RIDE & FOURPLAY

Darlinghurst Theatre Co/ Eternity Playhouse

4 Sep – 4 Oct

Plays by Jane Bodie

Directed By Anthony Skuse

Photo credit – Robert Catto

Performed by Tom O’Sullivan, Emma Palmer, Aaron Glenane, Gabrielle Scawthorn

Synopsis thoughts from the programmes Director’s Notes –

Both plays are concerned with how we negotiate relationships, how we use those relationships to garner a sense of identity. They are all striving to be the best versions of themselves as they dance around each other. Most of the time authenticity eludes them as they perform compromised versions of themselves.

Review –

You know the saying, ‘Save the best ’till last?’ it’s a common and well used phrase for a myriad of possible excitable notions towards the expectation of something delicious, fun, or just plain old school fantastic. When leaving the Eternity Playhouse, mentally and mind fully chewing on the rather unctuous amount of theatre I had witnessed in playwright Jane Bodie’s paired up play’s Ride & Fourplay. My first impulsive thoughts don’t often make the first paragraph in my final draft, but as I stepped out into the night air, my first thought stuck like super glue to skin and that is, ‘I can not leave the best till last.’ I have to talk about THAT straight way!’ I just can’t discuss these plays in chronological order of appearance, I have to start talking about Fourplay, Ride won’t get as high an acclaim for reasons I will explain later in my review. But for now, I just can’t wait to discuss the second part of this theatre experience. So here goes.

Renown English theatre director Peter Brook wrote in the opening lines of his book ‘The Empty Space’, regarding the definition of theatre. I quote, “I can take any empty space and call it a bare stage. A man walks across this empty space whilst someone else is watching him, and this is all that is needed for an act of theatre to be engaged.” This was the very first thing I thought when Fourplay began. The simplistic, raked stage now striped of all its set dressing and naturalism from Ride leaving essentially (with a stylistic twist) an empty space, with two women and two men walking from corner to corner, past one another with sparse physical contact whilst thoroughly engaging their audience, hello minimalism, hello performer focused art, hello my kind of theatre. When I review a show, I am hugely interested in audience actor dynamics, how the audience engage mentally and emotionally by closely observing their physical engagement to what occurs on stage. Hooked, is the word to best describe the audience during Fourplay, hooked I was also, thrilled in fact that director Anthony Skuse chose to run with Bodie’s stage suggestion that this play can be played non naturalistically. It makes her strict note that characters Alice and Jack are to be played naturalistically throughout the work all the more poignant and powerful. Bodie’s mindfulness in regards to structure, form and manipulation of time (as mentioned by Skuse in his director’s notes) makes Fourplay a structural intrigue to watch and I can only assume an intriguing directing opportunity. Fourplay is LIVING proof that great writing can carry an audience from A-Z and on the edge of their seats with out the need to set design show-off, which has exhausted me this year and unimpressed me greatly by some of our prominent theatre companies. This coupled with a director with sound judgement, clear objectives and actors whom have encapsulated their characters beautifully thanks to a specific structural method in style and writing by Bodie, makes for a refreshing, gorgeous approach to theatre making that is foundationally built on equal respect for the written word and trust in director, actors and the creative body as a whole. This play speaks beyond the naturalistic situations of relationships and provides a much more diverse ratio of meaning. Simply, the lack of physical contact, eye contact and typical architectural flesh responses that were forced to be individual made for a much deeper exploration of self as a viewer. This restriction too I feel assisted the actors to not knee jerk react physically in response to each other, but instead instilled focus and purpose in their movement which made for a richer experience as an audience member. The disconnection from naturalism made the intimate moments that were purposefully naturalistic physically poetic. What we would consider a generic intimate response felt brand new because we were deprived of it consistently throughout. As Bodie even mentions out of the mouth of her character Natasha, ‘ There is nothing interesting about a love story. It’s been done to death’ What is interesting about Bodie’s writing and Skuse’s direction is that it is approached from a quirky angle and cleverly so. There is absolutely nothing in Fourplay we haven’t all seen before. In fact it is a cliche super nova in content, but in style and execution it feels as if we are being exposed to something brand new. I dare say, but with conviction that Fourplay is reminiscent of Pop Art. It is the everyday basics on display, the object itself is so common it’s almost invisible but the technique and approach towards it makes it somehow, fascinating, like we are seeing it for the first time.

