Theatre

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.

Copenhagen

This counts as the second time that I have seen the Sydney Theatre Company’s production of Michael Frayn’s play ‘Copenhagen’, and it still rates as a knockout.

Frayn’s play hangs on a meeting that is purported to have taken place in Nazi Germany between two of the world’s most brilliant physicists, German physicist Werner Heisenberg and the Dutch, half Jewish physicist, Niels Bohr.

The significance of their discussions centered on them coming up with the final parts of their formula for the world’s first atomic bomb. In hindsight it was more than a little fortuitous for our civilization that the two scientists did not come up with the solution before the end of the Second World War.

The features of this play were:-the quality of Frayn’s writing; the dialogue was as sharp as a tack, the structure was exquisite. A quality of the writing was that Frayn did not take sides politically. There was as much sympathy and understanding of the German people’s plight as there was for the allies.

The production itself was first class. British director Michael Blakemore’s direction was strong. I enjoyed how well orchestrated the characters were. The performances were exceptional. Robert Menzies was the stand-out as the passionate, extroverted Heisenberg. John Gaden had the less flashy role of the reflective, introverted Bohr. Jane Harders complemented the two male performances with a subtle, deft performance as Bohr’s wife, Margrette. Margrette came across as a soft person with however a steely strength underneath.

Summing up, ‘Copenhagen’ was a memorable night in the theatre and it stands as one of the Sydney Theatre Company’s flagship productions in the same way as the late Richard Wherrett’s production of ‘The Crucible’ was.

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.

AMIGOS

The Sydney Theatre Company’s new production is ‘Amigos’, the latest play by Australia’s most successful playwright, David Williamson.

In 1968 a group of four young Aussie rowers won a bronze medal at the Mexico Olympics. The locals dubbed the team ‘the Amigos’ because they were such a close knit and happy bunch.

A couple of decades later, the three remaining Amigos have one of their rare meetings. They have taken very different paths in life, Dick (Tony Llewelyn-Jones) is a heart specialist, Jim (Gary Day) is a wealthy banker, and Stephen (Gary McDonald) is one of society’s drop-outs.

There have been some telling body blows to the friendship over the years. The play’s dramatic tension comes from answering the question whether there remains a genuine friendship between the remaining Amigos or are they just living in the past?!

I wasn’t a fan of ‘Amigos’. The main reason was that I found the plays’ characters largely unsympathetic. There was no-one I really cared about.

The male characters were a bit nightmarish, and so materialistic and competitive. Williamson wrote that he wanted to write about male friendship, but these men were too busy social climbing to worry about maintaining good friendships!

Merchant banker Jim was the main character, and I found him so unlikable. He dumps his long suffering wife for a younger woman…He judges everyone by material success…He doesn’t help out Stephen, the poor Amigo, when he needs money to pay for his son’s cancer operation. And the main reason he has organized the reunion is to try and persuade Dick to consider him for the Australia Day Honors’ List as he is on the Board.

Williamson decided that his main character should do a U Turn at play’s end, and become a wholesome, giving person. I didn’t buy the change!

The wonderful Tony Llewelyn-Jones played heart surgeon Dick. Dick was a better quality character but also not very endearing. He was too insipid and wouldn’t stand up to Jim’s transparent manipulations. His sordid exploits with escort women in his twenties didn’t endear him either.

Gary McDonald played the character of the ‘poor Amigo’ Stephen. He doesn’t arrive on stage till just prior to interval. Stephen seemed more like a writer’s device than a flesh and blood character. His entrance starts with him planning to dump on Jim and Dick in his book exposing the real Amigos.

Stephen doesn’t have the courage to follow through on the expose, but at least he has a less materialistic approach to the world.

The female roles were not particularly dynamic or interesting. Both women, Hilary and Sophie, play women who have become involved with their bosses.

Natasha Elisabeth Beaumont plays Sophie who was Jim’s personal assistant before becoming his partner. Of the roles, Beaumont’s role is the most colorful, and she plays it well.

Sophie is a sexy young woman but there’s a brain ticking over fast. She’s also independently wealthy.

Rounding out the cast was Wendy Hughes as Dick’s wife, Hilary. One of our finest actors Hughes really had little to do. She just had to play whiny!

