The Story Of My Life

I really enjoyed the French film ‘The Story Of My Life’, directed by Laurent Tirard. It is a shame it has taken so long to get here as it was released in France in 2004.

The storyline is a familiar one, a thirties something man goes on a journey of self discovery. This version features Raphael, a man who is in a rut in his life. He does not know what he wants romantically, and is bored in his journalistic career.

Raphael works as a ghostwriter, writing up the life stories of dull, uninspiring celebrities whose stories he unashamedly embellishes. He holds dreams of making it himself as a writer, and years ago wrote a novel which he has kept locked away in a cupboard. When he tells his girlfriend Muriel
about his ‘hidden’ novel she won’t get off his case. It starts getting at Raphael, he has felt like an imposter all the time he has been a ghostwriter. Now it really is the time to go for becoming a real writer!

‘The Story of My Life’ was a good example of satirical, playful, romantic, and freewheeling cinema. My favourite ingredients…I loved the quirky character stories, well played by the cast. Raphael is a bit of a Hamlet character, a bit bumbling, incredibly indecisive and awkward. There’s one of Raphael’s clients, soccer star Kevin. He’s a bizarre, dorky character who rattles Raphael with his demands, including wanting to write his story ala Charles Baudelaire. There’s Raphael’s old flame, Claire, a sophisticated woman who doesn’t know what she wants.

I loved the films’ satirical tone. Broad satire is aimed at the shallow world of star biographies. It is all about pleasing the star, and Raphael’s editor is always on his back to make sure that he appeases their wishes.

Most of all, I enjoyed the film’s playful, unpredictable, good natured style. Scenes go one way, and then another, not always making perfect sense but adding to the film’s charm.

Revue Sans Frontiers

The Wharf Review team are back again with their new show, ‘Revue Sans Frontieres’. Their current team is Jonathon Biggins, Phillip Scott, Valerie Bader and Garry Scale.

As always the show is fun though I always have that nagging feeling about the Wharf review team shows is that they never really quite come off, and are always a bit hit and miss.

The modus operandi of the show is that there is so much bad stuff going on in the world that the team has come up with a comic satire review team to combat it.

In their usual broad sweep approach the team chooses many targets. These were my favourites. There was a fast paced skit of a tongue in cheek, biographical sketch of Condoleeza Rice. On the video screen Jonathon Biggins did a clever impersonation of Paul Keating. There was a skit on the formidable liberal Federal MP Helen Coonan who was made out as just a John Howard clone. Then there was a skit on David Stratton and Margaret Pomerance, with some clever impersonation, and the couple of-course never agreeing.

By far the wittiest skit was ‘The Tragedy of Costello’. Oh they really gave Costello a hard time, the man from Melbourne who felt he was destined to lead the party. The skit was a take off of Macbeth, drawing parallels between Costello and Macbeth in terms of his ‘vaulting ambition’. Phil Scott enjoyed playing the wicked witches predicting doom!

Phil Scott was his usual extraordinary self, displaying his great skills on the piano and there wouldn’t be a Wharf revue without his famous, thick brow John Howard.

Jonathon Biggins did some good stuff, some clever impersonations, and there was ofcourse his regular gig on the Democrats, appearing in short pants and long socks, and speaking to his colleagues. Biggins also showed a deft hand at electric guitar. I just felt that sometimes during the ninety minutes he looked as if he was hamming it up a bit too much. Maybe he just isn’t that funny!

Valerie Bader was excellent in the many roles that she had to play. She was in great voice and just so solid. The talented Gary Scale rounded out the cast.

Summing up, ‘Revue Sans Frontiers’ wasn another high spirited, fast paced revue night, highlighted by some zingy one liners and some great music.

The Lost Echo

When I told a good friend that I went to see Barry Kosky’s ‘The Lost Echo’, all in one eight hour sitting, he gave me a kind of incredulous look, and then said, ‘you’re joking…eight hours of Kosky…how did you get through it?’

‘Actually, it wasn’t that hard at all. The time went really quickly. There was just so much happening on stage, it was full on, with over forty actors involved, the wonderful, large Sydney theatre stage area fully utilised…and wizard Kosky at the front, pounding on the keys…and some really great music’.

‘Was it typical Kosky subject matter? “Yes, the usual heavy stuff. Together with Sydney Theatre Company Associate Director Tom Wright they dramatized some stories from Roman poet Ovid’s s ‘Metamorphoses’. Stories such as the story of Phaeton about a boy whose search for his father leads him to incineration, and Mestra about a girl whose father eats himself to death’.

‘How would you describe the night? ‘It was a very primal experience …it was like a walk through your darkest nightmares and sexual fantasies’.

‘Kosky loves to shock and offend. I guess he lived up to his reputation? ‘Absolutely…lots of blood and gore…human waste …male and female nudity…women with straps on…men with dildos…got the picture?’

‘What were the highlights?’ The music…Kosky himself has said that the music was the lost echo. He weaved music into the play from Cole Porter to Monteverdi to Schubert…it was wonderful…There was an electricity about the show… 38 actors on stage who each gave their heart and soul …including the actors from the Sydney Theatre Company’s Actors company, Paul Capsis and second year NIDA students who were fantastic…the dance sequences were tremendous’.

‘Did you ever feel like walking out?’ Yes, the show was divided into four acts. The third Act was called ‘The Song of Bacchus’. It was just so dark and oppressive, I felt like shooting myself!’.

‘Did you ever get lost? Not know what was going on? ‘Absolutely…most of the time I was just hanging in there…just feeling it experientially…please don’t ask me to explain the stories!’.

‘Would you recommend it to people? “Hey, obviously not to my 80 year old Aunty! She’d have to be one hip lady. Ok..seriously…it wasn’t my cup of tea but I got plenty of stuff out of it. Yes I would recommend it…it challenges audiences…there’s a lot of bland theatre….and whatever else you might say about Kosky, his theatre is never, ever bland. Go see it for yourself and you decide!’.

The Emperor of Sydney

The Stables theatre recently presented ‘The Emperor of Sydney’, the final play in Louis Nowra’s outstanding trilogy about the Boyce family, following on from ‘The Woman with Dog’s Eyes’ and ‘The Marvellous Boy’.