Aaron Glenane who played Jack in Fourplay seemed right at home in this production, his performance was a stand out for me. Glenane has a naturalistic ability to physically express his character with no sense of striving or strain. Glenane produced a character that was likeable, humorous and most of all genuine. Glenane formed a quick and potent connection with his audience, a very talented performer, a craftsman in his field, I loved his performance. Gabrielle Scawthorn, as Alice gave a performance with her characters heart plucked, in hand and bleeding for all to see, she ebbed and flowed between heart ache, sarcasm and humour with breeze, beautifully and believable. Tom O’Sullivan, as Tom, wove for us a tapestry of a character full of bewilderment, lust, selfishness, little boy straits and elements of boy trying to be man. O’Sullivan is clearly a committed actor, and his performance reflected the at times tongue in cheek aspects of an actors process discussed in the writing and ran with it well. His times of stillness with in this piece though I felt could have been more complimentary by providing his audience with less of the ‘I-am-man-contemplating-my-fate-in-silence’ stance that took so much of his focus it felt forced most of the time, it felt like acting. More of nothing would have been preferred, not trying to be stillness. Just being stillness. Considering his character responses to questions thrown at him by Scawthorns’s character Alice felt reminiscent of Tony Abbott interviews, careless, flippant and inconsiderate to circumstance. I doubt much fluid thought went through his characters mind in silence either. It was as if O’Sullivan was trying to bring some nobility or pride to his character which felt against his characters nature and maturity level.  O’Sullivan though performed with tremendous gusto in Fourplay. Emma Palmer, played the ‘sassy’ flirtatious, confident, controlling character Natasha. Palmer exudes her natural confidence on stage as a performer. She brought a lot of fun and charisma making for a desired shift of feeling from heartbreak to, I don’t give a fuck I’ll do what I want. We all find ourselves there at some point, and it was fun to see this character played in this manner. Even when she was observing her fellow actors in her moments of solitude or stillness she retained this manner that was consistent of her character. Her expressions were a dialogue all on their own. Palmer’s character on paper comes across as rather unbearable at times, but Palmer avoided any eye-roll by playing Natasha with a self-confidence and assurance as an audience member you couldn’t argue with. Her choices were nonchalant, and care-free which made me as an audience member not to feel malice toward the archetype being played but instead accepting her for her archetype and letting it be, which assisted in enjoying her character instead of despising or brushing her off as a pretentious tart. Fourplay was just wonderful, worth sitting through Ride to get to it.

Ride, I’m not going to dive into this Bodie play nearly as much as I have with Fourplay, as it did very little for me. Two straight people drunk, with memory loss and emotional baggage, naked in a bed, wake up with hang overs galore, attempt to decode the night before and perhaps each others secrets. The given circumstances didn’t thrill me, and characters Elizabeth and Joe and all the talk of Marrickville/Tempe, known clubs, pubs of Kings Cross and Sydney didn’t engage me either. Though both Palmer as Elizabeth, and O’Sullivan as Joe both performed fine, it felt like the context didn’t particularly motivate them to any kind of performance beyond comfort, it felt safe. All I wanted to see happen was Elizabeth to leave Joe’s room. I didn’t feel like it was played out or written in a way strong enough to keep her in that room for the possible 14-18 hours that took place from the start of the play to the end.

Fourplay, plays out with potential and with room to grow to explore the text and feels like it retains more possibilities as a play. Ride on the other hand is restricted, measured and limited. Bodie is an excellent playwright whom has a comfortable relationship with dialogue that transfers beautifully into characters who are down to earth, relatable and plausible. Ride & Fourplay are two very different plays to which some adjustment is required to enjoy them accordingly and in their respective genres.

