From Chekhov With Love

Lynden Jones, Melissa Armstrong and Chris Lewis in ‘The Jubilee’

Steam Productions triple bill of short Chekhov plays, under the umbrella title, ‘From Chekhov With Love’ makes for a relaxed, humorous night at the theatre.

In ‘The Jubilee’, (director Gavin Williams), Lynden Jones plays a pompous bank manager in a buoyant mood about to deliver a speech to members in celebration of the bank’s 15th anniversary. Unfortunately, everything goes wrong. His clerk, despite not having slept for three nights, still hasn’t finished writing the speech. His wife expectantly comes back from holidays and is full of stories that he doesn’t have time for. A petulant, middle aged woman storms into his office, demanding compensation for her husband being sacked by the company he worked for. In the end, Lynden Jones’s Andry Andryeevich is as stressed and frazzled looking as John Cleese on his worst day.

There’s a great twist in the beautifully crafted, ‘The Bear’ (director Jerome Pride). Sylvia Keays plays recently widowed Elena who, out of respect for her late husband, has become a hermit. Her servant Luka (Dave Kirkham) is worried as to what will become of her. Then onto the scene comes landowner Gregori who has come to see her because of a debt her late husband owes him. Elena tells him that he’ll have to wait to be paid and that riles him. As they fight and squabble and threaten to duel with each other, Gregori becomes impressed by Elena’s feisty approach!

In ‘The Proposal'(director Jerome Pride), Laura Turner plays Natalya, a lonely, assertive young woman who tarries and trades blows with her middle aged, rich landowner neighbour., Lomov. That is until her exasperated father Stepan tells her that Lomov was intending to propose to her. Then, all of a sudden, Natalya is as sweet as pie!

Wrapping up, this evening that was a lovely mix of Chekhov’s astute, wry observations of character together with scenarios filled with surprises and reversals. Each of the three vignettes were well played, and warmly directed.

My tip. Snap this ticket up! Breezy, light hearted theatre nights aren’t that easy to come by. ‘From Chekhov With Love’ plays the Newtown theatre corner King and Bray streets, Newtown until Saturday 4th September, 2010.

Between Us

Ben Mortley, Katherine Cullen, Damian de Montemas and Caroline Craig . Pic- Natalie Boog

New York playwright Joe Hortua’s 2004 play ‘Between Us’ explores familiar dramatic territory, charting the story of people who see the dreams and vitality of their youth come up against the tough realities of adult life and responsibility.

As fellow photographic students at college, Joel and Carlo were best friends with lofty dreams for their future. They spent a lot of time hanging out together with their respective girlfriends, Sharyl and Grace. Time has marched on, and the guys have married their gals. Joel has a lucrative career in advertising whilst Carlo looks set to get his big break, being featured in an important New York photographic exhibition. Joel and Sharyl have recently had their first child.

The play kicks off with a dinner party that Joel and Sharyl have organized for Carlo and Grace. The dinner reveals that the carefree days of college are well and truly a thing of the past, and Joel and Sharyl constantly argue. Sharyl flippantly tells Carlo and Grace, ‘we’re getting a divorce. Let’s have dessert’. In another memorable aside, Sharyl says, ‘God I hate dinner parties! Always, all this emotional baggage comes to the surface’.

At one point, the couple tell Carlo and Grace that they were going to make a sculpture of them to put in their garden,
depicting the perfect, happy couple. By the play’s end the audience knows that their idealisation of their friends marriage is far from the truth.

Jennifer Don’s sensitive production serves Hortua’s poignant drama well. The play’s central theme, exposing the different personalities that even close friends and intimates have, comes across well.

Don wins good performances from a great young cast. Damien de Montemas gives an intense performance as the passionate, brooding Joel with Caroline Craig impressing as his volatile but protective wife, Sharyl.

Ben Mortley plays the good natured but a bit inflexible Carlo, and Katherine Cullen is his straight-shooting, forthright wife, Grace.

The first half of the play simmers along but after interval, some time later, when Joel and Sharyl make an impromptu visit to Carlo and Grace’s home, the action boils over, and the cast powerfully bring the play home.

Colin Mitchell’s detailed set is a highlight. He, in effect, has to design two sets for Hortua’s play- before interval, we are in the spacious, ultra-modern living room of Joel and Sharyl, after interval we are in Grace and Carlo’s cluttered New York apartment.

Recommended, Jennifer Don’s production of Joe Hortua’s ‘Between Us’ plays the Ensemble Theatre, 78 McDoougall Street, Kirribilli until Saturday, 4th September, 2010.

Woyzeck

Michael Piggott and Anthony Hunt in ‘Woyzeck. Pic-Patrick Boland

Young Israeli director Netta Yaschin’s fresh, vital revival of German playwright Georg Buchner’s classic 19th century drama ‘Woyzeck’ is the latest play in Belvoir’s B Sharp 2010 season.

The protagonist in Buchner’s play, first performed in Munich in 1913, is Frank Woyzeck, a poor, working class soldier stationed in a provincial German town, living wth his girlfriend Marie and young child, born out of wedlock. In order to make ends meet he undertakes numerous menial jobs including being a barber for the garrulous local captain and agreeing to take part in a series of medical experiments performed by a very cold hearted, officious Doctor. Woyzeck’s fatal flaw is his possessiveness and jealousy, and after the Captain and the Doctor taunt him that another man’s beard hair has been found in his soup bowl, Woyzeck flies into a jealous rage, much like Othello does when the handkerchief is discovered in Desdemona’s quarters in Shakespeare’s classic tragedy.

Above all, Buchner’s play was revolutionary for its time, in presenting a main character/a tragic hero who was a poor, working class man, rather than a member of royalty or someone with a similarly high position in society.

New Directions- Week 4- Double Bill

Newtown’s New Theatre concluded its New Direction program with two fast paced cutting edge plays that take a hard hitting, confronting look at some of the different ways life can be lived in contemporary society.

A scene from Richter’s ‘Electronic City’. Pic by Bob Seary

The evening started with German playwright Falk Richter’s play ‘Electronic City’. In ‘Electronic City’ two young people, Tom and Joy, meet at an airport lounge, fighting over who would get the last ticket on a flight soom to leave for Berlin. They are arrested and briefly locked up together. They discover that they have feelings for each other, and as they go on and lead their separate and chaotic lives, they strive to find the time to spend time together

Richter’s play incisively portrays a world where everyone is stressed out, where no-one has any spare time, and as the play’s title suggests, where people are at the mercy of amongst other things, computers, mobile phones, scanners, in short, the electronic city.

