Theatre

Parramatta Girls

Prolific local playwright Alana Valentine’s new play ‘Parramatta Girls’ was a tough but life affirming play about a tough subject matter.

Valentine’s play dramatises the real life stories of ex-inmates from the defunct women’s correctional institution, the Girls Training School (GTS). The dramatist was inspired to write about these women’s experiences after seeing a television documentary about the group on television in 2003. The Girls Training School was in operation from 1912 as a home for abandoned, at risk and uncontrollable girls, both indigenous and non-indigenous, under the age of 18. The School was finally closed down in 1974.

‘Parramatta Girls’ is adroitly framed around a 40 year reunion of the School’s ex inmates. During the play there is a regular shift between the goings on at the real-time reunion and some of the experiences at the time in the School.

Wesley Enoch directed Valentine’s play for Belvoir Street’s Company B’s main season. Enoch’s production brings this strange, dark but resilient world that the Parramatta Girls lived in, vividly to life for audiences to experience.

There some lovely Enoch touches. One that comes to mind is when the women are gathered together in a group and talking about the times during their internment when they were assaulted. As each woman recounts her story, Leah Purcell opens a book she’s carrying, and when the assault is described she evocatively shuts the book.

The play had some strong dramatic moments none more so than the scene when the inmates stage a prison riot after the frustration has got too much for them. The riot is explosively staged with chairs and papers flying everywhere, and one of the girls on top of the landing, creating havoc.

The production evoked much of the atmosphere of hard institutional life. The women talked about the School Doctor who they used to call Dr Fingers, who was always feeling inmates up. Then there was the paranoia about using the showers because of the guards perving.

Enoch won strong performances from the cast. The actors had much to play with as a result of Valentine’s well drawn and very individual characters. My pick of the performances…Carole Skinner as tough nut Judi who, at one time, described how she gave sexual favours to one of the guards so she could score some smokes. Leah Purcell gave a good performance as Marlene who goes into the School a bit of a softie but soon hardens up!

Genevieve Hegney stood out in a fine performance as Maree, and she got to show off her great singing voice. Valerie Bader gave a poignant performance as Lynette , the most sensitive of the group, who found the reunion difficult because it brought up a lot of trauma from her experiences at the School. The always reliable Jeanette Cronin played earthy Melanie.

Ralph Myers designed the very effective set, replicating the old School. Alice Babidge desgned the costumes, and Rachel Burke lit the stage.

From Door to Door

JoMax productions and the Seymour Centre recently presented the Australian premiere of American playwright James Sherman’s play, ‘From Door to Door’.

I saw Moira Blumenthal’s production of Sherman’s play within a month of having seen David Williamson’s play, ‘Lotte’s Gift’ at the Ensemble Theatre. The parallels between the two plays are quite extraordinary. They were very similar in subject matter, both dealing with three generations of women from the one family. The main theme is the same as well, that with every new generation the choices become a little easier, and the possibilities greater.

‘From Door to Door’, (the title is the transalation of the name of a Hebrew prayer, ‘L’Dor V’Dor, celebrating family life), spans 70 years of family history, including two weddings and two funerals. Playwright Sherman used his own family as inspiration for the script. Immigrant Bessie married a man chosen for her, kept her accent, her culture and the old ways. Her daughter Mary is trapped between status quo and women’s lib. Growing in 1950’s Chicago, she became a wife and mother surrendering her gift for painting and any thoughts of a career. Mary’s daughter Deborah is able to make her own choices, but she finds it difficult to balance living in the contemporary world and carrying on the family legacy.

Like ‘Lotte’s Gift’, ‘From Door to Door’ is deeply feministic, positive and life affirming. In ‘Lotte’s Gift’, granddaughter Karin Schaupp finally brings together the family’s talent for music and becomes a wonderful, internationally renowned classical guitarist.

In ‘From Door to Door’ Deborah is a gifted, ambitious scriptwriter, pursuing the family’s gift for the ritten word. She has also become a very generous, thoughtful person. She buys her grandmother a holiday cottage for her to enjoy her remaining days. Deborah buys her mother a beautiful large blank canvas, encouraging her to take up painting, and fulfill her artistic side,that she’s been crying out to do for years.

Moira Blumenthal’s production is a warm production of Sherman’s play. The play flowed well, a lot happened within its two hours, and Blumenthal incorporated the play’s frequent quick transitions well.

A strong cast served ‘From Door to Door’ well. Dina Panozza’s portrayal of grandmother Bessie was vivid, showing an elderly jewish woman full of life and spirit. Joanna Weinberg had a warm stage presence as mother Mary, and Maxinee Appel-Cohen portrayed granddaughter, Deborah as a vivacious, generous young woman determined to achieve a lot in her life.

Krystal Giddings set with boxes and belongings everywhere conveyed the sense of movement and fluidity in the characters lives. Kevin Davison’s sound design included excerpts of classical music, especially violin music.

The Tempest

The Genesian Theatre Company’s recent production of ‘The Tempest’, directed by Roger Gimblett, was a high spirited, good natured production.

The story to ‘The Tempest’ is that twelve years prior to the play commencing Prospero, the Duke of Milan and his three year daughter Miranda are awoken at midnight by a coup orchestrated by Prospero’s brother Antonio in league with Alonso, King of Naples. Prospero and Miranda are bundled on board an unseaworthy boat and left to the mercy of the seas.

The wise old Counsellor Gonzalo ensured the boat held some provisions and by providence they survive and land on a small island. There Prospero finds Ariel, an airy spirit, and Caliban, the abandoned son of a witch previously banished to the island.

As the action of the play commences, Prospero through his magic art, has discovered that his brother Antonio, Gonzalo, Alonso and Alonso’s brother and son are passing the island on board a ship after returning from Alonso’s daughters wedding in Tunis. Prospero summons a storm…it appears to be a perfect opportunity for revenge.

