Death Defying Acts

Gillian Armstrong is in good form with her fascinating film ‘Death Defying Acts’ which she has directed from an original screenplay by Brian Ward and Tony Grisoni.

The story is set late in Harry Houdini’s life. He is established as the quintessential magician and entertainer. The film really gets going when Houdini puts out a general media advertisement that he will pay a large sum of money to anyone who can establish connection to the other side with his mum who passed away a few years ago, and whom he misses deeply.

Tbe advertisement attracts the attention of a beautiful young woman, Mary McGarvie, who is a magician and psychic herself. Mary is struggling financially with bringing up a precocious young daughter, Benji. She sees the opportunity to meet Houdini and to make a quick killing financially. A meeting is arranged…

‘Death Defying Acts’ is about many things …. worlds within worlds…right from the start with the swirling underwater shots, water is a constant symbol in the film – one knows that this is a film that one can dive right into. It’s about the nature of love..scheming and deception…about business…. about true and false heroism…about loss…loss that can be regained and loss that can’t be.

The performances are strong…Guy Pierce is convincing as Houdini who starts to believe his own publicity and that there is a science to his magic. Catherine Zeta-Jones is so watchable as Mary McGarvie and seems to have totally taken on the role. There’s a great performance by Timothy Spall as Houdini’s manager, Mr Sugaman. Here is a portrayal of a man with both aspects, a hard man, a totally ruthless businessman but who is also a great softie at heart.
Saiorse Ronan gives a memorable performance as Mary’s daughter, Benji,who was the film’s narrator, and had such a strong screen presence.

All My Friends are leaving Brisbane

Charlotte Gregg stars in ALL MY FRIENDS ARE LEAVING BRISBANE

‘All my Friends are leaving Brisbane’, directed by Louise Alston and written by Stephen Vagg,
is a sweet film about how a close friendship between a young man and woman turns into romantic love.

The film is set in contemporary Brisbane and refers to how many young people, once they’ve completed their studies find the Queensland capital a bit of a dead-end, and many of them end up leaving, going to the big cities ot overseas.

The two leads, Charlotte Gregg as Anthea and Matt Zeremes as Michael, gave strong performances. There was a natural sweetness about Gregg which makes her a natural for the part. The attractive feature of Zeremes was his natural integrity, he just has one of those really honest faces.

Caittlin Yeo’s poppy soundtrack worked well as did the Judd Overton’s lovely cinematography with lots of marvelous shots of the Brisbane harbour.

(c) David Kary

‘All my Friends are leaving Brisbane’, directed by Louise Alston and written by Stephen Vagg,
is a sweet film about how a close friendship between a young man and woman turns into romantic love.

The film is set in contemporary Brisbane and refers to how many young people, once they’ve completed their studies find the Queensland capital a bit of a dead-end, and many of them end up leaving, going to the big cities ot overseas.

The two leads, Charlotte Gregg as Anthea and Matt Zeremes as Michael, gave strong performances. There was a natural sweetness about Gregg which makes her a natural for the part. The attractive feature of Zeremes was his natural integrity, he just has one of those reallly honest faces.

Caittlin Yeo’s poppy soundtrack worked well as did the Judd Overton’s lovely cinematography with lots of marvellous shots of the Brisbane harbour.

‘All my Friends are leaving Brisbane’, directed by Louise Alston and written by Stephen Vagg,
is a sweet film about how a close friendship between a young man and woman turns into romantic love.

The film is set in contemporary Brisbane and refers to how many young people, once they’ve completed their studies find the Queensland capital a bit of a dead-end, and many of them end up leaving, going to the big cities ot overseas.

The two leads, Charlotte Gregg as Anthea and Matt Zeremes as Michael, gave strong performances. There was a natural sweetness about Gregg which makes her a natural for the part. The attractive feature of Zeremes was his natural integrity, he just has one of those reallly honest faces.

Caittlin Yeo’s poppy soundtrack worked well as did the Judd Overton’s lovely cinematography with lots of marvellous shots of the Brisbane harbour.

Checkpoint Zero

An illicit relationship that has it genesis at one of Israel’s security checkpoints dominates the action in Don Mamouney and Assad Abdi’s play Checkpoint Zero currently playing at Marrickville’s Sidetrack Shed Theatre.

Much to the anger of her colleagues, Israeli checkpoint guard Sivan flirts with young Palestinian student, Hani, as he regularly makes his way through Checkpoint Zero to go to University. There is an irresistible attraction between the two of them, and they find a way to meet furtively within Israel, with tragic results.

With Checkpoint Zero the playwrights promise a fresh, cathartic work addressing Middle East dilemmas. In co-writer and director Don Mamouney’s own words, Checkpoint Zero is, ‘by intent, a plea for a new way of imagining the future of Palestine/Israel. Not two separate ethnic states but a modern, multi-ethnic, multi-religious country able to sustain both Palestinians and Jews’.

