VIGIL

For its first production, the Spirithouse Theatre Company has chosen a play that grabs the audience’s attention straight away with its outrageous scenario. The play is Canadian playwright Morris Panych’s 1995 play, ‘Vigil’.

‘Vigil’ opens with a young man, Kemp, performing a vigil at his dying auntie’s, Grace’s, bedside. This however is no sentimental vigil with the nephew begging his aunt to hang on, desperate to spend more time with her. Quite the contrary…Kemp wants Grace to hurry up and die, he has to get back to his job at the bank, and doesn’t have the time or the desire to hang around.

Grace’s demise isn’t quick, and drags on month after month, even over a Christmas. Kemp becomes increasingly frustrated and aggressive. He gets a measuring tape and starts to work out what the dimensions of her coffin need to be. At another time, he brings onto the stage a suicide machine whereby Grace can take her own life.

Susanna Dowling’s production of Panech’s absurdist piece is an engaging night in the theatre. Dowling’s production focuses on the play’s main strand, the shifts and changes taking place within Kemp and Grace’s quirky ‘relationship’. A favourite moment from the play is when, at one time, Grace cheekily sneaks having a cigarette whilst Kemp is out of sight.

The two actors make the most of the strong roles that the playwright has given them.

WAAPA graduate Travis Cotton gives a tremendous performance as Kemp, an angry young man who is acting out because of the heartbreaks he has experienced, but who thinks deeply about life and wants something better.

At first, he comes across as a deeply abusive young man with nothing to save him. The play reveals him as a deep thinker whose bitterness comes about from being hurt so much in life.

Gertraud Ingeborg impresses in the challenging role of Grace, in a part that sees her mute for much of the play. Ingeborg imbues her character with plenty of feistiness.

Grace’s single bed dominates Tom Bannerman and Craig Keyser’s compact set. From the theatre’s upper level, musician Ekrem Mulayim, playing cymbals, complemented the storyline.

‘Vigil’ plays the Old Fitzroy theatre until March 28, 2009.

16th March, 2009

Last Chance Harvey

Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson in ‘Last Chance Harvey’

Joel Hopkins’s ‘Last Chance Harvey’ tells a mature age love story. The film brings together two lonely people who keep on getting the rough end of life’s stick.

Emma Thompson plays Kate, a lonely English airport attendant, whose life is mostly made up of caring for her elderly and demanding mother and going through the indignity of having her work colleagues set her up on blind dates that fail abysmally.

Dustin Hoffman plays Harvey, a lonely New York jingles composer for television advertisements, whose life has reached a new low. He has flown to London to attend his daughter’s wedding to find out that his daughter has asked her stepfather rather than him to give her away. Whilst in London he rings his boss to let him know when he’s flying back, only to be fired over the phone.

Harvey and Kate meet at an airport bar. Harvey keeps on downing Johnnie Walkers, and chats up Kate as quietly reading a paperback novel. At first Kate’s response to Harvery’s garrulousness is very frosty but they soon, well sort of us, have lunch together and their journey has started.

Last Chance Harvey’ has plenty of riches. Joel Hopkins’s screenplay is well structured, and the writing is erudite with some great lines. Hopkins’s direction is tight and assured. The film looks good and sounds good with a good score.

Most of all though, the richness of this film lies in watching two very fine actors do their shtick. Emma Thompson has such natural attractiveness, unpretentious charm and intelligence, and her portrayal of Kate works well. Dustin Hoffman might be 70 now but he’s still got that star quality. No-one plays an angst ridden character with an iron will better. Recommended.

Ring Around The Moon

Tim Hanna, Sandra Bass and Debbie Smith in ‘Ring Around The Moon’

For their new play, Joyce Birch for the Genesian Theatre Company has mounted a production of French playwright Jean Anouilh’s 1947 comedy, ‘Ring Around The Moon’, as adapted by Christopher Fry.

Anouilh’s play is set in a beautiful conservatory (lovely set design by Peter Henson) in a grand chateau in Auvergne in France, within the world of the upper classes, just prior to World War 1. Madame Desmortes is hosting a ball to celebrate the engagement of her nephew Frederic to Diana Messerschmann. Frederic’s twin brother Hugo, doesn’t believe Diana is right for Frederic and comes up with a plan to bring the engagement undone.

The nub of ‘Ring Around The Moon’ lay in the many plots and counter-plots that take place, with the fun being in following the characters as they set about getting what they wanted, and the obstacles that come across their paths.

This was an unexciting Genesian production that didn’t serve the play well. The production was marred by an uneven cast.

There were positives. There was Peter Henson’s lovely garden setting for the actors to work in. Tim Hanna successfully traversed the difficult terrain of playing both twins, the confident man around town, Hugo, and the nervy, submissive Frederic. Veteran Genesian performer Sandra Bass delivered some of the play’s wittiest lines as the erudite Madame Desmortes. Jeremy Just had some good comic moments as Diana’s secret lover, Patrice. Keith McIlroy convinced as the frazzled house butler, Joshua, who became a bit of a target when the situation hotted up.

‘Ring Around The Moon’ plays the Genesian theatre, 420 Kent street, Sydney, until the 25th April.

The Removalists

Sasha Horler, Danny Adcock, Eve Morey and Dale March in ‘The Removalists’

The Sydney Theatre Company’s current play at its home venue is Wayne Blair’s production of a classic of the Australian theatre, David Williamson’s ‘The Removalists’.

