Category Archives: Theatre Reviews

The Adventures of Peter Pan and Tinker Bell

BBonnie Lythgoe Productions. State Theatre, Sydney. July 7 – 16, 2017.

 

The old grandeur of the State Theatre is the perfect venue for this holiday time production, conjuring as it does the past theatre ‘glory’ of the old London theatres where ‘pantos’ still bring cheer to wintery London Christmases.

Slathered with all the buttery corn and slapstick of comedia, and some definitely questionable non-P-C jokes and add libbing, Bonnie Lythgoe’s production of Christopher Woods’ adaptation of J.M. Barrie’s story has the everything one expects of pantomime. There’s fun, colour, lights, singing, dancing … and lots of audience involvement led by the infectious talent of veteran British actor/comedian Kev Orkian as the pirate Smee.

From his first moments on the stage, Orkian has the audience in his very experienced hands, with children and adults alike responding to his jokes and asides. The consummate energy and enthusiasm he exudes sets the zany pace that is pantomime.

Read the full review in Stage Whispers magazine, here.

Diary of a Wombat

Based on the book by Jackie French and Bruce Whatley.  Monkey Baa Theatre Company. Lend Lease Darling Quarter Theatre. April 18 – 24, 2017

Monkey Baa’s adaptation of Jackie French’s first book about Mothball the wombat is true to Bruce Whatley’s vivid illustrations depicting a week in the life of this endearing but mischievous mammal who spends the days sleeping, eating, sleeping, scratching, sleeping … and finding as many ways as are possible to annoy the family whose garden she has chosen to make her home.

Directed by Alice Osborne and accompanied by cellist Oonagh Sherrard, three actors – Michael Cullen, Julia Ohannessian and Shandell Pratt – manipulate puppets created by Bryony Anderson to bring into another dimension the enchanting character of the wombat, as well as playing the bemused couple whose life Mothball has invaded.

True to the sparse diary-style language of the book, the performance has no dialogue, thus relying perhaps a little too much on the assumption that the young audience is familiar with the book.

Read the full review in Stage Whispers magazine, here.

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The Rasputin Affair

By Kate Mulvany. Ensemble Theatre  (NSW). April 1 to 30, 2017

The multi-talented Kate Mulvany has let her very vivid and extremely articulate imagination run wild in this farcical interpretation of the assassination of Rasputin, the mystic ‘monk’ who wormed his way into favour with the Russian royal family prior to the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. The play is a romp – a mischievous piece of theatre that pushes the boundaries of style and pace, reaching a crescendo of ridiculous, well-timed action that will either delight – or dismay.

Directed by John Sheedy on a quirkily designed set (Alicia Clements) with surprising lighting effects (Matthew Marshall), this is an extraordinary production that has the pace, action and fun of a Feydeau. And though it is not the usual fare expected by Ensemble audiences, full marks to artistic director Mark Kilmurry for taking the risk of including something a bit outrageous and edgy in the Ensemble season.

The mystery of Rasputin’s ‘powers’ and the surrealism of his assassination – he apparently survived poisoning, shooting, bludgeoning and eventually died only when he was wrapped in a carpet and drowned in an icy river – provide the background for the play.

Read the full review in Stage Whispers magazine, here.

 

The Laden Table

By Yvonne Perczuk, Nur Alam, Raya Gadir, Chris Hill, Marian Kernahan & Ruth Kliman. bAKEHOUSE Theatre Company. KXT – Kings Cross Theatre, Kings Cross Hotel. March 10 – 25, 2017.

 

Like the long table that dominates the set (designer Courtney Westbrook), this play is also ‘laden’ – with diverse opinions, racial and religious vilification, family values and traditions and strong, passionate characters that articulate their beliefs and emotions in meaningful and judiciously scripted dialogue. It is also ‘laden’ with love surmounts barriers and promises hope.

Three years in the making, the play has brought together six writers in collaboration with an extraordinary collection of Moslem and Jewish Australians who have shared their stories, experiences and ideas. Together they have created a play that they hope will, through the transformative power of theatre, help to break down barriers and promote harmony.

“There are no answers in the play, but we hope that it’s clear that we are all at the same table with so much in common.”