Their viewpoints are encased in a storyline that is derivative of the classic Romeo and Juliet tale, with two young lovers battling conflicting backgrounds.

This was an adeptly staged play. The actors performed behind a slated corrugated iron fence, symbolic of the security fence now long installed in Israel. A table towards the front middle of the stage indicated the Checkpoint. The action centered around the guards interactions with people coming and going through Checkpoint Zero, with other scenes taking place further back on the quite large Sidetrack stage.

Through the play, different images of the conflict were projected onto a large back wall screen. An atmospheric Middle Eastern soundtrack complemented the action.

Sadly, despite the strong staging, Mamouney and Abdi deliver a lame and alienating production. For this kind of play to work it just has to come across as even handed. With its deeply pro-Palestinian tone through-out, Checkpoint Zero is found badly wanting. What sticks out above all is the insulting portrayal of the male Israeli security guards who come across as heartless, paranoid thugs.

A hard working cast were let down by the unbalanced script. The pick of the cast were the two leads, with English born and trained actress Cassandra Swaby’s strong portrayal of the feisty, free-thinking Sivan, and Jordanian born Charles Billeh’s portrayal of the charming, quick thinking Hani.

Unfinished Sky

Shortly, in each of the capital cities around Australia, the Australian Film Institute is hosting its 50th annual film festival. During the annual festival, members will get to see a vast array of Australian filmmaking, in different categories, and register their votes which count to the celebrated AFI awards night. This year there are some 25 feature films in contention for the top award. One of the films set to feature on the big night is Peter Duncan (‘Children of the Revolution’) fine new film ‘Unfinished Sky’.

In ‘Unfinished Sky’, William McInnes plays farmer John Woldring who whilst out driving near his property comes across a beautiful but badly injured migrant woman, Tahmeena (Monic Hendrickx) stumbling along the road. He takes her home, planning to nurse her back to some sort of health, and then let her go on her way. The best laid plans of men however….

‘Unfinished Sky’ is one of those love stories where you’d bet almost anything that there’s just too many factors going against a match being made. On one side you have Woldring, a vastly secretive, aloof man who has something of a dark past, his wife having died in mysterious circumstances, In one way, it is a miracle that he even picks up Tahmeena from the side of the road.

On the other side is Tahmeena, an illegal immigrant who has been working in a brothel since her arrival, and has been badly emotionally and physically abused. She can hardly speak a word of English, is deeply fearful and distrustful, and a very unlikely candidate for romance.

Peter Duncan’s direction from a fine screenplay by Kees van der Hulst is assured. There’s plenty of fuel to get the dramatic fire burning, and he fans the flames well as the story builds up to a fierce climax and poignant resolution. The two leads are great; William McInnes always has a strong cinematic presence, and Dutch born newcomer Monic Hendrickx impresses. In the supporting cast, David Field stood out as the intimidating, corrupt cop, Carl.

Catapult

Every year the New Theatre puts on a season of plays known as ‘New Directions’. During the season four young directors are given the opportunity to put four new plays written by either Australian or British playwrights.

Local writer Lachlan Philpot’s play ‘Catapult’, directed by Travis Green, was the first play in the series.Philips had his play ‘Colder’ put on as part of this years’ Stablemates series of play at the Stables theatre.

Philpot pursues a great idea with ‘Catapult’. I’m waiting for the idea to turn up in a movie soon! What we have in ‘Catapult’ is a meeting point between two couples; a gay couple, Nathan and Guy, and a lesbian couple, Kay and Beth. The meeting point is that Nathan and Beth want to have children. The turkey baster method is used. The question becomes whether the two couples, not that secure in their relationships, can survive such a big life change.

My verdict….’Catapult’ is a missed opportunity. The old adage applies there are so many great ideas out there, but to actually run with it, and make something worthy is a whole other story…

AN OAK TREE

There are some radical, provocative works of theatre on in Sydney at the moment, none more so than British playwright Tim Crouch’s ‘An Oak Tree’, directed by Tanya Goldberg.

Yes, this is the two-hander where there is a different second guest actor every night, with the actor only knowing the gist of the scenario, with the rest being improvised on the night.

‘An Oak Tree’ opens and we are part of an audience at a hypnotist’s show. The hypnotist calls up people from the audience, and one of those people is a middle-aged man. As the play unfolds. it comes out that there’s a dark connection between the two men. Recenty, the hypnotist had a car accident and ran over a young girl. The man the hypnotist selected from the audience is the grieving father of the girl.

My verdict… ‘An Oak Tree’ is a worthwhile, interesting experiment that doesn’t quite satisfy and feels a bit gimmicky.

