Stranger than Fiction

More than for the star power of the likes of Will Ferrell and Emma Thompson, I went to see Marc Foster’s (‘Monster’s Ball’, ‘Finding Neverland’) new film ‘Stranger than Fiction’ for its fascinating premise.

Will Ferrell plays middle class tax auditor Harold Crick. He lives a very straight, totally organised life. For instance he has his meals at the same time of day every day, he brushes his teeth a certain amount of times each ‘session’… Then one day his humdrum life is thrown into jeopardy. Crick wakes up one day to find out that there is a voice in his head running his life. He soon works out that he has become the main character in a new novel that is being written, and seeks the advice of literary professor, Professor Jules Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman). Crick receives bad news from the Professor. Prof Hilbert tells him he believes he has become the main character in Kay Eiffel’s latest novel, and she always kills off her main character at the end. Crick sets off to find her before he becomes her latest ‘victim’.

‘Stranger than Fiction’ is for filmgoers who love quirky-well done! Films that it reminded me of included Peter Weir’s ‘The Truman Story’, Charlie Kaufmann’s ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’. It had an appealing theme, shake up one’s life a little or one will forever regret it. The film combined a richly comic, satirical tone with a good dose of suspense. Will Crick save his ass, will be get to Katy Eiffel in time.

Marc Foster’s well made film is from an original script by Zach Helm. The performances were a treat. Will Ferrell is great in a basically straight role, Dustin Hoffman goes to town as eccentric Professor, Professor Jules Hilbert, Emma Thompson goes shows her warm screen presence as Kay Eiffel, and Maggie Gyllenhaal as Crick’s love interest, Ana Pascal is a bit of a knockout!

Times Of My Life

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

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

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

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

Lotte’s Gift

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Uncle Vanya-Sydney Festival 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Small Metal Objects-Sydney Festival 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BABEL

Adrianna Barraza and Elle Fanning in ‘Babel’

With his latest film ‘Babel’ Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s latest film ‘Babel’ has added another outstanding drama to his list of credits which include ‘Amores Perros’ and ’21 Grams’. ‘Babel’ has deservedly been nominated for multiple Academy Awards.

‘Babel’ starts off in the remote sands of the Morrocan desert where a rifle shot rings out which detonates a chain of events that link an American couple’s frantic struggle to survive, two Morrocan boys involved in an accidental crime, a nanny illegally crossing into Mexico with two American children and a deaf Japanese teen rebel whose father is sought by the police in Tokyo. In the course of a few days these characters are pushed to the farthest edges of confusion and fear as well as to the very depths of connection and love.

‘Babel’ has that special quality one associates with Inarritu’s films. He just has the ability to get inside his characters hearts. One can really feel what’s going on for them, and one just wants to do something/anything to help them. Inarritu pulls apart the comfortable distance that one usually associates with a filmgoing experience, and draws one right inside

One’s heart goes out to Richard (Brad Pitt) who is trying to get help from the American embassy to provide medical care to wounded wife, Susan (Cate Blanchett). And to Yasujiro (Koji Yakusho) , a disturbed deaf-mute teenage Japanese girl who has been traumatised by her mother’s suicide and is in desperate need of some affection and care. Inarritu sustains the drama till a final scene that is incredibly poignant.

‘Babel’ was a very well put together film. Inarritu’s taut direction of Guillermo Amiago’s incisive script is top class, and he wins strong performances from a quality cast. Rodrigo Prieto’s cinematography gives the film a great look, composer Gustavo Santaolalla provided a haunting, memorable score, and Douglas Crise and Stephen Mirrione’s editing takes us breathtakingly between the various stories.

‘Babel’ is highly recommended, a fine piece of contemporary, compassionate cinema.

(c) David Kary

Wordplay

Some of my favourite American movies have been documentaries. A few years ago there was the film ‘Spellbound’ about the 1999 National Spelling Bee. The film featured eight very different teenagers competing to win the national spelling competition. The film was quirky, touching, and suspenseful. Now I have another favourite, Patrick Creadon’s film, ‘Wordplay’. With ‘Wordplay’, we move from the world of spelling champions across to the world of crossword champions.

‘Wordplay’ has a charming, winning formula. The film boosts that over 50 million people do a crossword every week. ‘Wordplay’ is basically everything one wants to know about crosswords and was afraid to ask!

Creadon interviews in depth crossword expert, New York Times puzzle editor, Will Shortz and some of the main, and often hilarious, puzzle contributors. We learn about how they go about creating their different puzzles, and the different puzzle styles they create.

