformation, the use of a long piece of blue rubber was nevertheless used wisely during this performance.
Rob’s performance included rainbow pants, shirt, bow tie and jacket with coloured patches as a costume. His choice of object for Mr Moon was a walking stick. The highlights of this performance were caricature and contrast. The various characters were distinctly different through contrasting use of tone, accent, stance, gesture, movement and facial expressions – enhanced by Rob’s choice to exaggerate most of his characters (caricature). Clever use of the term ‘Luna Parkour: the place of 50,000 injuries’!
The Shrew: Katherina (Kate)
Difficult for me to review this performance as Margaret was my own student. Now what are the odds of a radio mic transmitter falling off a performer’s body or costume in Top Class Drama? Pretty rare. Well, Margaret is my second ex-student to have this happen to her, as one of my students back in 2008 had the same thing occur in her Top Class performance at the National Theatre, St. Kilda. Thankfully, Margaret had enough stage skills to dispense with the dangling microphone pack midway through her solo and continue unaided, all the while retaining her focus and not pausing the performance. A credit to her. A highlight of Margaret’s performance was her sophistication in the writing of the script, with several witty historical and contemporary references. It was a fast-paced performance, contrasted by a few slower moments, including slow-motion gestures. Margeret’s performance was an effective example of using all available areas and levels in the space. She was the only performer prepared to use the very back of the stage and also lay on the floor during a solo.
Mount St Joseph Girls’ College
A highlight of Rebecca’s performance of The Detective was the use of soundscape, but beware the warning from the Chief Assessor for Drama at the concert of the pitfalls of choosing to use technology. In the examination room, students must operate all technology themselves during the solo and sometimes things can go wrong! The soundscape in this performance was at times intriguing and used in ways I have not seen before, such as a voice-over during a movement section. This performance involved exaggerated movement and hand gestures; even stance. Rebecca’s costume was a suit and tie and the chosen object was a milk crate.
Elisabeth Murdoch College
The Celebrity Chef: Fanny Cradock
Wow, was this performance a stunner, or what!? Riley performed the female celebrity chef character Fanny Cradock drag-like … and to great effect. This performance involved a very sophisticated text, was thoroughly engaging and highly comedic. The connection between the primary character’s name Fanny and the anatomical reference (the Australian <and UK performance context> reference for ‘fanny’ is not the same as in the US .. see here) was cleverly constructed, so much so that repeat gags with slightly altered lines became increasingly humourous instead of waning. Riley’s costume was fantastic (including fake breasts, wig and makeup) and his comic timing was wonderful. This was a tightly edited, highly energetic and thoroughly entertaining performance.
Current students of Drama should take note of the following from this Top Class Drama review:
- the choice of objects
- the fact that most performers only choose one object to transform (some two)
- costume choices (no ‘Brechtian blacks’ here!)
- although not highlighted in this review, the fact that all but one performer used sound (effects from the performer’s mouth), yet only three of this concert’s nine performers were prescribed this element
- movement is acceptable and spoken text does not need to take up every second of a solo
- object(s) can be used to aid in character transformation
- research is a vital play-making technique for any successful solo performance
- editing and refining are also very important, as a tight performance is not only well-rehearsed, but skilfully edited and polished