Tag Archives: Ensemble Theatre

Absent Friends @ The Ensemble

Absent Friends- Inset Pic
Inset pic- Foreground- Queenie van de Zandt, Darren Gilshenan and Michelle Doake. Background- Jessica Sullivan. Pics by Katy Green Loughrey

In Alan Ayckbourn’s ABSENT FRIENDS (1974) big hearted and  good natured soul Di has organised an afternoon tea for Colin, one of her husband Paul’s best friends.

She has been worried about how Colin has been going after his recent tragic loss of his newly wed wife Carol in a drowning accident. With this in mind Di invites two of Colin’s best friends,  John, along with his wife, Evelyn, and Gordon, along with his wife Marge, to join her husband and her in their family home, and hopefully this will help to cheer him up…

Oh…if only Di had a crystal ball! The afternoon soiree turns out very differently to how Di had hoped. Her husband Paul has come home from golf in a grumpy, cantankerous mood. He is rude, belligerent, even abusive to her.

Gordon doesn’t even turn up, his wife Marge attends and says her husband couldn’t make it. He isn’t feeling well. An absent friend as per the play’s titlle.

John is edgy and can’t stand still, his wife Evelyn is droll and bitchy. To top it all off, Diana has heard rumours that Paul and Evelyn have been having an affair.

Continue reading Absent Friends @ The Ensemble

2014 Sydney Arts Guide Stage & Screen Awards

Bell Shakespeare's WINTERS TALE  2014 winner - Best stage production
Bell Shakespeare’s WINTERS TALE  2014 winner – Best stage production

 

Sydney Arts Guide is a key part of stage and film culture, and exists to celebrate the art of performance, in theatres and cinemas.

2014 was a year of amazing diversity, and our twenty accredited specialist reviewers, were all spoiled for choice in the quality of the live theatre performances to be experienced in the City of Sydney, and the suburbs of Sydney.

As the old adage goes, “live theatre is not dead theatre, as there is a different performance to be experienced every night”. Our team of professional reviewers, have each nominated their personal preferences for both theatre and cinema. A small number of movies were nominated out of the hundreds of cinema films that were seen during the last twelve months.

At the end of another outstanding year for the arts in Sydney, on Wednesday 31st December 2014, Sydney Arts Guide announced its 2014 awards in these Stage and Screen categories:-

Continue reading 2014 Sydney Arts Guide Stage & Screen Awards

Blue/Orange

Sean Taylor, Ian Meadows and Darian Nkono in Joe Penhall's BLUE ORANGE
Sean Taylor, Ian Meadows and Darian Nkono in Joe Penhall’s BLUE ORANGE. Pics Clare Hawley

Psychiatry is surely the most nebulous and volatile of all the chosen medical careers and the gravity of the profession played a substantial part in the extensive media coverage during our recent Mental Health Week.

English playwright Joe Penhall takes an adventurous leap into the complexities of psychiatry and mental health in his multi-award winning play, BLUE/ORANGE.

The underlying seriousness of the play is counterpointed by Penhall’s clever humour, – his ability to use razor-sharp wit and exotic ideas to keep one step ahead of his audience.

Director Anna Crawford, (with the help of assistant director Jo-Anne Cahill, a wonderful production team and outstanding cast of actors), has created an energetic and balanced production, containing all the elements of raw emotion, perplexity, humour and neuroses, enabling the audience to ponder, – who’s mad and who’s sane? Continue reading Blue/Orange

Other Desert Cities

Second Image
Lisa Gormley as Brooke and Deborah Kennedy as Polly Wyeth. Pic Clare Hawley

With his play OTHER DESERT CITIES, nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2012, American playwright Jon Robin Baitz tackles some major subjects the most interesting being the fall-out that takes place, as it often does, when a brave soul, particularly one in the public eye, decides to put pen to paper and write a tell-all autobiographical piece.

I am sure that Mr Baitz would be highly impressed if he saw Mark Kilmurry’s current production at Kirribilli’s Ensemble’s theatre. The five member cast poignantly bring to life his very well drawn and easy to relate to characters.

