Showing posts with label Review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Review. Show all posts

Tuesday, 17 June 2014


I was born in 1979, and primarily my introduction to comedy came through cassette tape recordings that Dad would play in the car. I was given no visual, just a stream of consciousness that came from one lone voice on a stage, with the only other stimuli being the sounds of audience reactions. For years, I didn't even know what people like Rodney Rude or George Smilovici looked like, I just knew their rants, their jokes and their potty mouths.

There’s something special about listening to comedy when you haven’t already come to a conclusion about the performer based on their appearance, mannerisms or the type of setting you’re about to watch them in. It’s kind of like seeing a movie when you haven’t seen the trailer - you haven’t already formed an opinion against which you’re going to measure the experience.

That’s a long-winded way of saying; I like listening to audio comedy. Also, the accessibility of it means that more and more comics, from no names to big names are recording albums and podcasts, and finding a voice online.

I just had the pleasure of listening to a guaranteed future big name, Matty B, in his debut album, ‘Philosophical Bogan’.

Now, I’ll confess at this point, I know Matty, as I am a fellow comic, but in sitting down to listen to this album, I tried to approach it as though I was that young kid again, listening to George Smilovici or another cassette or record of the day, hearing the jokes of a stranger for the first time without being distracted by visuals.

One thing is astoundingly clear, when you are consuming comedy like this, your focus is on the strength of material and how well it can transcend the limitation of being communicated to only one of your senses. And listening to the album confirmed one thing that I had already strongly expected, Matty B is one of the best joke writers in the country, and by the sounds of it, this relative newcomer is only just getting started.

Recorded at The Oriental Hotel in Newcastle, where Matty grew up, and has an unmistakable fondness for, ‘Philosophical Bogan’ gives us insight into Matty’s creative mind and his unique takes on; Newcastle, drug use, drinking, his dad, bogans, Aldi, getting a coffee, shouting from cars, and fence security, just to name a handful of topics.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Winter - Review

Reviewed by Erica Enriquez
Venue: Old 505 Theatre – 505, 342 Elizabeth Street, Surry Hills. Runs until 22nd June 2014, 8pm Wed-Sat, 7pm Sun.  Tickets are $28/$18, bookings essential.  Doors open 1/2 hour prior to performance start time
Playwright: Jon Fosse
Director: Jonathan Wald
Actors: Susie Lindeman, Berynn Schwerdt

Theatre review
It’s amazing what can be said with very little dialogue, and even more intriguing what can be conveyed with the little dialogue presented. In Winter, writer Jon Fosse shows the audience the tragic, desperate, sometimes timid but always tense relationship between a man and a woman who shouldn’t have come together at all.

If you’re a fan of Fosse’s work, this one won’t disappoint – it’s perfectly in keeping with this Norwegian playwright’s stylized, almost bare-bones portrayal of two people in the midst of a clandestine affair (although, aren’t all affairs clandestine in the beginning, until it becomes just like any other relationship needing maintenance?).

When relationships are interpreted in film or theatre, the characters speak of their feelings for each other, whether good or bad, in often flowery, rambling prose, as if words cannot contain the depth of their emotions. In Winter, that same scrambling-for-the-right-way-to-say-it type discussion is pulled off with dialogue you almost imagine saying yourself in that situation – stilted, confused and sometimes anxious, as if every sentence uttered is fraught with fear of saying the wrong thing. Fosse’s script felt as if it was written like song lyrics, in that they were delivered like verse and chorus. Under Jonathan Wald’s direction, Susie Lindeman and Berynn Schwerdt as the despairing couple pulled it off well.

Lindeman’s character will resonate with many, particularly women. She is at once vulnerable, yet coy and a little quirky at times, and she’s fascinating to watch. Opening scenes show her as an almost coquettish vixen type, but as the play moves along (there’s only an hour of it, so it moves along nicely) you see another side of her character, one that demands not only affection but also respect.

By the same token, Schwerdt’s character is the one you think you know and recognize, but just like Lindeman’s character, he is also the party in the affair who needs attention too. They play off each other perfectly, one minute Lindeman is demanding, “I’m your woman!” to which Schwerdt responds with an infuriating, “Yes”, and just when you think you have decided on a side to stick by, Schwerdt is trying to find a reason for this whole mess, “I waited for you!”

Minimal set design and indeed the cast of two really bring out the struggle of these two characters trying to discuss what they are, and who they are to each other. Sometimes it takes away the white noise that plays in the brain when thrashing out relationship matters, and other times it is just white noise, highlighting the bewilderment that comes with relationships. Winter looks at how we communicate within our relationships, regardless of who’s giving it validity, or even how we meet and come to be in certain people’s lives. It’s about coming in from the cold, stripping off your bulky coat and laying all out on the table (or hotel bed).

