GO BACK FOR MURDER

Genesian Theatre

22 August – 3 October

Play by Agatha Christie

Directed by Michael Hemming

Cast: Tamryn Liddell, David Hopkins, Paul Barbary, Dereck Cameron, John-Paul Santucci, Clancy Carraway, Dominique Purdue, Cassady Maddox, Louis Emerson-Chase & Denise Kitching

Synopsis

Carla’s mother went down for poisoning her philandering husband and died in jail, but a letter she left insists on her innocence. With the assistance of solicitor Justin Fogg, who followed the case closely, Carla aims to interrogate the five other people present when the crime was committed 20 years previously, and learn the truth… A brilliant edge of your seat Agatha Christie whodunnit!

Review

What an extraordinary experience it is to go to the Genesian Theatre and watch a show. I must admit that though I have heard much about this quaint and historical company and church-turned-theatre delight, I had not yet seen a production there. I was pleasantly faced with (but not surprised, the Genesian have a strong committed audience) to find a hoard of chatty patrons spilling out of the tiny foyer as I turned from George St into Kent. As I neared and veered my way up the steps and past mingling rosey faced patrons, I couldn’t have been happier with the organic natural feel and tone the space represents. That old church smell, the worn but lush theatre style red carpet and the tucked away wee box office had me nostalgically miss London and the tucked away West-End theatres that maintain a similar vibe. It was like a warm hug to which I hugged back with smiles to whom ever would take one from me. A few elderly patrons looked at me quite suspiciously as I floated around in my happy-place bubble looking at every nook and cranny of this Sydney diamond of a space. The Genesian feels like home, it’s like going to Grandma’s house for afternoon tea. Not many, actually not any other theatre that I have been to can match that respectful and natural warmth that the Genesian as an institution brings naturally. Making my way up to my seat in the quaint 4-5 row dress circle, feeling at home, and in my element I was ready for an Agatha Christie like no other!

So the production, a classic whodunnit, what’s not to like? Growing up watching re runs of Angela Lansbury’s ‘Murder She Wrote’ and the novel’s of Christie in abundance in every old book store I often find myself in, glossing this brilliant authors murder mystery collection with my finger tips. I found it a real thrill to get to see one of her productions. It’s not particularly fashionable to put on a classic old school detective murder mystery these days, so it makes my experience to see ‘Go Back For Murder’ a real treat.

Director Michael Hemming, did a fine job along with set designer Garry Bates in constructing a simple, versatile, uncomplicated design that functioned purposefully for this piece. The simplest adjustment of props, set and lighting gave us a clear view on time, place and setting. This play has several location changes, which could easily be grossly elaborate in era and style without need or overly thought through and confusing. Bates and Hemming gave careful consideration to the bare minimum requirements this production needed to ensure the story was clear and driven by performance and not fussy sets or props. Hemming had lighting states that gave the piece some light and shade during flashback dialogue for characters which assisted the shape of the piece quite nicely. A simple, unpretentious theatrical state which worked in their favour.

This production had a reasonable sized cast with a few actors doubling up on roles, and a few having smaller parts to play. I was particularly impressed by David Hopkins who played young lawyer Justin Fogg. Hopkins gave a tremendous performance in mannerisms and diction alike. I found his acting method beautifully naturalistic with a great sense of character embodiment. I continuously found myself observing his craft even when he was not the actor delivering at the time, keeping his character in check even when not in the spotlight. Hopkins holds a mature way about him in his physical language, his vast training has served him well. Hopkins held his English accent flawlessly which was certainly not the case for majority of his fellow cast members. He was a joy to watch, believable and captivating from start to finish. The other stand outs for the evening were Denise Kitching who played hilariously absurdist character Miss Williams, Kitching provided the audience with comedic relief throwing exaggeration into the theatrical wind, which swirled around the theatre tickling patrons pink as it boomeranged back to her with pizazz. Kitching is a charming performer who gave her character flare and cheekyness that made her presence on stage much liked and embraced. A fine performer in every sense of the word, a true delight to witness. Cassady Maddox, who played both the child and grown woman characters of Angela Warren, providing a fine, well structured performance giving her character mystery and likeability in her gesture and all round delivery of character. Super engaging to witness on stage.