There’s a good play here. The premise is strong, the play has a good structure, and the themes of trauma and loss, and the power of auto-suggestion, are weighty ones. I just don’t believe the way it was done worked that well.

There was was no doubting the commitment of everyone in this Ride On production. Tanya Goldberg’s production has a very energised and committed John Leary in the lead role, is a very controlling presence on stage and through an ear-piece, or by face to face, talks directly to the second actor.

It gave the guest actor little room to move and improvise. As well the guest actor carried around a power pack. On one occasion I saw the play Eden Falk played the guest actor and the power pack fell out of his pants pocket. It was just another sign of an interesting play that just didn’t have enough of a flow.

Our Town at the Zenith

The Epicentre Theatre’s most recent production was of Thornton Wilder’s ‘Our Town’.

Thornton Wilder’s play ‘Our Town’ depicts New Hampshire village life between 1901 and 1913 through the stories of two regular, neighbouring families, the Gibbs and Webbs families. The two families youngsters, George Gibbs and Emily Webb, grow up together as children, they then fall in love, and marry. Nine years on Emily dies and goes into the village cemetary where the former inhabitants of Grover’s Corner welcome her to the peace that could never be understood by the living.

I really enjoyed the way director Dino Dimitriades did this play. His production captured its essence. At its heart it’s about home, and regular values. What Dimitriades most of all created was s sense of this home-ness on stage. There was a delightfully informal feel to this production; the cast were milling around on stage betwen intervals. there were two intervals, there was a very relaxed, homely atmosphere withe the cast making themselves coffee. talking amongt themselves…

Above all, this was a fine, very folksy production, as it should be, because this is a very folksy play! A joy.

Spring Awakening

Belvoir’s B Sharp program featured another interpretation of a classic with Simon Stone’s production for Melbourne’s Hayloft Theatre Company of German playwright Frank Wedekind’s play ‘Spring Awakening’.

The setting of Wedekind’s play is a small, provincial town at the turn of the 19th century with a group of school children struggling with their surprising sexual awakening. The barriers to knowledge and experience passed down from their parents and teachers hinder the young people’s quest for sexual and self-enlightenment.

Wedekind’s world is a similar world to the world depicted in Peter Weir’s movie ‘Dead Poet’s Society’. Its the feverish, passionate world of adolescence, where everything seems possible, hitting against the repressed, conservative adult world, with tragedy ensuing.

Stone’s production is tight, there’s a great set design by Adam Gardnir, and the cast give committed performances with stand-out performances by Angus Graham as Melchior, Katie-Jean Harding as Wendla, and Aaron Orzech as Moritz.

THE GREAT

It’s great to see a young Australian playwright taking risks! Tony McNamara extends well out of his comfort zone with his new play, ‘The Great’. ‘The Great’ is an imaginative take on the life and times of the notorious Russian empress,Catherine the Great’. The play is currently playing a season at the Wharf 1 Theatre as part of this years’ Sydney Theatre Company’s subscription series.

Till now, McNamara’s plays, which includes six Sydney Theatre Company premiere productions, have been set in the present time, and have featured a witty, satirical style. With ‘The Great’, McNamara has chosen to write a historical, period piece. His plays have always featured a central male character. With ‘The Great’ he features the feisty Russian empress, Catherine.

The portrait that McNamara draws of Catherine is of a tough, passionate woman who was a shrewd operator on both public and private levels. This is demonstrated by the way she manages to remove her mad Emperor husband, and later down the track survive an ambitious coup attempt by her ‘airhead’ son Didi.

Peter Evans production for the STC is entertaining and vibrant. Two fine actresses shine in the lead role; Robyn McLeavy played the young, even at times innocent amd fragile Catherine whilst Liz Alexander played the older tougher, much more pragmatic Catherine. Toby Schmitz was the pick of the supporting cast, as the disturbed Didi.

‘The Great’s’ creative team impressed with a good, compact set put together by Fiona Crombie, fine constumes designed by Tess Schofield, and an affecting score by Alllan John.

CUT AND PASTE

Carla Moore’s poignant new Australian drama Cut and Paste pivots around chronically ill 13 year old schoolboy Thomas (Cam McCallum), who will soon lose his battle against kidney failure without a healthy donor organ.

We meet his caring family as they share his struggle; mum Rachel (Joy Sweeney), feisty older sister, Nina (Abby Earl) and Holocaust survivor grandmother Basia (Mary Milton). As the search continues for a kidney, a parallel story takes us into the world of Craig (Scott Kimpton) and Angela (Emily Talbot), a young Blacktown couple preparing to get married.

The playwright tells a moving story, using good stagecraft. The warm, emotive style worked well. The characters, on the whole, were well drawn. Through the character of Rachel she espoused one of the play’s main themes, the disappointment that many baby boomers felt at seeing their big hopes and dreams of making a better society fade away as they dealt with life’s practicalities. She mixed up the serious drama up with some great one-liners.

