The premise is simple. Spouses Kitty Witless and Dan Von Dandy were accidentally frozen under a torrent of snow and cocaine in the 1920s, but were discovered and revived in our very recent times of global warming. Both happen to be brilliant performers, and have found their way to Sydney, just in time to present their show for the Mardi Gras season.
Written in 1977, this “play with music” appeared just two years before the inaugural Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras parade. It contains some of the earliest progressive depictions of same sex relationships, and is an excellent choice for the New Theatre to present it in conjunction with the Mardi Gras festival this year.
The work comes from a time before political correctness, and includes many references to ethnicity, gender and sexual preference that could make contemporary audiences cringe, but director Alice Livingstone is mindful of the change in context and deals with those awkward moments shrewdly and with sensitivity.
Bob Fosse directed and choreographed the iconic Sweet Charity, on stage and on film, in the late 1960s. The dance sequences are some of the most striking moving images ever seen, so one of the main challenges in staging the work today would be the treatment given to the re-creation of those scenes.
The current production at Hayes Theatre Co, helmed by director Dean Bryant and choreographer Andrew Hallsworth, straddles between faithfulness and innovation. There is an acknowledgment that times and audiences have changed, but also an awareness that the immortal is a hard act to follow.
Aerial acrobatics can be relied upon to provide exciting thrills, as it easily evokes sensations of tension and vertigo, but to create narratives and imagery that bear strong aesthetic appeal within that framework is a challenging one. OCKHAM’S RAZOR succeeds in presenting beautiful imagery and emotionally involving pieces while allowing acrobatics to remain centre stage. Their stylistic choices are always simple, but they are masters at communicating to our eyes. They know exactly what we look at at every point in time, and they feed us everything we need by controlling how our eyes move and what we focus on.
Featuring a diverse selection from the Sydney cabaret scene, Short+Sweet encapsulates the best of our weird and wacky performers, all of whom are idiosyncratic and many, talented and original. The inaugural event concluded with an awards night where winners were announced (list below), based on votes from a judging panel, as well as audience selections. It is noteworthy that among the 40+ acts, a vast majority of participants were female, even though the winners list reads to be fairly gender balanced. This is a space that attracts female artists, and Short+Sweet should be lauded for its establishment.
With AM I, Shaun Parker & Company continues to redefine Australian dance and identity. This work relies heavily on traditional Indian forms of performance and Chinese martial arts, to create a new contemporary dance that is not only about Australia but also an international landscape. As societies come to terms with technological advancements and multiplicity in their cultural compositions, art begins to conflate and we seem to be arriving at a time when a universality, in creativity and practice, usurps geographical differences. Shaun Parker’s work is international not only because of its high standards, but also because of its global language.
THE CAKE MAN was written and staged originally in the early 1970s, from the perspective of Aboriginal Australians, about life on a mission in country NSW. Forty years on, a contemporary staging remains relevant and poignant. There is nothing dated or unfamiliar about the characters and their plight, and therein lies the tragedy. Robert J. Merritt’s script is colourful and textured. It is also honest and brave, giving voice to the original occupants of our land who are now ethnic minorities as a result of systematic genocide over generations. Works of this nature are highly important, and fundamental to the rebuilding and atonements that need to be made.
Director Kyle J. Morrison’s use of space is sensitive, instinctual and intelligent. He creates a sense of campfire storytelling that draws us in, and the earthiness he evokes by keeping all actors on stage at all times, gives the production a rare intimacy and purity. The work has a beautiful languidness, but a couple of scenes could benefit from a tighter pace, or maybe slight edits would add further interest to the plot.
Young actor James Slee is certainly one to watch. He has a natural ease on stage, and performs with a kind of naturalism that is striking in its simplicity but also lively and passionate. Irma Woods is above all, a performer with great sincerity and authenticity. There is no sense of a character being put on, only the most thorough blurring of lines between actor and role. Luke Carroll in THE CAKE MAN shows himself to be one of the best actors of his generation. His charisma is undeniable, magnetic and powerful. His use of voice and movement is animated yet realistic, and completely delightful to watch. The fearlessness in Carroll’s portrayal of Sweet William elevates the play, giving it an emotional quality that all audiences will find irresistible.
At the heart of THE CAKE MAN is a burning desire for recovery, progression, and emancipation. It is a small morsel of the Aboriginal experience, but it encapsulates so much that is true in contemporary Australian lives, and so much that needs to be examined and advanced. We need stories like this, and we need them to propel from the fringes to the big, wide mainstream.
THE CAKE MAN is playing the Belvoir Street Theatre, 25 Belvoir Street, Surry Hills until Sunday December 8.
Suzy Wrong’s review was first published on her website covering the Sydney theatre scene- www.suzygoessee.com
When an actor and a singer come together to create a work in the cabaret space, it is a sure sign that they are on a mission to break theatrical rules in order to create something unique and fresh. ON/OFF certainly gives us something new and innovative, but more than that, this is a work that entertains, fascinates, and connects on many levels. It takes its audience on an emotional roller coaster ride, well aware that it is the contrast of funny and sad that makes each reaction more powerful. We laugh and cry, and laugh again. With its unusual structure and excellent performances, the show forces us to let down our guard, and takes control of all our sentiments.