In regards to casting as a whole some of Hemmings choices were spot on and others had me counting my fingers to calculate the age of these characters whose actors seemed far to young for the voices that came from them. I do think, the casting for majority of the characters was a stretch. Most certainly when it came to the friends of murder victim Amyas Crale. Though I understand that the second act consists of flash backs to 16 years prior, making for much younger characters, majority of the cast did not pull off the age brackets they were meant to be portraying making for often awkward displays of young people pretending to be older people. There was a lack of physical adjustment that could have been considered more thoughtfully to give the audience a stronger understanding of character, making their performances a bit naff and forced. There were actors who gave nod worthy delivery in dialogue such as Dereck Cameron as Southern jock Jeff Rodgers, but whose physical language was confusing and over the top, the same attributes unfortunately exuded from lead Tamrynn Liddell who was much more believable as Caroline Crale than Crales daughter Carla Le Marchant whose constant hand-on-hip posing throughout the production was an irritation almost unbearable. One too many Bette Davis movie influences perhaps, or directors notes, I am not to know, but a blocking choice none the less that did nothing for her or her character. Liddell’s performance as Crale was much more palatable, though costume changes in the second act were clearly an issue, Liddell held her own as Crale, but failed to captivate or create any empathy or immersive embodiment in the character of Le Marchant.

Overall this production was an enjoyable one that kept true to the classic feel and elements of a Christie production with I can imagine on a tight independent budget. A production with a good sized cast whom collectively gave a performance much loved by their audience that had the foyer buzzing post show. If you love a good murder mystery you are sure to enjoy your time at the Genesian for ‘Go Back For Murder’. 

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THE PIANO THIEF & RECIEVERS

Presented by Old 505 Theatre Co. & Feat in Space Theatre Co.

Written by Gareth Ellis

Directed by: Amanda Falson (Receivers) and Gareth Ellis ( The Piano Thief)

Performed by Mark Tregonning, Tom Milton, Mathew Young, Eva Torkkola and Sophie Kelly

Synopsis- An absurd, dark, sci-fi comedy, Receivers explores the world of idealistic farmer Hedrick who, after years at agricultural school, simply cannot make things grow. In a final attempt to save his property from ruin he stumbles into a world populated with a prostitute, a General, a television repair man, an unforgiving computer… and Hillary. Or does he? Welcome to Latin 4 space platform.

Review- Playwright Gareth Ellis has penned two absurdist pieces of theatre with characters who are easy to laugh with and at. What goes on in the mind of Ellis one can only imagine as we witnessed two densely short plays that took us on a journey of craziness and comedy.

The double bill started off with The Piano Thief, directed by Ellis himself. Ellis cast well for his characters Dave (Tom Milton) and Mitchell (Mark Tregonning) both actors performing with clarity and impeccable comedic timing in a piece that is both sporadic and bizarre in content. Milton who also performers in Receivers showcased his craft beautifully. An actor with a fine toolkit to rely on Milton gave a grounded and humourous performance throughout. A crowd favourite scoring earned laughs. Tregonning also gave a solid performance as the air-headed partner in crime Mitchell. Tregonning gave an expressionistic performance that reflected true context towards the character he was playing. Eva Torkkola who played quirky Jenny also brought her character to life with vigour, her generosity in performance was well accepted by her audience. Torkkola gave commendable performances in both shows, she also played clinically disturbed patient Hillary that engaged and enticed her audience to further dive into the absurdity of the worlds these characters live in. She also brought physical qualities to both of her characters that were interesting and evolving. Ellis’ directing was towards his actors with very limited props in use for the entirety of The Piano Thief which was favourable to witness. The use of projections is used through both productions, in The Piano Thief it did not hold much weight or purpose to the story as the images were so dark you couldn’t see them very clearly. A punchy short first half then kicked on with Receiver in the second part of the show.

Receiver, is like watching random brain activity and thought spuing from five vastly amusing and highly perplexing characters. Sophie Kelly plays a bossy prostitute in her stride making her performance laid back and nonchalant. Kelly is a natural performer with comedian attributes that made her easy to watch and her character likeable and fun. Matthew Young played farmer Hedrick, Young though comfortable on stage as a performer he tended to over act through out the entire play. His choice of physical response to circumstances that surrounded him were over the top and strained. Young struggled to nail the comedy in the text with little diversity in his performance for a character whom is complex in nature. Director Amanda Falson had her work cut out for her with this piece by Ellis which is chock-a-block full of absurdity. Falson had a cast who pulled off the play rather well with Tregonning, and Milton also playing a few characters through-out the piece with good comedic abilities that held the audience’s attention through the unfolding chaos as the story unfolded.

This is a night out for theatre-goers who love to be entertained by silliness and chaos. Ellis has written with smarts, cultural relevance and sensibilities. The set wasn’t as versatile as it could be; projections at times awkward or difficult to engage with, but overall an entertaining double-bill.

