Thursday, 29 August 2013
Seminar by Theresa Rebeck
Reviewed by Regi Su
From August 15th until September 14th, The Ensemble presents the Australian Premiere of “Seminar”; play by Theresa Rebeck, directed by Anna Crawford.
I thought it was a brilliant play, but that’s because it resounded with me. In the words of the director herself, the play “reminded me what writers actually do for society- the fact that everything they write comes straight form their heart and they’re serving it up for us to be praised or ripped to shreds.” Featuring four aspiring and ambitious young writers, the play follows their journey as they embark on a term of seminars with a successful veteran writer who critiques their works and souls. I, myself, am an aspiring young writer, so I understood their jokes and frustrations. The play really connected with me and embarrassingly, I saw too much of myself in a number of the characters.
I do acknowledge, however, that the majority of the audience may not have been the target audience, so I heard many mixed reviews while coming out of the theatre. There were many laughs, but not all audience members responded in the same places, so I tend to think that not everyone received the same jokes or came to the same understandings.
In my opinion, the play was slick, witty, smart, dark and a very interesting insight into the bowels if the creative industry- I expect the complications they encountered may not be specific to the writers but also relevant to musicians, artists and the like. I feel that the target audience may have been geared more toward young people, especially as the play presses buttons like Hopes and Dreams. With this in mind, I highly recommend seeing this play. I’m glad I did, I loved it. While I think people should see it, I understand that not everyone will necessarily appreciate it.
The character development was very much focused on learning about the motivations and background of each of the four writers, compared with the harsh reality that a veteran writer was presenting. The actors were absolutely fantastic. They played characters who must have been incredibly taxing, for an hour and a half straight. Their characters were powerfully intense, cynical, passionate for their cause, intelligent and very raw with their emotions, as most in the creative industry are. Their portrayals of these characters breathed life into dialogue and gave believability to their stories. For example, as the play opened, I heard the American accents (as the play is set in New York) and I sighed; “my, not another phoney US play” but the actors slipped into the mood, gathered momentum and soon after, we forgot about their accents and we listened to their despair, mourned their heartbreaks and condemned their compromises when yearning to achieve their ambitions. The accents didn’t jar and did detract from portraying meaning. Due credit must be given to Natasha McNamara as dialect coach on this production.
The set was adaptable, the lighting was perfect and the scene changes seamless. I can’t stress how difficult it is to produce a play set in the same apartment for the duration of the play and keep the audience involved. They achieved so with a very dialogue heavy script and intense conflicts, so the set became secondary. Nonetheless, the Ensemble never ceases to amaze me in their set design and ability to utilise and maximise space.
For more information, please visit: http://ensemble.com.au/whats-on/play/seminar/
Wednesday, 27 March 2013
In this fast-paced, chameleonic series of monologues, the protagonist begins life as a frenzied mother,and leaves us as a streetwise yet fragile cabaret star.During the two-and-a-half hours between, she plays a narcissistic talent quest hopeful, a cacti-obsessed ex-wife,a doubtful bogan bride and a widow who re-discovers her sexuality.
What?Yes, you read it right. Sharon Millerchip talks, dances and croons her way through no fewer than six roles in playwright Joanna Murray-Smith’s one-woman show, Bombshells.
At the play’s heart, lies the question: what does it mean to be a woman in twenty-first century Western society? How should we be thinking about gender roles?How do we measure society’s expectations against our own? How do we manage our ideals in the face of our disappointments?
When the lights first shine on Millerchip, she is Meryl: struggling to drag her weary body out of bed to attend to her newborn. The next fifteen or so minutes represent a day in her manic life as an over-stretched, married mother. As she shops, vacuums and ferries her children about, we are privy to her constant self-interrogation. Is she a good mother? A sufficiently loving wife?Fit enough?Witty enough?
The pace slows with the second monologue and the emergence of Tiggy, spot lit on a dark stage. A shattered romantic desperate for the return of her unfaithful husband, she delivers a panegyric to cactus, rich with sexual innuendo. Murray-Smith’s writing skates the brink between comedy and sadness, provoking our laughter in our acknowledgement of the familiar, then catching us unawares with sudden moments of pathos.
Millerchip’s capacity to slide from one character to another, establishing the distinctiveness of each both verbally and physically, is impressive. It is easy to forget that it’s the work of just one actor.
