ADDRESS UNKNOWN

John O’Hare and Patrick Dickson in ADDRESS UNKNOWN

A close friendship is meant to be a tower of strength in the difficult lives that we all lead, however sometimes it can prove to be defective to its foundations. This is the case in Kathrine Kressman Taylor’s 1938 novella ADDRESS UNKNOWN that has since been skillfully adapted for the stage by Frank Dunlop.

ADDRESS UNKNOWN documents an ill-fated friendship between a respectable, middle-class Jew and Gentile. Gentile Martin Schulse and the Jewish Max Eisenstein are two German expats and friends who have made a new life for themselves in America after Germany received a hammering in the Great War. They run a successful avant-garde art gallery in San Francisco. The play starts in 1932, and with Germany on the mend, Martin decides to leave the art gallery in the hands of Max and return with his family to Munich. He establishes a new career for himself in banking.

The play then follows the correspondence that takes place between the two friends over the next two years. Unlike the gentle correspondence that brought together Helene Hunff and Frank Doel in Hunff’s 1970 book 84, Charing Cross Road, the letters between Max and Martin document an increasing rift as Martin becomes steadily more subsumed in the Nazi movement spreading across Germany. Max spots Martin’s ambivalence to the Nazi’s treatment of the Jewish people and perceives a hitherto unnoticed anti-Semitic sentiment in his friend’s remarks. The fireside comfort and trueness of their long friendship is coming under threat.

Moira Blumenthal’s staging of Taylor’s razor-sharp narrative is assured and powerful. This is her deserved second season, with ADDRESS UNKNOWN first having played the Seymour Theatre in 2009.

Blumenthal wins strong performances from her two highly experienced actors. John O’Hare plays the sensitive, erudite Max Eisenstein with Patrick Dickson playing the status seeking, lily-livered Martin Schulse.

Barry French’s exquisitely detailed split set, we are half in Max’s San Francisco gallery and the other half in Martin’s Munich apartment is a delight. Together with Tony Youlden’s evocative lighting design and the director’s own astute choice of music to under-score the narrative; we are transported to the dark world that existed between the two World Wars.

A Tamarama Rock Surfers presentation in association with Moira Blumenthal Productions, ADDRESS UNKNOWN is at Bondi Pavilion Theatre, Queen Elizabeth Drive, Bondi Beach, until Saturday 24 March, 2012.

© David Kary

7th March, 2012

This review was first published, in an edited version, in the Sydney edition of the Australian Jewish News that was published on Thursday 8th March, 2012

Tags: Sydney Theatre Reviews- ADDRESS UNKNOWN, Kathrine Kressman Taylor, Moira Blumenthal and Tamarama Rock Surfers production. Bondi Pavilion Theatre, Patrick Dickson, John O’Hare, Barry French, Tony Youlden, Australian Jewish News, Sydney Arts Guide, David Kary.

CORIOLANUS

A scene from Raplph Fiennes fine film, CORIOLANUS

Shakespeare’s big, boofy, bovver boy, CORIOLANUS(MA) gets a big screen workout in Ralph Fiennes’s fine film which he both directs and takes the lead role.

Balkanising without bowdlerising the bard, Fiennes has made a remarkably contemporary movie that illustrates the timelessness of Shakespeare’s stories and his insights into human nature.

Political extremism, political expediency and political compromise conspire against Coriolanus, a man born to rule, his courage and victory on the battlefield bolstering that self evident right, but whose disdain of power broking, political manipulation and pragmatism is frustrating to the point of fatal anathema.

Fiennes’s spittle spraying soldier is in direct contrast to the suave suited politicians whose back stabbing character assassinations are no less vile than Coriolanus’ slaughter of insurgents on the war torn streets and certainly less honourable. His frustrations at political rule, all talk and blather rather than appropriate action, are fueled by the fact that his mother, Volumnia, is pushing him to secure high political office.

Behind every great man there is a controlling and ambitious mother and Vanessa Redgrave’s performance is pure patrician power player complete with military haute couture and haughty demeanour.

As Coriolanus’ political mentor, Menenius, Brian Cox gives us a consummate numbers man, sensitive to his candidate and the electorate, feeling his protégé’s discomfort while juggling political protocol.

Coriolanus’ great tragedy is that both his greatness and his folly lie in the fact that he cannot adapt. Bred as a war machine, he is redundant in peacetime, leaving room for lesser men, cockroaches of no conviction to scuttle in and bore their way into power.

© Richard Cotter

6th March, 2012

Tags: Sydney Movie Reviews- CORIOLANUS, Ralph Fiennes, Vanessa Redgrave, Brian Cox.

ADDRESS UNKNOWN

John O’Hare and Patrick Dickson in ADDRESS UNKNOWN

Set in the first few years of Fuehrer Adolph’s ascension in the Fatherland, ADDRESS UNKNOWN chronicles the friendship between two business partners in a successful San Francisco art gallery. Martin Schulse, a German-born Aryan, has returned to Germany with his wife and children and re-established ties to his homeland, becoming active with the National Socialists; Max Eisenstein, a German Jew, has remained to run the gallery in San Francisco.

Early correspondence depicts a jolly fraternity between the two, each eager and happy to hear about the other’s lives and fortunes. Martin is hopeful that under Hindenburg and Herr Hitler, Germany can shuck the shame and crushing poverty that has prevailed since the end of the First World War.

As the correspondence criss-crosses the Atlantic, the pen-pals’ relationship is poisoned by Martin’s embracing of the Nazi party and its anti Semitic policies.

The writing is not on the wall but piteously on paper when Martin not only resolves to sever all communication with his old friend, but refuses to give succour to Max’s sister, a former mistress of Martin, who is pursued and persecuted under the Party’s pogrom.
In a case of the pen being mightier than the sword, Max unleashes a flurry of letters, an indictment in ink, a postal onslaught, releasing a reciprocal betrayal, the ultimate in return to sender retribution.

Adapted for the stage by Frank Dunlop from Katherine Kressman Taylor’s novella, this slow burn of a production effectively builds from a pipe and slippers comfort zone to a harrowing harbinger of the Holocaust.

Director and soundscapist, Moira Blumenthal is very well served by her two actors, John O’Hare as Max, whose California cool is lowered to cold, calculating under the sangfroid of his ex mate, and Patrick Dickson as the pragmatic Aryan, Martin, clever but without a clue when it comes to the taming of the shrewd.

Moira Blumenthal’s production, in association with the Tamarama Rock Surfer’s, opened at the Bondi Pavilion Theatre, Queen Elizabeth Drive, Bondi Beach, on Thursday 1 March and runs until Saturday 24th March, 2012.

© Richard Cotter

5th March, 2012

Tags: Sydney Theatre Reviews- ADDRESS UNKNOWN, Bondi Pavilion Theatre, Moira Blumenthal, Tamarama Rock Surfers, Patrick Dickson, John O’Hare. Kathrine Kressman Taylor, Frank Dunlop.

CARNAGE

John C Reilly in Polanski’s latest, CARNAGE

A couple of geriatrics garnered gongs in this year’s Academy Awards – octogenarian actor Christopher Plummer and septuagenarian writer Woody Allen.

Septuagenarian filmmaker Roman Polanski’s latest picture CARNAGE (M) shows these two codgers are not alone in bringing to the screen daring, funny, mature and entertaining stories.

Based on Yasmina Reza’s play THE GOD OF CARNAGE, Polanski has rendered a brisk, biting, hilarious picture that reverberates, recoils and rebounds its theatrical origin and transcends it.

Polanski is a prolific practitioner in both cinema and theatre and here he melds his proficiency of stage and screen into a seamless cinematic presentation of a modern day drawing room comedy.

Politically correct parenting is at the heart of this acerbic comedy of manners as two couples meet to discuss a playground pummeling perpetrated by one couple’s progeny against the other.

Power couple Nancy and Alan Cowan have come to Penelope and Michael Longstreet’s apartment to mitigate and mediate over their son’s attack on the Longstreet lad.

At first, all seems cool, calm and collected, as they discuss parenting and discipline over cake and coffee. But the veneer of civility slips with the introduction of “button” words like victim and bully and attorney Alan’s incapacity to curb taking constant calls on his mobile phone.