There were some fine performances in the cast. Michael O’Connell was an impressive Prospero, dominating the stage, with his large stick with which he cast his magic spells. Lilianna Komljenovic was a suitably litheful spirit as Prospero’s daughter Miranda who falls in love with the handsome Orlando who was supposed to have drowned. Emily Twemlow was fetching as the
wonderfully airy spirit Ariel. Tom Massey was impressive as the playful monster spirit Caliban. It was unfortunate that on opening night the actor Alan Hayter who played Alonso, the King of Naples, had trouble remembering some of his lines.

‘The Tempest’ had the usual beautifully realised, celebratory happy endings with weddings that is typical of Shakespearean comedies.

A good brand of Elizabethan music greeted the audience as they took their seats and at different times during the play. Lissa Knight’s costumes for the cast worked well, as did Michael Schell’s lighting design.

The God Of Hell

Sydney’s Raw-Em Theatre Company presented the premiere Australian production of provocative American playwright Sam Shepard’s latest play, ‘The God Of Hell’. Shepard has always been a critic of the Bush regime, and this is where the play’s satire and venom is directed.

In ‘The God Of Hell’ the lives of an ordinary, mid West farming couple, Frank and Emma, are disrupted by a middle aged man called Haynes who seeks refuge in their home. Haynes has been contaminated by plutonium and has escaped from a top secret facility in the desert to hide in the couple’s basement. Haynes is threatening to ‘spill the beans’ on the facility,when Welch, a slick Government official, comes knocking at the door in seach of him.

The play starts off in quite a naturalistic way however soon turns into biting and sometimes comic absurdism. Shepard has some fun as he develops the play’s fearful, paranoid world. For instance, when characters touch Haynes they become radioactive and blue flashes of lightning flash across the stage.

Thematically, ‘The God of Hell’ is strong and clear. Shepard portrays an America post 9-11 that is aggressively patriotic. Americans have to be totally for their country and what it stands for, or they become outsiders. Amongst all the fear and paranoia, there’s no room for any contrary voices. He portrays the atmosphere as toxic and that America’s great tradition of democracy is threatened.

Robyn McLean’s Raw-Em Theatre’s production is tight and incisive. The performances were strong. Russell Newman played old fashioned farmer Frank who pays as much attention to his heifers as his wife, Emma. Annie Cossins played salt of the earth Emma. I loved Ripley Hood’s out there performance as the pushy, flashy civil servant, Welch. Paul Bertram was impressive as the harrassed, sickly and unfortunate, Haynes.

Mim Pearson came up with a very impressive, solid set of the facia and the living room of the farmhouse.

‘The God of Hell’ was a good night in the theatre, and mixed its dark themes with plenty of comic touches.

Season at Sarsparilla

Patrick White wrote ‘The Season at Sarsparilla’ in 1961 at the end of the Menzies era. The play brilliantly magnifies the seemingly trivial routines of three families- the Boyles, the Pogsons and the Knotts, in their neighbouring homes in Mildred Street in the fictional suburb of Sarsparilla. The dream of a quarter acre block and mortgage are a nightmare for its repressed and fragile residents. The dramatic action takes place under a blazing summer sky whilst a howling bitch on heat elevates the feverish desires of Sarsparilla’s inhabitants.

Benedict Andrews’s production of this White play at the Drama Theatre, the Sydney Opera House was a great piece of theatre. This was a brilliant concept production with the director giving White’s classic play a Big Brother angle. Andrews places numerous video cameras through the expansive terra cotta tiled suburban house which intimately records the action on two large screens positioned at either side of the stage.

The performances by the Sydney Actors Company in their fourth production together were inspired….each actor nailed their character. My favourite performances… Peter Carroll as Mildred Street’s gossip and drama queen. Eden Falk was terrific as the cynical, cerebral young man Roy Child who is the play’s narrator/observer. One just senses that inevitably he will outgrow Mildred Street and move on with his life. Pamela Rabe as the troubled, feisty Nola Boyle. Rabe has some of the play’s strongest dramatic moments, revealing her frustration at life in ‘struggle street’, and delivers them forcefully.

Amber McMahon was strong as the spritely, impulsive Pippy Pogson, as was Hayley McElhinney as her older, much more grounded/earthy sister, Judy. Alan John was terrific in two roles, as the ditzy young fat girl, Deidree, and a haunting portrayal of the bland, spineless public servant Mr Erbage. Brandon Burke was strong as the dour, no nonsense sanitary worker, Ernie Boyle.

Colin Moody was excellent as Digger Masson, portraying an imposing, aggressive masculinity that spells trouble for Nola Boyle. For the other extreme, there was Helen Thomson’s evocative portrayal of local glamour woman Julia Sheen with her brittle, fragile femininity.

Production values were uniformally strong. Andrews was aided by Robert Cousins’s brilliant set design. His imposing suburban house, set on a large revolve, worked so effectively. Alan John’s haunting score , Nick Schlieper’s sharp lighting design, and Alice Babidge’s quirky costumes, all were strong.

When Roy Child makes his final observations on Mildred Street, as the house twirls around the stage for the final time, and makes the telling omment, ‘one can’t break out of one’s own skin, even though it itches like hell’, one knows that one has just experienced one very special night in the theatre.

3 April, 2007

Ruby’s Moon

The Sydney Theatre Company’s Theatre In Education wing recently put on a successful season of Matt Cameron’s well crafted ‘Ruby Moon’ which was part of this year’s HSC syllabus.