The set-up to ‘The Removalists’ makes for vintage drama. To use a boxing ring analogy, at one end of the ring is Kenny Carter (Ashley Lyons), a young, rugged Aussie bloke, whose house and his wife are his everything, his castle. He has come home after a hard day at work, and is looking forward to another regular night at home. Kenny loves nothing better than sitting at home after a day at work, putting on the television, putting his legs up, and having his missus make his dinner for him.

At the opposite end of the ring is gruff, macho Sergeant Dan Simmonds (Danny Adcock). Sgt Simmonds is acting on a complaint of domestic violence made by Kenny’s wife, Fiona (Eve Morey), with the support of her big sister, Kate (Sacha Horler), lets himself into Kenny’s flat and with the help of his off-sider, Constable Neville Ross (Dale March), and removalist Rob (Alan Flower), oversees the removal of Kenny’s castle. Out goes the furniture…out goes the wife!

Blair’s production is an intense, passionate interpretation of Williamson’s ‘score’. His direction clearly brought out the play’s main strands, and ably mastered the play’s rare, successful mix of some very funny scenes sharing the same stage with scenes of hard-core violence.

The world portrayed in ‘The Removalists’ still has plenty of resonance in particular with its depiction of the cowboy mentality of some police officers, and in its portrayal of the irrational and violent way that people can behave when in a crisis.

A strong cast vividly brought the play to life. Dale March greatly impressed in the role which had the biggest journey, going from a naïve, timid Constable to a man who goes into a violent rage all on his first day of duty! Special mention also goes to Danny Adcock for his portrayal of Ross’s veteran, cynical colleague, to Ashley Lyons for his rough and raw Kenny, and Alan Flowers for his performance as the very assertive removalist.

Jacob Nash’s fluid set concentrated the action beautifully. The stage, comprised an elevated large floor-space, painted white, with fluorescent ‘station’ lights hanging above, and with a few stairs at the back on each side. The stage deftly transformed from a small police station into Kenny and Fiona’s living room for Scene 2 when the actors came on stage, bringing the furniture for Kenny and Fiona’s living room along with them.

Wayne Blair’s production of ‘The Removalists’ plays Wharf 1 at the Sydney Theatre Company until the 4th of April.

Short and Sweet 2009

This was the first year in which I went to see all the plays at this years’ Short and Sweet play festival. This was no insubstantial commiment! I went to see 4 weeks of heats at the Seymour Centre and 5 weeks of heats at the Newtown Theatre. Each heat contained at least 10 plays, with often a few more plays thrown in for good more measure.

Little Nell

The story that the late, great British playwright Simon Gray tells with his last major piece, ‘Little Nell’, paints a very different portrait of one of the great figures of English literature, Charles Dickens. Through his many great works such as ‘Oliver Twist’ and ‘Great Expectations’, Dickens came across as a much lauded figure of the Victorian age, and a holder of the high moral ground, ‘Little Nell’ takes him off this pedestal, and brings him crashing down to earth.

Gray’s play, a dramatisation of Claire Tomalin’s biographical work, ‘The Invisible Woman’, gives an account of Dickens illicit affair with young actress, Nelly Ternan. The affair started when Dickens, at 45, was already a celebrated author, and Ternan was just 17 years old. Dickens fell for Ternan whilst she was acting in one of his plays entitled, ‘The Frozen Deep’. After the season finished, Dickens set Nelly up as a ‘kept woman’ in a house in Slough, and sent his wife away, claiming that she was mad, and brought in his sister-in-law as the housekeeper and carer of his ten children. The secret affair between Dickens and Little Nelly lasted some 13 years.

Gray deftly structures the play around a meeting that Nelly’s son, Geoffrey, arranges in the chambers of lawyer Sir Henry Dickens, of Charles’s sons, some years after his mother has died. Geoffrey has arranged the meeting to try and uncover the truth as to what was the real nature of the relationship between his mother and the legendary author. Geoffrey gets more than he bargained for!

The play features a split level set designed by Brian Nickless. The audience sees the meeting between Sir Henry and Geoffrey unfold on the upper level whilst on the ground level major scenes from the past are played out. The centerpiece of Nickless’s set was a painting of the London-scape of the time, that ‘hung’ in Sir Henry’s chambers.

Mark Kilmurry’s production for the Ensemble Theatre served Gray’s strong drama well. The style was welcoming with vivacious actress Olivera Jovanoska, playing a working class woman of the times, welcoming audience members into the theatre, and providing something of a narrator role over the course of the play.

Mark Lee and Katie Fitchett performed strongly as Charles and Nelly, aided well by a good supporting cast with Drayton Morley, in particular, impressing, as the unfortunate Geoffrey whose curiosity is cruelly satiated.

‘Little Nell’ is playing the Ensemble Theatre, Kirribilli until March 14.

AFTERPLAY

During mid January NIDA’s Parade Theatre has been home to the Gate theatre, Dublin’s two week long celebration of the work of premiere Irish playwright, Brian Friel.

The season featured three of Friel’s finest plays, ‘Faith Healer’, ‘Afterplay’ and ‘The Yalta Game’.

The standard of these Gate theatre productions was high.

My season favourite was ‘Afterplay’. This was a beautifully performed chamber piece of a poignant scenario.

