Theatre

Shorter and Sweeter 2004

It was time to catch some more theatre. I scanned the What’s On Guide and something leapt out at me. It was the Shorter and Sweeter season at the Studio theatre, Sydney Opera House.

For those not in the know, since January 2002 there has been an annual short play festival called ‘Short and Sweet’ at the Newtown theatre in Sydney. In an inspired decision, Mark Cleary, the Festival’s Artistic Director, has put together this current show which features a selection of eight favourite pieces from the canon of Short and Sweet works.

I walked into the Studio Theatre, one of the best theatre spaces in Sydney, with a positive attitude. I wasn’t going to set the bar too high, if it was an entertaining night, and at least a couple of the eight plays worked well, I’d leave as happy as Larry. It would only be if all of the plays were lousy, and the actors pranced around like lost sheep, would I go home and kick the cat!

The news is that there was no need for the cat to hide under the sofa. Sure the night was a little bit of a mixed bag, but there was good stuff in it.

One of the pieces had me in absolute stitches, and was worth the price of admission in itself. The piece was Mrinalini Kamath’s ‘The Sum of All Parts’, directed by Megan Finlay and played by Bryan Moses, Craig Anderson, and Alison Barnes.

The setting is a young woman’s living room. In through the door walks a young couple. The woman leads the guy over to the sofa. It is easy to work out what’s going on. The gal is as horny and hell but the guy keeps on keeping fending her off. It isn’t long before she asks him what’s up, is he gay and so on…The guy comes out with his problem and herein lies much of the comedy.

He tells her that the libido part of him has split from him and become another person. At this time, onto the stage walks his libido in the shape of an ugly, fat, ocker looking guy, who falls onto the sofa and starts hoeing into his takeaway muchies.

She is ofcourse aghast at seeing this part of him. Any way now that the truth has come out, the couple get down to some serious canoodling. The only thing is that when the lovemaking starts to get serious Mr Libido comes over from the sofa and wants some action. As soon as this happens she is completely turned off. A huge exercise in frustration! This was a hilarious vignette which was superbly played out.

One of the features and in fact one of the delights of ‘Shorter and Sweeter’ was its hugely varied program. Christophher Johnson’s ‘Borys the Rotweiler’ was a good comic performance piece for actor Winston Cooper . Cooper was irate Borys who was having a battle with the dogs’ next door.

Van Badham’s piece ‘An Anarchist at Dinner’, directed by Emily Weare and starring Sandie Eldridge, Rebekkah Moore, Alison Barnes, Winston Cooper and Sean Kennedy, was a quirky piece about a yuppie dinner party that goes very wrong.

The most haunting play in the collection was Alex Broun’s ‘The Gift of The Gun’ . This play was directed by George Ogilvie and was performed by Jonathon Elsom and Sean Kennedy. The scenario is a complex one. A gigolo comes to an gay old bloke’s house. He expects to perform some sexual favours and then quickly exit. Imagine his delimma when the old codger doesn’t want sexual favours but offers him a huge wad of money if he will take his gun and kill him, and he has even worked out a way of making it look like suicide, so there are no repercussions.

The suspense builds up well as the young bloke comes to the point of making his mind up. George Ogilvie’s direction was flawless. The performances were well honed, Jonathon Elson as the world weary old bloke and Sean Kennedy as the punky young guy who finds himself into something way too deep.

There was other vignette that I enjoyed. This was Jane Bodie’s ‘Through’, directed by Katy Alexander, and astutely played by Winston Cooper and Rebekkah Moore.

This play was a bit of a revelation in the way that the playwright has captured the brief history of a relationship between a man and woman with just two performers and an empty stage apart from two chairs. I particularly admired the way that Bodie didn’t write a happy ending. The couple aren’t together in the end, and the woman gives her new born child his christian name.

I found Shorter and Sweeter’s other three plays empty sort of experiences. Angus Strachan’s ‘Tea’ was strong enough thematically being about a middle aged couple having a serious discussion over tea. The wife is trying to get the husband to have the courage to bring up an issue with their grown up daughter. The husband tries to do a dance of avoidance but in the end is ensnared.

The remaining two pieces, Mark Cleary’s ‘Per Second Per Second’ about a woman jumping out of an aircraft some 3000 metres above land and coping with the thoughts racing through her mind, and Benito Di Fonzo’s ‘Pokie Face’ about a father and son taking on poker machines at an RSL Club, failed to excite.

Humble Boy

The Ensemble Theatre’s latest production is the British play by Charlotte Jones ‘Humble Boy’. The play is being performed at the Seymour Centre’s York theatre.
The scenario features a popular narrative hook. The life of a young man is turned around when he has to come back home to his father’s funeral. Felix loved his late father James but has never been close to his mother Flora. His ambivalence to his mother is brought into sharper focus when he finds out within a few weeks that his mother is already having an affair with a local man, George, whom he has never liked.