While the third monologue is perhaps the weakest, for its lack of subtlety, the second half of the show builds to a rapturous finale. Millerchip has us in stitches as a champagne sculling bride, cynical yet desirous to be “wanted”; hanging on every word as a philosophical widow who becomes physically involved with a blind student several decades her junior; and enthralled by her singing and dancing as an eccentric, lovelorn, outrageously flirtatious German front lady. With their combined talents, Joanna Murray-Smith, Sharon Millerchip and director Sandra Bates had the Ensemble Theatre crowd on their feet by the night’s end – no easy feat for a one
Monday, 18 February 2013
Liberty Equality Fraternity
by Geoffrey Atherden
Director: Shannon Murphy
Designer: Michael Hankin
Lighting / AV Designer: Verity Hampson
Sound / AV Designer: Stephen Toulmin
Reviewed by Benjamin Oxley
Power. Privacy. Profiling.
Without humour, the subject of interrogation fills us with fear, our every move tracked on close circuit video and trace audio. Here, Atherden's work brings it into brittle focus: building frustration between the sexes, his trainee secret operative versus her libertarian housewife. Gen Y Nerd asking questions of a nominal activist.
According to a UK Independent from 2005, "Suspects can be held for four hours, which can be increased to 24 hours on application to a magistrate. After that period, suspects are charged or released. The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation can hold suspects for up to 14 days under a warrant issued by a federal judge". It can happen. It does and will continue to be a factor in our lives.
Strip away the situation, and you have the playwright's mastery of comic structure. Perhaps the greatest achievement is that our interest is maintained for the length of a movie. Without ads, or breaks. Carefully placed interludes help us to digest the drama. Subtle lighting and sound design create clever relief from the awkward encounter.
Two central characters have several conversations at once, arriving at different conclusions. For us in the audience, we can see, or should I say hear the 'accident' approaching. How much equality is there in the tacit reading of the two protagonists of each other? Even music tells us their difference.
Orlagh (Caroline Brazier) holds this interview room duel together with careful changes of emotion and reflection. Her timing secures a remarkable platform for 'Archi', played by Andrew Ryan. He handles the difficult moments well, but gives way to Brazier in the climaxes. It is a battle of wits, binary logic against bourgeois brains. Bland v bright.
'Dr Voldemort' is the more acceptable face of covert operations. Helmut Bakaitas measures his lines and actions as he deftly pours coffee. It is a study in calculated bureaucracy. The strength of the final sequence is the swift direction to the endgame: how to resolve the tension?
The final ploy is at once hilarious and chilling. I really enjoyed this intimate piece. On reflection, I'm not sure I will "like" much on Facebook again. You will be very cautious using the internet after seeing this play.
Tuesday, 12 February 2013
" Great Falls" by Lee Blessing, directed by Anna Crawford, is playing at the Ensemble Theatre in Kirribilli from the 2nd of February.
This two character play of 90 minutes with no interval is an intense experience. There was brief plot required semi nudity and also, some shocking revelations revealed sexual content. I sat amidst a mostly middle-aged audience on a sparkler of a Sydney summer afternoon. The question for me when I watch emotionally challenging and disquieting plays is always, 'Did I care about these characters? Did I care about what happened to them when I peered briefly into their world from my comfortable seat?' The answer in this case is yes. I was transported by them.
Bitch, played by Erica Lovell, was very much the 'headphones on, block all attempts of warmth and connections' older teen, who was very trying on one's patience. Monkey-Man, Bitch's ex-stepfather played by Christopher Stollery, is initially a man looking for connection with his birth family in his revisit to his past, as well as connection with his now ex-family whom he betrayed.
Both characters need redemption, to confess and find a way to move on to the next chapter in their lives. This play is a road journey and there is no going back the same way. The journey is circular and is thus resolved for both characters with hope for the future.
We are immersed into this road trip through excellent staging brought to us by Verity Hampson's lighting and AV design, by Stephen Toulmin's sound design as well as the flexible and inventive set by Michael Hankin. The seamless transition from from car to motel, to National Park was what enabled me to suspend my reality and connect with the difficult and confronting dilemmas that both characters faced.
This play is not easy to sit with but Anna Crawford's direction put me in an emotional space where I could safely see, without harsh judgement, how complex life can be when reaction to personal histories dictate current decisions.
By Marie Su
Sunday, 2 September 2012
Presented by Ensemble Theatre
Reviewed by Catherine Hollyman
Nathan (Jamie Oxenbould) is part of the cast of Hamlet. They’ve been touring now for over 150 performances and Nathan, a mere support character relegated to the chorus, is feeling the effects of repetition. He stands, bored, at the back of the stage holding a spear whilst the handsome but wooden actor Jamie destroys the title role, and Veronica – the love of Nathan’s life – doesn’t even give him a second glance.