Moore successfully directed her own work, winning committed performances from her cast. My picks were Joy Sweeney as hard working mother Rachel, Cam McCallum as Thomas and Abby Earl as Nina.

The set, also Moore’s work, worked well with the action taking place in three areas; the family’s living room. Craig and Angela’s flat, and Thomas’s hospital room, each space evoked with clever theatrical shorthand.

Cut and Paste felt like it could have been helped by a bit of a trim, nevertheless it’s a fine work by a talented playwright.

Cut and Paste is playing at the Chester Street Theatre. Corner Chester and Oxford Street, Epping until the 2nd August. Bookings: 9876 6322 or www.chestersttheatre.com

Get Smart

‘Get Smart- The Movie’ was always going to get the blowtorch treatment. How could a movie possibly do justice to one of television’s finest comedy series?!

Peter Segak directed the movie with Steve Carell playing Get Smart aka Agent 86, Anne Hathaway playing Agent 99, and Alan Arkin playing the Chief. Of-course the battle lines were still the same; America’s National Security service CONTROL against the evil KAOS.

My verdict. It was a buzz to see the all the old visual gags again, to hear all those great Maxwell Smart lines again, and to revisit a lot of the old characters again, Larabie, Siegdfried, and even robot Hymie makes a cameo. Amongst the highlights was seeing the Cone of Silence and seeing Bill Murray as a Control Agent encased in a tree.

Yet the film didn’t satisfy. Something grated. The original television series had such cleverness and style. Segak’s movie played out too much like a multi-million dollar action movie extravaganza and besmiched my memory of the brilliant series.

Happy-Go-Lucky

Celebrated British film director Mike Leigh has a new film out, ‘Happy Go Lucky’.

The title refers to the film’s optimistic, irrepressible main character, forties some thing Londoner, Poppy. Leigh takes us vividly into Poppy’s world, the cosy flat she shares with her flatmate, Zoe, her work as dedicated primary school teacher, and some of the encounters she has along the way.

‘Happy Go Lucky’ is Leigh solid, poignant filmmaking to a tee. His tales are always of the struggles of the ‘common man’, and filled with the still, sad music of humanity.

I took away from ‘Happy-Go Lucky’ two well realised characters. Sally Hawkins gave a wonderful, performance as Poppy. No wonder that she won the best actress award at the Berlin Film Festival. Thankfully, I‘ve met a few Poppy’s in my life, they make life just that bit easier to get through, and they’re just like Hawkins’s portrayal.

Eddie Marson’s performance as Poppy’s crazy driving instructor, Scott, had that wow factor. His performance slowly but deftly draws one in. At first one thinks that Scott is fine and just very wound-up, by the end he has become this incredibly sad, lonely disturbed man. Marson’s performance jumps at you from off the screen.

KISS ME KATE

Goulburn’s Argyle Society’s production current production is a revival of the classic 1948 New York musical ‘Kiss Me Kate’, written by Bella and Samuel Spewack with music and lyrics by Cole Porter.

‘Kiss Me Kate’ is about the soap operatic goings on in the lives of a theatrical troupe putting on a production of the Bard’s great comedy, ‘The Taming of the Shrew’. The action toggles between the cast’s dramas behind the curtain and the comic action they provide in front of the curtain.

The Argyle Society came up with a colourful, high spirited production. The show featured two impressive performances by the leads who were both in good voice; Argyle Society stalwart, Jane Collings- Jardine in the dual roles of Lilli Vanessi and Kate, and Richard Orchard, in only his second performance for the Company, as Fred Graham/Petruchio.

They were helped by a strong supporting cast. Steve Routley was an audience favourite with a charismatic, livewire performance as one of the show’s heavies, and, as well, two young performers shone, Michaela Boerma as the more temperate Bianca/ Lois Lane, and Seb Scott as her charming suitor, Lucentio/Bill Calhoun.

The cast was backed by a small but fine sounding ensemble of two pianos, flute, saxophone, clarinet and bass under the direction of John Buckley.

Len Robinson’s conventional set was effective, and he also lit the stage well, especially in the big show numbers, with the use of a strong spotlight directed from the back of the theatre.

Go along to the show and you’ll enjoy some of Cole Porter most winning show tunes including ‘Wunderbar’, ‘So in love’ and ‘Always True to You in my Fashion’.

A good night at the theatre, ‘Kiss Me Kate’ is playing the Kenmore Theatre, Taralga Road, Goulburn until Saturday 5th July.

