THE Melbourne International Comedy Festival Roadshow has been trekking around Australia for almost 20 years, playing to packed houses in capital cities and regional towns because it gives people the chance to see some of the very different laugh-raising domestic and international performers who make the Melbourne event one of the world’s best.
Hunter people will have the chance to enjoy a mix of stand-up, sketch, satire, silliness and song when five of the comics play at Cessnock Performing Arts Centre on June 7 at 8pm and at Newcastle’s Civic Theatre on June 8, 9 and 10, at 8pm. The show’s master of ceremonies is Bob Franklin, who briskly gets the other four – Josh Earl, Geraldine Hickey, Suzi Ruffell and Tom Cashman – on and off stage and interacting with the audience.
Cessnock Performing Arts Centre will also host, on June 12 at 12pm and 8pm, another much-acclaimed work, Australian indigenous playwright Jane Harrison’s Stolen, which looks poignantly at the lives of five members of the Stolen Generation, aboriginal children who were forcefully taken away from their parents under a long-running federal government policy that only ended in the late 1990s. The tour to NSW regional towns was put together by Parramatta’s Riverside National Theatre company, to mark the 20th anniversary of the play’s first staging in 1998.
Comedy Roadshow MC Bob Franklin has appeared in many film and television works, written award-winning short stories and a novel, and has directed stage shows including the recently touring Lano and Woodley’s Fly. Josh Earl has hosted and written for television series including Spicks and Specks; Geraldine Hickey puts together solo works and group shows, and appeared in one of each at this year’s Melbourne Fest; Suzi Ruffell is a rising young British comedian who engrosses watchers with tales of social ineptitude; and stand-up performer Tom Cashman amusingly unfolds awkward stories.
Stolen moves backwards and forwards in time and place as it intermingles the stories, drawn from the lives of real people, of five victims of the policy. Sandy, Ruby, Jimmy, Anne and Shirley had different experiences. Ruby, played by Berthalia Selina Reuben, is an emotionally and sexually abused inmate of a children’s home, with a terrible secret. Shirley (Henrietta Baird) is haunted by the image of her distraught mother, framed in the back window of the car that took her to the welfare home.
Director Vicki Van Hout, who began her theatre career as an indigenous dancer who trained in the US, has used dance, music and comedy in bringing out the stories of members of the Stolen Generation. The other actors are Jack Sheppard, Kate Leslie and Glen Thomas.
A musical by Novocastrians Nick Higginbotham and Gareth Hudson that looks at Captain James Cook’s last voyage and his slaying on a beach in Hawaii, Between Worlds, will be shown in July to Hawaiian community members through a rehearsed reading of dialogue and songs. This is so the community can put forward their reactions to the show’s representations of Hawaiian culture and historic aspects of the work.
Nick Higginbotham, the writer and lyricist, and Gareth Hudson, the composer, will join a week-long rehearsal at Kahilu Theatre on the big island of Hawaii. That’s the island where the volcano erupted, but it is on the southern side of Hawaii, whereas the theatre is on the northern coast. Nick has visited Hawaii twice in recent months promoting the show. He came across contemporary Lono priests whose ancestors greeted James Cook at Kealakekua Bay and found their enthusiasm for the script and suggestions to be priceless.
The composing team, who premiered their first musical, rock show Shining Isle, in Newcastle in 2007, have been working on Between Worlds since 2009, and won funding for its development from A New Musical Australia program in 2015, enabling development workshops to be held in Sydney with professional artists, and leading to three sold-out workshop performances in 2017.
Nick Higginbotham, who was born in the US, grew up in Hawaii and obtained university degrees there. His interest in Cook’s connections with Hawaiians increased after he moved to Australia, where he is an associate professor at the University of Newcastle.
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