Manners mortared, politeness torpedoed, the discussion of the scuffle escalates into a verbal squabble of stupendously espoused vitriol, an uncivil vomiting of contradicting convictions, a spewing of grotesque prejudices and a skewering of veiled hypocrisy. I couldn’t have loved it more!

As the mobile phone fetishist, Christoph Waltz delivers his best screen performance since he took out the Oscar for INGLORIOUS BASTARDS. His on screen spouse is played with piss elegance by Kate Winslet.

The other couple teams two time Academy Award winner, Jodie Foster with nominated yet to win but only a matter of time Oscar bearer, John C. Reilly.

This is an awesome foursome unleashed in the confines on apartment to inflict conflict of WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF proportions

Decorum and diplomacy scuttled by the adults, Polanski slyly bookends the film with the children who instigated the story and their micromanagement of the mêlée. Enfant terrible? More like parents infantiles!

Brilliantly paced, beautifully scripted, perfectly performed, CARNAGE is 80 minutes around a whirl with a girl hurl full of burl; pitch perfect Polanski and the funniest film so far this year.

© Richard Cotter

3rd March, 2012

Tags: CARNAGE, Roman Polanski, Christoph Waltz, Kate Winslett, Jodie Foster, Jophn C Reilly, THE GOD OF CARNAGE, Yasmina Reza, Richard Cotter, Sydney Arts Guide.

ELEGIES FOR ANGELS, PUNKS AND RAGING QUEENS

Paul Kelly in Bill Russell’s ELEGIES

Just about everyone is dead in this performance of Bill Russell’s ELEGIES FOR ANGELS, PUNKS AND RAGING QUEENS. They have died from AIDS and roughly thirty characters tell their story through a series of poems. This performance is beautifully directed by Brett Russell. The characters do not recite their poems but engage in a simple narrative with the audience.

The poems are interlaced with some show style songs, mostly in the Disney musical style with a little jazz and soul. The singing is incredible and more than fills the Reginald Theatre in the Seymour Centre. The main singers are Lucy Maunder, who sang opposite Anthony Warlow in DR ZHIVAGO, Jason Te Patu and Paul Whitely who were in JERSEY BOYS and Belinda Wollaston, who also sang opposite Anthony Warlow in DR ZHIVAGO.

The backing ensemble is simple and elegant, featuring musical director Chris King on piano, Emily Palethorpe and her sublime cello, and Verna Lee’s delicate harp playing.

ELEGIES was inspired by the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt and while each story is ultimately a grim tale they are much broader in concept than an individual’s demise. Universal themes are explored, such as friendship, hatred, intolerance, addiction, patriotism, glamour and shopping. Unexpectedly, many of these stories are very funny. Even though each monologue is brief the writing and performance is of such quality that empathy is developed with many of the characters.

It is difficult to highlight any particular performance as they all are engaging and well conveyed but to give an idea of the range of reactions to being diagnosed, we have Deirdre Lee’s sales executive being ignored, ill treated and finding her real friends, a drag queen hamming it up for the hospital ward, junkies still wanting another hit, Cooper Amal’s homophobe finding unexpected friendship, Jonathon Acosta’s Paco is ostracised by his mother and taken in by another mama. and Alex Osmond’s Joe lamenting that he didn’t get the fabulous square on the aids quilt that he craved for.

ELEGIES FOR ANGELS, PUNKS AND RAGING QUEENS is highly recommended.

ELEGIES FOR ANGELS, PUNKS AND RAGING QUEENS is a Sydney Mardi Gras event which opened at the Seymour Centre Wednesday, 29th February, 2012, and runs until Saturday 3rd March, 2012.

© Mark Pigott

3rd March, 2012

Tags: Sydney Theatre Reviews- ELEGIES FOR ANGELS, PUNKS AND RAGING QUEENS. Reginald Theatre Seymour Centre, Bill Russell, Lucy Maunder, Jason Te Patu, Paul Whitely, Belinda Wollaston, Chris King, Emily Palethorpe, Verna Lee, NAMES PROJECT MEMORIAL QUILT, Deidre Lee, Cooper Amal, Jonathon Acosta, Alex Ormond, Sydney Mardi Gras, Mark Pigott, Sydney Arts Guide.

THE QUIET BROTHER

Ivy Mak, Sean Alex Wang and Lap Phan in Ivy Mak’s THE QUIET BROTHER

Australia hasn’t always been the friendly, easy going multi-cultural country that it currently is. For many years, some seven decades, the infamous White Australia Policy was Commonwealth of Australia legislation.

Australia has a sad history in regards to its treatment of its indigenous people which it has been busily trying to reconcile. Another dark part of our history is our terrible treatment of the Chinese during the Gold Rush period in the later half of the nineteenth century.

The worst anti-Chinese attacks in Australian history took place in 1861 on the Burragong goldfields at Lambing Flats in Young in New South Wales.

Last year young Chinese actor, producer and writer Ivy Mak wrote a short play THE QUIET BROTHER in remembrance of the 150th anniversary of the Lambing Flat Riots. She has dedicated her play to her play, ‘to her brother Michael who fended for me when we first arrived on this foreign land’.

Since Mak has fleshed out her play into a longer piece and her piece is being performed in a brief season in the downstairs theatre at Belvoir Street. The production, presented by Australasian Art and Stageworks, is being staged as an associated Chinese New Year Festival event.

Mak’s play started on the right note with a striking display of martial arts. She has come up with a moving work that documents a cross generational Chinese family resiliently survived the horror of the Lambing Flat Riots and were since able to settle here, have a successful business, make a happy family life, and become proud Chinese Australians.

Selby supplemented Mak’s narrative with the use of video footage and Chinese music performed by two on-stage musicians and joint composers, Erhu player Jillian Freeman and
percussionist Leighton Lam. Jocelyn Speight’s exceptional lighting design was a treat!

The large cast featured Gabrielle Chan, Daphne Lowe Kelley, Ivy Mak, Lap Phan, Derek and Michael Quan, and Sean Wang. On opening night the cast did well to contend with the distraction of the constant ringing of an audience’s mobile phone until it was thankfully confiscated.

Nikki Selby’s production of Ivy Mak’s THE QUIET BROTHER opened downstairs at Belvoir Street, 25 Belvoir Street, Surry Hills on Thursday 23rd February and plays until Sunday 25th February, 2012.

(c) David Kary

24th February, 2012

Tags: Sydney Theatre Reviews- THE QUIET BROTHER, Ivy Mak, Nikki Selby, Belvoir Street theatre, Lambing Flat Riots, Gabrielle Chan, Daphne Lowe Kelley, Lap Phan, Derek Quan, Michael Quan, Sean Wang, Sydney Arts Guide, David Kary

PYGMALION

Andrea Demetriades and Marco Chiappi as Eliza and Henry . Pic Brett Boardman

Peter Evans’s current revival of George Bernard Shaw’s PYGMALION is a rich, rewarding night at the theatre!

Shaw’s most popular play is an all-time classic, one of those works that has been ‘the seed’ for so of many much loved plays and movies. The premise is a simple and inspired one. Bring together two people from different sides of the track and to use the colloquial term, ‘see what gives’.

From the right side of the tracks is Professor Henry Higgins. Remember John Lennon’s famous wisecrack during a concert when he was with the Beatles, ‘those in the front rows, just rattle your jewellery’. Professor Higgins is from the rattle your jewellery class.

From the wrong side of the tracks is Eliza Dolittle. My partner is known to recount her story from her times going to a very working class school in Preston, Melbourne. A teacher asked a student what her parents did for a living. The girl’s reply took her by surprise. ‘My parents are in the iron and steel business. My mum does the ironing, my dad does the stealing!’. Eliza Dolittle comes from an iron and steel family sort of background.

What a journey Shaw takes us on! At one time Eliza says to Henry, ‘there can’t be any feelings between the likes of you and the likes of me?!’. Well the play reveals something quite different.

PYGMALION is the kind of play that has so much to ruminate over! Is class destiny or can one break through the barriers? What is love? What is true independence? Can people change their belief systems, or are they so entrenched that it makes it impossible?!

Peter Evans’s production is no frills. No flashy, fancy sets. He lets the play do the talking! His main directorial touch is some interesting use of video following Eliza around as she struggles to sort her feelings out.

