Judith is a Sydney theatre worker who was ‘born in a trunk’. With a lifelong passion for all performing arts, she has turned her hand to many jobs in film, TV and live theatre. Ranging from earning pocket money for trimming the back legs off tables, so they sat flat on raked stages to owning her own touring theatre company. A lighting designer by trade, Judith experiences performances with a technical eye and an understanding of the jobbing actor and the theatrical bedrock which supports them.
The program for BEYOND DESIRE at the Hayes Theatre is styled as an Edwardian newspaper and what I have to report about the show is both good and bad. Firstly the bad news: I really did not take to this show … for me it was ‘Beyond Dire’. The good news: it’s highly possible that I am wrong. And why is this good news? Because I love the Hayes Theatre. They give new musicals a go, they encourage talent, and they never short-change their loyal audiences. They have longevity and resilience and I have seen some great stuff there this year. Plus … the wonderful Nancye Hayes is on the boards again.
BEYOND DESIRE is the name of booklet of poems written by the dead patriarch of the Pemberton family (Phillip Lowe), father to Anthony (Blake Bowden) and husband to Louise (Chloe Dallimore). Reporting of his demise is the headline story of the broadsheet program. “Man found Dead in London Hotel.” His sudden popping off is ruled a suicide but Anthony and his Oxford roommate, James (Ross Hannaford) believe that there is dirty work afoot.
In Act Two of THE LEGEND OF KING O’MALLEY the main character strikes trouble trying to charm his way into the early 1900’s Labor Party. The devil on his shoulder advises him, “Less matter, more art”. That’s what he does to win them over. This set my theatrical brain to wondering … should this restaging of a silly and powerful work, balance matter and art or should it strive to be one or the other?!
Based on a possibly, somewhat, could have happened in parts kind of truth, the show tells us of King O’Malley. A Tasmanian politician elected to the Australian Parliament, O’Malley so obfuscated his origins that maybe he did sell his soul to the devil as we see in the first few scenes of the play. Continue reading O’Malley @ The Reginald→
Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd: he served a dark and vengeful God!” After a visit to the New Theatre’s website advertising their current production of Stephen Sondheim’s SWEENEY TODD, with its graphic image of a throat being cut and a viewing of the teaser video with its huge blood splash finale, one might be forgiven for thinking a dark evening is in store. In lesser hands perhaps the show could float in gore like the 2007 movie. This production, however, focuses on an exploration of what it takes to make a monster. It seems that answer is … love!
Benjamin Barker arrives back on the docks of Victorian London. He is accompanied by his shipboard companion, Anthony Hope. Anthony knows this man as Sweeney Todd. He rescued Sweeney from a mysterious shipwreck and honours his vow not to ask questions even after a mysterious beggar woman confronts them both. Sweeney’s past is revealed as he revisits his old haunts and meets up with Mrs Lovett who recognises him at once as the man she adored from afar. She has even saved his silver razors and offers him her upstairs room as a barber shop. Continue reading Sweeney Todd @ The New→
There was a full house for the Sunday matinee of THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE by Chatswood Musical Society (CMS) and they absolutely loved the show. They laughed and sighed in all the right places and cheered and clapped the performers at the bows. That’s the thing about the supporters of amateur and pro-am theatre companies in Sydney, they are very loyal. There are lots of reasons why but top of the list is that everyone involved in putting on a show like this works really hard to earn and honour that support.
I SPIED is truth in advertising. David Callan worked for our esteemed National Security Agency, ASIO, for 7 years. After seeing his one man show tonight, maybe esteemed isn’t the right word to describe the organization. But I’m loath to use the word that springs to mind … they might be listening. He doesn’t give everything away but surely someone has their eye on this guy.
