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The Hypochondriac

By Molière, in a new version by Hilary Bell.  Directed by Jo Turner. Darlinghurst Theatre Co.  June 9 – July 1, 2018

Photo : Robert Catto

Molière’s play is set in the bedchamber of Argan, a rich, neurotic and gullible man who employs adoctor and an apothecary who treat his imaginary illnesses on a full-time basis because of the lucrative fees they can charge. Add a greedy wife, a sleazy lawyer, an outspoken maid and a petulant daughter and you have the makings of a comedy that fits the genre in which Moliere chose to write, one that is based on double images – wise and foolish, right and wrong, good and bad.

 . . . his cast have realised them in a production that is, in his words, a “larger than life world full of farce, farts and fraudsters.”

Hilary Bell’s adaptation has refocused Molière’s “critique of a society obsessed with quick fixes” to include more contemporary issues: greedy drug companies, their ‘cure all’ advertising campaigns, susceptible patients and unscrupulous doctors who over-prescribe.

Put this in the hands of director Jo Turner – who admits he loves both ‘high’ and ‘low’ comedy – and you have a production that not only mixes the puns and pratfall zaniness of commedia, but retains Molière’s underlying message which Turner describes simply as … “Don’t be a dickhead.”

Darren Gilshenan brings his well-known energy, physicality and comic timing to the role of Argan. Confined to the satin-curtained set and satin-covered semi-circular bed designed by Michael Hankin, Gilshenan complains and cavorts, cajoles and coaxes, creating an Argan who is both clown and cuckold, dependent on the constant accessibility and forbearance of his shrewd maid/housekeeper – and foil – Toinette.

Photo : Robert Catto

Lucia Mastrantone shines in this role, savouring the opportunity to use her own comic timing to create a Toinette who is sassy, cheekily disrespectful and astutely in control of every aspect of the household. Her look-alike scene as a doctor towards the end of the play makes the most of the mischief of farce.

Sophie Gregg is elegantly two-faced and schemingly duplicitous as Argan’s money-hungry wife, Beline, and Emma Harvie is gawkily hilarious as his hard done-by . . .

Review continued in Stage Whspers magazine

Assassins

Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.  Book by John Weidman. Directed by Dean Bryant.  Choreography by Andrew Hallsworth.  Musical Director Andrew Worboys. Set and Costume Design Alicia Clements.  The Hayes Theatre Co.  June 7 – July 1, 2018

Photo : Prudence Upton

The return of Hayes’ Theatre’s stunning production of Assassins to the stage of the Playhouse was marred by a painful injury to Bobby Fox just as he concluded his brilliant, light, swift-footed, crazed depiction of Charles Guiteau (hanged for the assassination of President James Garfield in 1881). After an amazing song and dance routine, including a skipping sequence with a fluorescent rope, Fox faltered and fell.

David Campbell, in his character of John Wilkes Booth, announced that there had been an accident and asked the indulgence of the audience. Sometime later, director Dean Bryant explained that Fox was okay, but on his way to hospital – and the show continued with associate producer Stephen Bignell “filling in” with script in hand.

. . . work with professional, clockwork preciseness in the eleven very different and therefore challenging musical numbers.

Despite such an unfortunate incident, this opening night performance promises a great return season. The original set, designed by Alicia Clements, conjures the tawdry gaudiness of an abandoned fairground, where this felonous “group of time travelling misfits” who have either assassinated – or tried to assassinate – a President of the United States, come together. It’s not the usual ‘bill of fare’ of musical theatre, but it’s Sondheim and Weidman, so of course it’s going to be different.

Photo : Prudence Upton

From John Wilkes Booth, to Lee Harvey Oswald – this motley group of villains sing and dance their way through “their uniquely subverted” reasons for taking on “the Chief”. The music, led by Musical Director Andrew Worboys, varies in line. . . . .

