Theatre

Love: a multiple choice question

‘Love: a multiple choice question’ is the show currently playing at the Stables theatre. This is, in no way, your average show, having come all the way from New York with a colourful history. It is the creation, back in 2003, of Jamie Jackson and SoHee Youn, two students from the New York University’s Graduate Musical Theatre Writing program. They devised a one man show based around Jamie’s hometown and family, submitted it to the New York International Fringe Festival, and the play was accepted. Their show received a warm response, and two years later and with some fine tuning, ‘Love: a multiple choice question’ has come to the Stables.

The play tells a simple, eloquent narrative. Jamie plays a guy who has decided to break up with his long time girlfriend. He feels that the relationship is going nowhere, and always finds himself checking out other women. We see him having him the big confrontation scene with his girlfriend, who fights to keep him, and then the play shifts focus. He is, so to speak, pulled out of the big bust-up scene and thrown back into his old hometown and family and friends, where he goes on a journey of self discovery, and to find the true meaning of love. The play ends with him being thrown back into his dialogue with his girlfriend, and having to decide what to do.

The Stables theatre proved the right venue for this intimate production. SoHee took her seat by the piano at the back of the stage, and played gently in the background. Jamie Jackson had the rest of the stage to weave his magic. The piece went for about an hour twenty, and featured some 10 songs.

‘Love: a multiple choice question’ proved to be a showcase for Jackson’s talents, showing off his strong voice, and considerable acting talents as he brought to life many characters from his past. The theme that Jamie and SoHee wove through the work, came through easily, love involves depth and commitment.

Influence

A new David Williamson play is always an event! This year, thus far, the Ensemble Theatre has already produced a new Williamson, ‘Operator’, in which the playwright’s son Rory played the main role of Jake, a ruthless young businessman. Now at one of Sydney’s premiere venues, the Drama Theatre at the Sydney Opera House, the Sydney Theatre Company is presenting another new Williamson piece, ‘Influence’.

In ‘Influence’ John Waters plays Ziggi Blasco, a high rating Sydney talk back radio DJ who is courted by politicians and public figures, a man who has the ability to influence public opinion with his hard line views on everything from terrorism to political correctness. His private life is different, he is a man who is finding his power, his sphere of influence, is waning. His relationship with his wife is strained and his adolescent daughter is a bit of a mess. Then there’s just the small issue of personal hypocrisy, Ziggy rants and raves on his radio program about there not being such a thing as the working poor and yet his very housekeeper is a struggling migrant woman trying to keep her family together. Will Ziggi be able to keep the contradictions in his life from destroying him?!

‘Influence’ was a typical Williamson play, flowing over with contemporary issues. Here’s just a list that I made on the run…The play looks at the world of talkback radio…political correctness…the racial tensions…the rise of Muslim extremism, the Serb/Croation and East versus West conflict…the Israel/Palestine conflict…psychology, in particular theories on depression and a psychological term called self stereotyping. It was heady stuff and there was of-course Williamson’s trademark one-liners.

John Waters played the lead, Ziggi Blasco. It’s an excellent part and Waters does it justice. He gives a credible, strong performance as troubled Ziggi, and transverses his characters’ public and private worlds effortlessly. When he does his schtick in his recording studio , swinging between callers, one really believes that he is one of the talkback emperors of the airwaves.

Zoe Carides has the most difficult role as Ziggy’s Turkish/Muslim housekeeper. She does well and manages to imbue a role that could have fallen so easily into dull stereotype with grace and dignity. Her strongest scene is when her character gets to tell Ziggy’s father to turn off the radio in the living room because she finds Ziggy’s vitriolic racist remark’s offensive.

David Williamson also gave veteran actor Edwin Hodgemann a difficult role. Hodgemann played Ziggi’s Dad who comes to stay for a time with his son. He is a veteran of the second world war and during the play reveals a dark past. Hodgemann manages to encompass the fine balancing act in terms of sentiment that the part requires. Williamson makes use of the contrast between father and son. Ziggy’s Dad’s worked all his life as a concreter to support his family whilst Ziggy makes a motza out of shit stirring on the airwaves.

Genevieve Hegney gets the next best role as Ziggi’s wife, and also gives a strong performance. Hegney goes to town with her character. She plays an egocentric, impatient, wilful woman, some might say a perfect match for her equally egocentric husband. During the course of the play we see her endeavouring to salvage her brilliant career as a ballerina that she was forced to give up. Further reiterating this characters’ journey, Lawrence Eastwood’s set includes an exquisite ‘photo’ of her as a ballerina in the prime of her career.

Vanessa Downing plays the part of Ziggy’s psychologist sister. She’s fine in a role that doesn’t give her much range. Her character spends most of the play being a pacifier, trying to ease family tensions, and trying to explain clinical behaviours. Octavia Barron-Martin has a juicier role as Ziggy’s wayward teenage daughter. There’s plenty of range here…at one moment her character is in the midst of turbulent adolescent depression and those nobody love me blues and then in the next moment she is in top of the world telling her father how to invest his money. Yes she’s bi-polar girl…I think Andrew Tighe was hard done by in his role of minder Tony… his only defining trait was his weird presence.

