Thursday, December 12, 2019

The Beauty Queen of Leenane

Sydney Theatre Company presents THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE, by Martin McDonagh, in the Roslyn Packer Theatre, Walsh Bay, Sydney. 23rd November - 21st December.

THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE was the debut play, from the Irish/English writer Martin McDonagh. There followed a plethora of stunning successful companions to his stage repertoire which audiences looked keenly to see. In Sydney we were impressed with mainstage productions of THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE (1996), THE CRIPPLE OF INNISHMAAN (1997), THE LIEUTENANT OF INISHMORE (2001). Elsewhere in the Fringe theatres, A SKULL IN CONNEMARA (1997), THE LONESOME WEST (1997), THE PILLOWMAN (2003), and regular revivals of the Mainstage exhibits arrived. And of course his film repertoire: IN BRUGES (2008), SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS (2012) and THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI (2017), has enjoyed kudos from all his fans. In 1997, McDonagh had four plays on the professional stage simultaneously - popular, indeed.

Part of the attraction to Mr McDonagh's work is his old-fashioned storytelling skill creating vitally alive characters involved in classic narrative mode, glittering with a dark sense of humour and a thrilling Hitchcock-like instinct for dramatic tension with a glowering undertow of menace/violence - a dominating vibration of our time. His plays are gripping in a very old-fashioned way - full of moments of held breaths and gasps of shock, alongside a 'vicious' sense of humour, that can draw a generous laughter from its audience - and so are always awfully anticipated. That they sometimes have a serious observation of the Troubles of Ireland and the social traumatic consequences of that era on the ordinary people is also a pay-off for some of the audience who may be in need to justify their salacious pleasure.

THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE, set in the desolate countryside of Connemara, in a decrepit home on the top of a hill, invites us into the world of Mag Folan (Noni Hazlehurst) in her declining years under the care of her youngest daughter, Maureen (Yael Stone). The tensions between Mother and Daughter are stretched to breaking points of need and frustration. From outside, a hope of escape is offered to Maureen by a sensitive boyo, Pato (Hamish Michael), who is wanting to take her away to a new life in Boston, messaged through his 'thunk-headed' brother, Ray Dooley (Shiv Palekar).

This production of THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE, is by far and away the BEST work that the STC has given its Sydney audiences for years. Their subscribers must be giving a sigh of relief: at last!

What gives this work that accolade from me is the sense that Director, Paige Rattray, set out to honestly reveal the work of Martin McDonagh without any flourishes of intellectual showing-off - i.e. drawing attention to the hand in charge (the Director as auteur). So much of that kind of artistic behaviour has been endured by audiences on the STC stages (and other theatres in Sydney) for some time - many, many years now. This production has the old-fashioned tried and true confidence in Martin McDonagh and his writing. Respecting the writer as the key to the source/sauce of a great production and then religiously, tirelessly to set out to solve with her collaborators the ways and means to do just that. The result is a prodigious joy to receive.

The Design, Set and Costume, by Renee Mulder creates a detail of naturalism that is challenging and thrilling. The external of this bleak 'house', is exposed as we enter the auditorium, on top of a hill, that is a 'home' for some in this Irish wilderness. It is lit against the pallid sky cloth signalling an over whelming sense of isolation and loneliness. It feels cold, kind of forbidding. It revolves to show an interior meticulously grotesque in the detail of the poverty of care and disabling spirit that has ruined any possibility that a happy way of life would be possible there. The details are calamitous in their presence. It has an olfactory impact that almost emanates an actual stench of rot and neglect that seems to waft out to us to enflame our endowing imaginations. It is a place that none of us would want to enter and if we did in reality, probably with a handkerchief across our noses and mouth to prevent waves of nausea and vomit in our mouths. Like voyeurs we peer into this space, from our seats, carefully breathing to filter away our anguish for the inhabitants that may live there. The Lighting Design by Paul Jackson supports this aesthetic with a sure eye to woo us into the atmosphere of the environs. Subtly, Steve Francis provides Composition and a Sound Design that also impresses subliminally our ears to complement the visuals with anticipation of a tragedy, a sadness, for the decay of a civilisation as represented by a Family of this community.

Then, with a keen eye for what is needed, Ms Rattray, invites Noni Hazelhurst to create, to inhabit the wreck of Mag, a mother, a woman for whom life has given nothing but disappointment, who has been reduced to being a barely existing carcass simmering in the 'soup' of a life-long disappointment, in a filthy colour faded dressing gown almost completely marooned - crippled - in a well worn armchair in front of an unsound television that mostly entertains with visions of Australian soap operas - perhaps, the only sunshine in this world of glum - how ironic a poetic image to be given to us Ozzy, Ozzy, Ozzies in 2019! (For after all, How Great is Australia? How great Mr Morrison?)

Home from shopping, climbing and slipping on the ragged dampened path, on her journey up the hill to the interior of this 'home', the youngest daughter and the only one willing to be around, to look after her mother, Maureen, created, owned, by Yael Stone, almost sadistically bright in spirit, enters with food that is scantily a support for sustenance, but is a habitual need of her regularity that myopically Mag demands. The Maureen of the text is written to be in her 40's - and this is a Directorial decision that is different from the writer's intention - is cast here with an actor who is definitely in her late 20's or early 30's. On reflection, having seen this play with much older actors as Maureen (one of them being Pamela Rabe at the STC, a few years ago - 1996), the visual impact of having a younger Maureen, who is in the physical bloom of youth, of flaunted 'busty' firmness, bubbling with the spiritual enthusiasm of someone who can still contemplate the real possibility that a good life may come, the play's tragedy of her true circumstances becomes even more powerful and oppressive. It is a canny choice by Director, Rattray, for Ms Stone is robustly right in the way she presents and in all that she does with her natural gifts.

It is also a remarkable chemical mix/choice, for these two actors who seem to be at a creative place that allows, commands them, to be explosively dangerous in their investigation of their women, and fearlessly, it seemed also joyously too, willing to provoke each other to levels of exposure that emanates a heat of truth that is scarifying in its intensities and seeming improvisational 'in the moment' energies and alertnesses. Ms Hazelhurst, seems to be, at this time, in a place of remarkable creativity, her work in MOTHER at Belvoir, heralding a flowering of courage and skill, that is confirmed with this performance, that her audiences can celebrate in - and anticipate more from. While Ms Stone, who has been away working in American television, returns to the Sydney stage with a transformational confidence that is astonishing in its detailed and courageous choices. The emotional revelations of this young woman, Maureen, across a wide landscape of contrasted possibilities, of immense peaks and despairing valleys is carefully crafted by Ms Stone, to allow us to empathise even at Maureen's most vengeful. Her performance is magnificent, tragically wrought.

The visceral chemistry between these two actors is personally invested and further confirmed with a great sense of the ironic comedy of the situation that Mr McDonagh wickedly, famously, seeds through all his writing works. And both these women are not shy of 'going for it',rather, they appear to genuinely relish it with great appetite, to then contrast it brilliantly with the density of the darkness of the petty but tremendous acts of vengeful violence that both these characters welter each other with.

That these two principal roles are so immaculately created is more than worth the price of the ticket.

But, Ms Rattray has invited and drawn from Hamish Michael in a role that could be sentimental and cliche ridden, that of Pato - the 'good' guy in the scenario of this play - to create a warm and three dimensional man, that is never more sure than in the solo reading of a letter - a (horrible) writer's conceit in structure, a risk that Mr McDonagh takes, that for me demonstrates his cheeky ego and confidence, that makes him, contemporaneously, unique in his output - and is so powerfully a hopeful vision of goodness that we all hope for a happy ending for Maureen's aspirations. It is through the identification that Mr Michael's brings to his moments in the play that pushes us to belief. It is a 'miracle' of performance and skill.

