Category Archives: Theatre Reviews

Night Slows Down

By Phillip James Rouse. Produced by Don’t Look Away Theatre Co and bAKEHOUSE Theatre Co. Director: Phillip James Rouse. Kings Cross Theatre, Sydney. 17 November – 9 December 2017

Photo : Ross Waldron

Indie theatre continues to bring us plays about things that matter … and do them well. Playwright and director Phillip James Rouse fears that, based on recent happenings in the world, it is possible that society and governments could “change and grow into something cancerous.” It’s a fear many have begun to share in the past year. Could there be a future where right wing extremism rules? It happened once before. What damage could it do today?

…. well directed theatre that is hard-hitting, issue-based – and aims to bring awareness and make a difference.

In his play, Rouse imagines such a time. A far-right government has been elected in an English speaking country somewhere in the world. Rabid, white, right wing, extremists are in power. Truths like climate change are derided. So are the experts who espouse them. Ordinary people have been cuckolded with the cry of “For the Future”. As disasters loom, people riot and die in the street.

Rouse describes the mayhem that ensues through a family torn apart by conflicting views and underlying envy and resentment. Their story is a microcosm of the turmoil and havoc that rage around them.

Photo : Ross Waldron

Sharon is a highly respected engineer who is environmentally and socially aware. She is married to Martin, whose family came from the Middle East. They are estranged from her brother Seth because of his racist attitudes.

As Seth rises to power in the new regime, his racist views become even stronger and acceptable. He has Martin ‘detained’ as an alien and uses this to blackmail Sharon into overseeing a very doubtful and dangerous project. Despite her warnings of the need to go slowly and gauge the impact of the project on the environment, Seth allows it to go ahead. Later, when she warns that the forecast of a major weather event will have disastrous effects, Seth refuses to stop the project. The result is catastrophic ..

Photo : Ross Waldron

Andre de Vany is cold and callous as Seth. He holds himself as inflexibly as the views his character embraces, his face set, his eyes hard, his shoulders stiff. The undercurrent of sibling envy makes him even harder and more callous. This is not a nice character to play and de Vany makes him heartlessly cruel and unlikable.

Rouse invests the character of Sharon with compassion, the will to fight and a vestige of hope. Danielle King’s depiction shows a woman who is strong, intelligent, gutsy and loving. There is steeliness in her resistance to Seth’s demands, wretchedness in her entreaties to stop the project, fervor in her pleas to free Martin, utter dejection in her powerlessness. This is a carefully written role and King finds every dimension convincingly.

Photo : Ross Waldron

Johnny Nasser plays Martin, the victim of the new regime’s xenophobia – and Seth’s racist venom. Nasser juxtaposes Martin’s love for Sharon with his distrust of Seth in a performance that illustrates the lasting and debilitating effects of vilification and discrimination.

The whole production is tight, the tension between the characters electric at times. Fear and futility hover menacingly … just as Phillip James Rouse hopes it will. Can this really happen? What can we do to stop it? Is there hope?

Dr Karl Kruszelnicki believes so. In an address to the audience after the play on Sunday 26th November he talked about affordable renewable energy sources that could easily be set up IF governments and bureaucracies were on side. He urged the audience to get involved in politics rather than letting deniers and right-wingers have their way. And his arguments, as always, were scientifically based and plausibly optimistic – albeit delivered a little fast and furiously. But that’s Dr Karl!

Once again, hats off to Rouse, bAKEOUSE Theatre, Don’t Look Away and theatres like KXT for giving us good, well written and well directed theatre that is hard-hitting, issue-based – and aims to bring awareness and make a difference.

 

The Fury of Mungo Fogg

By Kent Mayo; Directed by Josie Dwyer; Richmond School of Arts (Richmond Players); 18th Nov –  2nd Dec .

Richmond Players present this gory melodrama in the style of the old-time music hall, complete with a Master of Ceremonies (Michael Newcome), a pianist and sing-alongs between scenes. They go to a lot of trouble to do it right! The audience is seated at round tables, tastefully set. The afternoon audience is served with afternoon tea, the evening audience a two-course meal. Carafes of water are provided, but wine glasses are provided should you wish to ‘bring your own’! Members of the Players, dressed appropriately, serve food and clear tables. The atmosphere is friendly and sets the mood for everyone to boo, hiss or cheer as the predictable plot unfolds.