Despite being too tall and good looking to be a surveillance officer, David Callan is a funny man. What possessed him to think that his innately comic view of life was compatible with a career as a spy is well explained in his show. We also get an insight into the absurdities inside an organization which allows a clown to rise to a position of having every generated secret paper pass through his hands for filing. Callan is a clown but not a buffoon. He has a serious point to make about the ASIO he knew. Continue reading I Spied @ Giant Dwarf→
Black Raven Productions’ HAUS is set in an underground cellar during the Nazi occupation of Poland in 1942. A family is hiding there. On the sparse stage there are 3 suitcases piled on of top of each other. In essence, this is the problem. Too much baggage. Any artwork which deals with Holocaust events speaks to an audience which has experienced many, many previous incarnations of the horrific themes. For an audience to pack away their previous familiarity and buy into a new representation, the show must be really, really good. This show is not that … yet …
A recent academic study conducted about the British Performing Arts (2011-2012) reported that only 38% of people working within the industry were women. This almost 2:1 ratio favoring men has been taken up and there is a momentum gathering worldwide for this gender imbalance to be redressed.
ATYP can be very proud of its record and THE LITTLE MERMAID: Not Suitable for Children cements its reputation for supporting young artists who might well become the vanguard of the equity battle. There are 23 young women in this show. Not all of whom will become professionals but they are the audiences and the benefactors of theatre into the next decades.
Starting from a pretty girlie topic: fairy stories, this production immerses the audience in an experiential rendering of the Hans Christian Anderson’s original, dark tale. The mermaid falls for the prince she meets when visiting land. She sacrifices all she knows but it is not enough. Director Danielle O’Keefe in her program notes, refers to the mermaid as an “ambitious, heroic, lost, lonely girl”. We meet 23 of them blended into the telling of the story. Continue reading The Little Mermaid→
LEAP OF FAITH is certainly a leap into the dark for the Hills Musical Theatre Company (HMTC). More known for traditional offerings such as next year’s Jesus Christ Superstar and Guys and Dolls, this thriving company has placed their faith in a 2010 Alan Menken and Glenn Slater musical taken from a 1992 film of the same name. A musical that closed in the Big Apple in 2012 after only 20 performances, losing millions of dollars.
HMTC’s production is the Australian premiere. Maybe what the Broadway show needed was more volunteers because this company has created a terrific show which is worth more than the 5 performance run it is getting.
Jonas Nightingale (Dave Bleier) is a pseudo evangelist, sham healer and ecclesiastical con man. His tour bus breaks down outside a dirtwater town in Kansas and he decides to hold a revival season while they wait a few days for the repair parts. Usually the third night of meetings is where the big bucks roll in and the troupe skips town. Continue reading Faith in the Hills→
I confess to a bit of stress sweating in the first ten minutes of MIRACLE CITY. I really felt like I was in the audience of an evangelical television program and this made for very uncomfortable viewing. Just a bit too realistic for a traditional girl like me. I swear if they had passed around a plate I would have been diving into my purse for some change. This is a real time show which purports to happen during the live-to-air broadcast of that specialized Tennessee brand of family preachers and tele-evangelists in the Jim and Tammy Faye Baker mould.
In revival at the Hayes Theatre in Potts Point, MIRACLE CITY gives us the Truswells. Initially presenting as the ideal family of faith, Lora-Lee (Blazey Best) and Ricky (Mike McLeish) are celebrating a 20 year marriage. Witnesses to their love story are their 16 year old daughter, Loretta (Hilary Cole) and her younger brother, Ricky-Bob (Cameron Holmes). Together the family has a vision for place called Miracle City, an amusement park for faith and fun.
Supporting the TV funds drive are the Citadel Singers (Marika Aubrey, Esther Hannaford and Josie Lane) and stage manager and preacher-in-training Billy (Jason Kos). The need for money to build this place for prayer and play is the driver of the story and brings the Rev Millard Sizemore (Peter Kowitz) into their family. His help is conditional though and Ricky has to make a horrible decision. And …well … Ricky is a bastard as far as I’m concerned. See … I’m too involved!
