Showing posts with label Theatre in Sydney. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Theatre in Sydney. Show all posts

Saturday, 24 May 2014

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.

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.

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.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Thom Pain (based on nothing) - Review

Thom Pain (based on nothing) written by Will Eno is currently been produced by the Sydney Independent Theatre at the Old Fitzroy Theatre.

Before I begin I have to say that I have been blown away by the quality of theatre Sydney Independent Theatre has been producing or been associated with this year.  Thom Pain (based on nothing) is a remarkable work and I am not surprised it was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.
It is very hard to say what it is about, because as the title suggests it based on nothing! It is a one man show, with little set, so you could be forgiven if you are thinking that this is could be a pretentious load of twaddle, particularly considering the title.  But it isn't. It is more like a comical portrayal of human nature. 

Thom Pain stands on stage and tells two stories, one about a boy another about a former girlfriend (who has everything including flees which he gave her). He tells the stories as random thoughts almost as if he talking his thoughts out loud. This makes the play seem a cross between stand up comedy and improvisation. I did ask Julie Baz the director if the play allowed for some impro because Thom asks the audience lots of questions which could have evoked a variety of responses. Apparently it does, it would be up to the skill of the actor to respond and then get the performance back on track. The audience would never know whether the actor is on track because it flits about and on occasion retraces the last few lines as if he has forgotten his train of thought.  There are some profound statements to make you think. At one point he asks if you had a day to live what would you do? If you knew you had 40 years to live what would you do?  Another is later in the piece when he talks about the brain. The brain makes sure that your body functions correctly but your mind could do anything. He also says that the cancers are all growing nicely and that Mother Nature will always have the last laugh.  So, there are some deeper more depressing moments during the show.

Because it is rather random this means that every now and again Thom behaves or says things that you are not expecting. There is swearing every now and then. I wondered whether it was necessary, my answer is yes, absolutely. It adds to the spontaneity of the play. There was one moment in particular that shocked the audience so much gasps could be heard echoing round the theatre and you can't quite believe he just said what he did.

The second half really screws with your mind,  you feel like you are almost making sense of it all but instead of talking in the third person Thom suddenly recaps the boy story in the first person, at this point you have to wonder to his sanity. This is soon forgotten though as he reverts back to the third person, but from that point on you do keep wondering who Thom really is and is the little boy him.
Even though this play is just one actor it is so complexly written you could easily watch it a few times.

David Jeffrey plays Thom Pain and his performance is flawless. So, if you fancy seeing a very funny, different piece of Theatre look no further and head to the Old Fitzroy.  Click here for more information and booking.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Pirates of Penzance - Review

Be prepared for a night of pirate talk at the Zenith Theatre in Chatswood. Chatswood Music Society have done it again, produced another great show for the North Shore.
I am ashamed to say this is the first time I have seen Pirates of Penzance, though I did know some of the songs.  As I have nothing to compare it too I have to say that it was the best production of Pirates of Penzance I have seen!
Pirates of Penzance is written by Gilbert and Sullivan and is classed as a comic opera, though unlike many operas it does have spoken dialogue as well as sung. It opens with the Pirates and Frederic, Frederic having just turned 21 can now leave the Pirates as he has served his apprentice to them, and explore the world and in particular women! He does indeed meet several young ladies and falls in love with Mabel. The girls are all the daughters of the Major General and the pirates have decided that they should take them for their wives. The police prepare to fight the pirates to keep the daughters save. Frederic however finds that as his birthday falls on a leap year he has had only 5 birthdays not 21! Mabel however, says that she will wait for him! The pirates and the police fight and the Major General is captured, but appeals to the Pirates sense on honour and it all turns out well in the end.
As you can imagine to get a Pirate ship and then the General's house on the same stage wasn't easy, but it was kept simple and even the actors were involved in moving some of the staging as part of the production. It is quite a small stage, I did feel a little sorry for the musicians as they did seem a little squashed. However, this didn't seem to effect their performance! The musicians were also involved with some the actors on stage which was very amusing.
Georgia Burley played Mabel, she has an incredible voice as did all of the singers particularly the women.  The 'girls' were a delight to watch and reminded me a little of the Sound of Music with the flowing dresses. The choreography was complex and there was lots happening on the stage. I did feel at times it could have been simplified to give the audience the chance to listen to the singing and words rather than the dancing. The King Pirate played by Andrew Dickson is obviously a Johnny Depp, Jack Sparrow fan and who isn't? There are subtle similarities between the two during this performance. 
It was a very enjoyable night. It is playing at the Zenith Theatre until 10 May, so get your tickets now by clicking here

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.