QED

Prolific American playwright Peter Parnell came up with an inspired choice with his play QED about the brilliant Jewish American physicist Richard Feynman (1918-1988). By way of background, Feynman was regarded as one of the most brilliant physicists of the 20th century. Amongst his achievements Feynman was a joint recipient, along with Julian Schwinger and Shin-Ichiro Tomonaga, of the Noble Prize for Physics in 1965 for his contribution to the development of quantum electrodynamics.

Feynman is, simply, a wonderful, irresistible subject for a play. A very rich character, there’s just so much to play with! He had a beautiful mind, was very charismatic, and a quintessential free spirit. He was known as a womaniser, prankster, juggler, proud amateur painter and actor, and a bongo player. He liked to pursue multiple seemingly incongruent paths, such as biology, art, Maya hieroglyphics, and lock picking! Colleague Freeman John Dyson described him as, ‘all genius and all buffoon’.

Parnell frames his portrait of Feynman around one Saturday afternoon and evening in 1986, with the physicist working away in his cluttered office located in the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California., With the aid of chalk and a blackboard, Feynman shoots the breeze about a vast array of topics whilst preparing a lecture, having ongoing phone debates with his specialist as to whether to agree to an operation after more cancer has been found, and dealing with the overtures of a persistent and attractive student, Miriam Field.

Currently audiences have a chance to see Richard Feynman come alive with the ever reliable Henri Szeps playing the legendary scientist in Andrew Doyle’s tight production of QED at Kirribilli’s Ensemble Theatre. It was an inspiring experience learning of this man who had an infinite curiosity for the world, and loved nothing more than a great challenge to test him,

There’s a defining moment in QED when Feynman tells his Doctor that, if if he goes ahead with the cancer operation, and whilst ‘under’, it he looks as if he’s ‘going’, he insists that he be woken up, so that he can experience his death. The great man, to a tee!

Poster Girl

Poster Girl, the new play by controversial playwright Van Badham currently playing at the Old Fitzroy theatre, is likely to generate some healthy debate! In Poster Girl Van Badham plays out her dreamscape of what would happen if one of today’s indulgent, egocentric pop celebrities, akin to Paris Hilton were be kidnapped and held to ransom, by a bumbling, and less than deadly, revolutionary group, As a starting point for her work, the playwright used the circumstances surrounding the infamous Patty Hearst kidnapping in America.

Shannon Dooley plays the poster girl, Mandy Xyloine, a celebutante heiress, who is kidnapped by members from the ultra left-wing Army of Revolutionary Struggle (ARS), When it dawns on her that her multi-millionaire businessman father Walter isn’t going to part with the ransom money she decides to share some of her media savvy expertise, giving her captors lessons in media manipulation, and in getting their message across.

Van Badham’s contemporary satire makes for bold, entertaining theatre. There was just so much happening on stage from the protestations of spoilt rich girl/woman Mandy, to the incompetence and political ramblings of the ARS, to the desperation of the journalists to get their Mindy scoop, to the Detective in charge enjoying his time in the public spotlight,

Director James Beach brought together a talented ensemble cast to bring Van Badham’s hip, edgy take on the cult of celebrity to life. 2007 NIDA graduate Shannon Dooley’s strong performance as Mandy Xyloine was the play’s centerpiece. Her poster girl was crass, childish, ego-centric, but with plenty of smarts. The scene where she commanders a video grab of her with her captors for general release was dark but rich comedy.

Actress Susie Lindeman), best known for her extensive work in film (‘Howard’s End’, ‘Lilian’s Story’), was in fine form as the driven, flirtatious journalist Rowena Marshall-Toxteth. Sam Haft, of the formerly London based Jewish acting family, (Lionel Haft is his father), impressed as the rough hewn journalist Rob Brough. Andrew Lewis did some good work, in a good role, as Leon, the softie from the radical Army, who falls big time for Mindy.

The intimate nature of the venue suited the play, and gave the play the immediacy it needed. Beach, with his set designer, Phillipa Welfare, made full, creative use of the space, The actors spread out during the play, using the upstairs platform, the audience entry, as well as the middle aisle between the two audience platforms.

Poster Girl is playing the Old Fitzroy theatre, 129 Dowling Street, Woolloomooloo until July 12.

Miss Julie

It must be time for revisiting the classics at downstairs Belvoir Street. Playing at the moment is a production by Latvian director Vladislav Nastavshevs of the classic Strindberg play ‘Miss Julie’ and next up there’s a producton of Frank Wedekind’s classic turn of the twentieth century play, ‘Spring Awakening’.

Strindberg’s classic play happens at a crisis point for its two main characters, the Count’s daughter, Miss Julie and Jean, the Count’s live-in valet. In the midst of Midsummer Eve celebrations at the Count’s manor house, Miss Julie and Jean, have a torrid erotic encounter. All of a sudden their worlds have turned upside down.

