Tag Archives: Toby Schmitz


This is not the first time Judy Davis and Colin Friels have had an encounter with August Strindberg. In 1983 at the Old Nimrod Theatre (now the Stables Theatre) they performed together in Miss Julie. By all accounts it was a scintillating production. In 1984 they were married.

In the Director’s Note in the program, Davis states that Strindberg broke away from his idol Ibsen by refusing to put social issues into his plays and indeed THE DANCE OF DEATH has no overt political issues. However, there is a commonality between Ibsen and Strindberg and indeed with Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, where there is an oppressive sense of entrapment.No doubt the gloomy and harsh winters in those northern countries contribute to the claustrophobia that inhabits works by these playwrights.

Brian Thomson’s set literally traps the performers by creating a moat encircling the stage backed up by dark hued walls and occasionally a  lit window that looks like a prison grate. Needless to say this moat is actually a symbol of the ocean surrounding the island upon which the protagonists live in isolation and bitterness.

Colin Friels plays Edgar, a military captain in charge of a garrison on the island, but whose career has stalled. Alice says that she thinks he doesn’t value anything but rifles. She says he doesn’t believe in rules, that he lives outside the rules. That he sinks his claws into people like a vampire and ‘sucks the blood out of you’.

Pamela Rabe plays Alice, his wife of twenty five years, who is embittered by the fact that their marriage thwarted a promising acting career.

Edgar describes his wife as ‘a despot with the soul of a slave’. He abuses Jenny for yawning in his wife’s presence.They constantly fight and the menace of violence hangs in the air fueled by Edgar’s alcoholism.

Into this maelstrom of acrid emotions strays Toby Schmitz as Alice’s cousin, Kurt, who promises some sort of escape for, on the one hand, Alice and on the other hand, Edgar. The more Kurt tries to mediate and bring peace to this warring couple, the more he is dragged into their vortex, an emotional wasteland. He also has to tarry with the sexual interest which Alice bestows on him. Kurt constantly refers to the uncomfortable feeling he gets being in their home.  

Colin Friels is wonderful as Edgar. He can play drunken rage and a violent temper but can then slip effortlessly into an almost endearing vulnerability due to his failing health.

Pamela Rabe also brilliantly displays both a visceral hatred and scorn towards her husband tempered with concern for his well being.

Toby Schmitz  as Kurt must portray an almost gradual descent into a kind of delirium and madness and he does so with ease.

Mention must also be made of Giorgia Avery who does well in the role of Jenny the put upon maid of Edgar and Alice.  

Davis as director has wrung dynamic yet nuanced performances from her cast. We watch as this trio of misery continue to play cruel tricks on each other. The cruellest trick of all as far as Kurt is concerned is that Edgar and Alice love to be in almost mortal combat with each other – the dance of death of the title.

Amidst all this loathing and despair Davis has found some moments of humour perhaps aided by the masterful translation of this play by May-Brit Akerholt. There is a scene between Alice and Kurt where Alice exclaims ‘but I am an actress’ drawing laughs from the audience.

As the play unfolded, with some of the scenes, with the characters displaying their vitriol, one didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry!

To heighten the tension of this play fight coordinator Nigel Poulton choreographed a thrilling sword fight between Edgar and Kurt.

Paul Charlier’s edgy, atmospheric, immersive soundscape was a great highlight of this production…so many sounds incorporated in the mix from instrumental to jolts of thunder to gunshots in the night and more.

Costume designer Judy Tanner clothes the cast in what appears to be authentic nineteenth century costumes. Pamela Rabe goes from wearing a dowdy housewife dress to a vampy, shapely vivid red gown. Colin Friels has a similar range of costume from dishevelled, ragged clothes to a smart and colourful military uniform complete with high boots, sword and scabbard. Toby Schmitz makes an impressive entrance in white tie and tails which he sheds to a blowsy shirt and pants.

To match the emotional storm in the interior of this play lighting designer Matthew Scott complements this with lightning bolts symbolising the raging tempest enveloping the island.

There’s no slow dancing in this production. This was raw, confrontational drama performed at a high pitch by the cast. THE DANCE OF DEATH is playing at the Belvoir street theatre, 25 Belvoir Street, Surry Hills until 23 December 2018.





Presenting the noble artistic credentials of one of the most evil group of men in history to the knowledgeable Old Fitz theatre crowd is a very clever conceit. Theatre crowds generally have artistic interests. They frequent cinema, galleries, music venues and museums and would not expect themselves to be confronted with the vile Nazis displaying their affection, knowledge and desire for the various genres of creativity. Take these themes and meld them with some fine writing, directing and strong performances and you have impressive theatre.

The opening monologue introduces the idea of the humanity of these creeps but then slowly breaks their personalities down into their foibles, prejudices, vanities and pathetic weaknesses. The play runs at a frenetic pace as it presents the history and examines what art was considered suitable and what art was declared degenerate. Narrator Megan O’Connell presents a timeline of major events starting with the groups’ disillusionment with the state of their country in the aftermath of World War 1 and how they coalesce into a group that rides on bigotry and injustice to lead Germany and then invade large swathes of Europe. Simultaneously the actors present scenarios of their artistic interests or those foisted on them by Hitler’s dominant personality and his particular taste in art, music and architecture. Continue reading DEGENERATE ART @ THE OLD FITZ

Howie The Rookie

Sean Hawkins in HOWIE THE ROOKIE. Pic Kathy Luu
Sean Hawkins in HOWIE THE ROOKIE. Pic Kathy Luu

“It’s sad, but funny.” says Howie, partway through his opening monologue. He could well be talking about this play, HOWIE THE ROOKIE.