Friday, 2 May 2014

Machine - Review

Review originally posted at
Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Apr 16 – 20, 2014
Playwright: Melissa Lee Speyer
Director: Rachel Chant
Actors: Lucy Heffernan, David Jackson
Theatre review
Suicide often finds its way into art. It is the most direct contemplation on the value and meaning of life, when questioning “to be or not to be”. Melissa Lee Speyer’s Machine is a pessimistic appraisal of life, and a work that embodies great sensitivity and beauty in its melancholy.

Rachel Scane channels that sense of resignation into her set design.It is basic and cold, but elegantly executed. Together with lighting designer Benjamin Brockman’s work, the space is cleverly transformed into a purgatory of sorts, with a sense of ethereality and impending doom.

Machine‘s story of suicide features Lucy Heffernan as Christine, and David Jackson as her guardian angel. The structure of the play interestingly places focus on the angel who takes us through events in Christine’s life, and her subsequent decision to end it. He also gives the impression from early on, that she is safe in his hands, even in the midst of her depression. As a result, the stakes are never high in the show. The assurance he provides, detaches us from Christine’s predicament, and even though Heffernan’s performance is committed and strong, we do not connect with her suffering. We know that Christine is being watched over, regardless of how things may end. Jackson has conviction in his acting, but the lack of experience and confidence is evident. It is noteworthy however, that Jackson’s smaller subsidiary roles are performed well when he takes the form of Christine’s encounters.

The Angel seems to be the problem. If it is the intention of the artists to create a work that is emotionally involving, we need more access to Christine. Her pain is universal, but we need to feel closer for the drama to work. She has much to divulge, but her Angel shields too much for her, and from us. The girl needs to stand alone.

Dancing Naked In The Backyard - Review

Review originally posted at
Venue: TAP Gallery (Darlinghurst NSW), Apr 15 – 26, 2014
Playwright: C.J. Naylor
Director: Travis Kecek
Actors: Matt Hopkins, Zasu Towle, Estelle Healey, Alan Long, Sam Smith, Sascha Hall, Kara Stewart
Theatre review
Contentious issues in our daily lives can make for great theatre. Dancing Naked In The Backyard explores over-development in suburbia, and attempts to make an argument for population growth control in residential areas. A shady character Reland, spearheads the Sylvan Towers project that will see construction of six-storey apartment blocks on quiet Hinton Street. In opposition is the clean cut Derwent who makes it his mission to stop the project from being approved by local government.

The premise is simple, and the production is plain. The script and direction are straightforward in what they wish to say, but what results is a show that feels overly didactic, and the lack of complexity in their argument makes for scenes that feel repetitive. The themes being discussed are not uninteresting, but the characterisation of Derwent representing good and Reland bad, is too obviously unbalanced and consequently, unconvincing.

Derwent is played by Matt Hopkins who does his best at channelling his character’s conviction into his own performance. The material he works with is not always strong, but he is believable and charming in the role. Hopkins has great presence, and his eagerness in connecting with co-actors gives him a sense of polish, and conveys confidence. Estelle Healey is memorable as the highly idiosyncratic Nancy. At times funny, and at others awkward, she might not always hit her marks but she is definitely a magnetic personality that adds exuberance to the stage.

The play clearly has a point to make, but its one-sided approach can cause its audience to question the validity of the debate at hand. Lamenting the introduction of low rise apartments into an idyllic suburb is romantic, but our daily lives point to a realistic perspective that is not sufficiently represented in the work. Backyards with unobstructed views are very nice to have, and almost everyone dreams of owning one, but when that privilege runs out, and we seek to mourn its disappearance, it is important to first scrutinise the rights we claim to have over this piece of earth we inhabit.