The play itself has all the usual melodrama characters – hero, heroine, aging parents, ‘poor boy’, and of course, the villain, Mungo Fogg himself, played with fitting posturing and bluster by Nicholas Noel who makes the most of every nasty threat, every sweeping flounce of his cape and every wicked, menacing laugh.

His partners in crime are just as villainous. Cribbins, played by Jeremy Collins is equally mean and malevolent. As is his wife, the notorious Pussy Galore, played with much revealing posing by Catherine Gregory.

In his bid to make a fortune in mining coal, Fogg needs to take over Lavender Cottage, and will stop at nothing – including getting rid of those who stand in his way. Much blood is spilt, and spilt often! Even the glossy, well-designed program is interspersed with drops of blood and a bloody handprint.

The Lavenders (Anne McMaster and Nathan Arnott) own the cottage. They are struggling to make ends meet but are determined not to sell up. Eventually their young daughter, Lucy, played with simpering heroine-style innocence by Heloise Tolar, is the only one left to defend her home – and her virtue – from the wily Fogg.

She is not alone, however! Kent Mayo pads out the plot with an array of other stock characters.

There’s poor, crippled Toby (Ben Curran0, lurching around the stage on twisted feet and a wooden crutch. Curran makes the most of this appealing character and the audience love him. There’s Cecil the gardener-turned-policeman, played by Aurel Vasilescu, who obviously relishes the comic antics of this stock melodrama ‘clown’.

But, as they say, there’s still more! Penny Johnson brings a bit of London ‘class’ as Mrs Windsor, who comes to stay at the cottage as a paying guest, and a ‘medicinal man’, Mr McGillicuddy (Nathan Arnott) and his wife and daughters, bring some Irish humour to the plot.

And finally, there’s the reluctant hero, Ernest, played by James Warren-Smith. He eventually gets his girl, but not without help … and more bloodshed.

Richmond Players brings a bit of fun and frivolity to the end of the year – and do it with enthusiasm and cheer.

 

Schools Spectacular

24-25 November, 2017. Qudos Bank Arena, NSW Department of Education.

The Schools Spectacular is a wonderful, awe-inspiring extravaganza of music and movement, light and colour, imagination and creativity. It’s also a very special celebration of the talent and diversity of the teachers and students from NSW public schools.

From Armidale to Westmead, Bellevue Hills to Yass, Lake Cargellico to Mosman, Wagga Wagga to Winmalee, over 5000 students and their teachers from over 300 schools have converged on Olympic Park to be part of the 34th Schools Spectacular. Some have travelled over seven hours to take part in the four days of rehearsal and performance that make this event one of the highlights of the education year.

Backed by 2,700 voices in the combined choir, 100 musicians in the orchestra and stage band, a backstage crew of 59 VET Entertainment Industry students and over three thousand dancers, 44 talented featured artists ask the thousands of people in the audiences to “Own the Moment” – just as they have in their commitment to this 2017 spectacular event.

Who would have predicted that a “Schools Concert” organised in1983 to test the acoustics of the newly built Entertainment Centre, would lead to the iconic cultural event that the Schools Spectacular has become – or, without doubt, the biggest and best advertisement for the public education system.

The Schools Spectacular was the beginning for many Australian ‘stars’ – Human Nature, Felicity Urquhart, Darren Duggan, Nathan Foley and musical maestro John Foreman who returns each year to host the event – and this year’s line up of featured performers will surely go on to great things as well.

There’s a place waiting on the concert stage or the recording studio for those who sing as beautifully as Elyse Sene-Lefao or as sensitively as Gus Noakes and Tana Laga’aia. There’s definitely a place waiting in musical theatre for someone who can sing, dance and act as well as Cooper Dallimore.  Many of the dancers will go on to greater things in dance companies here or overseas. Some of the young singers in the choir will become ‘featured artists’ in the years ahead.