Saturday, 24 May 2014

The Detective’s Handbook - Review

Review originally posted at
Venue: University of Sydney Studio B (Camperdown NSW), Apr 30 – May 10, 2014
Book and Lyrics: Ian Ferrington
Score: Olga Solar
Director: Ian Ferrington
Actors: Alessandro Tuniz, Matt Bartlett, Alexander Richmond, Natasha Vickery, Victoria Zerbst, Elliott Miller, Alice Birbara

Theatre review
The Detective’s Handbook is a new musical written by Ian Ferrington, with score provided by Olga Solar. It is a satirical take on film noir, bringing to mind, films like Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982) and Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988). It is persistently self-conscious, but it takes its parody seriously, placing as much focus on storytelling and its musical numbers, as it does on creating laughs.

Ferrington’s vision is ambitious and idiosyncratic. His work might not look original, but it bears a quirkiness that prevents it from feeling derivative. His writing is witty and charming, but his characters, although spirited, are too traditional. Ferrington’s direction is energetic, with an emphasis on rhythms, which keeps things buoyant and lively. There is however, a need for punchlines and plot twists to be cleaned up for clearer delivery. Olga Solar’s delightful music is beautifully woven into the narratives, and effectively provides characters with interest and complexion. There is a noticeable lack of melodies in most of the songs, with the team’s decision to adopt a “rap-infused 1950s showtune jazz” style. It is debatable whether that choice is a wise one, but the two most memorable numbers, “Too Much To Ask” and “Congratulations”, are both conventionally structured, hummable tunes.

Matt Bartlett has the strongest singing voice in the cast, and plays Detective Jimmy Hartman with great conviction, creating a character that stands out as the most believable of the group. The actor brings a warmth to his performance, and quickly establishes a good connection with the audience. Natasha Vickery plays her three characters with panache and levity. She embraces the show’s giddy style of comedy with good humour, and although required to play silly often, we remember her performance to be a polished one. Other players tend to have an oversimplified approach, with characterisations that do not develop far enough to sustain a show that’s considerably more substantial than a skit.

This is a musical with a lot of frivolity, but it also demonstrates impressive flair. Ferrington and Solar’s material contains great potential, with generous room for comedians to provide dynamic and creative interpretations. This production might be a little under-cooked with too many one trick ponies, but there is no doubt that if explored with greater depth, its future incarnation could well be The Big Noir Musical Hit.

Too Many Elephants in This House - Review

By Dominique Broomfield, blogger,

I still feel a sense of wonder and excitement when I walk into any theatre. The dark, the quiet, the anticipation, the atmosphere, I don’t think that changes from child to adult.

I would have liked to have stepped into my little boys mind today when he experience the theatre for the first time. Queuing up with the preschool and kindergarten kids at the NIDA theatre for a production of Too Many Elephants in This House, I could visably see him change. He is normally a busy two year old constantly on the move but he was quiet, thoughtful, even patient as he lined up. I could almost see the intrigue working in his brain. What is this place? What is going to happen?

We took our seats and he lost his sense of wonder and contemplation a bit and slipped back into two year old mode when he found that the seats flipped up and down. But he sat for almost the entire 55 minute performance – only about 5-10 minutes to the end did he get up and start skulking around the empty seats.

The play is an adaptation of the book by Ursula Dubosarsky and illustrated by Andrew Joyner. It says suitable from 2+ but is really aimed at kids Years K – 6. Specifically designed to engage young people with humour and mystery, this is the first time the book has come alive on stage.

The story is about a 7 year old boy named Eric who’s collection of beloved elephants is getting on his mums nerves because they take up a lot of space. There are just too many elephants – in the living room, in the kitchen, in the bathroom, even in his bedroom! She proclaims he has to make it an elephant free house. So the journey of self discovery and magic begins as Eric learns to combat his fear of the dark; find his sense of belonging and comes up with a clever solution to a very BIG problem…

I expect the theme of the play encouraging creative problem solving is a bit lost on the today’s audience but I imagine the one o’clock showing has some older children. The The children today are happy just watching and giggling. There are lots of opportunities to make preschool and kindergarten children laugh: oversized elephant “listening ears”, mum tripping over the vacuum cleaner which has been dressed as a elephant and an elephant hiding in a fridge brings about a pantomimesque “he’s behing you” chorus from the giggling crowd of youngsters!

