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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GRACE

Pulse Group Theatre

7-26 July

Play by Craig Wright

Directed by Billy Millonis

Performed by Joseph Addabbo, Jeremy Shadlow, Dudley Hogarth and Nikki Waterhouse

Synopsis –

Christian sweet hearts since Bible Camp, and wide-eyed married couple, Steve and Sara, put their livelihood on the line when they move from Minnesota to Florida to pursue Steve’s dream of opening up his own chain of gospel themed motels.

But when Steve’s plan starts to head on a downwards path, and Sara finds herself captivated by their neighbour Sam, an ex NASA researcher whose past has left him both figuratively and physically wounded, their perfections and faith are put to the ultimate test of fate.

Review –

Grace is the Actors Pulse Studios first inaugural production, which is great for the independent circuit which now has one more potential space to produce their work. Though there was nervous energy in the air with a slightly late curtain up, the nerves in the corridors did not translate onto the quaint Pulse Studios space. A terrifically cast production by director Billy Millonis, it was refreshing to experience well embodied text that translated into this casts physicality wonderfully, there was a true sense of diligence to their characters physical language not just their dialogue, it felt real and utterly believable, and not lazy which seems to be a common ‘thing’ in a lot of theatre I have seen lately.

Joseph Addabbo, plays evangelical business man, ready to build a host of Christian chain motels, Steve. Addabbo’s character has a relentless tactless drive about him, his saving souls mission and will to extract finances from whoever comes his way to help his own road to success makes for an eyebrow raising kind of character. Addabbo made this sneaky character impressively funny. My only gripe with these evangelical characters (in general) that are written into plays; un certain if it is in the text or it is a director/actor choice, is that they are always portrayed with a real sense of hyper reality/twilight approach in mannerisms and delivery. It maybe the result of researching evangelical preachers online or Christian TV perhaps and maybe not ever having personal encounters with evangelical christians in reality that causes this kind of person to be portrayed to an audience as members of society who are living in a bubble and on another planet to everyone else. I don’t think I have ever seen a ‘Evangelical Christian’ portrayed with out cultish perspective. It doesn’t make for an interesting watch in that regards as audiences seem to automatically get told that THIS character isn’t ‘normal’ this character has a warped sense about themselves, the world and others. Which is probably true in essence perhaps but makes for a very one-sided linear person. It would be far more interesting to see this kind of character less animated and caricatured, it would also make for a more grounded performance making the dramatic peaks more unexpected, and relatable giving an audience means to decide for themselves this characters social standing and human right. In saying that Addabbos performance was passionate and enjoyable to watch, I just craved a different angle than the same old angle that is taken with these “hallelujah” characters that causes audiences to alienate or write off the character too quickly.

Nikki Waterhouse, played the ever lovely and obedient wife Sara with clarity and charm. Waterhouse was delightful to watch, her presence and subtle approaches to physicality were genuine and lovely. I highly enjoyed watching her portray this character, she was captivating with a wonderful grip on naturalism. Waterhouse was gentle with her character making the moments where she punched it up a notch in dramatic tension evermore emotionally tangible for her audience making her character easy to believe and easy to love regardless of her characters naivety and weakness. Waterhouse is a talented actor who I wish to see more of in the future.

Jeremy Shadlow as the suffering and scarred neighbour Sam gave a hugely heartfelt performance, a beautiful ying-yang of gentleness and anger within his emotional and physical portrayal of this broken character. Shadlow and Waterhouse had a great chemistry on stage that made for an intimate performance that was blush worthy and real. Shadlow gave a performance like a Bull in a fighting pit, a calculated and powerful performer.

Dudley Hogarth, who plays an elderly German pest exterminater showed both his comical and dramatic abilities, giving the audience the best of both worlds making them laugh and successfully taking each of us on a storytelling journey that reveals horrific circumstances that pulled at the heart-strings. Hogarth is a seasoned performer whose wealth of theatrical experience and capabilities as an actor made his character a favourite and a crowd pleaser.

  
Director Billy Millonis did a good job in a space that is quite restricting architecturally. His staging choices at the beginning were a little unclear, as the one space which is left unchanged throughout was used as two separate apartments with characters walking in the space, sitting next to each other and moving in the space together but not necessarily in the same apartment as such. It didn’t take long to figure out that there were times his direction indicated they were in separate spaces and not in the same apartment together, it took a little figuring out. Once this was established it was much easier to understand what was taking place, the subtlety of this could have been tweaked slightly with stronger lighting choices right from the get-go as it was a little foggy at the start. The only other part of the production that made it lose its impact and rhythm was the scene changes which went on for extended periods of time that were slightly unbearable and interrupted the audiences focus which had them chatting between scene changes…not an ideal or wanted situation.

