Featured image-Carolyn Lowry, Mark Kilmurry, Francesca Savige, Sandra Bates, Shaun Rennie, John Clark.
All images by Ben Apfelbaum.
Ensemble Theatre’s Artistic Director Mark Kilmurry recently announced the two winners of the 2ndSandra Bates Director’s Awards supported by the Seaborn, Broughton & Walford Foundation at a function in the theatre’s waterfront foyer.
Francesca Savige and Shaun Rennie were thrilled to be the recipients of this prestigious award. Both will work as Assistant Director on two plays each in the Ensemble Theatre’s 2017 season. They will also direct a lunchtime play reading each as part of the theatre’s Boatshed events.
A night filled with quirky characters and situations generating plenty of humour is in store for you if make your way across to see the current Ensemble show.
With THE GOOD DOCTOR, Neil Simon mines the work of Anton Chekhov and comes up with a collection of appealing vignettes, tinged with absurdism.
The pieces are excellent ‘vehicles’ for actors, representing good opportunities for the cast of five to show their range and flair. And with the assist of Bates’ astute direction, that’s just what they do.
In A Defenceless Creature, Kate Raison was on fire as an uptight ‘madwoman’ harassing a conservative, frazzled banker for some money for her ailing husband. As the gruff banker who soon loses his patience, David Lynch’s stolid manner was a great counterpoint to Raison’s bluster.
In Surgery, Nathan Wilson was wonderfully manic as an earnest dentist using some very old, large, menacing instruments and doing more damage than good to his patient.
In The Seduction, Adriano Cappelletta (who has temporarily stepped in to the main role as the narrator/Chekhov figure as well as a number of other roles at close to the last moment whilst Glenn Hazeldine recovers from a car accident) was suitably charismatic and creepy as a compulsive seducer of married woman, with Chloe Bayliss equally convincing as his latest demure, coy victim.
In the more reflective Too Late For Happiness, David Lynch and Kate Raison poignantly play out a hopeful meeting between a lonely older man and woman.
The least convincing piece was The Audition in which Chloe Bayliss plays an actress who has walked four days from Odessa to Moscow to audition for a new play by her favourite playwright (Chekhov) and is more than a little starstruck. The audition sees her recite passages from The Three Sisters. This piece felt a little out of place and heavy, and came across a bit flat.
The current production represents a milestone for the Company. It is the last production that Bates is directing whilst in the position of Artistic Director (for a few years now jointly with Mark Kilmurry, who takes over solo in 2016), a position she has served for thirty years. During her time, Bates has set the set bar high; theatre patrons have had the expectation when they go to the Ensemble that they will see entertaining and often thought provoking plays that will be given worthy productions. Hopefully the high standard will continue as Kilmurry takes over full reigns.
Recommended, Sandra Bates’ production of Neil Simon’s THE GOOD DOCTOR opened at the Ensemble Theatre, Kirribilli on Wednesday 2nd December and is playing until Sunday 17th January. The production then travels to Belrose’s Glen Street theatre where it will play for one week between the 19th to the 24th January 2016.
There is a deal of courage in Katherine Gerard’s decision to knock on Cal Porter’s door during her latest visit to the Big Apple. With it she knew she would be confronting a very painful part of her past.
Katherine hasn’t seen Cal for a very long time, at her son’s memorial service. Her gay son died of AIDS, at the height of the epidemic which ended the lives of so many.
FACE TO FACE is one of David Williamson’s plays from his Jack Manning Trilogy. The Trilogy is based on community conferencing, where victims and perpetrators of a crime are brought together to attempt to achieve a resolution and to avoid the court process. This might sound like good and worthy material for a typical left wing Williamson play and it could be viewed as such but the sharp and intriguing dialogue lifts it to a higher level. As could be expected the boss is exploitative and the workers treated badly but these are secondary issues to the main drama.
Glen Tragaskis, in a catching performance by Andrew Cutcliffe, a young scaffolder who has been fired and then rams his car into the bosses Mercedes. A community conference is held to try and resolve the situation and avoid court and gaol. Jack Manning, in an excellent performance by Glenn Hazeldine, starts nervously as he facilitates the conference, but generally directs the conversation assuredly as various unexpected side issues emerge. Bullying and pranking are common practices at the scaffolding site and these lead Glen to reacting violently and consequently being fired. These issues are further investigated and explored in the conference and it emerges that just about all of the characters in the play have acted dishonorably or inappropriately.
Willamson is in his best form writing the heartfelt, emotional and witty dialogue. Sandra Bates’ direction utilises this fine writing to encourage strong performances from the talented cast.
Adriano Cappelletta is excellent as Luka, a workmate of Glen, involved but not a ringleader in the bullying. Jamie Oxenbould, Erica Lovell, Kristian Schmid, Catherine McGraffin, Warren Jones, Fiona Press and Jessica Sullivan each bring fine performances to the production.
There is a plenty to enjoy about Face to Face. It feels as if the conference could erupt into a wild brawl or an all out screaming match, or possibly proceed in the opposite direction and with excessive hugging and crying but Williamson’s well crafted script avoids melodrama and keeps the audience fully engaged.
FACE TO FACE, along with the other two plays of the Jack Manning Trilogy, A CONVERSATIONB AND CHARITABLE INTENT, is playing at The Concourse, Chatswood, until 27th September.
David Auburn’s PROOF takes us into a young woman’s world as she reaches a significant milestone in her life, turning a quarter of a century. Joining Catherine (Matilda Ridgway) in her birthday celebrations is her estranged stocks analyst sister, Claire (Catherine McGraffin), who travels from New York, Catherine is based in Chicago, and a new beau, Hal (Adriano Cappelletta). Absent is her irascible, brilliant Mathematic professor father, Robert (Michael Ross), who recently passed away after a long battle with mental illness.
During the performance of RAPTURE, BLISTER, BURN, I occasionally averted my gaze from the action taking place on stage to look across at other audience members to take in their reactions. I noticed some people shuffling around in their seats.
When the play ended, even before the cast had completed their curtain calls, I saw one couple start to leave. It felt like they were registering some sort of protest.
Not surprising, really. American playwright Gina Gionfriddo’s play RAPTURE, BLISTER, BURN (the title comes from a typically abrasive Courtney Love song), which the playwright herself has described as, ‘a play about the state of male/female relationships at this particular time’, is a gutsy, even at times controversial play, meant to shake audiences up, more than a little. Here’s an extract:-
“ Avery: Drink is your body under the influence of alcohol and love is your body under the influence of hormones. Booze, sex, hormones…they do the same thing which is dupe you into thinking average people are great.
Catherine: What a grim philosophy.
Avery: I’m a Bio major. Evolutionary? It makes total sense. The love drink lasts about six months. Just enough time to get knocked up and trapped.”
RAPTURE, BLISTER, BURN cleverly mixes a discourse on feminism and its place in the modern world with the playing out of a whirlwind reunion between old friends. She does so through the journey of her main character, Catherine (Georgie Parker). Forties something academic and talk show celebrity Catherine returns to New York to her ailing mother, Alice (Diane Craig). Whilst in NY she reunites, after over ten years, with her best friend, Gwen (Anne Tenney) and Gwen’s husband, Don (Glenn Hazeldine), who used to be her boyfriend.
During her stay, Catherine decides to run a summer class on feminism from her mother’s home. She ends up having only two students, Gwen, and Gwen and Don’s former babysitter, precocious, outspoken university student, Avery (Chloe Bayliss). Lively discussions ensue whilst Alice makes martinis for everyone and chips in with the occasional comment.
What stands out about RAPTURE, BLISTER, BURN is that here is a playwright getting the audience to look at some of the big social issues happening right now. Like any drama worth seeing, the play asks questions, amongst them…How well do all the bold feminist texts and ideas stand up in the present day? What is going to be the social impact of the voyeuristic content that is freely available on the internet? Is the choice for women between family and career getting more and more difficult? Aren’t we weakening our relationships when we put so many expectations on our partners?
Sandra Bates directs the play’s Australian production well. One suspects that it won’t be long before other theatre companies tackle this piece.
The play offers good roles all round and the cast deliver. Georgie Parker is great in the lead as Catherine, Anne Tenney plays her best friend, the more conservative Gwen, the ever reliable Glenn Hazeldine plays Gwen’s husband, Don, who lives his life out in a second gear ‘fog’, Chloe Bayliss is tremendous as the tough talking but warm hearted Avery, and Diane Craig is well cast as Catherine’s wise cracking mum, Alice.
Recommended, Sandra Bates’s production of Gina Gionfriddo’s RAPTURE, BLISTER, BURN is playing the Ensemble Theatre, 78 McDougall Street, Kirribilli until Saturday December 7.