As he watches the play, quietly reciting the words, Nathan lets his mind wander off. The result is The Spear Carrier.
A play within a play always intrigues me – there’s something about the parallels that draws me in. The character on stage is actually just ‘one of us’, making his plight all the more believable. And Oxenbould doesn’t fail to draw the audience in. He is entertainment personified, effortlessly holding our attention in his grasp for a full 75 minutes.
Director Mark Kilmurry has established an entire new world with just one actor, a set consisting of only a chair and door, and clever use of sound and lighting. With no distractions, all eyes are focused on Nathan and we travel with him, the underdog, as he battles against unseen demons.Every single one of us willing him to win.
Does he? That would be telling!
Wednesday, 15 August 2012
Reviewed by Jane Stabler
It is not difficult to see why Annie Baker’s Circle Mirror Transformation has won rave reviews internationally, and Shannon Murphy’s latest adaptation for Ensemble Theatre is likely to win just as many fans.
Set across six weeks in the confines of a community centre in Vermont, we are invited to watch as the lives and secrets of a motley crew of drama class attendees slowly creep into their weekly artistic outlet.
The drama class participants couldn’t be more different from each other, and each is brought to life in stellar performances by the cast. 21 year old Chloe Bayliss’ stage debut as the teenage Lauren is a particular stand out, and it is difficult to keep your eyes off her from the minute she enters the stage, from her perfect portrayal of petulance to her ongoing attempts to make herself invisible. Eliza Logan as the drama teacher Marty, is the stereotypical embodiment of a drama enthusiast - beautifully encouraging her students to become the likes of trees and baseball gloves with complete conviction. Marty’s husband James (Alan Dukes) is as convincingly disinterested, whilst Theresa, played by Jenni Baird, portrays the polar opposite - taking on each task with gusto and winning the hearts of the men in the class as she does. Schultz, a recently divorcee played by Paul Gleeson, is immediately likeable and observing him grapple with his feelings for Theresa evokes sympathy and at time a few cringes.
Watching a group of distinctly different people carry out deliberately crazy acting games is a clever technique to mask the seriousness of what is unfolding on the stage. Murphy’s direction ensures there is no shortage of laughs throughout the production, but also ensures that there are deeper revelations left to discuss once you exit the theatre.
78 McDougall Street Kirribilli
Until 2 September
Friday, 29 June 2012
Director Mark Kilmurry has ensured the opening scenes set a cracking pace, quickly establishing characters and a convincing back story, and it’s easy to see why the play has resounded with audiences around the globe.
Kyra, played by the likable and convincing Katharine Cullen, lives in a cold flat in a less than desirable part of London and is visited by both her ex-lover, ex-boss and ex-centre of her universe Tom (Sean Taylor), and his teenage son Edward (Nigel Turner-Carroll) in the same evening. Both have questions about her hasty exit from their lives after her six-year affair with Tom was discovered by his now deceased wife.
As the scenes unfold, it becomes obvious that neither Tom nor Kyra have really ever come to terms with the end of their relationship and their evening together raises uncomfortable questions for both of them. Taylor’s performance as the arrogant and often overbearing Tom is highly entertaining and the intelligent verbal sparring that takes place between he and Cullen is littered with facial expressions from both actors that had the opening night audience laughing out loud at times, then clearly quickly despising his self-importance soon afterwards – a credit to his talents.
Alisa Paterson’s fully functional set design adds to the realism of the story unfolding on stage, and it almost feels as if we’re eavesdropping on the passionate arguments playing out in front of us.
Whilst the second act loses momentum somewhat, the power of the script and its delivery leaves a desire to uncover the truth behind the story of these two connected individuals.
This play is by no means optimistic, but the depth of the complexities of the couple’s relationship explored on stage leave the audience with an almost satisfying sense that if something is meant to be, it will be, and if it’s not – maybe that’s meant to be too.
VENUE: Ensemble Theatre, 78 McDougall Street, Kirribilli, NSW, 2061
DATES: Previews from June 21, 2012, Opening Night Wed 27 June, season to July 28, 2012
PERFORMANCE TIMES: Tues to Fri 8.15pm Sat 5pm and 8.30pm, Sun 5pm, Thurs 11am.
PRICES: $29 - $69 (booking charges may apply)
BOOKINGS: 02 9929 0644 or www.ensemble.com.au