‘Ruby Moon’ told a fractured fairy tale. Life appears idyllic in the fictional suburb of Flaming Tree Grove. That is five year old Ruby Moon goes off to visit her grandmother and doesn’t return. The narrative focuses on Ruby’s parents, Sylie and Ray, as they try to work out what’s happened to their daughter.

Andrew Upton’s tight production of ‘Ruby Moon’ was a good piece of theatre. Thematically, the play worked well, communicating much of what any parent would feel and go through in searching for their missing child.

Actors Jaime Mears and Justin Smith had a challenging time, playing the two main roles of mother and father, as well as playing a wide range of minor characters,comprising neighbours from Flaming Tree Grove, who they interview about Ruby’s disappearance. They carried out their work with style and flair, assisted by a prop box on the stage in which they could dive into to transform into other characters. My favourite of the neighbourhood characters was Justin’s portrayal of Mad Professor Ogle who confesses to murdering Ruby but was impossible to believe.

Jo Briscoe’s set was great. The backdrop was a made-up outline for a series of suburban houses, above hung decoration lights. There was the haunting silhouette of young Ruby Moon centre back of the stage, overlooking the action.

Max Lyndvert’s dark music score leant plenty of atmosphere as the tale unfolded.

The play ended suitably enigmatically, an appropriate way for this dark, poetic piece.

The Gate Theatre’s Beckett Season- Sydney Festival ’07

One of my highlights of the Sydney Festival was the visiting Gate Theatre from Dublin’s production of a of three works by Samuel Beckett. The Gate Theatre under the direction of Michael Colgan mounted these productions to mark the centenary of Beckett’s birth. The works chosen were ‘First Love’, ‘Eh Joe’, and ‘I’ll Go On’. Each of the plays was solo pieces performed by internationally renowned actors.
Ralph Fiennes performed ‘First Love’, directed by Michael Colgan. This was one of Beckett’s earliest post war novellas and revealed much of Beckett’s brand of black humour and uncomfortable truths.
Fiennes plays the narrator who is expelled on the death of his father from his room and takes refuge on a park bench by a canal, and meets a woman who takes him home. On a bare stage apart from one singular park bench, Fiennes held the audience captive as the darkly comic unfolded.
Charles Dance performed the piece ‘Eh Joe’. This was a piece of theatrical dynamite. The drama only went for a little more than half an hour but moved with unrelenting force.
The scenario has Joe sitting in a room sealed off from the world. He hears a woman’s voice, an ex lover’s voice, talking to him, luring him to examine the aspects of his life. It is a very dark and intense contemplation.
‘Eh Joe’ was originally devised for television and has been given a stage adaptation by renowned director Atom Egoyan. The woman’s voice was provided by acclaimed actress, Penelope Wilton.
Beckett’s writing in this piece is just so raw and vulnerable. What gave the piece even greater power was that Egoyan used a technique where he filmed, in huge blow-up, Dance’s face as the narrative unfolded. The images of Dance’s face were projected onto a huge screen that was mounted on stage.
In this way, ‘Eh Joe’ made this a vehicle for an actor at the height of his powers. Dance gave a stunning performance, as every gesture, every expression, every intonation, added weight to Beckett’s words.
Irish actor Barry McGovern performed the piece ‘I’ll Go On’, directed by Colm O Briain. McGovern is held in high regard as one of the leading interpreters of Beckett’s work. The evening combined extracts from some of Beckett’s prose writing, including ‘Molloy’, ‘Malone Dies’, and ‘The Unnameable’ and wove them into continuous, coherent whole that contained the essence of the works. McGovern’s work was brilliant as he transversed some difficult Beckett work.
Summing up, it was a tremendous experience to see the Dublin Gate Theatre’s three Beckett productions. It was a rare and exciting privilege to see a few of the works of one of the twentieth century’s greatest writers performed to such a high standard.

Short and Sweet Festival 2007-Opening Night

It’s that time again for the biggest little play festival in the world, Short and Sweet 2007. The Festival opened at the Newtown Theatre on Tuesday 16th January, and is running at three different venues, with a Gala Final and Awards Night on Friday 23rd February. Over the Festival some 140 short plays will be performed.
I went to the Festival’s opening night to see the first batch of ten plays performed. As always, the night was a little bit of a mixed bag however the thing always with ‘Short and Sweet’ nights is that it is always stimulating and fun, and rather than sitting through one long play that one might not connect with, one has the choice of seeing a variety of plays, out of which there will be at least a few that one will get something out of.
Now for some interesting plays from the first night…American playwright Marina Kale’s ‘Break It’ was an interesting feminist piece which basically focused on women’s relationships with their mothers. The piece was simply structured with the stage divided into two areas. On one side the three women discussed issues between each other and then, one at a time, they would walk across to the other side of the stage, and under spotlight, they would have a conversation with their mums. ‘Break It’ was directed by Bulbin Akyiran, and performed by Orlena Steele-Prior and Belinda Gosbee.
Peter Lewis’s ‘Way to go’ was an entertaining, quirky piece about death. It was basically an improvisational piece with the three actors, Jemima Burke, Patrick Lewis and Mitchell Tangney acting out different ways to die. Nic Lewis directed the play in a darkly comic style.
Stephen Vagg’s play ‘Sex with the Ex’, directed by Byron Kaye, and featuring Megan Alston and Rowan Ellis, was a quirky relationship piece. The play features an encounter in a bar between a couple who used to be together. There’s no happy ending to Vagg’s play, with the woman walking out of the scene. The play worked because there was an authentic feeling to it.
Some plays had interesting ideas, a bit like shots in the dark, that didn’t quite come off. These included Gordon Smith’s “Lost Souls” featuring the unlikely scenario of a woman arriving at a cemetery security office late one night, after being recently widowed. Then there was Scott McAteer’s ‘Transactions’ about a man’s encounter with a prostitute.. I found the narrative a bit unclear and wayward. There were a lot of intimations but that was about it!
All in all, it was a stimulating first night and the night augured well for a good Festival.

