Category Archives: Theatre Reviews

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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The Addams Family

Music and Lyrics by Andrew Lippa. Book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice.  Directed by Kate Gandy and Camilla Bellstedt; Dural Musical Society; October 13 – 28, 2018.

 

Headstones and eerie, blank-faced, white clad figures line the way as the audience is ushered along Cemetery Lane to Dural Musical Society’s production of The Addams Family. Their small stage is converted to the lonely home of the macabre characters that entertained television audience over 64 episodes between September 1964 and April 1966.

Here Gomez and Morticia Addams deal with the disturbing news that their daughter “Wednesday’s Growing up” and is in love. She confides in her father, asking him to ensure “One Normal Night” in order to meet her boyfriend’s family. Both families, and ancestors called from the dead, are thus involved in a bizarre dinner party that encompasses all the weirdness of the original series – with lots of songs and some classic one-liners.

Directed by Kate Gandy and Camilla Bellstedt, with choreography by Mandy Winter, this production typifies the ‘family atmosphere’ of which Dural Musical Society is so proud. For example, the 19 ‘ancestors’ bring together both young and older members of the society, as well as some new faces. In their various spooky ‘reincarnations’ they provide an enthusiastic chorus to the whacky events over which they stand sentinel.

The members of the Addams family are portrayed with the appropriate poker faces and typical bleak humour of the original characters.

Andrew McLean and Annette van Roden become very authentic facsimiles of Gomez and Morticia Addams – and their long-lasting but peculiar relationship. Van Roden, with long black hair, wears figure-hugging purple and black, with spiky stilettoes. McLean, of course, wears a pinstriped suit and sometimes a flashy smoking jacket. Though their dilemma over Wednesday’s ‘disclosure’ threatens the very foundation of the family, all is resolved in a dashing “Tango De Amor” in the second act.

Keira Bellifemine brings pouting, stiff-shouldered determination to the role of Wednesday Addams, “Pulled” between who she is and what she wants. This is an exacting role and Bellifemine communicates the emotions that confuse the character in strong and expressive notes.

Her brother Pugsley is played by Toby Rowe who shows a mature understanding of this strange, torture-loving youngster and his concern about losing the sister he relies upon to torment him.

Brian Chapman is a real audience pleaser as he cleverly recreates the strange voice and quirky gestures of Uncle Fester. His rendition of “The Moon and Me” and his rocket trip to reach his ‘love’ are highlights of the production.

So too are the antics of Faith Jessel as she injects cackling humour into the role of Grandma Addams. Bewigged and bent, she casts aside her usual poise to become a wizened sorceress, her comedic timing making the very most of this gift of a role.

Liam Dailly hovers above everyone as Lurch. ‘Thing’ makes some ‘handy’ appearances from the wings and Cousin Itt wanders in every now and again.

They all come as a great shock to Wednesday’s boyfriend Lucas Beinecke (Mitchell Hawkins) and his father Mal (Tim Chivers), though his mother, Alice (Raelene Buecker) is a little less bemused, especially when, drugged (accidently) by Pugsley, she manifests her real self in a very upbeat ‘disclosure’.

Accompanied by a six-piece band, this large cast sings and dances its way through nineteen songs and many scene changes. It is an entertaining production, especially for those ‘boomers’ who were addicts of the original Addams family.

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No End Of Blame

by Howard Barker; Sport for Jove, directed by Damien Ryan. Reginald Theatre, Seymour Centre 12-28 October, 2017.

Cartoonists have to work quickly. Their art is current, topical – and if it works, it usually hurts. Their pencils are, as we know from Charlie Hedbo, blunt instruments that can be disastrously effective.

“A pencil in this play,” director Damien Ryan writes, “is the world entire…. It is the most human of tools, regenerative and destructive. The play, in the ugliest and most beautiful ways, tells us never to put our pencil down.”

The playwright, Howard Barker, he believes “has no interest in being politically correct or rational, in fact his moments of complete irrationality are the secrets to any understanding we might have of his deeply original plays.”

Barker, like the cartoonist, writes hard and fast, his characters formed in quick, sharp strokes, his themes intense, acerbic. Ryan’s direction misses none of that cutting pace or passion. This is a very powerful production. The direction, the acting, the set, the sound, the lighting, all linked by some brilliant cartoons and drawings, work together with a potency that hits, like Barker, hard and fast.

And, it is ensemble work at its very precise best. The time moves from early in World War I to the 1970s .The action moves from Hungary to Russia to England. There are over fifty characters and countless costume and set changes, yet the social and political punch of this long and complex never falters. It is another tour de force that reinforces once again the integrity of productions from this fresh, inspiring company.

Designer Melanie Liertz sets the play on a wide rake, framed by huge sheets of torn paper on which satirical cartoons drawn by Cathy Wilcox and David Pope and beautiful life drawings by Nicholas Harding are projected. Whilst they provide a powerful backdrop to the play, they are as intrinsic to the action as the political events and characters they portray.

From the murky battlefields of the Austro-Hungary campaign, to the oppression of the communist regimes in post revolution Russia, to England in the throes of war in the 1940s, to post war social and economic change, scenes are played out in hard-hitting dialogue and graphic action.

