TOWER HEIST- Reviewer Richard Cotter

Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy in the comedy caper, TOWER HEIST

Give your vertigo a workout with the fear of heights comedy caper TOWER HEIST (M).

Ben Stiller stars as Josh Kovacs, the building manager of a swank residential skyscraper whose penthouse dweller is Wall Street wanker, Arthur Shaw, played with arrogant charm by Alan Alda.

Shaw is a shonk, a charlatan, and a cheat under house arrest by the Feds charged with stealing $2 billion. Among his fraudulent financial fiddling is the pension plans of the building’s staff, working stiffs whose scrimping and saving are hard earned by bowing and scraping to stuck-up shysters like Shaw.

When Josh is sacked for displaying his outrage at the avaricious villain, he hatches a Robin Hood-ish plan to bust into swindler’s penthouse and repossess the misappropriated funds.

Pitting stupidity against cupidity, Josh employs petty thief, Slide, played by Eddie Murphy, to lead his motley crew of concierge, bellhop, doorman, maid and defaulting guest in the plunder of the pension plan pirate’s treasure trove he is convinced is secreted somewhere in the condo.

The film is from a screenplay by Ted Griffin who penned the remake of OCEAN’S ELEVEN and Jeff Nathanson, who wrote CATCH ME IF YOU CAN, and has some of the flavour of both those projects, a melding of the true amateur and the dubious professional.

Directed by Brett Ratner of the RUSH HOUR franchise, this is a competent caper movie without ever attaining the heights of the great heist movies.

As a wish fulfilment film about the corrupt rich copping it from those they think beneath them, it’s a fine sentiment, and it does have a surprise element concerning the stash and a genuinely thrilling fear of heights sequence.

Alan Alda as the shyster targeted by the heisters is terrific and along with Tea Leoni as the FBI agent assigned the case literally steal the show.

© Richard Cotter

23rd December, 2011

THE SKIN I LIVE IN

A cutting scene from the latest Almodovar flick

THE SKIN I LIVE IN is the latest kooky, spooky melodrama from Almodovar.

In this macabre story, lifted from the novel “Mygale” by Thierry Jonquet, and fashioned by Pedro and Agustin Almodovar, Antonio Banderas returns to the Almodovar fold after twenty years (since Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!) to play skin specialist, Dr. Robert Ledgard.

His casa is a compound that has a secret laboratory and operating theatre where he continues to hone his skills of skin grafting. He has been experimenting on the same human guinea-pig for the past many years and his cellular therapy has progressed at a satisfying pace.

But what of the sinister secret of his plastic surgery subject? And just who is his loyal housekeeper? What is the truth behind his wife and daughter?

This dermatological melodrama is Kafkaesque distilled through Hitchcock, Bunuel and Douglas Sirk. One to nip and tuck into!

© Richard Cotter

23rd December, 2011

TIN TIN

Spielberg gets in touch with his inner child in TIN TIN

I am happy to report that TIN TIN (PG) is great fun and a triumph of 3D animation.

The pic gets off to a fine start with a highly imaginative and very busy title sequence which telegraphs the story is an amalgam of three comic book adventures. These have been weaved together by Dr. Who alumnus Steven Moffat, Hot Fuzz/Shaun of the Dead scribe, Edgar Wright, and Attack the Blocker, Joe Cornish.

While Snowy the Dog practically steals the show, there’s a standout performance by Andy Serkis as the alcoholic Captain Haddock, continuing and consolidating his reputation as the go to man in acting for animation, animatronics, CGI etc.
Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are excellent as The Thompson Twins and Daniel Craig puts on his best arch villain voice as the baddies, past and present.

TIN TIN sees Spielberg getting in touch with his inner kid again, something that’s been missing in recent projects and is his best film since CATCH ME IF YOU CAN.

(c) Richard Cotter

23rd December, 2011

ALBERT NOBBS

Jonathon Rhys Meyers and Glenn Close in ALBERT NOBBS

Are Glenn Close and her creative cohorts having a lend?

One has to wonder when the two leading characters in ALBERT NOBBS (M), is a Mister Nobbs and a Miss Dawes? Knobs and doors, wink, wink, nudge, nudge, say no more. To continue with schoolboy snigger, Mr. Nobbs sports a set of knockers as does another cove, a Mr. Page, (Janet McTeer) no page boy this, mammy.

This tale of cross dressing domestics is as much about the upstairs downstairs of certain individuals as it is the social strata of servants in uncivil Victorian era Dublin.

As a master class of acting by Glenn Close it is a success, a triumphal chameleon turn as the transvestite Albert Nobbs, a woman so abused as to sublimate her sexuality and self into servitude, existing as a male solely to survive.

Except for her diminutive stature, all traces of femininity have evaporated, so successful the sublimation of her sex, to the point she fantasises of taking a wife, with no apparent lesbian leaning.

This is tragic transvestism as opposed to the more common cinematic treatment of cross dressing, comedy, and without the need to fall into farce or camp, the final product probably could have done with a little bit of comic leavening.

What we are presented with is a dour Dublin drama that is a bit of a drudge. One of the key plot points, Nobbs’ secret’s discovery is, pardon the pun, a drag, with Janet McTeer’s trannie turn tragically telegraphed by a k.d.lang look and languor.

When Albert gets a bee in her bonnet over a flea in her frillies – actually a parasite in her corset- it’s literally a booby trap. Keeping abreast of anatomical anomaly, it’s tits at ten paces as Page beats her breast, bares her chest, shares the jest, and puts mutual trust to the test.

© Richard Cotter

23rd December, 2011

THE IRON LADY

Merryl Streep is outstanding as Maggie Thatcher in THE IRON LADY

Sink the Belgrano and pass me the Oscar. La Stupenda Streep is awesomely scary as Maggie T, the first female Prime Minister of Great Britain.

From a screenplay expertly fashioned by Abi Morgan and intelligently helmed by Phyllida Lloyd we are shown the old Tory’s story in flashback, as she comes to turn with widowhood and the dying of the light.

Close the coalmines and pass me another Oscar – nods will probably go to Meryl and Jim Broadbent as Denis, who seems to be cornering the market in sweet back seat spouses a la Iris and Arthur Christmas.

The seventeenth Oscar nomination for Streep is almost assured as she chameleons into another extraordinary character with the help of a top notch make-up and hair magician.

Besides Broadbent she is more than ably supported by a gallery of British luvvies the likes of Richard E Grant, Nicholas Farrell, John Sessions and Anthony Head.

Impressive too is Alexandra Roach as the young Maggie Thatcher.

A study of power, extreme self confidence, and the sacrifices that come with public office, as well as a potted history of the world between 1959 and 1990,

THE IRON LADY is a fascinating biopic of a ferocious female, forged from war ravaged England who became a first and formidable friend or foe depending on which side of fascism you faced.

© Richard Cotter

23rd December, 2011

CHINESE TEA EXPO 2011-Reviewer Esther Rothfield

The wonder and aroma of Chinese Tea

THE CHINESE TEA EXPO 2011 HOSTED BY THE FUJIAN CHINESE GOVERNMENT IS THE LARGEST AND MOST EXCITING TEA EXHIBITION TO EVER VISIT AUSTRALIA AND OFFERS FREE ENTRY!

THE VENUE IS THE BAYSIDE GRAND HALL AT THE SYDNEY CONVENTION AND EXHIBITION CENTRE AT DARLING HARBOUR – SATURDAY 17 DECEMBER 10-5 PM PM & SUNDAY 18 DECEMBER 10-5 PM

THE LEADER OF FUJIAN TEA AIMS TO INTRODUCE FUJIAN TEA INCLUDING ORGANIC TEAS INTO THE TRADITIONAL AUSTRALIAN MARKET.

TEA EXHIBITORS FROM FUJIAN AND SURROUNDS WILL BE BREWING THEIR AROMATIC TEAS FOR VISITORS TO SIP.

FORGET OUR VERSION OF JASMIN TEA OF ALL LEAVES WITH A FEW PETALS SCATTERED THROUGH THE BREW AND IMAGINE WHOLE BLOOMS OF EXOTIC JASMIN FLOWERS SWIMMING IN THE TEA, OR IF YOU PREFER SAMPLING ROSE PETAL TEA AND ONCE AGAIN NOT THE ODD ROSE PETAL BUT WHOLE BABY ROSE-BUDS FLOATING AROUND THE TOP OF THE TEA POT!!! EXOTIC ORGANIC WHITE TEAS AND SULTRY OOLONG TEAS – ALL BREWING UP A STORM FOR THE VISITOR TO SAMPLE!!

IN ADDITION TO TEA EXHIBITION BOOTHS, TEA SEMINARS WILL BE CONDUCTED ON BOTH DAYS.