The piece was well directed by Ngaire O’Leary, with good performances by the leads, Felix Joseps as the super stressed consultant, Tom, and Megan Holloway as the cute, ditzy Joy.

Doug Hansell as the grotesque Fatboy. Pic- Bob Seary

After a twenty minute the grotesque Fatboy and his monstrous wife, Queen Fudgie the First stormed the stage in American playwright John Clancy’s razor sharp political satire, ‘Fatboy’. There are still some tyrants that walk this earth, and Clancy’s portrait sends chills up the spine.

The scenario has Fatboy and Fudgie standing trial for war crimes, and despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the court refuses to convict Fatboy and succumbs to his bullying tactics.

Clancy’s play takes us deep into the dark, brutish world of charismatic tyrants. Director Scott Selkirk created an eerie, darkly comic experience with Dynae Wood’s make-up and Talina Cruz’s costume very much coming to the fore. Doug Hansell and Jennifer White were in great form as the mocking couple.

The Double Bill of Richter’s ‘Electronic City’ and Clancy’s ‘Fatboy’ played the New Theatre, 542 King Street, Newtown between the 4th and the 7th August, 2010.

Undercover Lawyer

Nastassja Djalog, Mark McCann and Tricia Youlden in ‘Undercover Lawyer’

Master chef of the comic twist, and sometimes legal eagle, Tony Laumberg whips up a comic storm with his new play, ‘Undercover Lawyer’.

‘Undercover Lawyer’ sees the return of the playwright’s most popular characters, the ever feuding St Ives couple, pompous CBD lawyer, Henry and his perpetually inebriated wife, Margaret. This time the couple are the puppets of ASIO. Their strings are pulled to and fro by two quirky ASIO opertatives, the attractive and alluring Pamela Goodbody, and the mysterious, suave Roger Sinclair. The question becomes will Henry and Margaret be able to break free from the clutches of ASIO, and return to their ordinary, bland and quarrelsome lives?!

The play’s main ingredients are the byplay betweem Henry and Margaret, the tomfoolery of the ASIO operatives, a clever plot that has plenty of twists and turns, and most of all the comic antics of ASIO suspect and Henry’s next door neighbour, Charlie Dickens. It’s an inspired recipe and makes for an entertaining spy spoof.

Richard Cotter is again in the director’s chair, his 10th play with Laumberg, and helms the fast paced production with a light but sure touch. For the first time in their collobaration, Cotter also takes part in the action, playing the trench-coated Roger Sinclair.

Mark McCann and Tricia Youlden effortlessly reprise their roles of Henry and Margaret. They have got their characters down to a fine art. Nastassja Djalog makes for a sexy secret agent, Pamela Goodbody. Daniel Felkai steals the show as animal psychic Charlie Dickens and his scenes when he gets in touch with pets on the other side are hysterical.

All is not what it seems in ‘Undercover Lawyer’! In fact, very little is what it appears to be in Laumberg’s zany, spy versus spy comedy.

Recommended, ‘Undercover Lawyer’ plays the Tap Gallery, 278 Palmer Street, Darlinghurst until Sunday 29th August, 2010.

The Dog Logs

Arpad Horvath in ‘The Dog Logs’. Pic by Ray Watts

The current Double Bill at Werrington’s intimate Henry Lawson Theatre, Rhonda Hancock’s ‘Catnips’ and Christopher Johnson’s ‘The Dog Logs’ is an animal lovers delight and a crowd pleaser.

The plays are celebrations of the colourful and distinctive personalities of our four legged friends. The actors, under Pam Pickard’s warm direction, played their feline and canine roles with uninhibited, high spirits.

In Hancock’s prelude cat show, Sascha Hall, Leanne Caton and Liz Stramandinoli played three furry creatures, (Missy, Bella and Muffin), and conveyed much of the mixture of qualities that cats possess; their sweetness and charm, their moodiness, petulance and languidness.

The main event, ‘The Dog Logs’ featured a cast of seven, many playing multiple roles, and had plenty of good moments. The show was dominated by two turbo charged, charismatic performances by Daniel Elvidge and Arpad Horvath.

Daniel Elvidge ran riot as the lovable, manic Jack, the Jack Russell Terrier, bopping and weaving everywhere, determined to get everyone’s attention. Elvidge also played Sparky the Kelpie, explaining his strategy in rounding up sheep, and Munga, the Dingo, who appeared out of nowhere and said, ‘I did it’, a comic throwaway reference to Australia’s famous Azaria Chamberlain case.

Arpad Horvath leapt back and forth across the stage as the over eager, quirky greyhound, Savoir Faire. Savoir Faire’s whole world revolved around how he could get his mouth around that ever-elusive rabbit.

Graham Fairbrother was a hit with the audience with his comic turn in duel roles as the style king and queen, Alfred and Talullah Afghan.

Daniel Whalen’s portrayal of Borys the Rottweiler pulled a few heartstrings with Borys realising that his innate aggressive nature would inevitably bring him undone.

Sheep chasing kelpies, rabbit chasing greyhounds, loyal labradors…I was waiting for my favourite dog story to come up…about the life saving German Shepherd that used to warn his owner when he saw people contemplating suicide off the Gap at Watsons Bay but alas no. Perhaps that’s one for the next set of dog stories.

Pam Prickard’s production of the double bill Christopher Johnson’s ‘The Dogs Logs’ and Rhonda Hancock’s ‘Catnips’ plays the Henry Lawson theatre, based within the Henry Lawson Club, Henry Lawson Avenue, Werrington until Friday 13th August, 2010.

New Directions Play 3: The Big One

Kelly-Smith Holbourn, Danny Gubbay, Rich Knighton and David McLaughlin in ‘The Big One’. Pic- Bob Seary

They called it ‘The Big One’. A few minutes after midnight on Good Friday, 24 March 1989, an environmental disaster occurred the consequences of which are still felt today. When a massive Exxon tanker spilled its cargo of crude oil off the coast of Valdez, Alaska, the devastation was catastrophic.

