Category Archives: Theatre Reviews

Harvey

By Mary Chase. Castle Hill Players. Pavilion Theatre, Castle Hill. April 6 – 28, 2018

Photo : Bob Seary

A movie starring James Stewart and five television productions have made Harvey famous on the big and little screen. But the original play by Mary Chase has also had a long and enviable stage history. After opening on Broadway in 1944 it ran until 1949, with a total of 1775 performances. Openings followed in London (1949) and Paris (1950). It was revived on Broadway in 1970 and London in 1975, both with James Stewart recreating his movie role. More recent revivals (Broadway 2012, London 2015) indicate the enduring appeal of this ‘treasure’ of the 1940s.

Elwood P. Dowd is a gregarious man who has been befriended by a Pooka – a helpful, mythical Celtic creature – in the form of an invisible six-foot plus rabbit called Harvey. The sociable Elwood introduces Harvey to everyone he meets, much to the growing embarrassment of his sister, Veta Lousie Simmons and her daughter Myrtle Mae.  As a last resort, they decide to have him committed to a psychiatric clinic called Chumley’s Rest. When the much-mortified, and increasingly over-wrought Veta tries to explain her brother’s condition, she herself is incarcerated and confusion reigns.

The production is a polished tribute to a classic American play.

 

Harvey is a comedy of errors, where moments of farce are juxtaposed with the calm nonchalance of Elwood himself who is blissfully unaware of the concern he causes and mayhem that arises from the muddle at Chumley’s Rest. The mixture of style and pace requires clear direction and precise timing and director Meredith Jacobs has ensured both. The production is crisp, the characters clearly defined and the attention to recreating the period is meticulous.

The set design is heavily reminiscent of the times. Wainscot panels, sombre colours, ‘substantial’ furniture and a portrait of his mother above the fireplace make Elwood’s home distinctly 1940s America. The offices of Chumley’s Rest, revealed after a clever turn of the set, are similarly suggestive of the times. The lighting (James Winters) emphasises the precision and detail of the set. The wigs and hair styles (Jacobs herself) and the costumes (Annette Snars) show fine attention to authenticity and an eye for flair.

Photo : Bob Seary

Chris Lundie is relaxed and gently convincing as Elwood P. Dowd. Lundie has a quiet, unpretentious but commanding stage presence. He inhabits Elwood’s character gracefully, emphasisng his generosity, trust and gentlemanly manners. . . . . .

Continue with the rest of the review in Stage Whispers magazine, here.

 

Diplomacy

By Cyril Gely .  Translated and adapted by Julie Rose.  Directed by John Bell and Anna Volska. Ensemble Theatre : 23 March – 28th April 2018

Luckily we had subscription tickets to Diplomacy because the whole season is sold out. Guess that’s because this production brings together two of our great, veteran Australian actors, John Bell and John Gaden, appearing for the first time, together, at the Ensemble. What a coup for this stalwart little theatre company! And what a play with which to tempt them!

Diplomacy is based on truth. A crazed Adolf Hitler, realising that defeat was imminent, gave the order that every landmark in Paris was to be destroyed.  The play is set just before dawn on the 25th August 1944. The German officer in charge of the attack, General Von Choltitz, checks the planned destruction.

Directed by the deft hand of vast experience, these two experts of theatrical skill are pitted against each other

John Bell, as Von Choltitz listens with cold detachment as explosives expert Werner Ebernach (James Lugton) explains the explicit details and timing. Explosives are set and primed under every monument. The main bridges over the Seine are similarly primed. As these are exploded, the river will break its banks and inundate the city. What doesn’t go up in flames will  be destroyed by flood water. It’s a devilish plot, but Lugton and the General discuss the destruction with cool, military detachment.

Von Choltitz dismisses Lugton to await the phone call to detonate. Von Choltitz prepares to wait out the last minutes by clearing his papers when the lights fail. In the darkness, a man has materialised. This is Raol Nordling, Swedish diplomat (John Gaden). His mission? To talk the General out of ‘burning Paris’.

Thus, we see these masters of the stage face to face. One, the career General, whose family Hitler has imprisoned and threatened to kill if he fails his mission. The other, the career diplomat, who has risked his own life to try to save the city he loves.

Bell sucks in his cheeks, pouts his lips, furrows his brows, straightens his shoulders and completely transforms into the consummate, Teutonic career soldier. His movements are restrained, economic, his reactions carefully considered. Yet chinks in his military armour appear as he gives final orders to his staff – Frau Mayer (Genevieve Lemon) and Hans Brensdorf (Joseph Raggatt) – and bids them farewell.