THE WEEKEND WILL FEATURE TRADITIONAL DANCING PERFORMANCE – SUCH AS THE BAMBOO FOREST STICKS DANCE AND MORE CONTEMPORARY PIECES AS WELL AS
A CHINESE-AUSTRALIAN MELANGE OF LEAF PLAYING BY THE MAESTRO SHAOCHUN QIU MUSIC AND A VERSION OF ‘CLICK GO THE SHEARS’ SUNG IN MANDARIN BY A YOUNG GIRL.

THE VIDEO CLIPS WITH EVERYTHING FROM SILK SCREEN CAVERNS TO HUGE MAGNOLIA AND CHERRY BLOSSOMS ARE A FEAST FOR THE EYES – WHILE THE GROUP DANCES AND FOLK SONGS ARE BEAUTIFULLY PERFORMED BY THE FUJIAN TEA ARTS
PERFORMING TROUPE.

THERE IS NO DOUBT THAT TEA BRINGS PEOPLE TOGETHER – AND THIS CHINESE TEA EXPO PUTS A FOCUS ON ECOLOGY, HARMONY AND SUSTAINABILITY.

DON’T MISS THIS CHINESE TEA & PERFORMANCE EXPO!

(C) Esther Rothfield

17th December, 2011

Tags: Chinese Tea Expo 2011, BAYSIDE GRAND HALL AT THE SYDNEY CONVENTION AND EXHIBITION CENTRE, DARLING HARBOUR.

NOTHING PERSONAL

Emma Jackson makes a point to Andrew McFarlane. Pic Natalie Boog

Australia’s premiere playwright David Williamson has explored many different worlds in his long and illustrious career,- the world of an Aussie Rules team in THE CLUB and a radio shock-jock in INFLUENCE, just to name a few. In his new play NOTHING PERSONAL shines his torch on life inside a leading book publishing company.

Traditionally Williamson plays feature a battle of wills between its leading players. So it is with NOTHING PERSONAL. Leading lady Greta Scacchi stars as Bea, a tough, resolute middle-aged woman, who has headed the Company for many years. Her literary tastes are conservative, and she openly declares her favourite book is George Eliot’s MIDDLEMARCH, (described by Virginia Woolf as, ‘one of the few English novels written for grown up people’). She is not comfortable with the current writing trend that focuses on drugs, sex and nihilism, a style of writing dubbed, ‘dirty realism’.

Bea has the support of her hard working, long-time and loyal assistant, Roxanne, deftly played by Julie Hudspeth. There is another camp in the Company, headed by beautiful and ambitious head of marketing Naomi, (Emma Jackson delivers a stand-out, compelling performance) who are championing this new wave of writing. Nothing personal, but Naomi has her eye on Bea’s job!

Things come to a head when Kelvin, the Chairman of the Board, hears that Bea knocked back the publication of one of the new wave of books which ended up being a huge hit for one of their competitors. Naomi is gloating. For the first time in her distinguished career, Bea is thinking that her days at the top may be numbered.

Williamson’s latest drama leaves some lasting impressions. The playwright doesn’t hold back on his thoughts on the current literary scene. Bea comments, ‘Winning the Premier’s Literary Award is the literary equivalent of winning Australian Idol’. There’s an inference coming from the play that Williamson isn’t a fan of the new writing (is there a bit of a literary traditionalist in Williamson?) and he , as well, raises the question as to whether publishing companies are interested enough in the literary merit of the works that they publish.

With NOTHING PERSONAL, Williamson depicts a world that is heavily female dominated. Bea and Naomi are portrayed as two highly capable women whose personal lives suffer as a result of the emphasis that they place on their careers. Bea has a grown up daughter, Lucy, subtly played by Rachael Cooper, who still holds grudges for the way that she was neglected by her mother during some difficult years.

Professionally assured, Naomi is struggling in her private life. She has a highly competitive, status obsessed relationship with her boyfriend; architect Simon, neatly played by Matthew Moore. One can only speculate as to whether Williamson sees this competitive aspect as a typical aspect of the relationships many young people are now having. As well, Naomi feels guilty for not having spent more time with her dying mother Carla, played a little too directly by Jeanie Drynan.

As has sometimes been depicted in the media, to telling effect, sophisticated, sleazy men still exist even in the most established of companies. Andrew McFarlane gives a strong performance as Chairman of the Board Kelvin, a slippery smooth, manipulative wealthy playboy, who comes with a very handy asset, his own private jet! Even the ever so independent, self made young woman Naomi finds Kelvin’s advances difficult to handle.

Steven Butler’s set with everything, including bookshelves and tableware, perspex and transparent, works well. Lissette Endacott’s costumes were spot on in character with Naomi’s tight fitting black outfit and Bea draping an elegant shawl over her more conservative blouse and pants.

Recommended, Mark Kilmurry’s world premiere production of NOTHING PERSONAL opened on Friday 9th December and plays till Saturday January 28, 2012 at the Ensemble theatre, 78 McDougall street, Kirribilli.

(c) David Kary

15th December, 2011

Tags: Sydney Play Of The Week, NOTHING PERSONAL, David Williamson, Ensemble Theatre, Mark Kilmurry, Greta Scacchi, Emma Jackson, Andrerw McFarlane, Jeanie Drynan, Rachael Cooper, Julie Hudspeth, Matthew Moore, Stephen Butler, Peter Neufeld, Lissette Endacott, Natalie Boog.

LOVE AND CATASTROPHES- Reviewer Jill Berryman

The cast of PLAYBACK, playing out people’s stories

Playback Theatre at the PACT- The theme- Love & Catastrophes

Love is complicated, love is real life, love is the human condition……..

These were thoughts of the audience after an emotional rollercoaster provided by the enterprising Playback ensemble at the Pact Theatre. Playback’s final performance for the year did not hold back as the energetic cast reproduced spontaneous stories from real life …. Stories from audience members who were brave enough to share their personal experiences.

Lost…. 17 year old Joel….lonely , lacking confidence……unreachable by his mother, who saw this scenario vividly played out before her eyes. Then there was chance Encounter, Kate’s touching story of a poignant chance meeting on the streets of Rome.

For a first time encounter with this style of improvisation, this night at the theatre was confronting and engaging with its taste of ready to share improvisations being played out and connecting to both the young and the mature members in the audience.

© Jill Berryman

12th December, 2011

PIPPIN

SQUIRREL

8/12/2012. Sidetrack Theatre 7:30 pm. It rains in buckets. The Jumbo jets roar away as if on a crash course with the Addison Arts & Events District. The potholes are deep and overflowing from the never-ending heavy rain. Good weather for a heart-warming musical like PIPPIN. The production is scheduled for 8 pm, 90 straight minutes through with no interval. 8:15 pm, it still rains and the small crowd is patiently waiting to be seated. May be we are waiting for the many people lost in traffic and the rain. Or, for yet another musician to arrive late, like the double bass player who hurried in about 15 minutes before performance start. Life isn’t easy. 8:18 pm, the door to the auditorium opens and a jumbo jet roars over the theatre as if applauding. Magic. We quickly enter and swiftly take our dry seats, eagerly awaiting the magic of Pippin to unfold.

Pippin only once became a mainstream musical. That was back in 1972, when the magical Bob Fosse directed, choreographed, and took his audience on a surreal and disturbing journey that lasted for 1,944 performances. (PIPPIN still holds rank 31 amongst the longest running Broadway shows of all time.) He took the show and concept to London in 1973 and managed to produce one of the shortest runs in West End Musical history. The show closed after 85 performances. Probably the Londoners could not find the theatre in the everlasting famous British fogs. PIPPIN never had a really successful professional production after its humongous Broadway run. However, hundreds of amateur theatre groups worldwide have taken the musical to heart since then. 40 years later the show has not lost its sneaky cuteness and naughty tendencies. The plot still holds and Stephen Schwartz’s music and lyrics are as haunting as ever.

However, not when his music is butchered like here. CrinkleCut Productions, the Producer behind this effort, lives up to its key slogan: …the greatest productions are not always straight-cut – sometimes they’re a little CrinkleCut. And that is what happens here. The production crinkles, wobbles, splinters, drowns and irritates. CrinkleCut has done everything possible to create a highly professional show. All 10 actors are equipped with state of the art microphones. There is a six-piece band. Director Benita de Wit has developed a feisty, comprehendible and fast moving concept. Simone Salle provides a rich, colourful and witty choreography. Stage and Costume designer Marissa Dale-Johnson created a multifunctional set and engaging costumes. Everything seems good enough to guarantee a smash hit. So what is wrong?