Continued in Stage Whispers magazine

Met Concert #3 – SERENADE

MET Concert #3 Serenade; The Metropolitan Orchestra; Independent Theatre, North Sydney; 9th June 2018

The beautifully restored Independent Theatre, with its fine acoustics, was a fitting venue for The Metropolitan Orchestra’s third concert of the year. Led by Sarah-Grace Williams, Artistic Director of TMO and its Chief Conductor, the program featured a twenty-three-strong string ensemble playing Serenade in E-Flat Major, Op 6 by Josef Suk, followed by popular Australian tenor Daniel Belle presenting highlights from opera and musical theatre.

Fresh from performing Hadyn’s Creation with The Sydney Philharmonic Choirs only a fortnight before, TMO moved with smooth and meticulously rehearsed ease to the varied movements of one of Suk’s more cheerful compositions, which are best and adeptly described by Andrew Doyle in his program notes:

“ … The first movement is a fluid Andante con moto which appears with a beautiful, flowing violin melody. The pace picks up in the second movement and the most memorable movement is the Adagio, the third movement. The beautiful opening cello melody develops a rich, emotional intensity that endears this work to string orchestras … ”.

 This thirty minute harmony of strings accentuated the practised finesse of every performer and the sensitivity with which Williams’ skilful direction heightens the variations in tempo and emotion that are intrinsic to each of Suk’s four movements – and the differing musical character required for the second half of the program.

There, Daniel Belle treated the already delighted audience to a sequence of pieces especially selected from his wide opera and musical theatre repertoire. From Nella Fantasia, to Some Enchanted Evening (South Pacific; from, Anthem (Chess) to Vesti la Giubba (Pagliacci; from If I Loved You (Carousel) to Bring Him Home from Les Miserables, Belle literally ‘wowed’ the audience with the range, power and emotion of his impeccable execution of each of the well-loved and musically complex pieces.

The ‘vibe’ between Belle, Williams and members of the orchestra was almost effervescent – as was the response of the audience as the last notes of each beautifully orchestrated and performed work vibrated around the theatre.

August : Osage County

By Tracy Letts; directed by Louise Fischer; New Theatre, Newtown; 6 June – 7 July 2018

Photo L © Bob Seary

Once again, the New has excelled expectations. Any production of this multi-award-winning play is an immense undertaking. It’s long, complicated, complex. It tells of a family imploding on itself as raw emotions and hidden secrets are exposed. Director Louise Fischer calls it “one of the masterpieces of the 21st century” – and she treats it with the meticulous care and attention to detail it deserves.

Set on a farm in a hot Oklahoman summer, the story revolves around the funeral of Beverley Weston, played persuasively by James Bean, whom we meet briefly but memorably, at the beginning of the play, as he sets the scene. “My wife takes pills. And I drink. That’s the bargain we’ve struck” he explains to Johnna (played with quiet, observant intensity by Emilia Stubbs Grigoriou), a young Cheyenne woman he has employed to keep house. His description hardly prepares her for the scenes she will witness as his family comes together a little while later for his funeral.

. . . she treats it with the meticulous care and attention to detail it deserves.

Every character in this play is intrinsic to the story – each created with the fine, precision of a perceptive playwright – and brought to life here by a sensitive director and a skilled cast.

The role of the matriarch, Violet Weston, is pivotal to the plot. Abused as a child, now suffering from cancer and addicted to a cocktail of drugs, Violet is a vicious woman who manipulates the family with an adroit hand. It is a demanding role, but one Alice Livingstone has obviously studied and savoured. Her timing is perfect, making the most of the cynical humour that relieves the tension of the play. There isn’t a moment when she is on the stage where the anguish and bitterness of the woman aren’t apparent. They are there in her walk, the way she holds her head, her piercing eyes, the brutal delivery of venomous lines, the agony of the loneliness she eventually faces. This is a stellar performance from one of the talented stalwarts of the New theatre.

