Death Variations

The East Coast Theatre Company in association with Belvoir’s B Sharp recently presented Norwegian playwright Jon Fosse’s searching play, ‘Death Variations’, which has been given a fresh English translation by May-Britt Akerholt, downstairs at the Seymour Centre.

‘Death Variations’ dealt with the difficult subject matter of youth suicide. A teenage girl commits suicide, and her middle aged parents attempt to piece together why. Due to the somber nature of the material, Fosse chose to keep his characters anonymous.

East Coast’s Artistic Director Joseph Uchitel helmed the production and brought together an accomplished cast to perform the work. Two highly experienced and passionate actors, Patrick Dickson and Linda Cropper, played the older parents, whilst David Lyons and Luisa Hastings Edge played them as a young couple just starting out. Bojana Novakovic played the anguished daughter in a very touching performance. Ben Ager’s played the daughter’s friend.

This was engrossing theatre, as Fosse mined the emotional depths of his characters. The play was held together by two distinct journeys. The primary journey was the daughters’ as she became further and further ensconced in their own dark psychic world. Death, in the end, became like a seducer.

Then there was the journey of the two parents who, with their marriage in tatters, and time traveling through their relationship, trying to work out how they could have stopped their daughters’ demise.

Navigating Flinders

Two hundred years ago, Matthew Flinders circumnavigated and surveyed the Australian continent in a leaky and rotting boat, ‘HMAS Investigator’, producing a map on which the word ‘Australia’ was inscribed for the first time. Currently the Ensemble Theatre is presenting the world premiere of a new Australian play, ‘Navigating Flinders’, written by actor and playwright, Don Reid.
‘Navigating Flinders’ is billed as an intimate portrait of Matthew Flinders, the British explorer. Playwright Reid has said, ‘We know Reid as a sailor, navigator and mapmaker- and because his best friend was a cat called Trim, but who was the real Matthew Flinders- the lover, the husband, the brother? How well did he navigate the reefs and shoals of his own nature?’.
I came out of ‘Navigating Flinders’ feeling a bit of this explorer’s intrepid spirit and daring had rubbed off. The play revealed that not only was Flinders a very capable explorer but he also very capably managed his personal life.
Reid explored his romantic life, and showed him to be very vulnerable to women. His marriage to his wife Anne survived though he was absent from her for many years, and a romance he had with a local Mauritian woman. The play covered the main highlights of his expeditions, and also went into great detail about the many years that Flinders spent on land as a prisoner of the French in Mauritius. His internment was as a result of the Napoleonic wars, and Flinders became increasingly frustrated and angry.
Director Christopher Hurrell brought together a strong cast, many of whom were required to play multiple roles. The pick of the cast were Jonathon Gavin in the lead, Ksenja Logo who played Flinders two women, his wife Ann and his Mauritian lady, Delphine. As always, Drew Forsythe was entertaining in four roles as General De Caen, Sir Joseph Banks, Nicholas Baudin and Reverend Tyler.

Stuff Happens

Belvoir’s Company B production of David Hare’s ‘Stuff Happens is easily one of the best things to come out of the Sydney theatre scene this year. It is a production that wins on so many levels.

Brilliant British playwright David Hare has turned his pen of late to matters political. Recently the Sydney Theatre Company put on a production of his damning play about the state of the British railways, ‘The Permanent Way’. With ‘Stuff Happens’ Hare has turned his satirical pen to the American invasion of Iraq.

This Company B’s production is an embarrassment of riches. From the comfort of our theatre seats the audience gets to see the inside Story, and the power plays that led up to the American invasion and its aftermath. Sure the play was delivered with David Hare’s slant but that is after all a given!

Helming the production is the great handiwork of one of Australia’s finest directors, Neil Armfield. Armfield’s direction in this work just flows seamlessly. It is some of his best stuff.

‘Stuff Happens’ has a cast to die for. It is like a roll call of some of our finest actors; Peter Carroll, John Gaden, Leah Purcell, Rebecca Massey, Greg Stone, Russell Dykstra, to name a few, and they’re all in form.

My personal highlight from a great night in the theatre…It belongs to Peter Carroll. He plays Dominique de Villepin, the French politician who is asked by the Americans to vote in favour of them at the Security Council. He responds to the Americans by giving them a long list of times that the Americans have gone against their wishes in international affairs. He compares it to being like a lover who comes early in the morning after being unfaithful and wants to be accepted back in bed.
He tells them point blank that France won’t come to the party. The dialogue is cutting, and Carroll delivers it with such style.

Theatre doesn’t get much better than this!

