Category Archives: Theatre Reviews

BESPOKEN WORD: “I Can Top That” Edition

Solid Lines Creatives,  Petersham Bowling Club,  8th August 2018

Sometimes the best ideas are sparked by the simplest things. Take a few comics telling stories after a Stand Up gig. Realise their stories are even funnier than the gig itself! Why not share this with a wider audience? In an intimate space? With a glass of wine? And call it BESPOKEN WORD?

Storytelling is fundamental to every society, every family, every group of friends. It’s the basis of history, literature, theatre, opera, music. It’s how we share, learn, grow … entertain. And the irrepressible John Knowles, Kate Iselin and their friends do all of that every second Wednesday of the month in the little theatrette downstairs at the “live, local and pokie free’ Petersham Bowling Club.

A simple stage, a microphone, 4 chairs, some topics in a hat, a few people who are happy (and daring enough) to share their memories, and an enthusiastic audience … that’s all it takes to produce a lively, funny – even a little poignant – evening.

Last Wednesday night Iselin began the show by introducing CJ Denning who told us of her first night in Australia, holed up Harry-Potter –style on the floor in a cupboard in a share house in Sydney. And Naomi Mourra, who shared the surprise of finding an unexpected, used, GST charged feminine hygiene ‘item’ stuck to the seat of her pink motor scooter.

After interval Knowles was joined by the bowling club’s own George Catsi, Comedian Jen Carnovale, and James Valentine, afternoon presenter on ABC Sydney, for a session of “I Can Top That”.

What a weird and wonderful range of stories they told!  In Quick fire quips, Catsi  described his grisly effort to fit dentures into the mouth of a cadaver in his nursing days. Carnovale took us on camping trip to the Hunter where a candle set fire to the tent. This inspired Valentine’s memories of his teenage candle-making business and Knowles’ Grade 8 story of selling Christmas-character candles to raise money for a school trip, only to find the money he’d raised was merely the deposit which should have been paid much earlier – and therefore missing out on the excursion. Poor John!

The topic Road Trips took us ‘on tour’ with Valentine and a rock band in a Falcon station wagon where he was the only driver – mainly because all the others had lost their licences. He told of being pulled over, and facing a burly policeman on his own, while his fellow travellers ‘ditched’ some illegal substances. Catsi ‘topped that’ with the tale of hitching a lift in a Combi van in Tasmania, ending up in and anti- Franklin Dam demonstration and being arrested for demonstrating.

Knowles was reminded of his young band deciding to travel to Melbourne by train – not realising that the many instruments they carried with them would incur a $700 fee for excess baggage! Fortunately, his mother was able to sweet talk the station master down to $200 … for which she paid!

And that’s just a few of the many stories with which they entertained us for a few happy, convivial hours. Everyone has stories to tell. Most of us like to share them. Many of us do so fairly well. Some of us also have the timing and chutzpah to ‘Top That’!

Tickets to this cunning little show are available through Event Brite or at the door. But they sell out quickly, so booking is advisable. The next show is Wednesday 12th September. Go along and see just how much fun the age-old art of storytelling can be.

 

The Wizard of Oz

By L. Frank Baum. Music and Lyrics by Harold Arlen and E. Y. Harburg. Background Music by Herbert Stothart. Adapted by John Kane for the Royal Shakespeare Company. A production by Richmond Players with Richmond High School. The “Mac” Auditorium, Richmond High School, Lennox Street, Richmond. August 10 – 19, 2018.

Photo : Samantha O’Hare

I had the privilege to sit in on the tech run of this production on Monday night and though there were a few little glitches (after all, that’s what tech rehearsals are all about), director Josie Dwyer, musical director David Catterall and their very efficient and hard-working crew have their show ready to “hit the high spots” – and there are plenty of high spots to hit!

Taking into consideration the (unavoidable) limitations of a busy high school auditorium, Dwyer and her designers have come up with some imaginative ideas, including some impressive lighting and smoke effects. Her innovative set designer, John Grimshaw, has used scaffolding to extend the width of the stage, and scrim to hide and highlight the extensions and elevations he has created. Imaginative use of metres of hessian and camouflage netting transports the audience – as well as Dorothy and Toto – from Kansas to the land of the Munchkins … then to the Emerald City, where a giant animated face with red LED eyes, hovers magically above the actors.

and a very well trained dog that occasionally – and completely unintentionally – attempts to steal her scenes.