The sets are simple but effective helping to playfully explore the concepts of size, space and perspective. The lighting works to capture that sense of theatre without it being too dark and the costumes of grey overalls and woolly jumpers as trunks and stick on ears make some great playschool elephants.

The actors, graduates of NIDA are a bit am-dram for my liking but putting myself in the mind of a child, they do a good job with a heckling audience. The character of Eric and the large elephant are particularly engaging and have a good dynamic, playing for giggles. The actors and Kellie Mackereth who adapted the book for the stage stay on for a brief Q and A which is a delight to listen too. The kids ask a range of cute questions, all answered well and with good humour.

I don’t know the book but by pure coincidence when I picked up my four year old from preschool they had read it that day as it’s recently honoured by the Children’s Book Council of Australia in the Early Childhood category.

I think it’s a shame it’s only on for a short period of time. So, if you read this and get a chance to go before Saturday, it’s a nice way to spend an hour in the luxury of a theatre while your kids are engaged and giggling.

Further information

Based on the book by Ursula Dubosarsky and illustrated by Andrew Joyner
Published by Penguin Books
Presented by the National Institute of Dramatic Art
Adapted for the stage by Kellie Mackereth

Trainspotting - Review

Review originally posted at
Venue: King Street Theatre (Newtown NSW), May 8 – 24, 2014
Playwright: Harry Gibson (based on the novel by Irvine Welsh)
Director: Luke Berman
Actors: Damien Carr, Taylor Beadle-Williams, Brendon Taylor, Leigh Scully

Theatre review
Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting is one of the defining cultural landmarks of the 1990s. From novel, to play, and eventually to the blockbusting hit film, its immense popularity and pervasiveness in landscapes the world over is testament not only to the quality of work by artists involved, but also to the way its story has resonated and subsequently appropriated as a sign of the times.

Black Box Theatre’s staging of the 1994 Harry Gibson adaptation seems, on the surface, to be an exercise in nostalgia. It is entirely too predictable to have a group of Gen-Y enthusiasts take on a cult classic that pushes the boundaries of decency, but what they have created is a work that is surprisingly relevant, and very well crafted indeed. Luke Berman’s direction is exciting, colourful and crisp. Scenes move along quickly but clearly, as though injected with adrenaline. The action is heightened and dynamic, but sentiments are always elucidated. Berman has a sensitivity that ensures the text’s many controversial elements are handled circumspectly, with just the right amount of restraint that keeps bad taste from turning unacceptable.

Berman’s cast is truly impressive. They are a fearless and captivating foursome, whose love for the art of performance is absolutely evident. By taking on multiple roles, they all receive significant stage time and are able to showcase creative versatility, but we are not always able to identify the characters being played, although it must be said, that this does not seem to alter the enjoyment of the work. Damien Carr plays Mark, the protagonist and narrator of the piece. The duality of simultaneously narrating the story and performing the scenes being described is fascinating, and Carr does a stellar job of it. He is on stage for virtually the entire duration, and is able to provide a consistently focused energy that keeps us engaged and involved. Taylor Beadle-Williams is magnificent in her roles. There is often a baroque exuberance in her work that articulates perfectly the aesthetic of Welsh’s hallucinatory world, but at the core of her performance is a fixation on truth, which gives all her characters a beautiful empathy that is irresistible.

Drug abuse and the “junkie” subculture is sadly, not a relic of the past. Trainspotting‘s articulation of that underworld satisfies our curiosity, telling us about the fringe dwellers who reside on our peripheries. We are reminded that the world is a shared one, and our beliefs about life are often fundamentally the same. Even when our values diverge, and our judgemental minds divide us, it is our common humanity that allows us to look into the experience of others, drawing parallels where they exist, and discovering through these diversities what is enduring, and what actually matters.

Arthur’s Place - Review

Review originally posted at
Venue: TAP Gallery (Darlinghurst NSW), May 7 – 11, 2014
Playwright: Ben Eadie
Director: Ruth Fingret
Actors: Dominic Witkop, Aaron Nilan, Matt Jacobsen, Steve Vincent, Timothy Parsons, Jamie Merendino, Cait Burley

Theatre review
The young Australian man has in recent times become a subject of interest in media and social discourse. Characterised as violent, drunk and disorderly, he is also often considered to be of white and middle class origins. Ben Eadie’s script is concerned with this particular group of “lost souls”. Six characters are created to represent an aimless but troubled segment of our society, each with a distinctive personality type but all are purposeless except for a preoccupation with drugs and alcohol.