Gaden weaves a diplomatic web of persuasion and guilt as he strives to persuade Choltitz against the final order. As an argument is rejected, he steps away, as if thwarted, then turns back, and, with a wry smile, presents another. He is quietly persevering, subtly cogent. Bell counters this with steely determination, tenacious resolve.

Photo : Prudence Upton.

Backed by a huge map of Paris that papers the wall behind them and the floor below, they scrutinise each other’s every movement, weigh carefully every claim and counter-claim. The tension created between them stretches tautly. Directed by the deft hand of vast experience, these two experts of theatrical skill are pitted against each other in a carefully scripted struggle between reason and conscience, orders and morality.

La Boheme

HANDA Opera on Sydney Harbour. Opera Australia. Fleet Steps, Mrs Macquaries Point. 23 March – 22 April 2018.

Photo : Prudence Upton

Rain clouds that have hovered threateningly over the city all day begin to clear. Late afternoon sunshine begins to filter through. The harbour begins to sparkle. What has been a dull and dreary day turns into a balmy, Sydney, autumn evening. How lucky for the opening night of another Handa Opera on the Harbour!

As the sky darkens above the Bridge and the Opera House, a crescent moon shines through the last wisps of cloud – and the lights go up on a snow-encrusted stage. It is a wintery December night in Paris. La Bohèmeis about to begin.

The wide, floating stage is a chilly street of the Latin Quarter, complete with towering Paris street lamps. Above the stage is an attic garret, the artlier of four struggling artists trying to make a living. A skylight suspended above it is a huge screen framed by icy stalactites. Here, projections of Paris landmarks under falling snow encapsulate the scene.

It is not, however, the Paris that Puccini envisaged in 1896. This is Paris in 1968, besieged by the “May revolution” where student demonstrations, riots and a general strike almost brought the country to a standstill, but also brought about a wealth of protest art and music.

It is, it would seem, a fitting re-imagining of an opera about struggling, fun-loving artists in freezing garrets, new-found love, bitter jealousy and a crippling illness!

La Bohème– is the age-old “boy meets girl” tale of love found, lost and found again, often, as in this case, unfortunately too late.

If it appears I am concentrating on the spectacle rather than the music and singing, forgive me – but that’s what these annual operas are about.

The struggling artists are Marcello (painter), Rudolfo (writer), Colline (philosopher) and Schaunard (musician). When Schaunard arrives home with money received for playing his violin to a parrot until it died, they decide to go through the busy ‘Quartier Latin’ to the ‘Café Momus’to celebrate.

Rudolfo stays behind and meets Mimi, who has come knocking on the door for a match to light her candle. They fall in love and join the others, where Marcello re-ignites his love for the lovely Musetta.

Passion, jealousy and the need for money constantly divide and re-unite the lovers until, at last, they are together again, remembering their past happiness … as Mimi, alas, dies from consumption.

Take this story to 1968 and designers Dan Potra (set) and Marco Devetak (video) come into their own. ‘Café Momus’ becomes a night club in the thriving, busy twentieth century ‘Quartier Latin’, complete with street entertainers, stilt-walkers and torch throwers. The toy seller, Parpignoi, appears suspended from a crane in a basket decorated with multi-coloured balloons, and spirits one of the children away in a swing that hangs below. Musetta arrives in a ’60s police car that drives along the harbour broad walk. And snow falls from light stands . . . .

Continue with the rest of the review in Stage Whispers magazine, here.

Flight Paths

By Julian Larnach. National Theatre of Parramatta. Riverside Theatres. March 16 – 24, 2018

Noni Carroll Photography

This is a world where men and birds fall from the sky, where young women are judged by the colour of their skin and where power can be ordained by a line of succession … where most of the characters genuinely want to create a better, fairer world than the one they were born into.” (Anthea Williams, Director)

Williams and playwright Julian Larnach consolidate their Belvoir-based working relationship in this production than brings seven young actors together in this different take on the ‘coming-of-age’ theme. Its characters come from diverse backgrounds, have diverse aspirations, but are thwarted by the same “flawed system” – whether it be in an over-crowded slum of Kibera in Kenya, or the exclusive, ‘hallowed halls’ of Oxford University.

This is another moving, thought-provoking production under the auspices of NTofP’s commitment to “reflect today’s Australia and its diverse population”. . .

Larnach’s writing is economic, the dialogue effectively honed to suit the characters and the environment from which they come. In short, carefully edited scenes he explores complex themes that question both altruism and classism, and examine the realities of both. He creates clear, multi-dimensional characters who interconnect across cultural and social barriers, looking at global issues through the keen eyes of young people who want to change the world.