Dwyer has worked closely with a cast and crew of over a hundred to achieve a production that is colourful and entertaining. She has provided the opportunity for a great many enthusiastic Richmond youngsters – high school, tweens and junior primary – to work with the more ‘mature’ but equally enthusiastic members of the Richmond Players, including the President, Sean Duff, resplendent in “Emerald City” green guarding the gates to Oz.

Photo : Samantha O’Hare

Dorothy herself – played by Sabina Salas, a year 11 student – will be an asset to any musical theatre company in the years to come. She sings beautifully, but is also a convincing young actor, described aptly by Dwyer as being able to “find the heart of the character”. She is mature and assured, dealing confidently with a range of entrances and exits, and a very well trained dog that occasionally – and completely unintentionally – attempts to steal her scenes.

The companions she meets along the way are as charming as everyone expects them to be. Jake Wholohan as the Scarecrow is elastic and flexible with a wide-eyed naivety and cheerful smile that makes his character charmingly lovable. Craig Wynn-Jones as the Tin Man sustains a semi-robotic alertness that shines as seriously as his well-oiled joints and tapping toes. The cowardly lion played by Adrian Evangelista is as cuddly as Big Ted, as clumsy as Jerry Lewis and as scary as … a kitten … and equally endearing.

The witches – one good (Crystal Forbes) and one wicked (Catherine Gregory) – behave as expected. One comforts whilst the other cackles. One encourages whilst the other threatens. One inspires whilst the other, eventually, expires – as all bad witches should.

Supporting these larger-than-life characters is a chorus of tiny Munchkins, toe-tapping trees, crows, soldiers and green Emerald City socialites. Their voices ring out joyfully. They dance vivaciously. And they follow direction attentively.

Managing such a large cast is no mean feat. Teaching the songs and choreography, developing the characters, explaining the blocking, coordinating rehearsals, organising and storing costumes, takes a lot of planning and patience – and some very efficient backstage ‘wrangling’ to teach and sustain theatre decorum, and focus and timing.

There are some special moments in this production that I shouldn’t divulge … but wait for the wicked witch’s descent to “where the goblins go”; and the very special finale which Dwyer “hopes people will take away with them and remember”.

I’m sure they will.

Celebrity Theatre Sports

Enmore Theatre, 5 August, 2018

Photo : Stephen Reinhardt

The lure of some of our celebrities of stage, screen, radio and the comedy circuit teaming up to take on the improvised hilarity of Theatresports to raise money for Canteen has been attracting packed audiences for years. The 2018 performance was no exception. Crowds gathered outside the Enmore theatre impatiently waiting for the doors to open – and once they did, a constant stream of excited, cheerful fans flowed in, stopping to buy raffle tickets at the door, before finding their seats and chatting as they awaited another night of “non-stop improvised comedy madness”.

To say this audience is eclectic is an understatement. There are no age, social or cultural barriers to Theatresports – especially not on this special night. Kids and adults from all over the city flock to see the faces they know so well fool around in a series of games that test their quick thinking, physical dexterity, collaboration … and intelligence!

Photo : Stephen Reinhardt

A ‘curtain raiser’ surprise in the form of the flexible and acoustically unbelievable Umbilical Brothers got the audience even more hyped. What a start to the night! And they stayed on beside musician Tom Cardy to provide appropriate sound effects for the games to come.

Hosted by the ineffable David Callan –  actor, comedian, writer and Theatresports champion – and his off-sider, game decider and time-keeper extraordinaire, Jane Simmons, this year’s teams were welcomed to the stage by an audience ready to have fun while generously raising funds for one of the most important cancer support organisations in the world.

This year’s celebrities – among them Costa Georgiadis on a different but dramatically fertile ‘verge’; Rebecca De Unamuno rhyming rhythmically; Adam Spencer gyrating geometrically; Holly Brisley playing away from Summer Bay; Zoe Norton checking things out; and Jay Laga’aia without Big Ted but still with “stories to tell” – got off to a flying start with a series of two minute games, discerningly judged by Theatresports aficionados Murray Fahey, Jenny Hope and Mark Streeter.