Nowra starts ‘The Emperor of Sydney’ in very dramatic fashion. The three sons and two partners are gathered in the living room of the family’s mansion as their father, business tycoon, Malcolm, lies dying in his upstairs bedroom. While they are anxiously waiting for their father to finally give up his struggle, all sorts of conflicts and tensions come to the surface.

I came out of the play feeling that ‘The Emperor of Sydney’ was the strongest of the trilogy. The play ran for 90 minutes without interval, and it was simply an electric atmosphere on stage all the way through.

David Berthold was again the director, and kept the play going at fever pitch. Toby Schmitz was again tremendous as Malcolm’s youngest son, Luke, who carries within him so much well deserved anger towards his father. Alex Dimitriades was sharp as the calculating Todd, who had been the black sheep of the family but had recently come back into favour. Anita Hegh played Todd’s pushy wife, Diane who had used her sex appeal and the birth of a son to curry favour with Malcolm.

Then there was the oldest son Keith, played by Jack Finsterer, who seemed to have the most practical and business like nature but that didn’t seem to help him get very far. And also Keith was embarrassed by the flirtatious, drunken and manic behaviour of his wife Gillian (Sibylla Budd).

Nicholas Dare’s set of the Boyce’s family home communicated the strong materialistic values that Malcolm Boyce lived and died by.

I felt kind of sad, after the actors took their final bows at the end of opening night. Now there would be no more about plays about the Boyce family. Still one has to be grateful, the Boyce trilogy been well worth the journey!

The Wind That Shakes The Barley

Veteran British filmmaker Ken Loach’s film ‘The Wind that shakes the Barley’ won the coveted Palme d’Or award for best film at this years’ Cannes Film Festival.

Loach’s film is set in Ireland in 1920 and focuses on two brothers, Damien and Teddy. Teddy is a leader of a guerilla squad (the early IRA) fighting for his country’s independence from the motherland, England. Damien is completing a medical degree, and is intending to do his final training at a London Hospital.

Shortly before Damien departs for London, he witnesses first hand atrocities carried out by the English soldiers, the Black and Tans, against a local family, and decides to change his plans and join Teddy’s resistance group.

Damien and Teddy fight side by side until the Irish resistance forces a truce, the Anglo-Irish Treaty. Many in the Irish community believe that the truce is a sell-out. The war is resumed, and the brothers take different sides, Teddy siding with the English and Damien with the Irish. Tragedy ensues.

There’s a quote from Loach’s speech at the Cannes Film which indicates where he was coming from in making ‘The Wind That Shakes The Barley’

“We live in extraordinary times and that has made people political in a way that they weren’t four, five, six years ago. The wars we have seen, the occupations that we now see throughout the world- people finally can’t turn away from that. It’s very exciting to be able to deal with this in films, and not just be a complement to the popcorn’.

]I came out of Loach’s film feeling emotionally gutted. His film as well as being critical of the British role in the conflict delivers a strong anti-war message. The one predominant theme that the film keeps coming back to is how, during the conflict, normal human boundaries and decencies don’t exist. The audience sees friends and families pitted against each other. One day friends may be sharing dinner with each other, the next day they are killing each other. The convictions and beliefs that the characters carry over-ride their humanity. One can’t help but feel that Loach means the audience to consider what is happening with suicide bombers and the situation in Iraq.

Cillian Murphy and Padraic Delaney are excellent in the leading roles with Orla Fitzgerald a stand-out in one of the supporting roles as Damien’s girlfriend.

‘The Wind That Shakes The Barley’ was a sobering, harsh, movie experience.

Cards on The Table

Every year the inner city Genesian Theatre Company schedules at least one murder mystery in their program. Recently the Company presented Leslie Darbon’s flexible adaptation of Agathie Christie’s novel ‘Cards On The Table’.

In ‘Cards On The Table’ the wealthy and mysterious collector Shaitana gathers together a formidable group of characters for a fashionable dinner party. There’s the charming doctor, the courageous Major, the millionaires and the naïve debutant. Shaitana then invites Mrs Adriane Oliver, a famous crime writer, and her new ally, Superintendent Battle, to join the party. An innocent game of bridge soon turns to murder, and the two sleuth’s race against time to solve the whodunit before the murderer strikes again. No wonder that, at one time, Mr Shaitana says to his assorted guests, ‘this is a night none of you will ever forget’.

Debbie Smith directed an entertaining, suspenseful night of theatre. In the leading roles, Scott Fenson played Shaitana, Paul Treacy was Superintendent Battle and Shane Bates played Mrs Oliver.

Ms Smith’s creative team included set designer Grant Fraser, lighting designer Eric Bicknell, costume designer Susan Carveth, and Ms Smith herself did the lighting.

ARE YOU THERE?

The Ensemble Theatre recently presented the Australian premiere of an Argentinian play, Javier Daulte’s ‘Are You There?’. This was a more exotic choice than is the usual case with the Ensemble as the Kirribilli based theatre generally chooses plays local, American or British productions.

The Ensemble invited Ros Horin, formerly the long-time Artistic Director of the Stables theatre, to direct the production. The story goes that Ms Horin saw the play in Buenos Aires, fell in love with it, and decided that she just had to direct it. She is quoted as saying, ‘The play spoke to me when I saw it in Spanish and I don’t even know the language! It’s whimsical and tender, funny and sad, and full of delicious physical comedy. Most especially, ‘Are You There?’ celebrates the power and magic of the actor’s art, which lets us see the invisible”.

In ‘Are You There?’ Ana(Paula Arundell) and Francisco(Socratis Otto) appear like any ordinary couple; they are newly married, moving house and unpacking boxes. However with their new house comes new baggage. The happy couple are forced to become a happy trio. Enter the uninvited new flatmate Fred, he’s opinionated, he’s disruptive and most surprisingly of all, he’s invisible! How do the young couple cope with the unexpected intrusion?!

I wish I could say that I also fell in love with ‘Are you There?’ however I would not be being truthful. I didn’t enjoy the play, I found it hard to follow, and irritating. I know that it was meant to be cute and sweet but I give it only a lukewarm rating.

I found Ros Horin’s production and the performances to be sound.