Creadon goes on to interview many celebrities who are passionate about their crosswords including Bill Clinton, Bob Dole, a very funny Jon Stewart, and the Indigo Girls. They each reveal their own particular process of tackling crosswords.

The hub of the film is the coverage of the 28th annual crossword championship, the world’s largest championship of its kind, held at the Marriott hotel in Stanford, Connecticut. Once a year, on a wintery weekend, roughly 500 puzzlers from all around the world and all walks of life, gather to compete.

Creadon captures the anticipation and excitement as participants gather, his camera focuses on the stressed puzzlers as they work away in their small booths, and before long the film focuses on the players who will come to the fore, at the business end. Included amongst them are a piano player, an editor, a professional puzzle maker, and a computer engineer, each with distinctive personalities.

The defining quality of ‘Wordplay’ was its warmth, as it captured some 500 people gathering together with goodwill in a hotel over a weekend and sharing their love of one of life’s simple pleasures, the good old crossword.

Little Miss Sunshine

Jonathon Dayton and Valerie Faris’s ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ is one of the great feel good movies, and its fitting to include in this write-up for the last edition of Stage Whispers for the issue.

‘Little Miss Sunshine’ focuses on the small town American family, the Hoover family. The Hoovers certainly are a motley and loveable group of characters. There’s father Richard (Greg Kinnear) who is a flop as a motivational speaker and is not doing too good in the relationship stakes with his chain-smoking, unfulfilled wife. Sheryl (Toni Collette). There’s Uncle Frank (Steve Carrell), a Proustian scholar, who has tried to commit suicide following a failed romance with a male graduate student. Grandpa Edwin (Alan Arkin) is a raunchy, outrageous man, a never do well who is also a drug addict. Son Dwayne (Paul Dano) is a freaky teenager and mad Nietzsche follower who has taken out a vow of silence within the family until he hears that he has made it into the Air Force. And then there’s seven year old, bright and, cute as a button daughter, Olive (Abigail Breslin).

The Hoover family are the kind of family who find it difficult to get motivated. All this changes when young Olive learns that she has won a place in the finals of the Little Miss Sunshine Contest in far off California. Richard decides it is good an opportunity to pass up, and, much to Olive’s excitement, the whole Hoover family pack up and head off cross country in a clapped out old VW van to California for the weekend.

The film just simply has a wonderful rich recipe. My favourite ingredients …the positive, all in it together attitude of the Hooker family as they come up against all range of obstacles with some very creative, and often quite hilarious solutions….who will ever forget the images of the clapped out van that the family manages to use to get them to their destination.

There are some awesome performances. Alan Arkin is just tremendous as the feisty Grandfather who trains Olive for the competition. Paul Dano is great as freaked out Dan, Steve Carrell is wonderful as the deadpan academic Frank. And of-course the star of the show is Abigail Breslin as vivacious Olive.

Any good film worth its salt has a strong end. ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ is a case in point. The film motors along well to an ending which brings ‘the house down’ with laughter.

One last favourite ingredient, the snappy dialogue…There are some fabulous exchanges. My favourite exchange happened near the end, between Olive and the Pageant Master of Ceremonies- Olive-‘I’d lke to dedicate my performance to my grandpa, who showed me these moves. MC- Aw, that’s so sweet. Is he here? Where’s your grandpa right now? Olive- In the trunk of my car!’.

Closer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keating

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

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

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

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

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

Woman In Mind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reunion and A Kind Of Alaska

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t teach me-I’m perfect

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Story Of My Life

I really enjoyed the French film ‘The Story Of My Life’, directed by Laurent Tirard. It is a shame it has taken so long to get here as it was released in France in 2004.

The storyline is a familiar one, a thirties something man goes on a journey of self discovery. This version features Raphael, a man who is in a rut in his life. He does not know what he wants romantically, and is bored in his journalistic career.

Raphael works as a ghostwriter, writing up the life stories of dull, uninspiring celebrities whose stories he unashamedly embellishes. He holds dreams of making it himself as a writer, and years ago wrote a novel which he has kept locked away in a cupboard. When he tells his girlfriend Muriel
about his ‘hidden’ novel she won’t get off his case. It starts getting at Raphael, he has felt like an imposter all the time he has been a ghostwriter. Now it really is the time to go for becoming a real writer!