Firstly, the band led by musical director and keyboardist Andy Peterson. The decision to place the band at the left side of the stage and too close to the audience may have started the problem. Here we are, lucky enough to have a band at hand and not the much cheaper alternative of a backing tape and the benefit turns into the biggest doubt of the evening. The band is too loud, the acoustic guitar is tuned a quarter tone lower than the violin, the violinist struggles to find her pitch and at times sounds like a first grade beginner and the man at the electric piano hammers away as if he has to smash concrete to pieces. When Andy Peterson is in full action, his band members may as well stop playing all together.

And, there is the Ensemble. All of them lovely individuals of their own kind. Sadly enough, most of them are not used to working with sophisticated sound equipment as mentioned at the beginning. The lack of fallback speakers and the position of the band does not make their life easier. The microphones at times become disturbing. They also brutally unveil that some of the actors actually cannot sing. The cast is a weird mixture of professionals, amateurs with rich stage experience and true theatre fanatics that just have a ball being on stage. Therefore, they walk into furniture, lose their props, get breathless in dance routines they are not built for and cut off lines before it is their turn. However good choreography may be, it will crumble to amateurism if not performed by dancers of highest standards.

There are two outstanding dancers on stage, which have to carry the rest. Cat Hoyos is one of them. She is extraordinary and shows what a showstopper Simone Salle’s choreography could have been. They are joined by three actors. A brilliant one, another one is a revelation, and one, Zach Smith, is on his way to brilliance. His interpretation of the little boy Theo is heart-warming, precise and very moving. In addition, he can sing. Gaynor Tension as Pippin’s grandmother Berthe is the revelation. He wastes no time in becoming the comical highlight of the evening. He takes the stage, makes it his own and gets the audience on their feet. Thank you.

The others work hard. Mitchell Lagos as Pippin is a natural charmer who lacks the vocal chords to nail his songs. He is believable as the young man on his quest to find a fulfilled life. David Atrill, as his father King Charlemagne, never should sing and visibly is in trouble with the complexity of his part. Amie Timmins Cathrine, the mother of Theo and desperately seeking a man to warm her lonely heart, tries her best to come to grips with the ballads she has to sing. Erin Bruce (Fastrada), Phil McIntosh (Louis) and Sam Larielle (Magician) complete the cast and give what they can.

Finally yet importantly, there is the above-mentioned second outstanding dancer and brilliant one actor. Benjamin Hoetjes is the leading player of the evening. That he, the brilliant one, has taken the part of The Leading Player is therefore no coincidence. He is brilliant for one simple reason: He can do it all. He can sing beautifully, he can dance like a Dervish; he is an acrobat, not only physically but far more as an actor. Forgive me the comparison but he does what Cate Blanchet does in Gross und Klein at the STC.

His body language is immaculate. His repertoire of gestures is endless. His intellect is as sharp as a razor-blade. His timing impeccable. He is a comedian, can easily play RICHARD III and make any musical part he will be allowed to challenge his very own. He is simply magic. He opens the show with ‘Magic to Do’ and sets a standard that no one else can reach throughout the evening. Each and every agent in this city and the rest of the world should come and see this young man. And so should you, before you will have to fork out a lot of money to see him. He is fearless, got the talent, owns the aura, is devil and angel in one and even got the looks, everyone is so eager to have nowadays.

Benjamin Hoetjes is proof that PIPPIN’S conclusion that maybe the most fulfilling road of all is a modest, ordinary life is correct for all those who have stopped to live the dream. And he is proving that there is an institution in this country that provides the dreamers with the tools to make dreams come true. He is not a NIDA man. He is much more. He is a WAAPA!

Markus Weber 8/12/2011

© 2011 Emu Productions (theater & music) Pty Ltd

GRISELDA

Miriam Allen as Constanza in Vivaldi’s GRISELDA. Pic Simon Hodgson

Forget the ridiculous plot, sit back, relax and succumb to the ravishing singing and glorious music.

Marvellous Pinchgut Opera this year have brought us the astonishing GRISELDA by Vivaldi. In their trademark style we have a rarely seen opera, with fresh, exciting direction ( Mark Gaal) and a focus on the music, concentrating on vividly recreating Baroque performance styles for contemporary audiences.

The plot, based on a story from Boccacio’s ‘Decameron’, with libretto by the great Goldoni, is one of those fables where the main protagonist is forced to endure arbitrary and meaningless torment, brutally testing the heroine’s fidelity and constancy, to confirm that they are ‘true’.

Griselda’s husband, Gualtiero, King of Thesally, having many years ago pretended to kill her first child, now suddenly repudiates and banishes her, because his subjects insist he marries someone of undoubted royal blood. Ottone, her suave, slimy suitor, ( the villain of the piece ) threatens to kill her second child if she does not submit to him. Corrado, the king’s brother, is in effect Gualtiero’s henchman and in on the plot.

In a ghastly sadistic twist Griselda is allowed back to court as maid to the new queen, ironically named Constanza. Gualtiero, eventually reassured of Griselda’s love and fidelity, takes her back in what is a rather contrived ‘happy ending ‘ as expected in the conventions of eighteenth century opera, but by then Griselda has been understandably extremely traumatised and hurt, as is underlined by the ending .

In the role of Griselda, tall, statuesque Caitlin Hulcup was amazing with an incredible display of virtuosity. This tricky, very demanding role was performed brilliantly, displaying passionate grief at times and quiet despair. Her tremendous, versatile voice ranged from ‘storm’ arias (a recurring theme in this opera) through to the soft moments just before she dozes off to sleep. Her bravura vocal pyrotechnics had the audience enthralled.

As her long lost daughter and rival Constanza, Miriam Allan was excellent with a terrific flexibility and varied range in this demanding role. We see the way she changes from a rather thoughtless, self-centered teenager to a caring, empathetic young woman. There is a sensational trio for Constanza, Griselda and Gualtiero – ‘ Non Piu Regina’- that makes one wish for more.

Cold, cruel, tyrannical Gualtiero, a tenor role, was marvelously and authoritatively sung by Christopher Saunders.

The other three male roles were all sung by counter tenors (in Vivaldi’s time two of the male roles were performed by castrati and a third by a mezzo-soprano). David Hansen as Ottone, which is an even more demanding coloratura fireworks role than Griselda, astonished us with his jaw- dropping scintillating range and flexibility, He stops the show towards the end of the second half with his celebratory aria ‘Dopo un’orrida procella’, when he thinks he will be marrying Griselda. Bravo.

Handsome Tobias Cole in the role of Roberto, Constanza’s aching true love, was warm, expressive and extremely impressive. (No wonder Constanza melts). In the relatively smaller, lighter role of Corrado, Russell Harcourt was terrific with beautiful control and tone.

Set design by David Fleischer was mostly atmospheric, sparse and simple, a cold grey ’tiled ‘ proscenium arch effect and a low black bench. There was a roller door for the second half that rose majestically for the wedding scenes at the end. In the second half, when poor Griselda is banished, there is garbage everywhere and everything is covered in snow and the cast are in thick parkas – reminiscent of the production RENT in a way.

The show is performed in contemporary dress and is updated to include mobile phones. There is a beautiful blue gown for Griselda at the beginning and Constanza is a fairytale vision in her wedding dress. Luiz Pamphola’s lighting was thrilling and atmospheric.

Under the sprightly, very energetic direction of Erin Helyard leading from the keyboard, the Orchestra of the Antipodes gave a magnificent performance on period instruments- mostly lush strings, supplemented by horns where appropriate.

There was rapturous applause and cheers at the end for this thrilling performance which ran for 2 hours and 45 minutes including one 20 minute interval.

Pinchgut Opera’s production of Vivaldi’s GRISELDA opened at the City Recital Hall, Angel Place on Wednesday 30th November and played for four nights only, closing on Monday 5th December, 2011.

© Lynne Lancaster

5th December, 2011

Tags: GRISELDA, Vivaldi, Pinchgut Opera, City Recital Angel Place, Erin Helyard, David Fleischer. Luiz Pamphola, Tobias Cole, Russell Harcourt, David Hansen, Christopher Saunders, Mirian Allan, Caitlin Hulcup.

PUSS IN BOOTS

Dreamworks Animation’s PUSS IN BOOTS (G)

Not quite as successful or sustaining as ARTHUR CHRISTMAS, Dreamworks Animation’s PUSS IN BOOTS (G) is nevertheless an enjoyable romp, a spinoff of the remarkable Shrek series.

Antonio Banderas reprises his role as the fashion footwear feline, one cool cat, a gato that takes the gateaux, and there’s no denying the casting is purr-fect.

The film works best when it focuses on the feline – the milk drinking, the pussy playfulness, the kitty caboodle. When it strides into Zorro zone – an almost irresistible temptation when you have Antonio aboard- it becomes a bit overblown.