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VENUS IN FUR

Darlinghurst Theatre Company, Eternity Playhouse

29 May – 5 July

Play by David Ives

Directed by Grace Barnes

With Anna Houston & Gareth Reeves

Synopsis – Thomas is a director struggling to cast the female lead in his new play based on the classic sadomasochistic novel Venus in Furs. Into Thomas’ audition room blows a street smart, straight talking actor who displays an uncanny command of the material. As the audition progresses, the line between play and reality blurs.

Review –  This is a really classy choice of production by Darlinghurst Theatre Company. What a piece of work! Playwright David Ives has written a sharp, intuitive and dynamic piece of American Theatre. Having read the script myself, the characters are so rich in value that you can’t stop reading and being engaging by the rhythm of the piece with dialogue that pops right off the page, so no surprise there that it too pops off the stage. Director Grace Barnes has done an equally dynamic job in producing the texts energy, tones and suggestions of the work, sticking true to Ives set and stage directions which very much provides just as much important information as the dialogue itself. Barnes navigated her way through this script seamlessly and casted two exceptional talents in Anna Houston and Gareth Reeves. I just love two-hander plays anyway and to have Ives script brought to life by Reeves and Houston was a real pleasure to witness.

 

Venus In Fur is a play written by an intellectual, that is quite clear. Getting into the script did take some concentration but with no reservation towards its quality in writer and director. The American voice when it comes to plays is so vastly different from the Australian voice, it feels rooted in a wealth of literary knowledge which is then filtered through American character archetypes. With Australian plays they tend to be rooted more so in the Australian way of life, the literacy of living. So watching an American play from a writer like Ives, whom has cleverly plucked from the literary world to develop a play married with familiar archetypes, does takes some adjusting of the senses as an Australian audience member, I think anyway. It’s an education, as I am sure Australian theatre would be on an American stage. Continuing this thought, it made me consider how this could have influenced the actors in some way? Though I think Houston and Reeves did a marvellous job with character and delivery, the familiar archetypes of the “New York director”, Thomas and the “New York dishevelled girl”, Vanda didn’t sit as naturally within them as their stage reading characters Kushemski and Vanda. I wondered if the “continental” aspect of those characters felt more obtainable, recognisable or easier to play for Houston and Reeves. That Queen and country history to which we came from as Australians and New Zealanders. I say this as I believed them more in the skins of those characters, than the twilight reflections of their American characters Thomas and Vanda. Then again, that could be said too for the audience, me, perhaps I connected more with that aspect…who knows, but an observation none the less.

There were some moments where the pauses; which were few and far apart could have been drawn out more. This show is rather pacey in tempo, especially Houstons’ character who is like a mini tornado moving around the room. When pauses and silences did arise out of conflict they weren’t savoured long enough and I wished to relish with contemplation of what transpired with in those pauses just a breath longer. Minor adjustment to let those pauses breath a fraction more would make for tighter units of text adding to the power of the intentions behind the characters words and a refresher as an audience member.

Houston and Reeves both produced characters of succulence and beauty, carrying themselves from moment to moment with legerity and style. Two performers who have tackled the excitement of the play as well as the intellectual crux of it with whipping abilities. Venus In Fur is the kind of play that could be seen more than once and you would pick up different references, meanings, symbolic pokes and parallel character reflected intentions, it is so dense with thought by Ives there is never a dull moment for your intellect to swim through. The intentions of the two American characters are never really fully spelt out, which again is good writing. Houston and Reeves kept this mystery alive leaving morsels for the audience to pick up and digest for themselves.

Venus In Fur, is a sexy piece of theatre, produced with pleasurable effects by Barnes, Houston and Reeves. It is a play for the lace, leather, or both…in everyone.

Photo credit: Helen White

DEATHTRAP

Darlinghurst Theatre Company

Director: Jo Turner

Playwright: Ira Levin

Starring: Andrew McFarlane, Sophie Gregg, Timothy Dashwood, Georgina Symes, Drew Fairley

Synopsis: Celebrated playwright Sidney Bruhl is in the grip of chronic writer’s block. With another flop on his hands he’s running out of inspiration – and cash. When a young writer sends Sidney the script for his brilliant new whodunit, Sidney devises a plan to claim it as his own.