Shaw’s characters are so well drawn that the cast have a field day! In the leads…Marco Chiappi is great as the curly haired, eccentric Professor Higgins. Ok Marco isn’t Geoffrey Rush…I kept on thinking Rush would have been great as Higgins…but Marco’s good!

Gorgeous NIDA graduate Andrea Demetriades gives a strong portrayal as the street smart ‘I’m a good girl I am’ Eliza Dolitte. Demetriades shows both sides of Eliza; the feisty, willful Eliza and also her vulnerable side.

As she says to Henry, ‘You’re nothing but a bully! If I can’t have kindness, I’ll have my independence’. It’s kind of like we are in similar territory to Nora slamming the door with Torvald looking on astonished in Ibsen’s A DOLL’S HOUSE.

David Woods stood out in his performance as Eliza’s father, Alfred, -‘Am I an honest man or a rogue? I’m a bit of both! Woods played his role with a bit of Pinter like menace which was intriguing.

The Sydney Theatre stage is graced by some of Australia’s finest, most experienced actors and they cruise, in the best sense, through their roles; Deborah Kennedy plays Henry’s imperious, snooty housemaid, Mrs Pearce, Wendy Hughes is his domineering mum, Kim Gyngell plays the affable, charming Colonel Pickering and Vanessa Downing plays Mrs Eynsford Hill.

Two fine young actors, Harriet Dyer as Clara and Tom Stokes as Freddy, show flair in their brief times on stage.

Mel Pages’s costumes were striking and Alan John’s bridging music, with a great use of saxophone between scenes, worked well.

Peter Evans’s production for the Sydney Theatre Company of George Bernard Shaw’s PYGMALION opened at the Sydney Theatre, Walsh Bay on Saturday 4th February and runs until Saturday March 3rd, 2012.

© David Kary

22nd February, 2012

Tags; Sydney Theatre Reviews- PYGMALION, George Bernard Shaw, Sydney Theatre Company, Sydney Theatre, Peter Evans, Andrea Demetriades, Marco Chiappi, Kim Gyngell, Harriet Dyer, Vanessa Downing, Tom Stokes, Deborah Kennedy, David Woods, Wendy Hughes, Mel Page, Alan Johns, Brett Boardman, Sydney Arts Guide, David Kary

DOUBLE BILL AT THE EXCHANGE HOTEL

Roger Gimblett, Lib Campbell and Mark Langham. Pic Mark Banks

Two new Mark Langham plays are being performed in a new Double Bill at the Exchange Hotel in Balmain.

The evening starts with the very short THE BENEFITS OF HISTORY, written and directed by Mark Langham.

The scene is set with Gracie Fields singing a Second World War song. A boy & girl run in from the rain, swear, and look for a cup of tea. They are both in military uniform.

They commence chatting to each other and we find that Betty, played by Lib Campbell, is English, and Doug, played by Max Phillipson, is an Australian from Orange. They cannot say too much as “the walls have ears”, but their conversation is engaging (the blitz was not jolly) and they tease each other and then agree that London is bigger and brighter than Orange.

They cannot stay long and discuss the possibility of writing to each other. There is a twist, and a sweet ending. To reveal more would be beastly, as Betty would say, it’s enough to say that the denouement is clever and enjoyable.

The second play, NOTHING, written by Mark Langham and directed by Roger Gimblett, follows on immediately. Hamish, played by Mark Langham, has come round to help Derek, played by Roger Gimblett, mow his lawn. It looks like rain so rather than risk electrocution they start drinking in Derek’s shed.

Hamish gets a phone call offering tickets to the cricket but he is too lazy to have a shower and go to the SCG. Derek suggests Hamish may be depressed about the recent death of his wife Diana, and they should talk about it. Hamish is horrified at the thought of talking about coping and feelings.

Derek’s sister-in-law, an attractive younger real estate agent, played by Lib Campbell, joins the blokes in the shed as she has just had a horrible house viewing and needs a drink. She has just broken up with her rich boyfriend, ‘the chunky monkey’. She doesn’t feel sad about breaking up, much as Hamish is not angry about Diana’s death. As they become drunker their respective positions do not seem quite so rigid and certain.

They have a wide ranging, slightly drunken and disrespectfully humorous discussion about catching a husband and training him, settling for the comfortable life and finding joy in the everyday. The meat of this play is in this discussion. There are some weighty philosophical discussions interrupted by outbursts of “Like a rhinestone cowboy.” There is a nice balance of fun and seriousness.

The two plays run for about an hour, which leaves time to have some refreshments and explore the wonderful old Exchange Hotel. The double bill of plays and the pub combine to make for a very pleasant evening.

This Old Monk Production opened at the Exchange Hotel, Balmain on Tuesday 21st February, 2012, and runs until Sunday 4th March, 2012.

© Mark Pigott

21st February, 2012

Tags: Sydney Theatre Reviews- THE BENEFITS OF HISTORY and NOTHING by Mark Langham, Exchange Hotel Balmain, Lib Campbell, Max Phillipson, Roger Gimblett, Mark Banks, Mark Pigott, Sydney Arts Guide.

MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE

A scene from Sean Durkin’s stunning debut film

The insidious and malevolent world of cults comes under the microscope in MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE (MA) a stupendous feature film directorial debut by writer director, Sean Durkin.

Four names, one person ads up to a multi layered performance by Elizabeth Olsen, playing a girl damaged and abused as result of a cult.

Named Martha, renamed Marcy May by the Messianic megalomaniac master of the murderous mind-messers, the girl flees from the nefarious nutcases back to the bosom of her family, an older sister, newly married, intent on starting a family of her own.

Escaped from the cankered cloister of the cult compound, Martha discovers the difficulties in re-assimilating with her sibling, the psychological ulcers carried from her indoctrination suppurating and oozing septic toxins into old wounds from past family feuding.

MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE is one of those startling independent features like WINTER’S BONE and FROZEN RIVER that have strong female protagonists and a compelling narrative drive.

Elizabeth Olsen’s double barrel performance of the quad-monikered central character is simply sensational, a calling card for casters who require quality of technique and nuance. Fragile and frail, the damage done by inner demons and outer angels is palpable, as is the parabola of paranoia.

As the sister striving to provide her sibling with succour and solace, Sarah Paulson is equally splendid; symbiotic and sympathetic in a distressing scenario of a free spirit torn asunder.

Stupendously sinister is John Hawkes as the Charles Mansonesque leader of the cult whose sexual subjugation and death loving diatribes are genuinely creepy, spiked with a certain verisimilitude of a murderous mindset.

Stunningly shot by Jody Lee Lipes, and skiting a sensational score by Daniel Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans, MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE is seriously superior cinema.

© Richard Cotter

20th February, 2012

Tags: SYDNEY MOVIE REVIEWS- MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE, ELIZABETH OLSEN,SEAN DURKIN, SARAH POULSON, JOHN HAWKES, JODY LEE LIPES, DANIEL BENSI, SAUNDER JURRIAANS, SYDNEY ARTS GUIDE, RICHARD COTTER.

THE MERCHANT OF VENICE

Shylock after his pound of flesh in THE MERCHANT OF VENICE. Pic Mark Banks

Constantine Costi’s production for the Genesian Theatre Company delivers a clear, strong reading of William Shakespeare’s THE MERCHANT OF VENICE, first performed back in the court of King James in 1605.

Matters of the heart play a large part in this Shakespeare work and Costi comes up with what is, at times, a very romantic production. Highlights include the evocative scene when Bassiano wins Portia’s heart after choosing the right casket, and a more playful and equally well played scene when much later in the play, Portia and Nerissa, have a lend and a twist of their partners, Bassanio and Gratiano.

The centerpiece of this Shakespeare classic is the clash between arch rivals and adversaries, Venetian merchant Antonio (Andrew Fraser) and Jewish moneylender, Shylock, who both have strong personalities.

Geoff Sirmai’s fine performance gives audiences a Shylock that they can feel for. Here is a tough businessman who is vilified because of his religion and worse still is suffering because of his rebellious daughter, who has gone off with a Christian man. With Antonio vulnerable, he gets his chance to fight back! Andrew Fraser plays Antonio who as well tussling with Shylock has to also the internal demon, depression.