On a more serious note was the story of a family devastated by cancer, shared bravely by the young daughter and granddaughter who has become their mainstay and carer with the encouragement, support and mentorship of the Canteen family. Her story galvanised the interval sale of raffle tickets, with just a little ‘celebrity’ encouragement.

The second half of the program saw inter-team shenanigans as Simmons hit them with combinations of games and challenges. Competition raged – theatrically of course! Belts were loosened in a hilarious ‘emotions’ confrontation in a fortuneteller’s booth. A Roller Derby in stilettos minced menacingly.  And Cinderella was re-told, sinisterly in Kung-fu style. It was a veritable feast of improvised proportions.

Finally the raffle was drawn … the winning ticket holders congratulated … Callan and Simmons declared Rebecca De Unamuno and her team – Rowan Witt, Daniel Cordeaux and Monique Dykstra – the 2018 champions … and a happy audience made its way home.

Photo : Stephen Reinhardt

So ended a night of fun and frivolous fund raising for the worthiest of causes – based on an improvisation idea developed in Canada way back in 1978 by Keith Johnstone, and inspired, believe it or not, by the antics of professional wrestling! Today Impro teams compete around the world … just as Sydney the Theatresports teams battle annually for The Cranston Cup. This year’s competition begins on 23rd September – check Eventbrite for tickets.

Torch Song Trilogy

By Harvey Fierstein. Darlinghurst Theatre Company. Eternity Playhouse, Dalringhurst (NSW). July 29 – August 26, 2018

Photo : Clare Hawley

This is a stunning production where writing, direction, design and acting come exquisitely together. It takes Harvey Fierstein’s beautifully written script and his very delicately drawn characters through the maelstrom of discrimination and the fight for acceptance. Conceived in the late 1970s, when homophobia and vilification reigned, Fierstein’s trilogy was way ahead of its time, an inspiration to others to “imagine the possibilities that could lead to positive changes”. His character Arnold’s dream of a gay couple raising a family seemed inconceivable then – but was a harbinger of a brighter, more tolerant future.

Stephen Colyer’s production of this iconic trilogy gives it the elegance, lustre and sophistication that “the chutzpah of Fierstein’s creative spirit” deserves.

The three plays are funny, witty, warm … yet heart-breakingly realistic. This revival by Stephen Colyer of his 2013 production finds the all of this and more. His direction is tight, his choreography beautifully timed and coordinated so precisely with the lighting effects designed by the creative Benjamin Brockman, that at some moments the audience reaction is whispered audibly. The skilful alliance between sound designer and musical director achieved by Nate Edmondson and Phil Scott is testament to their innovation and vast theatrical experience.

Designers Imogen Ross (set) and Katja Handt (costume) endorse the collaboration that is a feature of this production. Together they have made colour a facet that unites the action. Ross has designed a set that is effectively workable and dexterously evokes the ambiance of each play. She plays with colours and props and moves furniture cleverly. In the interval before the final play –  Widows and Children – the stage crew nimbly transforms the stage, moving in tall, colourful flats, changing curtains on windows, setting up a workable kitchen bench and positioning the many props that are used or referred to in the text. Handt picks up the colours and images in costumes (especially the colour-coordinated PJs in Fugue in a Nurser!) that define the characters and the time. Watch for the rabbits that cunningly conjure the charm of Arnold’s new apartment in Widows and Children.

Photo : Clare Hawley

The cast move with impeccable precision in intricately rehearsed blocking that pinpoints tense moments. Deftly delivered dialogue defines the characters’ fears and the fragility of the lives they live in a hetero-normal, bigoted society. Humour, included cleverly by Fierstein, and subtly accented by Colyer, endows the characters with the guts and resolve they need just to get by.

Simon Corfield expertly portrays Fierstein’s hero, the feisty but blighted Arnold Beckoff, through three soul-baring hours of changing emotions. His timing is faultless. . . . .

The Review continues in Stage Whispers magazine

 

 

Hotel Sorrento

by Hannie Rayson, HIT Productions (touring) Riverside Theatres, directed by Shane Bates, 31 July to 4 August, 2018.