Cough - Review

Review originally posted at
Venue: 107 Projects (Redfern NSW), Apr 10 – 20, 2014
Playwright: Emily Calder
Director: James Dalton
Actors: Melissa Brownlow, Vanessa Cole, Tim Reuben, Tom Christophersen
Image by Lucy Parakhina

Theatre review
Cough is a work about children and parenting. Through its story, we find a palpable and critical investigation into our middle classes. Emily Calder’s vibrant script examines our beliefs, values, and behaviour by placing us in a child care centre, where toddlers are the currency for adult social interaction. We are presented three characters, each a familiar type, with ordinary foibles, all trying hard to be the best parent they could imagine. Complications arise when they move focus away from their individual familial relationships, and become embroiled as a collective of anxious parents, every one “infecting” their counterparts with imagined and paranoiac fears, like a cough that seems to emerge from nowhere, only to overwhelm the masses.

James Dalton’s direction is thoughtful and inventive. The story and its moral are kept central to the production, but an extravagant theatricality is built upon the script’s theme of childhood imagination and fantasy. The stage (designed by Becky-Dee Trevenen) is raised high above the ground even though we are seated close, making us crane up our necks, to watch everything happen like small children caught in the middle of an adult argument. Dalton’s talent at creating atmosphere gives the play a sense of wonderment that evokes not just of innocence, but also the concurrent terror that underlies childhood experiences. Lighting designer Benjamin Brockman and sound designer Tom Hogan both show great sensitivity and ingenuity, achieving fabulous effects with minimal facilities.

Actor Vanessa Cole plays the highly unlikable Isabella but wins us over with a dynamic performance that is varied in style, and astutely measured. She develops her character fascinatingly, from a painful parochial stereotype to a heightened state of dramatic derangement. Assisted by a versatile and powerful voice, Cole provides the clearest guide for our navigation through the plot and its ideas. Tom Christophersen is a very tall man playing a three-year-old. His character Frank is created with a brand of outlandish mimicry that is highly entertaining, but also menacing in its surrealism. He is the boy we try hard to forget, but who leaves a lasting impression. Frank is untrustworthy yet seductive, and appropriately, Christophersen captivates us while keeping us quite nervous in his presence.

Growth happens quickly, especially when we are not paying attention. We scuffle with silliness, over details that are inconsequential and petty, to over protect our loved ones, and to feed our egos. In the meantime, life had already happened, and opportunities are missed. The here and now exists, but we sometimes come to it a little late.

The Gigli Concert - Review

Review originally posted at
Venue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Apr 4 – May 4, 2014
Playwright: Tom Murphy
Director: John O’Hare
Actors: Patrick Dickson, Kim Lewis, Maeliosa Stafford
Image by Wendy McDougall

Theatre review
O’Punksky’s Theatre’s current production of The Gigli Concert at the Eternity Playhouse is the company’s fourth staging of the Tom Murphy work. Over the course of 16 years, their relationship with the play has developed into something remarkably complex and outstanding in its sophistication. This is a story about the madness that we encounter in our lives, its varying manifestations, and the degrees at which it rears its head. It is also about opera.

Expression through music is used in the production in a fascinating and original way. Director John O’Hare plays with the relationship between music and personal spirituality, and works with it as an instrument of salvation for the play’s characters, and in his staging, a mechanism for storytelling. O’Hare explores bravely, the effects of and experiential reactions to operatic music, almost as an antithesis of the spoken word. Psychoanalysis is a central theme in The Gigli Concert, but it experiments with a departure from incessant talking, and creates a space of meaning with music that reaches beyond everyday language.

O’Hare’s creation is multi-layered, and thick with ideas and intelligence. The show runs the risk of being too intellectually dense in parts, but it is a show that is careful to hold its connection with its audience. It goes on various imaginative flights of fancies, but O’Hare always intends on bringing us along. Along with his actors, he has created a show that is keen to challenge and also to entertain.

Maeliosa Stafford brings with him extraordinary presence, and a brilliant sense of theatricality. We almost expect him to break into arias at each appearance, with a fascinating and dominant energy, keeping us on the edge of our seats for what he wishes to unleash in every scene. His characterisation is consistently strong but also unpredictable, resulting in a portrayal that is full of colour and charm.

