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?


Cosi


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.