All posts by Mary Wren

Mary Wren is a High School English teacher in Sydney. In that capacity, she also teaches film studies and drama and is passionate about both mediums. Mary has been active in amateur productions, and also contributed as a drama director in school musical productions and Rock Eisteddfod. Mary has a great love of theatre in all its forms, from Shakespeare, to musicals, to Theatre of the Absurd and Opera, and sees as many productions as possible. Mary also enjoys dance, particularly the ballet and contemporary dance.

ROWAN ATKINSON TRIBUTE SHOW

Valentino Arico and Gabriel McCarthy in the ROWAN ATKINSON TRIBUTE SHOW. Pic Susiana Chandra
Valentino Arico and Gabriel McCarthy. Pic Susiana Chandra

On Tuesday night, I took a screechingly funny trip down memory lane. Gabriel McCarthy’s Rowan Atkinson Tribute Show (RATS) was lots of fun, even though I had seen all the material before! The show comprised a collection of about 14 sketches showcasing the superb talents of both McCarthy (as Atkinson) and Valentino Arico as his straight man – an essential character in many of the routines.

Both actors demonstrated strong comic timing, and as the sketches are so cleverly written, they all worked very well!

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SHORT AND SWEET GALA FINALS

Team THERAPIST receiving their People’s Choice Award from Chris Puplick. Pic Michael Kery

The Short + Sweet Theatre and Variety Gala Finals took place on the 21st and 22nd March at the York Theatre, Seymour Centre. These events showcased the best sixteen plays and the best seven cabaret and dance pieces from the 2014 Short + Sweet season. As an audience member I was privileged to enjoy performances from a very talented group of writers, directors and actors. Two very enjoyable nights at the theatre!

There were so many truly great performances; it is difficult to pick my favourite. I had seen several pieces earlier in the competition, but because of the different performance space it was a different theatrical experience.

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SHORT AND SWEET PEOPLE’S CHOICE SHOWCASE 2014

VOICE
A scene from THE SOUND OF YOUR OWN VOICE. Pic Sylvi Soe

Last night I attended the People’s Choice Showcase of the Short & Sweet Theatre Festival, which comprised performances of the plays chosen by audiences from the past eight weeks. As expected, the showcase was an entertaining, often heart-warming collection. Were there any hard-hitting, biting, truly cathartic moments? No – but you don’t need that every time you go the theatre! Sometimes, it is truly enough that the audience is thoroughly entertained!

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SHORT AND SWEET WEEK 7

Thank goodness that the short play ‘Level 2’ was performed before interval on Friday night! I was ready to leave the theatre after the first four plays, and then this brilliant piece, written by Mike McRae, blew my mind! This play is refreshingly original! It was directed with finesse by James Hartley, and performed by a talented team of actors who worked as a tight ensemble.

The premise is compelling! We, the audience members were the PROJECT, and three actors formed the panel which had the job of deciding whether or not “the meat” (US!) should be granted Level 2 status – ie the capacity to be sentient beings! The character making the petition to the panel was the “god” who had created us! The interaction between the creator and the panel was hilarious!

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SHORT AND SWEET WEEK 6

What a great night at the theatre!

The Biggest Little Play Festival in the World is in the sixth week of its eight week run, and it just seems to get better every week. Each night, the audience is asked to vote for its favourite plays, and I had huge difficulty choosing two favourites from the ten plays performed.

YOU GOTTA GO written by Carol Dance, starring Aviral Mohan and Karol Bonkowski is a warm, funny look at the Melbourne Cup and the challenges this horse race poses for new Australians. The two characters work in the predictable, organised world of train-timetabling and have great difficulty coming to terms with the unfathomable importance of “the sweep”, wearing a funny hat and having a drink in the middle of the work day! One character asks: “Why do I need to do this?” Only to be told that he must be happy with the explanation; “That’s Australia, mate!” This is a very clever script, performed by talented actors with impeccable comic timing.