Overall I was pleasantly surprised by Pulse Group Theatres first production in that space to the public. Grace is a well written play by Craig Wright with interesting characters and a gripping narrative. Strong casting by Millonis with strong believable performances from a gracious and committed cast. An enjoyable production all round.

BAJAZET

Pinchgut Opera

Angel Place Recital Hall

4-8 July

Music by Antonio Vivaldi (1735)

Libretto by Agostino Piovene

Conducted by Erin Helyard, directed by Thomas De Mallet Burgess, designed by Alicia Clements

Sung and performed by Hadleigh Adams, Christopher Lowrey, Emily Edmonds, Russell Harcourt, Helen Sherman & Sara Macliver

with the Orchestra of the Antipodes

Photo credit: Keith Saunders

Synopsis – The action takes place in the Royal Palace where Tamerlano is holding the defeated Turkish sultan Bajazet prisoner, in the days immediately following the Tartar victory over the Ottoman Empire

Review – Pinchgut Opera are a dynamic young opera company whose mandate is to put very rarely heard of operas into the spotlight. I love how Pinchgut started out, over a cup of coffee with people passionate about their craft who had an idea, pulled a team together and just made it happen. This and their desire to expose Australian audiences to rarely performed ancient pieces is interesting and exciting. Their wish to allow the music be the hero and the set to be a non invasive support to the music, is also different for opera which as a whole as an art form is often extravagant in set and costume design. Reading up on Pinchgut was a rather refreshing discovery!

Bajazet is a story of power, empire, love, war and the survival of the fittest. Watching the story unfold was a captivating historical reminder that the times of 1735 (as when this opera was written) was full of such a vastly different set of social and political laws making those times seem like a fairytale. It had me thinking about audience perspective and how modern, current, gripping, maybe even edgy this would have been for an audience in those days who would have been influenced socially by this kind of story. I wondered how it would have moved them emotionally and what the impact would have been on them compared to us 21st century folk whom live with a whole other set of immediate and distant concerns individually and socially. Opera is a powerful art form, it is not everyone’s taste but it is impossible not to appreciate its ability to allure, captivate and transcend understanding through physical gesture and song. Like most music does it touches that mysterious core that lies in all of us soul and spirit.

Bajazet in the hands of conductor Erin Helyard was a real treat. Helyard in appearance and composure brought a youthfulness and unique style all of his own that beautifully contrasted the ancient instruments played by the talented Orchestra of the Antipodes. Helyard was sensational to watch, his conducting style caressed and snapped Vivaldi’s engaging score masterfully. Conducting has always fascinated me, this physical direction of soft sways, small beats and intricate commands for singer and for musician that completely inform how the music is interpreted and performed. Helyard did a hell of a job at not only branding this piece with his own unique pizzazz he honoured the ancient nature of the piece.

Bajazet too had a smorgasboard of fine opera singers whose individual capacity and vocal artistry was liquid silk to the ear. The dedication in performance and skill was breathtaking to witness especially when one does not see as much opera as one would hope, like myself, it makes the experience that much more heightened and brilliant. Musically Bajazet holds its own, unfortunately when it comes to the production side most predominantly in set and direction it falls short quite considerably. This is my first Pinchgut production but have viewed all their videos on past shows which showcase strong reflections of their mandate that set and costume not get in the way of the music, with Bajazet this was not the case, both direction and set were very much in the way of the music and I sadly can not sing my praises like that of conductor, musicians and singers. The set got in the way all of the way through, with unneeded set dressing, vastly un used and large props such as a giant empty book shelf that said nothing and added nothing to the story. The continuous and painful moving around of props were fidgety which often distracted from the action that was taking place. It was cluttered and not well designed, the colour scheme felt lost and at times the performers seemed stifled and awkward with so much to take on and off and adjust to. The sound of plastic cups bouncing off the floor in a moment of heated drama too was cringe worthy and cheap. I also felt some of the entries and exits of cast were confusing and random as they sometimes seemed to come conventionally through a door and then float through walls or gaps in the set. It was confusing with any symbolism really lost in the unclear execution. It just didn’t bring this Opera to life, less is most definitely more which most of Pinchguts former productions have done from what I have seen strikingly well. Bajazets set gave the eye nowhere to establish itself with items like the chandelier in the second act cutting off the subtitles from the viewer, becoming an eye sore rather than a powerful symbol.