MIRACLE CITY was first produced in Sydney in 1996 and after brief, bright flame of 4 weeks flickered out as the creative forces behind it moved on. Written by the late Nick Enright with music from Max Lambert (who is Musical Director for this revival), the original director was Gale Edwards. That season is spoken of in legendary terms. Luckily we have Darren Yap to direct this renewal. He worked as Enright’s assistant in 1997 when a modified version was produced for WAAPA. Yap’s program notes indicate that this show includes influences from that outing. With this pedigree, there would be a danger of making this a reverent affair but instead of baggage we have an exuberant, entertaining production with a big wow factor for such a small space.
The theatre is stripped to a black box and the set looks like nothing. Just a large act curtain in a cable channel TV studio. Yes, but a curtain that closes to hide, can also be opened to reveal. The costumes too, look simple. 80’s glamour, nice suits, beautifully tailored ecclesiastical uniforms, red and blue or gold and black as the palette. They too, hide and reveal. Especially in the final scene.
And if we are talking about secrets hidden and conversations revealed, rich ambers contrast with glaring white lighting states to, literally, put the hypocrisy into relief. In addition, the choreographer’s hand is not just evident in the movement to music but in the movement into on-camera personas and the donning of the ‘sugar smiles’.
Set Designer Michael Hankin, Lighting Designer Hugh Hamilton, Choreographer Kelly Abbey, Costume Designer Roger Kirk and Wig Designer Ben Moir have created the perfect structure for the cast to tell the story.
Everyone in this show is terrific and each performer brings their own story on with them. The characters travel their arcs with absolute believability. The voices are great and blend beautifully, the emotions are raw and available. As I looked along the line of cast and band members when they took their bows, I was thinking that I couldn’t single out any one performance over another. When they came back for the second bow, this ensemble didn’t form another line. They clumped together on centre stage and that grouping said it all.
All the songs in this show are stand-alone gospel songs in a variety of styles from the rollicking “Raise the Roof” to a superbly rendered ballad, “Moving On”. The proselytization was very well realized and several times during the show my suspension of disbelief threatened to draw an ‘Halleluiah’ to the lips. There was a full house and a well-deserved standing ovation so you should get your tickets as soon as you can. This highly talented group of artists may well move on after this season and another incarnation of MIRACLE CITY will enter the annals of theatre-lore.
MIRACLE CITY is playing at the Hayes Theatre until November 16th.
In the entertainment Industry you have to make your own opportunities. The work doesn’t just come to you because you have drive and talent. Exclaim Theatre Company has the stated aim of providing opportunities for the professional growth of the alumni of AIM, the Australian Institute of Music. In GLORY DAYS, a one-act musical which is the company’s second outing, four talented young men have the stage.
It is a year after their graduation from some small town American High School and four best friends meet on the football field where they bonded though being crap at football and bullied by Jocks. Continue reading Glory Days→
Despite its venomous title, BECOMING POISON is a very gentle experience. Most cabaret shows hit you over the head with a rolled up toe-tapper right at the off. Instead, we are treated to two quiet ballads to ease us into a musical floriade of Jazz, folk, contemporary pop and music theatre.
BECOMING POISON is a concept from the mind of Sydney Fringe favourite, Holly Summers- Clarke. With Rodney Fisher (writer/director) and Joel Jenkins (musical director) as her collaborators, she attempts to rehabilitate that super villain and Batman nemesis, Poison Ivy. In this imagining, Ivy is an eco-warrior rescuing the flora of the earth from its human enemies … one poisonous kiss at a time. Continue reading Becoming Poison at the El Rocco Room→
POTTED POTTER, created and performed by Daniel Clarkson and Jeff Turner, is on a world tour and it sold out last time they were in Sydney in 2012.