Eadie’s efforts at painting a picture of detachment is effective. He gives a clear impression of characters unable to engage meaningfully, but although we are able to relate them with some familiarity to our lived communities, they struggle to evoke empathy or arouse much interest. The fact that they are privileged enough to live a lifestyle that includes no work but a lot of debauchery, prevents us from feeling for them or for dramatic tension to build sufficiently. Not very much seems to be at risk. Some attention is paid on sexual abuse in a couple of the boys’ histories, but those scenes feel like afterthoughts, even if they are clearly well-intentioned.

The pace of the show is exceedingly languid. Much of the acting seems to be based in “real time”, which often comes across too slow for the audience. Dominic Witkop’s performance is slightly too internalised, but his focus and commitment is strong. His character Lance is by far the most convincing one, and the care and measuredness at which he attacks his part is laudable, but introducing a greater sense of vigour would allow him to connect better. Arthur is played by Aaron Nilan who lacks the enigmatic quality required by the script, but his less restrained performance in the second act adds much needed energy and animation to the stage.

Unlike its characters, Arthur’s Place has a purpose. It discusses our social problems, which is one of the most important functions of theatre, but while it tries to push the envelope with its exaggerated use of profanity, more conviction is needed to advance its central message. We do not expect plays to give us solutions, but when art is able to make us care about our worlds, it becomes indispensable.

Event For A Stage - Review

Review originally posted at
Venue: Carriageworks (Eveleigh NSW), May 1 – 4, 2014
Artist: Tacita Dean
Actor: Stephen Dillane

Theatre review
English visual artist Tacita Dean’s Event For A Stage is her first work in the “live theatre” medium. Unsurprisingly, the piece is not concerned with theatrical conventions, and it certainly places no interest on the fabrication of a narrative. The rectangular stage is surrounded by audiences on all 4 sides, and Dean, the artist sits front row with us, in a darkened corner. A big chalk circle is drawn on the stage, with two people operating a video camera within the circle, and another two people outside of it. A microphone is suspended from the fly bars into the middle of the circle. For the duration of the 45-minute work, the actor Stephen Dillane walks around the stage, usually following the chalk line, but uses regular disruptions to the circular stroll to create a sense of action or to emphasise certain points in his monologue.

Over the course of the performance, Dillane walks up to Dean and obtains, with visible resentment, sheets of theatre and performance theory, which he reads aloud, effectively using them as scripts. The writing is insightful and fascinating, and Dillane’s interpretation of them is thoroughly compelling. In addition to Dean’s sheets of paper, Dillane also gives us coherent and interesting accounts of conversations he has had with the artist, or about events and people from his personal life. Further, he reads sections from a slim novel he keeps in his pocket, and performs extracts from Shakespeare’s The Tempest. The work however, is not about stories. Its main crux deals with the nature of theatre and performance, the sociology of spaces in a theatrical venue, and the relational dynamics between artists and audiences.

There are layers upon layers of ideas that are touched upon in this deconstruction of performative spaces. Things get complex, but Dillane’s supreme ability to connect, keeps us from confusion or perplexity. One of the main themes discussed relates to contrivances that arise from the convergence of creators and spectators. The presence of video cameras helps illustrate the point, while simultaneously adding to the multiplicity of the artist’s concepts in its obvious extension into other televised or filmic media. Dillane also talks about the danger that sits below the surface of theatrical artifices, and his close proximity from us is a constant threat to our presumption of security, with the cameras amplifying the stakes at hand.

Event For A Stage approaches theatre with concepts and conventions from the visual art world, in a collision of forms that is fresh and exciting. It seeks not to emulate familiar precedents, but like all great works of theatre, it enthrals, intrigues and informs, even if its subject matter (its self) is a little haughty.

His Mother’s Voice - Review

Review originally posted at
Venue: ATYP (Walsh Bay NSW), Apr 30 – May 17, 2014
Director: Suzanne Millar
Playwright: Justin Fleming
Actors: Alice Keohavong, Angela Tran, Arisa Yura, Dannielle Jackson, Harry Tseng, John Gomez Goodway, Jonathan Lourdes, Michael Gooley, Monica Sayers, Renee Lim, Isaiah Powell
Image by Tessa Tran, Breathing Light Photography

Theatre review
China’s Cultural Revolution ended officially in October 1976, but its after-effects are felt everyday the world over. Today, China’s influence on the global economy develops rapidly, and the country is now widely known to be Australia’s largest trading partner. According to the 2011 census, 4 percent of Australians identify themselves as having Chinese ancestry, and that number continues to grow. Justin Fleming’s His Mother’s Voice is a story about the Cultural Revolution, and the defection of a Chinese pianist to Australia.