Kaidan

The Drama Theatre at the Sydney Opera House was home to Meryl Tankard and Taikoz’s production of ‘Kaidan: A Ghost Story’, part of this year’s Sydney Festival.

‘Kaidan’ is based on a great Japanese ghost story, ‘Of a Mirror and a Bell’, from Irish author Lafcadio Hearn’s classic collection of Japanese ghost stories.

‘Of A Mirror and a Bell’ tells of a woman whose life crumbles when she gives away an old family mirror, to be melted down with other mirrors collected from the local woman folk to be cast into a giant temple bell. The mirror, an often used metaphor for a woman’s soul, is a family heirloom that has been passed down generations. The woman laments giving the mirror away as she feared the proverb of the mirror being the soul of a woman.

When the time comes for the great bell to be cast, the mirror given by the woman doesn’t melt. The villagers know who donated it, and her shame is great; her heart was revealed as being hard. Because of the woman’s reluctance, the metal remained solid when the other mirrors, given in a different spirit, melted under the heat. Eventually, her sadness becomes so overpowering that she kills herself, leaving a note to the effect that after her death, the mirror would melt on the condition that great wealth come to whoever managed to break the bell.

The note in fact was a curse, for those who tried to break it to obtain the promised worldly wealth beat it impiously and constantly. The incessant clanging of the bell became overpowering and in desperation the priests rolled it into the river where it lies still, leaving only the legend behind.

Meryl Tankard and Taikoz create a remarkable piece of theatre to bring Hear’s tragic, mystical story to life. Tankard’s group of six dancers moves brilliantly around Stephen Curtis’s exquisite set, and Regis Lansac’s illuminations. The music was wonderful and a real driving force in the play. The score, composed by TaikOz and Timothy Constable, combined the exotic strains of Riley Lee’s bamboo flute (shakuhachi) and the pounding beat of the Japanese taiko drums as played by the seven members of TaikOz. The Taiko players used a broad range of drums and percussion instruments- from the uchiwadaiko-fan drums- to the 250kg Odaiko to the tiniest temple bells.

Times Of My Life

Mother and son entertainers, Toni Lamond and Tony Sheldon, have teamed up together to come with a fine, well presented show, ‘Times of My Life’, documenting Toni’s colourful life in the industry.

‘Times of My Life’ had a winning recipe. Lamond took a very relaxed approach to telling her story, combining anecdotes from her eventful life with powerful renditions of favourite songs from shows she has been in, including ‘Gypsy’, ‘Pyjama Game’, and ’42nd Street’. Accompanying her on piano was Michael Tyack, who tinkled away at the keys, with some lovely playing.

The play revealed that Lamond comes from a family with show business in the blood. Her personal life has been a chequered one. The deepest scar in her life was when her husband committed suicide after a time in her life when she had decided to recommence her show business career when he had wanted her to commit to family life. The lasting impression one got of Lamond was that she’s one of the great show business troupers. There’s a quote from the show which kind of says it all, “Now, I’ve got a feeling I’ve left something out. Somewhere between the Tivoli and the Pyjama Game I’m sure I was involved in another production…Oh that’s right…I had a baby’!

‘Times of My Life’ was a warm, inspiring night at the theatre. The show had an edge over other like shows with a great resource of archival footage that showed what a prominent part Lamond played in recent Australian television and theatre history. It was a particular pleasure watching Lamond play up to Graham Kennedy in his old tv series.

Lotte’s Gift

‘Lotte’s Gift’ at the Ensemble theatre was a lovingly realised, warm, personal, intimate piece of theatre.

The play had a wonderful theme, the realisation of a wonderful gift that took three generations of a famly to come to fruition. The family’s gift was music! Grandmother Lotte was a wonderful opera singer and loving family figure who because of her responsibilities could never make a career out of her passion.

The gift was passed on to Lotte’s daughter, Trudy von Stein, who was again a family woman who was an accomplished classical guitar player.

It was, however, in the third generation that the gift truly came to life. Karin Schaupp received the gift of a guitar when she was 4 years old from grandmother Lotte. The gift was portentous. Now in her middle twenties Karin has become one of Australia’s leading classical guitarists.

With ‘Lotte’s Gift’ Karin Schaupp now can expand her already very successful career with a show that tells her own personal story, allows her to perform some great short classical pieces, including from Strauss and Handel, and also allows her to also demonstrate her flair for acting. Schaupp recruited Australia’s premiere playwright David Williamson to shape a play out of her material, as well as directing the work.

The action took place in a traditional living room set with the addition of two screens above the stage which projected home slides and video footage.

Schaupp performed solo with her trusted guitar and narrated her story, switching peronas between her own and that of her grandmother’s.

‘Lotte’s Gift’ ended poetically with Karin playing Paraguayan composer Barrios Mangore’s eloquent piece ‘Contemplacion’ in a heartfelt dedication to Lotte. The stage that faded to dark as projected onto the screen was a loving picture of the three women. Opening night was a moving occasion with Karin being joined on stage by her mother, grandmother and David Williamson to receive a standing ovation.

‘Lotte’s Gift’ was a special night in the theatre.

Uncle Vanya-Sydney Festival 2007

If I had only seen one thing at the Sydney Festival, the Maly Drama Theatre of St Petersburg’s production of the classic Anton Chekhov play ‘Uncle Vanya’ would have been the one I would have chosen to see. This was quite simply a magnificent production.

‘Uncle Vanya’ tells the story of Professor Serebryakov and his young wife Elena who arrive at the family’s remote country estate. The estate has been looked after by Sonya, the Professor’s daughter from his first marriage, and her Uncle Vanya. The visit of the Professor and his wife send
the estate into chaos of lost time and impossible loves.