Too, then in the function of the well worn cliche of the 'messenger' (think of all those messengers and messages that lubricate the action of those Greek tragedies and in Shakespeare's famous oeuvre, in both the comic and tragic plays.) Shiv Palekar, as Ray, is delightfully hilarious as an ill-educated youth, a ruin of a boy-man, the confection of his daily poverty stricken culture, that creates some unbearable tensions in the play with his character's recklessness and innocently arrogant physical power. All the characteristics of nervous ticks and childish observations of a man of this kind that Mr Palekar creates, adds to the brew of the play's almost unbearable exposure of humanity, with all's its tensions, comic and tragic and all of it so carelessly engaged in by Ray Dooley in Connemara. The consequences of his actions are part of his horrible ignorance at being so self-oriented/pre occupied - a sadly comic illustration of a modern life. A wonder filled contribution from Mr Palekar.

Play, Design, Acting and the Direction are all engaged collaboratively on the STC stage to serve the writer Martin McDonagh and this production is a 'rain' worth welcoming after the relative 'drought' of good work at the STC. Sad to say that THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE is an exceptional piece of craft that creates art, that is the usual norm on the STC stages. (It might be fun to see HANGNMEN, a McDonagh play not yet seen in Sydney,)

Do go.

P.S. Ms Rattray is scheduled to direct one of the GREAT plays, Terrence Rattigan's Chekovian-like Masterpiece, THE DEEP BLUE SEA, next year. Rattigan is now in a positive re-evaluation mode in the British theatre after years of denigration and neglect, historically beginning with the arrival of the British realists, the 'angry young men',led by LOOK BACK IN ANGER (1956), by John Osborne, and the iconoclastic Kenneth Tynan (sometimes a cruelly bombastic critic, who was as much interested in promoting himself as he was in critiquing). One hopes that Ms Rattray has the same interrogative care with every detail that Mr Rattigan has put in pen onto the published page - every 'mark' should be deeply considered. He is, among many other theatrical virtues, a master of edited clues and artistic restraint, that will reveal with scrutiny the layers of opportunity he provides for imaginative craftsmen to create.Ms Rattray and her collaborators have done this on Mr McDonagh's play -and I look forward to that discipline executed on THE DEEP BLUE SEA. With Marta Dussldorp, playing the lead, it seems to be in promising hands.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

School of Rock

GWB ENTERTAINMENT and S&CO in association with KHAM Inc by arrangement with Really Useful Group Limited present SCHOOL OF ROCK - The Musical, based on the Paramount Movie written by Mike White. Book by Julian Fellowes. Lyrics by Glenn Slater. Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber. At the Capitol Theatre, Sydney. 15th November, 2019 - February 2020.

SCHOOL OF ROCK - The Musical, is an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical based on the highly successful Paramount film (2003) Directed by Richard Linklater, that starred a hyper-charged Jack Black, with Joan Cusack, in support.

Bursting on to The Capitol Theatre stage is a phenomenal performer, Brent Hill, who with impressive energy and immaculate theatrical instincts and a highly refined comic and musical technique, drives this show with a manic, magical force. His performance, as Dewey Finn, is astonishing to behold.

But this version of the original film has expanded its attention to the children in the 5th grade classroom at the prestigious Horace Green School and they have as central a place in the scheme of the musical as Dewey. There are three teams of 12 children who alternate through the performances. On the Opening Night they created a force of irresistible attraction, not only for their sparkling characterisations but for their awe-inspiring talents: singers (Outstanding Sabina Felias as Tomika and her rendition of AMAZING GRACE), dancers and some, instrument players, and gave a perfect balance to their leading man, but also making room for the other leading member of the creative triangle, Rosalie Mullins, inhabited by Amy Lehpalmer. Musically she covers an aria from Mozart's THE MAGIC FLUTE, Queen of the Night, to a throbbing rock number (Where Did The Rock Go?) with a Stevie Nix homage! and a metamorphic growth from a disciplined stuffy headmistress to a released free spirit. (Ms Lehpalmer is fond in my memories for her Maria in THE SOUND OF MUSIC, and Christine Colgate in DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS, a few years ago).

The musical has also expanded the persona of the parents of the children and in this production are ably led by John O'Hara as Ned and Nadia Komacz as Patty. The artistic demarcation of character types is economic and easily recognisable in their cliche demands for this art form. Spot-on and hilarious in their pathos and angst!

Original Director, Lawrence Connors; Associate Director, Chris Key; Resident Director, Leah Howard; Choreography, Jo Ann M. Hunter; Resident Choreography, Bree Landgridge; Scenic and Costume Design, Anna Louizos; Associate Costume Designer, Abigail Hahn; Associate Scenic Designer, Jeremy W. Foil; Lighting Design, Natasha Katz; Associate Lighting Design, Stuart Porter; Musical Supervisor, John Rigby; Associate Musical Supervisor/Director: Laura Tipoki/Mark Chamberlain.

All in all SCHOOL OF ROCK was a joyfully brilliant night in the musical theatre at the gorgeous Capitol Theatre. (Who would have suspected that I would surrender so easily?) It should appeal to all members/generations of the family and it is especially fortuitous that you can see it in Sydney over the Summer holiday period. What a great gift - outing - for all.

Your family may be converted to the ARTS in a big way. Take them along.

Do go.

H.M.S. Pinafore

Photo by Phil Erbacher

Hayes Theatre Company presents, H.M.S. PINAFORE or The Lass That Loved a Sailor. Book by W.S. Gilbert. Music by Arthur Sullivan. At the Hayes Theatre, Greenknowe Ave, Potts Point. 13 November - 14th December.

H.M.S. PINAFORE is a comic operetta written in 1878, by a famous double act: W.S. Gilbert, responsible for the Book (Lyrics), with Sir Arthur Sullivan who wrote the music.
Mistaken identity, class warfare, sisters, (cousins, aunts) and sailors and the trickiest of tongue twisters abound in this nautical caper. H.M.S. PINAFORE is a sharp satire of the English social hierarchical system of the Victorian Age. (...) It answers the burning question(s) of who among equals is the most equal and whether love can level all ranks.
At the Hayes Theatre, Director Kate Gaul, brings this Victorian work onto its 2019 stage with an hilarious cultural wink of high flown 'campery' that has a decidedly contemporary heritage intravenously channelled from the Ru Paul phenomenon, (and from other Sydney icons such as, perhaps, Betty Blokk Buster - due for revival at this year's January, Sydney Festival), where the act of theatre travesty is, in full make-up and costume, demonstrating gender fluidity and gender blindness in casting to an hilarious offer of comic relish. For instance, Ralph Rackshaw, the young sailor hero is impersonated by soprano Billie Pallin and the mysterious dame of the show, Little Buttercup, is possessed by Tom Campbell, while the Patter Song lead, Sir Joseph Porter, is brought to life by Rory O'Keefe, and for us 'hipsters' could be more related to Frank-n-Furter from the Rocky Horror Picture Show than the traditional heritage of the D'Oly Carte, Savoy Operas, which were a big part of Australia's theatre appetite.