I compare Daulte’s play to say a play turned film like ‘Truly, Madly, Deeply’, a script along similar lines,yet ‘Are You There?’ lacked the same depth or poetry.

Last Train To Freo

The new Australian film ‘Last Train to Freo’ has had quite a journey. Back in 1999 Reg Cribb wrote a short play titled ‘The Return’, directed by Jeremy Sims, which had a very successful season at Sydney’s Stables theatre. In 2000 the playwright and director presented a successful full length version of the play for the Perth Theatre Company. The talented duo then set about making a full length feature film out of the work, which has now come to fruition with ‘The Last Train To Freo’ opening around Australia in September. The film represents popular actor Jeremy Sims’s debut as a film director.

‘Last Train To Freo’ starts at midnight, on a hot summer’s night, with two ex cons, the Tall Thug (Steve Le Marquand) and Trev (Tom Budge), getting on the last train to Fremantle. Bored, restless and looking for trouble, they start to poke fun at their mind numbing existence. Then a beautiful young law student Lisa (Gigi Edgley) steps onto the train- not knowing that the train guards are on strike, and its time for the boys to create some trouble. Further down the line, at Perth Central station, two new passengers. Maureen (Gillian Jones) and Simon (Glenn Hazeldine) get on board. The lives of the five train passengers are forever changed by the time the train terminates at Fremantle.

I came out of ‘Last Train to Freo’ thinking gosh that was a bold, interesting film but feeling that it just didn’t come off. I loved the way the film tried to change audience’s expectations. Just when the audience is getting in a comfortable mind-set thinking they’re just watching another creepy, claustrophobic film about a couple of thugs throwing their weight around, and tormenting a beautiful young woman, the film goes in different tangents and adds new layers. That is exciting! But then, it felt like the filmmakers just got a bit too carried away with the different twists that they incorporated, and though theoretically everything tied up well in the ending, the truth in the work seemed to get lost on the way.

Still, though ‘Last Train To Freo’ doesn’t reach great heights, the film is worth watching. There was a buzz about the film’s level of energy and commitment. Sims’s first stab at directing was impressive, his creative team supported him well, and the cast played their hearts out…Steve Le Marquand’s edgy, dangerous portrayal as the Tall Thug, Tom Budge as his less charismatic sidekick Trev, Gigi Edgley playing Lisa like an exposed nerve, Gillian Jones’s tough worldliness as Maureen, and Glenn Hazeldine’s simmering rage as Simon.

I am My Own Wife

Jeffesron Mays in ‘I am my Own Wife’

Theatre doesn’t get much better than the Sydney Theatre Company’s presentation of Doug Wright’s play ‘I am my Own Wife’ which won the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

With painstaking research Wright brings to life a remarkable character, Charlotte von Mahlsdorf (1926-2000). Charlotte, a flamboyant gay transsexual, was something of a legendary/folklore figure in home town of Berlin, and has been the subject of a best selling autobiography and an extensive documentary. Now Wright’s play, which is currently on an international tour, has brought von Mahlsdorf’s to the world stage.

The playwright grew up gay in the conservative southern part of America. This was tough enough. The starting point of his play on Charlotte was to explore what it must have been like for Charlotte to have survived living life as a transvestite through two of the most oppressive totalitarian regimes in history.

For his research Wright conducted several lengthy interviews with Charlotte from 1992 to 1994 and also based his play on newspaper accounts of her life, interaction with key people in her life, and sighting the controversial Stasi file held by the East German Secret Police.

With ‘I am my Own Wife’, Wright has come up with an intriguing, turbulent, warts and all portrait. There’s the Charlotte who beat her father to death with a blunt instrument in anger at the abuse of his mother..the Charlotte defiant in her sexuality… the Charlotte who created her own homegrown museum featuring 19th century German artifacts such as period furniture, antiques, and early musical instruments, which East Berliners flocked to… Charlotte who betrayed a friend to the Stasi…the Charlotte, who during the Cold War-when the Russians threatened to destroy a Weimar era cabaret in Berlin’s red light district, rescued each table, cane back chair and liquor bottle and hid them in her basement. In 1992, the German Cultural Ministry awarded her a prestigious medal for her preservation efforts.

Wright devised the play as a one person show, writing in some 35 other characters, He includes himself in as one of the characters as he attempts to unravel the Charlotte story. Other characters include a television talk show host, Stasi officials, American GIs, SS officers, and several of Charlotte’s family members and friends.

Wright and director Moises Kaufman selected one of New York’s major theatre actors, Jefferson Mays, to perform the show, and Mays has since gone on to win numerous accolades including the 2004 Tony Award for best actor. Mays delivers one of the finest performances that has ever graced the Opera House’s Drama Theatre.

Kaufman’s creative team shine with Derek McLane’s exquisite set of Charlotte’s room and her furniture museum, and David Lander’s excellent lighting design.

‘I am My Own Wife’ was a memorable night in the theatre, spotlighting a fascinating life story.

The Dressing Room at the Dog and Trumpet

There is already in existence an ample and impressive collection of plays about theatre, from the inside. Sadly, local playwright Annie Cossins play ‘The Dressing Room at the Dog and Trumpet’, currently playing at Darlinghurst’s Tap Gallery, adds little to this genre.

Cossins contemporary play is set in the dressing room of an inner city pub called ‘The Dog and Trumpet’. The play follows a small group of actors through the course of an opening night performance from their pre show preparations and warm-ups all the way through to the cast saying their farewells at the end of the night.

By way of background, Cossins based the play on her experiences when she was performing in a production of Christopher Durang’s New York comedy ‘Beyond Therapy’ at Balmain’s Cat and Fiddle theatre in 2004. In fact, she started writing the play in the dressing shows during the run. Her characters were loosely based on the actors she was working with.

This all sounds like a great springboard for an interesting play, however I found the end product, flat and disappointing. To use a phrase, it certainly seemed to be the case of something being lost in translation. Whatever inspired and stimulated Cossins back in 2004 just didn’t hold up in the play.

The audience was left with a play that had mediocre direction from Emily Weare, lacked a genuine dramatic situation, and included a group of characters who weren’t that interesting. It wasn’t that exciting to spend just under an hour and a half with a guy with a punky hairdo, a wannabe writer, a guy who can’t get laid, and a prima donna.