Valdez musician and playwright Dick Reichman’s wrote a play about the environmental disaster, and how its affected his home town and country, titled ‘The Big One’. Newtown’s New Theatre is performing Reichman’s play, its first international production, as part of its 2010 New Directions ‘little season of big ideas’ program.

This was a fine piece of documentary dramatic writing, with the big themes, corporate greed and deception, the fallibility of human beings in trying to avert environmental disasters, and the way that personal issues can have wide ranging, devastating repercussions.

‘The Big One’ was well served by Rosane McNamara’s clear, well paced production. McNamara wins good performances from her cast. The pick of the cast were Frank McNamara as the Exxon’s captain, Barry French as a Coastal Guard operator and Kelly Smith-Holbourn as a Valdez waitress with plenty of personality and fortitude.

The production featured good, clear staging with Adam Chantler’s set design dominated by large, flanking icebergs.

Rosane McNamara’s production represented the play’s first international production. Reichman flew up to Sydney to see it, and was well pleased with this fine production. ‘The Big One’ played the New Theatre, 542 King Street, Newtown between the 28th and the 31st of July, 2010.

New Directions: Play 2- ‘The Chekhov Term

Andre Jewson looks on as Rachel Perk and David Ligudzinski smooch. Pic Bob Seary

Australian playwright Sam Atwell’s play ‘The Chekhov Term’, the second play in the New Theatre’s current New Directions program, is a contemporary four hander capturing four young people Alex, Jo, Anna and Rire at the prime of their lives, doing drama school and communal living in Brisbane. Their current term sees them ensconced in the work of Anton Chekhov and they find that the words and the wisdom of the great Russian playwright carries plenty of resonance for them in their own lives.

In Chekhov’s classic play ‘The Three Sisters’ Olga dreams of living the provincial township and getting to Moscow. In ‘The Chekhov Term’ Alex’s and Jo’s ambition is to leave what they see as the sleepy hollow of Brisbane and to pursue their acting dreams in the big smoke of Sydney.

Johann Walraven directs with a light, wry touch that works well. The cast give relaxed performances. The play opens with the two men, Alex and Jo, sharing a bong, an unceremonious but very believable way of Atwell introducing us to the world of young people sharing a communal household!

Andre Jewson and David Ligudzinski work together well as the two likely guys, Alex and Jo, friends who share the same passions for theatre and for enjoying beers and having a good time with the girls.

Rachel Peck does some good work as Jo’s moody girlfriend Anna whom Alex also has feelings for. Zoe Balbi is a seductive presence as Rire, Jo’s acting sparring partner whom Jo also beds!

Adam Chantler’s set is a comprehensive depiction of a modern share household. The bathroom is represented via a shower cubicle, kitchen re a kitchen sink, and dining room re a dining room table and chairs. The most interesting design concept was the representation of the bedroom area re a frequently used double bed standing up against the back wall, which sees the cast do some interesting work.

A poignant, wistful new Australian play, ‘The Chekhov Term’ played the New Theatre, 413 King Street, Newtown between the 21st and the 24th of July, 2010.

The God Committee

Emotions run high around the conference table. Pic by Steve Lunam

American playwright Mark St. Germain’s drama ‘The God Committee’, similar in style to Reginald Rose’s classic 1956 play ‘Twelve Angry Men’, is the current production playing at Sydney’s Ensemble Theatre.

Both these plays feature a group of people, comprising very different personalities, meeting formally and having to reach an agreement on a critical matter. In the case of ‘The God Committee’ seven health care professionals, based at the St Patrick’s Metropolitan Hospital, have to choose which of four chronically ill patients are get the one donor heart that has become available. As in ‘Twelve Angry Men’ the clock is ticking fast, in this instance the Doctors have to make a decision within the hour or the donor heart will no longer be viable.

Andrew Doyle’s current production is a worthy Australian premiere of St. Germain’s thought provoking play. In particular, the play looks at the criteria Doctors use in coming to such major decisions. Factors such as a patients good character and social support network come in to play as much as their physical constitution.

Doyle’s direction is well paced, clear and focused, and in touch with the many nuances in the writing. The cast keep the intensity up for what is a heavy duty 80 minutes of theatre. As the time counts down conflicts brew and boil over.

Deborah Galanos’s grieving psychiatrist Dr Ann Ross has a stoush with priest Father Charles Dunbar (Noel Hodda) over whether her daughter would be in hell after having committed suicide. Rachael Coopes plays young, idealistic medic Dr Keira Banks who tries to get some compassion out of the stern and steely cardiologist Dr Alex Gorman.

Robert Alexander plays the head of the Committee, battling ill health and intent on leaving a lasting legacy. Peter Turnbull is the eccentric, well meaning social worker who carries with him a toolbox of one liners, and sees himself as a bit of a comedian, trying to lighten the atmosphere up.

Colin Mitchell’s staging works well. The cast play around a long conference table and are shadowed by wall portraits of distinguished medical fellows of St Patricks. Also, in the background, is an office window that looks out at the New York cityscape.

Recommended, Andrew Doyle’s production of Mark St Germain’s ‘The God Committee’ plays the Ensemble Theatre, 78 McDougall Street, Kirribilli until August 29, 2010.

New Directions Play 1: ‘Crooked’

Lib Campbell and Sarah Blackstone in ‘Crooked’. Pic Bob Seary

Newtown’s New Theatre started its annual New Directions program on the front foot with its production of ‘Crooked’, a meaty play by young American playwright Catherine Trieschmann.

In ‘Crooked’, Trieschmann captures her main character, fourteen years old Laney in the full throes of a particularly challenging adolescence. Her mum and her return to their hometown in Oxford, Mississippi after her mum has just gone through a difficult divorce. She contends with a niggly relationship with her mum, a difficult time adjusting to her new high school, and her own fertile imagination. Laney carries with her a determination that she will become a great writer.

Life appears to take a brighter turn for Laney when she makes a new school friend, Maribel, a warm hearted, deeply religious girl, a few years older than her. Their friendship, however, only ends up raising further issues when in one tumultuous day, at Maribel’s church, Laney not only finds God but kisses Maribel smack on the mouth!

There are other themes, issues around mental health, the use of religion as a form of escapism, however; above all, ‘Crooked’ is a very wry and astute portrait of adolescence.