This is a magical experience of course and whatever magic potion these performers take before the show, I want some. They hurl themselves around the stage in a manic 70 minute ‘tour de theatre’ billed as, ”All 7 Harry Potter Books in 70 minutes.” All seven books are definitely there in one form or another. So are the loved characters of this well-thumbed world. Naturally, the un-nameable evil character we love to hate is there too.
Dan arrives in the auditorium without fanfare as Jeff sits on the train at platform 9 3/4 reading book number one. Dan interacts with young and old alike, shaking hands and getting high fives while admiring the many audience costumes. Jeff is engrossed in the book. Dan, who has HP1 emblazoned on his shirt then introduces HP2 (Jeff) as the world’s greatest Harry Potter expert and the boys discuss the show they have got for us. The houselights are still up but the pair have the audience’s rapt attention. Continue reading Potted Potter→
Aged between 15 and 50, five women share the stage at Belvoir Downstairs at the moment. No, that’s not quite right. Five performers share the stage as one woman. No, that’s not quite right either. They are all the one character. And they don’t really share the stage, they coexist on it. Actually, there’s a lot of beer in this production, I may be confused.
IS THIS THING ON, directed by Kit Brookman & Zoë Coombs Marr, is the story of Brianna. Misnamed by a long gone mother for the song ‘Rhiannon’, she has a misplaced drive to make people laugh. We meet her 15 year old self at her first stand up gig: a misfit staring into the spotlight. Things don’t improve much as we meet her at about 20, 30 and 40. Or when we encounter her 50ish self, trying to make a comeback after a spectacular implosion. This a convoluted and time shifted production with these 5 Briannas co-existing and interacting with each other. Continue reading Is This Thing On?→
It is no accident that American playwright Neil LaBute’s THE SHAPE OF THINGS is on the HSC Drama syllabus. It is a play to be acted not read. In her program notes Emily Burke, directing it for Backstage at UTS, refers to this production as a ‘living piece of theatre’. And so it is. It is very well lifted off the page.
The piece begins and ends in a visual arts gallery. Evelyn, a visual arts student, is lurking around a male statue featuring a fig leaf with a spray can and intent. She has crossed a line before we even know her. Continue reading Neil LaBute’s THE SHAPE OF THINGS→
With no program available to linger over a glass of wine with before the show, one is not quite sure what to expect of JURASSIC! THAT IS ONE BIG PILE OF MUSICAL. But there is truth in the titling. Dinosaurs? Yep. All sorts too. Raptors, T Rex and a sweet, sad Triceratops who manages to steal her scene. “There won’t be any babies because I only made ladies” sings the scientist but nature finds a way. And in the tradition of the Cambridge Footlights, this show is a breeding ground for both dinosaurs and young talent. Continue reading JURASSIC: THE MUSICAL→
Brother Daniel is captured looking away from us with a slight smile at some unseen event. His face is young, handsome, charismatic and his yellow scarf of freedom stands out against his khakis. The poster for BROTHER DANIEL introduces the man with whom we will spend the next two hours. But this is not the man we meet.
When this new work opens, the titular character is a broken thing. The iconographic photo of him as a revolutionary leader is there onstage, above the bible. It is at the bedside in the small hotel when a visitor is shown to her room but the real man is collapsed on the floor of the stark, bloody cell. He has been there since the audience began filtering into the small space. Continue reading Brother Daniel→
American playwright John Patrick Shanley’s play FOUR DOGS AND A BONE (1993) is theatrical take on a filmic confection. There are only four scenes in the play, four characters and the bone of the title is the unnamed film in which they are all involved.