Whatever their futures, they will remember the thrill and excitement of the ‘Schools Spec’. They’ll remember the buzz and fun of rehearsals, the crushed ‘togetherness’ of the dressing rooms, the enormity of the big stage, the wonder of the lighting effects, and the ‘high’ of rushing on to be part of the enormous, glitzy finale. That’s what, as an ex-Arts teacher, whose students loved being part of this special ‘gig’, I also  remember.

Schools Spec is an amazing opportunity. Through the Arts Unit and the production team it gives teachers and students a chance to move out of their schools into a bigger and brighter arena. For some their school has no real performance space, no band, no specialist music teacher, no choir, no dance or drama ensemble. Schools Spec encourages them to ‘have a go’ – and gives them the support and scaffold to do so.

There are many examples of this.

For remote and regional schools the magic of technology allows them to meet choreographers ‘on screen’ and learn routines much more easily. For some of those students it will be the first time they will travel to Sydney, let alone become part of such a huge ‘family’ of creative young people.

The 2017 Aboriginal Dance Company brings together talented indigenous performers from twenty-nine different schools across the state in a celebration of dance, song and language. The very special D’Arts Ensemble gives thirty-eight kids with disabilities the chance to shine. This year they performed to brother and sister duo Ezra and Olina Loau singing the evocative words of “If the World Only Knew”.

For some of the featured artists their very special talent may not even have been recognised without the chances that the ‘School Spec’ provides – and the opportunities offered by the many Arts Unit ensembles and the nurture of the Talent Development Project.

For two days each year thousands of kids from public schools across the state get the chance to showcase their talent and skills, whether it be singing, dancing, swinging from a trapeze, bringing to life one of John Deakin’s famous life-sized puppets, playing in the orchestra or performing with military precision as a member of the Millennium Marching Band.

For those same two days each year, hundreds of enthusiastic and talented teachers from across the state watch proudly from the wings while their gifted, hard working students excel – and have fun.

And at the performances over those two days – having filled in multiple permission notes, paid for t-shirts and costumes, got their children to and from buses and trains at ungodly hours, shouldered the expense of transport, tickets, and sometimes accommodation as well – thousands upon thousands of parents have watched with pride and amazement the great ‘Spectacle’ of organisation and talent that Schools Spec really is!

For those of you who missed it, it goes to air on Channel 7 at 7pm on Saturday 16th December. Watch it and celebrate with the performers and those who bring them to the stage.

This article has also been published in Stage Whispers magazine

 

Australia Day

By Jonathan Biggins. New Theatre. November 14 – December 16, 2017

Photo : Chris Lundie

 

 

 

In the imaginary town of Coriole, a committee of six has the task of organising the annual Australia Day Celebrations. They are character types one might find among the members of any organisation, country or city – an aspiring politician, a green feminist, a redneck denialist, a token ‘new’ Australian. To put them together on the Australia Day Committee of a small country town provides the basis of comic satire, for which playwright Jonathan Biggins is well known.

Photo : Chris Lundie

It it also means that they could appear as stereotypes. Finding their third dimension depends on the vision and passion of the director. Lousie Fischer, in her director’s notes writes: “They (the characters) are funny, flawed, feisty and sometimes not very nice. But they are human, they have hearts and intentions that, whilst maybe misguided, are meant well … I wanted to find truths rather than caricatures.”

Thus Fischer uses the first scenes to try to make the characters believable as well as recognisable. Sure, the wit of Biggins’ dialogue and banter makes each character ‘type’ very clear right from the beginning, but Fischer and her cast aim to find their strengths as well as their vulnerabilities. This makes them a little more convincing whilst still sustaining the humour that arises from the coming together of their very different outlooks on the contemporary world.

Peter Eyers plays Brian Harrigan, chair of the committee. Owner of the local hardware shop, he is also the mayor and is seeking pre-selection for the next election. Eyers finds humour in the arrogance and pomposity of this character as he tries to curry favour and support, especially that of fellow councilor Robert Wilson, who is the secretary of the committee.