She is supported by twelve equally committed performers who, under Fischer’s discerning direction, have delved into Letts’ characters with scrupulous depth. Each brings out the varying insecurities of the family member they portray. Their flaws, fears and fraying self- esteem are revealed as tempers rise, accusations fly and secrets emerge.

Photo : © Bob Seary

Mattie Faye, Violet’s shrewish, sharp-tongued sister is played with relish by Emily Weare. Peter Flett plays her easy-going, peace-seeking husband, Charles. Jake Fryer-Hornsby their harried, nervous, secretive son.

Violet’s daughters are very much the product of a family that harbours resentments and jealousy. Helen Stuart gives a powerful performance as Barbara, the eldest daughter, a woman trying to appear in control as everything about her life crumbles around her. Adrian Adam plays her errant husband Bill, Kirra Farquharson their precocious, pot smoking fourteen-year-old daughter.

Sonya Kerr is fittingly reticent and taciturn as Ivy Weston, the youngest of the sisters, who bears the brunt of Violet’s critical tongue. Amy Scott-Smith, is the more liberated but unstable middle sister, Karen, who is engaged to the sleazy, four-times divorced Steve Heidebrecht, played by Lyndon Jones. Brett Heath is the local Sheriff, Deon Gilbeau.

Designer Sallyanne Facer has cunningly used the full width of the stage and a series of rostra and stairs to suggest the three-storey farmhouse. This, with Michael Schell’s lighting, gives Fischer the levels required by the script to keep the family under constant observation’ by the audience.  Thus, Johnna can be seen sitting in the attic reading TS Eliot, while the sisters rail in the sitting room, the others play cards at the dining table and Violet slumps in her room.

Photo : © Bob Seary

The New can be justly proud of this deftly directed, carefully paced and intuitively performed production.

The Galston Concerts 2018 Series

Bernard Walz with vocalist Brea Holland; Galston Uniting Church; 3rd June

Bernard Walz with Brea Holland

With the wintery Sydney sun shining through the amazing stain glass wall behind him, Bernard Walz wowed an audience of 150 in the second of the Galston Concerts for 2108.

Performer, conductor, composer, orchestrator and arranger, Walz is perhaps best-known for The Good Old Days Concerts at the Sydney Town Hall. He also tours on prestige cruise lines and has performed at London’s Royal Festival Hall with the BBC Concert Orchestra.

A true showman, Walz not only captivates the audience with his wizardry at the piano, but with the light, humorous repartee at which he is also a master.

Robert Harris and Dorit Herskovits, founders and Artistic Directors of the Galston Concerts, are usually playing themselves, but on Sunday they watched from the audience as Walz paid tribute to Claude Debussy, Scott Joplin and Leonard Bernstein. From the delicate strains of Clair de Lune to the syncopated ragtime rhythms of Maple Leaf Rag; from the more melancholy notes of The Bethena Waltz to a medley of the beautiful songs from West Side Story, his light, flying fingers made the grand piano seem like an orchestra in itself.

In the second part of the program he introduced Young Performer vocalist, Brea Holland. A student at The McDonald College and the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, where she is studying Grade 8 Classical Voice and Grade 8 Musical Theatre, Holland entranced the audience with the range and power of her voice and her confident, engaging performance skills. From the sultry notes of Summertime, to the irony of Cole Porter’s Always True To You Darling in My Fashion to the tenderness of the Gershwins’ Someone to Watch Over Me, Holland’s talent shone as brightly as the filtered rays of the late afternoon sun behind her.

Walz brought the concert to an end in virtuoso style, performing a ‘symphony’ of titles suggested by the audience. In this he mixed, merged and mingled Phantom of the Opera, The Entertainer, The Way We Were, Ode to Joy, Misty, Jerusalem, and, believe it or not, Chopsticks and The 1812 Overture, to the delight of a very appreciative audience.