In the appropriately titled ‘Afterplay’, Friel brings together two characters from two separate plays from the great Russian playwright, Anton Chekhov. They are Sonya, Uncle Vanya’s devoted niece, and Andrey, the henpecked brother of the three sisters. Sonya and Andrey meet in a rundown café in Moscow.

Their encounter shows two lonely, unhappy people connecting, and there seems to be some hope for them, and then the opportunity is lost. ‘Afterplay’ has a typically Chekhov scenario where his characters aren’t tough and resilient enough to tackle their demons or to achieve their dreams!

The two actors from the Gate Theatre, Dublin produce hypnotic performances. Niall Buggy’s performance was deeply etched, depicting a broken, middle-aged man, trying to make the most of his life that hasn’t worked out the way he wanted it to.

Francesca Annis’s portrayal of Sonya was also moving. Francesca portrayed Sonya as a woman tragically unable to move forward with her life, still living in the past with her unreturned love for Dr Astrov.

Robin LeFevre directed Friel’s chamber piece to perfection. Liz Asroft created a stylish set design of the Moscow café that included a beautiful ornate over-hanging chandelier.

The Gate Theatre’s production of ‘Afterplay’ plays the Parade theatre, NIDA, until the 1st February, 2009.

War Of The Roses

Care Blanchett in ‘The War Of The Roses’

The Sydney Theatre Company’s contribution to this years’ Sydney Festival is Benedict Andrews’s epic production of William Shakespeare’s The War Of The Roses, played in two parts, in an adaptation prepared by Andrews and Tom Wright, Associate Director of the Company.

Presented as four distinct acts and performed in two separate parts, (that can be seen in one long sitting or over two consecutive nights), War Of The Roses spans almost 100 turbulent years of English history by condensing eight of Shakespeare’s interrelated history plays. The play charts the course of English royal history from the melancholy of Richard 11 to the catastrophe of Richard 111.

Benedict Andrews helms a typically confronting and distinctive production. Interestingly, most of the roles of the kings are played, and played with tenacity, by actresses. The production featured a large, bare, stage, in Andrews words, ‘the ‘bare stage being the metaphoric garden where history is played out’.

The production was heavily atmospheric and symbolic with both parts of the show starting with showers of flecks raining down from the roof of the stage to adorn the hair and clothes of the tolerant cast, – in Part 1 flecks that looked like golden leaves, and in Part 2, snow-like flecks that appeared to turn dark on landing.

The play was something of a killing field’s experience, as the body count steadily rose. The killings were carried out in a highly stylized fashion, with morbid actors carrying around small flasks of red fluid as they stalked their prey, and then spraying their victims with it, signifying the killing.

The rewards of this production lay mainly with the actors who worked together well in a strong ensemble. Stand outs were:-Cate Blanchett who was compelling as the melancholic King Richard 11 who saw his power and wealth gradually slip away from him, Robert Menzies as Henry Bolingbroke, Marte Dusseldorp was striking as Margaret, and most of all, Pamela Rabe who was extraordinary in an outstanding, full blooded performance, in Act Part 2, as ‘that dog’ King Richard 111.

My main reservation lay with Andrews taking excessive liberties, especially in a scene depicting oral sex between inebriated men – that is nowhere to be seen in the Bard’s text.

Grim..very grim. ‘The War Of The Roses’ was unremittingly dark, confronting theatre. The body count just kept on climbing up over the seven hours plus of theatre. It gave credence to the Bards maxim, ‘uneasy lies the head that wears the crown’, surely a tainted chalice if ever there was one. Some who brave it may find it a challenge to last the distance.

The War Of The Roses is playing the Sydney Theatre at Walsh Bay until 14th February. Bookings Sydney Theatre Company on 92501777 or sydneyfestival.org.au

The Pianist

One of the highlights of this years’ Sydney Festival theatre program is ‘The Pianist’, a stage adaptation by Mikhail Rudy from the memoirs by Wladyslaw Szpilman, currently playing upstairs at Belvoir Street theatre.

Many people are already familiar with Szpilman’s memories from the 2002 film adaptation by Roman Polanski, from a screenplay by Ronald Harwood, which took out three Academy Awards. The tagline to the film summed it up. ‘Music was his passion, survival was his masterpiece’. Once one of Europe’s most celebrated pianists, the Jewish pianist escaped a Nazi internment camp and lived out his days hiding in the ruins of buildings in his home city until the Russian liberation of Warsaw.

The upstairs Belvoir stage is shared by Sean Taylor who plays Szpilman, with the writer himself on piano, providing musical accompaniment. Rudy was inspired to conceive the adaptation as he saw parallels between his own personal story and that of Szpilman’s. He grew up in Russia under the Stalinist regime, and both his grandparents were executed for no apparant reason. Like Szpilman, what kept Rudy going was his love of music, ‘the centre of his inner life’.

Music is at the core, the heart of Rudy’s adaptation, directed by Rachael McDonald. Jo Briscoe’s set reflects this, gathered around the stage are music stands with Stephen Hawker spotlighting the stand at the centre of the stage.

Rudy achieves his goal in his play, ‘music should not be seen solely as an illustration of the text, but as a major component in dramatic development’. Whilst the narrative unfolds, Rudy, one of Europe’s finest pianists, plays excerpts from the works of Fredric Chopin and compositions by Szpilman himself.