His words are delivered crisply and clearly by talented young actors who have found compassion and empathy with the characters under Williams’ perceptive interpretation of the script. The pace she sets is fast, commensurate with the youth of the characters and the new tempo of their lives. Under her discerning direction they meet disparity, disappointment and disillusion with the underlying courage and optimism of youth.

The Lennox Theatre has been cleverly reconfigured to allow a closer relationship with the audience, more imaginative staging (Jeremy Allen) and creative lighting design (Verity Hampson). An arch of lights curve above the stage, glaringly African bright in some scenes, shimmering in others, especially effective in the final moments of the play as they flicker quickly to the sound of a flock of starlings whistling through the sky above (sound design by Michael Toisuta).

Luisa (“everyone calls me Lu”) and Emily are two young Australian women following a dream. Lu has arrived in Oxford on a scholarship but has yet to decide her major. Emily has flown to Kenya as a volunteer with an aid organisation to help build a school. Both are strong-willed, highly scrupled.

Photo : Noni Carroll Photography

Ebony Vagulans is convincingly gentle, yet staunchly down-to-earth as Luisa, determined to be true to herself despite being out of her comfort zone among the class-conscious, intellectual elite of Oxford, exemplified by Brandon McClelland who plays both

Continue with the rest of the review in Stage Whispers magazine, here.

Le Corsaire

Victorian State Ballet. The Concourse, Chatswood. March 17 and 18, 2018

Photo : Ron Fung

Le Corsaire – or A Pirate’s Tale – is a ballet in three acts based on a poem by Lord Byron. The story is short and simple. Shipwrecked pirates Conrad and Birbanto, and a slave, Ali, are found on the shore by Medora and Gulnare. Conrad falls in love with Medora, Ali with Gulnare. Unfortunately the maidens are captured by Lankendam, a slave trader, and sold to a Turkish Pasha for his harem. The pirates search for the maidens and eventually rescue them despite betrayal by Birbanto. Medora, Conrad, Gulnare and Ali escape by sea but a storm erupts and only Medora and Conrad survive.

Rather than for the depth of its story, the ballet is famous for the beauty of the dancing. First presented in 1856 to the music of Adolphe Adam, with original choreography by Joseph Mazilier, and later Marius Petipa, the ballet has become famous because so many excerpts of the choreography are presented at galas and concerts around the world.

Over the years composers Cesare Pugni, Leo Delies, Ricardo Drigo and Prince Oldenburg added to the breadth and depth of the music – and this presentation by Victorian State Ballet celebrates the Australian premiere of the full version of the ballet.

Choreographer (and Co-Director of the company) Michelle Cassar de Sierra has been true to the original choreography, whilst also “bringing something fresh and new, reflecting today’s classical ballet standards”. The famous Grand Pas de Trois and the Odalisques Pas de Trois she sees as “timeless” and are presented in their original form. The bazaar, pirate and slave scenes have been re-choreographed to empahasise the work and talent of the corps de ballet.

In so doing, De Sierra has created a stunningly beautiful performance that highlights the skill and training of the dancers – and her esteem for the ballet itself. Not only has she accentuated the beauty of the traditional choreography, . . .

Continue with the rest of the review in Stage Whispers magazine, here.

The Wolves

By Sarah DeLappe. Redline Productions. Old Ftiz Theatre (NSW). March 14 – April 14, 2018

Photo : John Marmaras

What a great vehicle Redline Productions has chosen to highlight the under-tapped wealth of women in theatre! Written by a woman, directed, designed and stage managed by women, and performed by nine fine, fit, feisty, female actors, this prize-winning first play by American playwright Sarah DeLappe raises the bar in the determined pursuit of recognition and equity across the arts.

The nine actors are the Wolves, a high school, indoor soccer team warming up before their games. They are fit, committed, bright. Delappe’s dialogue uses the ‘like’ nuances and ‘like’ idiom of their time, to portray the diverse range of things that concern them, from the treatment of the perpetrators of the Khmer Rouge massacres in Cambodia to the benefits of tampons over sanitary pads to the behaviour of their hungover coach. Conversations overlap, switch rapidly from one topic to another, the pace defined by the various stretches and passes of their carefully co-ordinated warm up sequences. Pauses are limited, usually arising from a perceived slight or disagreement, sometimes tense, sometimes funny, resolved by their observant captain, or the whistle signalling the beginning of a game.

Photo : John Marmaras

The play takes them through the ups and downs of the season, the demands of home and school, gossip, boy troubles, the gradual acceptance of a new girl, disclosures of personal confidences, an accident that side-lines their striker, and a tragedy before the final match that almost affects the impetus of their will to win. It’s a play of the times, a 2017 coming-of-age insight into the insecurities and aspirations of late teenage women.

