Category Archives: Theatre Reviews

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.

 

Dresden

By Justin Fleming. bAKEHOUSE Theatre Company at KXT. Kings Cross Theatre, Level 2, Kings Cross Hotel. June 15 – 30, 2018.

Photo : Clare Hawley

According to Hitler’s memoirs, it was his teenage viewing of Richard Wagner’s Rienzi –  about a Roman tribune who led a proletariat revolt against the nobles of Rome – that made him understand for the first time his destiny: to strengthen and unite the German Reich. Hitler had the autographed score of Rienzi with him in the bunker where he took his life in 1945.

Justin Fleming has fused this – and the life and opinions of the composer himself – in a play that highlights their similarities and the impulses that drove them.

On a glassy sunken stage designed by Patrick Howe, director Suzanne Millar brings Fleming’s 19th and 20th century protagonists into close proximity – with each other and the audience. There is no escaping their driving ambitions or their belief in themselves. With a fine cast, Millar, once again, gives Fleming’s work the pace, perception and emotional intensity his writing and characters deserve.

Jeremy Waters recreates the character of Richard in a performance that accentuates the zeal and passion that Wagner’s biographers attribute to the composer. He paces and persuades, panders and pervades, eventually getting his works on to the stage, paying his debts and making his name pervasively in the world of music and drama. Waters is a dynamic presence on the stage, always finding the complexities in and behind his characters.

Yalin Ozucelik as Adolf shows the growing intensity and vehemence as the character’s obsession with Wagner and his belief in his own power strengthens. The enthusiasm of his depiction of the young Adolf hearing Rienzifor the first times is almost childlike, the growth of his nationalistic zeal scarily abhorrent … but believable … especially as the dust of the bombing of Dresden falling in drifts around him accentuates his manic fanaticism.

Wagner’s second wife, Cosima is played by Renee Lim. Almost a ghostly apparition, she ardently records the composer’s thought and memories – eventually handing over the autographed copy of the score to an imploring Adolf.

Thomas Campbell, Dorje Swallow and Ben Wood play the various personalities that influenced or affected the protagonists. Such is Fleming’s writing that these roles are no less exacting or demanding than those of Richard or Adolf and each actor meets the challenge of the different characters in strong and believable performances.

Millar keeps the pace fast, the focus intense. The eighty-five-minute performance passes in a concentration of action and emotion that culminates in a dark confetti of desperation and dejection.

 

First published in Stage Whispers magazine.

 

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