JPW King is played by Patrick Dickson whose work is detailed and solid. There is a thoroughness that can only come from extensive study and deep understanding, and Dickson’s performance is infallible. When an actor is in complete control, we get swept away in his confidence, open to all that he wishes to share. There is also an air of whimsy to the leading man that keeps us endeared, and keeps the play effervescent in spite of its frequent darkness.

The Gigli Concert shows us two men and their individual madness. We see them dealing with issues from different perspectives, but the universality of their stories keeps us engaged, and we understand them through the knowledge of our selves, and through the prism of our own madnesses. We achieve a greater understanding of life, and of the nature of human navigation through this incredible and absurd landscape.

Wonderland - Review

Review originally posted at
Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Apr 8 – 12, 2014
Playwright: Alexandra Howard
Directors: Alexandra Howard, Kate Clark
Actors: Alexandra Howard, Samuel Doyle

Theatre review
Art should be created by anyone who has the desire to do so. Some would argue that the artistic process can sometimes be found in a vacuum, but performance, by definition, requires an audience, and this in turn implies that communication occurs, and the presence of that audience is often taken into consideration by the artist.

Wonderland is written, directed and performed by Alexandra Howard. It is a personal work by a very ambitious young woman about love and romance. She digs very deep for her creation, and there is a strong sense of catharsis about her expression, but its intensely introspective approach makes connection difficult. Howard is earnest, but she is also highly idiosyncratic. Without a greater effort to understand how her work is read, she often leaves us high and dry, and frankly quite uninterested in the show’s two characters or what they have to say.

Max is played by Samuel Doyle who shows surprising conviction and confidence. He works intelligently with the strengths and weaknesses of the script, and finds moments of drama to give the production some much needed variation in tone. There is no doubt that his potential is clearly on display, and would benefit from stronger direction and a more interesting story.

Memories of young love usually fades with time and maturity. It is easy to forget the range of emotions that comes only with youth, but they are represented in Wonderland. Sophistication and humour, however, are not often found in the young, and in the theatre, they are indispensable.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Construction of the Human Heart - Review

Reviewed by Nathan Finger
Construction of the Human Heart (2007) is Australian playwright Ross Mueller’s exploration of grief. It features two playwrights who are trying to write a play about two playwrights who are trying to write a play. This description probably already has a lot of people rolling their eyes – ‘yet another self-aware play about theatre, like we need that.’ Mueller’s play starts out looking like it is going to be another extended navel-gazing exercise. But then something different happens.

This isn’t a play about theatre, per se. Yes, it is self-aware, but it’s about something much more genuine: it is a study of the grieving process. Actors Michael Cullen and Cat Martin play two characters who are only ever referred to as Him and Her. The couple are a playwriting duo who have recently lost their only son, Tom, to some unspecified disease or accident. The play they are attempting to write is their way of coping. ‘I make up stories about him’, she says, stories where he is still alive and well. This is all they have, this is their coping mechanism. Together they relive and rehash the past, recreating the moments when they were happy and whole. It’s the only thing that keeps them going, but it cannot block out the pain of the present, nor adequately substitute the past.

As far as plot goes this is pretty much it. But the draw card for this production is the performances. Cullen and Martin have a real chemistry on stage. They both manage to capture that ever so slightly pretentious, faux-intellectual quality of the would-be, brilliant playwright. But behind this front they both allow the gut-wrenching grief they carry to slowly leak out, and we witness their struggle and gradual collapse. Indeed the two have been brought to breaking point and we get to see the conflict that arises between them brought on by the pain. They are obviously a couple that love each other dearly, but the loss of their son has placed a tremendous strain on their relationship, and even at the close of the play we cannot tell if they will be able to weather the tragedy. To see two actors allowing themselves to be totally vulnerable on stage is rare and moving treat.

Construction of the Human Heart may not be a play for everybody. Director Dino Dimitriadis offers up an empty stage, two chairs and pages of typed script, made to resemble the most basic of rehearsal spaces. The dialogue can be a little overly flowery in places. But there is a genuine and tragic story about what grief does and how people struggle to live with it to be told. There may not be a lot of plot, but this play more than stands up on the strength of its performances, which are well worth the trip in to see.

Construction of the Human Heart is playing at the Tap Gallery until the 3rd of May. For more information see: