Tag Archives: Sydney Theatre Company

MURIEL’S WEDDING THE MUSICAL : OPENING TONIGHT!

After much anticipation, MURIEL’S WEDDING THE MUSICAL is finally arriving! A joint co-production by the Sydney Theatre Company and Global Creatures, the show is opening tonight at the Roslyn Packer Theatre.

A stage musical adaptation, brought to the present day by writer PJ Hogan, the show is being directed by Simon Phillips and features original music by Kate Miller-Heidke and Keir Nuttall, along with the original beloved Abba numbers. The show is exclusively playing Sydney.          Continue reading MURIEL’S WEDDING THE MUSICAL : OPENING TONIGHT!

Sharpen your knives for ‘Dinner’ @ Sydney Theatre Company

Production images by Brett Boardman

What setting is best to poke fun at other’s misfortunes? Why, a three course dinner party, of course!

Moira Buffini’s contemporary play, Dinner, is wickedly comedic as it is tragic. Centring around host Paige Janssen, the night is to celebrate her husband’s successful new pop-philosophy book being published, entitled Beyond Belief. Guests include an artist, a scientist, a journalist, a politician who cannot attend, and one uninvited stranger. The party is lead by Paige through a series of strange meals, with conversations turning uncomfortably personal. There seems to be no pleasant way this night can end.

The eccentric hostess Paige is played wonderfully by Caroline Brazier. Drawing in the audience for the evening and leading us through all corners of her house and mind, the unravelling cannot be rewound. Husband and author Lars, Sean O’Shea, exudes opulence and status but is not the star of his own party, outshone by his brash wife. Guests Wynne, Hal, and Siân (artist, scientist, and journalist) compliment their hosts, each personality a mirror to society and a comment on the modern western world. Rebecca Massey is the flighty yet morally firm Wynne. Brandon Burke is the cool rockstar scientist Hal, flippant on most matters. Attending the party with his journalist wife Siân, Claire Lovering, their cold affection towards one another echoes the tone of the night. Aleks Mikić bursts in as the uninvited stranger Mike. Symbolising the class division within the English setting, his mere presence is enough to disturb the perfectly planned party. Silent but deadly, Bruce Spence attends to the guests every need imaginable as the waiter.

Resident Director of Sydney Theatre Company, Imara Savage has cleverly added her own touches to Buffini’s smart script via sound bites, subtle fourth-wall breaks, and surprise on-stage cameos. Each addition is flooded with commentary on the fictional and current world. This is extended with the help of the set, created by designer Elizabeth Gadsby. Pristine ivory covers every surface of the dining room. This stark white opulence is contained within the glass box of the stage. The characters are stifled despite their wealth.

The German word schadenfreude (laughing at other people’s misfortunes) has been aptly used by the Sydney Theatre Company to describe this play. Not only is the audience laughing at the characters, but perhaps the state of the world and it’s absurd nuances.

Satirical comedy Dinner will linger long after blood has been spilled and cleaned up.

The play runs for 1 hour and 40 minutes, no interval.

Dinner is on from the 16th September – 28th October. Wed – Sat 8pm; Mon & Tue 6.30pm; Wed 1pm; Sat 2pm

TALK : A NEW PLAY BY JONATHON BIGGINS @ THE DRAMA THEATRE

Jonathon Biggins’ usual way of sharing his take on the world, in particular the world of politics, is through the Sydney Theatre Company’s  annual revue show, the Wharf Revue, a platform which he shares with fellow collaborators,  Drew Forsythe and Phil Scott.

This time, however, he has gone solo with a new play simply titled TALK, and it is his take on the state of the media in today’s world. He himself has been a media player, having been for a time, a  very laid-back, laconic broadcaster  on Sydney’s 2BL.

Biggins main character, radio shock jock John Behan, is anything but laid-back. Gung-ho and well irresponsible would be a much more apt description. On his radio program Behan has read out the criminal record of an alleged sex offender whose case was before the court. The police come knocking on his recording studio door, ready to arrest him for contempt of court. When his  producer advises him of the situation, he locks himself in his studio and continues broadcasting, ranting and revving up the community.             Continue reading TALK : A NEW PLAY BY JONATHON BIGGINS @ THE DRAMA THEATRE

SYDNEY THEATRE COMPANY LAUNCHES ITS 2017 SEASON WITH SOME SURPRISES

It has been the season for launches and Sydney’s flagship theatre company, the Sydney Theatre Company,  has now chimed in with the announcement of its 2017 season.

Sydney Theatre Company’s Executive Director Patrick McIntyre started proceedings and then handed over to interim Artistic Director Kip Williams announced next years’ program to a packed gathering at the Bar at the End of the Wharf on Thursday night.

Williams has  curated  an intriguing program which is bound to attract a healthy cross-section of theatregoers. There are some exciting and bold choices.

There have not been enough stories coming from our Asian communities that have made it our stages. This makes the STC’s decision to program Disapol Savetsila’s play AUSTRALIAN GRAFFITI  cause for much celebration as indeed was witnessed by the delighted reactions of Lee Lin Chin and her friends when Williams made the announcement.

The  Sydney Theatre Company developed Savetsila’s play in conjunction with Asian Australian arts company Performance 4a and Playwriting Australia and will be directed by Paige Rattray. The play, commissioned by the STC, has been described as exploring ‘the migrant experience from the inside out.” A Thai family who open up a Thai restaurant in a small country town face a  crisis when their place of business is vandalised by graffiti. How cam they survive such a personal and cultural insult?!

Internationally acclaimed filmmaker PJ Hogan, along with his wife Jocelyn Moorehouse were on hand to hear the announcement that Hogan’s breakthrough film is coming back as a stage play, what’s more a musical.  Hogan has come up with a new book for the musical  and brings Muriel and her friends up to the present day. Simon Phillips will direct  and the music and lyrics come via award winning singer-songwriters Kate Miller-Heidke and Keir Nuttall.

Williams will direct three productions during the year including a Caryl Churchill play CLOUD NINE which will star one of our finest young actors, Harry Greenwood. A big fan of Churchill’s work, Williams believes audiences will engage deeply with this work which explores how our need as human beings need to give ourselves specific  identities limits our ability to achieve true authenticity.

There will be a fresh revival of Michael Gow’s classic AWAY, directed by brilliant young director Matthew Lutton and starring Heather Mitchell, and a new adaptation by Andrew Upton  of Anton Chekhov’s masterpiece THREE SISTERS, again directed by Williams, starring one of Australia’s brightest young actresses, Eryn Jean Norvill.

The years’ international production  will be the Headlong, Nottingham Playhouse and Almeida Theatre production of George Orwell’s classic novel 1984 with a stage adaptation by Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan. Sydney audiences will see the original production as directed by Icke and Macmillan but with a new Australian cast.

At the gathering Williams also announced that Imara Savage has been appointed as the STC’s new Resident Director taking over from Sarah Goodes who has moved across to the Melbourne Theatre Company. Savage will direct two plays in 2017, Colm Toibin’s THE TESTAMENT OF MARY starring Alison Whyte and Moira Bufini’s DINNER with a cast including Bruce Spence and Brandon Burke.

For the full details about STC’s 2017 season visit http://www.sydneytheatre.com.au.

For your enjoyment, here are some pics  taken by Guide photographer Ben Apfelbaum at a very well attended launch.

 

 

Sydney Theatre Company Announces Patrick White Playwrighting Awards

Back row- STC Artistic Director Andrew Upton, Playwright Debra Thomas. Front row- STC Literary Manager Polly Rowe, Playwright Kate Mulvany. Pic by Hon Boey
Back row- STC Artistic Director Andrew Upton, Playwright Debra Thomas. Front row- STC Literary Manager Polly Rowe, Playwright Kate Mulvany. Pic by Hon Boey

Kate Mulvany is the new Patrick White Playwrights’ Fellow and Debra Thomas has won the 2014 Patrick White Playwrights’ Award Kate Mulvany has been announced as the latest recipient of STC’s Patrick White Playwrights’ Fellowship at a special event held at The Wharf last Friday, 22nd May.

Now in its fifth year, the Fellowship is a position for an established playwright whose work has been produced professionally in Australia within the last four years. Mulvany receives $25,000 in recognition of her body of work and previous artistic achievements. As well as including a commission from STC which she will develop during the year-long tenure, the Fellowship provides opportunities for her to share her skills with other playwrights and artists. Continue reading Sydney Theatre Company Announces Patrick White Playwrighting Awards

Storm Boy @ Wharf 1 Sydney Theatre Company

Inset pic- Phil Dean Walford, Anthony Mayor and Otis Pavlovic . Featured pic- Anthony Mayor in STORM BOY. Production pics by Brett Boardman
Inset pic- Phil Dean Walford, Anthony Mayor and Otis Pavlovic . Featured pic- Anthony Mayor in STORM BOY. Production pics by Brett Boardman

STORM BOY, Colin Thiele’s classic tale of a boy, his father Hideaway Tom, his companion and mentor Fingerbone Bill and his beloved pelicans has never been far from our hearts. Over fifty years since the novel’s publication, Sydney theatre-goers presently have the opportunity to revisit Tom Holloway’s very fine stage adaptation which was first presented at the Sydney Theatre Company during August 2013.

John Sheedy once again directs and wins heartwarming performances from his cast: Rory Potter again is Storm Boy, Julian Garner as his Dad, Highway Tom, the wonderful Jimi Bani as Fingerbone Bill, and the delightful pelican puppet operators,- Anthony Mayor as Mr Percival and Phil Dean Walford as Mr Ponder and  Mr Pride.

The story’s central themes of man’s longing to be be in harmony with his environment and striving to deal with the losses that life inevitably brings are well conveyed.

His creative team excelled,- Michael Scott-Mitchell’s wonderful set features a whalebone structure on top of which the cast transverse as if they are on sand dunes, and then underneath is the humpy and an old dinghy.

Damien Cooper’s lighting conveys well the different times of day and also dramatically comes to life in the big storm sequence.

The pelican puppets, created by Annie Forbes and Tim Denton and puppetry director Peter Wilson are magical and are able to fly, waddle, peck, play, catch and click and clack about.

Kingsley Reeve’s impressive soundscape featured a simple piano score along with recordings of ocean, wind and bird sounds.

A joint Sydney Theatre Company and Barking Gecko Theatre Company production, this inviting, warm and charming production opened at Wharf 1, Sydney Theatre Company on the 25th April and is running until the 17th May. The production then goes on to play venues in Wollongong, Geelong, Canberra, Mandurah and Perth. 

 

 

Endgame @ Sydney Theatre

Endgame- inset
Sarah Peirse as Nell and Bruce Spence as Nagg in Samuel Beckett’s ENDGAME. Production pics by Lisa Tomasetti

A Samuel Beckett night at the theatre is like no other. One is just taken over by his bold, raw take on life. Even after all these years, one is still gobsmacked, stunned, by what one is taking place on stage. The experience is like being set upon by the coldest, bleakest wind.

