Wednesday, 17 November 2004

The Sapphires by Tony Briggs, MTC, Dec 17, 2004

 The  Sapphire  by Tony Briggs 
Melbourne Theatre Company
Playhouse, Victorian Arts Centre, from December 17, 2004

Reviewer: Kate Herbert on December 17, 2004

Tony Briggs play, The Sapphires, has an insubstantial story but it is charming and entertaining.

It is a play with plenty of music. An on stage, five -piece band, (musical direction, Peter Farnan) provides excellent funky soul accompaniment and atmospheric music.

Briggs uses a true story. In the 1960s, four young aboriginal women formed a quartet performing Soul and Motown tunes.

The group comprised members of Briggs family: mother, Laurel Robinson, and aunties, Lois Peeler, Beverley Briggs and Naomi Mayers,

In 1968, after the referendum including aboriginal people in the census, The Sapphires toured Vietnam, singing for US soldiers.

The play begins with a talent quest in a rural town Dave, (Stephen Lovatt) a singing manager with a slick line in self-promotion.

The singing sisters are still a trio. Gail (Rachael Maza) Kay (Lisa Flanagan) and Cynthia (Deborah Mailman) are mediocre until little sibling, Julie, (Ursula Yovich) surges on stage with a killer version of Aretha Franklin's  Respect.

Dave convinces the girls to tour Vietnam with promises of money, and accommodation. Conditions are not what Dave promised and they realise the war is too close for comfort.

Briggs' characters are not fully developed but they are well observed in their colloquial dialogue.

The four Sapphires are engaging and energetic. Yovich has a perfect voice for Motown and Maza belts tunes out with passion. Mailman can sell a song and Flanagan has a pretty tone.

They pump out pounding versions of Chain of Fools, Heard It Through The Grapevine, Higher and Higher, Stop In The Name of Love, with a fine medley of Soul classics as finale.

Director Wesley Enoch, drives the action, focuses on the music and maintains some dramatic tension in a story that has no significant dramatic through line.

Lovatt is convincing as the flashy manager, Wayne Blair is hilarious as Kay's AWOL fiance and the talent show host. Newcomer, Aljin Abella, (OK) is a compelling presence as Joe, the Vietnamese boy and Chris Kirby is delightfully underplayed as the US soldier.

The band (Farnan, Simon Burke, Piet Collins, John Favaro, Dean Hilson) make this a musical feast of Soul.

Set by Richard Roberts is flexible and evocative and costumes by Dale Ferguson are classic 60s.

The Sapphires is a play about fulfilling dreams and challenging stereotypes. It is a play about hope.

By Kate Herbert

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