I remember, in the 60's waiting for the annual Gilbert and Sullivan (G&S) showing in the old stuffy version of the Verbrugghen Hall at the Sydney Conservatorium, in the stultifying Australian summer and, of course, later the Australian Opera productions in the air-conditioned Opera Theatre (so much more comfortable to be in) with the incomparable Dennis Olsen and later, Reg Livermore, in the wickedly funny Patter roles of which Sir Joseph Porter was one of the gems of their talents. THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE (1879), IOLANTHE (1882), THE GONDOLIERS (1889), and perhaps the best of them all, THE MIKADO (1885) were as well known and anticipated with great glee by us all in those olden times.

G&S was also a favourite of the amateur theatre repertoire. I once was singing in TRIAL BY JURY (1875), and believe it or not, as Captain Corcoran in H.M.S. PINAFORE. Then, the Theatre Musical, principally the Broadway Musical, exiled these works from our stages until, today, we see them only as occasional antique curiosities or 'souped up' with contemporary accessories.

This Hayes Theatre production is a chamber version of the full work with a small cast of only 11 actors who double-up in many different characters and guises (even as Musicians). All of the performers have excellent voices, wonderfully honed by Music Director, Zara Stanton, and their dexterous Choreographic feats measured exactly with much sprightliness by Ash Bee. The design, by Melanie Liertz, is delightfully 'twee' in all its many changing ways made 'shining' by the Lighting Design from Fausto Brusamolino. It is all an easy 'wicked' delight.

This H.M.S. PINAFORE, is blessed with great singing and deviously clever comic acting - droll and knowing - from all, elicited with gentle skill by Director Kate Gaul. Her production's tempo is marvellously controlled and is as influential in the efficacy of the unfolding events. Tom Campbell is wickedly wonderful as Little Buttercup, but is just as amusing in every role he undertakes throughout the night - a scene stealer, even in his most subtle gesture and incarnation. I was impressed with Tobias Cole in the relatively straight role of Captain Corcoran, Katherine Allen (Josephine), Billie Palin (Ralph Rackstraw), and in the Ensemble actor/singers Zach Selmes, Gavin Brown and mesmeric Bobbie-Jean Henning, with those huge "Betty Davis Eyes", take impressive moments.

Fun. Cute. Cheeky. Camp. Nostalgic. Worth a visit.

P.S. I recommend that you find Mike Leigh's marvellous film TOPSY TURVEY (1999), which focuses on the strains of the first production of G&S's THE MIKADO. It is meticulously researched and the Design astonishing in its detail, and the tensions with all the major personalities of the creative team - Gilbert, Sullivan, D'Oly Carte bristling with comic (and tragic) revelations.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

First Love Is The Revolution

Photo by Brett Boardman

Griffin Theatre Company presents, FIRST LOVE IS THE REVOLUTION, by Rita Kalnejais, in the SBW Stables Theatre, Darlinghurst. 1 November - 14 December.

Rita Kalnejais is an Australian actor/writer (BABYTEETH), who now lives in London. FIRST LOVE IS THE REVOLUTION was written 5 years ago and had its premiere at the Soho Theatre, London. It originated, Ms Kalnejais writes in the program notes, when she was in a state of 'culture shock', encountering an English language that was so different from her natural Australian English, and in an amorous state with the foxes roaming the streets and backyards of the suburbs of London.

Basti (Bardiya McKinnon) is a young adolescent, surviving a family of violent father, Simon (Matthew Whittet), and mentally ill mother, and sexy predator neighbour, Gemma (Amy Hack), who befriends a fox, Rdeca (Sarah Meachan) who has wandered into the boy's backyard. He adopts the fox and speaks to it, and to his delight she talks back. They have a common language, these two. They develop a mutual relationship, that becomes a co-dependency.

Now Rdeca has sibling foxes, Gustina (Amy Hack) and Thoreau (Guy Simon), and fierce mother, Cochineal (Rebecca Massey) who has warned Rdeca of the dangers of the humankind and advocates that she stay loyal to her own kind and let man go their own way. But like the Juliet and Romeo story the two youngsters here have given way to a first love. Like the Montagues and Capulets their relationship will be fraught with dire consequences.

Rdeca discovers that her father had been rundown and killed by Simon, Basti's father. Cochineal seeks bloody retribution. The chicken house is rampaged. The human family let loose their dog, Rovis, in retaliation. Both families become decimated, all dead by the play's end except for the fox, Rdeca and her partner, boy, Basti. The closing image in the play is that of bloody corpses scattered about the stage, both foxes and other animals including the older humans, with fox/Redeca and boy/Basti on top of the hill as fireworks explode, the only survivors, standing in handheld intimacy, radiating a kind of joy.

This production where the actors engage in creating both human and animal characters is a kind of adult allegory with talking animals. It has the charm of the Wes Anderson stop motion animation of 2009, FANTASTIC MR FOX. FIRST LOVE IS THE REVOLUTION is an anthropomorphic fairytale fantasy for 'dizzy' adults. It could be, is, a delightful 110 minutes even though it crosses into much blood and murder - decimating destruction - and a sexual relationship that by strictly logical and ethical boundaries is the taboo, bestiality, and became hugely uncomfortable to watch as Rdeca and Basti consummate their mutual attraction on the couch surrounded by savaging blood lust.

This love is, truly, a revolution, n'est-ce pas?

Now I had, mostly, a delightful distraction and I was alert to the hilarity and identification of most of the audience in the SBW theatre, but after all that time, being teased, I began to long for its point to crystalise. After 110 minutes without interval what was the play saying? What do I take home from this excursion into fantasy? I could not find an answer, a solution. I could not determine what it was all about. My companions were similarly bewildered and so we read the program notes from the writer and from the director Lee Lewis. They didn't really make any clarity of intention.

Says Ms Lewis:
FIRST LOVE IS THE REVOLUTION ... what a title ... what an assertion ... what an extraordinarily hopeful vision for the future. In an act of radical generosity, this playwright offers this age of despair an imaginative leap into optimism. But it is a 21st century optimism, alive with the knowledge of poverty, violence, and desperation, energised with the hardest of choices, and pushing us to face ancient knowledge. ...

What ancient knowledge? We wondered.

This production is well done but its parts do not add up to much of a whole. The acting is delightful from all. The Design elements are amusing. Design by Ella Butler. Lighting by Trent Suidgeest. Composer and Sound Design by David Bergman. But the meaning of it all? Who can decipher?


Sydney Theatre Company and Melbourne Theatre Company present, COSI by Louis Nowra, in the Drama Theatre, at the Sydney Opera House. 5th November - 14th December.

Lewis (Sean Keenan) is a character creation of Louis Nowra that appears in three of his plays, SUMMER OF THE ALIENS (1992), COSI (1992) and THIS MUCH IS TRUE (2017). In COSI, Lewis takes on a job directing some patients of a local mental hospital in a 'therapy' production of Mozart's COSI FAN TUTTI. This is not Lewis' choice but one foisted on him by the thespian leader of the hospital patients, Roy (Robert Menzies), and his enthusiasm will not be brooked. The play charts the development of the rehearsals and first performance, hilarious in its ups-and-downs, as it negotiates the temperaments and obsessions of these 'artists', all engaged by many different motives to play, whilst isolated from the tempestuous real-world drama of the 1970's, except for occasional poignant intrusions, of the social upheaval of socialism in the guise of 'free-love' and anti-Vietnam protest - a time of youthful 'revolution'.

There is a theatrical history where drama set in a Hospital for the mentally distressed is revealed: famously, for me in Peter Weiss' THE PERSECUTION AND ASSASSINATION OF JEAN-PAUL MARAT AS PERFORMED BY THE INMATES OF THE ASYLUM OF CHARENTON UNDER THE DIRECTION OF MONSIEUR DE SADE - MARAT/SADE (1963/65), the adaptation of Ken Kelsey's novel of ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST (1962) into a play by Dale Wasserman (1963) - later become a famously lauded film in 1973.