About the production values. Bruce Myles direction was fast paced and tight. I liked Myles’s work with set designer Laurence Eastwood in creating smooth transitions between Ziggy’s public and private worlds. In the background was Ziggy’s recording studio, in the foreground Ziggy’s family home. Eastwood set was outstanding with Ziggy’s ultra modern, recording studio dominating the stage. Paul Charlier’s sound design suited the piece well.

The Sydney Theatre Company have already advised that they are extending the play’s season. It would appear that they have another Williamson hit on their hands. This was stimulating, entertaining theatre.

Faustus

The Working Group’s adaptation, by writer Robert Couch of Christopher Marlowe’s 1605 work ‘Doctor Faustus’, was the first play in this year’s B Sharp season at Belvoir Street.

It is 1581 in Wittenberg, Germany. Meet John Faustus, the greatest genius ever. At only twenty two he’s read every book in the world. Meet Mephistophilis; provocateur, cynic, Satan’s personal assistant. Faustus sells his soul to Mephistophilis in exchange for ever increasing knowledge.

This however isn’t your every day purchase. The titanic clash of these two opposites explodes over medieval Europe. Impestuous and passionate, Faustus shatters every barrier the wily devil could create. Defiant to the end, he fights for existence itself.

This Working Class production, its second production as part of a B Sharp season after ‘Knives in Hens’ in 2002, was a vibrant, colourful night at the theatre. About the two leads…I loved one..wasn’t too keen on the other . Amie McKenna was great in her primary role as Mephistophilis (all the actors doubled at some time during the play). She was a feisty, cunning devil. (I loved her bright, bright red high heeled shoes). I wasn’t too keen on Eden Falk as Faustus. This was too big and showy a performance for such an intimate space.

The material to the play was basically serious but director Joseph Couch incorporated some nice comic touches especially through actor Paul Ashton who played Robyn. Couch also imbued the play with a strong theatricality with the use of a large prop box on stage which actors could ‘dip’ into to change or add to their roles. There was some poignant scenes such as when Mephistophilis confronts Faustus with a war scene. It is a problem scene for Faustus who wants to see and know everything, and yet confronted with a dark scene from life isn’t too impressed.

I enjoyed the play’s slow reveal of how cunning Mephistophilis is and how much of what she puts Faustus through has been staged by her-in fact it is a source of much of the play’s fun. This dynamic that runs through the play is rounded up exquisitely at the end with Amie McKenna as Mephistophilis coming to the centre of the stage, and folding her arms and saying ‘well’.

Summing up, The Working Group’s production ‘Faustus’ represented a good start to Belvoir’s B Sharp 2005 season.

Breath Of Life

I caught David Hare’s play ‘The Breath of Life’ as it passed through Belrose’s Glen Street Theatre in mid March whilst in the midst of its national tour (Hit productions). The production has been directed by Kate Cherry and stars Helen Morse and Kirsty Child. It is interesting to note that fhe London premiere of the play, Dames Judi Dench and Maggie Smith were the featured players.

With ‘The Breath of Life’ the brilliant British playwright chose a highly charged situation, featuring the meeting of a wife and the other woman. Helen Morse plays the other woman, Madeline Palmer, a retired curator and self reliant woman who has her own place on the Isle of Wight. The action begins when the wife, Frances Beale, played by Kirsty Child, pays a visit to her. Beale is a novelist who has recently had a lot of success with her writing. Through the course of a single night, the two women sift through their memories,dreams, regrets and decisions, unearthing answers to painful questions they would have prefered to leave alone.

I enjoyed Kate Cherry’s production of yet another fine David Hare play. What were the elements that stuck out?! I thought Adam Gardnir’s set was quite beautiful with its depiction of Madeline’s plush, velvety Isle of Wight apartment. I lound Kate Cherry’s direction tight, and enjoyed the way the play on an emotional level started quietly but built up to a really strong climax.

Both performances were strong. Helen Morse received the main billing but I felt that Kirsty Child’s performance was just as strong and effective. There were some especially ice-breaking moments in this production. There were two moments that came to mind, and they were both given to Kirsty Child.

A scene has Frances describe in painful detail to Madeline the time when she had a major confrontation scene with her husband over his affair. Frances described in vivid detail how her husband saw Frances as a kind of perfect modern woman and how much she felt betrayed by him saying it. How could he idealise this other woman when she was doing so much for him, being a loving wife and raising their children?! One felt sure that a lot of women in the audience would be able to relate to the feelings of this woman on stage!

Frances, towards the end of the play, expresses a feeling to Madeline that crystalises a feeling that many middle aged people have. She described how when she was young she fell in love so easily and she could be spontaneous and plunge into love. Now in middle-age she felt much more reserved. there was much less impulsiveness, much more guardedness. The feelings just weren’t the same. There was too much history.

Summing up, I found David Hare’s ‘The Breath Of Life’ a touching. reflective play that was given a strong and eloquent local production.

Lawyer Lawyer

Popular fringe playwright Tony Laumberg has a new play on in Sydney. The play, his fourth, is ‘Lawyer Lawyer’ and is playing the Tap Gallery in Darlinghurst. Laumberg returns to writing comedy after ‘The Lucky One’, a drama wriiten in memory of his late father, who survived the horrors of the Holocaust.