Keep the Puss Tom and eschew The Fox, and the Boots has more fidelity and felicity and is less fatuous – in this case Fatuous Catus.

All that litters is not old – it’s just that some writers need to be more malkin savvy for this mouser to sustain feature length without fur-balling.

© Richard Cotter

4th December, 2011

HOW TO LOSE SIGHT

Cloe Fournier struggling in Michal Imielski’s HOW TO LOSE SIGHT

A small group of people waiting amongst people attending other shows at the Riverside Theatre Foyer. Then appears a floating white chair, accompanied by a graceful and charming woman and an over the top eager man. Our tour guides have arrived to lead us to our destination. I know that the performance will take place in a heritage house at the edge of the park. I immediately feel uneasy. I am not one of those happy people who love audience involvement. Without knowing, I had become part of the ensemble. I leave it to your own imagination what a small group of people, following a floating white chair, has to endure whilst wandering out of the Riverside Theatre and across the street to the performance venue lead by a white chair.

Michal Imielski is a magician. With an unexpected, but actually quite familiar trick, he has transformed all of us into his collaborators. The idea for HOW TO LOSE SIGHT was triggered by the story of a woman’s journey from light into darkness. It is an intriguing plot for a trilogy of plays about the people amongst us suffering sight impairment and total blindness in a fast moving and more and more careless society. HOW TO LOSE SIGHT is Part Two of Imielski’s work of art. He composed the music and wrote the script together with his cast and co devisors: Michal Imielski, Barton Williams, Cloe Fournier, Gideon Payten-Griffiths, Julia Landrey, Odile Leclezio, Peter Maple, Pollyanna Norwicki and Shauntelle Benjamin. Designer Lucy Wong and Movement Advisor Cloe Furnier contribute ingeniously.

Once our little parade arrives at the charming cottage we are split into three small groups. The door opens and we enter the mysterious world of blindness. There is no escape. Each group is ushered into separate rooms and it becomes clear that we are on a ghost train trip. The rooms are tiny. The actors literally sit on our laps, or we on theirs. The closeness is intimidating, uncomfortable and at times frightening.

The show is an amalgamation of experimental physical theatre, art installation, musical rollercoaster, contemporary dance mixed with glimpses of comedy, however, always confronting and eye opening. We learn and start to experience what it must feel like to lose sight, never having seen light, being blinded through a violent attack, falling in love without being able to see what we love. At one time, we sit isolated in a room and listen to the reactions of the two other groups to what we had seen before. We are blind at this moment and only able to hear. A unique experience. I do not want to give away the stories. I believe that everyone who sees this production will have a different reaction and comprehension of what unfolds.

The stories have no connection, are raw material at times and on the edge of being banal. “I’ll never go on a blind date again.” However, the whole team is to be commended for the commitment, bravery and willingness to cross borders in their effort to make us aware of our own sightlessness. If you are voyeuristic, not afraid of intimacy, not claustrophobic and eager for audience participation this is your show. If you are afraid of all these things, this is your chance to overcome all those scary inner demons.

I still feel the fingers of that actress falling in love with my hairy arm, which made me ask myself why I did not wear one of my usual long sleeved shirts. I found the answer when I took my first deep breath after leaving “The House”. I did not know that I put on a costume when I chose to wear short sleeves on a mild and sunny day. So, no more shorts sleeves in the future.

A SHH Company in association with Blacktown Arts production, HOW TO LOSE SIGHT opened on Wednesday November 30 and plays until Saturday December 10, 2011.

© Markus Weber, EMU Productions (theatre and music) Pty Ltd

Tags: HOW TO LOSE SIGHT, Michal Imielski, Barton Williams, Cloe Fournier, Gideon Payten-Griffiths, Julia Landrey, Odile Leclezio, Peter Maple, Pollyanna Norwicki, Shauntelle Benjamin,Lucy Wong, Cloe Furnier, SHH Company, Blacktown Arts.

AS YOU LIKE IT

Alison Bell, Ashley Zukerman and Trevor Jamieson . Pic Heidrun Lohr

This is a a joyous, warm and sunny romantic comedy that had the entranced audience in frequent fits of laughter .Director Eamon Flack has devised a tremendous production, the ‘standard’ text slightly adapted and abridged ,with a brilliant cast and production team. The themes of young love, love that transforms everything,self analysis and how Arden is a strange magical forest with the capacity to change people who enter it are wonderfully developed and exploited by Flack.

There is some doubling/tripling of roles and particularly in the Forest of Arden itself a dizzying confusion of cross dressing – men playing women and women playing men – even more tangled than in the actual script ( eg Gareth Davies as a terrific, chain smoking rather uncouth Phoebe and Shelly Lauman as the handsome ,glowing yet troubled shepherd Silvius in love with Phoebe ).

There is fine ensemble work from all and enormous fun with the cast as sheep – cud chewing , silly hats and costumes, frisking and with silly tics of movement, lying down or running away startled from the audience – wonderful

There is some fine singing of at one point a madrigal like song and some riotous miming by Touchstone and sheep to music from Verdi’s ‘ Rigoletto’ in an attempt to impress and woo Audrey. The strolling musicians also have a portable keyboard, violin and other music inserted where appropriate.

The early court scenes leading up to Rosalind and Celia’s sudden banishment are galloped through and in this version Orlando and Jacques de Boys wrestling match is off-stage.

Alison Bell as Rosalind/Ganymede is tremendous.and has a whale of a time ‘magically’ putting things to right at the end. Whether in a floaty floral print dress or obvious in disguise as a very feminine ‘boy’ in shirt, trousers and tiny moustache she is excellent.

As Orlando hunky Ashley Zuckerman is totally charming and believable as the neglected nobleman and aching lover.

Charlie Garber has the difficult role of the not so good fool Touchstone and is magnificent . His jokes – and some others – have at times been rewritten for modern audiences but most of the wordplay which now can seem obscure and fall flat has been kept but interwoven with asides and interplay that keep it fresh and relevant. ( ‘But it was clever! ‘) When in Arden he wears a blanket like cloak around him and carries a wand. a sort of superhero or wizard in disguise perhaps?! Or just a courtier turned shepherd doing his job ?

As Rosalind’s tomboyish cousin Celia,petite,elfin Yael Stone is terrific when in disguise with Dame Edna like glasses and headband in the Forest .

In the dual role of blustery, dominating and cruel Duke Frederick and melancholy Jacques ,Billie Brown was most impressive. As Jacques he didn’t really seem that particularly melancholy – perhaps he kept it hidden – but there was always an aura of him being a rather aloof outsider who didn’t quite fit in. His world weary ‘seven ages of man’ speech was beautifully done. His rushing off at the end to join the Duke in a religious house could come as somewhat of a surprise if you weren’t familiar with the play but understandable .But why then the ending with the Narcissus like looking in the pool ?

As Oliver, Orlando’s brother, dishy Hamish Michael is at first mean and taunting but his unexpected love for Celia changes that and he becomes quite charming.

Alistair Watt’s set is deceptively sparse and simple, basically comprising a clear empty curtained space with some moveable pieces of scenery (representing a tree or a pool for instance) and assorted props like folding picnic chairs. The opening court scenes are played in the audience with the houselights up . ‘Arden’ is represented by green curtains – Orlando’s poems are mostly post it notes ( a single solitary flower mid stage, rather Middummer Night’s Dream like, with one of Orlando’s poems attached is eaten by a sheep ). At the end, all is revealed, as a golden reflective mirror.

This is a shimmering totally delightful production that will have you leaving the theatre with a huge grin.
Highly recommended, Eamon Flack’s production of the Bard’s AS YOU LIKE IT opened upstairs at Belvoir Street on Wednesday 23rd November and plays until Saturday 24th December, 2011.

© Lynne Lancaster

2nd December, 2011

Tags: AS YOU LIKE IT, William Shakespeare, Belvoir Street theatre, Eamon Flack, Alison Bell, Billie Brown, Gareth Davies, Casey Donovan, Charlie Garber, Trevor Jamieson, Shelly Lauman, Hamish Michael, Dan Russell, Yael Stone, Tim Walter, Ashley Zukerman, Alistair Watts.

AS YOU LIKE IT- Cleveland Street Theatre

The cast of AS YOU LIKE IT

The Shakespeare Centre’s production of William Shakespeare’s ‘As You Like It’ at the Cleveland Street Theatre is a richly entertaining and romantic production of one of the Bard’s great comedies.

The title of this Shakespeare play is very appropriate. The great playwright seems to have decided to put together a play which throws together the ingredients with the greatest appeal to audiences. With director Jason Langley’s vibrant setting of the play in the 1960’s featuring a rich soundtrack of sixties music, this is a vibrant night in the theatre.