So it is with Andrew Upton’s lucid, prescient production of one of Beckett’s greatest works, ENDGAME. Continue reading Endgame @ Sydney Theatre

After Dinner @ The Wharf

After Dinner
Anita Hegh and Rebecca Massey in Andrew Bovell’s AFTER DINNER.Pics Brett Boardman

This new  production of Andrew Bovell’s brilliant debut comedy AFTER DINNER makes a perfect fit  for the wonderful Sydney summer that we are having.

I strongly recommend a  visit to the Wharf, one of Sydney’s finest  theatre venues, enjoying a wine before the show and taking in the lovely view of Sydney harbour from the balcony, and then heading into the theatre to see five of Sydney’s finest thespians playing very well drawn characters and presenting a night at the theatre imbued with humour and pathos.

The time period is the nineteen eighties, the setting is the dining room of an RSL club. The play shifts action between two tables as they wait for the local band to fire up, which only takes place very late in the proceedings. Continue reading After Dinner @ The Wharf

2014 Sydney Arts Guide Stage & Screen Awards

Bell Shakespeare's WINTERS TALE  2014 winner - Best stage production
Bell Shakespeare’s WINTERS TALE  2014 winner – Best stage production

 

Sydney Arts Guide is a key part of stage and film culture, and exists to celebrate the art of performance, in theatres and cinemas.

2014 was a year of amazing diversity, and our twenty accredited specialist reviewers, were all spoiled for choice in the quality of the live theatre performances to be experienced in the City of Sydney, and the suburbs of Sydney.

As the old adage goes, “live theatre is not dead theatre, as there is a different performance to be experienced every night”. Our team of professional reviewers, have each nominated their personal preferences for both theatre and cinema. A small number of movies were nominated out of the hundreds of cinema films that were seen during the last twelve months.

At the end of another outstanding year for the arts in Sydney, on Wednesday 31st December 2014, Sydney Arts Guide announced its 2014 awards in these Stage and Screen categories:-

Continue reading 2014 Sydney Arts Guide Stage & Screen Awards

A dazzling Cyrano

Inset Pic- Eryn Jean Norvill and Josh McConville. Featured Pic- Julia Zemiro and Richard Roxburgh. Pics Brett Boardman

French playwright Edmond Rostand’s CYRANO DE BERGERAC (1897) is one of the all time, great works of World Theatre. Prestigious theatre companies love to have a crack at it, and give audiences a night to remember.

The great plays have exacting standards,- the bar is raised to its highest level in all regards. Particularly, revivals require actors of the highest calibre to perform the main roles, otherwise the production will simply fall away and audiences will go away feeling shortchanged.

The good news is that the Sydney Theatre Company’s new production, directed by Artistic Director Andrew Upton, meets this absolute imperative with its quartet of four fine leading players, – Richard Roxburgh, Eryn Jean Norvill, Chris Ryan and Josh McConville

Richard Roxburgh steps into the coveted shoes of the great swordsman and poet, Cyrano with verve panache. He is every bit the passionate, charismatic, perfectionistic, deeply moralistic, heart-breaking swordsman and poet.

Eryn Jean Norvill plays the part of Cyrano’s flame and muse, Roxane. Eryn has a large arc to transverse through the play, from being a superficial girl-woman to a mature, more considerate woman.

Chris Ryan is convincing as Christian, a young, hedonistic man who thinks about things with much more depth after his friendship with Cyrano.

Josh McConville displays great stage presence as the prickly, cruel Count de Guiche who learns to be more humane as the play unfolds.

These main players are well supported by a cast that includes Bruce Spence and Julia  Zemiro.

The show is cleverly staged by director Andrew Upton along with his designers, Alice Babidge and Renee Mulder. Good use is made of the large Sydney Theatre stage.

The main stage is flanked stage left, right and rear with raised catwalk for the players to transverse, when needed. The area is used very flexibly,- with the use, for the first three Acts, of a raised stage, on wheels.

Act 1 features a  proscenium arched theatre with red curtains in the centre. (The play begins at the theatre in the Hotel Burgundy). In  Act 2, the stage is rotated about 45 degrees into the the patisserie setting. The third Act sees the raised stage being rotated some 180 degrees to become the famous balcony setting at Roxane’s home. In Act 4, the raised stage is removed, and the stage becomes the battlefield setting at Arras. Finally, in Act 5, we are at a convent outside Paris.

Babidge and Mulder’s great period costumes, Damien Cooper’s superb lighting, and Paul Charlier’s atmospheric soundscape, featuring short pieces of music, recorded sounds, and some chanting, work well.

A Sydney Theatre Company production, adapted and directed by Andrew Upton from the original translation by Marion Potts, Edmond Rostand’s CYRANO DE BERGERAC opened at the Sydney Theatre, Hickson Road, Walsh Bay on Saturday  15th November and is playing until Saturday 20th December, 2014.

Kryptonite at the STC

Second Image
Tim Walter and Ursula Mills in Sue Smith’s KRYPTONITE. Pic Lisa Tomasetti

Australian playwright Sue Smith’s new play KRYPTONITE begins back in 1989 in the hallowed halls of Sydney University. Two young, idealistic students from very different backgrounds have a passionate affair. Dylan is a laidback, surfie type from Sydney’s northern beaches. Lian is a timid, highly strung exchange student from mainland China. Dylan  is able to comfort Lian who is distressed by the recent horrific events that have taken place back home as a result of  the Tinanmen Square student protests.

Their intense student affair evolves into a complex relationship  that spans a quarter of a century at a time of enormous personal, social and political change.