Both Miss Julie and Jean have a strong sense of their place in the world, where they belong and where they don’t. For Miss Julie it is to mix with the privilged, for Jean it is the servants quarters he shares with his fiance, Christine. In both their hearts, they don’t know how they could let their worlds be contaminated with the world of the other…

Nastavshevs’s production is a strong, evocative Miss Julie. She really grasps the play’s nettle, and the production captures some great moments, which is what the theatre experiece is all about.

The Real Inspector Hound

Tom Stoppard’s ‘The Real Inspector Hound, currently playing at the New Theatre, Newtown, is a good night out.

One of Stoppard’s most popular plays, ‘The Real Inspector Hound’ is about the mayhem that arises when two usually clearly delineated worlds collide; in this case, the performers in an outrageously hammy production of a murder mystery, and the two drama critics, sitting in their ivory tower in the audience, who take to the stage.

This is a play with a cracker of a start. The audience stream into the theatre to see a man sitting on the far right apron of the stage. He is sitting on a chair, looking pensively at the stage, with pen and notebook in hand. We have a picture of the drama critic in repose, and so the fun begins again.

Frank McNamara’s production shows a good feel for the play, and gives the piece a fast paced, broad brush-stroke treatment. Each member of the cast had a good handle on their character. My pick of the cast; Lyndon Jones as the self indulgent critic Moon, who is tired of being his papers’ second stringer, Sandy Vellini as the dutiful and suitably named, Mrs Drudge, and Nell Shipley as the snooty Lady Cynthia Muldoon.

McNamara was aided by a good creative team. Tony Youlden’s set worked well with the main stage area being devoted to the unfolding murder mystery, whilst he has the two drama critics holding fort at the side of the stage. Margaret Jewell’s costumes suit the 1950’s period in which the play was set.

My Name is Rachel Corrie

One of the great things about theatre is that it can hold up a mirror to the world we live in and show up its problems. That was the driving force in Shakespeare’s classic tragedies. (For example Romeo and Juliet, two young lovers caught up in the crossfire between two warring families). The play, ‘My Name is Rachel Corrie’, the dramatisation of the writings of Rachel Corrie by Alan Rickman and Katherine Viner, is just such a play.

‘My Name is Rachel Corrie’ tells an ugly story. 23 year old American political activist Rachel Corrie from Olympia, Washington, was crushed to death by an Israeli Defcnce Force bulldozer on the 16th March, 2003 in the Gaza town of Rafah whilst undertaking non-violent direct action to protect the home of a Palestinian doctor, his wife and three children from demolition. The incident attracted worldwide media outrage.

The piece works very effective dramatically. The play had a clear thematic through-line. Rachel Corrie was in many ways an ordinary young woman. She maintained to do lists, she fretted about travelling to the Middle East, and she worried about what her parents thought about her. She was articulate, high-spirited; she had strongly held political beliefs and convictions, as many young people do. Her very ordinariness, coupled with her idealism, against the ruthlessness of the Middle East conflict, breaks the heart.

Shannon Murphy directs a tight, intense production in the intimate downstairs Belvoir space. Andy McDonell’s compact, multi-media set worked well. WAAPA graduate Belinda Bromilow gave a strong, well-rounded solo performance as Corrie. She charts a solid journey, going from a feisty young woman jumping a bit out of her skin with her passions to a more mature person living in the harshness of Gaza.

‘My Name is Rachel Corrie’ plays downstairs Belvoir until the 1st June. Siobhan Robertson from Belvoir Street advised that the first Arabic version of the play has just premiered in Israel.

Romeo and Juliet

The large number of high school students that will come to see Wayne Blair’s production of the Bard’s Romeo and Juliet should be entertained by Enoch’s fresh take on the classic romantic tale.

Blair’s production sets Romeo and Juliet in the present time, in outback Australia, with the two leads coming from rival Aboriginal families. This is a fast, action based, lean production, running ninety minutes straight through. Blair’s production hits all the right notes in the play’s big scenes.

My pick of the cast was WAAPA graduate Sophie Ross, a sensual, memorable Juliet. Ursula Yovich was warm as toast as Juliet’s devoted Nurse. Lucia Mastrantone was an exciting, charismatic Mercutio, and Michael Habib, a strong, masculine presence as Capulet.

Blair’s creative team fleshed out his vision for the play well. Jacob Nash’s set worked well – far stage left hung a stunning large moon over-looking the action, mid stage left was a large platform on castors which worked well in the balcony scenes, a bright, starry sky lit up the back of the stage, and well worn, get-about car, sat stage right. Luiz Pampolha lit the stage well and Steve Francis’s sound design gave the production a sharp edge.

Enchanted April

The Genesian Theatre’s production of Enchanted April was one of the best productions I’ve seen at the small inner city venue. Debbie Smith’s fine production served Matthew Barber’s fine adaptation well.

