Theatre

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.