Geordie Brookman expertly directs the action which plays ninety minutes straight through, his creative team led by set and costume designer Victoria Lamb and lighting designer Nicholas Rayment set the scene well, and his two actors, Tim Walter and Ursula Mills deliver compelling portrayals. Both their characters go on from being hippy students to establishing important careers; Dylan as a prominent federal politician, and Lian as one of her country’s leading mining executives.

Through the play there’s this sense of these two adventurous, determined souls swimming against the current…they love each other deeply however there are so many differences between them- in their values, their cultures, their governments… Can their great love survive the ever stronger rips?!

Recommended. A joint Sydney Theatre Company and State Theatre Company production, Sue Smith’s KRYPTONITE opened at Wharf 1, Sydney Theatre Company on Tuesday 16th September and is playing until Saturday 18th October, 2014.

The Wharf Review 2014

THE OPEN FOR BUSINESS set had a Monopoly board backdrop and floor with a variety of topical squares to land on:- Go To ICAC, Australian Water Holdings, Catholic Church, Slush Fund, Salvos and the Commission Into Union Corruption were some of the tantalising options.

The Wharf Revue follows a familiar format of sketches satirising, ridiculing and lampooning the Canberra politicians and a few other national figures. We were welcomed to the House of Review to the strains of Advance Australia Fair by the speaker, Bronwyn Bishop, played by the fabulous Amanda Bishop, and this was followed by a steady stream of impersonations and ridicule of politicians and media personalities. Continue reading The Wharf Review 2014

THE EFFECT

Angie Milliken plays psychiatrist Dr James in Lucy Preeble's THE EFFECT
Angie Milliken plays psychiatrist Dr James in Lucy Prebble’s THE EFFECT

In British playwright Lucy Prebble’s play THE EFFECT two game young people, psychology student Connie (Anna McGahan) and charming drifter Tristan (Mark Leonard Winter) are volunteers in the clinical trial of a new anti-depressant super drug. Forties something psychiatrist Dr James (Angie Milliken) administers the trial over a four week period under the supervision of Dr Toby (Eugene Gilfedder) in residential quarters inside the pharmaceutical company premises.

Connie and Tristan spend a lot of time in each other’s company and, against all the rules, they start to fall for each other. Their romance threatens to play havoc with the rigor of the trial.

It’s an intriguing scenario for what turns out to be an engrossing night in the theatre.

The play’s intense tone is set very early on when Dr James comes on stage with a human brain in her hand, a moment that brings to mind the classic graveyard scene in Hamlet.

The audience is drawn in to following the four feisty characters and the conflicts that emerge between the two pairings. Tristan and Connie argue as to whether the feelings emerging between them are natural or the result of being under the influence?! 

Dr James and Dr Toby come from polar opposite positions of the psych drug debate. Dr James sees drugs as often being the soft option, Dr Toby believe they are the genuine balm for depressive illness.

The four actors, Angie Milliken and Eugene Gilfedder as the medicos and Anna McGahan and Mark Leonard Winter as the bold youngsters, ‘hold’ their characters well. 

Sarah Goodes’s production serves the play well. Highlights from the design team were Renee Mulder’s set which clearly portrayed the play’s very clinical, hospital setting, and Guy Webster’s edgy, contemporary soundscape.

The effect of Prebble’s play is that the arguments and debates between the characters reverberate long after the show has come to an end.

To end on a quote from the Bard. 

‘What a piece of work is man…how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world, the paragon of animals- and yet, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me-’

I guess Shakespeare would be on anti-depressants if he was alive now. A diluted Shakespeare. An awful thing to contemplate. 

Recommended, a joint Sydney Theatre Company and Queensland Theatre Company production, Lucy Prebble’s THE EFFECT opened at Wharf 1, Sydney Theatre Company on Saturday 12th July and is playing until Saturday 16th August, 2014.

MOJO

Tony Martin and Eamon Farren in Jez Butterworth's MOJO. Pic Brett Boardman
Tony Martin and Eamon Farren in Jez Butterworth’s MOJO. Pic Brett Boardman

Sometimes playwrights, intrepid as they often are,  take us down very murky paths. It is part of the rich tapestry of regularly theatre-going…opening one’s eyes to other world and experiences…as long as one is only passing through!

British playwright Jez Butterworth’s play MOJO, written when he was just 24 years old, takes us into one such world, a seedy Soho nightclub in the late 1950s.

The club is run by gangsters who don’t place too high a value on human life. They’re into making as much money as possible,  and making demi-gods of young rock and rollers. Their workers are all young kids pumped up on amphetamines and a restless, aggressive energy.

Continue reading MOJO

TRAVELLING NORTH

Bryan Brown makes a welcome return to the theatre in the Sydney Theatre Company's current revival of David Williamson's TRAVELLING NORTH
Bryan Brown makes a welcome return to mainstream theatre as Frank in the Sydney Theatre Company’s current revival of David Williamson’s TRAVELLING NORTH

David Williamson’s play TRAVELLING  NORTH is now 35 years old. Many people will know this piece from the film adaptation which starred the late Leo McKern as the larrakin, left wing, classical music loving Aussie, Frank.  For the current Sydney Theatre Company revival, directed by STC’s Artistic Director Andrew Upton , Bryan Brown is well cast in the role.

Playing opposite Brown is  Alison Whyte  as Francis. What a fine performance she puts in, especially considering how she came in late in the rehearsal period after Greta Scacchi pulled out due to a back injury. She is a warm, confident performer and came across as being well suited to the role of this good natured, warm hearted woman.