The cast revel in this hippie version of ‘As You Like It’. Christy Sullivan’s (as Phebe) early rendition of those famous ‘bars’ from Joni Mitchell’s celebratory song ‘Woodstock’- ‘we are stardust/we are golden/we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden’- set the tone for the evening.

Arienwen Parkes-Lockwood was a vivacious, luminescent Rosalind. Her energy never flags, even though she is on stage for most of the play, and she eloquently delivers the play’s touching epilogue. As Rosalind’s good companion Celia Celeste Dodwell is a perky presence and shows some deft comic touches. Sam Devenport gives a charming performance as Orlando, the youngest son of Sir Rowland de Boys, who steals Rosalind’s heart at first glance.

Johann Walraven gave a fine performance as the melancholic, soppy Jacques who effectively delivered one of Shakespeare’s greatest monologues, ‘All the World’s A Stage’. David Hooley shows off a comic, charismatic stage presence as Touchstone and Cat Martin made a great county wench who wins his heart. TJ Power impressed as the show’s guitarist and balladeer.

The show came to a lilting climax with a resounding company rendition of the great Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s song, ‘Love The One You’re With’.

The Shakespeare Centre’s bright production of ‘As You Like It’ plays the Cleveland Street theatre till the 8th May, 2010.

Friday 23rd April, 2010.

AS YOU LIKE IT

Alison Bell, Ashley Zukerman and Trevor Jamieson . Pic Heidrun Lohr

The play’s title says it all. This is the play where, like a master chef, the Bard has mixed together all the ingredients that have great appeal to audiences and comes up with a fun, mirthful night at the theatre. Forget his dark, tragic theatre nights like KING LEAR and HAMLET, this is Shakespeare the great crowd pleaser, the playwright who wanted to bring joy to the throngs of people who flocked to the Globe theatre.

The Bard would have loved Eamon Flack’s current revival upstairs at Belvoir, because it is performed exactly in the spirit in which it was writ! This is a play where Cupid’s arrow fires off in all directions. There’s a wonderful chemistry between a terrific Alison Bell as Rosalind and a charming Ashley Zukerman as Orlando. Veteran performers Billie Brown and Trevor Jamieson are great playing Dukes Frederick and Senior respectively. Brown is also great as the master of melancholy Jacques who delivers ALL THE WORLD’S A STAGE- that kind of sums up life in one astonishing speech.

Australian Idol winner Casey Donovan shines in playing multiple roles, including those of Audrey and Hyman, and gets to show off her clear as a bell voice. Charlie Garber is a memorable, very funny Touchstone.

The magical Forest of Arden is vibrantly brought to life in Alistair Watts’s set, Mel Page’s costumes (especially Touchstone’s final costume!), Stefan Gregory’s music score, which adds to Shakespeare’s uplifting ballads, and the acting troupe’s constant clowning, especially when they have a go at playing baying sheep of Arden! It ends up being so much fun that, near the end, Flack even gets in on the act and makes an appearance on stage as a second Jacques de Boys.

An uplifting, exuberant night at the theatre, Eamon Flack’s production of AS YOU LIKE IT opened upstairs at Belvoir Street theatre, 25 Belvoir Street, Surry Hills on Wednesday 23rd November and plays nntil Christmas Eve, Saturday 24th December, 2011.

RESTLESS

Mia Wasikowska and Denis Hopper star in Gus Van Sant’s latest, RESTLESS

When a mortuary worker finds Annabel and Enoch, the two protagonists of Gus Van Sant’s latest film RESTLESS (M) scoping out the morgue and asks “Can I help you?” Enoch’s jaunty reply is “No thanks. We’re just browsing.”

Enoch is morbidly obsessed with death. Our first glimpse of him is chalking his own outline as if he was a dead body at a crime scene. Recently orphaned – both parents killed in a car crash which he survived- he is a pathological funeral goer.

It’s at a memorial service he meets Annabel. She is legitimately attending the requiem of a fellow cancer patient. A relationship develops. She has three months to live. He was lucky to survive to car wreck that claimed his parents. She is optimistic and a passionate Darwinian. He is moody, gloomy, and has visitations from the ghost of a Kamikaze pilot.

Annabel lives with her mother and older sister. Mum has hit the bottle as a coping mechanism to deal with her daughter’s disease and imminent death. Her sister is stoic and supportive. Enoch lives with his aunt, Mabel, who he blames for the loss of his parents.

RESTLESS is profoundly more satisfying than most disease of the week sudsers with the seemingly ubiquitous Mia Wasikowska as “the kid with cancer, not a cancer kid” and Denis Hopper’s son, Henry Hopper distilling a quirky existentialism into the character of Enoch. Dad would be proud.

Continuing the Hollywood lineage and legacy, Schuyler Fisk, daughter of Sissy Spacek, stars as Annabel’s sister and the film is produced by Ron Howard’s daughter, Bryce Dallas Howard.

Rounding off an excellent ensemble is Lusia Strus as Annabel’s melancholic alcoholic mama, Jane Adams as Auntie Mabel, and Ryo Kase as the kamikaze ghost.

© Richard Cotter

27th November, 2011

Tags: SYDNEY MOVIE OF THE WEEK, RESTLESS, Gus Van Sant, Mia Wasikowska, Denis Hopper, Schuyler Fisk, Bryce Dallas Howard, Luisa Strus, Jane Adams, Ryo Kase.

THE UGLY ONE

Jacinta Acevski, Eden Falk and Gig Clarke in THE UGLY ONE. Pic Patrick Boland

What was all the fuss about?! I’m sorry but I just wasn’t a fan of Marius Von Mayenburg’s THE UGLY ONE, (translation by Maja Zade), the Stables final show for the year.

In the pre-publicity the show was described as, ‘a pitch perfect black comedy and scalpel-sharp social satire about identity and contemporary narcissism’. I wasn’t convinced.

The narrative is slight and derivative. Eden Falk plays Lette, a twenties something guy who is basically very ugly. He isn’t deformed say in the way of the ELEPHANT MAN, but just damned ugly. Everyone tells him so, including heartlessly his less than tactful wife along with his work manager. Lette is the inventor of a fancy new kind of electrical plug. His work boss tells him that he is just too ugly for him to allow him to be the company’s presenter and representative at an upcoming Swiss Convention.

Lette and his wife decide to consult a cosmetic surgeon with a massive reputation. They go ahead with surgery. The result is that the ugly man Lette turns into an irresistibly handsome man. His wife has a new problem; women are hopelessly attracted to him and queue up to be with him and men just want to be like him.

There are some more twists and turns in the narrative but have you get the idea, THE UGLY ONE is a play about identity, and the overwhelming pressure that exists to fit in with society.

I have seen much sharper renditions of this theme than in this Mayenburg’s offering. Many of the plays of the Theatre Of The Absurd movement carried this theme and with much more incisiveness. Also coming to mind is the 1987 film CRAZY LOVE, based on a Charles Bukowski novella, that had much more flair and black humour to it.

Sarah Giles production of the play is impressive enough. The actors get to play some quirky characters:- Jacinta Acevski playing a variety of characters from a bitchy wife to outrageously flirtatious women. Gig Clarke plays an envious work colleague, Eden Falk as the main character Lette who finds himself on a hapless journey. Jo Turner plays the power hungry cosmetic surgeon.

There are some clever lighting touches by Tom Willis, Michael Hankin’s set features an all round sofa, and Caitlin Porter’s score is suitably quirky.

An Arts Radar and Griffin Independent Sydney Premiere Production , THE UGLY ONE opened at the SBW Stables theatre, 10 Nimrod Street, Kings Cross on Friday 25th November and plays until Saturday 17th December, 2011.

(c) David Kary

27th November, 2011

Tags:- THE UGLY ONE, Marius Von Mayenburg, SBW Stables theatre, Sarah Giles, Michael Hankin, Tom Willis, Caitlin Porter, Jacinta Acevski, Gig Clarke, Eden Falk, Jo Turner, Patrick Boland.

BEGUILED

A scene from PACT theatre’s current production, BEGUILED

BEGUILED is described as “a performance installation experience” and at the start of the performance the artists invite the audience to accept the magic and essentially open themselves to possibilities. This indicates one should not expect conventional theatre and, within that construct, BEGUILED is entertaining and engaging.

There is no stage or audience seating, instead the audience is invited to enter the space and observe vignettes occurring in different components of the space. Not all audience members observe the same aspect at the same time. There are different rooms with different activities occurring simultaneously.

The lighting and soundscapes are beautiful and rich and innovative. Billowing tent like structures create different areas in the main space. Parts of the audience are shepherded through the areas divided by the illuminated cloth walls to view the different activities.