With those plays there are as well the many, many films dealing with mental illness, going in my experience, way back to an Olivia De Havilland vehicle called THE SNAKE PIT (1948) - I was a shocked, terrified adolescent watching at home on TV - or, just as disturbingly a Ray Milland vehicle called LOST WEEKEND (1945) - an alcoholism centred eruption of mental illness entering my terrified consciousness, and not to forget the shock and fearful awe of mad Mrs Rochester in the attic in the 1944 Jane Eyre. And more recently, cinematic experiences such as THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991), GIRL INTERRUPTED (1993), SILVER LINING'S PLAYBOOK (2012), SPLIT (2016), or the present sensation JOKER (2019). I have never felt comfortable about viewing into this world. Horror or comedy has often been the storytelling mode, adopted by the creators. For me, the 'horror' of it is stressful; the comedy of it awkward.

In COSI, Mr Nowra, uses comedy as the principal tool to tell this partly autobiographical story with, in this production, a leaning into seeing the exercise of the play as a vivid intersection between theatre and therapy - art therapy - supported and 'pointed' by a program interview with drama therapist, Dr Kristen Myer.

I have seen many productions of this play, including the premiere at Belvoir Theatre in 1992, and, really, have resisted its effect, essentially being extremely uncomfortable watching the antics of the patients being treated with such comic hilarity. This is a joint production by the Sydney theatre Company (STC) and the Melbourne Theatre Company (MTC) and it is oddly astonishing to realise that this is the first time the STC have put the play on - nearly 27 years have passed.

It is an elaborate production, Directed by Sarah Goodes (my personal favourite younger Director), Designed by veteran, Dale Ferguson. The set is a gloomy fire-blackened box that is pierced from the side with vivid slashes of outside light through the doors of entrance and exit (Lighting by Niklas Pajanti) until it is converted into a white floor and walls stage for the actual rendition of Mozart's COSI, with the character's transformed from the hum drum realistic clothing of everyday life to the riotous hodge-podge colours of the 'found' costuming organised by the cast themselves for the fantasy of the opera (Costumes by Jonathan Oxlade).

This company of actors are encouraged to a robust explosion, in turns, of pathos and hysteria, where, unfortunately, the vocal work is often pitched into higher registers that sometimes provide a strangulation of sound instead of a clarity of vocal narrative storytelling - the robust emotional life overriding the information in the lines and creating an obstacle with all that happens on the stage.

Especially interesting, however, is the work by Rahel Romahn, as the pyro-maniac, Doug - he, again, strikes one as an entirely inventive and deeply invested actor in all the choices he creates - he maintains a growing consistency of excellence. So does Glenn Hazeldine playing Henry revealing a wounded man with a deeply owned dignity and integrity - truly moving in his big Act One moments. Robert Menzies is assured as Roy, as is Esther Hannaford in the double playing duty of patient Julie and girlfriend Lucy. Television actor, Sean Keenan gives a performance of some stabilising effect to make Lewis the calm at the centre of the 'storm' guiding his 'actors' steadily to fruition of the discovery of the joy of theatre. While the exuberant energy and huge presence of Bessie Holland as Cherry, is just held together, just, preventing a spin into performance mayhem.

Ms Goodes' concept and control is admirable and well worth seeing, even if the play itself is, for me, an uncomfortable experience. I have decided never o watch this play again. There is a film, as well, 1996, with an all Australian star cast.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

The Underpants

Photo by David Hooley
Sugary Plum Productions and Seymour Centre presents, THE UNDERPANTS, by Steve Martin, adapted from DIE HOSE, by Carl Sternheim, in the Reginald Theatre,Seymour Centre, Chippendale,.

Carl Sternheim was a German Playwright and Short Story writer. Play, DIE HOSE, was written by this German writer, in 1910, during the reign of Kaiser Wilhelm II. Wilhelm was an infamously unstable (neurotic? paranoid?) leader of a world power who became what some people regarded as "Prussianized'. He became immersed in the romance of the 'look' of the military uniform which leant him to the conception and instrumentation of a highly militarised country with a civil government of rules and regulation that made way for an ultra socially conservative way-of-living for his populace. It was he who built a war machine, competing with his British cousin's, Edward VII's, navy that encouraged him to war in 1914, that became the cause, perhaps, for the continuing carnage of the mid-twentieth century that was to follow in consequence of the 1914 - 1918 catastrophe.

Sternheim's play was a cheeky satirising of the moral sensibilities of the emerging German middle class: its petty snobbery and insidious growth of anti-semitism - a sly (dangerous?) act of iconoclasm from a German citizen.

Steve Martin, the American actor, comedian, writer and musician, following his success as a screenplay author, which includes, ROXANNE (1987), L.A. Story (1991), and several plays including the hilarious PICASSO OF THE LAPIN AGILE (1993) that featured Einstein and Picasso in debate with a time-traveller blue-suede-shoed musician (Elvis, is it?), wrote in 2002 an adaptation of DIE HOSE, we know as THE UNDERPANTS.

Unlike the original cultural satire that Sternheim wrote, Mr Martin's adaptation of THE UNDERPANTS seems to be preoccupied with creating a light-weight sexual farce full of puns and double-entendre and precisely calibrated comic entrances and exits with little serious concern of comment on the social mores of his society's political developments (Context, of course, being the 2002 era). This production THE UNDERPANTS, by Anthony Gooley (I have seen other productions) seems, as well, to have taken on the new cultural development created by the #MeToo movement (context, of course, being 2008 - some 6 years after the debut of the original production of THE UNDERPANTS), and attempts to create a more nuanced dilemma for the heroine at the centre of the story, Louise Maske, played by Gabrielle Scawthorne. I don't believe that that works and believe it rather intrudes on the farcical flow of the comic concept of Mr Martin's play.

Whilst in a nearby park attending a military parade that actually features the Kaiser Wilhelm II, Louise Maske's enthusiasm for Royalty caused her underpants to fall from under her skirts to her ankles. She quickly recovers the 'pantaloons' hoping that no-one has noticed. Unfortunately, her husband,Theo Maske (Duncan Fellows), a deeply conservative public servant, has witnessed it and is aghast that it may be an impediment to his advancement in the civil service. His temper with his wife is deeply wounding in its misogynistic tenor - the accepted tenor of the times.

But to make matters worse, the Maske's have been unsuccessfully attempting to rent a spare room in their apartment, but after the recent incident in the park, they have applications from two men, a foreign, romantic poet, Frank Versati (Ben Gerrard), and a local accountant, Benjamin Cohen (Robin Goldsworthy). Later, two other men enter the scene, an elder gentleman, Klinglehoff (Tony Taylor) and, believe it or not, The Kaiser himself! (Ben Gerard). It turns out that they all have seen the underpants around Louise's ankles and have been 'moved'. Mein gott im himmel!

The success of this evening in the theatre are essentially, the performances. The actor with the most consistent and best grasp of the style is Beth Daly, playing Gertrude Deliter, a neighbour and sexual conspirator in leading the innocent but unconsummated wife, Louise, into the libidinous opportunity that these men present. Ms Daly has the vocal rhythms and physical discipline to deliver everything that is required for pulling off the difficult demands of the farceur, with faultless accuracy. Mr Gerrard as the poet, as well, creates a character of seeming insouciant care as Versati (although, his impersonation in the later cameo as the Kaiser, tempts him back to his too oft tendency to play it for 'camp'. (See my blog of AMERICAN PSYCHO). Robin Goldsworthy manages his masked Jew in a hostile world with a delicate balance that also permits the comic element of Benjamin Cohen to glow. It is a pleasure to watch Tony Taylor at work, although his role requires only a brief appearance. Duncan Fellows carrying the leading role as pompous Theo Maske lacks the consistency of form to have us fully engage with his offers.