My Summer Of Love

The new British film ‘My Summer Of Love’, directed by Pawel Pawlikowski, is a romantic drama set in a village in Yorkshire over a summer vacation. The main character is Mona, a working class tomboy type who is going through a difficult time. She lives with her older brother Phil who she is close to. He has come back from a stint in prison a religious nut, and she can’t cope with his moralistic ways.
Mona befriends Tasmin, a charismatic, petulant, wayward girl who comes from a wealthy but emotionally family. She is deeply drawn to Tasmin, and their friendship turns into an all consuming romance. It soon becomes apparent that Mona is serious about her emotions and Tasmin is loose with them.
‘Summer of Love’ poignantly played out an experience that many of have been though. That is, to fall deeply in love with a partner whose feelings are not as genuine as our own, and to then have to make the call.
Director Pawlikowski’s direction was sure, as were the lead performances. Natalie Press was a gritty Mona, Emily Blunt’s Tasmin was dreamy and self indulgent, and Paddy Condisine played the born again Phil with a genuine edginess.

Monster In Law

Robert Luketic’s film ‘Monster-in-Law’ has been a big box office hit. It’s easy to see why. This is a scenario that most people will find so easy to relate to. And the fact that the situation is played out for laughs rather than for heavy drama, which it could easily have been, has given it much broader audience appeal.
Charlie Cantilini is the main character, and the goal she has set herself is to find the right man, and settle down. After years of fruitless search Charlie believes that she has finally found the right partner, Kevin Fields. Kevin thinks so too, and the couple agree to a quick marriage.
Charlie has one obstacle to overcome, and it is a major one. The obstacle is Kevin’s mother, Viola. Viola is an over-possessive, unstable mother who doesn’t approve of Charlie- (what’s my son doing with a girl who works as a temp at a doctor’s office)- and will do everything in her power to sabotage the relationship.
As Viola keeps on turning up the pressure, Charlie’s attitude about Viola changes from thinking she’s a difficult woman to working out Viola’s plan to ‘dethrone’ her. When Charlie finally ‘clicks on’’, all out war is waged between them.
I really enjoyed ‘Monster-In- Law’. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a film where the two main characters were so at each other! Sometimes the battle of wills was like a subtle game of chess, other times it was like a full on boxing match.
It did help that two fine actors played the sparring characters. Jane Fonda, after many years of absence from the big screen, was the cranky, irascible Viola, and the beautiful Latino lady, Jennifer Lopez played Charlie, who once her ‘line’ was crossed was able to play real nasty and dirty. Michael Vartan played the man the two women were fighting over, Dr Kevin Fields, and Wanda Sykes played Viola’s worldly wise assistant, Ruby.

Crash

In American filmmaker Paul Haggis’s film ‘Crash’ cuts in and out of the lives of different groups of people who connect with each other over a two day period in Los Angeles, with a horrific car accident being the inciting incident.

The characters include an Afro American police detective with a drug addicted mother and a thieving younger brother, two young Afro American car thieves who are forever philosophizing about society’s problems, a stressed district attorney and his irritable wife, a racist veteran cop and his idealistic partner who is appalled by him, a successful Afro American Hollywood film director and his wife, an immigrant Iranian shopkeeper and his family, and a Hispanic locksmith and his family.

This was a film with full force impact. It was a movie similar in nature and theme to ‘Grand Canyon’. It felt like the filmmaker was making an important statement-about how contemporary American society was going through something like a civil war that was becoming increasingly unmanageable, with so many different racial, social and ethnic groups at odds. It begged the question, how long society could keep on adequately function when such terrible tensions exist?!

Haggis, whose previous credits include a screenwriting credit for ‘Million Dollar Baby’, assembled a marvelous cast for the film. The cast included Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Brandon Fraser and Thandle Newton, and they all gave credible, intense performances. ‘Crash’ also benefited from being a great looking film, thanks to James Muro’s cinematographer.

Edmund

David Terry as Edmond Burke in David Mamet’s classic drama Edmond is a young man- in his thirties, in crisis. He has a very comfortable, middle class lifestyle with a fine home, and a devoted wife, but like so many he feels the dull ache of emptiness inside him. He feels a desperate need to address this emptiness, and decides to leave his wife, and his life of excessive routine and responsibility, and goes exploring the seedy side of New York city life.

It’s a damaging walk on the wild side from which he never recovers. The most appropriate way to describe his new life is punishing. Edmund finds that, as tough as he thinks he is, he doesn’t know how to tackle the sordid world he enters, and every deal that he tries to cut goes against him.

What’s worse is, Edmond’s emotional baggage, his misogynistic and racist tendencies, are thrown in his face. When Edmund ends up in jail he shares a jail cell with a well built Afro-American inmate, the cellmate lets him know whose boss straight away.

Craig Ilott’s production of Edmond for Albedo Theatre and Belvoir’s B Sharp was strong. All the main parts of the production were strong. Ilott’s dramaturgical work was good. Performances were strong, my pick- David Terry as Edmond, and three cast members who played multiple roles, Wayne McDaniel, Rebecca Rocheford Davies, and David Webb. Nicholas Dare’s set was sophisticated and compact. Basil Hogios’s soundtrack and Martin Kinnane’s lighting design were appropriately disturbing.