No Names…No Pack Drill

NIDA is not only Australia’s most famous acting school but, on occasions also presents professional productions. Recently, the NIDA Company along with the SBW Foundation presented a revival of one of the classics of the Australian theatre, Bob Herbert’s ‘No Names…No Pack Drill’.

‘No Names…No Pack Drill’ is set in wartime Sydney in 1942. After recovering from a gunshot wound sustained during a battle at Guadalcanal. 24 years old Marine Sergeant Harry ‘Rebel’ Porter (David Lyons) docks in Sydney and decides he’s had enough of fighting. After drowning his sorrows in a Kings Cross pub, Rebel is invited to a party in a young woman’s apartment, and ends up crashing the night. Sydney postal worker, Kathy McLeod (Bridie Carter) is just 28 with both her husband and brother both away fighting in Papua New Guinea. Kath finds the US Marine asleep in her lounge room and wants to rid herself quickly of her uninvited guest. But later that morning a telegram arrives and her whole world changes.

The current head of Acting Tony Knight directed the production, and selected his team from over five decades of NIDA acting and creative talent. This was my kind of theatre, where one could easily work out the kind of people Herbert’s characters were, and then enjoy spending a couple of hours in their company, and watch them cope with the situations they encountered.

David Lyons and Bridie Carter played the leads. David Lyons portrayed Rebel as an average, cheerful young American guy who had just seen enough of the war, and decided to go AWOL.

Bridie Carter’s portrayal of Kathy was a delight. She portrayed Kathy as a modest, true blue, warm hearted, working class young Australian woman who had just been just getting on with her life, and finds her life forever complicated by Rebel’s arrival.

Travis McMahon nailed his part as Kathy’s shifty friend, Tiger. McMahon portrayed Tiger as a shadowy, devious, slick conman guy, who would when push comes to shove would always look after his own interests.

Robyn McLeavy was great as Kathy’s long-time friend, Joycie. Here was a ditzy, good time party girl complete with bubbly, inane laughter. David Jones played her equally inane, good-time sailor boyfriend, Bernie. Together they were quite a daggy team!

Jennifer Hagan played Kathy’s incredibly irritating landlord Mrs Palmer. Hagan gave a compelling portrait of the landlord from hell. Her Mrs Palmer was forever nosy and intrusive, aggressive, narrow minded, shifty, malicious and ready to pounce if the occasion demanded.

1965 NIDA graduate Helmut Bakaitis played Detective Browning. He looked and felt the part of typical, middle-aged, Detective who has been on the beat forever, with a very hard exterior but a good heart inside.

Tony Knight’s direction was clear and well paced, and successfully brought the quintessential feel to Herbert’s play. Knight’s creative team was strong. Peter Cooke’s expansive, plush set of Kathy’s flat, and Marcia Lidden’s costumes successfully recreated 1940’s Australia. Peter Walton lit the actors well, and Mike Smith’s soundtrack revisited some of the musical hits of the time.

This ‘No Names…No Pack Drill’ was a strong, entertaining production and one of my highlights of the year.

Embers

During the month of August the Sydney Theatre Company, together with Albury’s Hothouse Theatre Company, presented a production of Campion Decent’s powerful doco drama ‘Embers’at its Wharf 1 theatre.

Decent’s play was about the 2003 Victorian bushfires which represented one of the worst national disasters in Australian history. Decent extensively researched his play, conducting interviews with fire fighters (volunteer and paid), farmers, business proprietors, children, council workers, families and volunteers,travelling nearly 3,000 kilometres through isolated bushfire affected areas in late 2003 and early 2004.

‘Embers’ was a powerful testimony to the community spirit and sense of Australian mateship that held the townships together. A pool of seven actors were selected to tell the community’s stories.

Maeliosa Stafford took the directors chair and brought together a strong cast that included Annie Byron, Tracy Mann, Mark Pegler, Tim Richards, Amber Todd, John Walker and Matthew Zeremes. Each actor gave passionate, committed performances.

A feature of ‘Embers’ was the very strong production values; Martin Kinnane’s great lighting design, Steve Francis’s atmospheric score with plenty of use of the violin, and Gordon Burns’s set design with its rural landscape backdrop, and the stage floor speckled with embers.

Most of all ‘Embers’ will be be remembered for some of the anecdotes to come out of the disaster. My favourite was an amazing survival story, a wildlife sanctuary worker who sought refuge from the fires in a mineshaft, staying underground with kangaroos, wallabies and a corgi, and keeping the embers at bay by using a saturated mattress to block the mineshaft.

Fat Pig

Contemporary New York playwright Neil Labute is one of my favourite writers. He has an impressive body of work including the films ‘Nurse Betty’ and ‘In the Company of Men’, and one of my favourite plays ‘The Shape of Things’, which the Sydney Theatre Company presented in 2003. Now the Sydney Theatre Company is presenting his new work ‘Fat Pig’.

‘Fat Pig’ continues LaBute’s tradition of writing confronting work. The playwright tells a simple story. Tom is an ordinary thirties something man who has a romance with a Helen, a pretty looking woman who is very obese. Tom’s peers don’t approve of him becoming serious with such an overweight woman, and put pressure on him to leave her.

There have been many films and plays that have explored the rich emotional territory of couples exploring unconventional relationships. Two films that come straight to mind are ‘Harold and Maude’, and the late German filmmaker Rainer Fassbinder’s searing ‘Fear Eats the Soul’.

LaBute’s play hits the bullseye, emotionally speaking. He sees his characters with an unfinching eye. In the media release LaBute is quoted as saying- ‘my characters are desperately human- they want to have convictions but, in the end, they would rather be liked or get their needs met’. In ‘Fat Pig’ the main character, Tom, is found wanting.

Peter Evans production of ‘Fat Pig’ went for one hundred unrelenting minutes, with the cast clearly emotionally engaged . At curtain call Katrina Milosevic still had genuine tears in her eyes.

James Saunders gave a tremendous performance as Tom, who just didn’t have the guts to follow through his on own convictions.

Katrina Milosevic gave a very affecting performance as optimistic, high spirited Helen who is, finally, let down.