 

The Bushrangers

by Charles Harpur; Richmond Players at Hawkesbury Regional Museum; 2 June 2018. (excerpts adapted by Jan Barkley-Jack)

Hawkesbury Historical Celebrates locally-born … Charles Harpur –  The first Published Australian Poet

Community theatre companies are often more part of their community than people realise. Such is the case with Richmond Players – and once again they teamed with the Hawkesbury Historical Society last Saturday to pay homage to the first published Australian poet and playwright, Charles Harpur.

Harpur, who was born in Windsor in 1813, became a prolific writer in various periodicals of his time. Friend of Sir Henry Parkes, mentor to poet Henry Kendall, he worked in Sydney, in the Hunter and eventually, as assistant Gold Commissioner on the South Coast, where he died in 1868.

Michael Falk, currently of the University of Western Sydney, has made an extensive study of Harpur’s life and his prolific writing -– poetry, a play and sometimes critical political commentary.

It is 150 years since Harpur’s death (10th June, 1868), and a small, but captivated audience, gathered at the beautiful Hawkesbury Regional Museum to hear Falk’s intriguing insights into Harpur’s life and his work – and a reading of three scenes from his play, The Bushrangers – a  Play in Five Acts.

Led by president Sean Duff, who played the bombastic magistrate, Tunbelly, eight members of Ricmond Players gave a lively reading (with sound effects!) of excerpts the play based on the story of bushranger, Jack Donohue., and compiled and adapted by Historical Society member Jan Barkley-Jack.

 

 

The Winslow Boy

By Terence Rattigan.  Castle Hill Players.  Directed by Jennifer Willison.  The Pavilion Theatre Castle Hill.  June 1st – 23rd, 2018.

Photo : Chris Lundie

Written in 1946, The Winslow Boy is based on the 1910 court case in which Martin Arthur-Shee employed the highly respected barrister Sir Edward Carson, to defend his son who was accused of stealing a postal order from a fellow student at Osborne Naval Academy. The boy was found to be innocent, but the case “caused an uproar” and was widely followed by the press of the time.

In his play, Terence Rattigan paints a vignette of life and issues in Edwardian England.War is looming. Emily Pankhurst and her suffragettes are demonstrating for the right to vote. Though society is changing a little, it is still restrained by some Victorian customs and etiquette. Ronnie Winslow, a fourteen-year-old naval old cadet accused of stealing a five-shilling postal order, has been ‘sent down’ from Osborne. The family, staunchly believing in Ronnie’s innocence, begins a complicated and expensive effort to clear his name.

. . . the characters speak their messages of truth, justice and compassion in the style and language of a time past, but with the conviction and understanding of a more cognizant world.

Ronnie’s father Arthur is a retired banker, his wife, Grace, a devoted wife and understanding mother. Catherine, their daughter, is a suffragette. Their elder son, Dickie, is an Oxford student. Though the family is reasonably well off, they are by no means wealthy. The court case will stretch their budget – and affect their social standing should it fail.

Jennifer Willison has staged the play on a set that captures the authenticity of the time, yet pays homage to more contemporary ideas and skills in set construction. While the Winslow sitting room pays accurate homage to the accoutrements of the time, it is not the normal ‘box set’ that one expects. Instead, it ‘pays homage’ itself to the imagination of the designer – and the ingenuity of the creative team who brought her vision to life. Steve Wimmer (set construction) and Sean Churchward (lighting) did so handsomely.

Fourteen-year-old Brayden Sim plays Ronnie Winslow. Tremulous about facing his family, but tenacious in declaring his innocence, Sim is particularly convincing as he faces interrogation by Sir Robert Morton, K.C., the barrister his family have retained to defend him. Paul Sztelma is elegant as Sir Robert. He wears the formal garb of the time stylishly, moves gracefully on the stage, and the barrister he portrays is perceptive, intuitive and just a little equivocal.

Christopher Clark, coming late to the role of Arthur Winslow, finds the anguish of a father determined . . .