Fleming’s script is colourfully structured. With the story of Qian Liu as a young boy, it sets out to provide a dramatic background of the Cultural Revolution that would assist audiences who might be unfamiliar with that slice of history. When Qian matures and becomes a successful pianist, he takes an opportunity to defect to Australia, and the story takes a turn that allows a more direct connection with its intended audience. Fleming’s focus however resides with the relationship between Qian and his mother Yang Jia, who struggles against all odds to teach her son the piano, in the firm belief that music is integral to their family identity and survival. The universal ties between parent and child is rightly central to the story, as it is a theme that we all have an affinity for.

Director Suzanne Millar’s sensitive creation of scenes from the revolution are dynamic and fascinating. Her talent in the use of space and sounds crafts a show that is relentlessly engrossing (lighting designer Christopher Page and sound designer James Colla execute Millar’s vision with great elegance). She has a deep understanding of the audience’s senses, and we are kept entirely under her spell. The stage is kept very busy, but our minds are always carefully guided through all the action with clarity. The show she has built is an entertaining one, but casting issues prevent it from being the moving experience it wishes to be.

Henry Tseng is a perfect visual fit for the lead role, but a lack of authenticity in his characterisation disrupts the crucial relationships Qian has with his mother, and his wife. Without a believable emotional centre, the story is one we hear, but do not feel. Qian’s Australian wife is Emma Fielden, played by Dannielle Jackson. Jackson has a delightful effervescence that brings a necessary lightness to the often heavy going narrative, but can be slightly distracting when scenes require more gravity.

Renee Lim as Qian’s mother Yang Jia, is star of the show. Her performance is powerful yet varied, and her strong presence is consistently engaging. The level of commitment she exhibits is impressive, and it is noteworthy that she exercises restraint effectively on many occasions, although her emotional scenes are unmistakably remarkable. John Gomez Goodway and Michael Gooley both play their paternal roles with excellence, and Alice Keohavong and Monical Sayers are memorable in a humorous scene as bumbling officials negotiating Qian’s farcical reconciliation.

His Mother’s Voice is earnest, and beautiful. It does not always resonate, but it is fiercely captivating. The exoticism involved in dealing with foreign cultures is often tricky, but this production handles matters with respect and dignity. Fleming and Millar are to be commended for looking abroad in their search for artistic inspiration, and for a show that tells us who we are by finding the similarities that lie in the seemingly drastic differences between us and them.

Chroma - Review

Review originally posted at
Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Apr 30 – May 17, 2014 Choreographers: Wayne McGregor (CHROMA), Stephen Baynes (ART TO SKY), Jiří Kylián (PETITE MORT and SECH TÄNZE) Image by Jess Bialek

Theatre review
The programme begins with Wayne McGregor’s 2006 work, Chroma. Set against the powerful and aggressive music of Joby Talbot and Jack White III, this very modern ballet is instantaneously captivating. Its exquisite set is designed by John Pawson, evoking sensibilities proffered by the minimalist art movement. Covered in white and with its corners rounded off, the stage glows with a warm and quiet spirituality that finds a strange harmony with the vigorous soundscape conducted by Nicolette Fraillon. The dance creates a new grammar based on the balletic form. It is characterised by a dynamic desire for freedom, and it seeks in movement, the expression of all that is beautiful, emotive, and sublime. Inspired by a concept of nothingness, what transpires is a process of distillation with an outcome that displays honesty and necessity. The dance is fresh and new, but it is at no point hollow. There is an originality in its shapes and tempo that seems completely natural, even though it intends to break new aesthetic ground. McGregor’s earth shattering creation is a true work of art, but more than that, its deeply transcendent quality affects us as though it is by nature, sacred.

Stephen Baynes’ new piece Art To Sky is considerably more traditional. It is impressively technical, and the dancers’ athleticism is wonderfully pronounced here. The most well rehearsed and precisely performed work of the night, it showcases the company in glorious light. Chengwu Guo’s solo sequence is remarkably powerful, executed with great flair and exactness. An exceptionally tender pas de deux featuring Madeleine Eastoe and Andrew Killian is touching in its passionate fluidity, and sensitively embellished by the talents of lighting designer Rachel Burke.

Czech choreographer Jiří Kylián is featured twice. His Petite Mort (1991) is as sensual as the title suggests, but also unpredictable. Surprising movements, coupled with unconventional combinations of the dancers’ bodies make for startling and breathtaking beauty. There is however, a lack of depth with its realisation on this stage. The performers require a more thorough engagement with the work to muster a greater range of subtleties to exalt more life. Kylián’s Sechs Tänze (1986) is a delightful and theatrical creation that is equal parts camp humour and extraordinary choreographic innovation. It is engaging, provocative and endlessly fascinating, and the dancing seems to be particularly enthusiastic for this section. This morsel of genius is undeniably the perfect choice for closing the show on a high note.