In the central role of Louise, Ms Scawthorn, who is usually so secure with her choices in creating character, sometimes in this work appears bewildered as to how to marry the exaggerated demands of the comic lens that is farce and the nuanced naturalism, the more tempered expression required for a woman in a crisis of loyalty, guilt and need, to be revealed. The 'gear changes' to do this are apparent and seems to interrupt the advancing accumulative speed of the farce and so, prevents the climax of the comedy to be fully exploded.

The other admirable elements in this production are the work of Choreographer, Cameron Mitchell, with some interpolated features of dance wittily and confidently carried through, as well as a slow-motion fight hilariously sustained by Mr Goldsworthy and Gerrard, under the direction of Fight Co-ordinator, Scott Witt.

The design is mostly functional that appears to be under constraints of Budget by Anna Gardiner to create details of location and is brightly lit by Benjamin Brockman, with an accurate and witty selection of Sound Design by Ben Pierpoint.

The play finishes after about 90 minutes. One concludes that the parts are worth seeing but they do not up to much of a whole. Full enjoyment, then, is thwarted and one feels a little unsure of what was the point of it all. Certainly, it seems to have no satire of any of the social sensibilities of our world in 2019, as the original play aimed for under the wit of Carl Sternheim. As some one we know might say: "Sad. Sad."

Friday, November 1, 2019

Baby Doll

Photo by Prudence Upton

Ensemble Theatre presents, BABY DOLL, by Tennessee Williams, Adapted by Pierre Laville and Emily Mann, at the Ensemble Theatre, Kirribilli. 18th October - 16th November.

BABY DOLL, began its life as a film in 1956, written by Tennessee Williams. It was Directed by Elia Kazan as 'a black comedy'. It was shaped from two one act stage plays by Williams: 27 WAGONS FULL OF COTTON (1945) and THE LONG STAY CUT SHORT or THE UNSATISFACTORY SUPPER (1946). Tennessee Williams adapted the screenplay as a play, himself, under the title TIGER TALE in the 1970's, but this work at the Ensemble Theatre has been made by Pierre Laville and Emily Mann - long time collaborators at the McCarter Theater Center in Princeton, New Jersey.

The film was nominated for 5 Golden Globes, 4 Academy Awards and 4 BAFTAS. From my teenage memory (in the 60's) the lasting, arresting impression of the film is the sensuality, sexuality of life below the Mason Dixon Line in the American state of Mississippi in the emerging but passionately resisting steamy culture of the 1950's. One tastes this flavour again in the adaptation of most other Tennessee Williams' plays for film - the raw sexual tension between a man and a woman - A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (1951), CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF (1958), and later in other's films such as IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT (1967), MISSISSIPPI BURNING (1988). The sexual undertow of a peculiar world sparking into inevitable violence and tragedy.

BABY DOLL recounts the story of Archie Lee Meighan (Jamie Oxenbould), an ageing owner of a similarly ageing cotton gin (mill), who has struck a bargain with a dying father that he could marry his daughter,'Baby Doll' (Kate Cheel), if he promised not to consummate their marriage until she reached the age of 20. Almost twice her age Archie has been stretched in the honouring of that promise, particularly as 'Baby Doll' is both ambiguously defensive and enticing, Lolita-like - often employing deliberate flirtation in their 'heated' relationship which has become 'hotter' of late as the 20th birthday is only days away.

Besides the heat of this sexual tension, Archie's business is under threat from an up-to-date corporate-owned cotton mill nearby. He simply solves this problem by striking out, in the cloak of night, with an act of arson destroying his rival. The manager of the burnt out mill, a young stud of a man, Silva Vaccaro (Socratis Otto) turns up at Archie's mill, next day with 27 wagons full of cotton that he needs milling, urgently. Archie may have won out with his business interests. But, on the other hand, inevitably, Silva and 'Baby Doll' scent each other out and Archie's other world erupts into high tension - the core of the action of the play, on the stage.

The film was attacked by the moral right of the period with, particularly, the Catholic church regarding the film as "greviously offensive to Christian and traditional standards of morality and decency" and had the film "Condemned". Some respected critics also joined tho protest declaring the film 'as a lurid tale of a virgin child bride, her sexually frustrated husband, and her smarmy lover." TIME magazine called it "possibly the dirtiest American-made motion picture that has ever been legally exhibited". This production at the Ensemble Theatre will have no such moral protest to deal with - it is bombastically, intellectually too tame.

Director of this production, Shaun Rennie, says in the program notes:
Re-examining BABY DOLL through a contemporary theatrical lens has allowed us to explore the continually evolving and shifting beliefs regarding a woman's right to autonomy and control over her sexuality. Together we've interrogated the complex and nuanced conversation surrounding Affirmative Consent, the many roles women are forced to 'perform' in order to manoeuvre their way through an unbalanced system where the male gaze is omnipresent, and to question the permanence and depth of exciting social changes that have been made slowly and progressively towards righting that imbalance.
That does seem to be an exciting proposition for the artistic collaborators of this production to have had during their rehearsal period, but to be honest, at our entry point, as an audience to the result of such cogitation, it does not seem to have affected, influenced, much, the storytelling in this production of this 63 year old provocation embedded in the mores of its period. Except as a possible encouragement for, as Mr Rennie suggests, a personal 'further interrogation' of the community values of our contemporary sexual politics. The play as written is for its time, the social and political atmosphere of the 1950'-'60's' at the centre of its interest, and to attempt to gainsay it into the contemporary debates about the agency of female sexuality etc, without a dramatic re-writing adjustment seems to be a far-fetched aspiration. The context is of great importance.

The film interpretation is a highly emotionally charged experience that resonates the skill of its actors: Carol Baker, Karl Malden and Eli Wallach, Directed by Elia Kazan, and all four of these artists are steeped in the "Method" technique devised by Lee Strasberg that had such a profound affect on the major performing artists of this cinematic and theatrical period - a created reality of heightened intensity that was based on a known truth played, usually, in a heightened state of expression. It always and still does create a physical, visceral response to the sensitive in the theatre or cinema - it is of a genre style of deliberate sexual disturbance.

This technique of 'playing' was served, in part, by the demands of the writers of the period of which Tennessee Williams was a strong advocate (it is, also, present in the works of playwrights William Inge, Arthur Miller).

As the writer Anton Chekov, served the 'revolutionary' style of acting that was the evolving technique of naturalism led by Constantin Stanislavsky who collaborated with Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko, his co-Artistic director of the Moscow Arts Theatre, that changed the style of approach to acting at the turn of the twentieth century, Tennessee Williams was the principal inspiration for the "Method' approach. BABY DOLL serves violently the Strasberg 'Method' of the mid-twentieth century which was an exploration and exaggeration of the traditions of his forebears, it situated at the core-heart of the Williams' plays and screenplays. It is what gave these texts the vivacity and conviction that was the underlining support for the period's work as a shock of the new.

It was this artistic element that, for me, thwarted my marrying with this Ensemble production, as this company of actors were not engaged intimately with the Method and failed to serve the thrust of the energy of the Tennessee Williams writing style.