Lev Dodin’s production does full justice to Chekhov’s wonderful play. He doesn’t miss a beat, there’s plenty of nice touches, the play moves beautifully, the themes are well brought out,and the cast give strong performances. The big scenes, this is a play with many, are played out beautifully. and the ending is eloquently realised.

The cast move about Nikolai Murmanov’s effective set well. The actors enjoyed the large stage space to move around in. The setting was the living room of the Professor’s country house. One of the ‘keys’ to the set was a large french window at the back of the stage which leant plenty of atmosphere to the play. At one time we can and see rain falling outside through it. During the course of the play some of the characters would take time out by the window as things got tough emotionally.

Planted above the living room setting, on timber beams, were two huge haystacks, indicative of the work being carried out on the estate. Poignantly, at the play’s end, these haystacks perch themselves on stage. The drama has passed, and daily work life is to return.

The pick of the performances …Igor Serebryakov’s Professor Serebryakov was something of a monster. He cuts an arch, stern, humourless, imposing, egocentric figure who creates so much tension for the family. Ksenia Rappoport’s Elena gives a poised performance as the femme fatale figure, trapped in a marriage to the much older Professor. Rappoport conveyed well her characters struggle with her life situation.

Elena Kalinina’s nails it as the sensitive, plain, dutiful Sonya , the backbone of the family. Sergey Kuryshev gave a strong performance as Uncle Vanya. His Uncle Vanya captured a man in mid-life crisis, in emotional turmoil and full of regret.

Peter Semak’s Dr Astrov was a new age man; eloquent,good natured, dreamy, a bit grandiose in his gestures, and smitten with Elena.

Maly Drama Theatre of St Petersburg’s ‘Uncle Vanya’ was pretty much a perfect night in the theatre.

Small Metal Objects-Sydney Festival 2007

Back to Back theatre’s ‘Small Metal Objects’ was one of my highlights of the Festival so far. It was just so different from anything I had seen before.

This is what happens! The audience sits in a small grandstand set up opposite the main commuter thoroughfare at Circular Quay. Each of us is equipped with a headset to listen to the action to take place.

The show begins and it takes a while to decipher where the action is taking place amongst the busy commuter traffic. Then our gaze does turn to two men, Gary and Steve, men with intellectual disabilities who find themselves accidentally emeshed in an important business deal between two ambitious executives.

The show went for just under an hour, and was just great live ‘street’ theatre. There was so much to take in. As the narrative played out, the play’s theme came strongly to the fore, of how mainstream society treats people on the margins, such as people with disabiliies and the unemployed, with disdain.

I loved the interplay between the action taking place and the commuters and tourists as they went about their business. What gave this interplay added impact was that there was no set stage area and the actors intermingled with the commuters.

The reactions of the public were a classic. One man was determined to take part in the action and continued a running dialogue with the cast, which the cast brushed off well. One very at ease at woman stood almost centre stage pretty much impervious to what was taking place and took a photo of everyone in the grandstand, no doubt for her holiday album. Some people were just racing to get to their train or ferry. Others looked on bemused, not quite working out was going on.

Bruce Gladwin directed this Back to Back production. The cast was uniformly strong, featuring Simon Laherty, Genevieve Morris, Jim Russell and Allan V Watt.

Back to Back’s ‘Small Metal Objects’ was inpired, vibrant, colourful theatre.

Closer

Some theatre shows may be a little ambiguous in nature but let me tell you, Patrick Marber’s ‘Closer’ just isn’t one of them. One knows exactly what one is getting with Marber’s play. ‘Closer’ is an intense, confronting look at contemporary relationships, and by the time the play is over, one feels like one has been put through an emotional wringer.

Joshua Brandon’s production for Canned Drama does Marber’s strong piece of writing justice, and the cast generate good focus and intensity. The four characters become inextricably entwined with each other.

Kimberley Howe played Anna, a successful, attractive photographer, (the role played by Julia Roberts in the film version). Her portrayal was incisive, revealing a woman of too sensitive a nature.

Andrew Steel played Dan, an up and coming novelist working as an obituary writer on a London newspaper (Jude Law’s role). His portrayal revealed a cynical, tough, yuppie kind of character into playing games. A defining quote from him is, ‘what’s so great about the truth? Try lying for a change?’ Which Dan indeed does….

Alexis Fishman played ex stripper Alice, who has flown from New York to London to escape a boyfriend back home (Natalie Portman’s role). She has nothing but the clothes on her back and her straight talking. She sets upon making a new world for herself. Fishman’s Alice is creative, complex, sensual.

Chris Gorley played seedy skin specialist Larry (Clive Owen’s role), who became entrapped in the relationship circle by responding to one of Dan’s lurid internet communications.

Canned Laughter/Drama’s next production is in February 2007 and is a change of pace, Ken Ludwig’s ‘Lend me a Tenor’.

Woman In Mind

The Sydney Theatre Company’s production of Alan Ayckbourn’s ‘Woman In Mind’ at the Sydney Opera House was one of the strongest dramas of the year.

Noni Hazelhurst plays Susan, a forty something woman who is in an unhappy marriage, and is starved of affection from her vicar husband, Bill and her distant son, Gerald. She knocks herself out one morning and wakes to not only find her existing family, but the family of her dreams: a devoted husband, brimming with charm, and two perfect, lovely children. As the play continues Susan finds it increasingly difficult to decipher between her real and imaginary families.

Gale Edwards’s direction was clear and incisive. It was a tour de force performance by Noni Hazelhurst in the lead. There is one scene near the end of the play when her life is falling to pieces, and she kneels down centre stage as the rain pours down on her. It is such a scene of desolation.. ’Woman In Mind’ is, above all, a play about a woman who allows herself to be overwhelmed by her own unhappiness and sense of lack of fulfillment.