In ‘Lawyer Lawyer’ Holly Logan (Guro Brand) is a bright young lawyer in a big city law firm who can’t help telling a white lie in order to meet the firm’s newest mega-client, wealthy Italian industrialist, Marcello Rossi. As the play unfolds Holly’s life spins out of control as she desperately tries to cover up the fact that not only can’t she speak Italian but that she’s managed to lose Rossi as a client.

‘Lawyer Lawyer’ fits in to the current Sydney theatre scene as good natured, fast paced farce.
The play features Laumberg’s plethora of one liners and his trademark, anarchic humour.
in his last play, ‘The Great Divide’, the playwright had a couple of characters playing a bizarre game of Twister within the play, in the current play he has a character’s arm go out of control in a similar vein to Jim Carrey’s çlaw in ‘Liar Liar’.

Guro Brand played Holly, a woman just starting a legal career, and contending with an over-protective mother. Guro gave a natural, charming, winning performance. Jared Housemann played Danny Myers, a wannabe actor with attitude, and a man who reckons that he is a gift to the female race. This was the most richly comic role, and Jared impressed. There was some good work between Jared and Guro, as some romantic by-play happened between their characters.

Mark McCann is always a pleasure to watch, and he was effortlessly good as Holly’s boss, Bruce Dawson, and has to work hard to keep up with the feverish pace of the farce. As did Peter Demlakian as Marcello Rossi, an over sexed and over temperamental Italian businessman.

‘Lawyer Lawyer’, well directed by Richard Cotter, is playing a four week season at the Tap, and is due to close on Sunday 3rd April. It looks set to have a successful season, and should bring some healthy chuckles to audiences.

Short and Sweet 2005

Sydney is in the midst of short play fever at the moment with the annual ‘Short and Sweet’ Festival that reaches a climax on Friday 25th February with a Gala Final and Awards night. I caught up with the Festival at the Seymour Centre in the last week of January.

Program B Week 1 featured some eleven plays of widely varying subject matter, a mixture of hits and misses. My hit list….one of Sydney’s best actresses Kate Mulvany came up with a clever , anarchic, comic piece, ‘Naked Ambition’. The ambition of a pretty, young woman is do a streak of the cricket ground for Australia. Kate Box gives a great performance as the peculiar woman who covers herself with the Aussie flag but also has a crush on Brian Lara! …Another strong comic piece was Christopher Johnson’s piece ‘The Bar’. Guro Brand plays a young woman trying to fight her partner’s – a wonderful Mark McCann, addiction to chocolate. The pace is frenetic as McCanworks himself into a lather trying to enjoy his chocolates.

Our playwrights came up with some other interesting material; Chloe Schwank’s ‘Playing Dirty’ used as its springboard the gang rape crisis that swamped the Bulldog Rugby League team last year. The difference is that with Schwank’s play the genders are reversed with the players/rapists being women. Then there was Yasmine Clement’s quirky comic piece, ‘The Waiting Room’. How was this for an original scenario?! The play starts with a bridal party sitting patiently in the emergency ward of a local hospital waiting to hear about the fate of their Maid of Honour wounded in a struggle for the bride’s bouquet during the reception.

Summing up, the night featured some imaginative stuff from local writers combined with some good and committed acting. It will be interesting to see whether any of the night’s short theatre bytes will make it into the final and be voted the sweetest on the 25th.

Warren Mitchell and Alf Garnett in…..

If there is such a thing as a sure thing then the Ensemble Theatre has one with its new show ‘Warren Garnett and Alf Mitchell in…’. The show amounts to an evening with the great British comedian and raconteur Warren Mitchell.
The play was divided into two distinctive Acts.
Act 1 was Alf Garnett in full force. The performance started with the old warhorse ranting and raving about all things racist and narrow minded, seated at a desk that was covered with a British flag. Pianist Arnold Butcher shared the stage with him, and provided occasional backing.

The ‘reincarnation’ of Alf Garnett was a hit with the audience. I imagine that many people will come to see the show just to have one more contemporary ‘hit’ of Alf. Alf’s strange, illogical view of the world has become ever more obnoxious and embarrassing.

After the break, Warren Mitchell walked out on stage in ‘something more comfortable’, a pair of shorts and a short sleeve shirt. This was Warren Mitchell as himself without his gruff alter ego. Act 2 did it so much more for me than Act 1. The show flowed so much better, Mitchell, one of the best raconteurs around, entertaining the audience wih anecdotes from his theatrical life, and recounting some of his favourite jokes with immaculate delivery.

The audience left with warm smiles on their faces. It had been a touching night in the theatre. Mitchell did not share any of his personal philisophies, still he left such a strong impression. Here was a gritty, pugnacious man, who coped with life with his resilient humour.

Mitchell spoke about how last year he suffered a stroke. The effects of the stroke were there for everyone to see. When he got up from his chair to walk around, he staggered around with the help of a walking stick. He told how, after being in hospital for two days after his stroke, he discharged himself, determined to get on with his life. His action kind of said it all, like bad old Alf, Warren Mitchell was no pushover, no man to mess around with. Formidable, and what a great showman!

Operator

As a general rule, there is at least one new David Williamson play each year at the Ensemble Theatre. The Company has started the new year with the master’s latest play simply titled ‘Operator’. There was a special quality about this year’s premiere, one of the playrights son’s, Rory Williamson, played Jake, the title role.