Shakespeare’s Reservoir Dogs - Review

Review originally posted at
Venue: The Vanguard (Newtown NSW), Apr 29 – May 2, 2014
Playright: Steven Hopley (based on the screenplay by Roger Avary and Quentin Tarantino)
Director: Steven Hopley
Actors: Chris Miller, Richard Hilliar, Diego AR Melo, Lukasz Embart, Jerry Retford, Patrick Magee, Leof Kingsford-Smith, Anthony Campanella, Dominic Santangelo

Theatre review
Quentin Tarantino’s 1992 film debut, Reservoir Dogs established him early on as a popular new auteur. Combining violence, humour, popular culture references and non-linear narratives, Tarantino’s distinctive and refreshing style captured the attention of many, and the film has now garnered cult classic status. Steven Hopley’s new adaptation is a faithful yet radical retelling, keeping characters and events intact, but transposing all the “colourful” language of the original into the style of William Shakespeare.

Shakespeare’s Reservoir Dogs script is a thorough rejuvenation that shows an unusual flair and love for the Bard. Hopley’s direction of his own writing is mindful of audiences that might find the new text challenging, taking great care to utilise all his actors’ capacities to stage a show that is surprisingly accessible. This staging understandably features less of the film’s memorable ultra-violence, but its elements of humour are played up considerably to great effect. Hopley does not shy away from opportunities to make light of this “self-parody”. Management of the unconventional timeline is slightly flawed, but the constant referencing of Tarantino’s film is handled with remarkable sophistication, and for fans of the original in particular, this new staging is tremendous fun.

The cast amassed by Hopley and producer Russall S. Beattie is an impressive one. Full of passion and commitment, the men are individually strong performers who have managed to find excellent chemistry within their group. Chris Miller’s playfully flamboyant performance as Sir White provides a firm anchor for the production. He shows a genuine affinity for the material at hand, and is wonderfully entertaining in his enthusiasm. Richard Hilliar, in the role of Sir Orange, has a presence that is consistently dynamic. The actor has an engaging charm and an understated approach to comedy that is delightfully amusing. Anthony Campanella has a memorable soliloquy that he executes with outlandish gusto. His ability to communicate meaning with his Shakespearean lines is second to none. A crowd favourite is the show’s troubadour, played by Dominic Santangelo. He has a license to play the fool, and is clearly not afraid to use it.

Also noteworthy is Tristan Coumbe’s work as costume designer. Tribute is paid to the film’s unforgettable imagery, of characters in black suits and white shirts. Coumbe’s Tudor style interpretations using modern fabrics, including black leather, contribute not only to the players’ believability, they also convey an interesting sense of time and space in the absence of set pieces. The costumes’ contemporary, sexy edge is a good reflection of the show’s boisterous irreverence.

Familiarity with the film is not necessary, but it would certainly help with enjoyment of this “update”. Many in attendance on opening night responded buoyantly to recreations of classic scenes and celebrated lines. Nostalgia in the air was evident. For those less au fait with Tarantino’s work, the quality of performance by this exceptional ensemble is more than adequate to please any discerning theatregoer.

Pride And Prejudice - Review

Review originally posted at
Venue: The Genesian Theatre (Sydney NSW), Apr 26 – Jun 7, 2014
Playwright: Simon Reade (based on the novel by Jane Austen)
Director: Owen Gimblett
Actors: Jena Napoletano, Chris James, Timothy Bennett, Shane Bates, Christopher Butel, Camilla Vernon

Theatre review
Simon Reade’s recent update of the Austen classic is a witty, swiftly-paced adaptation that caters to today’s impatient audiences and our short attention spans. Scenes are short, and humour is planted at every opportunity with just enough subtlety. The Bennett parents especially, are written with an upbeat playfulness that could provide enough comedy for any viewer who might be less inclined towards old fashioned romance.

Timothy Bennett plays Mr Bennett to excellent effect. He is funny, warm and charming, with a confident demeanour that establishes him as the most proficient performer on stage. Bennett’s comic timing is strongest in the cast, and his every appearance is keenly anticipated. Jena Napoletano shows good commitment as Elizabeth Bennett. She gives her role a delightful presence, and works well with other members of the cast who generally suffer from a lack of experience. It is unfortunate that more roles are not taken up by stronger actors, as the script clearly shows great promise.

Notwithstanding the amateur standard of some character portrayals, the Genesian’s Pride And Prejudice is blithesome and enjoyable. It may not live up to our own imagined versions of the much-loved novel, but it is certainly able to give more than a little enchanting reminder of our endearment for sweet Elizabeth and her Mr Darcy.