‘Humble Boy’ has a broad canvas, with the ‘Humble Boy’ at the centre. Felix is an astrophysician. He lives totally in his head. Felix doesn’t know how to relate to people on an emotional level. The play charts the course in Felix trying to find some balance in his life.

‘Humble Boy’ was a middle range theatre experience. The actors each played strong character types well. There were some very poignant scenes especially concerning mother Flora. Steve Rogers, one of our strongest local actors gave a touching performance. Sandra Bates’s direction was tight. Mark Thompson’s garden setting was exceptional.

I will remember this play for an unusual choice made by one of its main characters. One of the plays’ main storylines of the play was Flora’s love triangle. In a surprising decision, Flora decides that, in the end, she doesn’t want George, even though the third part of the triangle is no longer an issue, with her husband having passed away. George sulks rather than slinks out of the action.

Into The Woods

It had been a long week and I was determined to make the most of my Friday nights entertainment. I went to see the New Theatre’s opening night production of Stephen Sondheim’s Ínto The Woods’ directed by Pete Nettell.

I made a pact. As long as this show was entertaining and had a bit of punch then I’d give it the thumbs up. My mood was buoyed when I got to the theatre. There were a throng of people in the foyer and people were flowing out onto the street.

It ended up being a good night which had a lot to do with director Pete Nettell
putting together a good, solid package. The production featured a large cast, with over twenty performers. Sure there was a mixture of quality still everyone gave their all.

The performers did well with the large number of show tunes. Both the slow, emotional numbers and the big chorus numbers were handled well. My pick of the cast were:- Sigrid Langford- Scherf, a Wollongong Uni graduate, who was a delicate Cinderella and had a rich singing voice, Maria O’Hare, an ACTT grad who gave a quirky, comic performance as Milky White the Cow, Jennifer White a Nepean grad who was a confident and passionate Baker’s wife, Nikki Aitken a cheeky Red Riding Hood, and the iconic Jeannie Lewis as the Witch.

The play featured some strong production values.
Wayne Harris’s set was a good showcase for the evening. This was the first time in my experience that I can remember that the New’s ceiling was replete with a large expanse of fairy lights. Another production feature that was the use of booming, reverberating sound effects that rang around the theatre after interval to indicate the foreboding presence of the Giant. These effects were also aided by a flashy lighting design by Spiros Hristias. The bright costumes were designed by Grant Buchanan and Tim Elkington. The taped musical backing worked well, provided by Kathy Peterson- piano, synthesiser, Fiona Gardner- synthesizer and Sarah Cameron- piano.

SCENES FROM A SEPARATION

I guess everything comes down to versions, interpretations. The news we see everyday, the history books we read, there is no such ‘animal’ as pure objectivity. So why should it be any different when we turn our minds and hearts to relationships. It is with this notion in mind that Andrew Bovell and Hannie Rayson have written the play ‘Scenes from a Separation’, currently playing the Drama Theatre at the Sydney Opera House.
The scenario looks behind the scenes of a marriage breakdown between publisher Matthew Molyneux and his wife Nina.
The drama is divided into two Acts, in the first half the break-up is told from the husband’s side, after interval the wife’s version is enacted.

Its new production, ‘Scenes from a Separation, written by Andrew Bovell and Hannie Rayson, delivered an intense, edgy, multi-layered view of contemporary relationships.

9 November 2004

ART

French playwright Yasmina Reza’s play ‘Art, which opened in Paris in 1994, is considered a modern classic.

In ART, Serge has gone out and bought a modern work of art for $200, 000. The thing is that the canvas is simply filled with paint with white lines through it. Serge is content with his purchase except for not being able to make up his mind where he should display it in his flat.

And there’s just another thing, his best friend Marc is giving him a hard time about the purchase. Marc can’t believe that he has spent so much money on something he considers is a worthless painting. Marc then involves Yvan, the other close friend in the group, in what becomes a great debate about the painting.

Reza’s play is a bit of a revelation. Why? Because with her artistry, such a simple idea becomes such thought provoking theatre.

The play conjurs up a plethora of debates-the value of modern art…the superficiality of bourgeois society. Its main subject and theme is friendship. The blowtorch is well and truly set to it. How honest are our communications with our friends…how conditional are our friendships really…and how tied up with conventional expectations are they?!

Structurally ART builds’ beautifully. The play starts off at a bit of a canter but it gathers pace and features an eloquent ending.

The current Ensemble production does justice to Reza’s pearl of a play. Sandra Bates’s direction is respectful and tight, and the performances are accomplished and confident,

Daniel Mitchell as Marc, Mark Kilmurry as Serge, and Brian Meegan plays Yvan. John House’s simple design with the one set to ‘cover’ the living rooms of the three flats was effective.

