Tramp Steamer Tramp, Woyzeck | Ken Longworth

JAZZ AND SWING: David Baker, Chris Gill and Su Morley who are performing in the cabaret-style play, Tramp Steamer Tramp.
JAZZ AND SWING: David Baker, Chris Gill and Su Morley who are performing in the cabaret-style play, Tramp Steamer Tramp.

WHEN Newcastle musician and writer David Baker put together a cabaret-style musical play, Tramp Steamer Tramp, in 2013, he had no idea how popular it would be with audiences.

The story, set on a dilapidated tramp steamer, the Shanghai Princess, with a very diverse collection of crew members and passengers, and moving through South-East Asian waters in 1937, had watchers repeatedly applauding.

Baker, with the three other members of Smokin’ Chops Jazz – Chris Gill (who co-wrote the show with Baker), Marcus Holdsworth, and Manny Serrano – are re-appearing in a new staging, joined by Newcastle singer and musician Su Morley. Tramp Steamer Tramp will be presented at its initial venue, the intimate Royal Exchange Salon, in Bolton Street, nightly at 8pm from June 7 to June 9, with a 2pm matinee on June 10. Tickets, $20, can be bought through trybooking.

The 90-minute two-act musical, with 20 varied jazz and swing numbers from the years between 1910 and the story’s 1937 setting, is staged as a radio-style cabaret, with the band members each playing multiple characters.

David Baker got the idea for the show while watching a 1930s film, China Seas, that starred Clark Gable and Jean Harlow, and had pirates attacking a tramp steamer near the Chinese coast. He set the story in 1937 because that was the year Japanese troops invaded Manchuria, marking the beginning of their World War II campaign. A Japanese businessman is one passenger, and the ship’s captain is a German, who finds himself criticised by others because his homeland’s Nazis are taking action against other European countries.

The many other characters include a mysterious female entertainer who could be a spy, a Spanish wireless operator with poor communication skills, and a former nightclub performer trying to escape the 1930s great depression.

The show’s songs, some of which are different to those in the 2013 production, include It’s Only a Paper Moon, Slow Boat to China and The Nearness of You.

Another well-received Newcastle production, Stooged Theatre’s 2017 staging of the Australian comedy-drama Neighbourhood Watch, by Lally Katz, will have two performances at Port Macquarie’s Glasshouse Theatre on June 29, with five of the eight cast members repeating their roles.

The play is on a HSC reading list, and enthusiastic comments by Hunter teachers who saw the production led to north coast teachers approaching the Glasshouse re staging the show. Members of the cast and staging team will also take part in two hour-long workshops on the play on June 27 that will be attended by school groups.  

Theatre Review

Woyzeck

Pasvolsky Actors Studio, at The Dungeon, Adamstown

Ended Saturday

WOYZECK is widely regarded as the first modern play, with German writer Georg Buchner making the title central character a working-class soldier who is badly treated by those of higher rank and has an increasingly unsettled relationship with the mother of his child. As Buchner died when the play was still in a draught form, it is invariably adapted by those staging it. Claire Pasvolsky, the director of this production, made it an engaging 80-minute work and one that the vast array of costumes from different periods showed to be timeless.

Ryan Beazley, as Franz Woyzeck, brought out his increasing frustrations and desperation, as he was bullied by a captain (Angela McKeown) whose hair he cut, forced to have a weird diet by a doctor (Frances Crane) who put her career before his health, and suffered sniping comments from a drum major (Matthew Heys) determined to have sex with Woyzeck’s ever more unhappy girlfriend, Marie (Stephanie Rochet). Woyzeck was happiest when talking to the supportive friend, Andres (Jacob Gamble), with whom he shared living quarters. The other characters, played by Kate Davidson, Emma Graham, Matthew Harper, and Emily Harvey, some in multiple roles, included, among others, a showman, Marie’s neighbour, and a white horse, and there were diverse settings, with elegant functions at a hotel and troubles on the shore of a blue pond. Jenna Blayden’s sound score assisted the many changes of venue.