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SHORT AND SWEET CABARET- WEEK 1

Jade Yeong's piece WOK OFF TO WHERE YOU CAME FROM demonstrates racism is still alive in contemporary Australian society. Pic Diana Popovska
Jade Yeong’s piece WOK OFF TO WHERE YOU CAME FROM demonstrates racism is still alive in contemporary Australian society. Pic Diana Popovska

A thoroughly engaging night of cabaret entertainment awaits you at the New Theatre, King Street Newtown.

Short & Sweet is a competition showcasing both seasoned professionals, and talented upcoming theatre, cabaret and dance performers. The cabaret part of the Short & Sweet Festival takes place over two weeks, with the second week beginning on Wednesday 15th January. Audience members are invited to vote for their two favourite cabaret pieces, and the winners will be showcased at the Gala Finale on Sunday 19th January. Notices appear in the foyer warning of adult content and cigarette smoke! However, you should also be warned that you will be entertained to the max!

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SHORT AND SWEET THEATRE WEEK 1

LIFELINES
Marcelle Weaver and Lachlan Edmonds-Munro in LIFE LINES, a highlight of Week 1

Short & Sweet Theatre Sydney is the largest festival of 10 minute plays in the world! This festival, now in its 13th year, takes place over a period of two months in the summer. The program, different every week, features approximately ten short original plays each night. This festival provides an opportunity for emerging writers, directors and actors to “strut their stuff” and hopefully gain the exposure needed to launch their careers to the next level. The festival is also a competition, and audience members are invited to vote for their two favourite plays; the winners will be selected for the Gala Finals on 21-22/3/2014.

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GREASE

Rob Mills as Danny and Gretel Scarlett as Sandy. Pic Jeff Busby
Rob Mills as Danny and Gretel Scarlett as Sandy. Pic Jeff Busby

It always works! Combine catchy songs, teenage love, lyrics that everyone in the audience knows and an infectious beat – and you have a sensational evening! In Australia we have had Johnny “O’Keefe – the Musical, Buddy Holly – the Musical and Peter Allen – the Boy from Oz, to mention a few, which successfully invoked this formula. You could go a hundred times and still want more!

GREASE is no different. From the moment disc jockey Vince Fontaine (aka Bert Newton) sets the 1950’s scene as the DJ, until the end when Sandy (Gretel Scarlett) turns into “The One that Danny Wants” the audience and the cast have a fun time. A few hours without the Global Financial Crisis or the collapse of the USA Debt Ceiling is a great tonic for the mind. Surprisingly perhaps, most of the audience were from 9 to 35 with only a sprinkling of Baby Boomers who first saw Harry Miller’s production in the 70’s.

The temptation to compare the stage production with the Travolta/Olivia movie will always be there, but this cast put their own stamp on it. We sat next to one of Australia’s emerging young musical stars, and he was constantly leaping to his feet, applauding the dancing of Rob Mills as Danny and marvelling at the incredible range of Gretel Scarlett’s voice.

There were plenty of audience participation segments, led by Principal Lynch (Val Lehman), which were enormous fun! She had the “boys” and “girls” in the audience singing along to “Summer Nights”, as she pointed to the lyrics on a whiteboard. There were big voices and shrieks of laughter all around!

The highlights of the evening were Todd McKinney as the Teen Angel singing “Beauty School Dropout” and the boys dancing in the shower room to ‘Those Magic Changes’. Rizzo (Lucy Maunder) singing “There Are Worse things I Could Do” was powerful and moving.

This does not rate as a show that you should see if you’ve nothing better to do. You must find time to see it, particularly if you are feeling a bit miserable about the outside world.

GREASE is playing the Lyric Theatre at the Star where it will run till the end of the year after which the show then moves to Melbourne.

RELATIVE MERITS

 RELATIVE MERITS-001

The current production of RELATIVE MERITS is a play about football that everyone should see.  Set in 1989, and first produced at the Stables Theatre in 1993, this twentieth anniversary revival explores homophobia, AIDS and family values at a time when many Australians were first coming to grips with these important issues. However, while this production is clearly set in 1989, the play still speaks loudly and clearly to a contemporary audience. While we have certainly come a long way since 1989, RELATIVE MERITS still has a compelling message for an audience in 2013; surely the current strident opposition to marriage equality is indicative of how many of these attitudes remain unchanged.