Martin Kinnane’s lighting design was great and an important feature of the play.

Woman With Dog’s Eyes

Oh, why do some playwrights choose such strange titles for their plays?! A case in point, Louis Nowra’s new play ‘The Woman with Dog’s Eyes’, currently playing at the Stables Theatre in Kings Cross. Thank God the title failed to put me off.
This was a strong drama which was given a powerful Griffin production under the direction of David Berthold.

The black sheep returning to the fold scenario has Malcolm and Penny Boyce celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary at a hotel in the Blue Mountains. Malcolm has arranged a celebratory dinner with his family. Sons Keith and Luke
arrive and everything seems to be going well. Then everything is thrown into chaos when youngest son Todd unepectantly arrives, having been invited by one of his brothers. Years ago Malcolm and Todd had a huge falling out and Malcolm has not wanted anything to do with his younger son. The family celebration is put on a knife’s edge.

Nowra takes us on a rocky and poignant journey as we look through the keyhole into the machinations of the Boyce family. The strong cast bring the dramatists rich characters vividly to life.
Jane Harders was outstanding as mother Penny, determined to hold the family together. Alex Dimitriades gave a sensitive performance as troubled Todd who had been wayward in his younger days but now felt more able to deal with life’s responsibilities. One of our strongest dramatic actors
Danny Adcock was always going to be formidable as Malcolm. Toby Schmitz was good as the ascerbic, sharp shooter Luke. His performance requires him to feign an epileptic fit on stage, no small ask! Rounding out the cast was Jack Finsterer as son Keith, the most smug, conservative and materialistic of the three sons.

The play features some stand-out scenes for the actors to show off their class. Jane Harders is so poignant in the scene where she puts all her cards on the table to her husband, and basically tells him ‘no Todd, then no me’.The final scene with its calm after the storm, its note of reconciliation, was deeply felt. Summing up, ‘The Woman with Dog’s Eyes’ was an emotional night in the theatre.

Features of Blown Youth

Director Fiona Hallenan chose Melbourne playwright Raimondo Cortese’s play ‘Features of Blown Youth’ as her contribution to this years New Directions program run by Newtowns’ New Theatre.

Cortese’s 1997 play was billed as a raw, violent and ultimately provocative Australian drama. My take was that it is about the dynamics of young people interacting in a shared household in the inner city. The household comprised a student, a stripper, a struggling writer, a cynical idealist and a wannabe tough guy. Outsiders who interacted with the group included a naive skinhead, an ambitious prostitute and a pushy landlord.

‘Features of Blown Youth’ had good tension and a genuine feel for its young, tempestuous characters, trying to find their way in the world. I had a good handle on most of its characters; the sexy young stripper with a heroin habit…the punky feminist who enjoys having arguments and making people feel nervous and uncomfortable…the burning intensity of the young writer…the aggressive ‘heavy’ young Italian guy with the the coarse mouth…the pushy new landlord who likes throwing his weight around.

Hallenan’s direction worked well. Most of the cast were on stage for the entire play and were in ‘freeze frame’ when they weren’t in the main action. There was a good raw energy coming the cast even though there were clearly differing abilities.

On the night, the New Theatre enjoyed a good attendance. What stood out was that it was mainly a young audience. Like myself, they seemed to enjoy Cortese’s young and restless kind of theatre.

Blasted

The late Sara Kane’s ‘Blasted’ is one of the most powerful anti war dramas that I have seen.
The scenario….Ian, a middle-aged journalist, and Cate, a friend twenty years younger, are having a torrid encounter in a hotel room where they are holed up.
They are holed up because they are living in the middle of a war zone. The war outside storms in to devastating effect when a young soldier breaks into the flat and dishes out some rough justice.

Belvoir Street theatre, care of Sheedy productions, performed this play as part of its B Sharp season.
This was a production that was relentless in its intensity.
The performances were strong with Kane’s well contrasted characters.
Terry Serio played journalist Ian, hard drinking, misogynistic, cynical as hell, with a dark, vicious streak.
Kate Mulvaney played Cate; young, naïve, childlike, immature, squealy, totally out of her depth in such a heated environment.
The anonymous soldier was played by Nichola Coghlan.

The defining scene…when the soldier spots ID that says Ian is a journalist. He tells Ian that he should tell ‘his story’ to the world, the horrifying experience of what it’s like to be a soldier in a war zone, how insane it is, how valueless human life becomes.
Paraphrasing, Ian replies that the world isn’t interested in real stories…he shuffles paperwork on the floor…the world is interested in trivia, mindlessness.

A final comment…with what’s happening presently in Iraq, it makes ‘Blasted’ more apt and relevant than even in 1995.