Engagement is the key to this piece. It is all about a response to the colours, sound and movement. At times there is an urge to touch the actors or parts of the set, such are the feelings evoked. After the opening scene in the foyer there is no dialogue, but the expressive faces of the actors stir up emotional responses as the various scenes unfold.

There is a disturbing scene in a beautifully illuminated & decorated stairwell in which a very distressed lady shakes & vocalises to the extent one was conflicted whether to offer assistance or to wonder about what was happening. Trying to understand what is happening is probably futile but one would be better served by letting go and just feeling the experience & emotion as it washes over you. One actor responds to a short video, another moves around inside a large box like structure unfolding & rearranging the structure and herself, and another goes through a series of keys hanging from the ceiling in an attempt to open a door.

The directors, Cat Jones and Julie Vulcan, have brought together designer, Lucy Thornett, lighting director, Emma Lockhart-Wilson and sound director Melissa Hunt in a production that appeals to the senses more than intellect. Generally theatre is about engaging the mind and from that engagement evoking an emotional response but with BEGUILED the appeal is directly to the senses. Some people would not see the point of this performance but others will be fully engaged with this alternative theatre experience.

The performers are Taryn Brine, Kate Brown, Madison Chippendale, Cameron Ellis, Sam Koh, Annabelle McMillan, Lucille Lehr, Tanya Thaweeskulchai, Emma White and Amber Wilcox. BEGUILED is a great opportunity for them to extend their craft.

BEGUILED opened on Thursday 24th November at the PACT centre for emerging artists, 107 Railway Pde, Erskineville and plays until Saturday 10th December, 2011.

© Mark Pigott

26th November, 2011

Tags: SYDNEY PLAY OF THE WEEK, BEGUILED, PACT theatre Erskineville, Cat Jones, Julie Vulcan, Lucy Thornett, Emma Lockhart-Wilson, Melissa Hunt, Taryn Brine, Kate Brown, Madison Chippendale, Cameron Ellis, Sam Koh, Annabelle McMillan, Lucille Lehr, Tanya Thaweeskulchai, Emma White, Amber Wilcox.

THE WHARF REVIEW- DEBT DEFYING ACTS

Amanda Bishop’s handstands and much more! Pic Tracey Schramm

POLLIES SITTING DUCKS FOR WHARF REVUE TEAM

In the art of the political revue, Jonathon Biggins, Drew Forsythe and Phillip Scott, are skilled practitioners. The setting for their new show, THE WHARF REVUE: DEBT DEFYING ACTS, is a circus, amusingly titled the Upton Circus. Much like a shooting gallery at a circus, the targets are lined up and the trio fire away.

The Murdoch clan cop a bullseye with a skit satirising this year’s phone hacking episodes. Murdoch is depicted as a tragic King Lear figure.

There’s a hilarious scene with Drew Forsythe and Amanda Bishop playing the LOVE NEVER DIES scene, with changes, out of PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. With his phantom’s mask Forysthe is hysterical, as is Bishop at impersonating our Prime Minister. This year Bishop was the co-writer and producer of the popular AT HOME WITH JULIA television show, as well as now promoting herself as performing the role for ‘special events’.

There’s a great Western skit where our liberal Premier gets the razz as Marshall Barry Farrell riding into town to clean up the city. Amanda Bishop is great as one of his targets, the saucy, flirtatious Kittie Kenneally.

We have Drew Forsythe and Jonathon Biggins playing two of our former Prime Ministers who have to contend with each other, and their cantankerous natures, in a nursing home.

There’s a scathing skit on broadcaster Allan Jones, depicting him as a wicked sorcerer who has way too much sway on the general public’s psyche. The right wingers won’t be happy, not, I suspect, that many would go and see the Wharf revues in the first place.

Phil Scott’s wonderful piano skits, as always, are on display. My highlight of the evening is the ditty he wrote that critiques social networking sites that dominate our lives and invade our privacy.

The costumes, the make-up, the wigs, the video skits, the manic energy of the performers, the quick as lightning scene changes all work well.

By the end of the whirlwind ninety minutes, all of the targets, who bravely, some might say foolishly put themselves out there in the public arena, have been knocked down, and we laugh our way all the way to the Bar.

THE WHARF REVUE- Debt Defying Acts, performed by the comedy trio with the wonderful Amanda Bishop, opened at the Wharf 1 Theatre, Sydney Theatre Company, Pier 4, Hickson Road, Walsh Bay on Friday 18th November and plays until Thursday 29th December, 2011. The Sydney Theatre Company announced today that there will be a further return season of the current production which will play the Wharf 2 Theatre between the 8th to the 19th February, 2012.

(c) David Kary

24th November, 2011

Tags: THE WHARF REVUE- Debt Defying Acts, Wharf 1 Sydney Theatre Company, Jonathon Biggins, Drew Forsythe, Philip Scott, Amanda Bishop, Political Satire.

THE IDES OF MARCH

Philip Seymour Hoffman and George Clooney star in THE IDES OF MARCH

“Beware the Ides of March” beseeches the soothsayer in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Hubris had the warning go unheeded and a political assassination ensued.

George Clooney’s latest producing/writing/directing/acting gig, THE IDES OF MARCH (M) is based on a play called FARRAGUT NORTH by Beau Willimon. The new title is a much better fit.

Ryan Gosling plays a young, ambitious, media savvy staffer campaigning for Clooney’s Democratic Party’s presidential primary hopeful who is approached by rival Democratic Party campaign captain, played by Paul Giamatti.

Ambition, loyalty, betrayal and revenge makes up the vertebrae of this narrative where political backbone is given Machiavellian manipulation through faction fighting and moral turpitude.

Fans of THE WEST WING will relish this early Christmas treat as should any audience who appreciate sharp, quick witted dialogue and a thriller plot that prods at the political process.

And what a cast! Gosling goes from strength to strength from picture to picture, this latest hot on the heels of his star turn in CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE and DRIVE.

Clooney exudes all the charm, charisma and confidence of a presidential candidate and statesman, almost too good to be true.
Paul Giammatti is gritty, grounded, genuine, as is Philip Seymour Hoffman as Clooney’s campaign captain. His slightly seedy, disheveled but sharp and politically astute character reminded me of a character drawn with a mixture of Richo with some Bob Ellis.

Marissa Tomei shines as the tenacious terrier reporter whose stories can make or break political contenders and Evan Rachel Wood is heartbreaking as the intern that tears the internal affairs, both literally and figuratively, off the campaign caravan.

Dirty tricks, double dealings, private and public improprieties, THE IDES OF MARCH has it all, including the ashes in the mouth that comes with the compromise of idealism being back stabbed by the prevailing pragmatism of ‘whatever it takes.”

© Richard Cotter

23rd November, 2011

Tags: THE IDES OF MARCH, George Clooney, FARRAGUT NORTH, Beau Willimon, Ryan Gosling, Paul Giamatti, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Marissa Tomei.

GAMES IN THE BACKYARD

The cast of GAMES IN THE BACKYARD. Pic Johnny Diaz Nicolaidis

Scandal not only sell papers…It also can also make for cutting edge, contemporary theatre.

Prominent Israeli playwright Edna Mazya’s play on a scandal GAMES IN THE BACKYARD, based on the gang rape on a 14 year old girl that took place at Kibbutz Shomrat in the summer of 1988 and led to Supreme Court proceedings and convictions, has been playing on Israeli stages since 1993. As well, the play has been performed to critical acclaim in Belgium, Germany, Austria, Romania, Russia and at the Royal Court Theatre in London. Now producer Fiona Boidi has brought the play to Sydney for its Australian premiere production.

Mazya’s play poses the question, how is it possible that a group of Israeli 17 year old boys, all from good homes and from one of Israel’s leading educational kibbutz’s, could participate in a violent group rape of an under-age female colleague?!

The answer lies somewhere in the danger of that limbo land of adolescence, that fraught territory that exists between childhood and adulthood. When teenagers hang out together without anyone watching over them, and they’re in an adventurous, party mood, and there’s plenty of alcohol and drugs around, and they’re all trying to prove how tough and hip and sexually aware and confident they are, then games in the backyard can lead to something much more sinister.

The production by director Netta Yashchin, who originally trained as a performer in the early nineties at the Tel Aviv University Drama School, is tough and confronting. The action switches between the original scenes at the Kibbutz and later court room scenes, with the cast of five, doubling up in their roles.

Jessica Palyga gave striking, contrasting performances as the tomboyish Dvori and the strong willed, Crown Prosecutor. NIDA graduate Cari Batchelor was the pick of the male cast playing anxious, caring Shmulik , with a crush on Dvori, who finds himself swept up by the tide of male aggression, and a Defence Counsel.

Guy Vincent Fenech’s soundscape, using fragments of hard rock music as the bridge between scenes, contributed to communicating the edginess and dark overtones in the interactions between Mazya’s characters.