Continue reading Other Desert Cities

A Conversation

Mark Lee and Merran Doyle in the current revival of David Williamson's A CONVERSATION. Pics Clare Hawley
Mark Lee and Merran Doyle in the current revival of David Williamson’s A CONVERSATION. Pics Clare Hawley

A murder and rape is the catalyst for the community justice forum portrayed in the second part of David Williamson’s Jack Manning Trilogy, A CONVERSATION

This play follows a similar format to the first part of the trilogy, Face to Face, although the subject matter is significantly darker and extremely unpleasant. Members of the victim’s family and of the now imprisoned criminal’s family meet in a facilitated conference in an attempt to resolve their grief, anguish and remorse. Scott, the criminal, has been imprisoned for life. Scott’s mother has initiated the conference to apologise Barbara and Derek, the parents of the horrifically murdered Donna. Continue reading A Conversation

Dark Voyager

Anna Gardiner's set stars with the cast. Pic Natalie Boog
Anna Gardiner’s set stars with the cast, left to right Belinda Giblin, Kate Raison, Lizzie Mitchell, Eric Beecroft and Jaenette Cronin. Pic Natalie Boog

With his new play DARK VOYAGER local playwright John Misto taps into something pretty much universal, the passion, more to the point obsession that people have with everything to do with celebrity.

Misto piques our interest with this tantalising scenario:-

We are in Hollywood. It’s 1962. Right wing gossip columnist Hedda Hopper sure has a lively sense of wanting to live dangerously. Hedda invites the two leading ladies, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, over for supper in her swanky Beverly Hills apartment.

The duo had just completed their latest film, ‘Whatever happened to Baby Jane?’ and word  from the set is that the co-stars had been fighting like cat and dog through the film’s entirety and that the film had not turned out well.

Both the women arrive true to form. First Bette arrives and is so rattled  by Skip, Bette’s house boy, not recognising her, that she gets into the whisky very early on…Then Joan strolls in, in a resplendent blue dress, having managed to get through her crowd of fans. Continue reading Dark Voyager

RICHARD III

Toni Scanlon and Mark Kilmurry in Mark Kilmurry's production of RICHARD III. Pic Clare Hawley
Toni Scanlan and Mark Kilmurry in RICHARD 111. Pic Clare Hawley

With nods to both the legendary Olivier and the McKellan versions, this is an extraordinarily beautifully spoken version of Shakespeare’s play, but I am afraid it just falls short of the mark. You can certainly see what this production is attempting to achieve, however it still leaves us feeling a little emotionally uninvolved.

This is a pared back abridged version with cuts, and many of the cast playing several different characters as required throughout the play, which can be a little confusing.

This production, directed by and starring Mark Kilmurry, is framed as a dangerous act of theatre, in which six players gather in a dark, sparsely furnished bunker to perform Shakespeare’s Richard III. There is a sense of suspense, of wartime desolation, of destruction.

Barely acknowledging each other upon flurried arrival, the cast set straight to work ,at first rehearsing short, key snippets of scenes, the sword fight in particular. Costumes, props and a set of benches, a table and dead TV sets have already been assembled. Kilmurry straps on a hump, picks up his gloves, assumes the now stereotypical gait and a clandestine performance begins, rather quietly and at a nervous pace.

What then develops is a sturdy presentation of an abridged text, occasionally interrupted by the menacing sounds of barking dogs, loud bangs on the door (which is monitored via CCTV) and patrolling helicopters overhead, all adding intensity and suspense, in what is a highly stylised production.

The cast speak in a broad range of accents, that dip and change as characters and alliances change.

The abridgements work well, as do some deft touches of theatrical shorthand – taking glasses on and off to demonstrate a quick-change between multiple characters played by a single actor.

Some key set piece moments do not really catch fire and we feel little for Clarence (Matt Edgerton) as he hurtles towards his death. Also the build up of circumstances towards Bosworth Field is rushed through and barely indicated.

As King Richard III, while beautifully spoken and with a very expressive face, Mark Kilmurry portrays him as shallow, calculating and manipulative rather than darkly villainous, and it is hard to care for him.  The King’s wooing of Lady Anne is played straight and with plenty of feeling. This is in contrast with some of the set piece/famous monologues which did leave me unmoved.

Danielle Carter of the exquisite alabaster skin was tremendous as Queen Elizabeth and Prince Edward. I liked the effect for the Princes in the Tower of having them in brightly striped, very posh school blazers and boaters, but it also in some ways made them look like a vaudeville act.