Enchanted April fits into the bored women getting away from it all in an exotic location and coming home rejuvenated genre. Four English women, each with their own issues, take off on an adventure to Italy and spend an enchanting April month in a magical villa called ‘San Salvatore’.

Paula Searle gave a refreshing, high-spirited, confident performance in the lead role, Lotty Wilton, who came up with the idea of the trip and ran with it. Lisa Harrison played Lotty’s friend Rose Arnott, who took a bit of persuading before agreeing to escape She did well in the repressed woman coming out of her shell role.
Vanessa Coffey was suitably haughty as the beautiful, aristocratic Caroline Bramble. Ros Richards started a little nervously but came into her own as the niggly, crotchety Mrs Graves, who showed there was more than a little fire in her belly.

Jenny Jacobs was a delight as Costanza, the local San Salvatore housemaid, who couldn’t speak a word of English but, with her considerable charm, managed to keep everything under control.

Debbie Smith’s lush design of the ‘San Salvatore,’ designed by Grant Fraser, was a highlight when it was revealed after interval, when the four ladies finally made it to their dream destination.

Two Weddings And A Lawyer

Stressed lawyer Jimmy Gabriel allows other people’s agendas to get the better of him, and into one helluva bind. His fiance Wendy wants to move in with him. This is at the same time as his Swedish flatmate Inga has got him to agree to getting engaged to her, in ‘name only,’ so that she can apply for permanent residency.

Tony Laumberg’s latest play Two Weddings and A Lawyer stretches credibility a little but it is written with a deft touch, plenty of snappy lines, and a clever, unpredictable plot.

Richard Cotter directs the production with an appropriate fast, light touch. Gary Boulter was a lot of fun as the tortured but good natured Gabriel, Brigid O’Sullivan gave an assured performance as Gabriel’s long-suffering girlfriend Wendy. As Gabriel’s flatmate Inga, Albany Dighton managed the Swedish accent capably and did the manipulative, sexy blonde young thing well.

The hulky presence of Mark McCann as Gabriel’s best friend, Billy Babbage, gave the play a lot of its spark. He reveled in a fun comic role of a bored accountant who makes a career shift and applies to a leading acting school. A Bruce Lee fan, Billy enjoyed doing a few of his moves, as well as sharing some of Lee’s little known profundities.

Tricia Youlden convinced as uptight, cynical immigration officer, Miss Winthrop, determined to undermine the credibility of Jimmy and Inga’s relationship.

Rock N Roll

Tom Stoppard’s latest work, the sprawling, epic ‘Rock N Roll’, was quite an experience. The play covered a broad sweep of time, beginning in Cambridge, England in 1968, and ending in Prague, Czechoslavakia in 1990. This time period was a politically very volatile period, including the Soviet invasion of Czechoslavakia and Thatcherism in England, but through it all the play sees the force of rock n roll as being liberating and uncompromising, a powerful life force.

Two strong, contrasting characters were at the heart of the play. On one side there is British professor, Max, played by William Zappa, an ardent communist and left winger. A man who lives and breathes politics. On the other side is Jan, a young Czech disciple of his. He is a brilliant student and gifted academically but his passion, that thing which keeps him alive, is rock music. He is a fanatic!

One of the interesting aspects about the play is that Jan who sees himself as being a free spirit ends up being caught up in political turmoil and is put into jail for a time along with other followers of the legendary Czech rock band, the Plastic People of the Universe.

Whilst Stoppard’s characters tread the boards, there is a large backdrop screen against which all sorts of images from the two decades are thrown. And then there was the music with songs from artists such as Pink Floyd, the Rolling Stones , The Beach Boys, The Cure and U2.

Rock and Roll does win in Stoppards play, expressing its indestructible spirit. The peformances of the leading cast were all good, and veteran director and Melbourne Theatre Company Artistic Director Simon Phillips did great work.

The strongest moments of the play belonged to Genevieve Picot as Max’s wife, Eleanor, whose body is riddled with cancer. The marriage has been falling apart as Max’s desire for his dying wife dims. In a brilliantly delivered speech Picot announces ‘I am not my body…I am so much more’. Its a speech that got right under the skin!

The weakest points in the play were when Stoppard got his characters talking about mythological characters like Sappho…this stuff completely lost me…..

Smart People

The new American film ‘Smart People’ is one of those stories where a man finds himself in a very dark space, one huge rut, and by journey’s end they are back on track again with a new spark.

Martin Quaid plays the main character, English Professor Lawrence Wetherhold. His life has been going downhill since he lost his wife. He has lost interest in his students which is wonderfully demonstrated in a scene where a student comes to knock on his tute door, and before he opens the door he has changed the wall clock to read after 5pm so that he doesn’t have to see him!