Recommended, Netta Yaschin, Fioni Boidi and ATYP Under the Wharf’s production of Edna Mazya’s GAMES IN THE BACKYARD, (translation by Hani Furstenberg and Naom Shmuel), opened at the ATYP Studio 1, The Wharf, Pier 4/5 Hickson Road, Walsh Bay on Wednesday 16th November and plays until Saturday evening December 3, 2011.

© David Kary

23rd November, 2011

Tags: SYDNEY PLAY OF THE WEEK, PLAY ON A SCANDAL, GAMES IN THE BACKYARD, Edna Mazya, Australian premiere, ATYP Studio 1, Hani Furstenberg, Naomi Shmuel, Netta Yashchin, Carl Batchelor, Jessica Palya, Fiona Boidi, Guy Vincent Fenech, Israeli drama.

GROSS UND KLEIN

THEN. Berlin. 08.12.1978, 11:15 pm. It is over. Dead silence in the audience. As if no one wants to breathe. Then we all got on our feet, applauded and cheered for 30 minutes. We just had witnessed epoch-making theatre directed by Peter Stein and celebrated by his impeccable protagonist, Edith Clever. We also witnessed a leading lady speaking in broad dialect in a German drama for the first time.

Two of our finest, Robert Menzies and Cate Blanchett in GROSS UND KELIN. Pic Lisa Tomasetti

NOW. Sydney, 19th November 2011, 11 pm. It is over. There is a moment of silence, and then we realise that this is how the play ends. Lotte bows and the crowd erupts in bravos, without giving a standing ovation.

We have just witnessed the last and biggest production of the Sydney Theatre Company’s 2011 season. GROSS UND KLEIN has been co-commissioned by Ruhrfestspiele Recklinghausen, Barbican London, the London 2012 Festival, Théâtre de la Ville and Wiener Festwochen, and will tour internationally in the new year. That is Big. We also witnessed Cate Blanchett starting the play with a hint of Aussie slang, a Small sign that this production may have something to do with our own reality Down Under?

Lotte, a middle-aged jobless graphic designer, is facing the agony of an incomprehensible divorce. She suffers through a terribly lonely and useless holiday in Morocco only to return to Germany to attempt a reconciliation with her estranged husband. He brutally rejects her and she embarks on a fruitless search across Germany during which she looks for possibilities to reconnect with her husband, to find old and new friends, to seek a rock to lean on, communication, proximity and hopefully enlightenment.

The Ten Stations of her journey are filled with Bible quotes as well as hints from the history of philosophy. (Strauss is well known for his affection for the work of Theodor W. Adorno.) She wanders through the German world of labour, leisure and family disasters. The contemporaries she meets are all barely accessible.

At a locked entrance of a residential silo, at the bus stop or in a doctor’s waiting room: wherever she goes, even with all her desperate seeking, she encounters dismissive people who try to numb their own loneliness and inner emptiness with alcohol, drugs, abuse, or obsessive TV viewing, and by entrenching themselves behind intercoms, locked doors, or phones. Lotte, who constantly meddles because she means well, repeatedly is ruled out, but refuses to give up. Her faith to find companionship, sensitivity and humanity is unshakeable – until she starts to lose more and more of herself!

When Botho Strauss’ Ten Station Drama Gross und Klein premiered thirty-three years ago, the German drama critics were enthused. Strauss became an instant dramatic giant and Lotte! rose to be the deputy psychosocial figure of a present-damaged Federal Republic of Germany at the time. Strauss sceptically eyes his fellow members of the human race and comments on them with sarcastic and at times cynical punch lines. They still work and can make you smile and even laugh. But to burst out in laughter when there is nothing to laugh about? Maybe Benedict Andrews, who took over as director from the German directing giant Luc Bondy due to sickness, felt too Big or too Small to trust the text as is and opted for comic relief as his saviour.

Andrews also had to deal with the fact that he had to take over a set design, which Johannes Schütz created in collaboration with Bondy. Whoever directs the enormously complex and multi-faceted GROSS UND KLEIN, will inevitably face the decision as to how serious she/he will take the misery of interpersonal bleakness that freeze-shocks poor Lotte’s mind repeatedly.

More to the point could Lotte’s troubled journey really only happen in a contemporary Germany? Her home town of Saarbrücken could be Newcastle, Wollongong or Wagga Wagga. Essen might be Melbourne and the island of Sylt, could be the Whitsunday Islands. The previously mentioned hint of and Aussie slang then would make sense.

There is a moment when I see Andrews’ vision as a director. When the man at the helm of Station No. 8: Dictation turns into an elephant. A vicious Lotte just had pulled her dress over his head. He loads one of the desks on his shoulders and stumbles off the stage. An elephant labouring for his superiors! Before he had insisted that he is NOT a high commissioner, that he is NOT in charge of anything but a little, insignificant department at the local council. If all the set changes would have been executed like this magic moment, we would have been part of an epoch making Sydney theatre event.

With Schütz as set designer, the journey starts as expected with a startling and compelling imagination of an evening on the terrace of an empty Moroccan hotel dining room. A stark white low terrace wall across the front of the stage, framed by a thin white line around the proscenium, the evening star high above in the far distance, two hardly visible shadows walking up and down in the pitch black darkness and Lotte, aka Cate Blanchett, almost sitting on the laps of her audience.

The evening ends at that very same white wall, now functioning as a waiting bench in a family clinic. This simple wall symbolises the start and finish line of GROSS UND KLEIN. This is the art of stage setting at its best!

Schütz created stringent sets for all of the Ten Stations. Sadly enough, they were misplaced at times. In Station No. 5: Big and Small, the set is too close to the audience, when distance was needed to understand that Lotte’s effort to find communication via an intercom at the entrance of a residential high-rise could only be achieved by crawling through a rabbit hole. In addition, it does not help the imagination when the acting ensemble has to fill in as stagehands. Especially when they set scenes that they are not involved in, like in Station No. 8: Dictation!

Thirteen fabulous actors support Lotte on her disastrous endeavour to find acceptance in a wasteland of heartlessness. They are Lynette Curran, Anita Hegh, Belinda McClory, Katrina Milosevic, Sophie Ross Josh McConville, Robert Menzies, Yalin Ozucelik, Richard Piper, Richard Pyros, Chris Ryan, Christopher Stollery and Martin Vaughan.

They form a strong, honest and at all times extremely brave ensemble. They give us glimpses of tits and a dick. They are not afraid to be vulnerable, excessively brutal and abusive. They create the platform strong enough to carry the Colossus of Ródhos and definitely, Lotte plays Cate Blanchett plays Lotte.

I first saw Cate Blanchett on stage in 1993 playing the Bride/Felice in Timothy Daly’s Kafka Dances. She just had graduated from NIDA and filled the stage with a presence and aura bigger than the Stables Theatre. And here she is now. A Titan of acting. Her Lotte utilises every single register of her art. At times, it looks like she has a hidden freighter carrying her tools with her on stage.

Most of the 2 hours and forty minutes she captures the space. She starts Big and crosses the finishing line of this emotional marathon almost Bigger. Personally, I would have loved seeing her end it Small. She conquers the task with an almost brutal force and fearlessness. Even when she is dressed in an awkward golden glittering show costume and asks, “Why am I bleeding?” while realistic blood gushes down her legs, she stays in charge. (Costumes by Alice Babidge) Why she is wearing that costume is questionable!

Lotte does not need costume changes! She wears her soul on the outside. That is the only costume she needs. Ms Blanchett’s repertoire of voices, gestures, movements and emotions exceeds the commonly known facets of light and colours.

Andrews and Blanchett exploring Lotte’s troubled, complex world. Pic Lisa Tomasetti

Was this the problem for Benedict Andrews? When a director is faced with such, possibly untameable, talent he quickly has to find his own titanic powers. His decision, to transform the drama into a consumable comedy, allows Blanchett to portray Lotte as a slightly schizophrenic nutter sliding unstoppably into the darkness of unavoidable psychosis. It could have been the more touching and devastating decline of a heartbroken woman into the silence of speechlessness, caused by an unforgiving and self-centred society. Nevertheless watching Lotte playing Cate Blanchett playing Lotte is one of these rare moments of contemporary theatre. She is mesmerizing!

In one of his later works, Botho Strauss describes what it means to explore sensitivities, ‘It is like the attempt to nail soapsuds onto a wall.’ This explains it all and makes GROSS UND KLEIN timeless concrete.