We are introduced to an evidently West Coast airhead actress, Brenda (Melinda Dransfield) discussing her current film with the producer, Bradley (Sonny Vrebac). Brenda’s famous step brother is one of the main topics of conversation. What he and his friends can do for the film. Brenda name drops a famous family friend with whom she has script consulted and she has copious notes on how to fix the movie. Brenda and Bradley agree that the best solution is to reduce the role played by Collette (Amanda Collins). Collette meanwhile has engineered a drunken meeting with Victor, (Paul Gerrard) the writer. He has just lost his mother and is depressed, loveless and verklempt. Collette and Victor agree that the best solution is to reduce the role played by Brenda. Continue reading Four Dogs And A Bone→
LOVE BITES at the Hayes Theatre at the moment. Well, sometimes it bites, taking a large chunk out of your heart but at other times it just nibbles your ear and makes you love it. Toe tappers and heartbreak songs sit well together in this deceptively cabaret outing from Wooden Horse Productions.
Act One of the show opens with ‘Falling in Love’ and this is reprised in bookends at interval and the finale. The quartet (Kirby Burgess, Tyran Parke, Adele Parkinson and Shaun Rennie) make it very clear that there is to be no judgement about where the human heart will love. The final tableau of this intro gently reinforces to the audience that they are about to run the gamut of desire. Continue reading Love Bites at the Hayes Theatre→
For me, Sydney is at its best in September. Warm, sunny days and cool nights which can be spent in odd little theatres watching unique shows courtesy of the Fringe Festival. “No Exit” is both these things. It’s playing in an Archway and it’s a text which is more often read than performed.
Written by Jean-Paul Sartre in 1944 (this translation by Paul Bowles), NO EXIT explores the situation of three souls locked together in a small cell in Hell. They are brought there by a butler with no eyelids (Mathias Olofsson). Joseph (Matthew R Grego) is a coward and a wife beater; Ines (Beverley Bugeja) is a seducer of women and Estelle (Stephanie Cowton) has committed the gravest of crimes. They are confined together in this room, with no darkness, for eternity. Each arrives expecting fire, brimstone and a torturer. It is later they realise that they are not haphazardly cramped together, they are each other’s torturers. Continue reading Jean-Paul Sartre’s NO EXIT→
THE SHEDS, which is part of the Sydney Fringe festival, originated as part of the Melbourne Fringe, and is travelling to the Adelaide Fringe in February. The play is a niche piece and the gay community will probably take it to their heart as the community has done elsewhere. The 3 male actors have travelled with the show and they are beautiful boys who look sporty and at home in the locker room setting. Continue reading The Sheds→
This is a show that explodes open with chaos and empty wine bottles. To “Que sera sera” on the soundtrack, the Aunt Agony of the title attempts to straighten up her disordered life in hilarious fashion. Straight away the audience fell for her disarming beige-ness and we cheered this manipulating manic psycho through the next 90 minutes.
AUNT AGONY is the story of Christine (Sasha Dyer) who just wants a quiet, free room in the ‘burbs to lick her wounds from a failed relationship. With no support from her mother or male menopause father, she ends up with Aunt Lynn (Taylor Owynns). Aunt Lynn has changed since the death of her mother and Christine is in for a ride. Plus, there seems to be a mystery here somewhere. Not least of all what Auntie sees in Tommy (Dave Kirkham) the revolting building caretaker who can’t even use the toaster! Continue reading Aunt Agony→
We are so lucky to live in a city with a festival like The Fringe which gives us the opportunity to enjoy quirky little plays like OFFICE INK. Set in an office supply company, this show is somewhere between a post-it on the staff noticeboard and an inter-office memo. It’s not serious enough to be an email or pretentious enough to be a ring binder. And it’s definitely not stationary!
A large shipment of ink cartridges has gone missing and office manager Patricia Apple (Therase Neve) is threatening her staff of three. Someone’s head will roll at the end of the day so everyone except the office hunk, Calvin (Gabriel Aprahamian) is investigating. Personal foibles and secrets are revealed as Christina (Jade Alex) and David (Fadi Alameddin) team up to hunt down the culprit. Continue reading Office Ink→
Setting: The setting for Act 1 was a domestic home suggested by an open house frame which clearly delineated rooms without walls. The cast were on stage reading a bedtime story to the children and working at the table when the audience entered.