As the play’s action unfolds it soon becomes clear that Jake is more of an Operator than the smooth operator that Sade wrote about it in her hit song. (I noted that ‘Smooth Operator’ was the song that was played through the theatre as the audience streamed out of the theatre after the performance). Not only was Jake a smooth operator with the ladies he was also a manipulative and dishonest operator as he climbs up the work ladder. His rise is meteoric, from winning a job as a salesman in a company that supplies exercise equipemnt through sheer bravado, he manages to become the office manager and then is headhunted to work in a managerial role with a larger company. He does it in not a particularly original way…..by stabbing everyone in the back!

The bottom line is that Williamson junior has to play a nasty, perverse character. Well.. actors are supposed to enjoy the challenge of meaty roles, so I guess he has to thank his Dad for the chance…What’s more, Rory is no novice actor, with a background that includes having graduated from NIDA in 1999. Rory shares the stage with a fine group of actors; Henri Szeps plays the Company’s CEO, Douglas, Amanda Crompton is Douglas’s slinky personal assistant, Francine, Melissa Gray plays Douglas’s niece and office worker, Irena, Michael Ross is office manager, Alex, and Katrina Milosevic plays Jake’s co-worker, Melissa. The Ensemble’s Artistic Director Sandra Bates has again taken up the mantle and adds another Williamson play to her directing credits.

It is common knowledge in theatrical parlance that a new Williamson play is box office gold. Prior to opening night the play’s season was already well booked. There was a strong, positive response to the play on its premiere, with both the playwright and the director being brought onto the stage to share the warm applause from the audience.

It is the night after the ‘euphoria’ of opening night and I have had time to pare down my own thoughts about the play. I rate the play as a clever, solid, entertaining example of popular theatre, aided by a strong production. It didn’t have that x factor to make it memorable. There was nothing particularly new in the story Williamson told. The story of a ruthless corporate climber brought back flashes for me of Louis Nowra’s ‘The Temple’ at the Sydney Theatre Company that starred Colin Friels. There was, in fact, something quite melodramatic about the play and Jake’s character, and it felt at times the audience were on the verge of hissing and booing. Jake’s character wasn’t so far removed from say Charles Dickens’s Uriah Heep’ or Moliere’s ‘ Tartuffe’. The thing that made the play work was the skill with which Williamson told his story, and of-course there was his flair with his one liners.

A play is not a Williamson play without our most popular playwright firing some broad-shots at selected targets. With ‘Operator’, Williamson has plenty of jibes at the shonkiness ofd the fitness industry. I loved it, and one could sense the audience enjoying the frequent reference to the latest fitness equipment that came out on the market, promising the world, selling like hotcakes, and then people getting cold feet when they realise it really doesn’t make a difference. Another Williiamson target was popular psychology. There was a number of scenes where a characters attempted to have a showdown with another character and started with, ‘when you do this…it makes me feel’, and the response by the other character is, ‘you’ve done a course haven’t you’. Sure, the line got laughs, but personally it was more than a little cheap and cynical.

To end up, a note about the performances. Rory did rise to the occasion and gave a confident, charged performance as the Maciavellian Jake. The stand-out for me however was the performance by Michael Ross as Alex. Michael has been a regular performer at the Ensemble for many years. Always a reliable performer, his work on opening night showed him at the top of his craft.

Daylight Atheist

The Sydney Theatre Company has kicked off its 2005 season with New Zealand writer Tom Scott’s play ‘The Daylight Atheist’, directed by Adam Cook.
The play is a one hander featuring Max Cullen, one of our most celebrated actors. Cullen plays Dan Moffat, a bitter and bombastic drunk who, despite having been married and having sired six children, ends up living out his life in a bachelor room. The playwright has written the play out of his childhood memories and has based the character of Moffat on his late father.

The audience sees Moffat reflecting on the journey of his life from his childhood in Northern Ireland, migration to New Zealand, service in the war, work in the shipping industry, and his difficult marriage and family life. The plays’ title refers to Moffat’s dislike of night and darkness from his childhood. As Moffat says, during the day I don’t need God, at night I need him desperately.

I’ll say straight off that this was not one of my peak experiences in the theatre, it was more in the mid range. I found Max Cullen in fine form, though he stumbled over his lines are a little. Cullen is one of our theatrical treasures, and has that trait that all good performers have, he holds an audience in the palm of his hand. I found the portrait of Dan Moffat to be a poignant one. It was the study of yet another man broken down by alcohol abuse. The tide of his life went against him. He was faced with his unhappy marriage, and didn’t have the nouse to turn things around.

I didn’t find Moffat a very sympathetic character. More to the point, I found him quite an insulting person. I’m really put off by men who put down their own wives, calling his wife Dingbat, and one of his own children, Egghead. When I heard these nicknames, part of my heart separated from the play and never returned! Scott’s a good writer, if only he had written about a more appealing subject, but then perhaps he had to exorcise the demons!