Andrew McFarlane played her dull, non passionate husband, Bill. David Downer was the stereotypically conservative family Doctor, Gerald. Deborah Kennedy played the cantankerous family maid who Susan was in regular conflict with. Richard Pryos played her distant teenage son, Rick, with whom Susan is constantly having conflicts with.

Some fine performances come from the actors playing Susan’s other family. John Adam played the spunky, delightful husband, Andy. Mark Owen- Taylor and Sophie Ross were her two delightful grown-up children, forever going off to play tennis or sipping champagne.

One of the play’s achievements is that it whilst it is of such a dark nature, Ayckbourn manages to also instill plenty of humour in it, often from many of the characters own self effacing natures.

Production values were strong. These included Peter England’s wonderful, expansive revolving set, Gavin Swift’s evocative lighting design, and Paul Charlier’s music score,

Summing up, ‘Woman In Mind’ was a high quality and provocative production.

Keating

For their last show of the year Belvoir’s Company B presented Casey Bennetto’s musical ‘Keating!’. The show is an expanded production of the one that Bennetto had huge success with at the 2005 Melbourne International Comedy Festival. I saw the play within the same week that I saw another play about another Labor Party icon and Prime Minister, the great Ben Chifley, opened at the Ensemble theatre. The play was ‘A Local Man’, jointly written by Bob Ellis and Robin McLachlan. As the irascible Bill Hunter in ‘Muriel’s Wedding’ might have said, ‘what a coincidence’!.

‘Keating’ has been a huge success for Company B with the main season booking out very early on, and then being extended. It’s easy to see why…this was a show with a really good, positive vibe. As one sat down in the theatre’s plush new seating, one was greeted with a really hot band playing, making one feel right at home!

‘Keating’ had a great recipe for a good night in the theatre… Neil Armfield’s smooth, clear direction…Brian Thomson’s brassy set with the back of the stage adorned with huge letters spelling out the charismatic politician’s name….A great band pumping out the music composed by Bennetto…A fantastic, super-assured performance by Mike Mcleish, he was the suave, articulate, cocky Paul Keating, dressed in an immaculate suit, as he sang, in reggae style, ‘I’m your man’, dancing around the raised platform centre-stage…

There were some great portrayals of the leading political players of the time which had the audience in stitches. Casey Bennetto was hilarious as Alexander Downer dressing up in women’s clothes to the tune of a song titled ‘he’s so freaky’. Bennetto also played John ‘I lost the unlosable election’ Hewson. Terry Serio gave two great comic performances as first the garrulous, over strident and emotional Bob Hawke, and then as everyone’s mate, John Howard, The cast also managed to include a great skit on the Gareth Evans/Cheryl Kernot romance.

The show was a real buzz! Certainly, not a bad result for a show that Bennetto dreamed up and wrote in one weekend.

Reunion and A Kind Of Alaska

Recently, The Sydney Theatre Company featured a double bill comprising two well known one Act plays, Harold Pinter’s ‘A Kind Of Alaska’ and David Mamet’s ‘Reunion’. The plays have been directed by the husband and wife team, Andrew Upton and Cate Blanchett, who will be taking over as joint Artistic Directors of the Sydney Theatre Company from 2008.

Andrew Upton directed the first play, Mamet’s ‘Reunion’. In ‘Reunion’ Justine Clarke plays Caroline Mindler a woman who goes off in search of her father, Bernie Cary, played by Robert Menzies, whom she hasn’t seen in 20 years. Bernie walked out on his family early in the marriage, leaving his daughter to grow up ‘fatherless’ from a young age.

‘Reunion’ was poignant, poetic drama. Mamet portrays a melancholic world, his two characters are lonely souls, and Caroline is disappointed in the man her father is. Bernie does reach out to her, and gives her a piece of special piece of jewellery. Father and daughter come to a rconciliation of sorts, in the end.

Robert Menzies delivered a memorable performance as Bernie, capturing the essence of a nervy, middle-aged battler kind of character. His angst has been made worse by having been a soldier in the Vietnam war, having come home a hero, and after the ‘high’ was over, finding it very difficult to relate normally. Justine Clarke was strong as Caroline, an emotional young woman wanting to reconcile some of her deep feelings.

Mamet’s dialogue was, as one would expect, incisive. Andrew Upton’s direction was meticulous and sensitive. The play comprised a collection of short scenes with quick fades to black. Chris Abrahams moody music score added to the play’s atmosphere.

After interval, Cate Blanchett directed Harold Pinter’s ‘A Kind Of Alaska’, a play the famous British playwright wrote after reading Oliver Sachs’ book ‘Awakenings’. In ‘A Kind Of Alaska’, Caroline Lee plays Deborah who wakes up after 29 years asleep suffering from encephalitis lethargica, still convinced that she’s sixteen. Dr Hornby (Robert Menzies) and her sister, Pauline (Justine Clarke) introduce her to an alien world however she’s still mentally stranded in ‘a kind of Alaska’, isolated from reality. Dr Hornby’s difficult journey is to bring her back from her Alaska.

This was reflective kind of theatre. My thoughts drifted every which way, wondering what it would be like to be in Deborah’s shoes, to suddenly go from being a playful teenager to middle age, and trying to comprehend the huge gap in her life.

Blanchett and the cast play ‘A Kind Of Alaska’ with a quiet intensity and strong focus. Caroline Lee’s gives a striking performance from the start as she wakes up from her comatose state. Lee’s Caroline is a frightened woman who desperately tries to grapple with her situation.