The stage was stripped to black brick and cement and black floor, the thin steel rods of the structure cleverly placed to maximise the use of the playing space. One audience member in the front row with long legs clearly had his feet in the living room. The doors had a steel lintel at 2m high which made the frame even easier to accept. There was no fussy miming of doors even when a character came from the bathroom so the action flowed freely. Having the children run around the space made the domesticity even more present and the disregard for the traditional facing of the audience by performers also reinforced this.
The audience seating is in 3 wedges at Belvoir. The hallway of the house faced the Audience left wedge. On the OP side were kitchen down (benchtop, sink, cupboards, stool), dining room mid (table and chairs) and bedroom up (bed and side tables). At the US of the hallway was the bathroom with toilet and double sink. On the P side of the hallway was the lounge room down (sofa, toys, tub style chair facing US) and the kids room up (bunk bed).
Act 2: presented a much more claustrophobic scene, delineating a small flat with a galley kitchen (sink, benchtops and a free standing fridge) and living room with a fold out bed and extra chair facing US and coffee table. This time the set was aligned to the centre wedge of audience. The ten minutes unfolding and making up of the bed was enjoyed by the audience and many people around the audience had a little chat about it. The lady next to me was asleep by then and the couple behind me had been talking loudly about being bored. So this piece of business gave them a new topic.
I think the uprights, even though they were thin, would have affected the view of most audience at some time. Unfortunately for me, it was the scene in the bedroom when Nora is about to slam the door of the doll’s house.
Lighting: The final lines of the play referred to darkness and for mine, that certainly was a theme. It was very dim. I thought it was just me but when there were important events in Act 1, I could see people leaning forward to peer into the action. There were very few lanterns front of house and when cast moved DS the bottom of their face disappeared. I didn’t actually recognise Damien Ryan until he threw his head up to say “God”. It was only time his face was lit clearly. Additionally, the emotional hit of the girl’s little black shoes was completely lost. Moody might have been the imperative but it didn’t work for me or my companions. One of our party thought it might have been to avoid possible shadows from the set struts.
Barndoored fresnels and par cans provided the back lighting in the house but even so the Audience R front rows were lit up in Act 1. The conventional lanterns were on low intensity and very yellow especially for the night scenes. There were no colour changes, no blues for night etc just different intensity levels. There were a couple of white LEDs for extra depth. And some silk or frost on the perch pars.
There was well timed area lighting for the home. Well timed also, was the DBO just before Act 1 Sc2. It served to inform the audience that something had changed, even though lights up revealed the same scene. Also well operated, was the gradual fade up of intensity leading to the denouement of Act 2.
There were practical lamps for bedroom, practical reading lights for the bunks and a living room lamp in the flat.
Audio: In Act 1 there was a tinkling, glockenspiel sound which was so close to my family’s Grandfather clock that I knew it was about time passing. It was echoed in an alarm sound and the landline ring and a mobile message tone in Act 2.
This light sound was supplement by an occasional bassy, reverbed, thumping which was more pronounced at the end of the Act and did not reoccur in Act 2. At one stage, the children were both using earphones so that the child cast were not exposed to the porn discussion, then, as a neat segue into the next scene, the daughter began dancing. At this time, the sound effect changed to thump in time to the child’s moves. The sound designer also resisted letting the audience in on what Nora was dancing to, but the kids knew. The sparse SFX were really well placed and deeply evocative.
It’s not often I get into a philosophical debate at interval about a Sound Effect. I thought it was the sound of Nora being metaphorically stomped and beaten down by Torvald. My companion believed it was a rumbling precursor to the shaking of the marriage foundations. But he’s a therapist!
NORA plays upstairs at Belvoir Street until the 14th September.
This review was first published in Judith Greenaway’s blog-http://www.sydneylivetheatretechnicalnotes.blogspot.com.au
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