Women in Voice 16



Creative Producer: Annie Peterson

Presented by QPAC in association with Queensland Folk Federation and Annie Peterson


This season marks the 16th birthday of Women in Voice and as Annie Peterson, its founder, says in her program note, turning sweet 16 is “a milestone that we are all extremely proud of. One that we hoped for but never expected.” It promises to be an unusual party, a big dollop of nostalgia, some exotic strangeness, a bit of continental sophistication, some hard-driving guitar, and some of the funniest opera parody I’ve ever seen, all supported by the brilliant musical backing of Jamie Clark on guitar, John Parker on drums and percussion, John Rodgers on violin, keyboard and guitar, Stephen Russell on piano, and Helen Russell, who’s also the musical director, on bass. It’s a big night, and to celebrate we have not one but two Kransky Sisters. First is Annie Lee as the MC for the evening who initiates the audience into the journey into the imagination that she’s going to take with them. Is it a bedtime story or a racy hometown history? And speaking of the audience, there’s no subdued hum here before the curtain goes up. The loyal WIV following is noisy as a swarm of chattering magpies and colourful as a flock of birds of paradise. They all know each other, it seems, and they also know how to party.

Annie Lee, in a high-necked long dress and looking like a cross between a Victorian governess and a brothel madam, chose the path of the innocent, and against a gentle bell-like sound, she sang the Beatles’ song “Because the world is round” followed by a small, knowing grin and a bit of cheap philosophy: we sing songs to help us remember, and to help us forget. Then comes a little riddle and the arrival of the second Kransky sister, Christine Johnston, she of the amazing jawline and the seriously strange world in her head. Tonight she resembles Rachel Roberts in Picnic at Hanging Rock with a dash of Turn of the Screw for good measure, but the “child” turns out to be an epidiascope, which she wheels on as if in a pram. After singing “Good morning, how are you” and conducting the three backing singers (all in short black outfits like gym slips) in “What I like about you”, all this exaggeratedly and parodically enunciated, she projects a list of Latin names of plants, which she then chants as if in church, morphing at last into the same intoning of familiar phrases like “stiff cheddar” or “don’t come the raw prawn with me.” There’s no way to categorise an act like this. At one moment she plays with her hair comb so that the shadow looks like jagged fingers on the screen, she lets her hair down, she picks up a bow and a musical handsaw and sings absolutely seriously in ballad style the lovely “Wild is the wind” (recorded memorably by Nina Simone amongst others) with the keening of the saw mimicking the sound of the wind, and then she admonishes the schoolgirl backing singers to take notes as there will be questions tomorrow. It’s very exhilarating.

Jackie Marshall, Chapter 2 of Annie Lee’s story (perhaps a pillow book?) belted out a couple of her own songs, the most memorable being the quirky “The Ugly Man”. Her chat about singing of pain, boozy sessions, and talking to a stranger all seemed a bit contrived, and she’s got some clumsy moves on stage, but there’s no mistaking her power as a guitar player. Leonard Cohen’s “Bird on the Wire” (a k.d. lang special) was a disappointment, and the huge sound she and the band made overwhelmed the emotion and power of Cohen’s lyrics.

I was disappointed too in Annie Peterson’s set, mainly because she wanted to remind us all of the early years of WIV, so we were treated to the cowgirl song complete with bull’s horns and Peterson and Christine Johnston teaming up with their hobby horses. It might have worked in the intimate setting way back then, and certainly the yodelling was great (the real reason for wanting to get up on stage in the first place), but in the Playhouse that old-fashioned charm and nostalgia fell pretty flat. So much so that the gentle, beautifully sung Irish folk ballad “As I rode out one bright May morning” which was her tribute to the Woodford Folk Festival and all their support over the past few years, and the equally iconic Queen ballad “Somebody to love” seemed to shout incoherence in the set rather than range.

With Annie Lee’s promise of selling love potions at interval, I was wondering whether the second half would pick up again or whether the desire to remember was bogging down the exhilaration that Christine Johnston had engendered earlier. When Lee returned with some more hokey philosophy and a quote from Poe, however, it was time to bring on Alison St Ledger and her Australian in Brisbane slideshow, capturing the girl herself in French-looking gear against some vaguely Parisian-seeming structures like Park Road Eiffel Tower and the Wickham Terrace Tower. Scatty but endearing, but when she began to sing, Piaf and Jacques Brel, it was another world completely. “La vie en rose”, “Padam Padam”, “Ne me quitte pas” and finally one of the fastest and most brilliant versions of “Carousel” I’ve ever heard; after all, its French title is “La valse à mille temps”.

What can one say about Carita Farrer, the last of the women? She was an hilarious MC last year, and this year she is the ultimate opera diva who was born on the stage during Madama Butterfly; opera is her life, and she lives life as opera. The glove puppet dog who fossicks in her ample cleavage as Butterfly’s child, the Wagnerian sword that’s too big to fall on — she also plays Siegfried — the axe in the head, out of all this she creates mayhem on stage, while all the time belting out magnificent arias. Her tour de force is to play both main parts of the Phantom at once, arriving on a boat wreathed in dry ice, in white satin for Christine, then, not always deftly, turning to her other side for the mask and black satin as the Phantom with a growling voice to match the part. It’s an inspired piece of comic disorder and frenetic overkill.

So there we have it, another year, possibly not quite as brilliant this year as last, although there were moments which surpassed anything before. As bubbles rained down and they all sang “They say that I’m crazy”, I thought that it’s not too long to go before number 17. Bring it on, girls.

Directed by Karen Crone

Playing 12-22 September 2007.

Duration : 2hrs 20mins (including 20min interval).

— Barbara Garlick
(Performance seen: Thu 13th September 2007)