Patrick Dickson as Buckingham gives a strong, splendid performance. Matt Edgerton is terrific in his many roles as assorted characters. Amy Mathews was most impressive.

At the finale, Kilmurry pauses for a tense, dangerous moment. He looks at the crown. He then drags on his coat. The ominous helicopter sounds increase in volume and appear to be coming much closer. He grabs a piece of chalk, defiantly writes the date, hurriedly scribbles ”Richard III” and vanishes out the door. They were there and this performance happened.  We, the audience, were with them.

Running time – roughly 2 and a half hours including one interval.

”RICHARD III” runs at the Ensemble until July 19 and then transfers to play at the Parramatta Riverside theatre between July 22 and  26 .

CLYBOURNE PARK

Richard Sydenham plays a devastated father in Bruce Norris's Pulitzer Prize winning drama. Pic Clare Hawley
Richard Sydenham plays a father reading shattering news. Pic Clare Hawley.

The black and white keys on Paul McCartney’s piano keyboard may play in perfect harmony  however it sure is not the case  with the black and white characters in American playwright Bruce Norris’s Pulitzer Prize winning drama, CLYBOURNE PARK. Instead, they live in a constant state of tension and power struggle

In Act 1, set in 1959 in Chicago, a property in a white neighbourhood is sold by a grieving family. At the eleventh hour, a neighbour, a leading citizen in the community, begs the man of the house not to sell. He has heard that the house is being bought by a black family and this just isn’t acceptable…

In Act 2, set some fifty years later, in the very same block, a descendant from the black family who took over the house is fighting her hardest to stop a white family from redeveloping the property as a white mansion, in what has become a black neighbourhood.

Norris’s play is as subtle as a sledgehammer. Tanya Goldberg’s production for the Ensemble Theatre, her first, generates plenty of heat.

Each of the cast play multiple roles. Favourite portrayals:- Richard Sydenham as the grieving, bitter father, Paula Arundell as the polite house-maid, seething inside, Briallen Clarke as a subservient, nerdy wife, and Nathan Lovejoy who plays the bigoted white male role frighteningly well.

Tobhiyah Feller’s set design expressively lands the audience in the middle of the action, – Act 1, a living room in disarray with a family on the move. Act 2- a construction zone, again everything in disarray, waiting for a fresh start.

The Ensemble season of CLYBOURNE PARK, finishing on April 19, is already a sell-out. The Company has announced two further dates at the Concourse at Chatswood on April 23 and 24.

PROOF

Matilda Ridgway (Catherine) and Adriano Cappelletta (Hal) in David Auburn's  Pulitzer Prize winning PROOF at the Ensemble Theatre
How many levels of proof are required?!- Matilda Ridgway (Catherine) and Adriano Cappelletta (Hal) in David Auburn’s engrossing play, PROOF. Pic Clare Hawley

David Auburn’s PROOF takes us into a young woman’s world as she reaches a significant milestone in her life, turning a quarter of a century. Joining Catherine (Matilda Ridgway) in her birthday celebrations is her estranged stocks analyst sister, Claire (Catherine McGraffin), who travels from New York, Catherine is based in Chicago, and a new beau, Hal (Adriano Cappelletta). Absent is her irascible, brilliant Mathematic professor father, Robert (Michael Ross), who recently passed away after a long battle with mental illness.

Continue reading PROOF

RAPTURE, BLISTER, BURN

Mother and daughter, Diane Craig as Alice an  Georgie Parker as Catherine in the Australian premiere of Gina Gionfriddo's RAPTURE, BLISTER, BURN. Pic Steve Lunam
Mother and daughter, Diane Craig as Alice an Georgie Parker as Catherine in the Australian premiere of Gina Gionfriddo’s RAPTURE, BLISTER, BURN. Pic Steve Lunam

During the performance of RAPTURE, BLISTER, BURN, I occasionally averted my gaze from the action taking place on stage to look across at other audience members to take in their reactions. I noticed some people shuffling around in their seats.

When the play ended, even before the cast had completed their curtain calls, I saw one couple start to leave. It felt like they were registering some sort of protest.

Not surprising, really. American playwright Gina Gionfriddo’s play RAPTURE, BLISTER, BURN (the title comes from a typically abrasive Courtney Love song), which the playwright herself has described as, ‘a play about the state of male/female relationships at this particular time’, is a gutsy, even at times controversial play, meant to shake audiences up, more than a little. Here’s an extract:-

“ Avery: Drink is your body under the influence of alcohol and love is your body under the influence of hormones. Booze, sex, hormones…they do the same thing which is dupe you into thinking average people are great.