Attempts On Her Life - Review

Review originally posted at
Venue: University of Sydney Studio B (Camperdown NSW), Apr 23 – 26, 2014
Directors: Clemence Williams, Benjamin Sheen
Playwright: Martin Crimp
Actors: Daniel Beratis, Bridget Haberecht, Felicia King, Brittany Lewis, Brendan McDougall, Steffan Rizzi, Julia Robertson, Jack Scott, Harriet Streeter, Leili Walker

Theatre review
The subject matter is brutal, intense and grim. Martin Crimp’s writing however, is not interested in conventional storytelling. He places emphasis instead on exploring theatrical structures that work with plots in unusual and challenging ways. Artist and audience are required to invent new approaches in order to relate to the text and its artistic form. Preconceived notions about the nature of theatre are brought to turmoil in the face of Crimp’s determined sense of nihilism.

Directors Clemence Williams and Benjamin Sheen do an excellent job of extracting a style of performance from their cast of ten that is cohesive and authentic. The harmony and assuredness of the ensemble gives the stage an energy that captivates, and their individual personalities contribute to a show that is layered and complex. Williams and Sheen do well to create variation between scenes, which keeps things unpredictable and nimbly paced. It is noteworthy that the team is comprised of two separate groups, SUDS in Sydney and Periscope in Melbourne, but there is not a hint of discernible disjunction onstage.

Actor Leili Walker stands out with strong presence and a sharp focus. There is a lack of self consciousness in her performance that conveys confidence beyond her years. Also memorable is Julia Robertson who engages with clear motivations that are always intensely genuine. It is remarkable that she is able to introduce psychological truth into a performance that is persistently characterised by an overt anti-naturalism.

Somewhere in Attempts On Her Life lies a tale that is disturbing and devastating. Its insistence on a wildly non-narrative mode of expression means that the play does not move us emotionally. We are forced to access instead, our mental capacities, where we are, hopefully, more likely to be inspired for social change and political action.

Lies, Love And Hitler - Review

Review originally posted at
Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Apr 15 – May 3, 2014
Playwright: Elizabeth Avery Scott
Director: Rochelle Whyte
Actors: James Scott, Doug Chapman, Ylaria Rogers
Image by Katy Green Loughrey

Theatre review
Romance and art are not usually complementary; theirs is a fraught relationship. Art conventions are concerned with all that is deep in the human experience, and romance pursues something that is often inane and fleeting. Elizabeth Avery Scott’s script however, manages to place romance in its centre, and through themes of ethics, politics, history and religion, tells a story that is engaging and intelligent.

Scott’s structure for Love, Lies And Hitler discusses the nature of ethics, and unpacks perennial questions that we face in every ethical dilemma. A parallel is drawn across time and space, between a university lecturer’s love affair with a student, and a German theologian’s involvement in the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. The stakes are different, but our thought processes are intriguingly similar when determining right from wrong.

With topics like capital punishment, sexual harassment and Nazism put in focus, the play’s solemnity is inescapable. Director Rochelle Whyte handles the play’s dark sides with sensitivity and reverence, and her skill in introducing seamlessly, the apparition of Dietrich Bonhoeffer from 1945, into scenes at a university in modern day Australia is commendable. Less effective are her interpretation of the script’s moments of levity. These are frequently hurried through, and jokes are neglected, resulting in a show that feels heavier than necessary.

Ylaria Rogers plays Hannah and Hermione, displaying great efficiency and simplicity with both characters. Rogers places emphasis on moving the plot along swiftly, and telling her parts of the story clearly, but her portrayals would benefit from greater complexity and presence. James Scott is a very dynamic Paul Langley. His charisma quickly connects him with the audience, and we enjoy the tenacity in his performance, which is confident and thoroughly considered. There is however, a deliberateness to his style that can at times make his character seem less than authentic. Bonhoeffer is played by Doug Chapman, who has a subtle and naturalist approach that contrasts strongly with the other actors, and consequently, and ironically, helps him leave the greatest impression. Chapman provides a healthy counterbalance to the production with his restraint, which is also a quality that keeps us engrossed.

Stories about genocidal persecution and Hitler never dry up. They also never fail to fascinate. Love, Lies And Hitler is a show that entertains and enlightens. We think about our individual ethical boundaries and moral structures, while it seduces us with love stories past and present, and a surprising brand of romance that does not patronise.