The most remarkable feature of the production was Dean Hill’s outstanding set design that so brought home Moffat’s desolate existence. The rain coming through the holes in the ceiling… the crooked blinds…the power cables running everywhere in the room, and continuously having to switch power points on and off to get simple things to work, such as boiling the kettle. In the Sydney Theatre Company’s program it is noted that Hill’s inspiration for the set was the late, great artist Francis Bacon’s studio apartment.

Inheritance

The Melbourne Theatre Company’s production of Ínheritance’ has made it to Sydney, performing a season at the Sydney Opera House.
Raison uses the vehicle of a family reunion to create her drama. The Hamiltons and the Delaneys gather to celebrate the 80th birthday of long time matriarchs of the Malee district, twins Dibs Hamilton (Monica Maughan) and Girlie Delaney (Lois Ramsey). The children and grandchildren are returning to the family home, Annandale, which Dibs won ownership of many years ago through the toss of a coin. With Dibs’s husband Farley (Ronald Falk) on his last legs there’s competition amongst the two families as to how the property will be divided up if she decides to sell up.

With ‘Inheritance’ Raison has clearly set her sights on some targets which she polishes off efficiently. Raison hones in on the right wing elements in the country. There is no room to move for Nugget Hamilton, the Hamilton’s adopted Koori son, about whom rumors abound. On the other hand there’s plenty of room for right wing extremist Ashleigh Delaney to form her own successful political party. Geraldine Turner gives a charismatic, broadly comic performance as Delaney, a take-off of Pauline Hanson.
.

I don’t know whether Raison was in some way inspired by the classic play, ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’, but there was a certain insidious, even evil quality about the two matriarchs. The scene near the close where the twins gathered to decide how the sale of the property will be divvied up, sent chills up my spine

King Lear

The Genesian Theatre Company made a good fist of The Bard’s greatest tragedy,‘King Lear’ in a recent production.

Under director and designer Gary Dooley it was quite a physical, intense production. The fight scenes, choreographed by Felicity Steel, were violent enough to have some of the young people in the audience gasping.

There was clearly a lot of effort put into the production with one of the most intricate set designs I’ve seen at the Genesians for a long time. The set included a pond and fountain. The lighting design by Eric Bicknell and Roger Gimblett added to the drama.

The performances were of a mixed quality with some stand-outs. It was a case of the men outdoing the women. Keith Potten gave a strong performances as Lear. Jason Murdoch was a confident, evil villain Edmund, Andrew Purches was a very animated, tall and gangly Fool. The finest performance came from Rohan Maloy in an energized, colourful performance in the double role of Edgar and Tom of Bedlam.

Love Child

The Stables theatre recently was privy to a special theatrical event with a mother and daughter performance of style featuring Belinda Giblin and her daughter Romy Bartz, fresh out of graduating from NIDA. They performed a season of Joanne Murray- Smith’s most well known play, ‘Love Child’, with Jennifer Hagen directing.

Murray-Smith’s play is a fierce one. Anna, an attractive, middle-aged professional woman consents to a meeting with a young woman, Billie, who claims to be her daughter who she gave up for adoption some twenty five years ago.

‘Love Child’ was an appropriate vehicle for the actresses to show their talents. The play gave mother and daughter the chance to let fly, and show their dramatic range in the intimate Stables space.
In the program notes director Hagan likened ‘Love Child’ to a boxing match with ‘two ill-matched contestants fighting it out-each determined to go the distance. There can be no decision either way until the bell sounds, signaling acceptance’.
It is a fitting metaphor. Romy’s Billie is the aggressor, trying to land as many blows. Belinda’s Anna is in the corner defending the blows, till she gets the opportunity to free herself.
Belinda plays Anna very cold to begin with, reminiscent of a mother like Mary Tyler Moore in ‘Ordinary People’. Her frostiness can’t last long under Billie’s continual barrage. Billie forces Anna to open up and take stock of her life and decisions.
Romy plays Billie with rage, empowered with the moral high ground, but then she has to take some backward steps.

Jennifer Hagan staged the contest well, helped by Tony Youlden’s lighting design, and Axel Bartz’s compact set.

One Day Of The Year

The Sydney Theatre Company brought back Alan Seymour’s classic play ‘One Day Of The Year’ to the Wharf theatre.
Sydney Theatre Company Artistic Director Robyn Nevin helmed the production and brought together a strong cast for the production intent on proving the play which was first performed to much controversy in 1961 has lost none of its edge.
Everyone knows ‘The One Day Of The Year’ as that play about Anzac Day with a son calling his father on how he sees Anzac Day as just an excuse for a big piss-up. What makes Seymour’s play so good is that it is also about much more….
This is a play about Hughie just starting to come out of his familys’ shadow, and forge his own identity. He has never really questioned his parents’ authority before and struggles deeply with it.
If there is one emotion that typifies Hughie through the play it is angst! And this is the through-line of Nathaniel Dean’s performance.. Hughie’s choices are hard; should he be loyal to his parents, to his new girlfriend, follow his new cerebral, political approach or follow his heart. Indeed is he still a boy or a man?!
Some in Australia in the 1960’s would have viewed Australia as a classless society. Not Alan Seymour!
The working class Cook family just can’t handle Hughie’s new friend, Jan Castle. She’s a North Shore girl. What would she know about life in the Western Suburbs?! Whenever she’s in the house, the Cook’s are ill at ease.
The role of Jan Castle is a meaty role for an actress to play, and talented NIDA graduate Eloise Oxer takes up the challenge well. Oxer plays Jan as intense and cerebral and a touch insensitive and unconscious. In a revealing scene, she describes Mrs Cook as a bit working class before she realises the slip’ she has made.
In the 1960’s more kids were going to University hoping to give them more opportunities in life. Working class families like the Cook’s were wary of their kids going to university because they then found that they started to question everything.
Max Cullen’s infused his portrayal of Alf Cook with a kind of nobility. A hard living, gruff, bulldog of a man, he was still the father, that when push came to shove, insisted that Hughie continue at University, despite everything. He wanted his son to become more than a lift driver, which was his fate.
Kris McQaude’s role as Mrs Dot Cook was that of a peace broker in between making cups of teas. She was in that zone that all mothers dread, when sons grow up and feel its time to stand up to and square off with their Dads.
Ron Haddrick completed playing the cast, playing salt of the earth Wacka, a little oblivious to the family drama happening around him.