The Give and Take

The life of Gary McDonald as Don in Tony McNamara’s The Give and Take is unraveling around him. His wife of many years has suddenly left him to get laid properly in Tuscany. When he tells his three grown up children, that their mum has left him, they tell him that they know, they drove her to the airport! At work as a corporate executive of a garden supplies business, he is being pressured to take the plumb CEO position but is ambivalent about it and feels that it is his very obsession with his career that hasn’t given him enough time with his wife and family. He decides to spend some time with his kids but they’re not there for him. Don doesn’t know which way to turn.
The Give and Take is McNamara’s sixth play to be produced by the Sydney Theatre Company, in a canon of work that includes The John Wayne Principle and The Rage in Placid Lake that was also made into a film which the talented playwright directed and starred Rose Byrne and Ben Lee. In his program notes McNamara said that he wrote his latest play especially for Gary McDonald. I thought it was his best work yet still with reservations.
The strongest parts to The Give and Take…Peter Evans’s fast pace direction, and the sharp humour including some incisive one-liners in the writing…the play’s very contemporary feel in its portrayal of a middle aged man who has let his career run his life to the detriment of his family, as well as in its portrayal of the young characters…Robert Kemp’s great two tiered set design with its numerous ‘cubby holes’ where different sequences within the play could be played out…and uniformly good performances with my picks being Gary McDonald, there was even a hyper aka Norman Gunston moment, Alyssa McLelland as Don’s troubled lesbian daughter, an outstanding Ed Wightman as Don’s punky, leftish son, Neil, and Marney McQueen as Neil’s even more radical and outrageous girlfriend, Patti.
The flattest part to The Give and Take was in the playwright continuing with the unnecessary coarse quality of some of his writing. It may pay him to remember that he is playing to sophisticated audiences who just don’t need or even want it!

Summer Rain

In Nick Enright and Terrence Clarke’s SummerRain it is Christmas Eve, 1945 and Harry Slocum and his family tent show players are down on their luck, broke and searching for an audience. The troupe end up in drought stricken Turnaround Creek, they are welcomed by all in the small farming community, except for Barry the publican, who remembers Harry Slocum’s indiscretions with his wife last time they were in town.
The Slocum’s visit to town is sealed when the local drought is broken with the longed for miracle of rain. Staying at Turnaround Creek for nine days because of the floods the Slocums put on a show for the town. New relationships form and old ones are mended in a ‘nine day wonder’ of forgiveness and renewal.
There was a genuine wow factor about this Sydney Theatre Company (STC) production. STC Artistic Director Robyn Nevin helmed this revival of Summer Rain and was determined that this was to be a great show as a tribute and a celebration of the work of the late Nick Enright.
Nevin’s talented cast shone with Enright giving the actors plenty to work with as most characters had burning issues to resolve at that highly emotional time of year, between Christmas and New Year. Some of the juiciest dramas played out include Gerry Connolly and Genevieve Lemon who play Harry and Ruby Slocum as they try to keep their marriage together…Rachel Beck as local Peg Hartigan who has a romance with Harry’s son Johnny, and has to decide whether to leave her husband, Mick, who finally realises how much she means to him….the seething conflict between town patriarch Barry Doyle played by Terry Serio and Harry Slocum, and Belinda Wollinston as young Cathy Doyle who with the influence of the Slocum’s gets the growing feeling to spread her wings and leave the sleepy township of Turnaround Creek.
Along with Terrence Clarke’s strong musical score including the lilting, elegiac tune Casuarina Tree, Dale Ferguson’s stunning set, Fiona Crombie’s vibrant costumes, Summer Rain was a memorable night of musical theatre.

2 Divas

2 Divas at the Bondi Pavilion reminded me of an old but true maxim about the theatre world. Sometimes it’s the fringe shows put together on a meager budget, and without any aspiration to be slickly professional, that are the shows that touch the heart the most.

The two Divas were Natalie Gamsu and Joanna Weinberg, well known performance artists from South Africa who have emigrated to Australia. Joanna emigrated in 1997 and Natalie emigrated in 2003, The short story is that these two ladies are close friends of many years standing, often performing as a duet, and came up with the idea of putting on a show in Sydney documenting their friendship, and their working partnership, which have withstood many ups and downs.

I enjoyed the low key, humanity of this production. The stage journey stretched from way back when their friendship first started and they were having their first stage successes up to the present where they have settled into middle age, and all that that entails, and still retaining their passion for musical theatre.

Two Divas had many good moments; the colourful banter in the dressing rooms… some great versions of songs, my favourites being renditions of Joni Mitchell’s ‘All I Want’ and Sweet Charity’s ‘I Got Rhythm’… some nice character stuff, showing Joanna as the flirtatious one, always being chased by the men, with Natalie being more laid back and enjoying the odd reefer…Joanna’s reading a poem she wrote about the fragility of friendship…and Natalie’s vivid, humorous portrayal of her Broadway audition where the gay director lambasted her for being past it, and looking too old and wrinkly.

There were some flat moments such as when Joanna attempted a deft touch at stand-up comedy, however on the whole Two Divas was a good night in the theatre. Natalie and Joanna were well accompanied by musical director and pianist Nigel Ubrihien, and double bass player, Steve Buchanan.