Scott Witt’s direction is superb. He constantly plays with juxtapositions, making use of the wildly different characteristics of the two actors, and the spacial concepts of on stage and off stage, and crafts a work that is as emotionally volatile as it is confident in its structure and plot. The journey is incredibly bumpy, but the destination is crystal clear. The experience of witnessing one actor on stage, and the other off, while listening to a familiar cabaret standard, is a pleasure that has to be seen to be believed.
Marissa Dikkenberg’s depiction of her character’s disintegration is marvelous. Sara is a bland “Stepford housewife” type, who goes through a thorough and clamorous break down, progressing from a chirpy and sober state of delusion into a complete drunken mess. Dikkenberg has a strong singing voice, but uses her skills carefully to maintain the inevitability of her character. Lisa Chappell’s presence in the tiny Bordello Theatre is colossal, and her acting is faultless. Her drama and comedy are both high octane, but the gory authenticity she puts into her work makes every moment convincing. Chappell’s performance is determined to hit her audience like a ton of bricks. It is unabashed, unapologetic theatricality at its most flamboyant and audacious, and completely delicious.
This is alternative art, but formulated with the intention to communicate to wide audiences. It is a story about life’s disappointments, human resilience, and the value of friendship. These themes are universal, and also passionate. The words to one of the show’s songs sum things up best, “you’ve got to laugh a little, cry a little… and when the world is through with us, we’ve got each other’s arms.” Many things happen in On/Off, but what endures is The Glory Of Love.
Lisa Chappell’s show ON/OFF is running at the Bordello Theatre, Kings Cross until December 15.
Suzy Wrong’s review was originally published on her website covering the Sydney theatre scene, www.suzygoessee.com
Every show is a collaborative effort comprised of many disciplines and disparate elements, but in The Maintenance Room, the actors’ performances are so fine that it is hard for the audience to focus beyond their spectacular work.
Gerry Greenland’s script has an excellent plot that never gives room for any predictability, and its every twist and turn keeps us engaged and fascinated. The story might not be particularly interesting, but Greenland’s storytelling is calculatedly clever. However, his depiction of the two women characters (who we hear a lot about but do not appear on stage) disappointingly utilises the madonna and whore dichotomy, which is convenient and somewhat regressive.
Allan Walpole is director and set designer, and he does both jobs marvelously. The set is complex, realistic and believable, providing a wide variation of levels and spaces for movement and activity during performance. Walpole’s work as director is much more subtle. He wields an invisible hand through the show, but we see extraordinary chemistry between the actors, and their many dialogues are timed to perfection. It is impossible to divorce the actors abilities from Walpole’s direction, but he must be given credit for the liveliness they bring from start to finish, even when the scenes are quiet and sorrowful.
THE MAINTENANCE ROOM is really about the actors, Kim Knuckey and Lynden Jones. Their portrayals of the complicated experience of human suffering, and the constant shifting of emotions in that space of grief and fear, are incredibly real and compelling. Jones masterfully manipulates physical performance and internal authenticity, accurately balancing emotional realism with theatricality. Knuckey’s work impresses with the remarkable believability of his character. The being he creates on stage is palpable, and the rawness of his crisis is felt as undeniable as the flesh and blood right before our eyes.
Theatre is about many things, but when it is about stunning performances, the experience is immensely rewarding. Most of us are likely to remember that when we fell in love with the stage, it was the work of actors who first drew us in. Great acting is divine, and THE MAINTENANCE ROOM is magnificent because of it.
THE MAINTENANCE ROOM is playing the King Street Theatre Newtown until Saturday November 30, 2013.
(Suzy Wrong’s review of THE MAINTENANCE ROOM first appeared in her blog:- www.suzygoessee.com).
The Australian Ballet’s latest classical offering is a double bill with works from the Romantic era, La Sylphide from 1836 and Paquita,1847. The “grand pas de deux” from Paquita opens the program with electric vibrancy. It is an exciting extract from the original full length work, with principal dancers Lana Jones and Kevin Jackson showcasing their extraordinary technical abilities. Jackson has a dynamic hold of the stage, with magnetic presence and a strapping physique that is undeniably exquisite. Jones’ confidence is spellbinding, and puts on a riveting performance that thrills with its sheer beauty.
In La Sylphide, the story of a Scottish farmer who falls in love with a forest spirit is brought to life with some of the most stunning set and lighting design seen on the Australian stage. The sense of ethereality they produce is seductive, and the fantasy the audience craves is magically rendered so that we are transported through time and space.
Vivienne Wong is memorable as the farmer’s fiancee, impressing with her dancing as well as acting abilities. Madeleine Eastoe is the Sylph, creating lines and movement that are delightful and almost supernatural in their delicacy and lightness, but the slightness of her frame does mean that she can at times, be obscured by the vastness of the production. Daniel Gaudiello as the farmer James is handsome and strong (physically and technically), and every bit the leading man of fairy tales but requires a small dose of artistic hubris to be even more compelling.
Modern lives are increasingly mundane. Technology encourages us to retreat and evolve into beings more and more insular and impassive. Witnessing the dancers of our national ballet company is a reminder of the human capacities at achieving unfathomable heights of beauty and athleticism. Like all great artists, they bring to us the great gift of inspiration that uplifts us from our daily lives; as we stop to smell the roses at the theatre, and realise the potential each ordinary day may hold.
The Australian Ballet’s LA SYLPHIDE is playing the Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House until Monday November 25.
(This review was originally published in Suzy Wrong’s performing arts blog:- www.suzygoessee.com).