Other performances to catch the eye included Tiffany Stoecker’s very capable performance as Portia, Emily Sheehan’s high spirited turn Portia’s vivacious maid, Nerissa, Harriet Gordon Anderson’s impressive portrayal of Shylock’s rebellious daughter, Jessica, and Stephen Lloyd Coombs hilarious turn as the crotchety, deluded Prince of Aragon.

THE MERCHANT OF VENICE features two of Shakespeare’s greatest speeches, those of Portia’s ‘The quality of mercy is not strained’ and Shylock’s ‘Hath not a Jew eyes?’ and they are eloquently delivered by Stoecker and Sirmai respectively.

John Harrison’s set worked well. The dominant feature was Venice lit up in large gold lettering at the back of the stage. When the action turns awry some of the letters are dimmed. When Portia took centre stage one of the letters became like the back of her throne as she ‘sifted’ through her suitors. Together with Michael Schell’s at times bold lighting choices, it was all clever stuff!

A well realised night of Shakespeare, Constantine Costi’s production of William Shakespeare’s THE MERCHANT OF VENICE opened at the Genesian Theatre, 420 Kent street, Sydney on Saturday 18th February and runs until Saturday 31st March, 2012.

© David Kary

Tags: Sydney theatre reviews- THE MERCHANT OF VENICE, SYDNEY PLAY OF THE WEEK, Genesian Theatre, Constantine Costi, Andrew Fraser, Stephen Lloyd Coombs, Ray Mainsbridge, Brendan Cain, Tiffany Stoecker, Emily Sheehan, Geoff Sirmai, Harriet Gordon Anderson, Jasper Garner Gore, Dimitri Aramatas, Mark Banks.

THE ACT

Mark Kilmurry and Daniel Mitchell. Pic by Steve Lunam

With Richard Langridge’s play THE ACT we are in the terrain of well written, compelling drama. The setting is Auschwitz in 1943, the territory that the play explores lies within the eternal question that an anonymous Holocaust survivor so succinctly posed, ‘Why is there good and bad in the world, why isn’t there just good and very good?!’.

THE ACT has an unnerving, eerie beginning. We enter the lives of Johann Frink (Daniel Mitchell) and Otto Hansen (Mark Kilmurry), a music hall comedy duo who hold a deep secret that, if revealed, is a certain death sentence. Johann is Jewish! The audience sees the duo enter a very bourgeois but ominous office, featuring heavy velvet drapes and stuffed animals mounted on the walls.

Johann and Otto are living in a kind of twilight zone, they have no idea where they are, nor for whom they are supposed to be performing. As they put down their luggage, they hear menacing noises coming from outside, the sound of dogs baying, trains racing past…

A valet comes in and provides them with dinner but is otherwise unhelpful. Then Captain Steiner comes in and it turns out that he is an old friend of Otto’s. He has sent for the popular comedy to perform for his entourage. The Captain reveals that he has written a play that he wants them to perform that night. His play is filled with Nazi propaganda and anti-Semitic references. Steiner’s play pushes the inimitable Double Act to the very edge.

Sandra Bates’s production takes us deeply into Langridge’s world. She wins strong performances from the cast. Daniel Mitchell plays the straight man to Mark Kilmurry’s fall guy. Michael Ross, featuring a shaven head, plays Captain Steiner’s valet.

Brian Meegan as Captain Steiner delivers the performance of the night. He gives an incisive portrayal of a man who has gone over to the dark side and is, in a twisted, ugly way, proud of it. He declares to Johann and Otto, ‘it is a relief not to care…to have crossed the line’. Yes Captain Steiner is a monster, not grotesque and unbelievable, but credible and frightening

An Australian premiere production, Richard Langridge’s THE ACT opened at the Ensemble theatre, 78 McDougall Street, Kirribilli, on Wednesday 8th February and plays until Saturday 3rd March, 2012.

© David Kary

17th February, 2012

An edited version of this review was published in the Australian Jewish News Sydney Volume 118 Number 20.

Tags: Sydney Theatre Reviews- THE ACT, Richard Langridge, Ensemble theatre Kirribilli ,Sandra Bates, Mark Kilmurry, Daniel Mitchell, Sydney Arts Guide, David Kary, Australian Jewish News.

EVERY SINGLE SATURDAY

Maria de Marco, Christopher Horsey and Katrina Retallick. Pic Cam Feast

If you are in the mood to see some musical theatre EVERY SINGLE SATURDAY is a good choice. This is an opportunity to support local, Australian theatre which has energetic dancing, some catchy tunes and a feel good storyline.

EVERY SINGLE SATURDAY, written by Joanna Weinberg and directed by Lisa Freshwater, is about the relationships of four parents found on the sideline of a junior soccer team, the Magpies. Marco (Christopher Horsey) is the coach and former junior star who never made it in the big time, Sandy (Maria de Marco) is the team’s fitness trainer who has a struggling fitness training business. Liz (Katrina Retallick) is the glamorous & cultured single mum who clashes with the down to earth Sandy. Neil (Scott Irwin) is an international conductor who has only recently become acquainted with his ten year old son. Neil clashes with Marco as he is more focused on his music than spending precious time with his son.

As a counterpoint to these clashes alliances form. Marco & Sandy bond over common interests and perform the “Tango of Marital Disappointment”. Liz & Neil’s friendship is based on their interest in classical music.

The Magpie theme is extended by a talking magpie that links the scenes together with cute comments about the mood and the weather. He functions as a miniature black and white Greek chorus.

In good musical tradition lots of aspects of the play get twisted and turned around. Neil has no interest in sport but his son is naturally brilliant at football and has no interest in his father’s passion. The reverse happens with Carlo, who is passionate about football and has a son who wants to dance.

The audience frequently laughed at the funny lines scattered through the play and the Space Invaders’ dance is a hysterical highlight.

The production has a great look. Martin Kinnane’s lighting design is striking and Justin Nardella’s set has us in a familiar sideline setting.

This kind of musical theatre is not for everyone Some people will find this production cloying and the humour crass. It confirms stereotypes rather than challenges them. This is not high brow theatre and firmly sits within the entertainment sphere.

EVERY SINGLE SATURDAY opened at the Glen Street Theatre, Belrose on Thursday 16th February and runs until Sunday 26th February and then will play seasons at the Theatre Royal and Parramatta Riverside theatres.

© Mark Pigott

17th February, 2012

VALENTINE’S DAY DATE MOVIES 2013

Two CIA agents fight over Reece Witherspoon in THIS MEANS WAR

THIS MEANS WAR (M) is unabashed drivel from go to woe with heavy emphasis on the WOE! Pity somebody didn’t call Whoa on this pinnacle of jejune.

THIS MEANS WAR quickly becomes THIS MEANS YAWN with a pedestrian action sequence that looked like Jason Bourne on tranquilisers, as an opener.

Two crack CIA agents, one played by the bland Chris Pine, wooden surname, wooden performance, the other by Tom Hardy, a good actor obviously doing this for the money, are buddy-buddy to the point of homoerotic, which may explain Pine’s character’s repetitive root rat womanising and lack of commitment to any female except his grandmother. Hardy is more hetero, with a son and an ex.

They both fall for Reese Witherspoon and engage in puerile tax payer funded sabotage of each other. That the CIA would hire a couple of boofheads like this is frightening, but possibly all too possible.

It’s a bit of an ask for audiences to believe Reese Witherspoon can’t get a man, but when she chooses pallid Pine, THIS MEANS WAR becomes THIS MEANS WHORE!

Simon Kinberg is credited as one of the screenwriters. He was responsible for MR AND MRS SMITH, and this dog’s breakfast looks like all the stuff that was discarded from that movie, thrown out in the trash, and somehow made its way to the Murdoch recycling plant and thought suitable for a News Limited audience.

As an actioner it’s torpid, as a rom com it’s insulting. Some laughs are garnered from Chelsea Handler playing Reese’s mentor, but the material seems out of whack with the rest of the screenplay. I’d say she probably penned her stuff herself.

Director McG has all the comic flair of a bout of typhoid and under his heavy hand THIS MEANS WAR becomes THIS MEANS BORE.

From the terrible to the tolerable, THE VOW is a rom com that doesn’t pretend to be anything else and yet throws up interesting
questions about memory, the heart and the brain.

Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum in THE VOW

Sort of similar to WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING but without the scam, THE VOW has newlyweds Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum facing a seemingly insurmountable tragedy when she loses all memory of their lives together.

This is a situation that confronts many people in their later years with the onset of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Whether it is more or less tragic when it afflicts younger people is an arguable point, but there is no denying that it is catastrophic in any relationship.

Add to the mix that the girl can still come under the influence of disapproving parents and a not so old beau is sniffing and circling, then you really do feel for the dazed and confused spouse who cannot seem to persuade his soul mate that he is madly, truly, deeply.

This is similar but superior to McAdams role in THE TIME TRAVELLERS WIFE and has echoes of THE NOTEBOOK in which she starred a few years back. My favourite McAdams vehicles remain MEAN GIRLS and MIDNIGHT IN PARIS but THE VOW is a lot better than I expected. And Channing Tatum is certainly more charming and appealing than Chris Pine, who as an actor has all the charisma of the Federal Member for Sturt.

© Richard Cotter

13th February, 2012

Tags: Valentine’s Day Date Movies, Sydney Movie Reviews, THIS MEANS WAR, THE VOW, Richard Cotter, Sydney Arts Guide

THE ACT

Daniel Mitchell and Mark Kilmurry in THE ACT. Pic by Steve Lunam

This powerful, chilling play will haunt you .Underneath a thin veneer of gallows humour and bad Jewish jokes is a play that forces us to question the core of all our morals and the very existence of God.

This is the Australian premiere of Richard Langridge’s play. Set in Germany in 1943, in unusual circumstances a comedy double act must face the Gestapo and perform a political propaganda piece written for them, all the while battling stage fright and their own demons.

There is wonderful dialogue with some great set speeches that reveal the many layers of trust and friendship between Johann Frink (Daniel Mitchell) and Otto Hansen (Mark Kilmurry) .They are a duo that have been together for years and know each other’s annoying traits and endearing foibles ( although Otto does rage at Johann for being reserved and not telling him anything) .

There is also much discussion about the purpose of life, art and theatre. As part of their rehearsing for the mysterious performance we see various music hall routines- like bits of wonderful creamy physicality and various sight gags .One of their trademark routines is a running gag about a fishing rod and a balloon ‘rock’. They try to make things topical and incorporate jokes about being on the Russian front and so on.

From the opening of the play there is a sense of unease, a sense of eerie mystery – why is the performance scheduled so late? where actually are they…? .The trains, gunshots ,planes overhead and so on make both Johann and Otto and the audience very tense and jumpy ( Answers to the questions are revealed very slowly throughout the play ) .There is very effective lighting and a distinctive, imposing office set with heavy velvet curtains, stuffed animals mounted on the walls and heavy desks and chairs, all so typical of the 1940’s .

Daniel Mitchell as Johann is superb. Johann is the smaller, darker, more reserved of the duo. He’s mostly the more dignified, ‘straight man’ of the two. He has some moments of almost manic madness in Act 1 , and his defiant recitation of scripture during the bombing raid in Act 2, while in the middle of getting made up, is extremely powerful – Lear like and gripping.

As Otto, Mark Kilmurry is marvellous .The ‘fall guy’ of the two he is the one who bears the brunt of the jokes , the one who does the acrobatic trick falls , all delivered with perfect comic timing,

Over the years their relationship has developed to be almost closer than brothers. There is a very moving moment in Act 2 when Johann is revealed as a Jew (the dinner they are provided with isn’t Kosher) – how will this affect their relationship ? Can they survive the night? the war ? what will happen next?

Captain Steiner now of the SS, who used to be a friend of Otto’s, is excellently played by Brian Meegan. At first the audience is ambivalent towards him, but he emerges as the villain of the piece, charming on the outside but underneath evil and destructive : an analysis of how essentially ‘good’ people can end up doing great evil. He has a great set speech towards the end of Act 1 where he praises the efficiency of the German transport system. His unexpected brutal treatment of his valet (Michael Ross) , while ‘rehearsing’ Otto and Johann, is shocking . When hotly questioned by Johann and Otto, he declares it is a ‘relief not to care’ and opens up a whole Pandora’s box of issues by declaring ,like Nietzsche, that morals no longer exist and that God is dead.

The play he has written, and demands that Johann and Otto perform, is full of chilling racist Nazi propaganda. In an effort to survive Otto learns the lines of Steiner’s ‘ideological entertainment’ and encourages Johann to do the same, just for him to regard it professionally, simply as another job. But in this case , while yes Johann can learn the lines, he is trapped by their inflammatory meaning.

Under the inspired direction of Sandra Bates the excellent cast give terrific performances of this disturbing, challenging and very moving play,

Sandra Bates’s production of Richard Langridge’s THE ACT, running at two hours with one interval, opened at the Ensemble Theatre, 78 McDougall Street, Kirribilli, on Wednesday 8th February and runs until Saturday 3rd March, 2012.

(c) Lynne Lancaster

11th February, 2012

Tags: Sydney Theatre Reviews- THE ACT by Richard Langridge, Sydney Play Of The Week, Sandra Bates, Daniel Mitchell, Mark Kilmurry, Brian Meegan, Michael Ross, Sydney Arts Guide, Lynne Lancaster.

BEST WE FORGET

Ellen Steele and Nadia Rossi in BEST WE FORGET. Pic Nick Bowers

Totally unforgettable as I remember, BEST WE FORGET at The Old Fitzroy.

According to one of the play’s characters, I am meant to only remember 35% of what I saw.
I do remember this: walking in to the space to be confronted by a long, white table, a conference table that could just as easily be a bridal table. Two wine casks placed at one end gave extra credence to the wedding trestle image.

Two women (Ellen Steele and Nadia Rossi) were already in place behind the table, at opposite ends. A third woman, the convenor (Jude Henshall), was standing in front, telling the entering audience to feel free to partake from the casks and to be informal during the ensuing panel discussion.

She then takes centre seat behind the table and launches into a diatribe about memory and forgeting, scoring a triple A with Amnesia, Aphasia and Alzheimer’s, some other diseases beginning with A, and at least one that didn’t.

There seemed to be some female obsession with the Bourne Identity that was revisited, a brief vignette from Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, and a quote from Milan Kundera, plus personal diary readings, pie charts, graphs and slides.

Have I forgotten anything? Probably!

What I remember is an energetic presentation and depiction on the subject of memory and forgetting, a self devised piece, I imagine, from the three women collective, isthisyours?

Did I mention the Polaroids…? Or the cassette tapes…? Recorded memories serving as audio and visual prompts…?

The performance ends with a whimper rather than a bang, like fading memory rather than a flash of recognition. All over before I’d remembered to tap that cask of wine.

Isthisyours? productions opened at the Old Fitzroy theatre, corner Cathedral and Dowling streets, Woolloomooloo, on Wednesday 8th February and runs until Saturday 25th February, 2012.

© Richard Cotter

11th February, 2012

Tags- Sydney Theatre Reviews- BEST WE FORGET, Ellen Steele, Nada Rossi, Jude Henshall, isthisyours?, Richard Cotter, Sydney Arts Guide.

YOUNG ADULT

Charlize Theron as Mavis Gary in Jason Reitman’s YOUNG ADULT

Young Adult is the gleaming reteaming of the creators of JUNO.

Writer Diablo Cody, who won an Oscar for JUNO, has been overlooked by the Academy this time, even though this screenplay is just as sharp, astute, funny and sad as JUNO. Of the official contenders in the best screenplay race, I nominate BRIDESMAIDS to be a ring in over the more detailed, genuinely funny and cutting edge YOUNG ADULT. And it must be galling for director Jason Reitman to be overlooked in preference to the navel gazing Terrence Malick. Seeing that the best film nomination list has bloated out to nine, couldn’t they have made it 10? Or delete the undeserving THE TREE OF LIFE or WAR HORSE?!

Charlize Theron’s performance is arguably her best since she took home Oscar for MONSTER, but she’s been edged out by Glenn Close in the stupendously ponderous Albert Nobbs. Theron plays Mavis Gary, who as a teen was the queen of mean, now as an adult, she is a stunted prom princess.