National Security

‘National Security and the Art of Taxidermy’, a co-production of the Glynn Nicholas Group with Belvoir’s B Sharp, recently played the downstairs theatre at the Seymour Centre. A one person satirical comedy, the play was written by Sydney based playwright Mary Rachel Brown, and performed by David Callan with Glynn Nicholas in the director’s chair.
David Callan played the character of Neville Clements, a professional taxidermist and confirmed racist, who fails to understand the difference between being alert and alarmed.
During the course of the play the audience finds out what an odd fellow Neville is. For instance, he explains to the audience why he believes that Uzi Mine Millimetrs, his military trained German shepherd, mistakes his mother’s silky terrier for a weapon of mass destruction. All I can say is that I am glad that Neville Clements has no say in national security
Then there’s his explanation of the reason he stuffs budgies and not poodles because, ‘budgies coats are made of wool, not fur, therefore they can’t be classified as a dog’.
I still have the formidable image in my mind of leaving the theatre with the image of Neville patting his very impressively stuffed and very large German shepherd.
My response to the show-was lukewarm. David Callan, a formidable theatre personality in his own right, with his one one man show ‘I Spied’ behind him, gave a funky and funny performance. Mary Rachel Brown’s script was suitably wacky with some interesting insights into taxidermy both from the professional and clients’ perspective.
I’ll end with a joke, not a precise, from the show’s media release. ‘National Security and the Arts of Taxidermy’ reiterates the long held belief that taxidermy is truly a dying art!

YELLOWFEATHER

Many people will know Georgina Naidu from her role as the traditional Indian woman Phrani in the popular ABC television show, ‘Sea Change’. Recently Georgina devised and performed her own autobiographical show ‘Yellowfeather’ at the Studio theatre in the Sydney Opera House.

As background, Georgina is a graduate of the Victorian College of the Arts from 1994 and has appeared in numerous television shows, theatre productions and film credits. In ‘Yellowfeather’ Georgina tells her own story, the story of a girl trying to grasp her Indian-Australian identity against the backdrop of suburban Melbourne.

Georgina performed on stage with the backing of her own DJ by the name of DJ Schmidt, an Indo-Fijian Australian who provided an eclectic soundtrack ranging from Prince and Credence Clearwater to Bollywood Breaks and Stevie Wonder. ‘Yellowfeather’ was directed by Sally Sussman.

Through the play we experience some of the different incarnations Georgina underwent to get to her present artistic position as a performer, trained musician and published writer, At 4 she is the Yellowfeather of the title, convinced she is an extra from Daniel Boone. At 16, she is Georgee, lapping up male attention that she receives from looking like a cross between Janet Jackson, Kate Ceberano and Lisa Bonet. At 29 she is Phrani in Sea Change, almost strangling herself to get into her sari.

My verdict…I enjoyed the show for Georgina’s high octane and often outrageous energy and persona, its celebration of Australian/Indian culture, and Georgina’s depiction of her clearly tough struggle against racism and stereotyping. I did feel however that the show did need a lot of tightening, and it would have been better with more workshopping.

A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE

The steady, uncomplicated life of David Field as Brooklyn longshoreman Eddie Carbone in Arthur Miller’s classic drama A View From The Bridge comes unstuck with the arrival of two of his wife Beatrice’s (Toni Scanlan) relatives- her cousins Marco (Glenn Hazeldine) and Rodolpho (Adriano Cappelletta)- illegal immigrants from Italy. At first, Eddie and Beatrice’s home is welcoming and peaceful but when an attraction forms between the suave Rodolpho and Catherine (Katie Fitchett), Eddie’s beautiful grown up orphaned niece who lives in the family home, and whom Beatrice and him have raised since she was baby, Eddie’s moods take increasingly darker tones.

This 1960 Miller play is a contemporary version of a traditional Greek tragedy. Located on a wide platform, perched above the main stage, are the offices of Eddy’s lawyer, Alfieri (Alan Flower). With the drama unfolding, Alfieri, in the manner of a Greek chorus, comments on Eddy’s descent into darkness.

Alfieri tells the audience, early in the play, ‘there are times when you want to spread an alarm, but nothing has happened, I knew then and there’. Alfieri’s later telling comments, ‘truth would be better than blood’, in the play’s key scene, when Marco fells Eddy, cut through the play like the knife. Eddy’s failure to acknowledge that his feelings for Catherine are too intense, proves to be his downfall.

This Ensemble Theatre production, directed by Sandra Bates, did Miller’s classic play justice. It’s one of those plays’s that gives one a case of the goose bumps. Katie Fitchett’s fragility, Alan Flower’s gravity, Glenn Hazeldine’s volatility, and Toni Scanlan’s despair were my choice from the cast. David Field gave a thorough performance as Eddy however I felt that he was somewhat miscast, I just couldn’t pass him for a Brooklyn wharfie after seeing him in so many very broadly Aussie roles.