Sean Taylor gave a fine performance as Szpilman, leading the audience through Szpilman’s disturbing, unpredictable journey.

An inspiring tribute to the power of music to sustain the spirit, ‘The Pianist’ is playing upstairs at Belvoir Street until January 27.

Short and Sweet-Opening Week 2009

The annual January festival of Short and Sweet has begun with the opening week shows being performed at the Newtown Theatre.

As always the mini play festival is a well-spring for a lot of different ideas, some more novel and interesting and better executed than others. Here are my favourites from the opening week.

Dan Clancey’s ‘Permanently Engaged’ saw two men, one an older,man, the other abit of a whipper-snipper, working on different floors of a large office block trapped in adjacent toilet cubicles, with their toilet doors jammed shut. To pass the time until they get ‘their freedom’, they exchange conversation, and find out that they are inextricably linked together.

Peter Hardy’s ‘Groundtruthing’ was a deft piece. The play was set in the withering cold of the Arctic with an ice and snow specialist sharing camp with a local as he researches the efffect of climate change in the region. The piece nicely turns on its head with the local proving to be more intuitively knowledgable.

Paul Layton’s post-modern crime fantasy ‘Am I: Killer?’ is another play with a twist. What starts out as a standard police investigation goes pear shaped when the accused person asks for the house lights to be turned on and for everyone to stop, ‘it’s only a play’.

Phoebe Hartley’s ‘The Letter’ turns on a novel dramatic device. The play starts with a young couple coming through their front door after a night out, less than happy. As an argument unfolds between the couple, the audience’s attention is drawn to the letter in the young woman’s hands. What will happen when the contents of the letter are revealed?!

Ken McBeath’s ‘Basketball Bob’ was a diverting psychological study as a young man struggles with the many different sides/voices inside him. Mcbeath gets some good laughs out of a subject which is often given a dark treatment.

All in all, this was an interesting opening week , some intriguing material however nothing with great resonance.

the next round of ‘Short and Sweet’ plays open at the Newtown theatre tomorrow/Tuesday night, the 13th January, 2009.

Noises Off

Melanie Robinson, Jordan Watt and Joe Brook in ‘Noises Off’

For their first production for 2009 the Genesian Theatre Company are putting on a production of the British playwright Michael Frayn’s evergreen 1982 comedy, ‘Noises Off’.

‘Noises Off’, the inner city Genesian Theatre Company’s first production for 2009, is blessed to be one of those plays where the idea and the execution are equally effective. Frayn ran with the idea of writing a play about ‘Nothing On’, the latest production from a third rate British touring theatre company with the emphasis coming from the frenetic action taking place between the cast and crew behind the stage.

Frayn milks the play within a play idea for plenty of laughs. This is a world full of the cast forgetting lines and cues, old actors on the bottle, actors having affairs with other, lots of opening and closing of doors, and more…

Grant Fraser’s set design features a two storey revolve which turns after each interval. ‘Noises Off’ is divided into 3 Acts; Act 1 is the fraught dress rehearsal before opening, with Act 2 the company is on the road, and we see the action from behind the stage, Act 3 we see the play from the front of the stager again, performed a few months later, and with the script having noticeably changed!

Tom Massey’s production served Frayn’s classic comedy well, and he won
good performances from his cast, who enjoyed their dual roles, playing the characters on stage, and the actors off stage.

There were some stand-outs in the cast. Henry Jennings impressed as the plays’ frazzled director Lloyd Dallas, struggling to keep the play from being a debacle, as well as dealing with the fall-out from being romantically involved with two of the women in the production. Elizabeth Campbell shone as the stressed out stage manager, Poppy, as did Jordan Watt as Phillip Brent, intent on dodging Inland Revenue.

A fun night at the theatre, ‘Noises Off’ is playing the Genesian theatre, 420 Kent Street, Sydney until the 21st February.

Tuesdays With Morrie

Glenn Hazeldine and Daniel Mitchell in ‘Tuesdays with Morrie’

The Ensemble Theatre’s first play for 2009 is an ambitious start to the year. Under the direction of Associate Artistic Director Mark Kilmurry the Ensemble theatre is putting on a production of the stage adaptation of one of the best selling memoirs of all time, Mitch Albom’s 1997 Tuesdays with Morrie.

In an inspired decision Mitch Albom, a working sports journalist at the time, put on a tape recorder to record his meetings with his old University Professor Morrie Schwartz, who was sharing his life’s wisdom, as he was going through the last stages of dying from Motor Neurone (Lou Gehrig’s) Disease.Albom transcribed and edited the tapes into book form and sent them off to a publisher, in the hope that the profits from the book would help pay the ailing Professor’s medical bills. His personal mitzvah of a book ended up selling more more than 11 million copies world-wide…

The current Ensemble production has been taken from the 2002 Off Broadway production directed by David Esbjornson and co-authored by Mitch Albom and Jeffrey Hatcher. Kilmurry’s production serves the play well and gives audiences a well staged and enriching drama.

The heart of this play is Professor Schwartz’s (1916-1995) charismatic character. Born of Jewish Russian descent he grew up in the Jewish tenements of New York City and went to become an influential and celebrated professor of sociology at Brandeis University. His flamboyant, creative and non-conformist approach inspired many of his students, and saw him live up to his own personal epitaph, ‘A Teacher to the Last’.