Bajazet is high stakes drama lead by a company of musicians and singers that take you on a historical voyage that is both culturally stimulating and speaks to the soul. It’s a shame both set and direction did not manage to make the same impression. In saying this, Pinchgut Opera are a great company worthy of their audience and your time, I love what they stand for and what they set out to achieve.

AVENUE Q

Presented by LCW

on at The Enmore Theatre 2-18 July

Music and lyrics by Robert Lopez & Jeff Marx

Book by: Jeff Whitty

Director: Jo Turner

Cast: Shauntelle Benjamin, Julia Dray, Kimberley Hodgson, Madeleine Jones, Owen Little, Matthew Predny, Nicholas Richard, Justin Smith, Riley Sutton and Rowena Vilar

Synopsis –  Avenue Q tells the timeless story of a recent college graduate trying to find his way in the world. Set in New York City all the way out on Avenue Q (he couldn’t afford anything better), we are introduced to fresh-faced Princeton as he struggles to find his purpose: meeting friends, finding love, losing love, and finding it again, along the way. Inspired by the beloved children’s show Sesame Street, Avenue Q creates a puppet-filled world that is a little more reflective of the difficult, R-rated realities that we face when we learn that real life isn’t as simple as we dreamed it might be – but perhaps, suggests Avenue Q, life is all the more colourful and worthwhile for it.

Review – It’s a big Tony winning Broadway musical, it’s American satire comedy, it’s R rated puppetry. Its music is top-notch, clever, funny and a huge crowd pleaser. Avenue Q is no doubt a success story. It’s autobiographical nature by musical theatre talents Robert Lopez & Jeff Marx make this show poignantly relatable to anyone who has gone through the reality ringer of their twenty-thirty somethings. The success is in its audience palatability and the bold concept of saying, (well singing out loud and unapologetically) the taboo topics we know we all think about but don’t always discuss around a dinner table. Songs like ‘Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist’ and ‘Schadenfreude’ point out what we all can’t deny is a little bit gospel in our western society. All sung tongue in cheek and with Sesame Street influenced puppets, it is very hard to be serious about much unfolding before your eyes, it’s a complete cack! Avenue Q has been around the tracks awhile now, opening Off-Broadway in 2003, with much acclaim from American critics. I dare say specifically New York based musical theatre is often saturated in Jewish humour, which I always find kind of goes over the top of most Australian audiences and always feels way left field for an Australian audience. Regardless, this Australian cast did a smashing job at bringing this production alive crossing all their i’s and their t’s as you must with big shows like this. There is often very little room for changes, they are text-book productions. Some amendments were made to bring this American comedy a little closer to home, changing names from New York areas to audience known Sydney suburbs made original one liners go from potential flop to laugh. This was executed a few times, I can’t say I think it adds anything to the production except the cheap laugh which is understandable when a show is so far removed from its original climate. I’m sure the same methods have been done in other countries with this show, it’s not all in common. A stab at our current government got the biggest laugh of all, a tactic The Rocky Horror Picture Show also used which was received with applause by both audiences. 

The comedy though entertaining does feel like it’s beginning to become a little stale, the clichés are bulging and the shock value of the lyrics, (though no doubt funny) too feel like they are beginning to lose their edge with its age. Lucky for us as Australians the humour is not lost on us due to our exposure to American comedies like Seinfeld, Everybody Loves Raymond and Friends. We are accustomed/have an understanding of the culture behind the humour. It satisfied a lot of appetites that were there for a good laugh and a good time.

For a huge show that requires a vast amount of skill levels from its actors, this Australian cast of Avenue Q outshone themselves. Each cast member presented strong vocal ability, comic timing and smooth sailing puppetry skills. It was quite evident they were all having the time of their lives on that stage with no signs of opening night nerves. Stand out performers for the night was most definitely Rowena Vilar, who played with tremendous humour Asian cliché Christmas Eve, Vilar’s vocal range and singing ability is an envious talent. She showcased her strengths as a performer and a vocalist flawlessly. Matthew Predny whose puppet friends were Princeton and Rod showed versatility and a comic timing within his puppetry that was delightfully embraced by his captivated audience. Nicholas Richard too with puppets Nicky and Trekkie, displayed an ability to disguise his voice remarkably well to that of Sesame Street stars Ernie and Cookie Monster, superbly played.