Fiddler on the Roof

I went to see Tim Lawson’s production of ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ at Sydney’s beautiful Capitol Theatre.
It was great to see Topol as Tevye again. I was lucky enough to see him in the same role when I was a child. I’m happy to report that even though the great man is now in his seventies he’s still got it!
I enjoyed seeing a polished production of one of the great Broadway musicals, and sing along, in my mind of-course, with the great soundtrack. Topol had some great Australian talent supporting him including Barry Crocker, Maggie Kirkpatrick, Bart John, Amos Szeps and Beth Daly.
You know sometimes you know exactly what you’re going to get when you see a show and you don’t mind it at all. ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ was one of those occasions. Because I knew it was a great deal!

Bedtime for Bastards

Under the Table Productions put on ‘Bedtime for Bastards’, a triple bill by Van Badham, a show which was a hit at the recent Edinburgh Fringe festival, at the Crypt theatre in the Cat and Fiddle Hotel, Balmain. ‘Under the Table’ is a new theatre company run by two Sydney directors, Louise Fletcher and Fiona Hallenan.

I found ‘Bedtime for Bastards’ a disappointment. Two of the three plays were clever pieces but lacked real heart. The black humour of seeing two American public relation specialists trying to put a good spin on crack smoking US marines killing babies in a war zone just didn’t do it for me. The same could be said of ‘Kitchen’, a dark piece about workplace politics being brought into the home environment. It just felt too extreme and bland.

The saving grace of ‘Bedtime for Bastards’ was ‘Morning on a Rainy Day’. This was a play with genuine bite and a human, universal situation. Molly is a woman at the crossroads. She has had a long time relationship with a man who is her best friend and also her occasional shag. Molly’s problem is that whilst traveling overseas recently she met a man whom she has decided to marry. Molly’s dilemma is how is she going to break off things with her old friend/soulmate?!

‘Morning on a Rainy Day’ was exciting, stimulating theatre. One never knew how the situation would resolve or even what the real situation was. Perhaps the other man didn’t really exist?! This was a well directed piece and the performances by Emma Harris and Johann Walraven were strong.

Carnal Knowledge

Aesthesia Entertainment and Newtown Theatre recently presented the Australian premiere production of Jules Feiffer’s play ‘Carnal Knowledge’ which was made into the 1970s movie starring Jack Nicholson and Art Garfunkel.

‘Carnal Knowledge’ starts with a love triangle set at a university. Sandy falls in love with a fellow student, Susan. Sandy’s college friend Jonathon also fancies Susan and decides to pursue Susan with success, and without Sandy’s knowledge. From their college years the play charts the journey of its characters as they approach middle age.

Andrew Doyle directed the production with Michael Booth playing Sandy, Clarence White playing Jonathon and Ainslie McGlynn playing Susan. The support cast included Olivia de Vere, Kimberley Hews, Danielle Crane and Jude Bowler. The set was designed by Melinda Nassif with lighting by Lynden Jones.

This ‘Carnal Knowledge felt like too diffuse an experience to really savour. The stakes were set too high at the beginning and I expected a much more dramatic play to unfold.

Department Store

The Sydney theatre group, Parnassus Den has come of age. Since 1995 the Den has been work-shopping new plays to harness the skills of budding playwrights. In some eleven years the Den has organized some 600 play readings. Now the company has hosted its inaugural production, ‘The Department Store’ by Justin Fleming .at the inner city Old Fitzroy theatre in Woolloomooloo.

Fleming’s latest play was an adaptation of Emile Zola’s 19th century novel ‘Au Bonheur des Dames’. The play is set in Paris in 1883. Denise Bauda arrives at her uncle Paul’s drapery shop with her little brother Pepe, in tow. She soon learns that her uncle and his business are literally being crushed by the emergence of an immense department store run by the charismatic and womanizing Octave Mouret. Denise has to walk the fine line between the desperate need to work to support herself and Pepe , her emerging feelings for Octave, and her desire to protect the family honour.

This was a stimulating first production by Parnassus Den. Fleming’s work struck quite a few chords with contemporary audiences. The play’s observations of sexual deviousness and manipulation reminded me of the famous film ‘Dangerous Liaisons’. I hadn’t realised that the way large Department stores can totally dominate its smaller competitors has been going on for so long as it clearly has.

‘The Department Store’ played a three week season the Old Fitzroy. Fleming’s play was well directed by Christopher Hurrell. Timothy Kobin’s set design was terrific. A large cast graced the stage, and performed well. Jonathon Elsom as Uncle Paul Baudu, Isabella Dunwill as Denise, Kit Brookman as Pepe Baudu and Christopher Tomkinson impressed in the leading roles.

Marvellous Boy

The Stables put on Louis Nowra’s ‘The Marvellous Boy’, the second play of the playwrights’ trilogy about the Boyce family. This follows last year’s excellent ‘The Woman with Dog’s Eyes’. Next year will see the final play in the trilogy.

The Stables Artistic Director David Berthold helmed ‘The Marvellous Boy’ himself. Nowra’s writing was as crisp and incisive as ever, highlighting people’s less than worthy motives.