THE SHAPE OF THINGS

‘The Shape of Things’ at the Sydney Theatre Company was in any terms exhilarating theatre.

Neil LaBute’s play was a brilliant piece of writing, strong in all areas. This was a play about careless love and its destructive consequences. Up and coming artist Evelyn was the perpetrator of the unhealthy love.

Jeremy Sims’s production served LaBute’s well. The performances were striking. Leanna Walsmann’s portrayal of the merciless, persecutory Evelyn was marked with a strong stage presence. For the role Walsmann came up with a haughty speaking voice that vividly expressed her character.
As Evelyn’s unfortunate victim Adam, Brendan Cowell gave a performance that cut close to the bone. His final scenes were aching! Cowell’s range was impressive, playing a character who was klutzy, a bit of a loser, out of touch with the world and yet with a big heart.

In supporting roles were played by Alyssa McLelland and Nick Flint as Adam’s friends, Jenny and Phillip. McLelland gave a touching performance, especially in a bittersweet scene with Cowell. Nick Flint was fine in the role of the cynical, straight talking Phillip.

Director Sims does much more than just let the words tell the story. Together with set designer Fiona Crombie a wonderful minimalist set design was created.As the characters changed their environments, they moved between miniature sets.

Aye Larkin’s (ex Skunk Hour) music score, with its Nick Cave feel, reinforced the play’s dark themes.

Damien Cooper’s scattered lighting design that featured flashing lights coming from underneath the sets, and some strobe lighting that flashed across the stage, complemented the play’s startling quality.

9 January, 2005

Birthrights

David Williamson’s new play‘Birthrights’ played a season at the Playhouse at the Sydney Opera House, as part of the Ensemble’s subscription season.

Australia’s leading playwright. Williamson’s plays are always worth looking at. When he’s on fire there are few more incisive playwrights. Williamson always has a meaty issue to tackle. With ‘Birthrights’ Williamson takes on the issue of women’s fertility and its consequences. Young sophisticate Claudia makes a decision that will dramatically turn her life around. Claudia’s older sister Helen is devastated when she is told that she will never be able to have a baby. Her marriage to Mark is on the rocks.

Claudia decides to take action to help her older sister. She chooses surrogacy- and has her brother in laws child via artificial insemination and then immediately hands her daughter Kelly to her sister for adoption.

Claudia’s decision ends up biting her…when she and her partner Martin later find out that they can’t have a baby, and Kelly becomes the only child that she will ever have.

I have to say that I did not rate this play as one of Williamson’s best. The issues were certainly there. There are few more heart rending issues than a woman who has problems conceiving, together with the whole issue of adoption.

A Williamson quote for the play has good relevance:-‘The clash of intellect and our emotion, our sense of fairness and our capacity for bastadry, are at the heart of all drama. It’s what makes life difficult. It’s what makes us human’. In ‘Birthrights, Claudia’s battle in the play turns out to be between wanting her own needs met, and maintaining her own sense of fairness.

My problem with ‘Birthrights’ is that it never really connected on a gut level. I never really went under its spell!

The Ensemble production directed by Sandra Bates was faithful enough. Michelle Doake as Claudia as always bestrode the stage effortlessly and confidently. Katherine Jones was strong as Helen’s screwed up daughter Kelly. Andrew Doyle was effective as Helen’s wealthy, conservative, controlling husband, Mark.

Cavalcaders

Billy Roche’s ‘The Cavalcaders’ looks at the lives and loves of four likely lads in contemporary Ireland.-
Terry (Patrick Dickson) Rory (John O’Hare), Ted (Sean O’Shea) and Josie (Danny Adcock) work in an old fashioned cobbler’s store. By day they mend shoes, by night they are the cavalcaders, stars of the local charity circuit.
Two local women, Breda (Jeanette Cronin), an ex of Terry’s and Nuala (Susan Prior), Terry’s current girlfriend, are regular visitors to the store.

‘The Cavalcaders’ was a deceptive piece of entertainment. For the first while I thought this was going to be a comfortable nights’ entertainment. Some Irish lads sitting around, sharing plenty of anecdotes, doing some folksy stuff, and even breaking into some song and dance. Good fireside entertainment.