Madeleine Jones, as Lucy T Slut/Kate Monster gave an equally humorous and well-rounded performance, also showcasing a strong vocal talent and puppetry ability. Julia Dray as Mrs T/Bad Idea Bear and Owen Little didn’t disappoint with their performances which were seemingly smooth sailing with strong stage presence and energy. Shauntelle Benjamin as Gary Coleman carried herself from strength to strength in her performance, she embodied the Diff’rent Strokes celebrity in her stride making for a laugh out loud performance. Familiar TV personality Justin Smith Brian brought a performance worthy of a laugh, showcasing his natural comedic ability with a comfort on stage that was grounded making for a likeable performance. A strong capable cast who showcased that Australia possesses a healthy musical theatre talent equal to their overseas peers.

All in all director Jo Turner and producer Luke Westly bit off a huge bite in undertaking a production such as this. With strong casting on their side and embracing the fun that the show represents have managed to pull together a professionally finished production they should be proud of. Though the show in itself as a book and musically feels like it’s beginning to date, you appreciate the originality of the concept and the cleverness in the shows execution. Well worth seeing purely for a laugh!

 

MISTERMAN

Siren Theatre Company & Red Line Productions

Old Fitz Theatre

10-27 June

Directed by Kate Gaul

Performed by Thomas Campbell

Synopsis –

Inishfree might seem like a quaint Irish town, but fierce evangelist Thomas Magill knows better. He knows jovial Dwain Flynn is a miserable drunk, that Timmy O’Leary enslaves his lovely mother and that sweet Mrs Cleary is a blasphemous flirt.

It is down to Thomas, with God on his shoulder, to save this sinful place. But the townsfolk are not listening, an angel is misbehaving and a barking dog will not be silenced. Just how far will Thomas go in his quest for salvation?

Review – Misterman, though a well written play by renowned Irish playwright Enda Walsh, one hander plays are most of the time a punish to endure, they are linear and often feel forced. It is very difficult for an actor to engage in only his/her own energy which bounces off the walls and their audience. Self engagement their only real outlet, with possible choices of  breaking the fourth wall or morphing of the many characters they have to produce…It quite often always feels like a reach that never fully extends. That, or you have an actor on stage with so many jobs to do it’s like watching a game of arcade pinball.

In this production, it felt very much like watching a human pinball bounce from moment to moment and most times from mess to mess. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the writing and I love Irish plays, but one handers just never fully satisfy my theatrical palette. The stakes for the performer are very high. Thomas Campbell who performed the role of Thomas Magill, with a passionate determination and focus carried himself well considering the density of the piece, the many characters he flowed in and out of and the very dark subject matters and characteristics that emerged. The character of Thomas Magill is intriguing, the narrative full of humour and horror making for a beautiful contrasting combination in a piece of theatre.

This contrast was not well executed by director Kate Gaul whose directing felt both rushed and unclear, with the characters objectives and intentions never fully surfacing as sharply as they needed to be. Thomas’ raging evangelism spiral didn’t come through to its full potential, and though there were some bright moments that were assisted by a very comprehensive and supporting sound design by Nate Edmondson, the staging of the piece was all too much. Set design was a mixture of nostalgic nods, suggested sugar addictions and clutter, to which grew as the play continued, with the addition of falling water, biscuits and costumes falling from “the fly” of the quaint Old Fitz space. Whatever it was Gaul was trying to execute felt gimmicky. It also felt a top-heavy job for Campbell whose physical scoring echoed that he was on a time frame that he must keep up with. There was just so much going on all the time, the production felt linear and half-baked. When it came to the climax of the piece I was so exhausted from watching Campbell jump through so many hoops I didn’t even care. This show needs to be much simpler in staging, there is so much for Campbell to focus on in his character work (which needed more attention) the set and staging elements simply drowned him. Gaul has a long history of directing and well-known in her community for her productions, this show felt un polished and below the standards expected from a director of her experience. Her casting I feel for this was not all together right, a more dramaturgical based actor is needed for this calibre of writing talent.

As Gaul stated in an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, I quote, “If I said it was for advanced theatregoers, I don’t think I would be lying. It’s in the tradition of everyone from James Joyce to Beckett and everyone in between. Please, if you don’t like Irish monologues, don’t come!”