All the performances had a great edginess. Danny Adock as the father proved again what a great dramatic actor he is. Toby Schmitz played son, Luke, the marvellous boy who finds that his feelings don’t count when it really matters.

Susie Lindeman was enigmatic as Luke’s lover with Nowra basing her character looselyon the late Kings Cross community crusader, Juanita Nielson. Anthony Phelan and Bruce Spence were great as two very dark Kings Cross underworld figures.

Festen

‘Festen’ is the latest play to be put on by the Sydney Theatre Company at the Drama Theatre of the Sydney Opera House.
The play is based on the Danish film of the same name, with the adaptation having been written by David Eldridge.
The scenario has a wealthy Danish businessman’s (Heige) family gather to celebrate his 60th birthday in style at one of his opulent hotels. On the surface everyone appears refined, educated and prosperous, that is until son Chistian announces that his father sexually interfered with him and his late sister.
Gale Edwards has directed this production with the stand-out performances by John Stanton as the Heige, the birthday boy, Angela Punch McGredgor as his wife Else, Tom Long as Christian, Jeremy Sims as his brother, Michael. The set was designed by Brian Thomson, with the stage lit by Mark Truebridge.
I found this a hard play to judge, and will effect people in different ways. I’m sure some people will find the play’s treatment of the subject matter lacking complexity. Others will find the play’s raw, confronting style hits the mark emotionally. It worked for me.

The Goat, or who is Sylvia?!

I have the remedy for you if you think you’ve been seeing theatre that is too comfortable, too bourgeois, too staid and safe. Go see American dramatist Edward Albee’s ‘The Goat, or who is Sylvia’! Albee’s play is anything but dull, boring, and complacent. Belvoir’s Company B theatre has brought Marion Potts’s State Theatre Company of South Australia’s acclaimed production of Albee’s controversial play to Sydney.
The play’s shocking scenario sees Martin, a straitlaced 50 year old highly successful New York architect and loving family man, suddenly, and inconceivably, find that he is addicted to carrying out acts of bestiality with a goat called Sylvia. Furthermore he claims to be in love with her!
The only thing that one has to do to have a special evening with Albee’s play is not to be phased by the taboo subject matter.
I’ve been thinking what I could compare this production to, to get you in the picture. I came up with the film ‘The War of the Roses’, that starred Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner. Albee’s play has a similar emotional intensity, and brings up the same feeling, that one doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry, and one ends up doing both, loudly!
Albee packs his show bag chocker full of goodies. There are numerous awesome, wonderfully written speeches. One of them still rings in the ear. Stevie, Martin’s aggrieved wife, delivers a stinging, knockout what I call the ‘you’ve screwed up for good this time’ speech to her husband. She also gets to deliver some great one liners, merciless in their sarcasm, to Martin, very much in the firing line, such as, ‘I bet you go cruising the livestock’.
The play drives on unrelentingly for 100 minutes, never running out of steam. There’s a key, defining sequence of scenes in the play’s second half, which basically unlocks the mystery of this play.
Martin and Billy, his gay teenage son, are having a heart to heat scene. His son tells him that, despite everything that has surfaced, he still loves him. They hug and, all of a sudden, his son kisses him passionately.
Martin’s best friend, Ross has come in to the house, and can’t believe what he is seeing. Martin picks up on Ross’s disapproval, and snaps back with some of his own personal philosophy. Paraphrasing, he tells Ross that sometimes in life things happen that aren’t rational, that seem to come out of nowhere, that aren’t connected or related to anything. He tells him that these ‘moments’ are just as valid as any other, and shouldn’t be judged.
Billy then backs up his father by saying that he just experienced one of those moments. He tells his father that for just one moment he was overcome by his sexuality, and forgot that Martin was his father.
Martin then goes on to tell another story of how he knew a friend who couldn’t believe it that when he was rocking his own baby in his arms, shortly after birth, he developed a massive hard on. How could this happen?! Things happen. That is all.
Marion Potts’s production does Albee’s provocative play justice. Her blocking of the action, in particular, was strong. Potts gets great performances from her cast. William Zappa, one of our finest dramatic actors, gives everything to his portrayal of Martin, as does Victoria Longley in her role as Stevie. Their confrontations were full of fire, their timing peerless.
Cameron Goodall was excellent in his portrayal of the son Billy, caught in the crossfire of his parent’s vitriol. The main element of his portrayal was a tightly wound nervous energy.
Pip Miller’s gave a satisfying portrayal as Martin’s best friend, Ross, a sophisticated, urbane journalist, who is out of his depth in the emotional quagmire that his friend finds himself in.
It is great when, theatre that is cutting edge, is well done. Marion Potts’s ‘The Goat, or who is Sylvia?’, was one of those magical occasions.

Capote

The writer E.B.White gave this advice to young writers, ‘If you want to get ahead without annoying delays don’t write about Man, write about a Man’.