Photo : Cathy Ronalds

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is Hotel Sorrento really about the ‘ghost’ that has haunted and divided the Moynihan family, or is it a treatise on the Australian attitude to the arts? If it is the latter, does that mean the play is a little dated? That the cultural criticism it makes is less relevant today than it was in 1990 when the play was awarded an AWGIE, a Premier’s Literary Award and a Green Room Award? Or do the cuts in government funding to many of the arts suggest the ‘home grown cringe’ does still exist?

As well as the cultural comment, Hannie Rayson explores the festering effects that secrets and suspicions have on family relationships through the three Moynihan sisters. After the death of her husband, Hilary (Ruth Caro) stays on in the lazy seaside town of Sorrento, supporting her son, nursing her dying mother and humouring her aging father Wal, (Dennis Coard). Pippa (Joanne Booth), on the other hand, has become a successful business woman in New York; and Meg (Kim Denman), a writer living in England, has just been nominated for the Booker Prize for her novel Melancholy, which many believe is autobiographical.

Those aspects of the novel have concerned Hilary and Pippa, and when the sisters gather for their father’s funeral, this tension is further stretched as Hilary’s son Troy (Saxon Gray) begins asking questions about why they are reluctant to talk about the death of his father.

Director Denny Lawrence uses the character of Meg’s English husband, Edwin (Dion Mills), to break the tension. Mills’ quizzical expressions and comic timing provide a break from the conflict around him – as do ‘weekenders’, artist Marge (Jenny Seedsman) and her friend, journalist, Dick (Mike Smith). Rayson employs them as moderators, connecting scenes and ideas – and eventually as a catalyst to a major family implosion.

The wealth of experience of these actors, and Lawrence’s tight direction, means they work as a well-oiled ensemble, essential in a touring production working for short runs in many different theatres. The simple set, designed by Adrienne Chisholm, and lit by Shane Grant, is easily transported, but still allows the many scene changes – a typical feature of much of Rayson’s work – between house and jetty, Australia and England, beach and beach house, to occur relatively smoothly.

Also published in Stage Whispers magazine.

Galston Concert : Sydney Symphony Fellows

Galston Uniting Church 2pm  29th July

These wonderful events keep getting better and better! To have thirteen of the most accomplished young musicians in Sydney performing on a balmy July day in the secluded Galston bushland is a treat in itself. To hear these talented artists perform in a space that is so personal and with such fine acoustics is even more special. Add the afternoon sunlght filtering through stained glass to shimmer on a moving bow, or refract off a glowing horn and the whole experience is almost ethereal.

Ok! So I’m waxing eloquent … but I’m just one of a very enthusiastic, tightly packed audience that thrilled to the program these exceptional young musicians selected to perform. Written when the composers themselves – Brahms, Mozart and Schulhoff – were young, the repertoire reflected the joie de vive of youth and energetic optimism – as well as highlighting the beautiful voices of the violin, viola, cello and double bass; flute, oboe, clarinet and bassoon; horn and trombone; and a range of percussion instruments … and the skill of those who played them.

Brahms Serenade No 1 in D major brought the strings and the woodwinds together in a variation of motifs that demonstrated not only the expertise of the performers but the empathy that is so intrinsic to chamber performances.

The second half of the program began with Mozart’s Oboe Quartet in F Major, where the lilting voice of the oboe spoke hauntingly to the undertones of the strings. A change of pace and style followed for the finale – Erwin Schulhoff’s Suite (1921) – a rousing arrangement of six movements based on the different characteristics of jazz.

What a wonderful and diverse program these musicians compiled! The variety meant they could show the range of the instruments they play so expertly and the amazing collaboration that comes from working together with so much passion and understanding.

It is easy to see why The Sydney Symphony Orchestra has gathered them into its fold.

The popularity of these Concerts grows each year … for obvious reasons! It’s becoming imperative to book. Find out more by contacting the Galston Concerts Management Team through: robdorit@netspace.net.au 0428 248 384 or keithandhelenjordan@iinet.net.au 0425 339 841

Sleeping Beauty

Bonnie Lythgoe Productions. State Theatre, Sydney. July 13 – 22, 2018.
Photo : Robert Catto

The old ‘Christmas Pantos’ in Sydney introduced many kids to the theatre, but until Bonnie Lythgoe saw the ‘niche’ for a winter holiday show for kids, we have missed out on the fun and cheekiness, music and dancing, colour and audience participation that is at the heart of pantomime.