Review continued in Stage Whispers

Haydn’s The Creation

Sydney Philharmonia Choirs accompanied by The Metropolitan Orchestra. Sydney Town Hall. May 26, 2018.

Photo : ©Keith Saunders,

What is it about The Creation that make choirs reprise it year after year? That makes audiences queue down the steps of the Sydney Town Hall on a cold autumn evening to get tickets? Is it the music? Is it the swell of a host of voices? Is it the mixture of the language of the bible and its phrasing set to music? Or is it all of this?

Whatever the answer – and I think it’s the last – Haydn’s beautiful masterpiece thrilled a packed audience in one of Sydney’s iconic settings on Saturday. With gold leaf glistening from the tops of the columns beside them and the steely grey organ pipes rising high above, the Festival Chorus of the Sydney Philharmonia Choirs accompanied by The Metropolitan Orchestra treated an excitedly expectant audience to one of the most universally loved of Franz Joseph Haydn’s works.

Based on a libretto that combined passages from the Book of Genesis and the Psalms, and extracts from Milton’s Paradise Lost, The Creation was, unusually, published in both English and German, and was first performed in Vienna in 1799. According to David Garrett’s extensive program notes, there was such enthusiastic reports about private performances of the work, “that by the time of the first public performance, police had to be engaged to control the crowds”.

Memorable moments were the choir’s surging sunburst of sound after “Let there be light, and there was light”, the intricate musical descriptions of the animals and the three flutes leading Adam and Eve into paradise.

The work is structured in three parts that cover the six days of the creation. It is scored for a soprano, tenor and bass soloist, a chorus, representing the “heavenly hosts” and a symphonic orchestra. In Parts 1 and 2, depicting the creation, the soloists represent the archangels: Raphael (bass) the angel of the earth, sea and the beginning; Uriel (tenor) the angel of the sun and light; and Gabriel (soprano) the leader of the heavenly hosts. In Part 3, the bass and soprano represent Adam and Eve and the celebration of human love. Whilst each successive day is heralded and described by the soloists, it is the chorus who celebrates the wonders that had been achieved.

To describe the final soaring moments of Part 3, . . . .

Review continued in Stage Whispers Magazine

The Importance of Being Earnest

By Oscar Wilde. Genesian Theatre, Kent Street, Sydney. May 26 – June 30, 2018.

Photo : Craig O’Regan

It can be a little harrowing to take on the task of directing such a well-loved and oft’ produced play, but first-time director Trudy Ritchie has obviously approached the challenge with dedicated zeal – and the support of an experienced and creative team of designers. Her production of Earnest captures the elegance and wit of Wilde’s writing as well as the ‘modish’ manners and style of the time. It moves quickly and efficiently without losing the impact of the ripostes and repartee or the hypocrisies that Wilde cleverly exposed.

Ritchie’s ‘dream team creatives’ Owen Gimblett (set) and Peter Henson (costumes) have come up with charmingly stylish ideas and Michael Schell’s lighting sets the atmosphere poignantly. Gimblett’s use of pale blue and white for Algernon’s salon is a perfect background for the opening scenes. This smoothly turns to become the garden in Jack’s country residence, with roses creeping up the latticed walls.

Ritchie has worked hard and intelligently with a committed cast and crew to make her production one that is a tribute to this final year of the Genesian at Kent Street.

Henson’s choice of light, pastel gowns for Gwendolen and Cecily provide a youthful contrast to the heavier, more stately costumes chosen for Lady Bracknell. Henson is always ‘correct’ when dressing the men in period plays, and this is no exception. Not only are the costumes right, but the creases are sharp and the cravats tied correctly! ‘Twould be good if every period play were given such care.

Ritchie’s cast have been schooled in the deportment of the time. They move gracefully on the stage, depicting the social ostentation of the period, and hence Wilde’s censure of it. Dialogue is delivered precisely with studied gestures and expressions that underline the nuance behind the words.