A recently formed couple and newly retired, Frank and Frances decide to make  a sea change and leave their Melbourne digs and move up to North Queensland where  the weather is warmer and  the people are  friendlier.  What starts out as a great idea becomes infinitely more complicated when Frank’s health takes  a serious turn for the worse, his heart starts going on him, and Francis’s grownup children put pressure on her to return. The best laid plans of a happy retirement begin to fall apart….

Williamson puts in a lot of light touches, particularly his trademark witty lines, into what is a  bit of a sad tale. Plenty of humour is generated out of the encounters  that  Frank has with the local medic, Saul, really well played by Russell Kiefel, as Frank  tries to get to the bottom of  his condition. It becomes tricky to work out who the Doctor is, and who is the patient!

Another great  source of humour is the character of their newly acquired nerdy neighbour, Freddy. This was another fine comic performance, delivered by Andrew Tighe. Tighe had the audience in hysterics with every entrance, dressed  in short shorts and  appearing at the most inappropriate of times.

Harriet Dyer came across strongly in the role of Frances’s needy, bitchy daughter, Helen, whose husband leaves her. Frank displays little sympathy for Helen, ‘you can’t blame him for leaving, after being married for five years to that tongue’!

There’s so  much to like about TRAVELLING NORTH.  The play still works a treat.  Upton ‘s production disappointed in one main  way. This was  in the staging- in the set design. There was nothing in the design to convey the lure, natural beauty and sensuality of life in the tropics, which had so much to do with Frank and Frances leaving their Melbourne  home and comfort zone. The sparse set basically comprised different levels of platforms. So disappointing…

This current revival of TRAVELLING NORTH plays Wharf 1, the Sydney Theatre Company, until the 22nd March, 2014.

WAITING FOR GODOT

WAITING FOR GODOT1
Hugo Weaving as Vladimir and Richard Roxburgh as Estragon in Samuel Beckett’s WAITING FOR GODOT. Pic Lisa Tomasetti

In 1966 Bob Dylan released one of his greatest albums- a double album, with the quirky title,  ‘Blonde on Blonde’. It featured some of the great songwriters finest songs.

Further back in 1953 Samuel Beckett released his play ‘Waiting for Godot’ with its premiere production taking place at the Theatre de Babylone. on January 5, 1953.

Beckett’s play is described as a, ‘comic masterpiece’. Masterpiece…yes…unique…absolutely…there has never been a play quite like it…many call it an anti-play…nothing of any happens…there is no goal..no super-objective..

Comic?…Yes…but the humour is so dark…gallows humour…Black on Black. There is no let up. Desolation..

Sixty years on,  the Sydney Theatre Company has put on a revival of ‘Godot’ as one of its showcase production of the year. Andrew Upton helms the production, taking over from Tamas Ascher who had to withdraw for health reasons. Three giants of the Australian theatre take the leading roles; Hugo Weaving and Richard Roxburgh as the two tramps and Philip Quast as the sadistic Pozzo. The production is of the highest calibre. It’s just really tough going…

The season at the Sydney Theatre, which runs to  Saturday December 21, is pretty much a sell out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WHOOPS! THE WHARF REVIEW 2013

the Clowns are back home- Jonathon Biggins, Simon Burke, Amanda Bishop and  Drew Forsythe- in the latest Revue show, WHOOPS!
The Clowns are back, thank God- Jonathon Biggins, Simon Burke, Amanda Bishop and Drew Forsythe

The fact is that going to see shows can be a bit of a punt- and on more than a few occasions I have found myself driving to a venue wondering whether it would not be better to turn back home, make a cup of coffee and put on the telly.

There are very few shows in the theatre year that are ‘sure things’. The Sydney Theatre Company’s annual Wharf Revue show ranks as one of them. Every year, since the show’s inception in the Olympic year, co-creators- Jonathon Biggins, Drew Forsythe and Phillip Scott, put on a terrifically entertaining show.

For the first time in the revue’s history Scott is not at the piano, replaced by Andrew Worboys, who is more than an adequate replacement. Biggins and Forsythe are joined on stage by the wonderful Amanda Bishop and another great music theatre performer, Simon Burke.

The madcap energy and sense of fun that the four performers generate over the course of the show’s ninety minutes is something to behold. All are in great voice, and the comic timing is spot on.  Garbs and wigs are exchanged at break-neck speeds.

As well as all the skits taking place on stage, the audience is also entertained by pre-filmed clips that are flashed on a large video screen. With each year these clips, over which plenty of time and preparation has taken place, just get funnier and better.

The show’s formula over the years has been a simple one. Essentially, the Wharf Revue works like a Year in Review cabaret with the talented trio devising skits around news stories and people in the public eye, especially pollies.

This year’s show sees appearances by many old favourites including Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard and Bob Carr, even extending back to Paul Keating and Bob Hawke. There is also a cavalcade of new characters that grace- perhaps that is not the right expression- the stage including Eddie Obeid, Clive Palmer, Gina Rinehart and Ian Macdonald. In one of the show’s highlights, Amanda Bishop appears as Annabel Crabb in a spoof of her popular meet the pollie in the kitchen tv show.

Recommended, the Wharf Revue 2013 show, rather unimaginatively titled WHOOPS!, is playing Wharf 1, Sydney Theatre Company, until Saturday December 21, 2013.

 

VERE (FAITH)

The excellent cast of VERE. Pic Matt Nettheim
John Doyle’s latest play VERE features an excellent cast. Pic Matt Nettheim

The deterioration, decline and ultimate death of a parent is a deeply traumatic process, one that we would never wish to confront, and yet it is an experience that changes the way we evaluate our own lives.