Martin Portus establishes Wilson as a good manager, who tries to keep the calm and see everyone’s point of view. As such he listens, watches and interferes when things get heated in

Wanted – one body !

By Charles Dyer. Castle Hill Players. Pavilion Theatre, Castle Hill. Nov 17 – Dec 9, 2017.

Photo : Chris Lundie

 

Written by British actor and playwright Charles Dyer, Wanted – one body! has been staged constantly since its first production in 1961. Set on a stormy night ‘many years ago’ in an old stately home in England, with lots of crashing thunder, flashing lightning, eerie wailing, a sliding panel and the occasional piercing scream, the play has all the essentials of a typical ‘whodunnit’. But, with a couple of disappearing corpses it turns from ‘thriller’ into a crazy mix of comedy and mystery. With his usual talent for teasing out all the comic possibilities in scripts such as this, director Dave Went mixes the best elements of melodrama and farce to make it even crazier and funnier.

The plot is complicated – of course! Old Mr Barraclough has died, leaving his fortune to be divided between his two nasty and demanding stepdaughters … and his staff. When his body disappears and one of his stepdaughters also dies in mysterious circumstances, everyone is under suspicion – the cook, maid, the chauffeur, the secretary, the ghoulish undertaker, and a very strange doctor. All have motive and opportunity. Will a solicitor and his bumbling young clerk be able solve out the mystery?

Photo : Chris Lundie

Set designer Maureen Cartledge has created an appropriately gloomy but ‘stately’ set. Red and black predominate with gargoyles grimacing from the stairs and family portraits glowering from the walls. The atmosphere is dark and heavy. Andrew Kinch’s lighting creates shadowy corners and Daniel Vavasour’s sound design adds the throb of impending doom.

Faith Barraclough has assumed her role as joint heiress and is determined to take control of the household. She is hard, vicious, demanding – and imposing. Dressed in the prevailing red and black theme of the production (costumes by Annete van Roden), Leigh Scanlon takes on the role of this melodramatic villain with posturing zeal. She sweeps, struts, bellows . . . .

Continue with the full review in Stage Whispers magazine, here.

She Rode Horses Like The Stock Exchange

By Amelia Roper. Kings Cross Theatre. October 20 – November 11, 2017

Photo : Clare Hawley

Amelia Roper’s play is aptly set on the intimate KXT stage. Here the audience can watch the characters closely, read their facial expressions, feel the tension of silent insinuations and react to them … more often than not in wry smiles and embarrassed laughter. Yet this is not just a funny play. I wish I had been able to see it earlier in the run to let people know how well it has been written, directed and performed.  =

Set in Connecticut in the lead-up to the Global Financial Crisis, social and political implications hover, like predatory ghouls, above the action, never actually voiced but skilfully inferred by the four millennials who, in the words of director Nell Ranney, are “the next generation navigating a brave new frontier of gender roles and expectations”. Fueled by the ambition and affluence of the first few years of the new century, they have achieved ‘big things’ but are now beginning to face the crumbling values that the ‘American Dream’ once offered. That Roper can make it funny is a tribute to her natural, economic dialogue and her insights into how couples really relate.

Photo : Clare Hawley

She writes of theatre: “I like plays because two characters can say entirely contradictory things and both be right … and sometimes no one knows what the hell is going on and the play becomes about the struggle to articulate.”

And that is just what happens in this play.

Two couples meet on a blanket in a park. For Sara (Nikki Britton) and Henry (Tom Anson Mesker) this is “Sunday, fun day”, their time together away from Sara’s bank and Henry’s more humanitarian work as a nurse. Sara is bright, ambitious, hitting hard against the financial glass ceiling. Henry is more gentle ….

Continue the review in Stage Whispers magazine, here.

Time Stands Still

By Donald Margulies. ECLIPSE Productions. TAP Gallery, Surry Hills. November 1 – 25.

Photo : Katie Barget (Captar Photo)

Donald Margulies writes for “moral-thinking people”. When asked about Time Stands Still, he said it was “a way to write about what is going on in the world … what people are talking about.” He does so, according to director Claudia Barrie without offering any real answers to the questions he raises. Rather, “the bigger morality issues are left hanging in the air for us to … discuss long after the performance.”