YOUNG ADULT is a brilliant play-on-words title, because not only is Mavis Gary an immature adult, her job has been that of a writer of teenage fiction.

Instead of fiction being an edifying occupation it has been an atrophying one and Mavis is caught up in the fiction that if she returns home she can snare her high school sweetheart from the clutches of his wife and newborn.

Mavis is a delusional, alcoholic bunny boiler, who has a toy dog, and a juvenile attitude.

(c) Richard Cotter

12th February, 2012

Tags: Sydney Movie Reviews- YOUNG ADULT, Reviewer Richard Cotter, Sydney Arts Guide, Diablo Cody, Jason Reitman, Charlize Theron

SHAME

Carey Mulligan in Steve McQueen’s new film. SHAME

It appears that Oscar knows no SHAME. It has shunned this intriguingly beautiful yet confronting film. When the star from Hunger teams with the lead from An Education, you get SHAME. Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan play brother and sister in Steve McQueen’s provocative follow up to his feature film debut, HUNGER.

SHAME has been rated R for high impact sex scenes. The siblings don’t have sex with each other in the film, but they may have had an incestuous encounter previously. She says to him at one stage, “We are not bad people. We just come from a bad place.”

Their sexual lives are quite different. He, Brandon, is a satyr, besotted with anonymous sex and apparently insatiable. Real or virtual, mutual or masturbation, Brandon is addicted to his bar, fretting if he frots not, a flesh fetishist who is not fazed if the fornication is free or for a fee.

His sister, Sissy, is almost the reverse, falling deeply, madly in love with anyone she has sex with, becoming boorishly needy upon consummation, displaying the monotony of a monogamous goose.

The salaciousness of the subject of sex addiction may pull punters and conversely repel others, but this film has an undeniable beauty, depth and soul.

From the opening image of Brandon, shipwrecked in his bed sheets, staring into the void, to the fabulous tracking shot down 7th Avenue to the Garden, to the audacity of almost single shot scenes, McQueen shows a mastery of cinema technique, allowing his actors and the script to breathe.

McQueen co-wrote the screenplay with Abi Morgan, author of The IRON LADY and the recent hit television series, THE HOUR. Behind the scenes, he’s reteamed with Sean Bobbitt and Joe Walker his cinematographer and editor from Hunger.

SHAME features beautifully detailed, nuanced and natural performances throughout, but special mention must go to James Badge Dale as Brandon’s boss who has a fling with Sissy, and Nicole Beharie as Marianne, a colleague of Brandon who stirs emotional passion in him that perversely incapacitates his ability to perform.

SHAME has not been nominated for an Academy Award – as a film it is superior to both the flacid TREE OF LIFE and facile WAR HORSE, and Steve McQueen trumps both Steve Spielberg and Terence Malick as a helmer, hands down.

(c) Richard Cotter

12th February, 2012

Tags- Sydney Cinema Reviews- SHAME, Steve McQueen, Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan, Reviewer Richard Cotter, Sydney Arts Guide

CIRCUS OZ- STEAMPOWERED

Circus Oz’s new show STEAMROLLED

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, roll up, roll up for the one, the only , the brilliant and spectacular Circus Oz (drumroll please ) ….

Based in Melbourne, legendary Circus Oz has now been established for over thirty years .This latest show, STEAMPOWERED will make you want to run away and join the circus.

It is a breathtaking, bold and exuberant performance by a world class Australian cast. This show is about reclaimed technology, rewired and re-imagined for our modern world.

It’s style, ‘steampunk’ is a fantastical ‘neo-Victorian’ ( as in the era named after Her Majesty , not the garden state) time, place and ethos, where ‘new’ industrialised technology blends with romance, overlapping current ideas and invention. An imaginary history/present that never really happened – or did it?

‘If a ‘steampunk computer’ is a fully functioning laptop crafted out of rosewood, brass and faux clockwork, then a ‘steampunk circus’ is a fully functioning contemporary circus dressed in brass and leather , that’s borrowed ideas from wherever necessary’, says Artistic Director Mike Finch.

The cast perform with massive enthusiasm and pizzazz. All is under the energetic, zany control of would-be diva ring-mistress Boss Lady .
The wonderful set has a huge ‘time machine’ (well, sort of ) that powers the company and there is a ‘ blackout’ at the start of Act 2 that leads to some magical events ..

There are lots of fun costume changes , the overall concept being either soldier like ( red jackets etc ) and/or the assorted mad characters sort of timeless/sci-fi in effect.

The orchestra is led by Count Blowhard , with some of the cast members also playing assorted instruments. At times the orchestra is almost ferociously animalistic in its grooving, man. In other sections there are nifty ‘asides’ and neat pulsing rhythms. Timing is crucial (eg for the juggling with Magic Hammond and Neville in the first half and the rollerblade scene with Neville and Fantasia Fitness in Act 2 ).

There are a couple of marvellous aerial acts,- in Act 1 a fabulous duo by EAK! and Minimus Prime , who do a glorious trapeze segment , and in Act 2 there is a hilarious act that ‘goes wrong’ ( or does it ? – a brilliant build up of quirky dramatic suspense) with Doctor Spokes and EAK! – feet get caught, timing just off , balance wrong …or are they ? but it all works out terrifically .

A wonderful section in Act 1 shows off the Circus Oz trademark Chinese Pole balancing (Brasso, Chad Albinger and EAK! ).Dr Spokes has some amazing trick cycling , and mad pilot Brasso ( a.k.a Captain Bravo ) has an incredible death-defying pole balancing section and also a jaw dropping , very funny , almost impossible rolla-bolla act .

The trademark Circus Oz jumping kangaroos are not in this show. However yes there is lots of knockabout comedy , including teeter-boarding and some fabulous group tumbling/sliding particularly in Act 2 where the cast are servants supposed to be setting the table for a very elegant dinner .Some of this was quite balletic ( and note Magic Hammond is a terrific dancer and there is a delightful dance spoof in Act 1 ). This leads to some jaw-dropping brilliant displays of juggling.

Circus Oz has steamrolled into town for its eagerly anticipated Sydney visit, with a show that will have you breathlessly on the edge of your seat, wide eyed and gasping with wonder, all fired up and crying for more ! Ta da!

Circus Oz’s STEAMPOWERED, running at 2 hours including one interval, opened at Tumbalong Park Darling Harbour on Wednesday January 4 and runs until Sunday January 29, 2012.

© Lynne Lancaster

23rd January, 2012

Tags: Sydney Theatre Reviews- Circus Oz STEAMROLLED, Tumbalong Park Darling Harbour, Lynne Lancaster, Sydney Arts Guide

J.EDGAR

Leonardo DiCaprio as the troubled FBI boss, J.Edgar Hoover.

J.EDGAR (M) is Clint Eastwood’s latest biopic. He sort of did it with Nelson Mandella a few years ago with INVICTUS, and most certainly did with Charlie Parker in BIRD.

Declining to call it HOOVER in case punters thought it might be a vehicle for a vacuum, Clint took to the diminutive of his god fearing Christian names to tell the story of the SOB who headed up the FBI, J.EDGAR (M).

Clint has yet to recover his dynamo mojo of 2008 where he brought off the dazzling double of THE CHANGLING and GRAN TORINO, and his last two films have been worthy but stodgy. J.Edgar makes it a tubby hat trick.

Academy award winning screenwriter of MILK, Dustin Lance Black, has constructed a confusing script about the disconsolate gangster-busting dragster, and one wonders whether Clint is uncomfortable with cross dressing – a remnant from THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT where Jeff Bridges upstaged Mr. Eastwood by frocking up.

The unhappy camper is played by Leonardo DiCaprio with a bulldog earnestness and prosthetics that made me think I was watching J. Winston rather than J. Edgar. Performance wise, Leonardo seems to be channeling Jack Nicholson.

The cruelest make-up make-over is reserved for Armie Hammer, the Adonis cast in the role of Hoover’s alleged secret lifelong love, Clyde Tolson, who appears to be punished for his handsomeness by being made look particularly ugly.

Interestingly, the jingoistic J.Edgar made me patriotic. The best things in the film are Australian. Naomi Watts as Hoover’s devoted secretary Helen Gandy is the epitome of stoic poise.

