JESUS WANTS ME FOR A SUNBEAM is an extraordinarily moving night at the theatre, with performances emotionally pitched to the narrative movements of the work, accessible writing which strikes at the heart and a multilayered thematic examination of a very difficult subject. But there is an underlying reality to this National Theatre of Parramatta production: it’s not about what happens in the room. It is about issues that will haunt the watcher’s sleeping and it’s about what the play begs of us, empathy inside the judgements and assumptions when a story hits the headlines.
In one room in a family home we meet the Pollards, a tight knit somewhat unusual family. They have been so, we understand, from the time Linda and Rick met. With the perfect family unit of an older boy, Ben, and a younger daughter, Emma known as Wol, the parents are very aware of the perils in life. In a presumption of protectiveness they have closed themselves off without withdrawing completely. Especially not from Linda’s parents, and Grandma and Grandpa are frequent visitors. And witnesses.
Because something has happened here and Ben, now grown, is trying to work out why. Through his eyes and the reminiscences of his father, the audience is slowly made aware of what has been sacrificed in the name of the children. It is never as it seems, this play, and such is quality of the writing from Steve Rodgers (adapted from the Peter Goldsworthy novella) that the narrative carries consistency of line yet is unpretentiously mysterious. The characters are completely understandable and the moral questions are enriched by this engagement. Continue reading JESUS WANTS ME FOR A SUNBEAM. GO.→
The vitriol hits you full on. We knew it was there, it had to have been. While words like ‘murder’ impact hard, there is other sneaky vocabulary in there, ‘wilderness’ slides by in the middle of a sentence. And should you see yourself in this opening assault, then you are in for a good old fashioned kick in the pants. Despite the onslaught of thousands of LETTERS TO LINDY which threaten and accuse with a malignancy that only the anonymous can be truly capable of, Lindy speaks directly to us with warmth and candour. For this is a play drawn from a life, not just the 199 boxes of letters which are housed in the National Library, but interviews between Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton and playwright Alana Valentine.
In 1980 Lindy and Michael Chamberlain’s daughter, Azaria, was taken by a dingo from their campsite near Ayres Rock, as it was called then. For reasons that defy understanding Lindy Chamberlain became the focus of public attention. It was some kind of national sport to discuss the event, the succeeding inquests, the trial, around backyard barbeques. We didn’t have water coolers then but I can remember the first joke hit well before the first headline did. There was an ownership in the Australian psyche and many took to pen and paper to give their opinion. Lindy kept the letters, she still does, letters and emails and gifts all donated to scholarship. Continue reading LETTERS TO LINDY: A NATIONAL TOUR OF A COLLECTIVE CONSCIOUSNESS→
MIRACLE CITY was first produced in Sydney in 1996 and after brief, bright flame of 4 weeks flickered out as the creative forces behind it moved on. Written by the late Nick Enright with music from Max Lambert (who is Musical Director for this production), the original director was Gale Edwards. Did I see Edwards and original cast member Genevieve Lemon in the crowd tonight? This production was spoken of in legendary terms yet it was interesting to note there were plenty of excitable tweets coming from opening night audience members repeating the precept that MIRACLE CITY was previously ‘undiscovered’. Continue reading MIRACLE CITY @ THE STUDIO, SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE→
“Never in my life has the right thing happened at the right time.”
Katherine Thomson’s iconic Australian play is revived by director Darren Yap at the Griffin Theatre Company for their 2017 season. Set in Wollongong, Diving for Pearls inspects the economic rationalism of the late ‘80s and the effect political decisions of the era had on opportunity and income for the working class, still impacting some today.
Ursula Yovich is brilliant as Barbara, a woman going through a rough patch who despite this, is eager to learn and immerse herself in the new job market while approaching 40. Steve Rodgers is the gentle Den, a steel work labourer adjusting to the new demands of the times. Together they compliment each other’s opposing personalities and form a wonderful (and at times comic) dynamic on stage. The range of passion Barbara and Den exude for one another reaches an ugly dramatic climax in Act 2, contrasting their affection during the first Act. Ebony Vagulans is another stand-out as Barbara’s intellectually disabled daughter Verge, who moves in to live with Barbara and Den, much to their surprise. Michelle Doake is the hilariously uptight Marj, sister of Barbara with an accent attempting to allude to higher status, particularly compared to the working class status of the other characters. Jack Finsterer is the serious Ron, Den’s brother-in-law and industrial consultant.