Playwright Roche’s intentions were more than folksy. ‘The Cavalcaders’ also featured a tragic love story between Terry and Nuala. Terry came across as an emotionally crippled man. Hurt and betrayed in love when he was young Terry never lets any woman get close to him. With Patrick Dickson’s portrayal Terry is a character full of charm on the outside, but thorny once you get to know him.

Contrasted with Terry is Nuala, who wears her heart on her sleeve. A pretty, vivacious young woman she wants Terry or nothing. When Terry rejects her, she doesn’t have the emotional maturity to handle it. Susan Prior plays Nuala with her outer shell full of sensuality and bravado yet her inner core as thin as tissue paper.

Chicks will dig you

There was no agonizing for some deeper theme in the Silver Productions presentation of Toby Schmitz’s new play ‘Chicks will dig you’. This was just good fun entertainment for the younger set.

Schmitz’s main character Jasper is single and out to find some women. His best friend and smooth talking womanizer Sebastian puts him on to the latest pick-up guide, ‘The Hunt’ and its guru, the charismatic Chase.The play sees Jasper making his moves on a variety of women with the dominating Chase forever in his shadow, trying to coach and cajole him.

The production values were basic with a simple set design and some use of a video screen showing Chase espousing some of his philosophies.

The script was a springboard for some good acting roles. Josh Lawson impressed in the leading role of the unconfident, klutzy Jasper. Drayton Morley reveled in the role of the conceited, egotistical, dogmatic Chase. Ewen Leslie played Jasper’s smooth talking friend, Sebastian.
Four young actresses, Lauren Steenholdt, Natasha Beaumont, Larissa Rate and Natasha Beaumont, had the minor roles of playing the unfortunate objects of Jasper’s affections.

Howard Katz

‘Howard Katz’ is the second play by British playwright Patrick Marber that the Sydney Theatre Company has produced, following on the success of its production of the bitingly contemporary ‘Closer’. This Sydney Theatre Company production was directed by Michael Kantor.

Howard Katz is a world weary showbiz agent who represents the ‘flotsam and jetsam’ nobody wants, a confused Jewish person who is questioning his faith- and is extremely funny and rude.
Katz is hit for six by a mid life crisis. He leaves his family and is coerced into taking time off from his job. With his life spiralling into chaos, Howard ends up on a park bench contemplating suicide.

Billie Brown, best known in Sydney for his performance as Oscar Wilde in Belvoir Street’s ‘Judas Kiss’,played the lead, coming in at the eleventh hour after Gary McDonald bowed out. took over the role from Gary McDonald He delivered a strong performance,and was well supported by a strong cast including Vanessa Downing, Kirstie Hutton and Frank Whitten.

This was a bleak night in the theatre. It was tough watching this pugnacious man fall deeper and deeper into the great chasm.

Kimberly Akimbo

The new play at the Ensemble Theatre was the American play ‘Kimberly Akimbo’ by Los Angeles playwright David Lindsay-Abaire.
The play tells the story of sixteen year old Kimberly (Melissa Jaffer) who is a 16 year old teenager who faces two big battles. She suffers from a nasty disease where her body has aged severely and quickly, and is certain to cut years off her life. She also suffered from having to interact with a very dysfunctional family,
She has to cope with a heavily pregnant volatile mother, Pattie (Dina Panozza), a rarely sober father, Buddy (Rupert Cox), and a homeless scam-artist Aunt Debra (Anni Finsterer).
On top of this Kimberly has to bear the pangs of first love/crush with a school friend Jeff (Ben Mortley).

My take on ‘Kimberly Akimbo’…this was a screwball comedy with the emphasis being on its oddball, screwball characters.
My gut reaction at that crucial time when the lights went down, signaling the play’s finish, was that this play was a winner.
The play had a delicious recipe. It featured such a strong, touching journey for its main character as well as it generally being great fun.
Opening night went down a treat. This Australian premiere production was a strong one. Kate Gaul directed the production confidently. This was such a strong cast with everyone making their contribution.
Veteran actress Melissa Jaffer was excellent in the main role. She meets the challenge well, having to tap into being so emotionally young but with a body so aged.
Dino Panozzo was a stand-out as Kimberly’s outrageous mother. She is such a volatile, extroverted actress and this is a perfect role for her.
Rupert Cox gave a strong comic performance as her father, a caring father but one who says the most inappropriate things.
Anni Finsterer had a good energy as her crazy, frenetic Auntie. Ben Mortley was fine as her nerdy love interest, Jeff.

How did I rate Kimberly Akimbo compared to like minded plays? Highly. I loved its quirkiness and emotional honesty.