In one wonderful scene Laney announces to her bemused mother Elise that, after her epiphany with Maribel, she is now not only saved but realises that she is gay. Laney declares that she has found herself as a ‘holiness lesbian’ and announces that she plans to write her memoirs so that, ‘other 14 year old holiness lesbians will read them and will no longer feel alone’. She tells off her mother for not being prepared to support her lifestyle decision!

Towards the play’s end things do unravel quite badly for Laney, but she is always engaging. Lib Campbell, perhaps best known for being the co-host of Channel Nine’s afternoon kids show ‘The Shak’, is terrific as Laney in what, by any terms, is an awesome role. Sarah Blackstone gives a good performance as her freaky friend Maribel who stridently believes that she has invisible stigmata. Elly Goodman does well in the, comparatively speaking, bland role of an average sort of mum, faced with multiple stresses.

Adam Chantler’s set divides the action into three distinct areas. Stage left, marked by a balustrade, is the entrance to the family home, centre stage is the family’s living room, and stage right, is the school playground area.

Nastassja Djalog’s production of Catherine Trieschmann’s ‘Crooked’ played the New Theatre, 413 King Street Newtown between the 14th to the 17th July,2010

A COUPLE OF POOR, POLISH SPEAKING ROMANIANS- Reviewer David Kary

Mairead Berne and Neil Phipps. Pic- Bob Seary

Are you in the mood to see something very left field, a bit disturbing and even more outrageous? Then the new offering at the Newtown Theatre, young Polish playwright Dorota Maslowska’s debut play, ‘A Couple Of Poor. Polish-Speaking Romanians’ (translation by Benjamin Paloff, adaptation by Lisa Goldman and Paul Sirett) will fit the bill!

The play has been well described as, ‘its Hunter S. Thompson meets the Sex Pistols on a fast-paced road trip to the darkest reaches of your worst nightmare’.

Parcha and Dzina are two indulgent young people who meet at a fancy dress rave party in Warsaw, Poland. Parcha is a ruffian who has a job as an actor on a well-known Polish television soap opera. Dzina is a druggie, a heavily pregnant woman into sniffing glue who can’t remember if she arranged care for her child prior to the party.

They get totally wasted, leave the party in gypsy garb, flag down a passing motorist, jump in, and start their adventure. Everything is going fine until the drugs start to wear off and they have to re-engage with reality and deal what they have done during their binge.

Maslowska’s play is a theatrical, fast paced and entertaining piece. Alice Livingstone direction is in keeping with the style of play. She sets the tone well with a memorable opening scene where Parcha and Dzina are bumbling around in darkness and she has two actors ‘perched’ on the floor, shining torches on them.

Livingstone wins good performances from her cast. Neil Phipps gives a high energy, committed performance as the intense, manic, troubled Parcha. Mairead Berne impressed as the ‘accident waiting to happen’ Dzina.

The supporting cast each played multiple roles. Stand-out portrayals were Sandy Velini as an uncooperative bartender, Cheryl Ward as a vodka drinking wife, hoping to crash her philandering husband’s car, Kim Knuckey as the stressed out driver and John Keightley as a lonely, disabled farm owner.

By play’s end, Maslowska gives her protagonists their due comeuppance! When they go to return back to their normal lives, they are treated like they were the poor, social outcasts that they were pretending to be!

This is a welcome return season of ‘A Couple of Poor, Polish-Speaking Romanians’. The play was originally performed as part of last years New Directions season of new plays at the New Theatre. The current production is from Focus Theatre and plays the Newtown Theatre on the corner of King and Bray streets until the 7th August, 2010.

Dirty Butterfly

Sara Zwangobani and Dorian Nkono in ‘Dirty Butterfly’. Pic- Danielle Lyon

The subject of British-Jamaican playwright Debbie Tucker Green’s debut play ‘Dirty Butterfly’, first performed in London’s Soho theatre in 2003, is domestic violence and its devastating repercussions.

Green tackles her subject from a very different angle. Amelia and Jason are a struggling, poor young couple living in an inner city tenement block. Their relationship is challenging however it’s the dramas involving their next-door neighbour, Jo, who is involved in an abusive relationship that pushes them to the edge.

Every night, through the paper- thin walls, they hear the abuse and the sounds of violence taking place next door. It just distresses Amelia no end. Jason is distressed too but his reaction is also peculiar. Jo’s dramas bring out the voyeur in him and he’s always listening out for what might be the next drama.

A weird triangle of co-dependency envelops Amelia, Jason and Jo. During the night Jo is assaulted, during the day Jo often comes to cry and lean on Amelia, who is too nice to just tell her to get lost! Things come to a head when one day Jo comes into the cafe Amelia that works in, just as she’s closing up for the day, with her outfit splattered and dribbling with blood, looking as if she’s on deaths’ door.

This is the harsh, raw world of ‘Dirty Butterfly’, a very appropriately titled play. Green’s portrayal of domestic violence is spot-on, in particular its depiction of the victim, who despite realising the horror of their situation, continually goes straight back into it. This isn’t pretty theatre but it sure is forceful!

Wayne Blair directs this Sydney revival tightly. The performances were strong; Zoe Houghton played Jo, Dorian Nkono was Jason and Sara Zwangobani played Amelia. Teresa Negroponte’s dark, dank tenement brick wall set, Stephen Hawker’s stark lighting design, and Steve Francis’s edgy soundscape came together to create a claustrophobic, prison like world.

A Flour Sugar Tea-Tales and Arts Radar production, in association with B Sharp, ‘Dirty Butterfly’ plays downstairs at Belvoir Street until August 1, 2010.

Review posted July 14, 2010.

Dead White Males

The cast enact a wedding scene from Shakespeare

The inner city Genesian Theatre Company’s current production is a revival of leading Australian playwright David Williamson’s confronting 1995 play ‘Dead White Males’.

Similar to British playwright David Hare, Williamson is a playwright who likes to take on important issues. His canon includes plays on sexual harassment, police corruption, and community conferencing. In this play Williamson weighed into the intellectual literary debate circulating around Australian Universities in relation to French post-structuralist theory diminishing the value of the Western literary and intellectual tradition.