This production, starring Jeff Teale as Adam, the homosexual football hero and James Wright as his confused, homophobic brother Clay, explores the very close relationship between the two brothers and brings deep understanding of how their heavily Catholic background has influenced them. Their mother, who never appears on stage, is a powerful representation of the bigotry which still exists in many organised religions, and contributes to our understanding of Adam’s public denial of his homosexuality as well as Clay’s homophobia. Adam’s mourning for his partner is very moving, and Clay’s growing understanding that his love for his brother transcends his earlier prejudice is life affirming.

This production takes place on a very small stage, but the staging choices made by director, Les Solomon, are very effective. Both actors move easily through the audience, thus breaking the fourth wall, which immediately forges a closer connection between the audience and the characters. Clay’s anguish in the hospital scene is powerful, and his unrestrained joy at Mardi Gras is infectious. The fight scene between Adam and Clay is very well executed given the limited space available.

Barry Lowe has written an excellent play which still speaks convincingly to a contemporary audience. This is a didactic piece, but it works so well because it challenges stereotypes and requires the audience to engage with the characters in a very personal way, so that we become intensely involved in their story. Don’t miss this excellent production!

RELATIVE MERITS is playing at the King Street Theatre, corner King and Bray Streets, Newtown for a strictly limited season, Friday and Saturday nights at 10pm and Sundays at 7pm.

 

 

THEY’RE PLAYING OUR SONG

“It was lovely” exclaimed one of the 200 grey brigade as she left the Theatre Royal on Friday night. THEY’RE PLAYING OUR SONG was more than lovely, it was very entertaining.

The plot is simple enough, loosely based on the real-life relationship of Hamlisch and Bayer-Sager (before she married Bert Bacharach). Wisecracking reclusive (“You know you are unpopular when insurance salesmen stop sending you calendars”) composer (Vernon Gersch), meets insecure, flaky, effervescent lyricist (Sonia Walsk). After a short courting period (“Falling” and “Playing Our Song”), they decide to collaborate (“collaboration went out of fashion after World War II”) and move in together.

Their relationship undergoes some conflicts (“I work when I want to, not when you want me too”) between work and love so that, as Vernon says, “I don’t know whether I’m working with the girl I live with, or living with the girl I work with” but by the final curtain Sonia has matured into a self-confident lady, Vernon begs forgiveness, and they live apart, but happily ever after.

The quick repartee between the two characters was a bit like seeing THE ODD COUPLE (another Neil Simon comedy gem), set to music. Add the lyrics of one of the most prolific popular lyricists of the last 30 years in Carol Bayer-Sager, combine it with the catchy music of Marvin Hamlisch, and you have a night which will send you away humming.

THEY’RE PLAYING OUR SONG was first shown in Australia at the old Theatre Royal 33 years ago when John Waters played Vernon, and the then singing and dancing ex Bandstand star Jacki Weaver played Sonia Walsk. In this revival, directed by Terrence O’Connell, Danielle Barnes loses nothing in comparison with the legendary Weaver. Her dancing would adorn any Broadway production and her voice was impressive. Scott Irwin played Vernon and while he was outshone by Barnes his performance was also very enjoyable.

The biggest negative is that the musical only runs in Sydney until Tuesday 7th May 2013. If you are doing something on Monday or Tuesday night that can be postponed grab the phone now and ring the Theatre Royal. You will be very hard to please if you don’t come out of the theatre saying that it was “lovely”.

THEY’RE PLAYING OUR SONG

“It was lovely” exclaimed one of the 200 grey brigade as she left the Theatre Royal on Friday night. THEY’RE PLAYING OUR SONG was more than lovely, it was very entertaining.