Photo : Katie Barget (Captar Photo)

Setting the play in the narrow Tap Gallery, with the audience incredibly close to the action, Barrie, and designer Amy Freeman, make those issues, and the characters who face them, even more confronting. We sit right next to them as their lives unfold. We are personally involved in their intimate moments, sharing the tension, feeling the pressure, watching, sometimes almost too closely, the anguish and apprehension in their eyes.

Which all means that the production has to be tight, the blocking compact, the actors secure in their characters – and their lines. Barrie gives them no leeway. Every movement, every reaction is carefully considered and rehearsed in relation to the restrictions of the space, the proximity of the audience, and the complexity and subtlety of the relationships.

“. . . . this strong, committed cast manages to make the characters and the situation even more natural and compelling than in a conventional theatre space.”

Sarah is a photographic journalist committed to ‘making a difference’ by using her camera to bring the atrocities of war and disaster to the attention of the world. James, her partner of eight years, is a journalist who ……

Continue with the full review in Stage Whispers magazine, here.

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Godspell

By Stephen Schwartz and John-Michael Tebelak. Hills Musical Theatre Company. Model Farms High School. Nov 3 – 11, 2017.

Photo : Keith Mahoney

Husband and wife team John Brown (director) and Sue Brown (musical director), with choreographer Laurie Tancred, give this 2012 update of the musical a contemporary feel. Set in front of the safety fences of a construction site, with the cast in modern casual gear, the parables of the New Testament take a moralistic jump into the 21st century.

The production is bright without losing the pathos of the final scenes – and the large cast is in every moment. The voices are strong, the harmonies carefully rehearsed, and there is a sense of ensemble unity that is a tribute to the production team.

Leading the cast, Jeff Fisher finds both the teacher and friend in Jesus. His powerful yet carefully modulated voice and sensitive portrayal establishes a rapport with the ensemble that takes them ‘Day by Day’ to the ‘Beautiful City’ and the promised possibility of ‘All Good Gifts’!

Jonathan Barons ‘prepares the way’ for him as John the Baptist, and later betrays him as Judas, in between times supporting the ensemble as the parables are enacted. Barons’ voice lends depth and power to the production, as do those of Greg Wood, Alan Phillips, Jeremy Barons and Stephen Ollis.

Bernadette Sinclair, Fiona Brennan, Leanne Mordini, Linda Laoulach, Renee Bechara, Suzanne Chin, Sally Brown, Bec Robb and Bethany Marfleet take on the female roles and lead the enthusiastic members of the chorus.

Photo : Keith Mahoney

 

 

The singing and the simple but effective choreography are the highlights of this production and could stand on their own as an ‘in concert’ performance. The telling of the many parables is, unfortunately, a little didactic, despite the attempt to dramatise them in actions that are quite unsubtle and undignified at times.

Nevertheless, they are compensated by the quality of the singing, the vitality of the ensemble and the rocky backing of the musicians.

This review first published in Stage Whispers magazine.

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The Kitchen Sink

By Tom Wells.  Ensemble Theatre,  Sydney.  Director: Shane Bosher. 14 October – 18 November 2017

Photo : Prudence Upton

 

“A nice little play” someone said as we left the theatre – and it is! It’s gentle, funny and very natural, from the characters themselves to the set on which they engage. Both are crowded with all the recognisable material and emotional baggage of family life.

The action takes place in the kitchen-dining room of a family home in Yorkshire. Designed by Charles Davis, the set is the typical ‘ordered disorder’ of a busy household. Cupboards, counter tops, windowsill and cooker are jam-packed with the trappings of daily living. A claw hammer lying beside the sink is a good indication that there is a problem with the plumbing!

A large oil painting of a woman leaning against the bench seems a little out of place until we meet teenage son, Billy. The painting is of Dolly Parton and it’s part of the portfolio he will submit as his application to art school. He’s a in a bit of dilemma about the nipples – and whether to add sequins. It’s not really something about which his mother, Kath, a school dinner lady, or his father, Martin, a milkman, can advise him – nor something that interests his aspiring black-belt martial arts sister, Sophie or her very reticent boyfriend, Pete.