The production of Sleeping Beauty – A Knight Avenger’s Tale, in the best of panto tradition, calls on some theatrical ‘names’ to bring the ‘nasty and nice’ characters of fairy tales to life in a performance that gives them the chance to go ‘over the top’ to the rapturous response of an audience more used to a posse of screen ‘goodies and baddies’ brandishing weapons rather than magic.

Rhonda Burchmore does the bad fairy thing as the scheming Carabosse. In high stilettos and lots of purple hued glitter she struts the stage, threatening mayhem, until she reveals her thwarted love for the princess’s father in a throaty rendition of Cher’s “If I Could Turn Back Time”. Burchmore is an audience favourite and she gives them the pizazz they love.

Melissa Tkautz is her nemesis, the Good Fairy. In shimmery gold, and with typical panto not-very-good rhyme, she summarises the beginning of the story and introduces the characters, including the comedy duo of Silly Billy, the Court Jester – played once again by Britain’s Kev Orkian and Nanny Twinkle – played with a dash of theatrical zing by Katrina Retallick.

Photo : Robert Catto

Embla Bishop is the chaste, pretty princess, protected for twenty years from the danger of Carabosse’s curse, and hoping her 21st birthday will break the spell forever – and allow her to marry the handsome Prince Valiant played with chivalrous formality by Daniel Milne.

Veteran British actor Frazer Hines plays her father, King Louis, and Matt Geronimi returns to the Lythgoe panto stage as his squire, Chambers. Newcomer Cameron Taylor hovers around the stage as Carabosse’s minion, Cousins – and surprises the audience with his real height in the silly parody of “On the First Day of Christmas” … which was a disappointing reprise of a segment from last year’s panto.

The chorus provides colourful and talented song and dance support, and though Sleeping Beauty has neither the depth of plot nor the possibility of characters of 1917’s panto, Peter Pan, it has the appeal to attract good holiday audiences to one of Sydney’s State-ly old ladies of the theatre.

This review was prepared for Stage Whispers magazine

Acacia Quartet – “4+Viola”

Independent Theatre, Sunday 8 July, 2018

Cold winds didn’t deter an enthusiastic audience who greeted the Acacia quartet – Lisa Stewart, Myee Clohessy (violins), Stefan Duwe (Viola) and Anna Martin-Scrase (cello) with their “+Viola”, the esteemed Emile Cantor – in this little piece of Sunday afternoon joy.

Acacia is a busy, versatile musical ‘unit’ who play at events around Australia and in Canada and Europe. They are passionate supporters of young musicians and collaborate with a variety of national and international composers and musicians.  They have recorded six albums and have nominated for ARIA awards.

In performance, they work seamlessly together, unified in their obvious love of music and the creative rapport that comes from endless practice and empathetic connection.

Their program of selected compositions by Mozart and Dvorak and a more contemporary piece form Australian composer Nick Wales, gave them the perfect opportunity to show that magic – and the musical alchemy that the strings can invoke.

Mozart’s String Quintet in G minor reflected a sad time in his life, and echoes of restlessness and despair pervade as the instruments speak to each other of the sorrow he foresaw. Violinist Lisa Stewart almost lives that sorrow as she leads, her face betraying the depth of empathy she has with the poignancy of the messages in the music.

Emile Cantor paid a fitting tribute to Mozart as a musical “inventor”, as it was he who conceived the idea of string quartets and quintets and the innovative variation and expression that can be achieved by four or five instruments working so closely together.

Boomi’s Ray by Nick Wales is very different. Written following the death of a friend, it begins stridently, almost discordantly, seemingly an expression of shock, even anger, but this is followed by more celebratory passages that suggest achievements and cherished memories.

Dvorak’s String Quintet in E-Flat Major is also more festive, written as it was during Dvorak’s time as Director of the national Conservatory of Music in New York City. In this piece, the musicians delighted in the variety of rhythms, the movement between keys and the interchange of harmonies between the viola and violin, and deep notes of the cello.