The plot is simple enough, loosely based on the real-life relationship of Hamlisch and Bayer-Sager (before she married Bert Bacharach). Wisecracking reclusive (“You know you are unpopular when insurance salesmen stop sending you calendars”) composer (Vernon Gersch), meets insecure, flaky, effervescent lyricist (Sonia Walsk). After a short courting period (“Falling” and “Playing Our Song”), they decide to collaborate (“collaboration went out of fashion after World War II”) and move in together.

Continue reading THEY’RE PLAYING OUR SONG

THE HAM FUNERAL

Rob Baird, Lucy Miller and Zach McKay in THE HAM FUNERAL. Pic by Bob Seary

THE HAM FUNERAL by Patrick White follows the activities of a group of characters in a decrepit, damp boarding house. The owners of the house, Mr and Mrs Lusty, rent out one upstairs room to a young man, the poet, and the other to a young woman. When Mr Lusty dies, Mrs Lusty decides to show respect for her husband by inviting his friends to a splendid funeral feast, where the “piece de resistance” is a large ham.

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25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

SPELLING-BEEIf you’re looking for a fun night at the theatre, you won’t do better than the Canterbury Theatre Guild’s current revival of the 2005 Broadway musical, THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM SPELLING BEE (music and lyrics by William Finn and based on the book by Rachel Sheinkin).

The Guild performs this, in fact all its productions, at the Canterbury Bowling Club Hall. While the space is unprepossessing, the talent on stage, and the friendly vibe from front-of-house, more than compensate for the homely venue. In fact, in many ways the venue is eminently suitable for the “down home” nature of this musical.

The story focuses on the six contestants in the Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee; the winner of the Bee will go on to represent Putnam County at the next level of the competition. The opening number is very strong, clearly establishing the characters. During the course of the Bee, the audience comes to know the competitors very well – both their strengths and their foibles. These are not cookie-cutter characters but fully drawn individuals; all the actors portray their characters with skill and conviction and engage our empathy as well as our sense of humour.

One of the most poignant scenes in the show involves the competitor Olive Ostovosky, played by Anita Margiotta. Olive arrives at the Bee without her parents, as her mother is looking for enlightenment in an ashram in India, while her father is equally indifferent to his daughter’s endeavours. Olive is given the word “Chimerical” to spell, and soon the imaginary figures of her father and mother appear, and perform a wonderful rendition of the song, “I Love You”. Olive is totally caught up in this “moment” with her parents, but at the end of the song, she spells the word correctly and gives the definition:  “Chimerical. C-h-i-m-e-r-i-c-a-l. Highly unrealistic, wildly fanciful”. Olive’s realisation that her parents have no interest in her is very moving.

The character of Logainne Schwartzand-Grubenierre, played by Rosemarie Olk, is a hoot! She is beset with two gay dads who have high expectations, and an unfortunate lisp. As she is always asked to spell words containing an “S”, her lisp becomes a great source of humour. The students are able to ask for each word to be used in a sentence, which usually offers no help whatsoever: “Cystitis – Sally’s mother told her it was her cystitis that made her special.” Logainne, a middle school student, looked appropriately perplexed!

The singing is this performance is very strong. While all the characters sing well, special mention should go to Melissa Goman both in her role as the compere, and as Olive’s mother.

The setting is very simple but effective, with tiered seating for the competitors and a background that provides a light show for different scenes. The lighting effect for the Pandemonium scene was particularly impressive! The stage is small but adequate for the simple, but well-rehearsed choreography.

I urge theatre goers to make their way to Canterbury Bowling Club before the season finishes. Random audience members (chosen from those asked to volunteer before the show) are invited onstage to compete alongside the six young characters. With any luck, you will finally be able to realise your performance ambitions!

I have only one request for the cast. Please come out for another bow at the end. Last night, your audience definitely wanted to thank you again!

The Canterbury Theatre Guild’s production of the 25th ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE opened at the Canterbury Bowling Club, 15 Close Street, Canterbury on Friday 19th April and is playing until Sunday 28th April, 2013.

© Mary Wren