The performance style of this company was signalled by the overwrought and over loud Sound Composition (Nate Edmondson) as an overture to the beginning of the play which seemed to encourage a 'bellowing' noise pattern of the text, from all the actors, particularly, from Mr Oxenbould, that seemed to preclude any real communication to the other actors for cause to affect the development of each character's argument of objective. Each actor/character seemed to be locked into a self-contained bubble of intellectualisation - a style that was more analytical - than of an expression of a primary subjective emotional source of energy.

(The loud sound volume of this production both electronic and human reminded me of a recent interview with the Musical Theatre star, Patti Lupone, who gave an evaluation of the contemporary Broadway Musical - 'they hurt my ears' was her reply, and that the electronic sound manipulation prevented any real ability for the audience and singer/actor to achieve any real nuance of private intimacy exchange for the character development and narrative journey).

The sensual sexuality and ambiguous preening of the Baby Doll character so powerfully evident in the film, and definitely the cause of much of the political scandal that erupted about this work as film, was absent in the work of Ms Cheel - besides the fact she did not appear to be the self-described 19 year old teenager struggling with the power of her growing sexual radiance, but rather presenting a much older woman reasoning her evaluation of how best to 'win' in the situation she has found herself placed in by Archie, her much older husband, and the arrival of the young stud called Silva. Without that vividness of the burgeoning sexuality of this "virgin child bride" the play has hardly a solid lubrication to deliver what Tennessee Williams has written for provocation in 1956. The intellectual cogitations about this work in 2019 are not part of the Williams' interest.

This production of BABY DOLL was a huge disappointment. The best of the work was given by Maggie Dence as the disappointed-with-life old lady of the house, Aunt Rose Comfort, who mostly, appears to ignore what is going on about her.

The Set Design by Anna Tregloan has been prescribed as a whole contribution to the atmosphere of the Mississippi milieu as it shares a repertory need with another play that uses the same space in a scheduled pattern of performances. Verity Hampson with her Lighting Design does as well as she can to support an atmosphere to create the theatre vision of a steamy sweaty environment that goes beyond naturalistism as best she can.

This is a one act play that in its content provocation may be better served by viewing the film.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019


Little Trojan in association with bAKEHOUSE Theatre presents, ROSALINE, by Joanna Erskine, at the Kings Cross Theatre (KXT) 11th - 26th October.

In Shakespeare's ROMEO AND JULIET, Romeo, a son of the Montague's has been wandering in the woods alone, "[w]ith tears, augmenting the fresh morning's dew/ Adding to clouds more clouds with his deep sighs." All, he thinks, for his love of Rosaline. Later, that evening he breaks into a party held at her cousin's Juliet's home to be close to his Rosaline - both women, daughters of the enemy family of Verona, the Capulets. On seeing Juliet, Romeo, instantly, falls in love with her and the prescient admonition - chiding - that Romeo's priestly mentor, Friar Laurence has given him "for DOTING, not for LOVING" Rosaline rings, fatefully, true. ("Dote" means to be infatuated or foolishly in love, or in love with the idea of love - it comes from the same root as the word meaning "to take a nap".) Romeo's 'love' has been an artificial one - he has been in a stupor, a dotage of adolescent indulgence. Rosaline is forgotten, post-haste, and Juliet becomes all.

In Shakespeare's play we never learn much about Rosaline. She is glimpsed, once, at the Capulet ball, but she is not a dramatic character in the play: she has no lines. What we know of her is Romeo's and his 'mates' projection. Part of Romeo's frustration (attraction?) with Rosaline maybe that she has "sworn that she will still live chaste", that she will die a virgin and without progeny - a challenge that any red-blooded Italian machismo might take up! (Juliet, then, on sight, seems to be an altogether different proposition/challenge.)

ROSALINE, is a new Australian play by Joanna Erskine. Since 2007 Ms Erskine has ruminated on how she can give a voice to the woman scorned in one of the world's great romantic tragedies. To tell Rosaline's story. For, Ms Erskine refused 'to believe that Rosaline simply disappeared'. The play, ROSALINE is, of course, Ms Erskine's contemporary projection of a possible alternative drama for Rosaline (Aanisa Vylet), involving Romeo (Alex Beauman), his friend Peter (Jeremy Campese) and a Friar (David Lynch).

The Rosaline, of this play, is furiously possessed - obsessed - in lust with her Romeo. She will have him and, she determines, y no-one else shall. This belief passion leads her to actions and extreme behaviours. Ms Erskine's play tells a story that is as predictable in its tragic trajectory as the original Shakespeare does when trumpeting his story in the opening sonnet-Prologue of ROMEO AND JULIET.

Directed, by Sophie Kelly, on a dour Set design (Set and Costume Design by Lucy McCullough) - a raised grey rectangle, encasing a pit, where most of the action takes place - the actors, in a collection of multiple scenes tell the story of Rosaline and her pursuit of her Romeo.

The difficulty, for me, was the acting style from all the actors of an almost unabated earnestness. The actors seemed to sit above the text and played the 'idea' of the characters and the dramaturgical intention of the narrative. There was, for me, an artificiality of sound and gesture, not, observerdly, sprung from any organic truths of personalised experience. I had an impression of actors with a clear romance with the missionary zeal of the play and Ms Erskine's 12 year yearning. Truth, evidence of a real lived experience (personalisation), owned vocal characterisations, were strangely rare in the 75 minute production of the play. The actors seemed to be talking at each other not to each other, no-one seemed to be affected by what they heard or saw - they were performing in a bubble. I could not believe the plight of anyone in the play. I was guided to the idea of the play rather than to experience any authentic 'happening' in the tragedy of this Rosaline.

Ms Vylet, who plays Rosaline, I remember essaying a passion not much different in energy and 'nakedness' in a production of THE GIRL THE WOMAN out at Riverside, Parramatta last year - her characters, in both instances, driven by a sexual need that, too, led to disaster. This possession of Rosaline, by Ms Vylet, did seem extremely familiar. (Oddly, I felt, there is no other female character in the play - one wondered if Juliet ought to have appeared, even as Rosaline does in ROMEO AND JULIET, a silent presence?)

In the time of my uninvolvement during the performance "Does it always need to be the case - that tragedy is the conclusion to a woman who pursues her free life choices? I have just finished Elizabeth Gilbert's novel, CITY OF GIRLS (2019), whose intention, partly, was/is to tell the story of a young nineteen year old woman - Vivian Morris - finding herself in the world of New York in the 1940's and decades after. A story of empowerment that includes wild choice that leads to consequences that are both near tragic but also, satisfyingly, concludes as a celebration of her freedom of choice in her complicated life.

ROSALINE, is the fruition of a 'passion' of writer, Joanna Erskine. Last year I was truly moved by Ms Erskine's play AIR and could recommend it unreservedly. This production of this new play I am less enthusiastic about. It plays at the Kings Cross Theatre until the 26th October.

As You Like It.

That play has a Rosalind - one of the great Shakespearen creations. His other Rosaline is one of the 'teases' to the gang of men led by Berowne in the comedy, LOVE LABOUR'S LOST.


Belvoir as part of the 25A program presents SLAUGHTERHOUSE, by Anchuli Felicia King, Downstairs Theatre Belvoir. 16th October - 2nd November.