Ed Wightman convincingly played Tom’s cynical work colleague Carter. Carter delivered one of the most scathing quotes in the play,- “peope are not comfortable with difference you know? Fags, retards, cripples, fat people, old folks, even. They scare us or something…we’re all just one step away from being what frightens us, what we despise so…we despise it when we see it in anybody else’.

Felicity Price played Jeannie, another of Tom’s cynical , pushy colleagues. I found her performance just a little too stagey.

Summing up, ‘Fat Pig’ was a bit of a sad night in the theatre, starkly revealing the less appealing, spineless aspects of human behaviour.

The Devil wears Prada

Hollywood came up with one of the best trailers of the year in line with the release of David Frankel’s ‘The Devil wears Prada’, based on the best selling novel by Lauren Weisberger, and straight away it went on my list of films to see.

Thankfully, this was one film that lived up to the previews’ promise. The film worked wonderfully well as an fascinating battle of wills between two very different characters. Streep is wonderful as the ruthless fashion magazine editor (of Runway magazine) Miranda Priestly who has everyone shaking in their boots. Anne Hathaway plays Miranda’s nervous new assistant, Andy Sachs.

At first, it seems like there will be no contest at all, because it looks like Miranda will eat Andy for breakfast. Andy walks each day into the office looking as timid as anything and with little to no fashion sense. Simply put, Miranda enjoys squelching people and Andy is just next in line. Miranda’s first assistant Emily doesn’t think that Andy will last out the first week.

A major turning point is when Andy, conscious of her daggy image, enlists the support of colleague Nigel and goes shopping for a new work wardrobe. When Andy walks into the office the following morning, she turns everybody’s head around, including Miranda’s. Andy has announced that she is no pushover. By the end of the film Andy proves to be a formidable, independent woman in her own right.

The main features of ‘The Devil wears Prada’ were its breakneck New York pace and feel, Aline Brosh McKenna’s witty, incisive screenplay, a pounding contemporary soundtrack, some great shots of New York and Paris, a showcase of some of the latest fashions, strong performances from the cast, and a stylish, resonant ending.

Merryl Streep was wonderful as the haughty, intimidating Priestly. The great Streep goes to town playing a super bitch, hyper driven career woman.

Anne Hathaway’s (‘Brokeback Mountain’, ‘The Princess Diaries’) portrayal of Andy Sachs was on the money. Hathaway delivered a touching portrayal of an unsure young woman who grows as a person tremendously during the course of the film.

English actress Emily Blunt (‘My Summer of Love’) impressed as Miranda’s first assistant, Emily. Blunt had a strong celluloid presence, and left audiences in no doubt as to the type of character she was playing. Here was the prototype of an attractive, sophisticated, ambitious, private school, catty, snobbish young British woman.

Stanley Tucci (‘Shall We Dance?’, ‘Maid In Manhatten’) gave a great, natural performance as Miranda’s camp, sophisticated, urbane fashion director, Nigel.

‘The Devil wears Prada’ was so good that I’m sure that it will make it into many people’s private collections.

i GET THE MUSIC IN YOU

Music teacher extraordinaire, Jan van de Stool

‘I get the music in you’, one of the two shows currently playing at the Ensemble Theatre, is a vehicle to showcase the considerable talents of one of our leading music theatre artists, Queenie Van De Zandt.

Van de Zandt devised the show, along with colleague, veteran actor and writer, Tony Taylor. They built the show around De Zandt playing a fully fleshed out new character, eccentric New Age Dutch music therapist and teacher, Jan Van De Stool.

Jan van de Stool comes on stage to tell us that she is in the local scout hall, and a senior judo session has just finished! We witness her intensive one night music workshop with her students, including giving voice lessons, telling anecdotes, delivering put-downs and bits of her own philosophy, teaching students about their chakras, and telling some strange jokes.

Opening night went down well! A supportive audience was with Queenie all the way through her Act and gave her a standing ovation when one of the most bizarre music workshops ever undertaken came to a close.

The verdict was that Taylor and Queenie had a show with a winning recipe. The show’s features were the central oddball character that people could easily laugh at, Queenie’s warm, easy going stage presence and flair for ironic comedy, and plenty of playful interactions with the audience. Everyone enjoys poking fun at less than talented singers, and Queenie does some scathing renditions, when she becomes a few of de Stool’s thankless students.An extra treat was that Queenie, at times, did ‘play straight’ and show off her powerful voice.

(c) David Kary

15th August, 2006

A Chorus Line

In late June, as part of its 2006 season, the Bankstown Musical Society presented a production of ‘A Chorus Line’, one of the all-time great Broadway musicals, at its home base, Bankstown Town Hall.
It was a large scale production that the Company should be very proud of. They did this great musical justice with a fine production.

Richard Blomfeld helmed the production, assisted by a creative team that included Musical Director Peter Hayward, Lighting Designer Greg Smith, and Choreographer Edward Rooke.
Blomfeld had a large cast to manage, just shy of thirty actors walked the boards. Mark Simpson played the hard working Zach, given the difficult job of choosing a mere eight dancers for his show from the huge pool of hopefuls. Megan Motto played Zach’s ex lover, a talented actress, down on her luck, who has come to the point where she is looking for work even amongst chorus lines.

The cast performed the small character bits, Zac’s mini interviews, with style, and the musical numbers were performed with conviction and humour.
My favourite numbers on the night were Janet Cairncross, Victoria Wildie and Katerina Vigh’s rendition of the delicate ‘At the Ballet’, Megan Motto’s touching delivery of ‘The Music and The Mirror’, and Romina Cavagnola’s rendition, along with the Company, of the show’s big hit number ‘What I did for Love’.

It’s a fitting note to end on…because for love is exactly how the cast and crew did this Chorus Line.

My Super Ex-Girlfriend

In the new American film ‘My Super Ex-Girlfriend’ Matt Saunders is your average, all American single guy on the lookout for attractive female company. Matt gets more than he bargained for when he forms a liaison with beautiful gallery assistant, Jenny Johnson. She just also happens to be G-Girl, a sort of female Superman with supernatural powers who is often saving the city from dark criminal elements.