Many quotes and stories flow from seeing the play, including his radical concept of a living funeral which he put into practice. Seeing his doctor had given him notice of his impending death, his “’last, great journey”, he arranged for the people close to him to give him a living funeral!

The prized role of Professor Schwartz was well portrayed by Daniel Mitchell who took over the role from his father Warren after he became unavailable. Mitchell’s Professor Schwartz holds court from his favourite large brown living room armchair, often covering himself with a large shawl.

Glenn Hazeldine delivered an assured performance as Mitch Albom. The stage version sees Hazeldine’s Mitch play the role of the narrator, often addressing the audience from a raised platform above Morrie’s living room.

Included in Brian Nickless’s set design is a large, raised back-stage screen in which some of the lesson headings are transcribed. An image of a beautiful bright red Japanese maple tree stays projected on the screen, a motif for the ethereal, transient nature of life.

Towards the end of the play, the dying professor tells his favourite student, “One doesn’t die…one lives on in the hearts of everyone you have touched and nurtured while you were here”. With this latest variation on Tuesdays With Morrie, Professor Schwartz’s lives on, brighter than ever.

Tuesdays With Morrie is playing the Ensemble Theatre, 78 McDougal Street, Kirribilli until Sunday 15th February. Bookings- 99290644 or www.ensemble.com.au

BETRAYAL

David Hugh Jones’s 1983 film ‘Betrayal’, adapted by the late, great Harold Pinter from his play of the same name, is a powerful drama.

Right from the first scene it draws one in. ‘Betrayal’ starts with a very distant shot into the darkly lit living room of a house. The camera follows a couple arguing heatedly. The thing is that we follows this scene, this argument, without any sound. The only word to describe this opening scene is dark, haunting, unforgettable.

Pinter’s story, which is believed to be semi-autobiographical, describes a gut wrenching betrayal. Through the course of the film the main character, London literary agent Robert, discovers that his wife Emma is having an affair with his very best friend, book publisher, Jerry. It is a double whammy, bitter betrayal.

Famously, and to great effect, Pinter tells the story in reverse order.’Betrayal’ starts with Robert finally confronting Emma , and ends with Jerry declaring his love for Emma and embracing her. Perfect bookends to the film! And the final scene, like the opening scene, is haunting.

With ‘Betrayal’, Pinter is not only telling the betrayal story, but also authentically documents a very intense love story, that drove the two lovers on down their dark road.

David Hugh Jones’s direction is spot on. The performances are tremendous. Ben Kingsley is perfect portraying a man, icy calm on the outside, seething with tension on the inside. Jeremy Irons’s Jerry and Patricia Hodge’s Emma are two people who have let their emotions take over their lives, making for an uncertain future.

Reuben Reuben

Conti and Fabiani

In the quirky 1983 movie ‘Reuben Reuben’, Tom Conti plays Gowan McGland a well-known but penniless and past his prime Scottish poet, who gets by on the remnants of his fame, drinks excessively, beds middle-aged housewives, and falls in love with a woman (Kelly McGillis) much younger than himself.

This old classic has a lot going for it. Conti gives a tremendous performance in the lead. His Gowan McGland is such a rich, ripe character; incredibly charming…very romantic…cunning…a bit of a lost soul…a lot of a drunkard…a great wordsmith.

Gowen McGland falls in love with a beautiful young student named Geneva Spofford played by Kelly McGillis. It was McGillis’s first feature film role, she just looks stunning and gives a great performance as Reuben’s ‘later in life’ love interest. The love story is beautifully played out!

‘Reuben Reuben’ boosts a great comic scene. As is Reuben’s want he has affairs with married woman. Unfortunately his luck comes unstuck when he has to urgently seek a dentist and the dentist that he ends up seeing is the husband of one of his mistresses. Reuben sure does get a work-over (see picture above).

When it was released in 1983, the films’ main claim to fame was its very ‘left field’ ending, that whacks a fair old punch!

There is a lot more that the film has to offer which I don’t have the space to write about here. Here’s just a bit more…a lilting, poignant soundtrack…the film looks good…there are some great scenes and lines…one of them comes to mind,- Reuben saying, ‘I love writing, I just hate the paper work’! There’s a nice old country town feel to the film, and some quirky minor characters.

‘Reuben Reuben’ was directed by Robert Ellis Miller and adapted from the novel by Peter De Vries with a screenplay by Julius Epstein.

Conti and McGillis

Frost/Nixon

Frost/Nixon

Ron Howard’s new film ‘Frost/Nixon’ is a historical drama adapted for the screen by Peter Morgan from his 2006 play of the same name. Morgan’s play was an ‘inside-story’ dramatisation of the 1977 televised series of interviews that took place between British broadcaster David Frost and the disgraced former American president Richard Nixon.

The film charts the journey from when Frost first came up with the idea of doing the series to his final meeting with Nixon at Nixon’s beach house after filming had been completed. The two leads from the stage production, Frank Langella and Michael Sheen, reprise their roles for the big screen.

‘Frost/Nixon’ works very effectively as a drama, with the tension building up as the legendary broadcaster is desperate to get some admission from Nixon before filming ends. The Frost camp had tapped into the great feeling of resentment amongst many Americans that Nixon had never genuinely accepted responsibility for his actions. One of Frost’s researchers, James Reston Junior, spoke more vehemantly during the film, ‘ We want a conviction’.