METAFOUR

Glorious Thing Theatre Co/Ashfield Artist Xchange

at PACT theatre Erskinville

Playwright – Samuel Beckett

Director – Erica Brennan

Performers – Aslam Abdus-samad, Bodelle De Ronde, Victoria Greiner, Sophie Littler, Pollyanna Nowicki and Gideon Payten-Griffiths

30 July – 15th August

Four Samuel Beckett short plays – Quad, Rockaby, Come and Go, Catastrophe

Review-

Beckett, you can’t change a thing…his estate is severely strict on compliance with the playwrights written (or in the case of Quad being an un-printed TV play) work. This I feel for the Australian scene is both refreshing and a much-needed injection for our independent and professional stages. In director Erica Brennan’s directors letter in the programme she says, I quote ‘In a contemporary context that values innovation, recreation, reinvention, adaptation and the newest/sexiest creative vision, these restrictions on creative licence are abominations. Aren’t they?’ I sense this comment is said with a bit of tongue-in-cheek and jest at anyone who would consider licence restrictions to be an abomination, (correct me if I am wrong Ms.Brennan). From what I know of Brennan as an artist she has solid training and has a clear focus on the kind of theatre she wishes to practice, favourable strengths in her advantage. The challenge of a Beckett work is for an artist who has the capacity to take another’s vision and do it with full respect, vigour and humility. There is a lot of “artists” in Sydney who are focusing on the contemporary approach to theatre practice with visual aspects an eyeful feast but with great cost to the art of the actor, especially physically which is a dire state of events to witness 90% of the time. Our professional stages especially under certain directors visions sadly display it at its worst. Style has taken over, and the actor…more so than not is left to their own physical devices. This makes me wonder/wish these folk focus perhaps on becoming installation or visual artists instead of theatre practitioners if that is what interests them the most. Brennan and cast refreshingly do not fall into this sad case of repetitive events. Every now and then you get a glimpse of gold like what occurs in Metafour, the restrictions are in their favour.

Erica Brennan has taken on a mighty challenge with Beckett’s short works, and has done so as mentioned in the programme with the methods of Tadashi Suzuki in focus. Just reading that on the website made my soul go a flutter! Again, theatre practitioners don’t seem to utilise or take in to consideration the powerful ways methods such as Suzuki’s can make an actors performance more profound than any fancy set or script could do alone. The lack of consideration into these foundational methods which prove over and over again to give the actor a physical quality to character, beyond themselves and from themselves produces a depth of quality that can be not be measured in value when it comes to performance. Other methods that commit to this quality are Meyerhold, Grotowski, Brecht and my personal favourite Artaud… we NEED MORE of this in Sydney. It was an absolute pleasure to witness this level of dedication in Metafours’ actors, who have clearly invested a vast amount of time into their physicality into these genius (and indeed) performance art pieces of Beckett theatre. The observation of stillness, the use of silence and the almost chronic licensing states that must be taken in to consideration in rehearsals must at times been gruelling but no doubt a rewarding result. As an audience member we had to work, work to observe what we don’t understand, take a moment to observe how we respond to these pieces and to work at focusing on what we are witnessing. It is such a shame that we generally are so eager or used to being entertained we have forgotten the responsibility of being an audience. With our jaded concepts or meaning of the word ‘art’, ‘entertainment’ or perhaps what theatre should BE to us, or how it is FOR us. I firmly believe the best theatre should challenge us somehow, make us think in someway and make us react in some form. I had to shhh an audience member who clearly had no concept of Beckett or the patience to evaluate his boredom or discontent as a part of an experience. Instead he took his boredom as a face value permission to shut down his senses. It’s a real shame, border line depressing actually. I’ll be the first to admit that I have to put myself into a certain frame of mind, an open-frame of mind to engage with Beckett’s work. It is NOT an easy task nor often a night of laughs or hopeful outcomes, but that is the brilliance of the mind inside the man. It is frustrating that a lot of society are turning into goldfish. Microsoft recently put out a survey on the human attention span…the result for 2015? We are one point away from the attention span of a goldfish due to our access to content via smart technology. Tech. is making us smarter and stupider all at once, with beautiful work like Beckett’s suffering on stage because its audience struggles to value it in its full capacity as they wonder how their social platforms are trending or treading. This in mind clearly prior the performance with crew asking all audience members to remove time faces both digital and analog from view and remain in a timeless space before the performance began a poignant way to engage our minds and prepare the audience mentally for what they are to witness.

Brennan and cast did justice to Beckett, honouring his code of creative conducts. The physical story telling was full of exploration and carefully executed. The start of the production using the PACT space to its full advantage by using the foyer too as a stage, time ticking on the wall and the doors opened with the greeting of cast who suggested subtly us to enter and take our seats. This was a fantastic interlude into the space to which had been transformed to a Beckett T. Kudos for taking the risk Erica Brennan and bravo to being one who went out to create the art-in-its-state and not just art-for-fuck-sake.

Awesome running time of an hour! If you love Beckett you are in for a treat. If you don’t know who he is, you are in for a shock and if you aren’t into Beckett I suggest don’t go, or else open up your mind and grow a little culture. Growth isn’t comfortable and if nothing else Beckett’s work causes that in a person, it certainly did me when I first watched Endgame. Do yourself a favour, grow! It’s worth it, I promise. Genius is vastly misunderstood, Metafour was indeed a glorious thing to witness.