Matt can’t believe his luck. What he hasn’t reckoned on is that his lady is one insecure lady, and can’t handle him enjoying any other female company. Matt ends up breaking up with her. He finds out that hell hath no fury greater than a woman scorned, and G-Girl unleashes all her vengeful powers on him. Matt works out that the only way he will be able to get his life back to normal is if somehow he is able to remove Jenny’s supernatural powers.

‘My Super Ex-Girlfriend’ is the latest film by prolific Hollywood director and producer Ivan Reitman, whose credits include box office hits such as ‘Ghostbusters’ and ‘Kindergarten’. Reitman has come up with pretty average, mega bucks, escapist entertainment.

I collected a few snapshots…the time when G-Girl sends a live shark flying through Matt’s apartment window whilst he is trying to make it with work colleague, Hannah…and anytime when Uma Thurman flicks back her beautiful mane of blonde hair, a surefire cue that Jenny Johnson is about to transform into G-Girl.

Uma Thurman did fine as Jenny Johnson aka G-Girl. She seemed to revel in the jealous, vengeful slant to her role. I liked her especially in the scene where as Jenny Johnson she is dining with Matt and Hannah in a plush New York restaurant and then the news come over the television that the city is being attacked by errant missiles. Thurman conveys well her characters’ reluctance to leave her boyfriend with another woman even though she is needed to turn into G-Girl in order to avoid a major crisis for the city. For my money, this was the best scene in the movie!

Owen Wilson played Matt Saunders. He had, down pat, the standard, average Joe, non intellectual character that is typical for these kinds of films.
Anna Faris shone as Matt’s work colleague and other love interest, Hannah Lewis. She has a lovely, warm quality about her.

Eddie Izzard didn’t have much room to move in his role as Professor Bedlam, Hannah’s nemesis since they had a falling-out as teenagers. This was pretty ordinary fare…playing the heavy who is really a big softie at heart.

The pick of the supporting cast was Wanda Sykes’s fine comic performances as Matt and Hannah’s work boss, Carla Dunkirk. Carla spends most of her time in the office, keeping her eye on the men, trying to ensure that they don’t harass any of the young women.

My recommendation…Wait till ‘My Super Ex- Girlfriend’ goes to DVD to see it…but then again, that has probably already happened!

Sione’s Wedding

The New Zealand film ‘Sione’s Wedding’ is set in the heart of Auckland, amongst the local Samoan community. Within a month the community has a big celebration taking place, the wedding of one of their favourite son’s, Sione (Pua Magasiva). Sione and his fiancé can’t wait for the big day except Sione is agonising whether to invite his brother, Michael (Robbie Magasiva).

Michael is part of a rowdy group called the Duckrockers. The group has been together since they were sixteen, and are now looking down the barrel at turning 30. The group, comprising ladies man Michael, softie Albert (Oscar Kightley), weird one Stanley (Iaheto Ah Hi) and party boy, Sefa (Shimpal Lelisi), have had a terrible reputation within the community of behaving outrageously, especially at weddings. He doesn’t want them to spoil his special occasion.

Sione comes up with a solution. He invites Michael and his group to his wedding on one condition; they each have to bring a respectable girlfriend to the wedding, which will make sure they behave. The Duckrockers have one month to get it together. There is no way that Michael is going to miss his younger brothers’ wedding, so the pressure is on…

I really wanted to like ‘Sione’s Wedding’. Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out that way. I expected to see a film about a group of good time lads getting up to mischief who somehow manage to get over the line, and see it through the big day. I expected the film to hone in and be a celebration of Samoan culture, which thankfully it did!

Director Chris Graham’s film started on this basis, and it was great fun, but then somewhere in the filmmaking Graham and writer James Griffin decided the Duckrocker boys would reform and that, in the end, all the boys would marry the girls they brought along.. I just couldn’t buy it! The film lost credibility. A fatal flaw.

Urinetown

During June the Sydney Theatre Company presented the Melbourne Theatre Company’s production of the Broadway hit, ‘Urinetown’ (music by Mark Hollman and book by Greg Kotis) at the Sydney Theatre.

‘Urinetown’ is a modern parable that takes place in a big city which has been crippled by water shortages after a 20 year drought that has forced the government to outlaw public toilets. The play is narrated by tough talking cop Officer Lovestock (Shane Bourne) and street urchin Little Sally (Christen O’Leary). They tell of how people can only relieve themselves in public facilities that are all controlled by the Good Urine Company, owned by the wicked Caldwell B. Cladwell(Gerry Connolly) and managed by Penelope Pennywise (Rhonda Burchmore). An inevitable complication in the battle between good and evil develops when ditzy daughter Hope (Lisa McCune) falls for the naive Bobby Strong (David Campbell) who leads a band of rebels in a revolt against the might of Caldwell’s corporate machine.

‘Urinetown’ is a musical that sets its tone very early on. The play says don’t take me too seriously. Sure there’s some satire but its mainly for fun. The narrators’ frequently refer to how the story is being created to a formula. ‘Urinetown’ is mostly about songs, about glitz, about entertainment, about show!

All the values of the big American musical are here. Gabriela Tylesova designed an impressive, large scale set that included, what were meant to look like sewerage pipes, through which actors came and went. ‘Urinetown’ contained some eighteen songs for the cast to sing their heart with.
Hollman’s score featured plenty of catchy tunes.

The tone of the performances, across the board, was very hammy. There were plenty of outrageous costumes and wigs. Pick of a very full-on cast were David Campbell, Shane Bourne, Lisa McCune, Rhonda Burchmore, Gerry Connolly and Lisa McCune.

‘Whilst ‘Urinetown’ was good fun, it doesn’t rate as a great musical. It never came close to engaging the heart.

AWAY

Michael Gow’s classic play ‘Away’ recently had its memorable 20th anniversary production at the Stables theatre. The play tells of three families from the same school who meet up during their summer vacation. Gow, currently the Artistic Director of the Queensland Theatre Company, came down to direct the production himself.

Gow put on a great show. The aspect that impressed me most was how all the cast truly nailed their parts.

Georgina Symes was excellent in one of the pivotal roles as the headmaster’s disturbed wife Carol. Carol hasn’t been able to cope with life, after the tragic death of her son. Symes conveyed her characters’ anguish, how she latches onto everyone around in an effort to break out of her misery.