With this genre of filmmaking, the richness lies in what impressions of the ‘main players’ one is left with. There were of-course many sides to both men however what most came across about Nixon was that he was a very materialistic man…a man who loved the limelight but knew that he was not liked, a trait whch made him a somewhat tragic figure….an intelligent and very skilled and astute political operator…and a man with an unmistakably imposing and formidable physical presence.

What most came across about David Frost was,- he was a born broadcaster and businessman…a hugely determined man…very charming and kind hearted but quick and sharp…a ladies man… a man who loved show business and the lifestyle that went with it.

Ron Howard’s tight direction was enchanced by a uniformly strong cast with the two leads brilliant. Michael Sheen captured all the physical mannerisms and quirkiness of Frost whilst Frank Langella gave an imposing, haunting portrayal of Nixon.

‘Frost/Nixon’ is currently playing the Dendy Newtown, Palace Norton Street, Verona, Cremorne, United Collaroy, Hoyts Broadway, Chatswood Mandarin and Cinema Paris, and Greater Union Bondi Junction.

A Disappearing Number

‘A Disappearing Number’

Simon McBurney’s production for Complicite of ‘A Disappearing Number’ presented at the Sydney Theatre in November was one of the theatrical highlights of 2008. The show combined a fantastic storyline with stunning production values.

‘A Disappearing Number’ had two primary storylines. The main storyline featured the developing collaboration in the early 20th century between two of the finest mathematicians of the century; Cambridge University don G.H.Hardy and the brilliant young Brahman mathematician from South India, Srinivasa Ramanujan. McBurney complemented this narrative with a present day storyline of the troubled relationship of a man with his maths lecturer partner. She travels to Indian in Ramanujan’s footsteps and eventually dies. He follows, to get closer to her and Ramanujan’s ghost.

‘A Disappearing Number’ was about a lot of things. It was about mathematics and beauty…about the imagination and the nature of infinity…about what is continuous and what is permanent…how we are attracted to the past and how we affect the future…how we create and how we love.

The show was conceived and directed by Simon McBurney and the Company. David Annen played Hardy, Shane Shambhu played Ramanujan, Saskia Reeves played Ruth Minnen and Firdous Bamji played Al Cooper.

‘A Disappearing Number’ played the Sydney Theatre, Walsh Bay from the 19th November to the 2nd December 2008.

Australia

Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman in ‘Australia’

‘A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose’, so said famous American poet Gerrude Stein. It’s a poetic way of saying something simple,- what something is, is what it is! There’s no point in criticising something for what it isn’t!

‘Australia’ is movie making on a grand scale…some say it was Luhrmann’s attempt to make an Australian version of ‘Gone with the Wind’..It’s not meant to be a bulletproof historical document.

‘Australia’ is a great love story. The story of the coming together of two rank opposites. It is flagged from their first scene together…Nicole Kidman’s Lady Ashley has just arrived from England. She is dressed up to the nines. She comes out of the pub to meet up with Hugh Jackman’s Drover who is going to take her to her huge cattle property, Faraway Downs, when she finds the Drover laying into a bunch of guys, in a good, old fashioned Aussie brawl. Somehow her suitcase gets caught up in the brawl, and her expensive lingerie tumbles out of her bag, and much to her chagrin, goes flying everywhere. It’s a legendary scene in a film that boosts a few of them.

‘Australia’ is a celebration of its indigenous peoples. Two of the films’ main characters are Aboriginal; Brandon Walers’s Nullah, a smart, spririted 12 year old half-caste boy who Lady Ashley takes under her care, and Nullah’s grandfather, David Gulipilli’s King George, a spiritual elder.

‘Australia’ plays out as a modern day western. Bryan Brown’s King Carney wants to buy out Faraway Downs to add to his empire and together with David Wenham’s Neil Fletcher will do anything to win Faraway Downs from Lady Ashley.

One of the joys of ‘Australia’ is that it is a celebration of how much acting talent we have, seeing so many well known local performers getting roles in a big international film. Its a huge list including in supporting roles- Ray Barrett, Tony Barry, Lillian Crombie, Max Cullen, Essie David, Arthur Dignum, John Jarrett, Ben Mendelsohn, Barry Otto, Bruce Spence, Jack Thompson, Kerry Walker, Matthew Whittet, Ursula Yovich and John Walton…

‘Australia’ is good, old fashioned, escapist, grand movie making. Don’t be too hard on it, and enjoy it for what it is!

Slumdog Millionaire

Dev Patel and Anil Kapoor in ‘Slumdog Millionaire’

Welcome to the world of the modern fairytale with British director Danny Boyle’s new film, ‘Slumdog Millionaire’. Boyle’s film is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Vikus Swarup, which has been adapted for the screen by Simon Beaufoy,most famous for his script, ‘The Full Monty’.

Once upon a time there was a street kid named Jamal doing it very tough in the slums of Mumbai. As he grew into a tough young man there seemed very little future for him.

Then one day, whilst working in a busy call centre, he decides to ring up and register to be a participant on the local version of the international hit quizz show, ‘Who wants to be a millionaire?’. Jamal gets on the show and despite being incredibly nervous proves to have a natural aptitude for it. He comes back week after week with continued success, and the former street kid becomes a national celebrity. The film builds up to its dramatic climax. Will he take out the shows’ biggest prize, a cool twenty million rupees?!