Also Damon Herriman as the Lindburgh kidnapper, Bruno Hauptman – although he bears an uncanny resemblance to Glenn Close and I briefly thought that Albert Nobbs had migrated from Ireland to America and resumed her impersonating skills.

And Ashley Irwin superbly conducts and orchestrates Clint’s cool, tinkling score.

© Richard Cotter

21 January, 2012

Tags: Sydney Movie Reviews- J.EDGAR, Clint Eastwood, Dustin Lance Black, Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer, Naomi Watts, Damon Herriman, Ashley Irwin, Richard Cotter, Sydney Arts Guide.

ORDINARY DAYS

Rcahel Beck and Erica Lovell in Darlo’s latest, ORDINARY DAYS

Fresh and vibrant, this is a delightful, elegant and witty intimate ‘chamber musical’, a wonderful way to start this year’s season at Darlinghurst Theatre.

With music and lyrics by Adam Gwon, wonderful Squabbalogic (who brought us [Title of show]) now bring us this Australian premiere. Director Grace Barnes has assembled a fabulous cast that gives very strong, finely tuned performances.

The show follows the story of four New Yorkers whose lives intersect on swarming streets and quiet rooftops as they embark on a quest for self discovery and fulfillment, happiness, love and elusive taxis. As in one of the songs of the show, ‘The Big Picture’, ORDINARY DAYS celebrates the way millions of individual stories can be interwoven in unexpected ways to make life an extraordinary journey.

We see the interlocking lives of the four characters: one of the younger two is geeky, nerdy Warren ( brilliant Jay James-Moody) , who is house and cat sitting for a rebellious artist .He finds touchy grad student Deb’s (marvelous Erica Lovell) notebook with all her work for her thesis on Virginia Woolf. They organise to meet at the Metropolitan Museum of Art .Deb is very stressed , yet confident within herself – until her supervising professor criticises her latest installment of work( her ‘I don’t want to be here’ and ‘Calm’ almost stop the show).

Meanwhile, we also meet the lovely Claire (excellent Rachael Beck) and her very toothily tall, handsome boyfriend Jason (Michael Falon) .They are struggling to cement their relationship and work out what is happening , especially when Jason first moves in ( ‘The Space Between’) . Jason is trying to establish himself in New York and Claire’s heart, and Claire can’t quite let go of her past (‘Let Things Go’).

All four of them end up at the Met on a Saturday afternoon – their characters interconnect and their ‘ordinary days’ end up being a tangle of conflict, loss , uncertainty and the search for the meaning of life. We see how an individual can feel worthless and insignificant, and yet simultaneously have an unconscious life changing effect on someone else.

Gwon’s lyrics are humorous, smart and satirical. Lovell’s Deb has great fun with writing emails to her supervising professor requesting an extension for her thesis work, and a very complicated order at Starbucks, not to mention becoming lost and extremely exasperated at the Met!. Claire has a momentary almost nervous breakdown ( ‘Gotta Get Out’ ).There is a daring , heart-warming moment for Warren and Deb ( ‘ Rooftop Duet’) that flows to ‘I’ll Be Here’ for Claire – which is extremely beautiful and moving ,again showing how a small interaction can change lives.

James Browne’s set designs are contemporary minimalist; Mondrian like reflecting sliding glass doors/windows with some movable benches and tables. All this is complimented by Sian James-Holland’s excellent , delightfully atmospheric lighting .

Paul Geddes as musical director is sparkling on the piano, complete with small Statue of Liberty.

ORDINARY DAYS is no ordinary musical. The show’s running time is 90 minutes without interval.

Adam Gwon’s ORDINARY DAYS opened at the Darlinghurst Theatre on Thursday 19th January, 2012 and runs until Sunday 19th February, 2012.

© Lynne Lancaster

28th January, 2012

Tags: Sydney Theatre Reviews- ORDINARY DAYS, Adam Gwon, Grace Barnes, Jay James- Moody, Erica Lovell, Rachel Beck, Michael Falon, James Browne, Sian James-Holland, Paul Geddes, Lynne Lancaster, Sydney Arts Guide.

THYESTES

I wasn’t a fan of Simon Stone’s production of THYESTES currently playing at Redfern’s Carriageworks.

The story follows twin brothers Thyestes (Thomas Henning) and Atreus (Mark Winter) who jealously murder their half-brother Chrysippus (Chris Ryan, who then adopts a range of female characters for the rest of the piece), as he is too much favoured by their father, the king. The pair are exiled to another kingdom, which they alternately rule, until envy taps them on the shoulder and the unholy scheming begins anew, leading to the hideous outcome for which the piece is known: the killing by one brother of the other’s sons and the feeding of those sons to their father.

This was one of those torrid, exacting, harrowing, gross out, confronting nights at the theatre that I could have done without.

I mean what was Simon Stone trying to do here, really! I’m trying to figure out where he was coming from with this piece…Maybe the bottom line was that he was trying to out Kosky Kosky, the former enfant terrible of Australian theatre. I was kind of surprised, that no-one walked out of the theatre.

The biggest plus of the night for me was the set. It was a knockout. The white painted scene was like in a frame with the audience facing each other from either wise. The many scene changes were quickly managed with digital surtitles running at the top and the bottom of the stage.

This Hayloft Project’s (Australia) production of THYESTES, co-written by Simon Stone, Thomas Henning, Chris Ryan and Mark Winter after Seneca’s tragedy, opened at Carriageworks on Wednesday January 18 and runs until Sunday February 19, 2012.

© David Kary

24th January, 2012

Tags: Sydney Theatre Reviews- THYESTS, Seneca, Simon Stone, Thomas Henning, Chris Ryan, Mark Winter, Carriageworks, Sydney Festival 2012, David Kary, Sydney Arts Guide.

TURANDOT

A scene from the current revival of TURANDOT

Bold, vivid and startlingly original this is a spectacular revival of the excellent Graeme Murphy production.
Puccini’s opera was left incomplete at his death in 1924 and was finished by his colleague Franco Alfano in 1926.

It is a mythical tale set in China. Prince Calaf falls in love at first sight with the cold, ruthless Princess Turandot, daughter of the Emperor. To obtain permission to marry her, a would-be suitor has to solve the three riddles she has set – but beware, a wrong answer results in death. Calaf solves all three riddles , but Turandot is still extremely hesitant. He offers her a loophole: he agrees to die at dawn if she can discover his name.

This is a visually stunning production with fabulous designs by Kristian Fredrickson and dramatic yet delicate lighting by John Drummond Montgomery.

The concept of the fan , as concealing curtain, as veil , as an item that can be invitingly displayed and then snapped shut and taken away , is a recurring visual motif throughout the production. Much use is made of wonderful Peking Opera like makeup, especially, for instance, for Ping Pang and Png and the ‘lion’ like very threatening bare chested executioner. There is also use of Peking Opera/Kabuki like symbolism in, for example, the use of the red ribbons for the death of the Prince of Persia. There is also complicated use of ‘koken’. There are some wonderful mask like designs for the moon.

Choreographically, there are huge writhing swirls of movement .The chorus as crowds in the city ripple, seethe, withdraw and open out in dramatic procession. (Murphy also uses this most effectively in his later AIDA returning in the winter season). There are also hints of his POPPY in the bell-like choreography at one point for Ping, Pang and Pong in Act 3 and his SALOME in the temptations that Calaf is offered in the same scene.

As the imperious, icy princess Turandot, Susan Foster was most impressive. She contrasts dramatic power and towering presence in her entrance and riddle scene , stark but with plush vibrato, with more subtle phrasing in the Act 3 love duet, emphasizing the transforming effect of Calaf’s persistent yearning for her .When she wears the enveloping veil in Act 3 are we meant to think of Myrthe in GISELLE?!

Rosario La Spina’s strong, powerful voice is perhaps more suited to the lyrical Italianate repertoire, and his Calaf was possibly a trifle lukewarm, but his ‘Nessun Dorma’ in particular was excellently sung.

As the gentle, true Liu, who sacrifices her all for love, Daria Masiero has an an active vibrato in Act 1 combined with melting pianissimi in Act 3 contrasted with poignant colour in her darker , dramatically lyrical ‘sacrifice’ scene in Act 3.
Jud Arthur’s Biblical looking Timur was very dramatically effective especially in Act 3 with his sad farewell of Liu.
As the court officials Ping ,Pang and Pong, Andrew Moran , Graeme Macfarlane and David Corcoran all brought tremendous musical versatility and dramatic presence to their roles : the extended opening scene they have in Act 3 works brilliantly with wonderful use of Chinese bamboo screens.