Jennifer Flowers competently directed the production.

‘SKYLIGHT’ AT THE NEW

Part of the New Theatre’s New Directions program, Alex Broun’s production of David Hare’s ‘Skylight’ was a memorable night at the theatre.

Through the eyes of the main character Kyra we are taken into the dark but fascinating world of a very complex relationship.

Kyra is busy getting on with her mundane but bearable suburban life when she is visited by her former lover, Tom, along with his grown-up son, Edward. We find out that Kyra was a housemaid at Tom’s marital home when Tom and her fell in love and Tom had a passionate affair behind his wife’s back. When his wife finally finds out, she breaks up their marriage.

Kyra and Tom have very different natures. Kyra’s story is that she is working class and has a very giving story. Tom’s story us that he is very upper class and arrogant.

Alex Broun’s direction was exemplary, and the cast, Jacinta John, Beejan Olfat, and Laurence Coy, performed well.

(c) David Kary

8th January, 2005

Frozen

Bryony Lavery’s Frozen was a Melbourne Theatre Company production that was brought up to Sydney by STC Artistic Director Robyn Nevin.

This was a powerful drama featuring three intertwined characters. Helen Morse plays Nancy, a mother frozen in grief for her small daughter murdered many years prior.Frank Gallacher was Ralph, the serial killer who can’t stop himself.
Belinda McClory was Agnetha, the criminal psychologist assigned to Ralph’s case.

This was an intimate, in the face production. By play’s close, I felt that I had truly stepped into the shoes of these intense people.

Pocket sized dynamo Morse was strong as the still grieving Nancy. Morse’s brief was a challenge, to play a woman frozen in time by the murder of her daughter, who somehow has to find her way out of deep freeze to ‘life’ again .

In the productions’ program Lavery wrote of what stirred her in to writing the play.
“I was always aware that every time there was another film about the Moors murderers or some other case, these poor souls- the relatives of the dead- would be wheeled out to relive their frozen state. They were locked in a position of hatred, a state with no forward motion in it.
‘The prickly subject of forgiveness is central to ‘Frozen’…I once heard a relative of one of the Moors children saying, ‘I am a forgiving man, but I can’t forgive that’. It’s as if he thought forgiving was conditional”.

Morse’s arc is a huge one that she charts with skill. There are two main steps on the journey. The first step is when she becomes the leader of a victim support group.
The other is when she visits Ralph in jail. It is an electric, disturbing scene with Nancy trying to connect with him, showing him photos, telling him about her life.

Frank Gallacher gave the performance of the night as the strange, scary , vindictive, coarse, misogynistic monster that was Ralph.

The irony was that Ralph, in his own way, was a frozen character. He was also in deep freeze as a result of an abusive childhood and some severe neurological deficits..

Belinda McClory gave an accomplished performance as psychiatrist Agnetha. Belinda had an interesting role to play, the contrast between the supremely confident career woman, and the pain and confusion in her private life.

These main performances were supported by John Benjamin and Darren Schnase who played two guards, positioned on the extremities of the stage, who kept constant vigil on the ‘monster’.

Julian Meyrick directed Frozen, Ralph Myers designed an outstanding set, Paul Jackson did the lights and Tim Dargaville the sound.

‘Frozen’ played Sydney Theatre Company’s Wharf 1 theatre.

Bookkeeper

Sidetracks’s Don Mamouney and Carlos Gomez’s revived their production of ‘The Bookkeeper’ for this year’s Carnivale. ‘The Bookkeeper’is a dramatization of the life and times of enigmatic 20th Century writer Portugese writer Fernando Pessoa.
When Pessoa died in 1935 he had left a trunk containing some 25,426 items,.a huge collection of poems, fragments, plays and journals, variously typed or scrawled in three languages in notebooks, scraps of paper, serviettes, the back of envelopes and even used envelopes.
Pessoa led a classic double life. In the daytime he led a dull, conservative life as a bookkeeper in a busy office, at night in his flat he let his imagination run wild at his writing desk.