‘Slumdog Miilionaire’ works, and works tremendously well. Boyle has come up with a winning recipe; a great storyline that also includes a stirring love story, a pulsating soundtrack of contemporary Indian music (A.R.Rahman), all the hype of the ‘Who wants to be a millionaire?’ game, and some wonderful performances by the leads, Dev Patel as Jamal, Anil Kapoor as the over the top show host, and Indian model now actress, Freida Pinto as Latika, the only woman who makes Jamal’s heart beat stronger.

Tipped to be in the running at next year’s Oscars, ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ can be seen at most of the main cinemas.

I’ve Loved You So Long

Kristen Scott Thomas as in her new film a tortured but resilient Juliette

French novelist Philippe Claudel gives acclaimed British actress Kristen Scott-Thomas a great dramatic role with his first film, ‘I’ve Loved You So Long’, and she delivers with a memorable performance.

Thomas plays Juliette, a mature french woman (yes it is a totally french speaking part for the actress) who has just been released from prison after a fifteen year sentence. ‘I’ve Loved You So Long’ charts Juliette’s journey to make a new life for herself.

Thomas doesn’t miss a beat in her performance. We are drawn to her from the first scene as she mysteriously and anxiously waits for someone to meet her at a cafe, where she sits, a sombre, solitary figure. We soon realise that though Juliette is a frail figure she also has an iron will and through the tough journey she might just land on her feet again.

Juliette starts her ‘new life’ with only one true ally, her younger sister, Lea. Lea is the woman who picks her up from the cafe, and takes her home to live with her husband, and their young child. Elsa Zylbersetin as Lea, gives a fine performance, portraying a strong character, who will keep being there for her big sister.

An poignant film, and a great showcase for some wonderful acting, ‘I’ve Loved You So Long’ is currently playing Dendy and Palace cinemas.

Man On Wire

Tightrope walker extraordinaire Philippe Petit in ‘Man On Wire’

With ‘Man On Wire’ British filmmaker James Marsh has made a wonderful study of his engrossing subject, french tightrope walker, Philippe Petit.

To tell its story the doco combines plenty of archival footage, lots of dramatic re-enactments, and intriguing interviews with the man himself, and the main players in his life.

‘Man On Wire’ charts a remarkable, almost predestined journey. The starting point is Petit as a quirky adolescent practising with tightropes in the park and winning the heart of an amazed girl who remains his companion for many years. The end point is his astonishing 1974 high-wire routine performed across New York City’s World Trade Centre Twin Towers.

The most intriguing parts of the journey lay in seeing how much work is involved in setting up for a tightrope climb…trying to get a feeling for how deeply focused Petit’s concentration must be when he climbs…of-course, his climb of the Sydney Harbour Bridge which caused a huge stir…and the sheer stealthiness and audacity involved in organising and carrying out the Twin Tower climb, which has been dubbed , ‘the greatest crime of the 20th century’.

What does the film reveal about Philippe Petit, the man?! The film reveals a man of many parts; clever…intense…obsessive…arrogant…analytical…fearless and daring…a master provocateur…a showman and much more. It’s funny but one of my favourite images of Petit from the film is of the playful, clownish Petit riding through Paris streets on a one wheel bicycle.

The film ends with a note of personal philisophy from Petit, along the lines of ‘you have to live life on the edge’. Well..being his life’s motto..of-course he would say that!

Highly recommended. ‘Man on Wire’ is coming to the end of its Sydney season, and is currently playing the Chauvel cinema at Paddington.

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Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Penelope Cruz in ‘Vicky Cristina Barcelona’

Woody Allen’s latest foray into the deep terrain of the human heart is his new film ‘Vicky Cristina Barcelona’.

The plot to ‘Vicky Cristina Barcelona’ centres around two American women, Vicky and Cristina, vactioning in Barcelona, Spain. They stay at the palatial home of Judy, Vicky’s relative. Their adventures truly begin when they accept the proposition of a celebrated, eccentric local artist, Juan Antonio Gonzalo, who invites them away to the city of Oviedo, in the small plane that he flies, to spend a weekend sight-seeing, drinking wine, and more…

‘Vicky Cristina Barcelona’ pulled me in and kept me involved. The film’s strength lay foremost with its strong, credible, interesting characters, well performed by a strong cast. Scarlett Johansson’s Cristina was an impulsive, intense, searching young woman, still trying to find her way in the world. British actress Rebecca Hall played her straight-laced, academic friend Vicky with Chris Messina playing her equally straight-laced fiance, Doug. Javier Bardem played the brilliant artist and Romeo figure, Juan Antonio. Penelope Cruz was brilliant as his manic, uncontrollable artist ex-wife, Maria Elena.

The mix of strong performances, taut romantic situations, some great shots of Barcelona, and plenty of Spanish guitar made this Woody Allen film a treat.

‘Vicky Cristina Barcelona’ starts at selected cinemas on Boxing Day.

21 December, 2008

Four Holidays

Kristin Chenoweth and Reece Witherspoon in ‘Four Holidays’

The new American film ‘Four Holidays’ turned out to be a disappointing romantic comedy. This was made even more disappointing by a strong cast that included leads Reece Withersoon and Vince Vaughan, and in the supporting cast, Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Jon Voight and Mary Steenburgen.

For bright upwardly mobile young couple, Brad and Kate, Christmas Day turns into a hellish ordeal after they pay visits to their parents, with both sides having long been separated.