There were two notable firsts to this production. The revival represented the first Williamson play the Genesian theatre has staged in over fifty years of productions. It is also the first play that Tom Massey, a regular performer with the company, has directed for a main-stage season.

This Williamson piece sees the playwright fired up and committed, and this comes across strongly in Massey’s debut production. The audience sees the playwright strongly defend the integrity of Western literature and rail against what he perceives as indulgent and hypocritical academics.

Williamson does this through his main character, impressionable, young university student, Angela Judd. The play sees Angela explore deeply both sides of the intellectual debate.

On one side is English lit lecturer Dr Grant Swain, a post-structuralist of the Michael Foucault school who lectures his students that the literature of the dead white males is superficial and based on out-dated ideological principles.

On the other side is the great liberal humanist William Shakespeare who ‘appears’ to her at various times arguing that yes, permanent truths about human nature do exist and that literature is a great way of communicating them. By play’s end Angela knows clearly where she stands.

The three leading roles are well performed. Matt Jones’s Dr Swain is a deeply flawed character, fiercely intellectual and yet flagrantly hypocritical. At one point he complains about the break-up of his marriage, and even quotes Shakespeare, ‘frailty, this name is woman’. More than a bit of a faux pas!

Sophie Blacklaw as Angela Judd conveyed her characters’ angst with having two weighty intellects competing for her attention.

David Woodland made for a warm, effusive Shakespeare patiently, and with plenty of guile, waiting for Angela to see the right path.

Emily Potts and Matthew Blackwood Hume stood out in the supporting cast as two of Angela’s university colleagues also caught up in the literary fall-out.

‘Dead White Males’ took place in two settings, the campus and the Judd family home, which were well covered in Catherine Lock’s compact set design.

Now that the ice has broken hopefully it won’t be too long before another David Williamson play graces the Genesian stage. Tom Massey’s production plays the Genesian Theatre, 420 Kent street, Sydney until Saturday 7th August, 2010.

The Gruffalo

The cast of ‘The Gruffalo’ entertaining audiences

The Seymour Centre’s Everest Theatre is currently home to the return season of ‘The Gruffalo’, London’s Tall Theatre Company’s acclaimed adaptation of Julia Donaldson’s best selling children’s picture book (illustrations by Axel Scheffler).

Donaldson’s book has certainly had a rich and long life since it was first published in 1999 by McMillan Children’s Books as a 32 page hardback. The premiere stage adaptation by the Tall Stories Theatre Troupe’s, comprising a 50 minute show, played at the Chester Gateway Theatre in 2001. and has since toured widely in the United Kingdom, New York, Poland and during 2009 the children’s musical toured Sydney and Canberra during which it took out the Sydney Theatre Award for best children’s production.

‘The Gruffalo’, with its quaint, appealing storyline, is great school holiday entertainment for young kids. The narrative is based on a traditional Chinese folk story of a fox that borrows the terror of a tiger.

In Donaldson’s storyline the fox is a mouse that ventures into the dangerous woods in search of some hazelnut snacks. The mouse comes across a range of predators, including a smirking fox, a retired Air Force General owl, and a maraca-shaking, party animal snake, eager to supplement their respective diets. The mouse borrows the terror of what he believes is his imaginary friend, the monster Gruffalo, to warn off his predators. They leave him alone but this is just a ‘turn in the road’ with the mouse going further into the woods where he encounters the real Gruffalo…

An enthusiastic cast of three, Crystal Hegedis, Simon van der Stap and Stephen Anderson, bring Donaldson’s story to life. Stephen Colyer’s production complements the quirky storyline with plenty of song and dance, tied in with audience interaction, and plenty of playfulness surrounding the emergence of the monstrous Gruffalo.

The current return season at Sydney’s Seymour Centre is part of Christine Duncan productions national tour of the show that began in Brisbane early in January this year and continues till early October where it is set for its final performances in Perth, Western Australia. The Everest theatre season concludes this Saturday July 10 and the show then moves on to Taree and Newcastle.

Long Day’s Journey Into Night

Luke Mullins and William Hurt in O’Neill’s classic. Pic Brett Boardman

The great American playwright Eugene O’Neill described ‘Long Day’s Journey Into Night’ (1956) as, ‘that play of old sorrow, written in tears and blood’. In this epic, cathartic work, O’Neill dramatises his own family’s story for the world’s stage.

The stage has never seen a longer day’s journey than the Tyrone family’s, parents James and Mary, and sons, James Junior and Edmund, meeting at their summer home in Connecticut in 1912 with all the issues between them coming devastatingly to a head.

‘Long Day’s Journey Into Night’ works dramatically because it is such a painful, heartbreaking depiction of characters doing battle, and trying to overcome their personal demons, in search of some peace in their lives.

Andrew Upton’s current revival at the Sydney theatre, with its strong cast and creative team, establishes an authentic, memorable portrait of the troubled Tyrones.

Robyn Nevin, one of Australia’s finest actresses, is outstanding as the morphine addict Mary Tyrone. The play starts with her returning home after time in rehab. The family are hoping that she has turned the corner however their fears that she will backslide are soon realised. Nevin’s Mary Tyrone is a ghostly presence forever haunting and destabilising the family.

Academy award winning actor William Hurt is memorable as the weak willed James Tyrone, who allows his insecurities to run his life. One of his demons is that he is unable to part with his money, even when it comes to providing proper medical care for his dying son, Edmund.

Luke Mullins is exceptional as the younger son, Edmund, commonly regarded as the Eugene O’Neill character in the play. Mullins’s Edmund conveys his characters’ gauntness and fragility, his abrasiveness and sharp intellect. The clashes between Mullins and Hurt are memorable.

An impressive Todd Van Voris, playing older son, James Junior, leaves in an indelible mark in a fierce scene when, late in the night, he crashes through the front door after a night of binge drinking and whoring.

Emily Russell completes the cast in a convincing performance as the buxom, fresh faced, amiable but dull witted Cathleen.

Production values are strong with Michael Scott-Mitchell portrait frame set, Tess Schofield’s apt period costumes, Max Lyandvert’s dark score, and Nick Schlieper’s atmospheric lighting design.

Brace yourself for this show. This is one helluva journey. A joint Sydney Theatre Company and Artists Repertory Theatre production, ‘Long Day’s Journey Into Night’ plays the Sydney Theatre, 22 Hickson Road, Walsh Bay until 1st August 1, 2010. The production then moves to Portland, Oregon, USA for another season between the 13th and 29th August, 2010.