Joss McWilliam played Carol’s aggrieved husband, Roy. McWilliam’s portrayal was spot on, depicting a conservative, powerful man, the school headmaster, who was at the end of his tether because of his wife’s increasingly bizarre behaviour.

Leon Cain’s portrayal of schoolboy Tom was right on the money. His Tom was virtuous and kind and high spirited though stricken with cancer. Cain caught the main quality of his character, the way that he is able to ‘reconcile’ and bring out the best in people.

Daniel Murphy and Sue Dwyer played Tom’s parents, Harry and Vic. The actors captured the dilemma that they felt. How do they continue going on living, and aiming to have a great holiday, when they know their great teenage son is about to lose his battle with cancer?!

Francesca Savige as Meg gave a clear portrayal of her character, an average, bright, cheerful adolescent girl.

Barbara Lowing played Meg’s mother, Gwen. Hers’ was the character that everyone loves to hate. Gwen was a woman brought up under deep financial hardship, and is determined that nobody forget this, especially Meg. Lowing had a good handle on what was essentially her killjoy character.

Richard Sydenham played Gwen’s husband, Jim. Sydenham vividly portrayed a conservative, good natured man who had the patience of a saint to cope with his depressing, manipulative wife.

Michael Gow’s creative team featured in the main roles, Robert Kemp as set designer, Damien Cooper as lighting man, Brett Collery as composer, and Neridah Waters as choreographer.

Pan

B Sharp’s current production, in association with ‘The Working Group’ productions, is ‘Pan’ by Sydney actor and writer, Toby Schmitz, adapted from J.M. Barrie’s classic children’s story.

This was a fun, hip night at the theatre. Director Joseph Couch and Schmitz have revisited the story’s main characters, Wendy Darling, Peter Pan, Captain Hook and Tinkerbell, and given them contemporary makeovers. There are plenty of changes to the original story, transforming ‘Pan’ into a, fast paced 90 minutes of theatre.

Schmitz’s revamping starts with a restless Wendy at home, weary of banal reality, and losing herself in a never ending sea of lurid and escapist crime fiction. Her father is worried about her apathy towards current events, and tries to prevent her growing interest in the opposite sex.

Then through the bathroom window, enters Peter Pan. Armed with fairy dust and a winning smile, Pan leads Wendy by the hand out of the house and into the world of dreams, fantasies and limitless freedom. Quickly young Wendy finds the male world of Neverland is not what she had expected. For one thing she is caught in a frantic power struggle between Hook and Pan.

Two things made this show for me, the brash tone of the production, and an inspiring cast.

I loved the in the face, rock and roll, rough edged nature of the production. Band instruments were set up on stage, that actors made use of, especially popular were the drums, and the electric guitar! Actors raced across the stage, grabbing mikes they needed to. A large, anarchistic canvas hung over the stage. Smokescreens were set up. Everything was leant to create the dream/ nightmare atmosphere. Absurd humour was incorporated.

Nicola Gunn was an excellent Wendy. She had a warm stage presence, and captured Wendy’s bemusement in trying to work out her strange new world.
Gibson Nolte was wonderful as Peter Pan. I enjoyed his mannerisms, and the way he physically embodied his character-it genuinely felt like he was Peter Pan, floating in and out.

Ben Winspear was suitably villainous as Captain Hook, intent on revenge.
A collective of five young actors played the Lost Boys and Pirates. They did good work, especially in the scenes where they amusingly interacted with Wendy, and they tried to work out whether it would be better if she was their mother or their girlfriend. I especially liked the work of Ben Borgia as Frisky.

Peribanez

Belvoir’s Company B’s latest production is of Spanish playwright Lope de Vega’s ‘Peribanez’ (translation by Tanya Ronder), performed upstairs at the Seymour Centre.

Reading the media release, it is a shame, in a way, that the play isn’t about De Vega himself. What a character! The release said that the 17th century Spanish playwright was loved by his people with such ferocity that when he died in 1635, his state funeral lasted a whole nine days. In his lifetime he was a sailor, inquisitor, bigamist, priest and murderer, as well as being the writer of around 800 plays! One could say he had a pretty full life!

Any way, the good news is that his play ‘Peribanez’, is emblematic of his character, full of colour and passion.

‘Peribanez’ was my kind of play, a play could you really involved in, and it featured a great setup. The play begins with wedding celebrations. A beautiful young peasant couple, Peribanez and Casilda, are getting married and the local village of Ocana is in a celebratory mood. The feudal overlord and military commander of Ocana join in the celebrations. The only thing is that he falls under the spell of Casilda’s beauty. He decides he must have her!

De Vega lines up the forces brilliantly. We have the military commander and overlord, a domineering, intimidating man, who is used to getting what he wants.

We have Peribanez, a popular, virtuous, respectful peasant, newly married and committed to a lifetime with his Casilda. He is in awe of the power and command of the feudal lords.

We have Casilda, a beautiful young woman who on the outside looks all soft and willowy but inside she is tough as steel. She is fiercely independent, and will do what she wants to do.

Then we have the whole dynamic of the environment, the harmonies and tensions between the large peasant community and the feudal lords

The Commander can’t help himself, and starts scheming his way into seducing Casilda. From there De Vega lets things rip, and sees where things land!

Neil Armfield’s production does De Vega’s hot-blooded, passionate play justice. He brought on board a top production team to help with his creative vision for the play, with set design by Dale Ferguson, music by Alan John, choreography by Kate Champion, and lighting by Damien Cooper

He wins inspired, charged performances from his cast of twelve. The three leads are great. Marton Csokas is convincing as the powerful, egotistical, imposing Commander destined for a fall.

As Peribanez, Socratis Otto gives a touching performance of a virtuous, hard working man of integrity.

The performance of the night was Leeanna Walsman’s as Casilda. Walsman has a great stage presence, and there’s such a haunting, vulnerable quality about her voice. She captured her characters’ fragility and yet steadfastness.

The best supporting performance was by Sasha Horler as Casilda’s deceiving friend, Ines. Horler portrays her character as self centered, and lustful.