‘The Bookkeeper’ was directed with plenty of vigour by Carlos Gomes. The set was simple with the main part of the set comprising the office, and then a little to the right, his little flat.
The cast gave good, energetic performances. Arky Michael played the energized Pessoa, and the rest of the cast, Adam Hatzimanolis, Georgina Naidu and Silvia Ofria, were his work colleagues who played a large part in his dreams.

Unlikely Prospect of Happiness

The Sydney Theatre Company’s production of ‘The Unlikely Prospect of Happiness’ wasn’t a world beater but it was sharp, breezy entertainment.
The play represents the fourth play by local playwright Tony McNamara that the Sydney Theatre Company has produced. The play follows on from ‘The John Wayner Principle’(1997), ‘The Recruit’(2000), and ‘The Virgin Mim’(2002).

‘The Unlikely Prospect’ is Ben O’s Sullivan’s story. His life is in a rut. Ben is a successful businessman- running the family’s clothing factory- but everything else in his life doesn’t sit right.
His marriage has lost its lustre, and his family are dysfunctional- his mother is always sick and on the verge of dying, his father rips off the clothes from his factory, his brother has a drinki9ng problem, and his priest is a very confused soul.
Ben’s life looks as if it is at a dead end. And then someone comes into his life who offers him a new way.
That someone is young, spunky tax auditor, Zoe Sparkes who comes to check Ben’s books are ok, and falls for him. A romance develops, and Ben’s life is then at the crossroads. Will Ben leave his wife and family for a new life or will he stay put.
McNamara takes all play to answer the question, keeping the interest going.

What’s the writer’s recipe? McNamara sets the pace very fast. The actors zap through their scenes. The dialogue was brisk and contemporary. There was a definite young people’s feel to the play. It should appeal to the twenties and thirties set.
‘The Unlikely Prospect’ featured a very modern apartment set. An uptempo, jingly sound design added to the plays’ breezy feel.
Thematically the play did not have that much to say.
What did I see as its weaknesses. It comes down to something that I have always felt about McNamara’s writing. His dialogue tends on the coarse side. More of a problem is that the playwright sometimes gets his characters to say things I just couldn’t possibly imagine them to say.
I recall when Judi Farr as then mother made a rather crude, long winded speech, that I couldn’t possibly imagine a woman of her type would say.

Jeremy Sims directed the production. I have seen a number of the productions he has directed and he is a consistently good director.
In the leading role Russell Dykstra started a little nervously, but came good.
I found Pia’s performance as Zoe a little underpowered. As Ben’s wife, Helen Dallimore came across well. She has a strong stage presence, and was always interesting to watch. Judi Farr seemed out of sorts and not particularly interested in her ‘lightweight’role.
Summing up. ‘The Unlikely Prospect of Happiness’ was an entertaining, well worked, albeit unexceptional piece of popular theatre.

Birthday Party

The nerdy, bizarre figure of Stanley in Harold Pinter’s ‘The Birthday Party’ is one of those iconic figures of twentieth century theatre, similar to Stanley Kowalski in Tenessee Williams ‘Streetcar named Desire’. Both of these characters go through harrowing journeys.
Stanley, a nerdy but bright thirties something guy, has done something terribly wrong, and is hiding in the hovel of a boarding house run by Meg and Petey.
Stanley carries on with the couple like a spoilt brat. His life is fairly miserable but bearable.
That is, until two rather creepy guys, Goldberg and McCann, take up lodging at Meg’s boarding house. Stanley freezes when he sees them. They know something about his sordid past. From then on, life is never the same.

Pinter’s ‘Birthday Party’ is not one of my favorite plays,- it is such a dark and depressing play.
Still, there is no doubting its power. This was a searing study of guilt and recrimination.
The strongest aspect of Pinter’s play was some darkly startling scenes…Stanley receiving a tin drum and banging away at it furiously…the scenes of intimidation as Goldberg and McCann make Stanley feel so small as they drill away at his conscience.
‘The Birthday Party’ was put on as part of Company B’s B Sharp program, and produced by Shaft productions.
Robert Kennedy directed the production well and the cast performed strongly. Darren Weller played the prized role of Stanley- the most intense of the roles- and he gave a strong performance. Linal Haft played Golberg and Sam Haft played McCann.