Catherine: What a grim philosophy.

Avery: I’m a Bio major. Evolutionary? It makes total sense. The love drink lasts about six months. Just enough time to get knocked up and trapped.”

RAPTURE, BLISTER, BURN cleverly mixes a discourse on feminism and its place in the modern world with the playing out of a whirlwind reunion between old friends. She does so through the journey of her main character, Catherine (Georgie Parker). Forties something academic and talk show celebrity Catherine returns to New York to her ailing mother, Alice (Diane Craig). Whilst in NY she reunites, after over ten years, with her best friend, Gwen (Anne Tenney) and Gwen’s husband, Don (Glenn Hazeldine), who used to be her boyfriend.

During her stay, Catherine decides to run a summer class on feminism from her mother’s home. She ends up having only two students, Gwen, and Gwen and Don’s former babysitter, precocious, outspoken university student, Avery (Chloe Bayliss). Lively discussions ensue whilst Alice makes martinis for everyone and chips in with the occasional comment.

What stands out about RAPTURE, BLISTER, BURN is that here is a playwright getting the audience to look at some of the big social issues happening right now. Like any drama worth seeing, the play asks questions, amongst them…How well do all the bold feminist texts and ideas stand up in the present day? What is going to be the social impact of the voyeuristic content that is freely available on the internet? Is the choice for women between family and career getting more and more difficult? Aren’t we weakening our relationships when we put so many expectations on our partners?

Sandra Bates directs the play’s  Australian production well. One suspects that it won’t be long before other theatre companies tackle this piece.

The play offers good roles all round and the cast deliver. Georgie Parker is great in the lead as Catherine, Anne Tenney plays her best friend, the more conservative Gwen, the ever reliable Glenn Hazeldine plays Gwen’s husband, Don, who lives his life out in a second gear ‘fog’, Chloe Bayliss is tremendous as the tough talking but warm hearted Avery, and Diane Craig is well cast as Catherine’s wise cracking mum, Alice.

Recommended, Sandra Bates’s production of Gina Gionfriddo’s RAPTURE, BLISTER, BURN is playing the Ensemble Theatre, 78 McDougall Street, Kirribilli until Saturday December 7.

 

A YEAR WITH FROG AND TOAD

James Moody as Toad with Stephen Anderson as Frog and Jonathon Freeman, Crystal Hegedis and Lizzie Mitchell as the Birds
James Moody as Toad with Stephen Anderson as Frog and Jonathon Freeman, Crystal Hegedis and Lizzie Mitchell as the Birds. Pic Natalie Boog

If you want an exciting experience for your children during the school holidays, take them to see A YEAR WITH FROG & TOAD at the Ensemble Theatre.  The young audience yesterday were mesmerised throughout the show’s 60 minute duration.

The play had its first run in 2008 at the Ensemble, winning the GLUGS Award for Best Children’s Production.  Director Anna Crawford has brought back her enigmatic and delightful show for a return season.

The cast are all very competent actors, singers and dancers.

The timid and cautious Toad (played by Jay James-Moody) is reluctant to come out of winter hibernation and is goaded by the swashbuckling and adventurous Frog (played by Stephen Anderson) to greet the spring.  They are visited by an amusing and colourful array of forest creatures,– (played with great flair by Jonathon Freeman, Crystal Hegedis and Lizzie Mitchell) – the elegant birds, the meddling moles, a mouse, a turtle and the hilarious snail with mail – played appropriately with a slow southern USA drawl by Jonathon Freeman.

The play originated on Broadway, followed by its world premiere in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  It has had 3 Tony Award nominations in the USA, including Best Musical and Best Original Score.

Crawford has put together a great crew. A fabulous set by Anna Gardiner, razor sharp choreography by Shondelle Pratt, atmospheric and beautiful lighting by Matthew Marshall, fine costumes by Margaret Gill and sound design by Daryl Wallis.

The dialogue and song lyrics are simple, clever and easy for children to digest.  It is a show well worth seeing.

A YEAR WITH FROG AND TOAD plays at the Ensemble Theatre from Sunday September 29th to Sunday October 13th.