Review: I’ve got to say it right off the bat, what a show! When director Jo Turner referred ‘Deathtrap’ in his programme director note as a thriller that possess both horror and comedy in perfect measures, he was spot on. This is a brilliantly written, nail-biting, laugh out-loud theatrical triumph. Playwright Ira Levin, also writer of ‘The Stepford Wives’ and ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ has a nak for weaving his twilight-zone style circumstances into seemingly average, everyday characters. ‘Deathtrap’ Broadways longest running thriller of all time is of no exception. Full of thrills, chills and giggles!

Jo Turner has done a stellar job at bringing this production to life to its full potential. The story ebbed and flowed in its curious manner without a hitch, the tone too was consistent throughout, custom made cookie cut awesome. Turner’s casting choices were excellent whom all fit into their characters shoes comfortably. His choice of creatives also a stroke of genius with celebrated set designer Michael Hankins’ crisp architectural style producing a set which was tremendously versatile and visualyl impacting. Likewise was his choice of award-winning lighting designer Verity Hampson whose lighting design in companion with Marty Jamieson’s composing and sound design was both eerie and electrifying telling a story all on its own which heightened the audiences thrill and suspense even more. Turner is a director who knows how to put a 5 star team together.

Andrew McFarlane, played playwright Sidney Bruhl wonderfully. His physical expression was aloof, nervous, child-like and extroverted. McFarlane carried his characters troubles and worries with spoonfuls of humour that made him an instant hit with the audience. McFarlane displayed lovely comic rhythm and timing. He interacted with his co-stars with a nonchalant banter that made scenes exciting and his character unpredictable. McFarlane is a seasoned actor whose performance was as sharp as a knife.

Timothy Dashwood, played Clifford Anderson the younger playwright with bright, youthful energy making his performance and character equally as unpredictable and loveable. Dashwood was a charm to watch with a performance that rang true to both the writing and the circumstances his character was faced with. Dashwood had his audience with him like an energetic tour-guide, his energy made the experience as an audience member that much more gripping and enjoyable.

Sophie Gregg, played wife Myra Bruhl with delightful measures, her quirky mannerisms and responses to her characters concerns were hilariously wrought together. Gregg developed an unusual character in Myra Bruhl with her physical movement choices and tempo which morphed from minimal to extreme in her dramatic impulses which made for an exciting performance. A fun, witty performer.

Georgia Symes, played psychic Helga Ten Dorp so brilliantly she absolutely stole the show. Symes’ performance was a laugh a minute. Her comic timing, dramatic responses and accent all made for a wonderful theatre performance. Her whirlwind entries were gleefully welcomed which had me hoping her exits would be short waiting with anticipation for her return to the stage. Symes had a comfortable grip on her character and rode the comedy of this play all the way home without missing a beat. A spot on performance!

Drew Fairley, played lawyer Porter Milgrim swimmingly well, his performance was funny, light-hearted and solid. His character though a smaller part was the cherry on an already delicious cake that added that little bit of needed pizzazz.

Deathtrap is a brilliant thriller, with a cast and crew who have echoed the playwrights unique voice with the style, pizzazz and suspense it deserves. If theatre shows could be called blockbusters this certainly is it!

Photo credit: Helen White

DAYLIGHT SAVING

Darlinghurst Theatre Company
Play by: Nick Enright
Director: Adam Cook
Production shots: Helen White

Synopsis:
Felicity has it all; a successful Sydney restaurant, a home with water views and a handsome jet setting husband. But with the sudden visit by an old flame, infidelity could be on the cards. Felicity’s plans for a candle-lit reunion go awry when a string of unexpected visitors drop by.

Review: Have you ever been in the audience of a sitcom? Or imagined being one of those privileged people who witnessed one of those landmark shows such as Friends, Family Ties, or Seinfeld? Most of us here in Australia would be in the ‘no’ category. Though the moment I walked into the theatre and glanced at the productions design by Hugh O’Conner and my ear caught the nostalgic tones of 80’s music in every corner of the room, I knew I was in for a treat immediately getting that sitcom studio sensation.