City Island

Dominik Garcia-Lorido in De Felitta’s ‘City Island’

Raymond De Felitta’s new film ‘City Island’ takes audiences into the world of the members of the Rizzo family who live in the quaint fishing community of City Island on the outskirts of New York. Some of the family members, namely father, Vince (Andy Garcia) and daughter, Vivian (Dominik Garcia-Lorido) have been living furtive, secretive lives and one’s sense that all this furtiveness will spill out at the end in a devestating way proves true.

This was a strong, compelling drama with the feature being the cast’s clear, incisive portrayals. Andy Garcia plays the main character Vince, a regular working class man holding down a position as a prison officer. Now middle-aged he still holds onto one dream, to become an actor. He believes that his conservative wife, Joyce, wouldn’t understand this part of him, so every week he tells Joyce that he is going to play poker on the night that he takes acting classes.

Vince is also dogged by one other secret that he is determined will never see the light of day. When he was a young lad he had an affair with a woman that led to the couple having an illegitimate son, Tony. Too immature to handle the responsibility he fled the relationship and his obligations. The movie starts on an ominous note. The jail in which Vince works receives a new prisoner, and Vince knows straight away that this prisoner is Tony, his long last son. Vince now is face to face with a huge skeleton and shadow from his past.

Garcia has the film’s strongest scene that sees him auditioning for a role in a new Martin Scorsese film. Before acasting director, first off, he gives a terrible, embarrassing audition, doing a Marlon Brando take on the part. As he is leaving the audition, she calls him back, and asks him to give another reading, requesting that he plays the part as if he was at work, a prison officer talking to an inmate. Vince rips into the reading and as a result gets a call back.

The supporting cast are strong; Julianna Marguiles as the fiery Joyce, Steven Strait as Tony, Dominik Garcia-Lorido as Vivian, a university student working as a pole dancer to support herself after losing her scholarship, Ezra Miller as Vince’s son, hooked on searching web cam sites on the net, Emily Mortimer as Vince’s acting friend, Molly, and an ever quirky Alan Arkin as his encouraging drama coach.

In the film’s penultimate scene, Molly comments on the family drama that she sees before her and says, ‘it’s all a bit Greek to me’. Yes, ‘City Island’, and the fortunes of the Rizzo family as they totter on the edge, does have all the intensity and power of a classic Greek drama!

Mr Freezy

Hamish Fletcher and Tamara Rewse Photo by Jeff Busby

‘Mr Freezy’, a Melbourne’s Arena Theatre Company production in association with ‘Men Of Steel’, is madcap, imaginative theatre for the younger age group, and is well timed as we approach the school holiday period.

The play is set in a 1950’s style ice-cream van (great design by Jonathon Oxlade) with the three energetic performers, Phil McInnes, Tamara Rewse and Sam Routledge, creating an entertaining set of characters from different kitchen objects and foods.

The main character is Scoopy, yes an old fashioned ice-cream scoop, who is joined by some colourful characters. They include Scrappy, a lolly scoop, Prong, a dishrag preacher, an evil hot dog machine, a crazy chip-maker, and the title character, Mr Frenzy, a flashing neon sign.

The script, group devised by Chris Kohn (also the director), Tamara Rewse and Sam Routledge, keeps the young audience involved with plenty of tension; Prong kidnaps Scoopy’s mother, and the nasty hot dog machine wants to turn the ice-cream van into a food court for hot food.

With ‘Mr Freezy’, there are no deep meanings, messages or parables. One suspects that kids get enough of these kinds of shows already! This show is about having fun and letting go.

Kitchens will never look the same again to young eyes! At the end of the show, it was great to see kids, walking down to the stage area (in a state of unbridled chaos), and checking out what was real and what was illusion, especially in regards to the tubs of gelato!

A case of personification gone wild, ‘Mr Freezy, part of the Sydney Theatre Company’s Education program, plays the Wharf 2 theatre until July 11, 2010

The Seagull

Lizzie Schebesta as lost Nina in ‘The Seagull’. Pic- Heidren Lohr

Russian dramatist Anton Chekhov’s 1896 play ‘The Seagull’ is a tragedy, charting the fall of an ambitious, sensitive young man who succumbs to the slings and arrows dealt by life.

The play starts at an exciting time for young playwright, Konstantin. At his uncle Sorin’s beautiful country estate, Konstantin invites houseguests to a performance of his new experimental work staged in the estate’s open-air theatre. The houseguests include his mother Arkadina and her partner, well-known novelist, Trigorin. His girlfriend Nina has the starring role.

At the end of the performance he enthusiastically asks the guests what they think of his play and their responses are mostly critical. What Konstantin was hoping was going to be an event that would be a triumph for him, turns out to be the first in a cruel series of defeats.

A triumph in Chekhov’s own brilliant writing career, Kate Gaul is currently directing a strong revival of the play at Sydney’s inner west Sidetrack theatre. Gaul comes us with a stunning interpretation of the play’s final scenes.

In something akin to an ‘Ordinary People’ dynamic, Josh Wakely as the ultra sensitive Konstantin and Zoe Carides as his domineering, frosty mother, Arkadina, impressed in the leading roles. In the supporting cast, the stand-outs were Matt Edgerton as the self centred Trigorin, Lizzie Schebesta as the seductive Nina, Kade Greenland as the good-natured Medvedenko, and Katherine Cullen as the volatile Masha.

Andy McDonnell’s set, the feature of which was a huge picture frame that symbolically enclosed the action, and Daryl Wallis’s edgy sound-scape were also highlights.

A Siren Theatre Company production, ‘The Seagull’ plays the Sidetrack theatre, Marrickville until the 27th June, 2010.

13th June, 2010

Push Up

Chris Lewis and Lynden Jones in ‘Push Up’

With German playwright Roland Schimmelpfennig’s play ‘Push Up’(translation by Maja Zade), the Hayes Gordon Repertory Theatre (HGR), a company formed for Ensemble theatre graduates, has chosen the work of a fine writer to showcase their talents. An Award-winning playwright, Roland Schimmelpfennig is regarded as one of the most exciting voices in European drama, and is currently writer in residence at the Deutscher Schauspielhaus in Hamburg.