Bennett Miller’s film ‘Capote’, based on Gerald Clarke’s biography, is a knockout. The film focuses on a pivotal time in Capote’s life. This was the period from when Capote, then working as a journalist for the New Yorker magazine, reads a newspaper article about the brutal murder of a Kansas murder in 1959, and decides to research and write an article about it, to the time in 1964 when the two killers, Perry Smith and Dick Hickock go to the gallows, and Capote is finally free to publish his masterpiece.

Whilst writing ‘In Cold Blood’ Capote was able to establish a close relationship with Perry Smith, and this gave him extensive material to work from, and gave the book a personal, raw edge. The complex part that Capote played in this relationship becomes the films’ focus.

I saw ‘Capote’ primarily as a film about a writer who goes after a great story, and then forgets the human beings behind it. It is a familiar enough story, especially in journalistic circles. Perry Smith was a great story, and Capote wanted it badly.

Capote’s crime was that he deceived Smith. He knew that Smith was vulnerable, that Smith believed that Capote with his influence could save him from the gallows. Capote led Smith to believe that his book would help when, instead, Capote was basically damning him.

There’s a defining scene midway during the film when the audience sees Capote reading excerpts from his promised his next great work. (He had already established his reputation with ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s) to an adoring audience at a literary soiree. The camera sees him soaking up the adulation. Significantly, it’s not long after the time he visited Smith in his cell and told him that not only had he not written much of the book but that he had not come up with a title yet!

Clearly the film is damning of Capote. Capote gets his just desserts. Where there is crime, there is punishment and Capote does come through the whole experience damaged.

The movie highlights his flashy, egocentric manner and his sometimes malicious behaviour. Yet is shows Capote as a contradictory, complex character, who could be also be generous and compassionate.

‘Capote’ also implicitly argues that it could have only been such a brilliant, driven and cunning man who could have produced such a literary masterpiece.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman gave a masterful performance as Capote. Of-course Hoffman got the squeaky voice and the extravagant gesturing down pat but his performance was so much more than that! One could read what was going on with his character without words needing to be said. What higher praise can one give an actor?!

In the supporting roles, Catherine Keener stood out in a memorable performance as Capote’s friend and literary colleague, Harper Lee, a literary figure in her own right, having just completed ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’.

Bennett Miller’s direction was peerless. He had a vision for the film and clearly communicated it to the audience.

My recommendation…Go see ‘Capote’ if you haven’t already. This is a film guaranteed to foster much fertile supper conversation.

AND IN THE END- Reviewer David Kary

British playwright Alexander Marshall’s play, ‘And in the End: The Death and Life of John Lennon’ was an intriguing, expansive portrait of the rock legend. The perfect portrait, of-course, cannot exist, still this show came across as authentic and knowing.

It was clearly a work of great love and devotion. In his program notes to the play, Marshall wrote about his commitment to get the portrait right. Some of the tasks he undertook included;- reading close to 200 books about Lennon and the Beatles, doing lots of interviews with people who had been close to Lennon, and spending a lot of time in the Liverpool area where Lennon grew up, familiarizing himself with local spots such as ‘Strawberry Fields’ and ‘Penny Lane’, that were later to become immortalised in Beatles songs.

Marshall, who directed the play as well, chose an innovative and effective non-naturalistic approach, that kept the audience engaged. He set the play on the night of December 8, 1980 between the time Lennon was shot to when he died in hospital.

British actor Valentine Pelka played Lennon who sees his life flashing before him; the days in Liverpool, Hamburg, The Beatles, his mother, Yoko, May-Pang, Cynthia, Julian, Sean, Bed-Ins for Peace, and the solo years. At the same time three Gatekeepers of the White Light help Lennon go through the five stages of dying (and lots of other things in life! Refer Elizabeth Kubler-Ross ‘On Death and Dying’)- Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. The Gatekeepers don’t have an easy time getting Lennon to the other side as he has such a strong, intense will to live.

Thankfully, British actor Valentine Pelka, in a fine performance, just got to play John Lennon the man, and didn’t have to turn into a rock star, and recant lots of Lennon classics. My lasting impression of Lennon from ‘And In The End’ was that even more than a great artist Lennon was a great character!

This was a show that entertained from beginning to end. Pelka was well supported by three fine actors, Jonathon Hardy, Andrew Bibby and Yvonne Strzechowski, who played the Gatekeepers of the White Light as well as a variety of other characters from Lennon’s life, often played with a fine comic touch.

During the show there was so much material that came out that even people who have read plenty of Beatles literature are likely to learn something new about the man. For instance, did you know that it was a nightmarish boating voyage that finally got Lennon out of his long writer’s block, and come up with the classic ‘Double Fantasy’?!

The show’s main production feature was the highly effective use of sophisticated laser lighting during the show. Laser lights were used to simulate the shooting of Lennon, and many other incidents. The lighting was quite extraordinary.

All in all, ‘And In The End: The Death and Life of John Lennon’ was one of the highlights of this years’ theatrical calender thus far.