Robert Menzies’s Dr Hornby, in another fine performance, is a sombre, straightforward Doctor who is absolutely frank with Caroline, and is determined to get Caroline to face the reality of her situation.

There is an unforgetable scene in the play when Caroline is in the midst of trying to grapple with her present situation with Dr Hornby’s patience, and then her sister Pauline enters and the huge impact of her entrance is too overwhelming for her to deal with.

Ralph Myers set works well. The actors walk on stage through a long walkway, and then the set featured a large day bed, a chair for Dr Hornby, and a small water pool. The set also featured a large linen backdrop with wave-like reflections.

Chris Abraham music score supplied an eerie, other worldly feel.

Summing up, this was a well presented double bill by the Sydney Theatre Company. The main theme of the two plays came through clearly…how we humans cope with loss, whatever the scope of the loss may be, and how we try and reconcile with it.

Don’t teach me-I’m perfect

Jewish Melbourne playwright Dr Jack Felman has followed up his successful first play ‘Laugh Till You Cry’ with his new play, ‘Don’t teach me-I’m perfect’, which played Bondi’s Hakoah Club.

The play starts with middle-aged Allen (Allen Brostek) sitting stage left typing away at his laptop. He is composing his life story as per the advice of his psychiatrist, and is reading passages from it as he goes, and then scenes from his life are enacted. Allen is trying to make sense of his life, coming from a Holocaust background, and dealing with his cantankerous aging parents, Holocaust survivors, Mania (Lena Fishman) and Velvel Pszeszekowski (Jack Felman).

It was an enthusiastic full house at the King David room at the Hakoah Club that enjoyed the play’s opening night. The play featured a well used recipe….focusing on the carryings on of a highly neurotic Jewish family. As an example Allen’s father Velvel is always on the verge of calling his Doctor, believing that he’s going to have the heart attack that’s going to ‘take him out’.
Dr Felman’s one liners kept firing through the whole play, often leaving the audience in stitches.

In the play’s Second Act life takes a darker turn with Allen seeing his mother pass away, and then having to put his father in a nursing home. The good Doctor still keeps the laughs coming even with the rather grim subject matter.

The play’s biggest drawcard is Dr Felman’s performance. He is a naturally funny performer, and carries the show wonderfully well.

‘Don’t teach me-I’m perfect’ featured a very simple set with just Allen and his laptop on the left wing of the theatre and a large double bed centre stage.

Revue Sans Frontiers

The Wharf Review team are back again with their new show, ‘Revue Sans Frontieres’. Their current team is Jonathon Biggins, Phillip Scott, Valerie Bader and Garry Scale.

As always the show is fun though I always have that nagging feeling about the Wharf review team shows is that they never really quite come off, and are always a bit hit and miss.

The modus operandi of the show is that there is so much bad stuff going on in the world that the team has come up with a comic satire review team to combat it.

In their usual broad sweep approach the team chooses many targets. These were my favourites. There was a fast paced skit of a tongue in cheek, biographical sketch of Condoleeza Rice. On the video screen Jonathon Biggins did a clever impersonation of Paul Keating. There was a skit on the formidable liberal Federal MP Helen Coonan who was made out as just a John Howard clone. Then there was a skit on David Stratton and Margaret Pomerance, with some clever impersonation, and the couple of-course never agreeing.

By far the wittiest skit was ‘The Tragedy of Costello’. Oh they really gave Costello a hard time, the man from Melbourne who felt he was destined to lead the party. The skit was a take off of Macbeth, drawing parallels between Costello and Macbeth in terms of his ‘vaulting ambition’. Phil Scott enjoyed playing the wicked witches predicting doom!

Phil Scott was his usual extraordinary self, displaying his great skills on the piano and there wouldn’t be a Wharf revue without his famous, thick brow John Howard.

Jonathon Biggins did some good stuff, some clever impersonations, and there was ofcourse his regular gig on the Democrats, appearing in short pants and long socks, and speaking to his colleagues. Biggins also showed a deft hand at electric guitar. I just felt that sometimes during the ninety minutes he looked as if he was hamming it up a bit too much. Maybe he just isn’t that funny!

Valerie Bader was excellent in the many roles that she had to play. She was in great voice and just so solid. The talented Gary Scale rounded out the cast.

Summing up, ‘Revue Sans Frontiers’ was another high spirited, fast paced revue night, highlighted by some zingy one liners and some great music.

Cards on The Table

Every year the inner city Genesian Theatre Company schedules at least one murder mystery in their program. Recently the Company presented Leslie Darbon’s flexible adaptation of Agathie Christie’s novel ‘Cards On The Table’.

In ‘Cards On The Table’ the wealthy and mysterious collector Shaitana gathers together a formidable group of characters for a fashionable dinner party. There’s the charming doctor, the courageous Major, the millionaires and the naïve debutant. Shaitana then invites Mrs Adriane Oliver, a famous crime writer, and her new ally, Superintendent Battle, to join the party. An innocent game of bridge soon turns to murder, and the two sleuth’s race against time to solve the whodunit before the murderer strikes again. No wonder that, at one time, Mr Shaitana says to his assorted guests, ‘this is a night none of you will ever forget’.

Debbie Smith directed an entertaining, suspenseful night of theatre. In the leading roles, Scott Fenson played Shaitana, Paul Treacy was Superintendent Battle and Shane Bates played Mrs Oliver.

Ms Smith’s creative team included set designer Grant Fraser, lighting designer Eric Bicknell, costume designer Susan Carveth, and Ms Smith herself did the lighting.

The Wind That Shakes The Barley

Veteran British filmmaker Ken Loach’s film ‘The Wind that shakes the Barley’ won the coveted Palme d’Or award for best film at this years’ Cannes Film Festival.