AFRICAN GOTHIC

Soul Tribe Theatre Company’s production of Reze De Wet’s ‘African Gothic’ was a grim night in the theatre.

Set on a desolate rural farm in South Africa, ‘African Gothic’ follows the lives of an orphaned brother and sister who have grown up without parental supervision. They have allowed their farm to fall to ruin by rejecting reality and creating an eerie fantasy life. That is, until an officious lawyer representing their Auntie visits the farm, and threatens to force them from the farm.

‘African Gothic’ features four characters; the disturbed brother and sister, Frikkie played by Adam Stewart, Susie played By Angela Bauer, lawyer Grove played by Adam Waterlow, and Aline played by Pamela Jikiemi.

I found Angela Bauer’s performance the most impressive. Bauer was strong and confident on stage, and with a good handle on her character. Antony Waterlow portrayed his character as conservative and repressed with an apartheid bias. Pamela Jikiemi played a small but significant role as the Afro-American servant Alina. Pamela cast an ominous shadow over the stage and the ‘couple’. It’s hard to know what she really thought of their bizarre mind games.

What did the play have to say? Above all, it was about the shattering impact of disturbed family lives. Through the play the siblings enact scenes from their abused childhood. The hint becomes clearer that the kids, in their distraught state, may have done away with their parents. And since the act, their lives have steadily gone downhill, deteriorating further and further into fantasy and nightmare.

These youngsters live their lives in the past; they are in a terrible time loop with no discernible future.

Other specters haunt the play…like apartheid. The youngsters’ farm is surrounded by native Africans.

Another shadow that haunts the play is that of incest. The siblings have been incestuous from a young age and it is something that infuriated their parents.

‘African Gothic’ played the Old Fitzroy theatre.

Why Kids?

One of Australia’s finest actors, Henri Szeps, performed his latest his latest play, ‘Why Kids’, at the Ensemble theatre. Szeps is one of the Ensemble’s favorite sons, being one of its early graduates, under the tutorage of the late Hayes Gordon.
‘Why Kids’ was a play that Szeps had work-shopped through various venues around the state. It follows up his previous autobiographical one man play- ‘I’m not a Dentist’.
With ‘I’m not a Dentist’ Szeps focused on his career, in ‘Why Kids’ Szeps concentrates on his other preoccupation, family life.

The plays’ recipe is a simple one, Szeps mixes his numerous anecdotes with musical breaks, with Szeps taking over the microphone and singing to taped music.
The verdict…well..I had mixed feelings.
I love Szeps as a performer. He is a great raconteur with an ability to reel an audience in with his warmth and charm. ‘Why Kids’ was always going to be a warm, entertaining night.
The stories are good stories. Undoubtedly he has had an interesting life. He had a tumultuous early childhood in war-torn Europe, starting life as an orphan in Switzerland. He grew up as a migrant in Australia, completed an engineering degree and then became smitten by the acting bug. The rest of the story kind of told itself.
Szeps revealed himself as something of a homespun philosopher. Interestingly he spoke about using his acting experiences to come up with the deeper truths in his life. One of the insights that Hayes Gordon taught his students was that what happened on stage was all about the characters making actions towards each other.
He spoke about this theatrical convention in the context of a real life crisis he had with his teenage son.
He spoke about how his son had, so to speak, turned off him. It deeply concerned Szeps, and he became very introspective. He said he found the answer when he looked at the actions that he had been making towards Amos that had been very negative and critical, and when he changed his actions to a more positive, giving note, his son came around for him.

Szeps’s musical interludes worked, well sort of… They successfully complemented the string of anecdotes. He has an average voice that worked ok. The song choices were pretty ordinary with standard ballads. At least, there was the great Michele Legrand tune ‘Windmills of your mind’ in there. And the songs did tie in with the narrative of the play, ending with the great song ‘What a wonderful world’.
Summing up, ‘Why Kids’ was by no means any work of art, and at times it was a little cloying, yet it was a warm, entertaining evening in the theatre.

Shorter and Sweeter 2004

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Humble Boy

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

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

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

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

Into The Woods

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

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

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

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

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

SCENES FROM A SEPARATION

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

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

9 November 2004

ART

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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