Metamorphosis

I only had a lukewarm reaction to the Sydney Theatre Company’s Wharf 2 Blueprints production of Franz Kafka’s ‘The Metamorphosis’ in a new, theatrical adaptation by Ben Ellis.
Ellis’s adaptation contemporized the story to a suburban Sydney setting.
The Sydney Theatre Company put together a good team to bring the story to life. Director Benjamin Winspear together with designer Robert Cousins chose a clever, non naturalistic set. The action took place in Gregor’s bedroom with Gregor in a single bed, wrapped in sheets, transformed into a cockroach, and people coming in and out of the room, in a frenetic pace.
A good cast came on board, Matthew Whittet played Gregor, and was supported by Mandy McElhinney, Tony Llewellyn-Jones, Julie Forsyth, Kim Gyngell and Ming-Zhu Hii.
My disappointment lay in the way the production lacked emotional resonance. As clever, as funny, as hysterical as it got, I never felt emotionally engaged.

Hamlet

I caught Mark Kilmurry’s impressive touring production of William Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ during its season at the Ensemble theatre. As well as being the Associate Director of the Ensemble Theatre, Kilmurry has his own theatre company, the Studio Company. His Company has a tradition of putting on theatre that relies on physical skills, mime, music and the power of words to convey the play.

Kilmurry’s ‘Hamlet’ was in keeping with this ethos. I mean this in the most literal sense. There was no sophisticated, expansive set. The set amounted to a platform and two ‘ancient’ streetlights. There were no props. Yes, no props! The cast, too, was stripped to the minimum, with only seven actors.

My most apt description of this production was that it was extremely focused. Kilmurry’s raw approach made for one of the most striking productions of ‘Hamlet’ that I have seen. This was an actors’ kind of theatre, with the performers given free reign to weave their magic without distraction.

I found that some of the plays’ most famous scenes, by being mimed, had a more cutting edge. There are two scenes that come to mind. They are the graveyard scene as Hamlet uncomfortably sees his late friend Yorick’s skull, and the famous fatal sword fighting scene at the end that worked effectively without actually needing the clash of steel. In an innovative bit of theatricality, whilst Hamlet was dueling with his foes, Daniel Mitchell’s character stood at a side of the stage, and clashed two small symbols to mimic the sounds of the flashing blades.

The actors gave finely tuned performances, especially in their primary roles. Kilmurry’s Hamlet was full of edginess and intensity. Patrick Dickson’s King Cladius was impressive, full of outward charm and inner cunning and menace. Ben Ager had warmth as Hamlet’s noble friend, Horatio. Ksenja Logos’s nailed Ophelia’s emotionally shattering mad scene. Daniel Mitchell played Polonius with a good comic touch, revealing his characters over the top, know it all nature. Toni Scanlon was cold as ice as Gertrude, in contrast to John Trutwin’s impulsiveness and fire as Laertes.

Hart to Heart

Naomi Hart’s ‘Hart to Heart: Tales from the Big Apple’ was a fine cabaret show that played the innovative, intimate El Rocco nightclub at Bar Me in Sydney’s King Cross.

Naomi, together with her piano player, and musical director, Paul Geddes, kept a warm, enthusiastic audience entertained with her mixture of powerful songs and colourful anecdotes. The show was bound together by her effusive, confident stage presence, a strong singing voice that held the difficult notes well, and a clear narrative line.

The show’s rich canvas was taken from her recent three years trying to make it big in New York City. ‘Hart to Heart’ was like her final letter home except that she was at the El Rocco Bar delivering it herself with panache.

I enjoyed Naomi’s comic ‘spins’ on some of her more interesting New York stage roles such as Velma Kelly in ‘Chicago’, and Sister Bertha in ‘The Sound of Music’.

It was artful the way she made songs out of some of her more challenging experiences. One of the stand-out numbers was a wonderful song she wrote about her time living in a huge apartment block in New York where the party never stopped. The action was going 24 hours, being produced by people from all different cultures, and she described the resulting chaos vividly.

There was the plaintiveness of the facts of life song ‘Temporary’ that she composed for, if I recall rightly, her niece, dealing with the loss of her grandfather.

The anecdotes kept on coming, in her rapid delivery style, showing a keenly observant mind that especially delighted in the wide range of characters she came across in her travels.

There was the yang as well as the yin in ‘Hart to Heart’. Naomi gave the audience a taste of her struggle to make ends meet. The long hours spent waitressing… The many days she spent just living on tuna with her favourite meal, Tuna Surprise. In a neat riposte at the end of the show Naomi handed out small cans of tuna to takers in the audience as they were leaving.

My favourite moment was her closing anecdote to the show. She was talking about her life since arriving back in Sydney. People were still trying to change her. Some in her family want her to reconsider her career again, in the direction of being a Doctor like she dreamed of when she was a teenager. Recently she was invited to a wedding and, because she is single, someone attempted to matchmake her with, of all things, a 45 year old farmer!

Naomi told the audience that she was now too sure of herself to give in to these pressures. She then went on to sing one of her own songs, celebrating her own independent life path, in which she sang about defying gravity, and never allowing herself to feel put down again. It was a stirring end to a fine show

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