They’re Playing Our Song

On a cold, winter’s night in Sydney, Mark Kilmurry’s production for the Ensemble theatre of Neil Simon’s ‘They’re Playing Our Song’ brought some much needed warmth.

The springboard for Simon’s play comes from the romance that took place between composer Marvin Hamlish and lyricist Carole Bayer Sager. Simon wrote the script with Hamlish contributing the music and Sager the lyrics. In the play Vernon Gersch is the Hamlish character whilst Sonia Walsk is Sager.

The curtain opens with Vernon Gersch tinkling away at the ivories. Into his apartment rushes in flamboyant young songwriter Sonia Walsk, wearing what she calls her Chekhov dress.

Sonia has come to his apartment to find out what he has thought of the song lyrics she sent to him. He tells her that he liked one of them, and has composed a song, which he then plays for her. She likes his interpretation, and so begins a working, and then a romantic partnership.

Simon’s ‘They’re Playing Our Song’ is hearty fare in the romantic comedy/musical stakes. The playwright is in favourite territory, his script hones in on another odd couple. Gersch is introverted, quiet, urbane whilst Walsk is outrageous, loud and obnoxious. The playwright gets some great comic scenes out of their differences such as when Walsk gets Gersch to make out with her in the wrong holiday home, and Gersch is sure that he will be found out and arrested as a common criminal.

There are some genuinely touching moments…When the couple are in a café, and on the radio comes on the song that they’ve written together, and the couple are full of excitement…The big break-up scene when the couple are in a recording studio trying to put down their new song, Gersch wants Walsk to hurry up recording the song and leave the studio, Walsk is trying to hang in. In the midst of the drama, a laidback sound engineer is trying to direct the session as painlessly as possible.

Georgie Parker as Sonia Walsk makes the most of one of her big moments in the show, delivering a plaintive rendition of the song, ‘I’m still in love with you’.

Another Parker highlight…On one of their first dates, Gersch and Walsk go ballroom dancing. Gersch is stumbling around the dance floor, and coyly tells Walsk, ‘I’m not much of a dancer’, hoping for a gentle, sympathetic response. It doesn’t happen! Parker fires back, with no hesitation, ‘there’s no need for you to tell me that’.

Mark Kilmurry’s direction was assured. I enjoyed both portrayals. Georgie Parker plays bubbly and quirky well. One of the quirky things Sonia does is keep her old boyfriend as her best friend. This is a source of endless frustration to Gersch, and source of some great comedy.

Simon Burke looked the part of an erudite, middle-aged New York composer. His comic timing and his voice was good. Simon had Gersch regularly speak his private thoughts into a tape recorder, so it made it easy for audiences to pick up what was going on for him.

Hard Candy

The appropriately named hard candy of the title is precocious 14 year old American girl Hayley Stark. Through an internet chat website Hayley arranges a meeting with thirties something fashion photographer, Jeff Kohlver. After meeting at a hang-out called Nighthawk, Jeff invites her back to his place, which as well as being his home he uses as his photographic studio.

Hayley decides in her mind that Jeff is a pedophile, which he proves to be. This is what he does, lures young girls back to his flat to have his way with them. Once she is ensconced in his house, Hayley exacts upon him the most extreme forms of revenge. She is intent on him suffering at least some of the pain that he has inflicted on his victims, and to take responsibility for his actions.

‘Hard Candy’ was a brutal movie going experience. Director David Slade with writer Brian Nelson take on the subject of pedophilia head on. The tension never lets up. The camera work (cinematographer- Jo Willems) was harsh with plenty of close-ups, and also the use of shaky hand-held camera footage. The setting was claustrophobic with all the main action taking place inside Jeff’s house. The films’ relentless, driving action was Hayley’s determination to have Jeff face himself, and take responsibility for his actions. The suspense was well built-up, with the action taking unpredictable turns.

Slade exacted great performances from his two leads. Ellen Page is extraordinary as the disturbed, fierce Hayley, and Patrick Wilson was strong as Jeff who is tormented for his sins. Sandra Oh plays the only other significant role as Jeff’s nosey, concerned neighbour, Judy.

Match Point

Woody Allen’s latest film ‘Match Point’ has Chris Wilton as one of Allen’s more interesting, edgier protagonists.

Wilton is a thirties something guy who is looking to establish a new career after having played on the professional tennis circuit for many years. Wilton takes a job as a tennis coach at a prestigious London tennis club, and forms a close friendship with one of his pupils, Tom Hewitt.

The friendship opens many doors for him. He gets a good position in Hewitt’s lucrative family company. He woos and marries Tom’s warm and loving sister Chloe, and she falls pregnant. His life is taking shape, he has found the security, the social position and the family life that he has been searching for. There’s just one thing….

Chris has been having a torrid affair with Tom’s ex fiancé, Nola Rice, a struggling American actress. Whereas Chris has been able to keep his passions in check, Nola is becoming clingier, and is pressuring Chris to leave his wife. Chris starts to panic, if he doesn’t do something definitive about the affair, he can see that all the financial and personal security he has attained will disappear…

With ‘Match Point’ Allen is in similar emotional territory to that which he explored in his brilliant 1989 film ‘Crimes and Misdemeanors’. ‘Çrimes’ also featured an extra marital relationship that had spun out of control.

‘Match Point’ had a winning recipe. Allen combines a suspenseful and and tricky narrative with a haunting operatic soundtrack, some highly charged erotic scenes, and plenty of Woody’s latest musings.

Allen had his main character Wilton voice some of his latest ponderings, such as when Wilton uses a tennis analogy:- “The man who said ‘I’d rather be lucky than good’ saw deeply into life. People are often afraid to realise how much a impact luck plays. There are moments in a tennis match where the ball hits the top of the net, and for a split second, remains in mid-air. With a little luck, the ball goes over, and you win. Or maybe it doesn’t, and you lose’.

Allen, the despairing pessimist was captured in Wilton’s speech when he says, ‘It would be fitting if I were apprehended…and punished. At least there would be some small sign of justices…some small measure of hope for the possibility of meaning’.

Allen, as always, assembled an accomplished cast to play out his latest scenario. In the leading roles, Jonathon Rhys Meyers as Wilton, Emily Mortimer as his wife, and Scarlett Johansson as his mistress, were excellent.

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