Tom Wells has created characters that are immediately recognisable and credible. They speak to each other naturally, often in phrases or unfinished sentences. They know what they are inferring – and in the hands of this cast, and director Shane Bosher, so does the audience. Dialect coach Amy Hume has ensured the veracity of the Yorkshire accents. Bosher has ensured the actors have become the family that Wells, and he, envisaged. The action – and the choreography between scenes – is unaffectedly ‘normal’. The relationships are convincing. The dialogue is punctuated with the typical pace, pauses and reactions of familiar conversations, even when things go wrong … as, with all families, they do.

Photo : Prudence Upton

Hannah Waterman and Huw Higginson bring their wealth of experience to the characters of Kath and Martin. Waterman’s Kath is always busy, always thinking ahead, understanding but just a little preoccupied with the future – namely the diminishing number of customers on Martin’s milk run. Martin is in denial, using an optimistic front to cover the truth. Higginson finds all of this in a performance that inspires genuine sympathy and understanding. Together they are a convincing, married couple, arguing over their children, niggling at each other one moment, supporting each the next.

Ben Hall is loveable as the gentle Billy, unsure of his ability or how he’ll cope with the art school in London. Lean and lanky, Hall makes him a bit hesitant, a bit tentative, a bit uncertain about his feelings – but very supportive of his family.

Sophie, on the other hand, is very confident and self-assured – until she punches her martial arts assessor for constantly referring to her as ‘feisty’. Her career aspirations broken, she reverts to sullenness, and Contessa Treffone makes that change very effectively. She shows the loss of self-esteem in monosyllabic reactions and a totally different persona that almost seems to shrink inside itself. Her facial expressions as she listens and watches, articulate her thoughts as surely as any dialogue might have done.

Duncan Ragg plays her boyfriend Pete, a plumber who is saving to buy a van to replace his bicycle. (When he does, it’s a bright pink, which doesn’t impress Sophie at all!). Ragg is even more hesitant than Pete. He never actually finishes a sentence … or a thought … and Ragg makes him completely believable and endearing, from the concern he shows for his aging Gran, to his attempt to repair the plumbing, to his rolling a marijuana cigarette for Kath.

Together they are tightly knit unit of performers who make the problems that overwhelm these characters engagingly realistic. They argue and console, criticise and support, laugh and cry in a series of events that are, because of the Bosher’s detailed attention to characterisation, pace and control, both entertaining and moving.

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The Red Tree

By Hilary Bell, based on the book by Shaun Tan.  Music by Greta Gertler-Gold.  National Theatre of Parramatta.  Lennox Theatre, Riverside Theatres. October 19 – 28, 2017.

Photo : Noni Carroll

The National Theatre of Parramatta brings another new piece of homegrown theatre to the Riverside – and Australian – stage. Based on the book by artist Shaun Tan, The Red Tree has an appeal that is insightful and universal.

The detail in Shaun Tan’s drawings – and the fragments of sentences – beg children to ask questions, some that are hard to answer. The Red Tree is no exception: a nameless young girl passes, in her imagination, through many dark moments, ultimately finding some hope in the form of a vivid red tree. “The red tree”Tanwrote, “may bloom, but it will also die, so nothing is absolute or definite; there needs to be an accurate reflection of real life, as something that is continuously in search of resolution.”

In bringing the book to the stage,Hilary Bell has adapted its messages into a musical theatre narrative. “In our interpretation, the girl, whom we have called Ava, decides she’s not going to leave her room, and while she travels through the book’s fabulous landscapes, these are manifestations of how she feels, rather than actual locations.”

Bell’s sensitive lyrics have been beautifully set to music by Greta Gertler-Gold. She and musicians Ben Fink and Bonnie Stewart are an intricate part of this production, accompanying Ava on her journey, echoing her fears but encouraging her to overcome them. The music is catchy, foot-tapping one moment, just a little scary the next,……

Continue reading the review in Stage Whispers magazine, here.

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