Nocturne

The B Sharp production of American playwright Adam Rapp’s ‘Nocturne’ has been one of my theatrical highlights of the year.
The play features a scenario that theatre regularly transverses. It captures a soul journeying back from the edge of darkness to some sort of stasis.
In ‘Nocturne’ the soul is a young man who experiences a terrible tragedy. Inebriated after a drunken University party he makes it all the way home in his car only to run over his sister in the driveway of his family home.
Rapp presents the tortured journey as a one hander with young Perth performer Gibson Nolte playing the role.
The drama starts with the young man, with his back to the audience, writing on the back theatre wall, ‘on such and such a day I ran over and killed my sister’. This confronting beginning sets the tone for night.
Production elements were strong with good lighting effects and appropriate sound design. Nolte’s performance is strong, intimate and sustained
‘Nocturne’ had some strong moments. The guy has set himself up in a big city flat, determined to live an independent life.
The largest feature of his apartment is the huge number of books, intellectual in nature, that he has accumulated. His passion in life is reading.
His life seems to pick up when he befriends a woman at a café, and it seems that he will have some romance in his life again. He beds the lady down and finds he is impotent. He can’t bear to see her again.
He comes home, and in one of the play’s most explosive moments he kicks all the books onto the floor from their makeshift shelves. One can see what he is feeling, what do books matter, what does anything matter, when life is so painful?!
There’s another moment, kind of encapsulating this man’s life, when he talks about how he can’t play the piano anymore. He had ambitions of being a concert pianist and would train for many hours. Now he can’t touch the piano. It’s too sorrowful. The sounds emanating from the piano go right through him.
Like a piano, ‘Nocturne’ is the kind of play that cuts through one’s defences, and provides a powerful dramatic experience.

Great Divide

Tony Laumberg’s new play ‘The Great Divide’ was good, light entertainment.

The great divide was between a WASP couple and a Greek couple fighting over their own territories in St Ives. As soon as the Greek couple move in to the neighbourhood a merciless antagonism takes place. The Greek couple, Archimedes and Athena want to pull down the neighbourhood fence and put up a huge brick wall.

The plays’ strengths lay in the playwright’s considerable wit, and well defined performances. The actors all had their characters down pat…..Mark McCann as the uptight North Shore-ite solicitor WASP. Tricia Youlden impressed as his very drunk, awesomely flirtatious wife, Margaret, Manny Katz was good as the obsessive State Rail worker, Archimedes Christi, obsessed with timetable information, and Tula Tzoras she his devoted, assertive wife Athena. Peter Demlakian rounded out the cast as the set upon Greeh magistrate, Mr Poulos.

The sound design was good with suitable Greek instrumental music. Tony Youlden’s set design was basic but did the trick. Richard Cotter’s direction kept the action moving rapidly.

I will remember ‘The Great Divide’ for the playwrights’ quirky way of incorporating a game of Twister to finally resolve the neighbourhood dispute.

Lucky One

Prolific fringe playwright and producer Tony Laumberg’s latest play ‘The Lucky One’ has played NIDA’s Parade theatre.This was a very different play from the playwrights’ previous productions, ‘Unsolicited Male’ and ‘The Great Divide’.

Both these plays were rich comedies, stemming from Laumberg’s legal background. Laumberg is a practicing solicitor, working in the eastern suburbs. This time the playwright has chosen a more dramatic and personal theme, the life and struggles of his late father, Max

Max was a miraculous survivor of the Nazi concentration camps. The story goes that when Tony was growing up his father told him that when he was more mature he would tell him about his experiences in the camps. Finally, with Tony in his early thirties, Max was ready to tell his story. And Tony was ready to hear out, with his tape recorder at the ready.

A memorable piece of oral history was being collected. Tony transcribed the tapes, and knew that at some time he would write something with them. After the success of his two plays Tony decided to write a play from the material. And so we come to the ‘The Lucky One’.

These were the things that stood out from ‘The Lucky One’…The wisecracking humour between father and son…also the tension between them as Max tried to make sure his son had a good start to life. A piece of dialogue stood out: Max wanted Tony to be a doctor. Tony’s reply,-‘well I was a stand-up comic, Dad at least I’m a lawyer now’.

Max’s journey was well portrayed. The audience was swept away with Max’s torturous war journey. Every time that he seemed to be finally free from his situation he would be entrapped again. He truly was lucky to have survived.

A scene that stood out was the one depicting how his parents got married. During the Holocaust there was such a sense of danger that people could only think of living one day at a time. There were many Holocaust weddings, instant weddings because people did not know whether they would be around tomorrow. Such was the marriage of his parents.

The two performances by David Ritchie and Scott Agius were excellent.

‘The Lucky One’ was a very personal, touching night at the theatre, and one felt honoured to be part of it.

Club

David Williamson’s ‘The Club’, first performed in 1977, has still got what it takes and is very entertaining. The Sydney Theatre Company’s revival of ‘The Club’, directed by Bruce Myles, was an accomplished and highly successful one.

The production was marked by some strong performances. John Wood reprised his previous performance as Jock, the former star player with a mountainous ego and lack of sensitivity.
Paul Goddard played the Club’s shrewd administrator. Steve Bisley, a regular performer on the Sydney theatre scene, was superb as the salt of earth coach, devoted to his players, and being seriously undermined by management. Jeremy Sims was the cantankerous Club President warring with Laurie. Conrad Coleby had the plum role of crash new recruit Geoff who was a regular under-performer. The role reminded one of the bratty tennis player in Nick Enrights ‘Daylight Saving’.

Together, Conrad Coleby and John Wood, share the best scene in ‘The Club’ when Geoff tries to convince Jock that he is the ultimate deviant.

Perhaps the biggest star of ‘The Club’ was Laurence Eastwood’s awesome set design. It drew immediate gasps from the audience. It contained the two main sets of Williamson’s play, the club’s executive room, and the club’s home ground, replete with spectator seating.