Category Archives: Theatre Reviews

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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The Wharf Revue

The Wharf Revue – 2017 – The Patriotic Rag; Sydney Theatre Company  (Returning from tour to The Wharf from 24th October to 30 December).

Biggins, Forsythe and Scott are joined by all-round-talented Blazey Best. What a combination! It’s a great show, and if it’s become even a little more ‘internationally’ topical, why the hell not? These days there’s not much hidden about the big game players in politics, their every quirk and nuance right out there for clever writers to satirise and clever actors to impersonate.

And that’s just what this enterprising team does. There are still loads of Aussie sketches and they are, as usual, exceptionally cunning – but the final elongated sketch is an international whirl of a Celebrity show, with host Donald Trump (Biggins in full, pouting presidential style) inviting the leaders of the ‘free’ world to “come on down”. Angela and Vladimir do the handshake thing and Best does a delightful job as Ivanca Trump who “got a job with Daddy”.

Best also takes Julie Bishop on a pretty energetic early morning work out and irons her vowels dead flat as a Jacqui Lambie. Best is a real asset to the show. She’s fast and slick and all her impersonated characters are spot on, especially her sycophantic James Ashby with Forsythe as one-national Pauline Hanson.

Phil Scott reprises his 2016 impression of ‘human headline’ Derrin Hinch and Biggins his lycra-clad Tony Abbott. But ‘tops’ for me this year was Drew Forsythe as a combination of Malcolm Turnbull and Jimmy Barnes doing “working Class Man”. It needs to be put on YouTube for posterity! Complete with jeans, a chambray shirt, leather jacket and a bottle of Evian water replacing the vodka, Forsythe did the whole ‘poor boy makes good’ brilliantly.

These revues are becoming better! STC is obviously throwing more money behind them every year. The graphics, costumes and staging today bear no comparison to the ‘bits and pieces’ they cobbled together for them in the first few years. There are not too many writers as astutely observant as these guys – or talented enough to pull off the stuff they write.

Ferrucio Furlanetto in Recital with Igor Tchetuev

Presented by Opera Australia at the City Recital Hall, Sydney. 27th September and 29th September 2017

Hailed as “the world’s finest bass”, Ferrucio Furlanetto made his opera debut at La Scala Milam in 1979 in Verdi’s Macbeth. Since then he has sung in opera houses all over the world, in roles from Don Giaovanni to Mephistopheles to Don Quixote. He is also widely acclaimed as a concert singer on the international stage.

Born in the Ukraine in 1980, pianist Igor Tchetuev has performed in France, Prague, Berlin and St Petersburg – and as a soloist with the Miami New World Symphony and the Israel Chamber Orchestra. His recordings have received many accolades, especially that of the first six volumes of the Complete Beethoven Sonatas.

Together they are a formidable musical alliance, a tour de force ……

Review originally published in StageWhispers magazine

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Urban Kali

By Rakini Devi. Dance Projects and Riverside Theatres. September 22 and 13, 2017

 

Over 27 years, Rakini Devi has developed four ‘theatre works’ to the Kali, the Hindu goddess who is the divine protector and destroyer of evil. As the culmination of her doctorial thesis into Kali iconography and how sacred Hindu iconography can relate to secular feminism, Urban Kali is a protest against the rise of racial and misogynist atrocities in India.

Devi mixes traditional Indian classical dance with visual images and sound effects in her interpretation of these themes. An unsettling example is the image of disembodied blood covered hands wringing over a basin of blood while a voice over chillingly describes the many and horrifying ways in which new born baby girls have been murdered.

Concentrated spotlights pierce the otherwise dimly lit stage, highlighting the intricate hand and foot movements, rigid control and shimmering costumes in the more traditionally choreographed segments of the performance. But when Devi rolls and writhes across the floor in a more contemporary, interpretative movement, she merges into shadow and is lost in the darkness.

Pervading the performance is a jarring discordance of sound, so loud at times that, despite the fact that I covered my ears, they were still hurting an hour after the performance. Such volume is unnecessarily invasive and detracts from rather than enhances a performance, especially in a small theatre space where the acoustics are particularly good. For me this became a painful distraction from a performance that, as with many interpretative abstractions, requires patient attention and tolerant concentration from its audience.

Review originally published in StageWhispers magazine

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Ladies in Lavender

By Shaun McKenna, based on the story by William J. Locke and the screenplay by Charles Dance. Castle Hill Players. The Pavilion Theatre, Castle Hill. September 22 – October 14, 2017.

Director Meredith Jacobs and her design team have lovingly converted the stage of the Pavilion Theatre to a seaside cottage in Cornwall in 1937. Family photographs hang from brown picture rails. A mantle clock sits on the shelf above the fireplace. Two easy chairs with crocheted antimacassars are turned to face the sea.

From them, the ageing Widdington sisters, Janet and Ursula, look over a carefully tended garden to the rocky shore below, where, after a stormy night, they find a young man near to death. He is Andrea Marowski, a violinist from Poland, who was hoping to make his fortune in America.  They take him in, nurse him back to health and become increasingly attached to him – Ursula especially.

Based on a story by William J. Locke, the 2004 screenplay of Ladies in Lavender was written by Charles Dance. In adapting it for the stage, playwright Shaun McKenna has lovingly retained the evocative poignancy of the story and its heart-warming characters. With original music (Joshua McNulty), stylish period costumes . . . .

Read the full review in Stage Whispers magazine, here.

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Ghosts

By Henrik Ibsen
Belvoir, Upstairs Theatre. 
September 16 – October 22, 2017

Eamon Flack describes his adaptation as “ a fairly direct rendering of Ibsen’s play into a language that makes sense to us today but still retains the feeling of the past”. The “unspeakable subtext” of the plot that, in 1882, caused such controversy, may be less scandalous today – but a play that exposes the “ghosts” of oppressive interpretations of religion and marriage, domestic violence, adultery, alcoholism, incest, disease and euthanasia seems to speak as clearly to a contemporary audience as it should have done in the 19th century.

Read the full review in Stage Whispers magazine, here.

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