Through the film the question kept on popping up, who really cares about these characters?! There were some good comic, slapstick moments but that’s about as good as it gets!

An empty experience!

BELLE’S LINE

Playwright Tamara Asmar

There’s a new play on at Sydney’s popular fringe theatre venue, the Old Fitzroy theatre The play is young local playwright Tamara Asmar’s play, ‘Belle’s Line’. Asmar’s play slots in to the Sydney theatre landscape as middle of the range, well structured drama.

‘Belle’s Line’ is about Belle, a young woman whose life is at a crossroads. On one hand, her public relations career that she has tried so hard to establish, is blossoming. On the other hand her boyfriend Mick is getting more and more serious in his intentions. Things come to a head when Mick sets his sights on proposing to Belle one Friday night after Belle has had a particular trying week at work. Their night together is thrown into further confusion when Belle’s attention seeking sister, Ruth knocks on their door, planning to stay for the weekend.

Thematically, the play had a lot of similarities with ‘The Devil wears Prada’, where a hard nosed female manager tries to mould her personal assistant to be as ruthless and work obsessed like her, and to forego a private life.

I felt that the play was well served by a punchy first Act but could have had a stronger second half.

Director Alan Flower’s production vividly brings Asmar’s play to life. Much like Belvoir’s B Sharp’s production of ‘Killer Joe’ live music plays a great role with veteran actor Terry Serio showing his musical talents by playing mini guitar tracks through the play.

Flower’s production incorporates some fun touches. At different times in the play the cast turn off Serio’s guitar strumming by pointing an imaginary remote in his direction. Another fun visual was late in the play when Mick goes disappearing at night into the Kurrajong bush Flowers gets a stage hand to shine a torch that follows Mick as he scuttles across the upstairs stage area.

Structurally, ‘Belle’s Line’ shifts between the tensions in Belle and Mick’s relationship, and the testy work encounters between Belle and Marion.

‘Belle’s Line’ is a four-hander. The playwright has given the cast four meaty roles to work with.Sophie Cleary’s Belle captures the angst of a ‘torn’ young woman. Rebecca Clarke’s is Belle’s temperamental, highly strung older sister, Ruth. Dan Henshall’s Mick is Belle’s good natured beau who has oodles of charm and vitality. Christine Greenough hits the right note in her portrayal of Belle’s manager Marion who has devoted her life to her career and can’t understand anyone who doesn’t.

‘Belle’s Line’ plays the Old Fitzroy theatre, corner Cathedral and Dowling streets, Woolloomooloo until December 23.

RABBIT

Toby Schmitz, Ryan Johnson and Alison Bell in ‘Rabbit’

In British playwright Nina Raine’s ‘Rabbit’, the main character Bella is faced with a difficult choice. She has to choose between spending the night keeping vigil at the bedside of her father who lies ill in hospital, or to party on with her friends at a city bar to celebrate her 29th birthday. Bella makes the softer of the choices and plays the party girl.

There’s plenty of fuel in Raine’s fire. The unresolved conflicts between Bella and her father play out in the background. A few of her friends at the party are master provocateurs, Sandy is a bold, brassy, straight talking young woman. Her friend and former lover Richard is confident and outspoken. As the night goes on, and more and more alcohol is consumed, the talk turns in to a big debate on the battle between the sexes.

Brendan Cowell, in his STC directorial debut, keeps the play moving at a good pace, and builds up the tension well as the play leads to a strong, emotional climax. Cowell wins strong performances from his cast.

Alison Bell is great as the hedonistic Bella who has a thing or two to learn about dealing with issues. Geoff Morrell is a shadowy presence as her father.

Toby Schmitz once again shows he has real stage presence as loquacious lawyer Richard. Kate Mulvany played Bella’s Doctor friend, Emily, who is seen some dark things. Romy Bartz does well as the spunky, feisty Sandy, and Ryan Johnson rounds out the cast as the laid-back friend, Tom.

‘Rabbit’ plays Wharf 1 at the Sydney Theatre Company until the 18th January, 2009

TOUGH TIMES, NICE TIMES

Jon Haynes and David Woods in ‘Tough Time nice time’.

Jon Haynes’s and David Woods’s piece ‘Tough time, nice time’ is a tough, confronting time in the theatre.

Their play gives an unflinching portrait of the dark souls of two German tourists on a sex junket in Bangkok. This is one of those plays that make one wince!

The entire play, a short piece that runs just over an hour, is set in a bath tub, as the two men share a bath in their Jacuzzi.

Their discussion jumps between personal stories from their lives, some true, others fabricated, to their personal ‘takes’ on a whole range of subjects. Let’s just say- they do not paint a pretty picture!

The two characters are meticulously drawn. Woods plays a married man with three kids. His wife knows that he’s gay but won’t call him on it. He gets off on seeing violent movies and fantasizes about committing violent acts himself.

Haynes’s character is a very different kind of lawyer! Despite his many homosexual encounters, he declares that he isn’t gay. He is an avid user of ecstasy and during the bath, both men take a tablet. There is more than a hint that he may be a pedophile with some of the stories that he tells.

Haynes and Woods are consummate performers and deliver their rapid-fire dialogue with sting. Mischa Twitchin’s astute lighting design leant weight to the plays’ dark tones.

This piercing portrait of two ugly German tourists plays Belvoir upstairs till the 21st December, 2008.

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