If you do consider yourself an advance theatre goer, your expectations will unfortunately not be fully met in Gaul’s production of Misterman, and I agree, if you don’t like monologues perhaps give it  a miss, but then again, I’m always hoping to be pleasantly surprised one day by the execution of one which is why I keep attending them. Sadly Gaul’s Misterman, missed the mark.

Photo credit: Diana Popovska

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

THE MERCHANT OF VENICE

Sport for Jove

The Seymour Centre

22nd-30th May

Rumour has it (as I had not yet to witness one of their shows) Sport for Jove have a reputation for producing excellent and engaging Shakespearean theatre that very much appeals to an Australian eye and ear. It is always intriguing to wonder before seeing a companys take on one of Shakespeare’s plays, how they choose to tackle it. With the experience of a director like Richard Cottrell there was little doubt that this production would have style and professional finish. And that it certainly did, it was dapper in every way stylistically speaking. The set and costumes by designer Anna Gardiner had that Great Gatsby feel to them mixed with very clear salutations to the time of Shakespeare’s living days. This was a top production, turning rumour for me into fact. Sport for Jove have a real nach for Shakespeare, the language in the mouths of the actors came naturally in delivery and through physical expression, the poetry treated like a dear friend. There was no awkward exchanges or delivery choices in vocal inflections, nothing but a natural engagement with fluid tempo and coherent understanding of what was being said and what story was unfolding before them. Cottrell has worked magic within simplicity allowing the language to shine and do the work that all great writing does naturally. Bar the obvious hero, Shakespeare, the congratulations on excellence must go towards the cast. Not only was this production cast impeccably, each actor individually provided their audience with not only a true understanding of the text within the stage which is their voices, but their abilities to engage with the comedy and the drama in such a gorgeous and contemporary manner. Their body language too had clear comprehension of the complex nature and poetry of Shakespeares’ writing. A cast who performed with great legerity solo and in unison.

Stand-out performances for me were Jonathan Elsom, who played various roles through-out. A seasoned performer whose decades of experience and chiselled character development gave a wealth to the performance that I considered a rare treat to witness. Elsoms’ comic timing and physical expression kept a smile on your face with a giggle often getting loose now and then due to his clever physicality and facial expression. A generous performer for both his audience and to his fellow actors. A not to be missed performance from Elsom.

Michael Cullum too playing various roles through-out the piece showcased his talent to transform himself, giving each of his characters a unique platform and physical presence that had his audience lapping up every word, understood or not, it mattered not. Cullum gave a solid comical performance that made you appreciate his passion and skill within his craft. A bold, fresh performer.

Darcy Brown shone like a brass penny in uniform as Solanio. Brown has a skillful way in performing that is uniquely his own. A grounded actor, his performance felt real and possessive in nature, his relationship with text made for an engaging watch that had you forgetting to blink. A true talent with a DiCaprio air about him, star quality and one to watch.

Damien Strouthos gave a punchy and galloping performance as Gratiano. Strouthos clearly has a strong relationship with Shakespeare and his love for this style of theatre radiates from his performance. Strouthos showed a comfort with himself and character in the four walls of this play like no other on the stage. Strouthos highlighted both comedy and drama with fluro making for a vivid and vivacious performance.

Erica Lovell, as Narissa and Lizzie Schebesta, as Portia both made for an exciting watch. Both ladies gave their performances comedic flare with cheek and charm. Not a shy lash between them Schebesta and Lovell gave envious performances that were ballsy and savvy.

James Lugton, as Antonio, Chris Stalley, as Bassanio and John Turnbull, as Shylock must be applauded for their veridical performances. Their contributing talent and energy was electric and stimulating, each providing their characters with grandeur and style.

Aaron Tsindos, played a hilarious Prince of Morocco having his audience in fits of laughter at his characters expense. Tsindos brought a unique talent to the stage, a palpable performance with dashes of quirky expression and mesmeric mannerisms. Pip Dracakis, as Beatrice performed with elegance and contagious fervor, a lovely performance.

Jason Kos, as Lorenzo and Lucy Hefferman, as Jessica felt like the babies of the cast with their grips on the language and their portrayal of character. Kos gave a fine, clean performance with Hefferman feeling held back somehow in delivery. Both actors yielding an innocence as their characters token to the work, which worked fine, but wondered if more exploration could be considered towards their characters content of character.

Sport for Jove have developed and presented a cynosure production with a culturati cast and crew, thus making for a strong, current Shakespearean encounter. A lasting first impression, and very much living up to their reputation for excellence!