‘Push Ups’ is set within the headquarters of an expanding corporation. The play explores the sexual and political manoeuvrings within the company, depicting a cut-throat world that can best be described as running on a mix of Darwinian and Machiavellian principles. A quote about the play from the British broadsheet the ‘Sunday Times;’ sums up this world well, ‘Under the tough-guy, office-bitch presentation lies fears and insecurities, the panic of being overtaken’.

Schimmelpfennig’s tells his hollowness of corporate life story eloquently. In five sequences of varied length, he deftly juxtaposes the characters working and private lives, with the play seeing the characters making intimate, direct addresses to the audience.

Nicole Selby’s production serves Schimmelpfennig’s play well with all the cast giving clear, focused performances. Anna James and Chad Richards feature in the play’s sharpest scene, as two co-workers who find it impossible to work with each other after once having had a sexual dalliance at a work happy hour.

A feature was Tom Bannerman’s deft, compact staging. The setting is deceptively basic to begin with, featuring a conventional executive office with desk and chairs but then ‘the blinds’ lining the back wall of the stage come into play later opening up to reveal an office party in full swing.

A good production of a fine piece of writing, ‘Push Up’ plays the Newtown theatre, corner King and Bray Street, Newtown until Saturday 10th July, 2010.

19th June, 2010

BANG

Talented Australian playwright Jonathan Gavin, most well known for his play ‘A Moment On The Lips’, has chosen a confronting, difficult subject for his new play, ‘Bang’. ‘Bang’ sees one of our worst nightmares taking place, with the devestating effects of a suicide bombing, care of a young Turkish-Australian woman, Hatije, that takes place during peak hour on the platform of a busy suburban train station. Eighteen people die as a result of the detonation of her homemade bomb.

Gavin’s play focuses on the damaged lives of those who survived the attack. The survivors include a railway security guard who feels guilty that she didn’t prevent the attack, a pregnant woman who tragically loses her child, and a Sister who can think of nothing but revenge.

I left the theatre with mixed feelings after seeing this new Gavin work in a production directed by Kim Hardwick. My first response was,- what an audacious, ambitious production! The playwright has written a searching piece looking at the psychology and the history of this form of terrorism. Hardwick’s production wins strong performances from her cast, led by Blazey Best as Hatije, as all of who are on stage for the entirety of the performance and are each required and capably perform multiple roles. Mark Thompson’s staging with its newspapers, the floral tributes and the broad mirrored back wall worked effectively.

My reservation with the production lay with the unease I felt in the ‘tricky’ transition from the protagonist being a highly intelligent, (her career is as a geneticist), and strongly feminist and independent woman, to her suffering during her time living in Baghdad during the Iraqi war, and to her then becoming a religious fanatic and terrorist in Sydney. It just felt like it didn’t quite work.

A White Box Theatre production in association with B Sharp, ‘Bang’ plays the downstairs theatre at Belvoir street until Sunday 4th July, 2010.

12th June, 2010.

W;t-

Karen Bayly as Prof Bearing shadowed by John Donne. Pic Bob Seary

The current production at Newtown’s New Theatre is a revival of American playwright Margaret Edson’s Pulitzer Prize winning drama, ‘W;t’, directed by Jane Eakin.

‘W;t’ is the second play that I’ve seen in which American playwrights have, as their main character, a Professor facing grave illness. In Mitch Albom’s classic ‘Tuesdays with Morrie’ sociology Professor Maurie Schwartz faces what he describes as, ‘the last great journey’, when he is diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease. Mitch, one of his favourite students, visits the Professor every Tuesday, to gleam some wisdom from him, as the disease increasingly takes hold of him.

In Edson’s play, Vivian Bearing is a middle-aged Professor of English literature whose field of expertise is the work of 17th century metaphysical poet, John Donne. A dedicated scholar and teacher, she is devastated when she falls ill and is diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer. The Professor decides on a radical treatment plan but soon finds out that the medical staff at the teaching hospital are treating her as a guinea pig for their new treatments, rather than any having any genuine belief that they can help her.

Watching Edson’s play unfold brought to mind a quote from one of the great twenty century philosopher’s, Martin Buber. The quote goes, ‘ On my deathbed, it’ll be holding the hand of a friend that counts, not the books that I ‘ve been reading’. In her journey Professor Bearing finds that its compassion that counts. and that the the intellectual approach that she has adopted for so many years is flawed, and that John Donne’s brilliant diatribes against death such as his famous poem ‘Death be not proud’ don’t matter much when it comes to facing her mortality.

Jane Eakin’s production, her first full length theatre production, is a satisfying one. Karen Bayly gave an impressive performance as the Professor, as did Matt Charleston in the role of Dr Jason Posner, her treating Doctor, who ironically took a course run by her, whilst he was a University student.

James Crooke’s compact set design worked effectively with the Professor’s hospital bed dominating the front of the stage, behind which was a hospital corridor through which hospital staff paced up and down.

Jane Eakin’s production of ‘W;t’ plays the New Theatre , 403 King street, Newtown, until Sunday 10th July, 2010.

16th June, 2010

Measure for Measure

Arky Michael captures Robyn McLeavy. Pic by Heidrun Lohr

One of my favourite productions of 2007 was Benedict Andrews’s stunning revival of Patrick White’s ‘The Season Of Sarsaparilla’ at the Drama Theatre of the Sydney Opera House. The set featured a revolve stage with two adjoining houses and Andrews used hidden video cameras to capture the actors expressions and their movements around the houses.

With his current Company B production of Shakespeare’s ‘Measure for Measure’ Andrews employs the same multi-media/video technique and even extends on it. The set (designed by Ralph Myers) is again a revolve with the setting this time hotel rooms. In this production we get to see the actors on stage using hand-held cameras as well as hidden cameras to give audiences intimate and powerful insights as the drama unfolds on stage.

The Bard’s last comedy, ‘Measure for Measure’ features an intriguing storyline. Vincentio, the Duke of Vienna, decides that he needs time out to get some perspective on his rule and how his beloved city is going. He hands over power to his deputy Angelo and goes ‘undercover’ to see how things will go. To the Duke’s despair, it isn’t long before things go increasingly downhill.