The Jungle Book - Review

Review originally posted at
Venue: King Street Theatre (Newtown NSW), Apr 14 – 26, 2014
Book and Lyrics: Markus Weber (based on the original by Rudyard Kipling)
Composer: Michael Summ
Director: Markus Weber
Actors: Maria De Marco, Badaidilaga Maftuh-Flynn, Mark Power, Mandy Fung, Bernard Wheatley, Brett O’Neill, Kyle Stephens
Image by Lorina Stacey Schwenke

Theatre review
Markus Weber and Michael Summ’s version of The Jungle Book is a beautifully-written musical derived from Rudyard Kipling’s famed writings. Familiar characters are retained, and even though these songs are less well-known, they are delightfully catchy and pleasantly melodic.

Markus Weber’s current production is fairly minimal, and relies on the strength of the songs and text to carry the show. Musical arrangements are joyful and effective for most of the material, but several numbers need an update from an unfortunate and uncomfortable 1990s pop/rock sound. Weber’s use of space is thoughtfully varied. The multi-tiered stage is designed well, and used cleverly to keep the attention of the audience. It is noteworthy that although a vast majority of the crowd is very young, the musical has enough content to entertain any adult companion.

There are moments however, where performances falter, and confusion emerges. Even though performances are spirited, calibre of players vary dramatically. The show is designed for children, but the roles are not simple, and it relies heavily on what the actors can bring to the production.

Maria De Marco’s singing voice is strongest in the cast, using it wonderfully to convey the story wonderfully despite not having assistance from microphones. She plays Bagheera, the black leopard who delivers several poignant moments that give the production a necessary shade of gravity. Badaidilaga Maftuh-Flynn plays Mowgli, the only human character. Maftuh-Flynn performs with conviction, and has the gift of being able to portray emotion with great clarity without appearing to be doing very much at all. Brett O’Neill is a vibrant King Louie, the amusingly deluded monkey who never fails to entertain. O’Neill’s energy is big and focused, and his keen sense of comic timing shows him to be the most polished actor on this stage, leaving an excellent impression, notwithstanding the brevity of his appearance.

The Jungle Book‘s message of ecological awareness is a critical one. The anthropomorphism of wildlife imparts to younger generations, values of conservationism that are noble and necessary. Providing children with an understanding that animals are not our slaves or property is a responsibility we must take, if only for our own survival.

Monday, 5 May 2014

Cruise Control - Review

Transatlantic trauma

Cruise Control
by David Williamson
Ensemble Theatre
reviewed by Ben Oxley

credit: Ensemble Theatre

Cruise Control brings together seasoned stalwarts, eccentric characters and a zinging script. Chloe Dallimore purrs as the love-lost Imogen, aside Michelle Doake as Fiona, the respectable, cuckolded editor. No confrontations between rivals, but Kate Fitzpatrick brings breezy class to Silky.

Peter Phelps' straight-shooting Darren shocks neurotic Sol (Henry Szeps) and challenges David's son, Felix Williamson's lecherous, loathable Richard with typical 'Aussie abroad' bluntness.

Williamson's own onboard dining disaster comes to The Ensemble at a time when holiday cruising in the post 9-11 era is the socially acceptable choice. Like the jokes, "there was a Englishman, an American Jew and an Australian", the humour wears thin as the real drama emerges, and we genuinely connect with the pathos of the piece.

What works well is the timing of so many of the lines. "You're more of a reptile thesaurus" quips Silky to Richard, pinpointing the aggressive predator with vocabulary to burn. Fine dining, like the delivery allows the audience to savour the lines. We love to hate Richard, and experience the rancour and disdain of this
loathsome Lothario.

Genuine tenderness emerges from the brief encounter of Sol and Fiona, as she gently coaches his novel aspirations. Dentistry and drama is not an obvious connection, nor is surfware and syndication with Darren, but all tension leads to how they treat Richard's flagrant indiscretions.

Like the champagne, we have a near-perfect cast to lead us onboard (and off), with marital struggles, cavorting and cajoling in the best Williamson way. The lovely foil of Kenneth Moraleda as Charlie to the haughty Richard, the crass Darren and suffering Sol make the week that was plausible.

Williamson the playwright doubles as director, and achieves slick pace, as if the ship's staff had changed the sheets and cleaned the glasses. Marissa Dale-Johnson's design matches the style with a glamorous backdrop of luxury liner, a dinner table featured, with cabin and deck relief.

Lighting from Ross Graham spotted the curious conversations, and we have a Muzak-style soundtrack the like of which we could expect onboard. For the large outlay, and the Titanic proportions perhaps we should have Andre Rieu and Tchaikovsky.

If you can spare two hours, spend it in the company of some of Australia's finest actors and don't let your emotions go overboard.