The Prof’s other battles are that he is diagnosed with a disabling neurological disorder that means he needs care support, including needing to have someone to drive him around. He enlists his brother Chuck to provide that support though he can’t stand him, especially because his brother is always him for money!

Then the Prof has to also circumnavigate the fine intricacies of his relationships with his two grown up children, Vanessa and James. Vanessa is super smart and always has an answer for everything, but is pretty hopeless with the social skills. She and her brother are always bickering, and the Prof tries to mediate.

In true cinematic romantic tradition what turns the Prof’s life around is a new woman, Dr Janet Hartigan. Janet was the Profs treating Doctor when he was in hospital after his collapse. What comes out is that she used to be a student of the Professor’s and at the time had a crush on him. He picks up that there’s an interest and asks her out on a date.

‘Smart People’ gets my thumbs up! There’s plenty of value for one’s ticket. Naom Murro’s directiing hand was sure, and Mark Poirier’s screenplay very polished. The world of academia was presented well. There was some cracking dialogue and one liners. My favourite; the Wetherhold family are having a miserable Christmas dinner when the front door bell rings. Chuck comments with perfect delivery words to the effect- how rude of someone to interupt our perfect Christmas dinner.

The main cast gave strong performances, creating powerful characters. Dennis Quaid was convincing as the distracted but warm Professor. Sarah Jessica Parker gave a sensitive portrayal of a Doctor playing the romantic cards very carefully after having been hurt so often in love. Thomas Hayden Church was great as the provocative, cheeky Chuck giving a Nick Nolte kind of performance. Ellen Page who came to light in ‘Juno’ shows againn that in her rols as Vanessa that she’s got a strong presence on screen, and a very feisty, intelligent one! Ashton Holmes was good as her brother, James. There was some good work and sparks in the relationships between Vanessa and Chuck, and Vanessa and James.

The Serpent’s Teeth

Melbourne playwright Daniel Keene was blessed to have the elite Sydney Theatre Company’s Actors Company performing Citizens and Soldiers, his two one act plays, under the umbrella title The Serpent’s Teeth, exploring the dark spectre of war on human lives.

The Serpent’s Teeth was a mixed night at the theatre. Citizens was a struggle. The play was set in front of the dividing wall of an unnamed country. Behind the wall the citizens have life easy. At the front, the citizens’ lives have been disrupted by war and life is a bitter struggle for survival.

Robert Cousins’ set for Citizens was claustrophobic and foreboding. A massive concrete wall swept across the Drama Theatre stage, with the citizens journeying across it. This production had more than a hint of Brecht’s Mother Courage and her Children!

First-time director Pamela Rabe’s production lacked pace and spark. The saving graces were some strong performances by John Gaden, Peter Carroll, and Hayley McElhinney, an atmospheric score by Paul Charlier, and a great lighting design by Nick Schlieper.

Soldiers was more satisfying. It was great to see the whole expansive Drama Theatre stage used! Soldiers focused on the vast range of feelings experienced by a group of families waiting for the return, by military aircraft of their dead relatives, five soldiers killed in the latest Middle East war.

Soldiers featured some strong performances. Hayley McElhinney’s portrayal of a struggling working class woman struggling to cope with what has happened was touching. Amber McMahon delivered a memorable soliloquy to grief and loss.

The piece ended poignantly with Pamela Rabe, as one of the grieving relatives, taking the hand of the next generation’s Joshua Denyer as they made their way to the funeral service, and telling him, ‘let’s make a new start and leave the emptiness behind.’

Tim Maddock’s direction was strong, and in the production sphere, Robert Cousins open set, Nick Schlieper’s exquisite lighting design and Paul Charlier’s score worked well.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Jude Apatow’s latest film, ‘Forgetting Sarah Marshall’ is a lot of fun. The title kind of suggests it all, the journey of a man who has recently broken up with the love of his life and is doing everything in his power to forget her, and move on with his life.

In ‘Forgetting Sarah Marshall’ , Peter Bretter(Jason Siegel) breaks up with his celebrity girlfriend Sarah Marshall (Kristie Bell). Bretter is devestated, and to get over losing her he goes on a holiday to a resort hotel in Hawai. The fun begins, for want of a better phrase, when he books into the resort only to find out that his ex is booked into the hotel, and she is there with her new squeeze, English pop star, Aldous Snow (Russell Brand). Not a good start!

What I loved about this film was its colourful, authentic characters. Jason Siefel’s Peter is a regular, fun sort of guy who just happens to be hung up on a celebrity chick. Kristie Bell’s Sarah Marshall came across as an unremarkable celebrity actress with conventional good looks.

Russell Brand gave a tremendous performance as the posh British pop star, Aldous Snow. God, this was a biting portrayal…a sharp portrayal of an egocentric, immoral, super-cool pop star. Brand’s timing was great, and he delivered some ripper lines perfectly.

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