In prose that has the lyrical lilt of poetry, Mark O’Rowe’s powderkeg of a play is packed with explosive expletives, lush imagery, and linguistic gymnastics, lighting a long fuse that crackles and sparks, setting off a series of perfectly timed detonations, – dramatic, comic and tragic.

Continue reading Howie The Rookie


Ella Scott Lynch as Nicole and Anthony Gooley as Hertz-Hollingsworth. Pic Zak Kaczmarek
Ella Scott Lynch as Nicole and Anthony Gooley plays Mr Frey
in Toby Schmitz’s new play. Pic Zak Kaczmarek

Award winning playwright Toby Schmitz has joined forces with director Leland Kean to present his latest play EMPIRE: TERROR ON THE HIGH SEAS for the Tamarama Rock Surfers Theatre Company.

Schmitz and Kean set themselves the challenge of writing a post –colonial play that wasn’t set in Australia.  The story is set in 1925 aboard a luxury ocean liner, the Empress of Australia, on its way to New York.  We find a colourful array of characters from Britain’s once great Empire; the vicar – Reverend Daglish, Mr Frey – a misplaced Australian Dadaist, an Australian Anzac, bombastic South African fighter pilot Tony Hertz-Hollingsworth and his flamboyant wife Nicole, the charming ex Eton/Cambridge man of leisure – Dick Cavendish, French couple Dr and Madame Foveaux, Chicago bag-man – Bang Reiby and cabaret singer Poppy Mitchell, amongst others.

It soon becomes clear that there is a serial killer on board and Inspector Archie Daniels suspects that the culprit is from the eccentric first class of the ship.  We are aware by the second act of who the killer is and the murders become more and more macabre.  There are some very clever scenes, including the cabaret songs by Poppy, sung beautifully by Billie Rose Prichard and the private cabin party, played with great exuberance by Ella Scott Lynch as party girl Nicole.   Also invigorating is the wit and wisdom of Cavendish, played with great humour by Nathan Lovejoy.  Anthony Gee as Mr Hertz-Hollingsworth was funny, but a little out of place with his aggressive and somewhat inconsistent South African accent.

The cast are all competent actors who seem to be struggling to make this cabaret farce into a drama.  There is a lack of communication between characters, to the point where there is little sympathy when they are murdered.

The idea behind the play is great and the characters imaginative, but the dialogue is over intellectual at times and lacking in depth in terms of relationships.  Perhaps Schmitz has taken on too complex a story to be credible on stage.  There is great potential and brilliant humour and nuance nevertheless.  If the characters connected more, the audience could be more involved on an emotional level.  Kean has, however, brought out some fantastic characterisations amongst this strong cast of actors.

The production is very slick.  The set design by James Browne is very 1920s and has that shipboard transitional appeal.  The lighting and sound design by Luiz Pampolha and Jed Silver are extremely atmospheric and the costumes superb.

EMPIRE: TERROR ON THE HIGH SEAS plays the Bondi Pavilion from August 28 and September 28, 2013.






Toby Schmitz, Christopher Stollery and Tim Minchin.  Pic Heidrun Lohr
Toby Schmitz, Christopher Stollery and Tim Minchin. Pic Heidrun Lohr

Many talents contribute to the making of a fine play, and in ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD which opened to an enthusiastic full house at the Sydney Theatre Company last Saturday, those talents were clearly visible.

The production was seamless, Simon Phillips’s direction flawless, the set both perfectly functional and satisfyingly inventive, the sound effects appropriate and the lighting (and, at all the right moments, the total darkness) effective.

As for the actors, all the cast were excellent and gave consummate performances. The stand-out ones, because of their major roles, were Tim Minchin as Rosencrantz, Toby Schmitz as Guildenstern, and Ewen Leslie as the Player. The play is long (about two and a half hours), and one has to admire their ability to memorise so many lines. Because the play is, in effect, a “three-hander”, its success, or otherwise, rides squarely on their shoulders. It can be stated, without reservation, that each meets that challenge adeptly. Indeed, for a large part of the play, Schmitz and Minchin are on the stage alone yet, by their actions, voices and timing- they seem to fill it.

Nevertheless, none of the above is truly memorable unless the play itself is a good one. History tells us that Tom Stoppard’s play must be very good, as it has been performed innumerable times all over the world since its premiere in 1966. Certainly it is replete with one-liners, puns and wit, and these all drew much laughter. But it must be said that without a knowledge of HAMLET you would not have any idea about the storyline, and even with that knowledge there were long periods where you would be equally lost.

 It is an existential play, outwardly hugely comic, and inwardly very sad. If you do not like this unique combination, then the fine exercise of all the aforesaid talents still won’t make watching this play a totally enjoyable experience. However if you do like that mix, then this production is truly great theatre.

This Sydney Theatre Company and Commonwealth Bank production of ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD, directed by Simon Phillips, opened at the Sydney Theatre, 22 Hickson Road, Walsh Bay on Saturday August 10 and is playing until Saturday September 14, 2013.