. . these characters are portrayed with buoyant veracity and vitality. Arthur’s direction has found the enthusiasm, energy and complexity of adolescence in a production that is a credit her sophisticated vision and meticulous direction.

Jessica Arthur directs this cleverly written play with the integrity and truth it deserves. The action is fast, based in the carefully chosen warm up routines, timed to each sit up and crunch, each slap of a catch, each smack of a ball against the wall – and viewed through a net that ingeniously separates and protects the audience. The actors fill the space, bouncing words off each other as skilfully as they manipulate the ball. Movement and fitness are as important to this production as the theatrical skills of the actors, who concentrate on fast, changing, physical routines while delivering intersecting conversations that pass between them as rapidly as the action of the matches they must win to get to the nationals.

Arthur has secured a talented cast that has become the tight, fit, ensemble that the play requires. The warm up routines demand a high level of fitness and co-ordination, the choreography as physically demanding and complex as the quick changes of topic and the intensity

Continue with the rest of the review in Stage Whispers magazine, here.

The Shifting Heart

By Richard Beynon. White Box Theatre. Seymour Centre (NSW). March 8 – 24, 2018.

Photo : Danielle Lyonne.

Written in 1956, and first produced by The Elizabethan Theatre Trust in 1957, this one of the first plays that explored the effect of racism and discrimination in Australia following the arrival of European refugees and migrants after the Second World War. So relevant was its message, that it was produced in the West End in London in 1959, was recorded as an ABC radio play in 1962, and was adapted for television by the ABC in 1968.

It tells the story of the Bianchi family, who have moved to Melbourne from Italy. Maria, their daughter, has married Clarrie, an Australian whose father was killed in the war. Gino, their twenty-one-year-old son has become “naturalised” and regards himself as an Australian.

The discrimination they face seems mild by today’s standards, but sixty years ago it was effectively hurtful. A neighbour constantly throws rubbish over the fence. The local storekeeper calls them Momma Macaroni and Poppa Spaghetti. Clarrie refuses to make Gino a partner in his scrap metal business because an Italian name on his truck might lose business. Gino loves to dance but the local dance hall proprietors have decided to prohibit entry to “New Australians”.

Despite this, the Bianchis keep striving for acceptance, buoyed by the friendship of one neighbour, Leila Pratt, and the grandchild that Maria is expecting.

Director Kim Hardwick makes no attempt to set this production anywhere but Australia in the 1950s. And somehow this makes its contemporary message even more palpably clear. Things haven’t changed! “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose“—”the more things change, the more they stay the same”.

The setting, cleverly re-imagined by Isobel Hudson, and atmospherically lit by Martin Kinnane, is the back verandah of a typical old, two-storey, inner-city weatherboard house. The paint is peeling. The verandah is propped up with timber stays. Garbage overflows from the bin, which Poppa Bianchi has forgotten to put out for collection. A dead fish wrapped in paper has been thrown over the fence by the woman next door. An old bedstead acts as a couch on the verandah. The fence on Mrs Pratt’s side is dilapidated. On the other side, it has been repaired and re-inforced.

In fact, it is exactly as described by Richard Beynon in his original stage directions. Once again, congratulations to Hardwick and Hudson for getting it right!

Tony Poli and Dina Panozzo are convincingly and lovably real as Poppa and Momma Bianchi. They mix accented English with rapid Italian phrases and endearments in a way that is as natural as their gestures and expressive faces. Their reactions are believably emotional, their affection and concern for their children believably strong.

Panozzo’s tiny stature emphasises the inner strength and tenacity of the character, and the volatility of her nature. Her Momma Bianchi is a small whirlwind of changing emotions and sensitive compassion, which radiate to the audience in tangible waves.

Poli too, finds the different dimensions Beynon has written into Poppa Bianchi. The loving father, the irascible Italian temper, the tender sense of fun, the harrowing depths of despair … and the determination to stay in his new home despite the heart-breaking results that discrimination brings to the family.

Both actors reveal all these emotions strongly, and the effect upon the audience is profound . . . .

Continue with the rest of the review in Stage Whispers magazine, here.

 

 

 

Merrily We Roll Along

Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Book by George Furth. Little Triangle. The Depot Theatre, Marrickville. March 7 – 24, 2018.

Photo : Clare Hawley

In 2017, Stage Whispers editor Neil Litchfield wrote of Little Triangle’s production of Sunday in the Park with George: “Little Triangle’s potential for presenting quality small-scale musical theatre on a shoe-string is one of the most exciting things to happen in Sydney’s indie Music Theatre scene.”