Wether Adam Cook took the direction of creating a sitcom style play I couldn’t say, though it would be difficult for it not to take on this style due to the era in which it was set (1989) the natural comedy style of Enright’s writing and the throw away cheesy lines that occasionally popped out of characters mouths. Some would perhaps see these elements in a negative light and hold it against the work. If they did than they should stop being so bloody serious. This play is fun! Hysterically funny, cheesy throw away lines (even perhaps cliche notions) all part of a style of theatre that when done well evokes in the viewer a style of laughter and reaction that is infectious and soul lifting. The characters in this play are over-the-top and loveable to the nth degree. Cook’s casting choices were terrific!

Rachel Gordon and Christopher Stollery open the show, a husband and wife hugely successful in their fields of expertise. Felicity a restaurant owner and food expert and Tom a jet setting tennis coach and agent to top tennis player Jason Strutt. Both seemingly going in very different directions whilst holding on to their marriage by the skin of their teeth.

Christopher Stollery delivered a confident, driven and obliviously egotistical character. Stollery fetched within his character redeeming qualities with an almost boyish manner. Expressing notions of a man who appeared outwardly confident but whom internally was as sure of his life direction as a lost lamb on a hillside. You felt sorry for him that he was letting his marriage slip through his fingers. As lost and as stupid as a lamb who is miraculously shepherded to salvation and redemption by an encounter with a clairvoyant in his current trip to LA, returning home a changed man. I felt Strolley carried his character with a light hearted, laid back approach. A charismatic and natural performer.

Rachel Gordon, held her own giving an elegance to a cast full of vibrant caricatures portrayed a more grounded character. Gordans’ moral struggles were emotionally subtle despite the circumstantial being rather dramatically extravagant. Gordon folded her character emotionally like the gentle workings of an origami artist. In saying this I would have liked to have seen a more sculpted finish in the shaping of her characters state of mind. The amount of alcohol consumed by the majority didn’t seem to alter the stakes as much as expected despite the quickly unraveling circumstances. When one is in vulnerable situations as Gordon finds her character situated, level headed restraint is not something alcohol provides. Though she has moments where she ‘let’s her hair down’ so to speak I would have liked to have seen Gordon push herself more in this regard.

Belinda Giblin, as Bunty came bursting onto scene with a comic rhythm
and timing that was impeccable and beautifully executed. Giblin had the audience applaud her on her first scene exit and the anticipation of her return lingered until she did return to her audiences delight. Giblin was a standout among her peers, her expressions and movement on stage was a sight to behold, she was like a tub of Messina, you just wanted more!

Ian Stenlake, as Felicity’s old American high school flame Joshua Makepeace brought the real cheese to this cookie-cut-out American stereotype. Loud, over-the-top with an ego on him the size of his country. Stenlake pulled out all the tricks that had his audience laughing or cringing at his characters flamboyant gestures. Stenlake didn’t hold back, making his performance as in your face as a rodeo. Bold and ambitiously performed.

Helen Dallimore, as Felicity’s big-mouthed, intrusive, obliviously over-bearing neighbour Stephanie, was the absolute show stealer. The moment Dallimore set her foot onto that stage she lifted the bar, adding a performance standard that took the whole show up a few gears. Dallimores’ natural comic capacity as a performer as well as her all-round confidence in her delivery was faultless. A professional in every sense of the word, she could have taken her audience anywhere and they would have followed. Dallimore is sensational, an Australian talent that surpasses most. An absolute perfect casting choice by Cook!

Jacob Warner, as the bimbo tennis star Jason Strutt also proved to be an absolute comic talent. His delivery was infectiously side splittingly candid. His banter with his fellow cast members was joyous and brilliant. A winning performance, he smashed it.

Adam Cook and his cast have brought to the Darlinghurst Theatre Company stage a roaringly funny show that promotes hyper-reality. This production celebrates those packaged style characters that when opened are both fun and infectious. If this was a TV sitcom I’d be back to see what happens next!

Take your serious cap off and get a ticket! You’ll laugh ’till your sides ache!

Playing at the Eternity Playhouse until 30th of November

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