The finale to that piece, “an exuberant rondo … that is bouncy, good-natured and full of joy” was a fitting tribute to the musicians themselves and their enthusiastic commitment to their art.

The Rolling Stone

By Chris Urch. Outhouse Theatre Co and Seymour Centre. July 3 – 21, 2018

Photo : Clare Hawley

“It is the business of art to be dangerous,” writes Adam Cook in the foreword to his production of The Rolling Stone, a play that challenges the religious, cultural and political powers that “struggle with the notion of homosexuality”.

Chris Urch’s award-winning play is at once hard-hitting yet tender, tragic yet warm. Humour and tension are played out in pause perfect scenes that pit lover against lover, brother against sister, brother against brother – reality against fanatical morality. It’s a play that will pull at the heart strings of those who empathise, but test the closed minds of those who don’t … if they see the play …

Adam Cook has, as usual, found the depth and poignant intensity of the characters Urch has created and brought them into stark, moving authenticity in this compelling productio. . .

Cook has brought together a cast strong enough to take on the range of intense emotions the characters expose as they struggle against poverty, ambition and fundamentalist Christian fervour.

Among these is Elijah Williams, who takes on the taxing role of Dembe, the young homosexual who faces years of prison – or more likely death – if his sexuality is discovered. Williams is heart-breakingly convincing in this role, revealing the anguish of impossible decisions and the effects they will have. In his relationship with the man he loves he is tentative but poignantly naïve. With his family, he clings to close religious and traditional ties while struggling with who he really is – culminating in a final scene that is a turmoil of emotional torment that shows the intuitive power of this young actor.

Damon Manns plays his lover, Sam, an Irish-African medic. Manns deftly finds the gentle humour Urch has woven into the scenes with Dembe to lighten the underlying fear of exposure and what might ensue. His physicality contrasts with Williams’ faltering hesitation. Together they establish a relationship that is convincingly tender, yet fraught.

Photo : Clare Hawley

Mandela Mathia and Zufi Emerson are Dembe’s brother and sister – he the recently appointed pastor, dependent on the increasing his ‘flock’ to make a living to support the family; she the devoted sister who is prepared to give up her chance to study medicine so that Dembe can do so.

Mathia balances brotherly responsibilities with the evangelistic zeal that is expected of him in a persuasive performance. Emerson is equally effective as the watchful, perceptive sister. There is little that she misses, much that she strives to conceal, . . . .

Review continued in Stage Whispers Magazine.

The Girl The Woman

By Aanisa Vylet. National Theatre of Parramatta. Riverside Theatres. June 28 – July 7, 2018

Photo : Robert Catto

To say this production is a work of love would be to understate the concentration of experiences and diverse performance styles Aanisa Vylet has artistically fused “to smash the limitations of how female narratives can exist on stage”. Nor would it adequately explain the feeling of ‘family’ that radiates from the production. Vylet’s story has been lovingly nurtured by a very sensitive and perceptive director, a talented, imaginative design team, the collaborative support of the National Theatre of Parramatta – and the “world of magic, diversity and community” that is Western Sydney.

If that sounds like I’m waxing too lyrical, please, go see and feel for yourself!

In a vibrant performance, Aanisa Vylet’s  [production] . . . . . is moving, heart-warming and more than a little bit funny.

Walk into the theatre and be intrigued by the way designer Jonathan Hindmarsh has melded a collection of cupboards – two wardrobes, a bookcase, a piano, two dressers, a sideboard, two dressing tables, three sets of drawers, five lamps, a suitcase and a birdcage – into a multi-levelled, multi-shaded grey escalation of time and furniture fashion. Be warmly welcomed, even shown to your seat in some cases, by Vylet herself, greeted by co-star Nisrine Amine as she sits atop the barricade of cabinetry.

Then be drawn into a brave performance that uses a coalition of language and imagery, sound and movement, light and shade to tell a story of growing up, venturing out, and coming back. Vylet’s character is every daughter. Amine’s is every mother. Their stories reach across cultural and religious boundaries. Nisrine’s amplified voice breathes limitations and desires. Vylet animates them in sound . . . .

Review continued in Stage Whispers magazine.