It was during such a difficult time that John Doyle decided to write his latest play, VERE (FAITH).  The idea, Doyle says, came in two parts.  “Firstly, by chance, coming across the house in Wentworth Falls in the Blue Mountains where Vere Gordon Childe lived and becoming interested in his extraordinary career.  And secondly, caring for my father while dementia consumed him.”

These two ideas merge perfectly to create a play that is both very funny and very sad.  Vere was a brilliant scholar of archaeology and philosophy who moved from Sydney University to Oxford University in 1914, later working as Abercromby Professor of Archaeology at the University of Edinburgh from 1927-1946.  At age 65, in 1957, he decided his ideas were no longer relevant and threw himself off the cliff in the Blue Mountains at the spot where Darwin had contemplated his theories.

It is Vere, working as Professor in a University, who is told at the onset of the play,that he has an aggressive dementia, and he knows he must leave his colleagues.  It is a jovial Christmas farewell, with raunchy Vice-Chancellor Ralph and academic team, where Vere begins to offload his favourite possessions to his bright young student, Gina.  He only tells colleague, Kate, of his impending departure and insists she take over his department.

All seven actors appear in the second act, very cleverly transposed as Vere’s family and soon-to-be in-laws.  They are having an engagement dinner for Vere’s grandson and Vere is in the later stages of dementia, with both embarrassing moments and touching moments of lucidity.  What ensues is a clever mix of humour and opposing philosophies between science and religion.

The fine direction by Sarah Goodes brings out relaxed and fluid staging which enhances the fine one-liners in the script.  She has also embellished the humour which is essential to such a story.

The acting is superb.  Paul Blackwell as Vere gives an inspired and touching performance.  Geoff Morrell has wonderful comic timing as ladies’ man Ralph and conservative man of cloth, Roger.  Rebecca Massey gives wonderful contrasting characterisations as Kate and the Vicar’s bumbling wife.  Matilda Bailey, Ksenja Logos, Yalin Ozucelik and Matthew Gregan bring dynamic energy to each of their characters.

Pip Runciman’s set is adaptable and clever, as is lighting by Nigel Levings, costumes by Renee Mulder and music/sound by Steve Francis.

VERE is a stimulating and invigorating play, one that questions our belief systems, mortality and quality of life.  For theatre-goers, like myself, who have lost a parent to dementia, it is also a touching and emotional journey.

VERE is playing at the Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House until December 7th.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ROMEO AND JULIET (STC)

Dylan Young and Eryn Jean Norvill plays the star crossed lovers. Pic Lisa Tomasetti
Dylan Young and Eryn Jean Norvill plays the star crossed lovers. Pic Lisa Tomasetti

With Kip Williams’s current production of R and J audiences get  a bold, brash and powerful reworking of the Bard’s star crossed lovers tale.

Everything is big and dramatic and  vivid as…one suspect that he was more than a little encouraged by Bazmark’s film to do something similar in a theatrical vein.

Plenty of dollars have been spent on the set and staging,- David Fleischer- which features multiple revolves and ‘boxed’ sets, and the costumes- Anna Lise Phillips as Juliet’s mother comes out in a lavish, extreme pink dress- everywhere there is opulence…extravagance.

Alan John’s, together with Nate Edmonson’s, soundscape works in well with the narrative, mixing cutting edge music bytes with orchestral tones.

Williams’s production, with lighting man Nicholas Rayment’s work, is visually stunning. Williams’s staging is excellent. The scene where Juliet is at the deep back of the theatre in just the barest of lighting, as she waits for Romeo’s appearance is mesmeric.

As is Eamon Farren as he makes his dramatic entrance, full of bravado, that kicks off the second half.

As the star crossed lovers, Eryn Jean Norvill and Dylan Young shine brightly. During the show they have to make some direct audiences from the front centre of the stage and they do so confidently and with eloquent phrasing.

Others to stand out in the cast include some highly experienced performers,- Colin Moody as Juliet’s Dad, Julie Forsyth as her Nurse and Mitchell Butel as the Friar.

Highly recommended, this Sydney Theatre Company production runs at the Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House until November 2. It is a long night, running over two and a half hours, but worth every minute.

 

 

 

 

ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD

Toby Schmitz, Christopher Stollery and Tim Minchin.  Pic Heidrun Lohr
Toby Schmitz, Christopher Stollery and Tim Minchin. Pic Heidrun Lohr

Many talents contribute to the making of a fine play, and in ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD which opened to an enthusiastic full house at the Sydney Theatre Company last Saturday, those talents were clearly visible.

The production was seamless, Simon Phillips’s direction flawless, the set both perfectly functional and satisfyingly inventive, the sound effects appropriate and the lighting (and, at all the right moments, the total darkness) effective.

As for the actors, all the cast were excellent and gave consummate performances. The stand-out ones, because of their major roles, were Tim Minchin as Rosencrantz, Toby Schmitz as Guildenstern, and Ewen Leslie as the Player. The play is long (about two and a half hours), and one has to admire their ability to memorise so many lines. Because the play is, in effect, a “three-hander”, its success, or otherwise, rides squarely on their shoulders. It can be stated, without reservation, that each meets that challenge adeptly. Indeed, for a large part of the play, Schmitz and Minchin are on the stage alone yet, by their actions, voices and timing- they seem to fill it.

Nevertheless, none of the above is truly memorable unless the play itself is a good one. History tells us that Tom Stoppard’s play must be very good, as it has been performed innumerable times all over the world since its premiere in 1966. Certainly it is replete with one-liners, puns and wit, and these all drew much laughter. But it must be said that without a knowledge of HAMLET you would not have any idea about the storyline, and even with that knowledge there were long periods where you would be equally lost.