Bombshells

Caroline O’Connor received a deserved standing ovation on the opening night of her one woman show ‘Bombshells’ at the Seymour Centre.
‘Bombshells’, written by Joanna Murray-Smith, is a Melbourne Theatre Company production, directed by its Artistic Director Simon Phillips, which has brought up to Sydney by the Ensemble Theatre.
This was a special night at the theatre, combining the brilliance of a charismatic performer with some strong dramatic writing.
Caroline O’Connor played six different women ‘captured’ at very emotional times in their lives.
The strength and pleasure of this production lay in its immediacy; I had a sure handle on each character and what they were going through.

Caroline as Meryl Davenport, suburban mother of three… What a stunning portrait of a stressed out mother as she endeavors to survive the daily routine. Here was a picture of woman as puppet, whose strings were pulled in every direction. We hear her self talk unraveling at a huge rate of knots.

Caroline as Tiggy Entwhistle, abandoned wife and cactophile… Tiggy is lecturing to her gardening club about her passion for cactuses. Her slide show shows her expansive knowledge of the wide variety of cacti. It doesn’t take long to work out that Tiggy is an enormously lonely woman and that her passion for gardening is a poor substitute for good relationships.

Caroline as teenage entertainer Mary O’Donnell, preparing for her segment in a talent quest…My God this sure was a change of pace from Tiggy’s gardening show. Caroline captured Mary perfectly…the talented young entertainer living totally on adrenalin…determined to become a star and move over anyone in her way….resolved to put on the performance of her life.

Caroline as bride to be Theresa McTerry… This was a poignant vignette. Caroline portrayed the 360 degree range of feelings that Theresa was going through coming up to her momentous wedding day. There is a line which Caroline delivers that hangs permanently in the air, ‘its the dress that made me do it’.

Caroline as lonely widow, Winsome Webster…I saw this as the best written and most delicately performed of the six pieces. Winsome, a lonely middle-aged woman finds romance in the most unlikely of situations, after she has all but given up hope.

I loved this vignette’s theme, the role that chance, that mysterious element, can play in our lives.
Ironically, I found the final vignette, with Caroline playing spun-out diva Zoe Struthers, the least interesting and satisfying.

It was undoubtedly a showcase for Caroline to show off her musical rather than dramatic range, and as such it worked well. I simply felt that I have seen far too many versions of this particular story, of the drunk, doped out, has been performer, strutting the boards once too often.
Summing up, ‘Bombshells’ was a special night in the theatre, and for the next month is likely to be the hottest tickets in town.

Mr Bailey’s Minder

The Stables’s current production, Debra Oswald’s ‘Mr Bailey’s Minder’ was a journey worth the taking.
The journey starts when a young, rough as guts woman Therese (Kate Mulvany) takes on the job of being the carer of incorrigible artist, Leo Bailey (Martin Vaughan) in his dotage, after passing the scrutiny of his snobbish daughter, Margo (Victoria Longley). Journey’s end sees the passing of Bailey.
This was a strong production with good roles for all three main parts. Kate Mulvany gave a striking lead performance as Mr Bailey’s Minder, Therese. One of my favorite actresses Mulvany dominated the stage with a brash, confident performance.

She had a good meaty role to play. Therese played a young, woman from the wrong side of the tracks, who spent a lot of time before the courts. No angel, but with a good heart. And her tough kind of love with Bailey brings him out of his shell.
Veteran local actor Martin Vaughan had plenty to play for. How to describe his character?! Cantankerous old man….Enigmatic, famous, world weary, eccentric artist.
Another favorite actress Victoria Longley was kept busy although a little under-utilised as Bailey’s daughter Margo. How to describe her role? A sophisticated, well groomed career woman…A bit of a nose in the air, superior kind of person..a daughter who didn’t feel any real closeness with her father.
‘Mr Bailey’s Minder’ was well directed by Christopher Hurrell. The play had a good energy level though some of the intense scenes dragged a little. There was a good use of the stage and surrounds.
Stephen Hawker’s lighting design was effective with some good touches.
Jo Briscoe’s set design captured Leo Bailey’s world with its depiction of Bailey’s artistic living area, replete with paint stained floors.

The main theme of the night was the quality of family relationships, in particular father and daughter relationships. There is something of reconciliation between them by play’s end.
My favorite moment in the play…It was one of the turning points in the play and Kate Mulvany plays it superbly. Therese has had a jack of the way everyone, especially Lou was treating her. They don’t want to give her credit for the changes she is making. There is a scene where she decides she will backslide, and goes looking for a painting of Lou’s that she can steal and make lots of money from, and flee. She does snap out of it and realises that it would her into a lot of trouble.
Summing up, ‘Mr Bailey’s Minder’ was an entertaining night in the theatre. Nothing exceptional but a well put together well made play.