Writer, Anchuli Felicia King, and Director, Bonita de Wit, two young Australians, both found themselves studying in the Performance Arts Program at Columbia University in New York (not that they hadn't tried to find a place in Australian schools to do just that - their resourcefulness in finding the alternative way to training seems to have forged some strong 'gifts', despite, I imagine, the great expense). Their respective American friends at school made sure they became acquainted and diffidently, at first, i've been told, they did. Great! One result is SLAUGHTERHOUSE, a new play by Ms King which is being Directed by Ms de Wit, in the Downstairs Theatre at Belvoir as part of the 25A Program. The 25A Program is an opportunity for five young collectives of artists to emerge in a Production presentation supported by the Main House that is the Belvoir Company.

SLAUGHTERHOUSE, is a play about an 'ethical eating start-up' encouraging the world to be aware of the source of their food with an abattoir being at a frightening centre (having, the night before, been shocked by the 7.30 Report exposure of the latest racing scandal and the maltreatment of thoroughbred horses, it was an unpleasant and piquant confrontation) What could, therefore, be more 'trendy' and 'honourable'? But in this instance, as in my real TV life, something seriously has gone wrong with the experience of the organisation's aspirations.

Five actors present five independent monologues telling the unravelling 'event' that has undone them, from their individual point of view. We sit in a growing wonder as each character connects directly to us, having us develop identification - allegiance - or not, and having to decide which one is speaking the truth and which ones are pandering a verbal concoction of face-saving self interest. Who ever you lay loyalty too makes little difference to your experience in Downstairs at Belvoir, for you will have an inevitable reflexive comic response and a startling mental and visual stimulation of some rare quality.

First Bianca - the Social Media manager - gives us her horrified memory and we are introduced by Brooke Rayner to the spizz of a scintillating comic writer, Ms King. It is a dazzling comic opportunity and in the performance by Ms Rayner of this completely self-obsessed 'youngster' with hesitant twitches and rude habits of eating, dressed in orange clothing, we are supremely mesmerised to her spot-on hilarious creation. We subsequently meet the 'sexual-dick' of the collective who believes he is the answer to any woman's dreams inhabited frighteningly by Adam Marks. We meet Sasha, played by Stephanie Somerville, the bosses' Personal Assistant, in all her weaning ego, who gives stage space to drug enhanced DJ, essayed by Tom Matthews, with all of his delusions that gradually, subtly, wins some surprise of empathy from one - weird. At the top of this start-up's pole is Hannah a self-centred CEO who takes full advantage of her sexual energies to enjoy what she may gain from the 'greenie' and guilt laden conscience of the 'clients' that they have inveigled to join them in support. Romy Bartz has all the pseudo-modest sinuation of body and innuendo to provoke many a wet dream as she tells Hannah's version of what has happened.A performance worth relishing.

All of us have been manipulated into an exhaustive state that was in its 75 minute drive, glued together by chaotic crashes of Sound that blasts the aural senses accompanied by doubling and tripling visuals with video - live and pre-recorded - that keeps one from resting our attentions (Ms King not only has written SLAUGHTERHOUSE bu, also, has created the Sound and Video input!)

We are in the world of a stimulating contemporary comedy of modern cruelty and savage critique, with a Design by Brendan de la Hay that is startlingly white, doubling as screen for the video action, with the detritus of modern high tech gadgets dumped on the periphery edges in discarded abandonment. Everything, especially conscience, seems to be easily dispensable in this millennial world. The Lighting by Phoebe Pilcher supports the concept of the look of the show, brilliantly. The primary colours of the costumes, also by Mr de la Hay, spring out at us to create an ocular discomfort that the masks (PIG-man!) and other properties may have you recall your youth or the last queer party you attended - you know BAD DOG or CLUB KOOKY?!

This work by Ms King and the sure hand of the Director, Bonita de Wit, ensures no matter what generation you belong to an hilarious and witty night is on offer - a surprise of real quality in all areas that is worth seeing. Ms de Wit recently debuted in Sydney, on her return from New York, at the Hayes with her production of the new Australian musical RAZORHURST (it was not so sure an experience as this work is), while Ms King has had her play, GOLDEN SHIELD, just close at the Melbourne Theatre Company, and she awaits the opening of a co-production by the Sydney Theatre Company and The National Theatre of Parramatta, WHITE PEARL, out at Riverside Theatre, Parramatta. Two artists worth noting, I reckon.

Go see. It plays until November 2 and is only $25 a ticket. A bargain, I promise.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Cirque du Soleil, Kurios

Cirque du Soleil present, KURIOS: Cabinet of Curiosities, at the Entertainment Quarter, Moore Park, Sydney. 3rd October - 24th November.

KURIOS: Cabinet of Curiosities, is a work from the juggernaut that is Cirque Du Soleil, a Canadian Company that has an astonishing network of creations performing all around the world.This work has been Created and Directed by Michel Laprise.

KURIOS, is a return to form for this company. The show before last was not so hot - the speciality acts great, the story fluffing it up, boring. Kurios is set in the late Nineteenth century (one supposes) and all the Design elements are of an extraordinary standard - a s steam-punk visual influence. Set (Stephane Roy) and Costume (Phillipe Guillotel). Amazing detail enhanced by Lighting of extraordinary effect. All this serving a fanciful story of an incredible Seeker, in search of wonders of this Victorian industrial world of invention, which he curates and stores in his cabinet of curiosities.

This story-line is simply decoration to help distract us during the huge Design changes that are carried out to permit the stunning virtuosity of a troupe of International artists to be shown off to maximum effect. In the case of KURIOS, the thematic fibres of the staging of this work, works. It is a brilliant conceit integrated flawlessly throughout the night masked by an incredible Sound Design from a live orchestra, timed to perfection to initiate the cueing for the actions of the speciality artists. The music is by Raphael Beau, Guy Dubuc and Marc Lessard, a kind of electro-swing fuzz with a jazz smother led by Marc Sohler and Singer Sophie Guay.

It is the calibre of the specialist artists that are always astonishing that one goes to Cirque du Soliel for. And with Kurios there is no let down. Fun percussionists and jugglers, a plastic and pliant foursome troupe of acrobats with bodies that do things that do not seem possible to be done, a chair balancing act mirrored in duplication from above, a duo of men swinging about us in a daring, flying ribbon act, a bouncing net act that has the participants flying about the levels of the stratosphere, a solo yo-yo artist that will leave you with your mouth agape. It is all so physically stirring - dare I say sexy! This is a show of two one hour halves and not a minute ought to be missed. Much more than what I have said happens, I hope you will be surprised and tantalised to a state of excitement and disbelief, not only with what I have 'spoiled' but, too, by what I have left out.

The show, Kurios, is the Full Deal. It is an entertainment for all generations and, truly, you are guaranteed a blast of a night. The Cirque Du Soliel aesthetic and it's design organisational skills for enchantment and wonder begins the moment you step into the huge tent that covers it all.

Do go. You will have an unforgettable time.

The Angry Brigade

Photo by Bob Seary
New Theatre present, THE ANGRY BRIGADE, by James Graham, at the New Theatre, King St, Newtown. 1st October - 2nd November.

THE ANGRY BRIGADE, is a British play by James Graham. It is a two act play. The Angry Brigade are a collective, a far left terrorist group, active in the late 60's. They were responsible for a series of 25 bombings. Their bombs caused mainly property damage, no deaths and only one minor injury. It caused the British Government, in 1971, to set up a specialist group - The Bomb Squad - within the Metropolitan Police to investigate these crimes of terror. It led to the development of a new investigative methodology to detect and arrest these terrorists of the streets of London. This Brigade were all arrested and imprisoned. The British Government were well prepared for the consequent IRA activity in London when it erupted.