 It is an existential play, outwardly hugely comic, and inwardly very sad. If you do not like this unique combination, then the fine exercise of all the aforesaid talents still won’t make watching this play a totally enjoyable experience. However if you do like that mix, then this production is truly great theatre.

This Sydney Theatre Company and Commonwealth Bank production of ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD, directed by Simon Phillips, opened at the Sydney Theatre, 22 Hickson Road, Walsh Bay on Saturday August 10 and is playing until Saturday September 14, 2013.

THE MAIDS

Isabella Huppert and Cate Blanchett. Pic Lisa Tomasetti
Isabella Huppert and Cate Blanchett. Pic Lisa Tomasetti

THE MAIDS…You saw it?…That’s the Sydney Theatre Company show with Cate Blanchett and the famous French  actress Isabella Huppert in it. Really?! I bet it was amazing…What was it like’?!

INTENSE.

This MAIDS exudes atmosphere like a long, piercing saxophone solo that feels like it is going to go on and ache forever.

Blanchett and Huppert play the two maids, and sisters too, Claire and Solange, who are symbolically on a cliff face and tottering over the edge.

They are in a live-in arrangement with their Mistress (Elizabeth Debicki), who they hate so much that it scintillates them. The disempowered (‘I have had enough of scrubbing the toilet, kneeling down to it like an altar’) are after annihilation.  They have visions of murdering her- hacking her to pieces and burying her in the forest. When she’s away from home, they spend half their time playing role plays mocking her, the other half obsessively plotting her demise.

Director Benedict Andrews maximises the tension on stage by bringing his filmic technique to the production. Video operators on either side of the perimeter of Alice Babbage’s stage film every movement the three actresses make and these images are then beamed onto a large video screen that faces the audience.  At times, the screen swaps back to still images of flowers, especially arum lilies- traditionally symbols of death.

Along with the continuous footage coming from the actresses, Andrews has other images on the screen including arum lilies- symbols of death.

Babbage’s set is breathtaking…stunningly capturing the grandeur and opulence of the Mistress’s parlour. Flowers are everywhere…..The back wall of the stage features the Mistress’s huge wardrobe….At the front of the stage is a small dressing room table and mirror.

There are many great moments. My pick…Elizabeth Debicki’s grand ‘power’ entrance as the Mistress in full regalia and wearing dark shades…her dismissively throwing some of her favourite dresses at Solange as if they don’t matter…Claire dressing as her Mistress, in a beautiful red gown with Solange submissively hanging onto the train of her dress.

Recommended, Benedict Andrews’s production for the Sydney Theatre Company of Jean Genet’s 1947 play THE MAIDS, in a new English language translation by Andrews together with Andrew Upton, opened at the Sydney Theatre, 22 Hickson Road, Walsh Bay on Saturday June 4 and plays until Saturday 20 July, 2013.

 

MRS WARREN’S PROFESSION

Eamon Farren and Lizzie Schebesta in Shaw’s classic. Pic Brett Boardman

Prostitution as a means of empowering women is a contentious notion even now, let alone in 1893 when MRS WARREN’S PROFESSION was written by Dublin-born social reformer George Bernard Shaw (who also wrote PYGMALION). No wonder it was banned from being performed in the UK by the Lord Chamberlain’s Office (a power which the office had until 1968); and that Sydney Theatre Company’s Artistic Director Andrew Upton describes the play as a ‘very modern’ one.

The profession of Mrs Warren (beautifully played by a loud and blowsy Helen Thomson) is that of brothel owner, and it is a lucrative one that has allowed her personable daughter Vivie, recently graduated from college, to lead a comfortable life. To date anyway…

The play opens in a sunlight garden, the backdrop of which is a high, cream-coloured wall dappled with thousands of pink and red rose-like blooms, its idyllic summery atmosphere a tribute to the set design skills of Renee Mulder and the lighting expertise of Nigel Levings.

In this garden Vivie is studying her law books when the first of a succession of single men enters, a middle-aged chap called Praed (Simon Burke), who is a friend of Vivie’s mother. Before long they are joined by Mrs Warren and Sir George Crofts, a late middle-aged buffoon. Much banter ensues. And then Frank Gardner (Eamon Farren), the spendthrift son of the local rector (Drew Forsythe) arrives.

Frank initially comes across as a harmless Wodehousian fop but becomes increasingly obnoxious and irritating — and a good shot to boot — almost to the extent of hindering one’s enjoyment of the play. Thankfully he is offset by Vivie, played in a delightfully feminine way — albeit in a slightly bookish and stilted late Victorian manner — by Lizzie Schebesta. Sir George too is not what he initially seems, and reveals a calculating, black heart convincingly played by Martin Jacobs. Thanks to Vivie’s steely determination of purpose however, some morality is finally imposed on an immoral world in the closing scene.

Veering dangerously close to farce at stages — Vivie is romantically pursued by three of the four principal characters and the other has had a fling with her mother; while Vivie’s paternity is the source of much ribald speculation — there are plenty of laughs to be had, mainly before the interval. There are probably one or two too many lengthy monologues for the liking of some, but not enough to spoil a vivacious evening’s theatre directed with as light a hand as the script allows by Sarah Giles.

MRS WARREN’S PROFESSION opened at the Sydney Theatre Company’s Wharf 1 Theatre on Tuesday 19th February and runs until Saturday 6th April. Due to popular demand there is a return season, at the same venue, between Thursday 4th and Saturday 20th July, 2013.