If you want to catch a glimpse of the world you are living in, go and see GROSS UND KLEIN. If you are willing to understand how important it is to smile at a stranger when she/he does not expect it, go and see this play. If you can forget about seeing Lotte playing Cate Blanchett playing Lotte, go and understand how important it is to lend a hand when someone in distress is ready to jump into the abyss. If you are ready to think Big, take the ones you love, if you are able to think Small, take the ones you hate. If you are honest, you will feel Gross, if you think you are on top of it all, you may realise that you are Klein.

GROSS UND KLEIN at the Sydney Theatre Company is offering you a theatrical revelation. That is all that counts in contemporary drama. No matter how good or bad. I commend this production as being brave and true. That is more than we get in our daily news.

The Sydney Theatre Company’s production, in association with the USB Investment Bank, of GROSS UND KLEIN (Big and Small) opened at the Sydney Theatre on Saturday November 19 and runs until Friday 23rd December, 2011.

 

 

ARTHUR CHRISTMAS

A scene from ARTHUR CHRISTMAS

Christmas comes early for cinemagoers with the release of ARTHUR CHRISTMAS, a co-production between Aardman and Sony Animation.

The film is about Santa succession and the enduring success Santa enjoys in circumnavigating the globe on one night.

As depicted at the beginning of the picture, it’s a major military operation, a meld of high tech and magic as 21st century Santa eschews the traditional nine reindeer open sleigh with a star ship, the S-1 that has a Kris Kringle cloaking device Klingons would envy.

Continue reading ARTHUR CHRISTMAS

HEAVEN

Thomas Conroy, Geraldine Hakewill and Akos Armant who with Julia Billington star in HEAVEN

Kit Brookman has written a clever and entertaining play that is performed well by the young actors in the cast. Through the use of simple and minimal props a sense of intimacy is created with the characters who share a cathartic experience with their audience.

Angela Farnsworth, played by Geraldine Hakewill is a high school student, who has been run over by a baker’s van. The response to this tragic event is seen from the perspective of three classmates whose relationship with Angela was marked by friendship, ambivalence and hostility. Her classmates use a spiritualism book to make contact with Angela, both to assuage their guilt for how they treated her when she was alive and as a means to discover what the afterlife is like.

Much of the interest in this play centres on the relationships between the four characters. Elements of conflict, power plays, affection, lust, self-interest and duplicity are all conveyed and examined through Brookman’s rich dialogue.The bravado, insecurity, posturing and language of 16 year olds is well captured. Considering what a diverse & constantly changing demographic teenagers cover, it is a well met challenge to realistically portray these aspects.

Typical teenage personalities are well portrayed with subtlety, robustness and sensitivity. Stewart (Akos Armant) is a sportsman, a vandal and a bully. Armant portrays him as being full of bravado but also troubled by an array of insecurities.

Max is an intellectual, poor at sport and troubled by a guilty conscience. Thomas Conroy admirably performs this major role.

Sally (Julia Billington) like Max is an outsider. She is seen by others at school, including by Stewart, as a goth or an emo and as a threat. Sally rarely attends school and when she does, she only attends French, History and English classes. Billington portrays her as maturely confident about her place in the world but also yearning for friendship and understanding from her peers.

When Angela is brought back from the dead she rapidly loses the qualities and experiences that make people feel alive. While Angela’s ability to experience sensations, emotions and recall memories is waning, in other ways she has becomes much more alive. Angela’s response to her surroundings is more intense and full of wonder than her class mates, and she has a greater sense of agency (philisophically) and with this empowerment.

Initially, Geraldine Hakewill plays her with the detachedness, aloofness and naiveté, one could expect from the recently dead, but having the knowledge that her embodied experience will never again be the same, she carries out an act of retribution from a place of deep inner strength.

Through a clever script and admirable acting both the experience of being a teenager and the metaphysical possibilities of being a human (both alive and dead) are explored.

This current production played at the Old 505 Theatre, Surry Hills, an interesting space located on the 5th floor of an indistinct building which you enter through a non-descript door. You may need to buzz to enter. Once inside this building you enter a world of enthusiasm and possibilities. Walls are adorned with artwork and the stairs leading to the theatre display an intriguing collection of Polaroid snapshots. The old 505 Theatre itself is a small and intimate space with very friendly and welcoming staff.

I enjoyed and recommend HEAVEN. Kit Brookman’s HEAVEN opened a the Old 505 Theatre, Surry Hills, 505/342 Elizabeth Street, Surry Hills on Wednesday 16th November and runs until Sunday 27th November, 2011. For more information please check the website- http://www.venue505.com. HEAVEN is playing as part of the current NovemberISM Writer’s Festival.

© Mark Pigott

20th November, 2011

Tags: Kit Brookman, HEAVEN, Writer’s Festival, NovemberISM Festival, Old 505 Theatre, Geraldine Hakewill, Julia Billington, Thomas Conroy, Akos Armant.

COUP D’ETAT

Shingo Usami and Renee Lim in Justin Fleming’s COUP D’ETAT

This is a riveting political thriller that had the audience listening intensely on the edge of their seats. It is an explosively powerful play looking at recent events (1988) in Malaysia that still has resonance today. It is also an examination of cultural differences and divides and a portrait of the incredibly diverse nation that is Malaysia. With COUP D’ETAT, playwright Justin Fleming (THE COBRA, BURNT PIANO) was nominated for an AWGIE and short listed for the Patrick White award.

COUP D’ETAT is set in Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, in 1988. After receiving a letter the young king of Malaysia accuses a Supreme Court judge of treason and overturns a key constitutional ruling. Twice! The judge is declared guilty and dismissed from office after sham trials: Malaysia’s judicial system is left in shreds. While grieving over her father’s murder American lawyer Juliet Elms Morton attempts to investigate and understand the circumstances surrounding this constitutionally violent act.

What she finds is a rich world of dazzling tropical beauty, opulent pageantry and sacred ritual. It also forces her to challenge and review her beliefs about faith, Islam, sexuality and justice. It is a plea for tolerance, understanding and acceptance of diversity.
Malaysia is now predominantly inhabited by Muslims but was previously occupied by the British. The Malaysian constitution and legal system is mostly adapted and inherited from the British system -references are made to the Magna Carta for example- but the underlying Malaysian culture remains relatively traditional, and heavily influenced by Islam.

The show has a relatively small cast ( five actors plus a musician ), who under the scintillating direction of Suzanne Millar, perform brilliantly. As Juliet Elms Morton, who is also the narrator of the play, Cat Martin is magnificent. Elegant in a severe pantsuit she reveals underneath an incisive mind with a warmth and understanding and longing to know more about Malaysia and its people.
Her Australian counterpart Justice Nigel Prior is beautifully played by the very distinguished looking Donald Sword. Both he and Juliet struggle to survive in the alien world of Machiavellian Malaysian politics as they seek to fight massive injustices. Both his and Juliet’s audiences with the King are indeed like bullfights. Prior is forced to awkwardly acknowledge to the King that he is gay – but that he has come to Malaysia solo – and they have heated discussions about religion, human rights and other things.

Fellino Dolloso as Tun Salleh Abas, the Supreme Court judge in the middle of the crisis is excellent. We see him squashed and humiliated after his engineered dismissal, looking after his roses ( roses in this play are another symbol of Malaysia) . He is in some ways regarded as the Malaysian St.Thomas A Beckett and has strong , hidden undercurrents .We also see his struggle for justice, a proper functioning constitution and human rights. His symbolic un/dressing of his judge’s robes has echoes in a way of the similar scene with the Pope in Brecht’s LIFE OF GALILEO.

Shingo Usami gives a very fine performance as the Yang Di Pertuan Agong (King ) resplendent in black and gold. Headstrong, arrogant and implacable, only his way is right and he can be cruel! The character of Sofiah, (are we meant to pick up that her name is the Greek word for wisdom?), Juliet and Nigel’s official government guide and interpreter, as played by terrific Renee Lim, is used as a catalyst for discussion about Islam, feminism and broader social issues. Underneath the layers of Islam, culture and humility is a woman of hidden determination and strength.

Allin Vartan-Boghossian’s set is sparse and simple, flexible and atmospheric, dominated by a large raised playing space on which we see the rose. There are a couple of chairs and various small hand-props with some large trees in tubs to one side (representing Tun’s garden). Rabih Antonios plays traditional instruments, giving an atmospheric backdrop and creating much tension during the confrontational moments.

This is a great chance to see this excellent extremely topical and thought provoking play. There are some unexpected twists in this gripping , enthralling work that forces us to question and examine the very fabric of contemporary society. The show runs for 2 hours and 20 minutes including one interval.

Bakehouse Theatre Company’s production, well directed by Suzanne Millar, of Justin Fleming’s COUP D’ETAT opened at the Parade Theatre, NIDA, on Tuesday November 15 and runs until Saturday November 19, 2011.

© Lynne Lancaster

17th November, 2011

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