Andrews production was very accessible Shakespeare with the action so fast paced, immediate and visual that any problems with the ‘old English’ of Shakespeare just falls away.

The director won strong performers from his large cast of sixteen. Robert Menzies as the Duke, Colin Moody as Barnadine, Robyn McLeavy as Isabella and Maeve Dermody as Francisca were stand-outs.

This Company B production plays upstairs at Belvoir Street until Sunday 25th July, 2010.

16th June, 2010

Of Mice and Men

Cheyne Fynn and Andy Madden in Epicentre’s ‘Of Mice and Men’

Judith Bedard’s production for the Epicentre Theatre Company evocatively brings John Steinbeck’s classic story, ‘Of Mice and Men’ to life.

‘Of Mice and Men’ is the story of two migrant men, George and Lennie, as they find work where they can in America during the great depression. Their dream is to buy a ranch of their own and live off the fat of the land, a dream that they are destined never to achieve.

The hallmark of the production was the strong sense of atmosphere that it generated. The features were the haunting use of silhouettes of men bearing arms that book-ended the play, Bedard’s good use of music in particular with Wayne McDaniel’s evocative voice and excerpts of opera music, and John Harrison’s effective lighting design.

The cast recreate Steinbeck’s world with focus and conviction. Cheyne Fynn delivers a stand-out, memorable performance as the simple minded giant Lennie unaware of his own strength, and Andy Madden is solid as the salt af the earth, sensitive George.

Highlights in the supporting cast were Oliver Clarke as Curley, the boss’s son who was a former professional boxer and is a bit of a loose canon, Katherine Sheerer as Curley’s lonely, flirtatious wife, who is always giving men ‘the eye’, and Wayne McDaniel as the crippled black ranch-hand Crooks, who lives in a separate stable from the main farm, and is forever singing the blues.

Judith Bedard’s revival builds up well to the play’s crushing resolution. This current production ‘Of Mice and Men’ plays the Zenith theatre, corner of Railway and McIntosh streets, Chatswood until the 19th June, 2010.

11 and 12- Reviewer David Kary

A scene from the touring production of ’11 and 12′

The tone of ’11 and 12’ is set straight away with the play’s narrator Amadou walking to the centre of the stage and whilst holding up a pair of beads he says, ‘a bead can become a bomb, as reason is overridden by blind faith’.

The play, based on real events, is set in French colonialist Mali in West Africa in the 1930’s. It is about what happens when Sufi teacher Tierno Bokar (1875-1939) finds himself enmeshed in what is akin to a sectarian civil war over how many times a prayer, the Pearl of Perfection, should be said. Bokar’s clan believes that the prayer should be said twelve times. A rival clan, led by fellow Sufi teacher Cherif Hammallah, says that the prayer should be said eleven times.

Intense fighting develops between the rival clans and religious factions that leads to mass killings and the exile of Cherif Hammallah. Bokar is distraught by the level of violence and destructiveness and in a decisive act he gives way on sticking to the 12 prayer recitation.

In the play’s key scene he is asked if he is afraid of dying, of being beaten, of a martyr’s death, by his actions? He replies, ‘It’s all the same! If you really want to hurt me, forbid me from turning my mind to God’. With his decision Bokar seals his fate, and he goes on to be persecuted by his own people and the French colonialists, and ends up dying an isolated and impoverished death.

The story of Tierno Bokar’s heroism and plea for tolerance is vividly brought to life by Peter Brook’s staging of Marie Helene Estienne’s adaptation of the work of brilliant African writer Amadou Hamapte- Ba, a leading student of Bokar’s.

The play is performed with passion and conviction by a multi-national seven strong acting ensemble along with composer Toshi Tsuchitori, sitting cross-legged far stage right, playing an exotic range of instruments from his cross-legged crouch position. As always with Brook, there is a minimalistic set comprising a large sheet of red fabric, some sand, mats and logs, and a few barren trees.

This is a play with plenty of resonance for our times with our world still being weighed down by intolerance, prejudice and religious zealotry. Peter Brook’s production of ’11 and 12’ is playing this week at the Sydney Theatre, Walsh Bay, with the final performance taking place this Sunday 13th June, 2010.

Thursday 3rd June, 2010

Burnt

Lindy Sardelic, Stefo Nantsou and Tom Lycos in ‘Burnt’. Pic by Tracey Schramm

The goal of the Zeal Theatre Company is to produce theatre that ‘deals with the hard edge stuff of life using authentically drawn characters and situations’. Zeal, an Associate Company of the Sydney Theatre Company, succinctly fits this bill with its new production, ‘Burnt’, drawing a vivid and incisive portrait of life, as it is now being lived, in rural Australia.

‘Burnt’ is set in the fictional township of Gilpendry and during the play we get to meet an authentic, colourful cross section of the community including real estate agents, rotarians, Country Women Association members, school teachers, town drunks, local shop owners, Father Spaniel, a veteran dowager called Mrs Snodgrass, and old red-neck pub pensioners.

For its dramatic core, ‘Burnt’ hones in on salt of the earth mid forties farmer George Petro who battles to hold on to his property that he shares with his wife Suzie and their twin children, Kylie and Casey, as the devastating drought wears him down. George’s financial plight becomes so desperate that, in the play’s most challenging scene, George loads a rifle and contemplates suicide.

That this rural world comes across so vividly is an impressive achievement by Zeal theatre company because it is all the creation of just three actors, Tom Lycos, Stefo Nantsou and Lindy Sardelic. They showcase their fine acting and improvisational skills, bringing the vast array of characters very credibly to life.

My favourite characterizations were two of Tom Lycos’s creations; as Toby Satan, the two year old child from hell, who runs spirally amuck at the Munchkins Child Care Centre, and as Casey Petro, manically playing his computer games.

I really enjoyed this production. Right from the start the three performers set the tone for the evening, as they played some gutsy rock music before hooking into the storyline.

This was accessible, informal theatre that felt a little like the playing out of a contemporary version of C.J. Dennis’s larrakin characters.

‘Burnt’, a joint Zeal Theatre Company and Sydney Theatre Company Ed production, played the Wharf 2 theatre for a short season between Tuesday 25th May and Friday 28th May, 2010, following on from a week’s season at the Parramatta Riverside theatre.

25th May, 2010

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