In the supporting roles Warwick Fyfe was chillingly strong as the Mandarin. Warren Fisher as the mountainous, bell-like Emperor was hugely, darkly imposing.

The Opera Australia Chorus and the children’s chorus under the direction of Anthony Hunt and Francis Greep gave excellent performances as the oppressed and terrified Peking citizens, weary of the bloodthirstiness of Turandot’s savage rule. Their singing was thunderous or lyrically musing and caressing, with great dynamic control, particularly at the end of each act. the children’s chorus was delightfully sweet.

Conductor Arvo Volmer brought out the contrasting textures and highlights of Puccini’s lush score, an unusual mix of dissonance and lyricism.

A very strong, most exciting production that after twenty years, is still gripping and powerful.

This production runs for 3 hours for 3 hours including two intervals.

Opera Australia’s production of TURANDOT opened at the Opera Theatre, Sydney Opera House on Tuesday 17th January and plays until Monday 19th March, 2012.

© Lynne Lancaster

26th January, 2012

Tags: Sydney Opera Reviews- TURANDOT, Opera Theatre Sydney Opera House, Graeme Murphy,Puccini, Kristian Fredrickson, John Drummond Montgomery, Susan Foster, Roserio La Spine, Daria Massiero, Jud Arthur, Andrew Moran, Graeme Macfarlane, David Corcoran, Warwick Fyfe, Warren Fisher, Anthony Hunt, Francis Greep. Arvo Volmer, Sydney Arts Guide, Lynne Lancaster.

TERRA NOVA

A scene from the Genesian’s current revival of TERRA NOVA

For their first production for 2012, and to commemorate the centenary of Scott’s expedition, the Genesian Theatre Company’s current show is a revival of American playwright Ted Tally’s play, TERRA NOVA (1977). Tally’s play recounts the famous story of British navy-man Captain Robert Scott’s fated expedition, of the same name, in 1911 to the South Pole, where he attempted to be the first man to put his country’s flag on land.

This is a huge man against nature story and as I was watching Mark Langham’s very competent, and well performed production unfold, on a great set designed by Owen Gimblett, I kept on thinking that this isn’t really working me, that I don’t feel like I’m being taken into Scott’s challenging, at times hellish world.

I know I’ve been spoiled over my theatre-going years! I’ve seen so many contemporary, cutting edge productions where different forms of media, including reverberating sound, video, slideshows and lighting are used to such telling effect. They really make you feel like you are there!

It doesn’t help when Langham only had the Genesian’s tiny stage to work with, not to mention the constraints of a community theatre budget! Perhaps,and there is a whole debate here, big, experiential productions are best left to the major theatre companies who can use the latest technical effects?!

I kept on reflecting of how the Genesian’s previous production, Timothy Bennett’s revival of Oscar Wilde’s classic comedy, AN IDEAL HUSBAND, was so much more suited to this venue, and more the kind of theatre that this Company does well.

All credit goes to the hard work of a very capable cast; Roger Gimblett as Scott, Flora Mine as his devoted wife, Kathleen, Tom Massey as his rival Amundsen, James Moir as the quiet Dr Wilson, Sam Ryan as the rowdy Lieutenant Birdie Bowers, Michael Sydes as the ailing Petty Officer Evans, and Jack Wieczorek as the vigorous Captain Titus Oates.

The Genesian Theatre Company’s production of Ted Tally’s TERRA NOVA opened at the Genesian Theatre, 420 Kent street, Sydney on Saturday 14th January and plays until Saturday 4th February, 2012.

© David Kary

25th January, 2012

Tags: Sydney theatre reviews- TERRA NOVA, Playwright- Ted Tally, Genesian Theatre Company, Mark Langham, Owen Gimblett, Michael Schell, Roger Gimblett, Tom Massey, Flora Milne, James Moir, Sam Ryan, Michael Sydes, Jack Wieczorek, Sydney Arts Guide. David Kary.

A HISTORY OF EVERYTHING

Tahks Saul in A HISTORY OF EVERYTHING. Pic Brett Boardman

A HISTORY OF EVERYTHING, directed by Alexander Devriendt, is an innovative production from the Belgian Theatre Company, Ontroerend Goed.

The title says it all with ‘Everything’ going back to the big bang,albeit in a condensed form with the production running less than two hours.

The seven performers describe various events to the audience starting from the present and then working backwards. Some of the events, such as the Asian tsunami, are significant whereas others are as trivial as Katy Perry’s eyebrows. A birth may be significant to an individual but of only passing interest to others.

Wars are an ongoing event, shifting in nature as time recedes. There is the Middle East conflict, there are wars ended by atomic bombs, there are colonial wars and there are religious wars.

Some aspects of humanities’ magnificence are shown through the recreation of renaissance artworks, scientific discoveries and the wisdom of the philosophers.

The narrative goes further back to human migration, the start of agriculture and to chimpanzees. Tectonic plates shift and we are reminded of how short human history is and how brief human existence may be.

There is a credit to fragments of SUM by David Eagleman. Eagleman is neither an atheist nor a believer but is open to possibilities. A HISTORY OF EVERYTHING considers many possibilities and leads the audience into thoughtful consideration of weighty matters. This production somehow manages to do this as gentle entertainment!

The cast is reported in the program as collaborating on the text. The cast including Cameron Goodall, Charlotte de Bruyne, Joeri Smet, Karolien de Bleser, Nathalie Verbeke, Tahki Saul and Zindzi Okenyo perform at a consistently high standard with gravity and integrity when required and humour when appropriate.

Highly recommended, A HISTORY OF EVERYTHING, a co-production of the Sydney Theatre Company, Ontroerend Goed and Sydney Festival production, opened at Wharf 2, Sydney Theatre Company on Tuesday 17th January and runs until Sunday 5th February, 2012.

© Mark Pigott

23rd January, 2012

Tags: SYDNEY PLAY OF THE WEEK, Sydney Theatre Reviews- A HISTORY OF EVERYTHING, Wharf 2, Sydney Theatre Company, Ontroerend Goed- Belgium Theatre Company, Alexander Devriendt, SUM- David Eagleman, Cameron Goodall, Charlotte de Bruyne, Joeri Smet, Karolien de Bleser, Nathalie Verbeke, Tahki Sanl, Zindzi Okenyo, Mark Pigott, Brett Boardman, Sydney Arts Guide.

MEOW MEOW’S ‘LITTLE MATCH GIRL

MEOW MEOW at the Spiegeltent

I wasn’t a fan of Meow Meow’s latest show LITTLE MATCH GIRL, after Hans Christian Anderson’s 1845 fairy-tale, performed in Hyde Park’s famous Spiegeltent.

It was just something about the style of presentation that didn’t feel right to me. Here was this show that was supposed to be about really serious subjects like youth homelessness and other ills within society and yet Meow Meow came across as mixed up, glib and cynical and half the time she spent trying to flog her new compact disc.

Too many times I’ve seen shows start with performers carrying on about being let down by technical malfunctions when it is just a way into their performance. Meow Meow carried on about how the power within the Spiegeltent had failed and that’s why she had to use battery operated s and miner’s lights and I though oh no, please don’t go there!

Meow Meow has a great voice and she can deliver a tender ballad, she had a great band with musicians Lance Horne, Xani Kolac, Stephen Fitzgerald and James Manson, still LITTLE MATCH GIRL failed to make a lasting impression.

Malthouse Theatre Company’s production of Meow Meow’s LITTLE MATCH GIRL, created by Meow Meow and Ian Grandage, performed by Meow Meow and Mitchell Butel, and directed by Marion Potts, opened at the famous Spiegeltent, Hyde Park, on Thursday January 5 and runs until Sunday January 29, 2012.

© David Kary

Tags: Sydney Theatre Reviews- MEOW MEOW’S LITTLE MATCH GIRL, the famous Spiegeltent, Hyde Park, Meow Meow, Ian Grandage, Marion Potts, Mitchell Butel.

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