In the first act of the play we begin at the formation of the team central to the investigation and then follow through, discover the procedural 'rails', that will formulate the investigative pattern of action. We meet Smith (Davey Segale), the appointed leader, Henderson (Madeline Withington), Parker (Sonya Kerr) and Morris (Benjamin Balte), and watch them coalesce over the period into a team with a mission that does its job and in doing so, also, unleashes them selves from the strict conventions of their own tight worlds into looser and contemporary revellers of the mores of the British 1970's.

This first act is more matters of fact than expansive insight that has a rather dulling effect on concentration, aided by the acting, generally, been permitted by the Director, Alex Byrant-Smith, to indulge in characteristics rather than in development of character and their arc.

During the interval the stage has been re-configured (Set and Costume Design, Sallyanne Facer). We had been in the basement setting at the Metropolitan Police for the first act of the play and in the second act of the play, a different number of locations, spread across a nearly bare stage. (Acoustically, the open stage hampers, sometimes, the clarity of text - it has an echo chamber affect.) The Lighting is by Michael Schell and there is a robust Sound Design by Glenn Braithwaite.

In the second act we now meet members of the Angry Brigade. We see the events from their, the young terrorists point of view. This is a keen strategy from the writer, Mr Graham, and as the principal four actors of the first act also carry the majority of the responsibility of the verbal action in the second act it causes us to imaginative engage with the actors in a very different way. Davey Seagle takes on John, Madeline Withington takes on Anna, Benjamin Balte plays Jim and Sonya Kerr is Hilary. We are surprised to understand that only one of the Brigade are from working class roots, most of them are disillusioned youngsters of the bourgeoisie.Mrs Thatcher must answer for her policies.

This company of artists have been imbued by their Director, Mr Bryant-Smith, with an energetic passion and commitment to the integrity of the writer and his intensions. This is the stirring, galvanising element of the night. These actors believe in what they have taken on and wish us to observe the relevancy to our own times of protest. There is a supporting cast that help sweep the night along: Nicholas Papademetriou, Kelly Robinson and Will Bartolo.

This is an interesting play by one of Britain's most politically engaged writers. His home country have responded eagerly to his out put. THE ANGRY BRIGADE was written in 2014 and is a lesser work than his spectacular award winning, THIS HOUSE (2012) and his play about Rupert Murdoch and his takeover of The Sun newspaper: INK. Only 37 Mr Graham has written some 22 plays and, as well, for television - QUIZ (2019) - and film. He, also, wrote the Broadway Book for the musical FINDING NEVERLAND. Prolific is one word. Talented is another. One is grateful that the New Theatre has curated THE ANGRY BRIGADE, for us Sydney siders to be able to engage with his work. One does long to see INK., THIS HOUSE, and perhaps (I haven't read it), LABOUR OF LOVE - a prize winning comedy.

The Real Thing

Photo by Lisa Tomasetti
Sydney Theatre Company, presents by THE REAL THING, by Tom Stoppard, in the Drama Theatre, at the Sydney Opera House. 9th September - 26th October.

THE REAL THING, is a play by Tom Stoppard, from the approximate middle period of his output - 1982. Prior to this it was the intellectual brilliance of his word play and juggling of various viewpoints that gave his work the effervescence of the best cold champagne that money could buy. Exhilarating nights in the theatre that made one feel smarter and wittier than one had suspected, known, of oneself ever being: ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD (1968); JUMPERS (1972); TRAVESTIES (1976). THE REAL THING, had all the wit as usual, but at its centre it had, as well, a sensitive beating heart that felt that it, at last, could feel the ecstasy of love and the bruises of despair of that same thing called love, and could safely, truly, express it and discuss it, in public, on the stage. Later work, ARCADIA (1993); THE INVENTION OF LOVE (1997); and the screenplay SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE (1998), go on to illustrate that growth luxuriously and rewardingly.

The character of Henry in THE REAL THING is autobiographical to a large degree. The role of Annie, in the original production, was taken by Felicity Kendall with whom Mr Stoppard developed a relationship, both of them at the time married to someone else. Says Simon Phillips, the Director of this Sydney Theatre Company (STC) production:
THE REAL THING marked a turning point - a shift from using other people's ideas meretriciously to expressing his own ideas, and more importantly feelings, equally eloquently.
Lots of things are thrown into the disquisition of the playwriting in THE REAL THING, that keeps us engaged, but at the core of the experience we grapple with the puzzlement of what is love? and how do we know when the love we feel is the real thing? We learn that it is when experienced as ecstasy and also as despair and, yet, manages to sustain our partnership through the thickness of it as well as the thins of it.

We have seen this play on the Sydney stage many times before this version in The Drama Theatre. It still has its charms and can still hold the audience in its palm, although in this production it occasionally reveals its age and 'creaks', forcing us to be patient with some of its observations and theatrical tricks of structure. The play feels long, though it isn't, merely two and a half hours, including an interval. That feeling of length is a signal that something is not quite working, don't you think? It takes so long to get to the end - it seems to end many times. On my night there was an anticipatory exit applause given, despite the fact there was more - embarrassingly - to be said and done. We had to re-gather ourselves, those of us who had thought that exiting was the next move of the night! The amount of time built around the MacGuffin of the 'ghosting' by Henry of a play written by a working class Brodie, an imprisoned soldier, does, ultimately, stretch the limits of our attentiveness. And when Brodie finally does appear - metamorphose - none of us care too much, for we had already indicated that we felt it was time to go home, thanks very much.

Mr Phillips remarks that
If Stoppard sets challenges to your attention span, he sets equal challenges to his actors, demanding a mental acuity and an effortless command of high-tensile language.
This company of actors appear to have the "mental acuity" but not quite the "effortless command" of the high-tensile language. Both Johnny Carr (Henry) and Geraldine Hakewill (Annie) manage the commands of the technique Mr Stoppard requires, but, only just. Their effort to deliver is a visible strain and does not give us much luxury of confidence that they will get through. Other actors that we have seen in this play in other productions over the years, were, generally, much more experienced than these two young thespians. They give creditable performances but not absolutely confident ones - we cheer them on but we should not ought to have that responsibility. We are pleased that they have managed well enough.

The best performance comes from Julia Robertson, in a small supporting role as Debbie, and, happily, when Dorje Swallow does finally arrive as Brodie, his suavity and control of the scene has us wishing he had arrived earlier and had had more to do. Rachel Gordon (Charlotte) is adequate, so is Shiv Palekar (Billy), while Charlie Garner does not seem to be able to inhabit Max, the actor - the other betrayed lover - and who rather presents an oddly caricatured vocalisation as a substitute for a living, breathing man - the idea of this 'stagey' Englishman called Max (Maximilian, I suppose) as conceived by a satiric Australian comedian.

It is a very extravagant and contemporary design by Charles Davis, and we do get to watch it change 'shape' regularly during the performance, accompanied by James Brown's Sound Design and Composition, lit sumptuously by Nick Schlieper. Mr Phillips as a deft hand Directing this work but not the energy to lift the actors and production into an effortless brilliance, which is what THE REAL THING necessarily demands and we expect.

I like Stoppard's work a great deal. I am a fan. I flew to New York to see his trilogy of plays, THE COAST OF UTOPIA, dealing with the Russian philosophers and their entwined personal lives that would set the foundations for the Russian Revolutions in 2002, guessing that we would never see them in Sydney. Three plays. Nine hours long. A company of 30, or more actors. Never ever, in Sydney. I had a moderately fair night with this version of THE REAL THING.(Come to think of it, that maybe my usual remembrance of this play). I wish that the STC had cast the work with more experienced players, or, better still, were more courageous with presenting one of his other works that have never been seen in Sydney. There are many, many of them.