 

The play entwines two families and their stories. The Fishmans are Jewish. The patriarch, Abe (Geoff Sirmai), is a Holocaust survivor who has recently lost one of his sons in a terrorist attack in Israel. The Ka’adans are Moslem. The matriarch, Zainab (Gigi Sawires), was brought to Australian by her son and daughter-in-law. She is passionate about her religion, and yearns for the home and garden she had to leave when Haifa was attacked.

Her grandson, Mousa, an engineer has recently returned from the Middle East where he met and fell in love with Ruth, an Australian doctor working in Israel – and the granddaughter of Abe Fishman. This is the complication that, in true Greek and Shakespearean theatre style, underlies the plot.

The production truly realises bAKEHOUSE theatre’s double commitment to new and emerging artists, as well as bringing together a large, ensemble cast of diverse backgrounds and experience. But it is no mean feat to direct a play that interweaves two families sitting at the one table but telling two different stories.

Director Suzanne Millar always manages large casts with consummate ease. And this play is no exception. On the intimate KXT stage, she is able to focus on telling eye contact …

Read the full review in Stage Whispers magazine, here.

Blink

By Phil Porter. bAKEHOUSE Theatre Company / Luke Rogers / Stories Like These. Kings Cross Theatre. Feb 9 – Mar 4, 2017.

Jonah grew up on a farm and spent his teenage years with a camera keeping watch for marauding hoons who began attacking the property after the death of his father. Sophie grew up on the Isle of Mann then moved with her father to share the ground floor of two flats in London. When her father dies and she loses her job, she moves into the first floor flat and renovates the other as a rental property, though she feels that she is gradually disappearing.

Both their mothers have died of pancreatic cancer. They are both now alone.

Three years after his mother’s death Jonah finally opens a letter she has left for him. He’s been holding off opening it because it’s his last tangible tie with her. In it he finds she has left him some money – a substantial amount – buried behind the barn. With this in hand, he moves to London, and leases Sophie’s ground floor flat.

If this seems like the beginning of a conventional love story, it isn’t. Rather it’s a ‘quirky, dysfunctional’ love story about two lonely people who connect via, incredible though it may seem, a WiFi baby monitor, which Sophie sends unanimously to Jonah. He watches her – and she feels less invisible. He follows her – and she pretends she doesn’t realise until, eventually … but saying any more would give too much away.

This is a gentle, touching play that is a reprieve from the bleak themes and troubled characters that people so much theatre and cinema.

Read the full review in Stage Whispers magazine, here.

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The Trouble with Harry

By Lachlan Philpot. Siren Theatre Company. Reginald Theatre, Seymour Centre. Feb 16 – Mar 3, 2017

Lachlan Philpot continues to make theatre that cuts edges in both style and subject matter. In this play, based on the story of Harry Crawford (born Eugenia Falleni, also known as Eugene Falleni and Jean Ford) a female-to-male transgender man convicted in 1920 of the murder of his first wife, Annie Birkett, Philpott imagines the complexities of sustaining such a secret and the constant threat of what exposure might bring.

Based obviously on a wealth of historical data – records of the court case itself, which included statements by Crawford’s daughter and stepson, press stories that sensationalised the case, and subsequent biographies –Philpott re-creates a family trying desperately to be ‘normal’, but dogged by rumour and innuendo. He does this in a play where energy and pace are demanded by the combination of styles – narrative comment, realistic scenes, telling soliloquies – and the concise, succinct dialogue.

His writing is tight, yet the characters are clearly defined. Scenes are interspersed and interrupted by two suburban voyeurs, a man and a woman whose comments, as neighbours, passers-by, underline the gossip and interference spawned by the close proximity inner-city living after the first World War.

Kate Gaul’s direction is as tight as the writing. She sets a fast pace and the scenes connect and interconnect quickly and smoothly . . . .

Read the full review in Stage Whispers magazine, here.

Visiting Mr Green

By Jeff Baron. Pymble Players. February 15 – March 11, 2017

This delightful two-hander has been produced around the world since 1996. It’s tender yet thought provoking, and its messages lose none of their impact despite the twenty years of ‘progress’ since it was first performed.

Director Catherine Potter was “drawn to Jeff Baron’s plays because of the intimacy of his work. In Visiting Mr Green he introduces us to two disparate characters, both isolated and both hiding a secret”. She translates that intimacy into a production that is warm and intensely personal, gently exposing all the underlying complexities of the characters and the secrets that they hide.