Griffin is well known for having a small stage, and the use of space was innovative. Set and costume designer James Browne had wonderful attention to detail, leaving no part of the stage unused. From small model houses lining the industrial pipes and dresser, to the grassy knoll that could then be flipped-up into the underground industrial areas of the town was a great transition from the natural to man-made modern world.
While having the ability to find humour in the often dark parts of the story, director Darren Yap reflects, “In the end, the hard thing this play says to me is: if you don’t change you will be changed.” Certainly Diving For Pearls is a comment on the ever-evolving world we live in, from the changing job market to the increasing over-reliance on technology. Our work is to adapt. Yapp believes we should “remember and cherish the past, but don’t live in it. We have to move forward. As I get older, I find that a harsh reality.” And perhaps this is the harsh reality of all the characters within Diving For Pearls. Life goes on for better or worse.
Diving For Pearls is on at Griffin Theatre Company from the 15th September – 28th October at 7pm Monday – Friday with additional 2pm shows on Saturdays and Tuesday 24th October.
On Friday, 30th January 2015, Steve Rodgers was awarded the inaugural Lysicrates Prize, receiving a full $12,500 Griffin Theatre Company commission, as voted by audience at Verbrugghen Hall, Sydney Conservatorium of Music. The Lysicrates Prize was founded by Patricia and John Azarias, in conjunction with Griffin Theatre Company and the Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney. Mike Baird – Premier NSW, Luke Foley – NSW Opposition Leader, and Industry Leaders were amongst the audience.
Steve Rodgers was amongst three finalists who were shortlisted to submit the first act of a new play. The two runners-up Justin Fleming and Lally Katz each received a $1,000 cash prize. This innovative new Australian playwriting competition was inspired by the imminent restoration of an historic monument in Sydney’s Royal Botanic Garden: The Choragic Monument of Lysicrates.
I confess to a bit of stress sweating in the first ten minutes of MIRACLE CITY. I really felt like I was in the audience of an evangelical television program and this made for very uncomfortable viewing. Just a bit too realistic for a traditional girl like me. I swear if they had passed around a plate I would have been diving into my purse for some change. This is a real time show which purports to happen during the live-to-air broadcast of that specialized Tennessee brand of family preachers and tele-evangelists in the Jim and Tammy Faye Baker mould.
In revival at the Hayes Theatre in Potts Point, MIRACLE CITY gives us the Truswells. Initially presenting as the ideal family of faith, Lora-Lee (Blazey Best) and Ricky (Mike McLeish) are celebrating a 20 year marriage. Witnesses to their love story are their 16 year old daughter, Loretta (Hilary Cole) and her younger brother, Ricky-Bob (Cameron Holmes). Together the family has a vision for place called Miracle City, an amusement park for faith and fun.
Supporting the TV funds drive are the Citadel Singers (Marika Aubrey, Esther Hannaford and Josie Lane) and stage manager and preacher-in-training Billy (Jason Kos). The need for money to build this place for prayer and play is the driver of the story and brings the Rev Millard Sizemore (Peter Kowitz) into their family. His help is conditional though and Ricky has to make a horrible decision. And …well … Ricky is a bastard as far as I’m concerned. See … I’m too involved!
MIRACLE CITY was first produced in Sydney in 1996 and after brief, bright flame of 4 weeks flickered out as the creative forces behind it moved on. Written by the late Nick Enright with music from Max Lambert (who is Musical Director for this revival), the original director was Gale Edwards. That season is spoken of in legendary terms. Luckily we have Darren Yap to direct this renewal. He worked as Enright’s assistant in 1997 when a modified version was produced for WAAPA. Yap’s program notes indicate that this show includes influences from that outing. With this pedigree, there would be a danger of making this a reverent affair but instead of baggage we have an exuberant, entertaining production with a big wow factor for such a small space.
The theatre is stripped to a black box and the set looks like nothing. Just a large act curtain in a cable channel TV studio. Yes, but a curtain that closes to hide, can also be opened to reveal. The costumes too, look simple. 80’s glamour, nice suits, beautifully tailored ecclesiastical uniforms, red and blue or gold and black as the palette. They too, hide and reveal. Especially in the final scene.