I know he was sorry to miss opening night of this, their second production, but I’m happy it gave me the chance to see this precision-paced production that pays vibrant homage to the unique vocal rhythms, musical juxtapositions and real characters that are distinctly Sondheim.

One of the least performed of Sondheim’s works, Merrily We Roll Along opened on Broadway in November 1981 – and closed after only sixteen performances. Yet its music, and its story, resound theatricality. It reviews the professional and personal life of composer and musical producer Franklin Shepard and his best friends, lyricist Charley Kringas and writer, Mary Flynn. As it takes the audience backwards in time from 1976 to 1957, it compares the disappointments and dilemmas of adulthood with the hope and idealism of youth.

The intimate nature of the Depot Theatre and a talented and committed cast allow director Alexander Andrews to make Sondheim’s characters reach powerfully into to the audience, sharing their despair and their joy in carefully drilled choreography and clear, beautifully blended, microphone-free voices, in collaboration with musical director Conrad Hamill on strings and pianist Antonio Fernandez.

All seventeen performers work seamlessly together in carefully structured choreography and ….

Continue with the rest of the review in Stage Whispers magazine, here.

Fiddler on the Roof

Book by Jospeh Stein.  Music by Jerry Bock.  Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick.  Rockdale Musical Society.  Rockdale Town Hall.  March 2 – 11, 2018.

Photos: Rod Herbert

The characters of Fiddler on the Roof remind the world of the effects of oppression in one of the most effective ways possible – through theatre and music. Though set in the mythical, 19th century town of Anatevka, the effects of change and discrimination faced by that small community are not too far away from the changing and troubled places in the world today.

Director and designer Colin Peet – with assistance from his brother Bob – gives his production the faithful attention that this gem of musical theatre demands. The costumes carefully recreate the historical, traditional and economic background of the time. The accents and gestures recreate the distinctiveness of a small Jewish community immersed in its beliefs and traditions. The blocking and choreography reinforce the authenticity of the period – and Jerome Robbins’ well-loved original conceptual vision.

This is a musical that requires believable acting as well as fine singing, and this cast assures both.

With a talented cast – and over twenty musicians led by Peter Sampson – Peet brings Tevye, his family and the community of Anatevka to convincing life in a production that finds both the humour and pathos of the drama – and the power and beauty of the music. This is a musical that requires believable acting as well as fine singing, and this cast assures both.

Adam Scicluna recreates the role of Tevye with a clarity and strength that finds all the devout and social dimensions of this character so well-written by Joseph Stern and so accurately translated into song by Bock and Harnick.

Photo: Rod Herbert

Scicluna has a strong and commanding stage presence and the vocal range that’s needed to take Tevye through a complexity of notes and emotions. This role is a tour de force in musical theatre, and one too often compared with its original creator, but Scicluna’s portrayal is singularly perceptive and totally his own.

hopefully this production of Fiddler will play to large and appreciative audiences.

As Golde, Charmaine Gibbs brings similar musical and theatrical experience to the production. Her Golde is feisty, strong but caring and protective of her daughters and the values she holds dear. Gibbs’ voice adds intensity and power to the role, especially in the duets with Scicluna. Sunrise, Sunset is a highlight of this production,

Continue with the rest of the review in Stage Whispers magazine, here.

Wildebeest and Valley

Form Dance Projects. Dance Bites 2018. Riverside Theatres, Parramatta. February 15 – 17, 2018
Photo : Heidrun Lohr

Choreographer and performer Omer Backley-Astrachan sees dance as a language – a form of communication “to be witnessed and reflected”.

Such is the challenge of contemporary dance. It requires an empathetic, compliant audience, willing to yield to the to the messages expressed, and prepared to translate and interpret them based on their own experience … and perhaps a brief suggestion from the choreographer.

In this ‘double bill’ of his work, Omer Backley-Astrachan has explored differing aspects of human relationships using choreography that is both sensitive and perceptive.

Wildebeest/The Human Flytrap

Performers: Chimene Steele-Prior, Naomi Hibberd, Allie Graham, Mason Peronchik, Sharon Backley-Astrachan

In Wildebeest, Backley-Astrachan looks at “the artifice of social behaviour through a distillation of human interactions”.

He establishes a small world where his performers are brought together in intricately expressed movement, then separated by distance and stillness. Stripped of the façade of costume or finery, they are alone, reaching out across barren space, some searching, some tempting. They make contact, or are rejected. Such is the

Continue with the rest of the review in Stage Whispers magazine, here.