Ross is a young Harvard graduate who is doing well. Mr Green is a crusty old Jewish widower, living alone in a New York tenement. Ross almost hit Mr Green as he was crossing a busy street. His ‘visits’ are a community service based upon the near accident. He wasn’t really in the wrong – and Mr Green doesn’t really want him around. But Ross persists, and thus develops a strangely poignant relationship that allows both characters to lower their defences.

Dave Kirkham is a suitably crabby and reclusive Mr Green. With his usual height and energy reduced by a stooped back and sluggish, deliberate movement, his Mr Green is ……

Read the full review in Stage Whispers magazine, here.

Calendar Girls

By Tim Firth. Castle Hill Players. Pavilion Theatre, Castle Hill Showgrounds. February 3 – 25, 2017.

Director Annette van Roden captures the complexity of this play in these words:

On the surface, it’s a comedy about a group of women getting nude for a calendar but it’s much more than that. The play is about community, loss, support, acceptance, camaraderie, tolerance and love’.

Tim Firth’s stage adaptation does capture the appeal of the 2003 film of the same name, but he has created a play with many scenes and almost as many costume changes, to say nothing of the props for the calendar shoot. It’s a difficult play, more filmic than theatrical, and requires a great deal of energy and organisation.

As such, it’ a play of challenges for the director, the designers, the stage manager and the actors who, as well as having to “get nude”, have to create together the intimacy of a group of seven women who have forged friendships as members of the local Women’s Institute. Following a shared loss, they take on the task of raising money for a memorial settee in the relatives’ room of the cancer ward of the local hospital.

Read the full review in Stage Whispers magazine, here.

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Huff

Playwright/Performer: Cliff Cardinal. Native Earth Performing Arts (Canada). Sydney Festival. Australian Exclusive. Director/Dramaturg: Karin Randoja. Seymour Centre. 24-28 January, 2017

Growing up on an indigenous reservation in Canada is not much different, it seems, from growing up on similar reservations in other countries. Cut off and isolated from the mainstream by legislation, distance and lack of opportunity, some adults turn to drink and abuse. Kids ‘huff’ (sniff) gasoline, sneak porn magazines and find a secret place to read them – in this case, an abandoned motel – a place to hide from the realities of a dysfunctional world. But wherever they go the ‘Trickster’ – bad luck, misfortune, adversity – finds them.

Cliff Cardinal blends the realities of tribal beliefs and mysticism with forced segregation and assimilation in this heart-wrenching story of brothers trapped in a barrage of abuse and hardship following the death of their mother. They cling together, trying to sustain each other, but gradually give in to the darkness that creeps after neglect, addiction and despair.

Read the full review in Stage Whispers magazine, here.

King Roger

By Karol Szymanowski and Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz. Opera Australia. Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House. January 20 to February 15, 2017.

Conceived by Karol Szymanowski and his co-librettist Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz in 1918, King Roger was first performed in 1926, but was produced very few times until Charles Mackerras conducted its London premiere in 1975. Since 1988 it has seen a revival, with nineteen performances across the world. It comes to Australia for the first time directed by Kasper Holten in a collaboration between Opera Australia, The Royal Opera House and Dallas Opera.

The program describes it thus: as“It is a rare opera. There is no death, no duel, no romantic entanglement or disguise. It is the story of an inner struggle … between Christian restraint and reason on one side and pagan abandonment to hedonistic pleasure on the other”. It revolves around the 12th Century Sicilian King, Roger, who is torn between his orthodox religion and the call of a strange, new Bacchanalian-type faith proclaimed by a man who is known as “The Shepherd”.

The set designed by Steffen Aarfing is dominated by a huge head that symbolises perhaps how “man and society are ruled by intellect”.Light plays over it throughout the first Act, emphasising the changes of emotion in the music and the voices. In Act 2 it revolves to reveal the three storeys of Roger’s palace, where he paces up and down spiraling staircases in a frenzied attempt to resist the erotic call of the Shepherd and his followers. In Act 3 the stage becomes a glowing, sacrificial bonfire before which a distraught Roger almost gives in.

In the original libretto, King Roger converted and followed the Shepherd, but Act 3 was rewritten halfway through composing the opera to have a much less definite ending. Despite his love of the romance of Mediterranean culture . . .

Read the full review in Stage Whispers magazine, here.