THE SECRET RIVER

Ray Gordon, Trevor Jamieson and Nathaniel Dean. Pic Heidrun Lohr

Seventeenth Century English poet Alexander Pope wisely wrote, ‘Know then thyself/ presume not God to scan/ the proper study of Mankind is Man’.

Great theatre makes for powerful studies of mankind. They explore how people tackle some of the most difficult and challenging predicaments that life can deliver.

As we sit in the audience, watching the action unfold on stage, we can ask ourselves frankly how would we cope with this situation?! What kind of journey, would this take us on?! How much would it test our mettle?

William Thornhill is a very average Joe. His story is he is an illiterate Thames bargeman who has been convicted of a felony and has been transported as a convict to Sydney Australia. The time period is 1806. His wife Sal and his two young kids come with him.

Once in Sydney, he is given a pardon by Governor Lachlan Macquarie and the authorities gives him 100 acres of prime riverfront acreage on the Hawkesbury, part of the new frontier for European settlers. It has the potential to make him very rich

What the authorities fail to tell him is that the land they gave him is Dharug land, an indigenous tribe who have lived there for thousands of years. They call the land, Dhirrumbin. The Thornhill family and the Dharug people soon come across each other, and it is like people from two different planets trying to communicate.

Thornhill has never met an indigenous person in his life. He sees them as just savages and wants them to bugger off, but they aren’t going anywhere. Thornhill is faced with the predicament, if they won’t bugger off peacefully then he will have to fight them. The Dharug people, too, are very uneasy with the new arrivals. They start a smoking ceremony.

What do William Thornhill and the Dharug people end up doing? What would I do? What would you do?

Go see for yourself the choices that are made and the journeys that are gone through. It will be one of the best two hours plus theatre you will see in your lives.

Andrew Bovell has deftly adapted Kate Grenville’s novel to the stage. Neil Armfield is a genius director and has a great cast to work with.

They are led by Nathaniel Dean, who gives a wonderful performance as William Thorhill, Anita Hegh as his homesick wife Sal, Ursula Yovich as Dhirrumbin and Trevor Jamieson as Ngalamalum. On stage musician Iain Grandage provides eloquent accompaniment.

THE SECRET RIVER is a production by the Sydney Theatre Company in association with the Sydney Festival, the Centennary of Canberra and the Perth International Arts Festival.

THE SECRET RIVER opened as part of the Sydney Festival on Wednesday 8th January and runs until Saturday 9th February at the Sydney Theatre, 22 Hickson Road, Walsh Bay. The production will then tour to Canberra and Perth.

© David Kary

20th January, 2012

Tags: Sydney Stage Reviews- THE SECRET RIVER, Kate Grenville, Neil Armfield, Andrew Bovell, Nathaniel Dean, Anita Hegh, Bruce Spence, Ursula Yovich, Jeremy Sims, Trevor Jamieson, Jeremy Sims, Ursula Yovich, Miranda Tapsell, Ian Grandage, Neil Armfield, Stephen Curtis, Tess Schofield, Sydney Festival, The Centennary Of Canberra, Perth International Arts Festival, Heidren Lohr, Sydney Arts Guide, David Kary

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.

 

 

In the Next Room or the vibrator play

 

Jackie McKenzie listens at the closed door

Prominent contemporary American playwright Sarah Ruhl chose a great subject, a quirky, little known medical sidelight from history, for her new play ‘In the Next Room or the vibrator play’ and out of it has created a tremendous, often hilarious play from it.  

In the late 19th century, some modern thinking physicians were trialling women who were suffering from hysteria by using a new electronic invention, the vibrator!  Ruhl has one such a Doctor as the protagonist in her play. Dr Givings (David Roberts) has created a separate room in his family home for his surgery. The play opens with the Doctor taking on a new patient, Sabrina Daldry (Helen Thomson). Together with her husband Mr Daldry (Marshall Napier) she comes to the surgery, complaining of  hysteria and a lack of satisfaction in her marriage. The treatment begins and after the initial shock Sabrina is soon rushing back for more!

Ruhl’s play turns on the fact that Dr Givings has kept his wife Catherine (Jacqueline McKenzie) in the dark about his new treatment technique.  A young mother who spends most of her time at home, Catherine notices how Sabrina and her husband’s other female patients come out of her husband’s treatment room muh chirpier than when they went in! Her curiousity is pricked, what actually happens in the next room?!  She starts prodding some of his patients, what actually happens in there?! Sabrina is a bit cagey about it but one day, when her husband is out on an errand, they manage to get access and his secret world is revealed!

‘In The Next Room’ works beautifully as high pitched comedy of sexual mores. This play’s  achievement is also that it works, just as well, as a poignant study of a  marriage that has lost its way, of a wife who is deeply lonely and miserable, and of a husband who is totally self and career focused.

Pamela Rabe crafts a very satisfying Australian premiere production. Tracy Grant Lord set and costume design places us beautifully in the Victorian  era. The performances are a treat. Jackie McKenzie plays the waif like, neglected wife beautifully. David Roberts impresses as the emotionally disconnected husband. Mandy McElhinney is hilarious as the good Doctor’s deadpan faced assistant. Helen Thomson shines, giving a great comic performance as the ‘born again’ Sabrina. Marshall Napier plays her archly conservative husband. Josh McConville plays Dr Givings first male patient to receive the new treatment and his scenes are hilarious.

 A great night out, Pamela Rabe’s production of Sarah Ruhl’s play ‘In The Next Room or the vibrator play’ opened at the Drama theatre, Sydney Opera House on Friday 11th February and plays until Saturday 2nd April, 2011.