And if we are talking about secrets hidden and conversations revealed, rich ambers contrast with glaring white lighting states to, literally, put the hypocrisy into relief. In addition, the choreographer’s hand is not just evident in the movement to music but in the movement into on-camera personas and the donning of the ‘sugar smiles’.
Set Designer Michael Hankin, Lighting Designer Hugh Hamilton, Choreographer Kelly Abbey, Costume Designer Roger Kirk and Wig Designer Ben Moir have created the perfect structure for the cast to tell the story.
Everyone in this show is terrific and each performer brings their own story on with them. The characters travel their arcs with absolute believability. The voices are great and blend beautifully, the emotions are raw and available. As I looked along the line of cast and band members when they took their bows, I was thinking that I couldn’t single out any one performance over another. When they came back for the second bow, this ensemble didn’t form another line. They clumped together on centre stage and that grouping said it all.
All the songs in this show are stand-alone gospel songs in a variety of styles from the rollicking “Raise the Roof” to a superbly rendered ballad, “Moving On”. The proselytization was very well realized and several times during the show my suspension of disbelief threatened to draw an ‘Halleluiah’ to the lips. There was a full house and a well-deserved standing ovation so you should get your tickets as soon as you can. This highly talented group of artists may well move on after this season and another incarnation of MIRACLE CITY will enter the annals of theatre-lore.
MIRACLE CITY is playing at the Hayes Theatre until November 16th.
I doubt you will pick this whodunit. This is an excellent production of ‘a good old fashioned’ classic murder mystery as crafted by the Queen of Crime Dame Agatha Christie in ‘the golden era’ . It is oh so utterly British , a genteel village murder mystery.
The original book was first published in 1950. A Murder Is Announced takes place in the village of Chipping Cleghorn and is set in Letitia’s house, Little Paddocks. It is a Friday 13th October and a murder is announced in the local paper. With Dame Agatha’s meticulous , convoluted plotting there are plenty of red herrings , disguises, fake identities, – is anyone really who they claim to be? – unexpected twists , long lost relatives , lots of suspects. And the motive behind it all is greed, lots and lots of money … or , at least possibly … (Letiticia will apparently inherit a fortune from the mysterious unseen millionaires, the Goedlers, who she used to work for). Or will she?! Cui bono?, as the saying is .
Linda Bewick’s drawing room set, (two rooms actually – and why is one door sealed?) is wonderfully realised. Suzy Strout’s marvellous costumes and styling, (for Letitia and Julia especially) and the well-crafted lighting, sound and music (Matt Cox, David Tonion and Max Lambert) – all meld to create a clearly illustrated world where the characters come across authentically.
Director Darren Yap with his excellent cast of eleven has got it just right and it is great to see some challenging roles for women. There are eerie blackouts and explosions and at a couple of points audible gasps and other reactions from the audience which nowadays is somewhat unusual .The tension of the piece is well developed and carried over both acts.
Debra Lawrance as the apparently threatened Letitia Blacklock is marvellous, all exquisite twinset and pearls and cool, calm elegance with a ‘stiff upper lip’. But what deep, dark secrets is she hiding ?Another major role is that of Deirdre Rubenstein as Bunny , Letita’s friend and companion, who is slightly mad – or is she?!
Others in the cast include Robert Grubb as the seemingly inept , rather craggy Inspector Cradock in a terrific performance. Carmen Duncan is elegant but rather highly strung and nervous as Mrs Swettenham and James Beck isimposing as her author son Edmund.
The bright, energetic young things,- Libby Munro,( Phillipa) NathanielMiddleton ( Patrick) and Elizabeth Sebben ( Julia) are delectably enigmatic in their various roles. Victoria Haralabidou has much fun totally stealing the show as Mitzi, Letitia’s rather surly and strange parlour maid and cook, in a strong performance featuring great comic timing.
Miss Marple herself, quiet either in a corner knitting or energetically re-enacting scene- of- the- crime movements, is brilliantly played by Judi Farr who is perfect in the role. As Miss Marple she is a gentle, gracious and unassuming busy body yet also has an agile and incisive mind.
If you like Agatha Christie (or Midsomer Murders) treat yourself and go see this terrific production. Running time is 2 hours 20 mins including one interval.
A MURDER IS ANNOUNCED – a Miss Marple Mystery, is playing the Sydney Theatre until October 27 and then moves to the Comedy Theatre, Melbourne playing there from October 30 to December 4, 2013.
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