‘The Story of My Life’ was a good example of satirical, playful, romantic, and freewheeling cinema. My favourite ingredients…I loved the quirky character stories, well played by the cast. Raphael is a bit of a Hamlet character, a bit bumbling, incredibly indecisive and awkward. There’s one of Raphael’s clients, soccer star Kevin. He’s a bizarre, dorky character who rattles Raphael with his demands, including wanting to write his story ala Charles Baudelaire. There’s Raphael’s old flame, Claire, a sophisticated woman who doesn’t know what she wants.

I loved the films’ satirical tone. Broad satire is aimed at the shallow world of star biographies. It is all about pleasing the star, and Raphael’s editor is always on his back to make sure that he appeases their wishes.

Most of all, I enjoyed the film’s playful, unpredictable, good natured style. Scenes go one way, and then another, not always making perfect sense but adding to the film’s charm.

Revue Sans Frontiers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lost Echo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Emperor of Sydney

The Stables theatre recently presented ‘The Emperor of Sydney’, the final play in Louis Nowra’s outstanding trilogy about the Boyce family, following on from ‘The Woman with Dog’s Eyes’ and ‘The Marvellous Boy’.

Nowra starts ‘The Emperor of Sydney’ in very dramatic fashion. The three sons and two partners are gathered in the living room of the family’s mansion as their father, business tycoon, Malcolm, lies dying in his upstairs bedroom. While they are anxiously waiting for their father to finally give up his struggle, all sorts of conflicts and tensions come to the surface.

I came out of the play feeling that ‘The Emperor of Sydney’ was the strongest of the trilogy. The play ran for 90 minutes without interval, and it was simply an electric atmosphere on stage all the way through.

David Berthold was again the director, and kept the play going at fever pitch. Toby Schmitz was again tremendous as Malcolm’s youngest son, Luke, who carries within him so much well deserved anger towards his father. Alex Dimitriades was sharp as the calculating Todd, who had been the black sheep of the family but had recently come back into favour. Anita Hegh played Todd’s pushy wife, Diane who had used her sex appeal and the birth of a son to curry favour with Malcolm.

Then there was the oldest son Keith, played by Jack Finsterer, who seemed to have the most practical and business like nature but that didn’t seem to help him get very far. And also Keith was embarrassed by the flirtatious, drunken and manic behaviour of his wife Gillian (Sibylla Budd).

Nicholas Dare’s set of the Boyce’s family home communicated the strong materialistic values that Malcolm Boyce lived and died by.

I felt kind of sad, after the actors took their final bows at the end of opening night. Now there would be no more about plays about the Boyce family. Still one has to be grateful, the Boyce trilogy been well worth the journey!

The Wind That Shakes The Barley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cards on The Table

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

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

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

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

ARE YOU THERE?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Train To Freo

The new Australian film ‘Last Train to Freo’ has had quite a journey. Back in 1999 Reg Cribb wrote a short play titled ‘The Return’, directed by Jeremy Sims, which had a very successful season at Sydney’s Stables theatre. In 2000 the playwright and director presented a successful full length version of the play for the Perth Theatre Company. The talented duo then set about making a full length feature film out of the work, which has now come to fruition with ‘The Last Train To Freo’ opening around Australia in September. The film represents popular actor Jeremy Sims’s debut as a film director.

‘Last Train To Freo’ starts at midnight, on a hot summer’s night, with two ex cons, the Tall Thug (Steve Le Marquand) and Trev (Tom Budge), getting on the last train to Fremantle. Bored, restless and looking for trouble, they start to poke fun at their mind numbing existence. Then a beautiful young law student Lisa (Gigi Edgley) steps onto the train- not knowing that the train guards are on strike, and its time for the boys to create some trouble. Further down the line, at Perth Central station, two new passengers. Maureen (Gillian Jones) and Simon (Glenn Hazeldine) get on board. The lives of the five train passengers are forever changed by the time the train terminates at Fremantle.

I came out of ‘Last Train to Freo’ thinking gosh that was a bold, interesting film but feeling that it just didn’t come off. I loved the way the film tried to change audience’s expectations. Just when the audience is getting in a comfortable mind-set thinking they’re just watching another creepy, claustrophobic film about a couple of thugs throwing their weight around, and tormenting a beautiful young woman, the film goes in different tangents and adds new layers. That is exciting! But then, it felt like the filmmakers just got a bit too carried away with the different twists that they incorporated, and though theoretically everything tied up well in the ending, the truth in the work seemed to get lost on the way.