Cameron Hutt almost simpers as Algernon, his sharp wit covered by seeming nonchalance and feigned lethargy. His Algernon is swarmily indifferent but slyly astute (though his hair does ‘curlnaturally’ as Gwendolen observes, it is perhaps a little too untidy for the time, and, unfortunately, it is the actor who keeps fiddling with it rather than the character!).

Ted Crosby is a very upright and suave Jack. He provides a perfect foil for Algernon, a stylish lover for Gwendolen – and a suitable target for Lady Bracknell’s famous scrutiny as a possible suitor for her daughter. That scene is always a favourite and Crosby and Melanie Robinson as Bracknell do not disappoint.

Robinson carries the character with a sense of grandeur and just a little pomposity. She wears the costumes with some flair . . . .

Review continued in Stage Whispers magazine.

13 – The Musical

Music and Lyrics by Jason Robert Brown. Book by Dan Elish and Robert Horn. The Hills Musical Theatre Company (NSW). Model Farms High School Auditorium. May 25 – Jun 2, 2018.

Photo : Grant Leslie Photography.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Evan Goldman is about to turn thirteen and is looking forward to his Bar Mitzvah party. Then his parents announce that they are getting divorced … and his mother takes him from New York to the little country town of Appleton, Indiana – “The Lamest Place in the World”. It’s all a bit too much! How will he celebrate this important birthday in a country town where he doesn’t know anyone. In a bid to get in with ‘cool kids’, he learns that “What It Means be a Friend” is more important than being popular.

Jason Robert Brown’s score is catchy but challenging. His lyrics – and the book by Dan Elish and Robert Horn – sit well in the voices of the young cast that director Emily Taylor has attracted to this production by Hills Musical Theatre Company. Taylor, musical director Matthew Herne and choreographer Gai Reckless, take 42 enthusiastic young performers through the ‘rites of passage’ Robert Brown has incorporated into the musical – and, in the process, give them further experience in staging, timing and being part of a ‘theatre community’.

Brendan Godwin takes on the role of Evan with mature assurance and control. Jazmin Mancuso and Emma Davies alternate as Patrice, and Jack Fahd takes on the difficult role of Archie. All have strong, resilient voices that reach the challenges of the difficult phrasing of the score in songs such as “Tell Her” and “If That’s What it Is”. They also find the different emotions portrayed through the characters. Fahd particularly depicts an Archie that uses humour and optimism to hide the strain of being ‘different’. His Get Me What I Need is a memorable moment of the production.

a group of eager young performers who fill the stage with energy and aspiration

Jeremy Barons is nonchalantly ‘cool’ as Brett Sampson, who with his off-siders Eddie (William Turner) and Malcolm (Sebastian Barons), bring the humour of the ‘try hard’ gang to the production. In the number, “Hey Kendra”,they introduce Isabella Jade Gilbert who plays the saucy and manipulative Lucy, and Selin Idrisoglu, who is prettily innocent as the sought-after Kendra.

They are supported by a group of eager young performers who fill the stage with energy and aspiration. In the song “Opportunity”, Gilbert leads an ensemble of peppy cheerleaders; and in “Bad, Bad News”,the ‘boys’ have a chance to strut their stuff.

It’s always hard to ‘set’ a production on a stage that during the week is a multi-purpose school auditorium, but the design for this production, co-ordinated by Jonathan Burns and constructed by Keith Macbeth, sets place and time simply with a minimum of fuss. Two flats suggesting New York turn to become the countryside of Appleton. Folding screens turn from lockers to become a basketball backboard. The simplicity and portability of the design allows ease of movement and relatively speedy scene changes.

This production is bright and cheerful. It is exudes the enthusiasm and energy of aspiring young people who are eager to learn. And the courage and perception of a director and theatre company who have faith in young performers and give them the chance to shine.

This review is also published in Stage Whispers magazine.