Loach’s film is set in Ireland in 1920 and focuses on two brothers, Damien and Teddy. Teddy is a leader of a guerilla squad (the early IRA) fighting for his country’s independence from the motherland, England. Damien is completing a medical degree, and is intending to do his final training at a London Hospital.

Shortly before Damien departs for London, he witnesses first hand atrocities carried out by the English soldiers, the Black and Tans, against a local family, and decides to change his plans and join Teddy’s resistance group.

Damien and Teddy fight side by side until the Irish resistance forces a truce, the Anglo-Irish Treaty. Many in the Irish community believe that the truce is a sell-out. The war is resumed, and the brothers take different sides, Teddy siding with the English and Damien with the Irish. Tragedy ensues.

There’s a quote from Loach’s speech at the Cannes Film which indicates where he was coming from in making ‘The Wind That Shakes The Barley’

“We live in extraordinary times and that has made people political in a way that they weren’t four, five, six years ago. The wars we have seen, the occupations that we now see throughout the world- people finally can’t turn away from that. It’s very exciting to be able to deal with this in films, and not just be a complement to the popcorn’.

]I came out of Loach’s film feeling emotionally gutted. His film as well as being critical of the British role in the conflict delivers a strong anti-war message. The one predominant theme that the film keeps coming back to is how, during the conflict, normal human boundaries and decencies don’t exist. The audience sees friends and families pitted against each other. One day friends may be sharing dinner with each other, the next day they are killing each other. The convictions and beliefs that the characters carry over-ride their humanity. One can’t help but feel that Loach means the audience to consider what is happening with suicide bombers and the situation in Iraq.

Cillian Murphy and Padraic Delaney are excellent in the leading roles with Orla Fitzgerald a stand-out in one of the supporting roles as Damien’s girlfriend.

‘The Wind That Shakes The Barley’ was a sobering, harsh, movie experience.

The Lost Echo

When I told a good friend that I went to see Barry Kosky’s ‘The Lost Echo’, all in one eight hour sitting, he gave me a kind of incredulous look, and then said, ‘you’re joking…eight hours of Kosky…how did you get through it?’

‘Actually, it wasn’t that hard at all. The time went really quickly. There was just so much happening on stage, it was full on, with over forty actors involved, the wonderful, large Sydney theatre stage area fully utilised…and wizard Kosky at the front, pounding on the keys…and some really great music’.

‘Was it typical Kosky subject matter? “Yes, the usual heavy stuff. Together with Sydney Theatre Company Associate Director Tom Wright they dramatized some stories from Roman poet Ovid’s s ‘Metamorphoses’. Stories such as the story of Phaeton about a boy whose search for his father leads him to incineration, and Mestra about a girl whose father eats himself to death’.

‘How would you describe the night? ‘It was a very primal experience …it was like a walk through your darkest nightmares and sexual fantasies’.

‘Kosky loves to shock and offend. I guess he lived up to his reputation? ‘Absolutely…lots of blood and gore…human waste …male and female nudity…women with straps on…men with dildos…got the picture?’

‘What were the highlights?’ The music…Kosky himself has said that the music was the lost echo. He weaved music into the play from Cole Porter to Monteverdi to Schubert…it was wonderful…There was an electricity about the show… 38 actors on stage who each gave their heart and soul …including the actors from the Sydney Theatre Company’s Actors company, Paul Capsis and second year NIDA students who were fantastic…the dance sequences were tremendous’.

‘Did you ever feel like walking out?’ Yes, the show was divided into four acts. The third Act was called ‘The Song of Bacchus’. It was just so dark and oppressive, I felt like shooting myself!’.

‘Did you ever get lost? Not know what was going on? ‘Absolutely…most of the time I was just hanging in there…just feeling it experientially…please don’t ask me to explain the stories!’.

‘Would you recommend it to people? “Hey, obviously not to my 80 year old Aunty! She’d have to be one hip lady. Ok..seriously…it wasn’t my cup of tea but I got plenty of stuff out of it. Yes I would recommend it…it challenges audiences…there’s a lot of bland theatre….and whatever else you might say about Kosky, his theatre is never, ever bland. Go see it for yourself and you decide!’.

ARE YOU THERE?

The Ensemble Theatre recently presented the Australian premiere of an Argentinian play, Javier Daulte’s ‘Are You There?’. This was a more exotic choice than is the usual case with the Ensemble as the Kirribilli based theatre generally chooses plays local, American or British productions.

The Ensemble invited Ros Horin, formerly the long-time Artistic Director of the Stables theatre, to direct the production. The story goes that Ms Horin saw the play in Buenos Aires, fell in love with it, and decided that she just had to direct it. She is quoted as saying, ‘The play spoke to me when I saw it in Spanish and I don’t even know the language! It’s whimsical and tender, funny and sad, and full of delicious physical comedy. Most especially, ‘Are You There?’ celebrates the power and magic of the actor’s art, which lets us see the invisible”.

In ‘Are You There?’ Ana(Paula Arundell) and Francisco(Socratis Otto) appear like any ordinary couple; they are newly married, moving house and unpacking boxes. However with their new house comes new baggage. The happy couple are forced to become a happy trio. Enter the uninvited new flatmate Fred, he’s opinionated, he’s disruptive and most surprisingly of all, he’s invisible! How do the young couple cope with the unexpected intrusion?!

I wish I could say that I also fell in love with ‘Are you There?’ however I would not be being truthful. I didn’t enjoy the play, I found it hard to follow, and irritating. I know that it was meant to be cute and sweet but I give it only a lukewarm rating.

I found Ros Horin’s production and the performances to be sound.

I compare Daulte’s play to say a play turned film like ‘Truly, Madly, Deeply’, a script along similar lines,yet ‘Are You There?’ lacked the same depth or poetry.