Still, though ‘Last Train To Freo’ doesn’t reach great heights, the film is worth watching. There was a buzz about the film’s level of energy and commitment. Sims’s first stab at directing was impressive, his creative team supported him well, and the cast played their hearts out…Steve Le Marquand’s edgy, dangerous portrayal as the Tall Thug, Tom Budge as his less charismatic sidekick Trev, Gigi Edgley playing Lisa like an exposed nerve, Gillian Jones’s tough worldliness as Maureen, and Glenn Hazeldine’s simmering rage as Simon.

I am My Own Wife

Jeffesron Mays in ‘I am my Own Wife’

Theatre doesn’t get much better than the Sydney Theatre Company’s presentation of Doug Wright’s play ‘I am my Own Wife’ which won the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

With painstaking research Wright brings to life a remarkable character, Charlotte von Mahlsdorf (1926-2000). Charlotte, a flamboyant gay transsexual, was something of a legendary/folklore figure in home town of Berlin, and has been the subject of a best selling autobiography and an extensive documentary. Now Wright’s play, which is currently on an international tour, has brought von Mahlsdorf’s to the world stage.

The playwright grew up gay in the conservative southern part of America. This was tough enough. The starting point of his play on Charlotte was to explore what it must have been like for Charlotte to have survived living life as a transvestite through two of the most oppressive totalitarian regimes in history.

For his research Wright conducted several lengthy interviews with Charlotte from 1992 to 1994 and also based his play on newspaper accounts of her life, interaction with key people in her life, and sighting the controversial Stasi file held by the East German Secret Police.

With ‘I am my Own Wife’, Wright has come up with an intriguing, turbulent, warts and all portrait. There’s the Charlotte who beat her father to death with a blunt instrument in anger at the abuse of his mother..the Charlotte defiant in her sexuality… the Charlotte who created her own homegrown museum featuring 19th century German artifacts such as period furniture, antiques, and early musical instruments, which East Berliners flocked to… Charlotte who betrayed a friend to the Stasi…the Charlotte, who during the Cold War-when the Russians threatened to destroy a Weimar era cabaret in Berlin’s red light district, rescued each table, cane back chair and liquor bottle and hid them in her basement. In 1992, the German Cultural Ministry awarded her a prestigious medal for her preservation efforts.

Wright devised the play as a one person show, writing in some 35 other characters, He includes himself in as one of the characters as he attempts to unravel the Charlotte story. Other characters include a television talk show host, Stasi officials, American GIs, SS officers, and several of Charlotte’s family members and friends.

Wright and director Moises Kaufman selected one of New York’s major theatre actors, Jefferson Mays, to perform the show, and Mays has since gone on to win numerous accolades including the 2004 Tony Award for best actor. Mays delivers one of the finest performances that has ever graced the Opera House’s Drama Theatre.

Kaufman’s creative team shine with Derek McLane’s exquisite set of Charlotte’s room and her furniture museum, and David Lander’s excellent lighting design.

‘I am My Own Wife’ was a memorable night in the theatre, spotlighting a fascinating life story.

The Dressing Room at the Dog and Trumpet

There is already in existence an ample and impressive collection of plays about theatre, from the inside. Sadly, local playwright Annie Cossins play ‘The Dressing Room at the Dog and Trumpet’, currently playing at Darlinghurst’s Tap Gallery, adds little to this genre.

Cossins contemporary play is set in the dressing room of an inner city pub called ‘The Dog and Trumpet’. The play follows a small group of actors through the course of an opening night performance from their pre show preparations and warm-ups all the way through to the cast saying their farewells at the end of the night.

By way of background, Cossins based the play on her experiences when she was performing in a production of Christopher Durang’s New York comedy ‘Beyond Therapy’ at Balmain’s Cat and Fiddle theatre in 2004. In fact, she started writing the play in the dressing shows during the run. Her characters were loosely based on the actors she was working with.

This all sounds like a great springboard for an interesting play, however I found the end product, flat and disappointing. To use a phrase, it certainly seemed to be the case of something being lost in translation. Whatever inspired and stimulated Cossins back in 2004 just didn’t hold up in the play.

The audience was left with a play that had mediocre direction from Emily Weare, lacked a genuine dramatic situation, and included a group of characters who weren’t that interesting. It wasn’t that exciting to spend just under an hour and a half with a guy with a punky hairdo, a wannabe writer, a guy who can’t get laid, and a prima donna.

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