Akos Armont and Sam Sullivan lead the ensemble with Angela Bauer, Danielle King, Monroe Reimers, Lizzie Schebesta, Amy Usherwood and Bruce Youngman. Every one of them is in the moment, their characters clear and convincingly strong. Whether cringing naked at the point of a bayonet, or defiantly naked in front of a group of artists; arguing the merits of art, or socialism, or satire; silently drawing, listening, or diligently taking notes of a meeting, they are real and sometimes frighteningly believable.

Between scenes they are just as involved, creating new settings by rolling metres of grass, thrusting posies into holes in the rake or passing stacks of chairs, a table, a cabinet off or onto the stage. Never is the tempo and urgency of the play broken, the choreography of these changes as carefully directed and deftly executed as the action itself.

Sport for Jove keeps raising the bar! This production raises it even further.

 

 

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What Rhymes with Cars and Girls

By Aidan Fennessy. Music and Lyrics by Tim Rogers. Melbourne Theatre Company. Riverside Theatres, Parramatta. October 11 – 14, 2017

Backing this production as leader of a skilled musical trio, Tim Rogers watches a love story unfold around the songs from his solo album, What Rhymes with Cars and Girls. Written by Aidan Fennessy  – “ I was struck by the musical diversity of the album … and had one of those moments when I thought, ‘This sounds like a musical’… and took it from there” – the play is a raw urban romance set across class divides. Though it could well stand alone, the songs make it more gritty, more intimate and more universally appealing.

Fennessy’s script introduces the characters Johnno and Tash – played by Johnny Carr and Sophie Ross – in short autobiographical sentences that are very natural and establish a warm rapport with the audience.

He is one of two brothers, abandoned by their mother and brought up by their father, ‘a giant of a man’ who is now laid low by asbestosis and oxygen-dependent. She is living in a cheap bed sit and is short of cash. She orders a pizza despite the fact she can’t pay for it. He delivers it. She sweet talks him into leaving the pizza and coming to hear her sing with a band, after which she’ll be able to pay him the $19.95 she owes.

When he hears her sing, he’s hooked. She’s a little bit smitten too. They talk through the night, ending up sitting on the branch of a Port Jackson fig watching the sunrise. It’s the beginning of a sweet, gutsy romance that almost breaks the ‘north shore’ class barrier, flounders for months, then blossoms again.

With the sensitive perception direction of Clare Watson, Carr and Ross create a relationship that is beautifully believable and ……

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

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Buyer and Cellar

By Jonathan Tolins. Ensemble Theatre, Sydney. Director: Susanna Dowling. 6 October – 12 November 2017

Photo : Prudence Upton

Ben Gerrard steps nimbly into this delightfully camp character created by Jonathan Tolins, tickling the funny bone of the audience with rolling eyes, fluttering eyelids, throwaway gestures … and immaculate timing.

It’s not easy to sustain the undivided attention of an audience on your own for ninety minutes, but Gerrard makes it seem effortless. He skilfully draws everyone into his performance, making such direct audience contact that you almost swear he meant specifically to catch your eye.

He owns Charles Davis ‘pretty-in-pink’ set as confidently as he owns the character of Alex More, an out-of-work actor employed to look after Barbra Streisand’s cellar emporium of costumes, dolls and a Gift Shoppe (which he pronounces as ‘shoppie’ to the continual delight of some of the opening night audience!).

His initial glee in the job is just beginning to fade when the lady herself ventures down and begins to wrangle with him over the price of a doll. Thus begins a relationship that gives Gerrard the opportunity to move from More to Streisand in a series of amusing conversations that embrace much of the personal publicity that has dogged the popular actor/singer.

Impressions of conversations with Barry, his boyfriend and Streisand’s vigilant housekeeper-secretary, Sharon – both adroit and amusingly sharp – only add to the intricacy of this performance, cleverly directed by Susanna Dowling.

A one-hander as complicated as this would tax the energy of a lesser performer but Gerrard’s momentum never wavers. His performance is light, vivacious, cheeky and impeccably paced. The standing ovation from his peers on opening night was a testament to his expertise and his professionalism.

This in yet another ‘coup’ for Gerrard – as will be a reprise of his acclaimed I Am My Own Wife which goes back on tour next year.

 

 

 

Calendar Girls

By Tim Firth. Pymble Players. Directed by Julia Griffith. 4th – 28th October 2017

Julia Griffith and her cast of eleven have taken on the many challenges of this play with confident enthusiasm. Apart from the difficult task of manipulating the “nude” scenes for the calendar shots, there are many scenes, many props and many costume changes. At Pymble, this involves some cooperative space sharing in wings that are not easily accommodating – while still sustaining characterisation and the continuity of the play. And they manage to clear these hurdles very well.

The play is well known because of the movie and the daring women on whom it was based. Griffith describes it as “a story of ordinary people doing extraordinary things, with love, for a good cause”. She sees the play as reminding us “of the strength of friendship, determination, resilience, love and hope”.

Set in a Yorkshire village, it tells the story of members of the local Women’s Institute, who decide to pose (almost) nude for a calendar in order to raise money to buy a sofa for the visitor’s room at the oncology unit of the local hospital. Playwright Tim Firth uses their individual decision-making to develop very real and recognisable characters who are funny, caring – and vulnerable.

Louise Deibe plays Chris, a bit of a rebel who only joined the Women’s Institute ….

Read the full review in Stage Whispers magazine, here.

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