Thursday, June 16, 2022

Gods And Little Fishes

Photo by Bob Seary

New Theatre presents GODS AND LITTLE FISHES, by Richard Sydenham and Jamie Oxenbould, at the New Theatre, 420 King St. Newtown, 31st May - 25th June.

GODS AND LITTLE FISHES, is a beautiful gem of a play that the writers control with unerring sensitivity.

It is a play about Grief.

Its narrative wrapping/content is the recall of a terrible set of circumstances of 1960 that disturbed the provincial blanket of protection that Sydney wore - perhaps, Australia, as well - when an ordinary, suburban Bondi family won the Sydney 0pera House Lottery of $100,000 - a fantasy dreamt by all of us a big cheer - only to have a stranger call on the telephone a month later with a demand of extortion in exchange for the safe return of their kidnapped son, Graeme. A huge panic. Then, following, a time of nightmare suspense until the body of a child was found in the sand dunes of Seaforth. Then the confronting recognition in the morgue. The reality is the notorious Graeme Thorne Case, that along with the Wanda Beach Murders and the Beaumont Childrens' Disappearance brought Australia into the age of "stranger danger" and to the Police using forensic science as a tool of investigation, success of conviction.

The setting of this production by Hannah Tayler, has the grief performed on a central platform of furniture with a backdrop of blue and clouds where Frank, the dad, a travelling salesman (Jamie Oxenbould), meets some companions in a surreal dream, a man dressed as a bear (Andy McDonell), a small clown (Eloise Snape), and a strongman (Arky Michael), allowing the facts of a new emotional landscape to be revealed whilst on the outer perimeter edges the true life ordeal is told with Frank, his wife Kate (Katie Fitchett) and his son, Jeffrey (Sarah-Jane Kelly).

The balance between the zones of experience are delicately achieved by this team of artists with dignity and  a sense of mission - an ensemble wholly involved with every element that each of them contribute to the gently unfolding "lesson" for its audience. This includes the subtle Sound design by Lloyd Allison-Young and the Lighting support by Grant Fraser. We are smoothly coaxed through difficult terrain and become bewitched, charmed and only slightly bewildered by the adventure of this play.

Harsh reality and the astonishing reservoir of resilience that we have as witnesses of this unspeakable family ordeal, which is illustrated and illuminated for us from this modest stage - which then rebounds for us while and when we regard the pile-on, as we sit in this New Theatre building, of these times of pandemic and war and the perfect storm of climate change and world-wide economic crisis, with a gentle story-telling technique and bravura that inspires not anger and a sense of depression but rather an offer of a small light of hope, even though the glimmerings are far away (All the world's a stage) of our humanness - that we are not only vulnerable but also are resourceful, that we can be survivors however we evolve or mutate as a species. Hope.

GODS AND LITTLE FISHES, and this performance Directed by Richard Sydenham took me to a place of contemplation that elicited comfort and a little joy, despite the darkness of the play's actual content, which I vividly remember actually happening around me when I was a 12 year old living in North Ryde with the newspapers of The Truth and The Daily Mirror, the virulent tabloids of our time, stirring us to a frenzy of cultural fear. But, I'm still here - in fact, we're all still here.

Gentle, almost unremarkable, but a privilege to have experienced. GODS AND LITTLE FISHES.

Do go.

GODS AND LITTLE FISHES won the 2020 The Silver Gull Award, as an unpublished and unproduced new full-length play.
















Friday, May 13, 2022

An American in Paris, A New Musical

The Australian Ballet, GWB Enterprises present, AN AMERICAN IN PARIS, A NEW MUSICAL under the Direction of Christopher Wheeldon, adapted from the MGM Vincent Minnelli Musical Film, with a new Book by Craig Lucas, Music by George Gershwin and Lyrics by Ira Gershwin, at the Theatre Royal, Sydney. 20th April - 20th June.

The MGM Musical film of 1951, AN AMERICAN IN PARIS, Directed by Vincent Minnelli, made famous by the dancing of Gene Kelly with a famous film debut performance from Leslie Caron and a Musical Score with Lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin, is the inspiration for this stage Musical.

This stage work has been adapted with a new Book by American playwright, Craig Lucas, under the direction of  British Choreographer, Christopher Wheeldon. The first significant change is the Setting of the time it sits in, originally in the film a more comfortable early, gradually resurgent late 1940's, early 1950's Paris, now, at the opening of this show at the Theatre Royal, we begin on the actual liberation day in 1945, when in a war torn, exhausted Paris the Nazi flag is torn/brought down and the triumphant Tri-colours of France are hoisted into the air, claiming at the same time its history and of the aspiration of the restoration of Paris to be, once again, the beating artistic heart of Europe.

The backdrop of the stage design by Bob Crowley, takes advantage of contemporary technology and uses digital projection, organised by 59 Production, to have the stage wide collapse and rise of the two opposing flags of Germany and France, with a thrilling and triumphant statement. The Bob Crowley 'magic' continues spectacularly throughout the production employing the colour palette and shape contents of famous artists of this time: Monet, Renoir, Picasso, Mondrian, to back the striving modern dance choreography and cabaret scenes of the City of Paris. That colour resource is apparent in the Lighting Design of Natasha Katz, and in the costume of the performers as well. The costuming of this production appears to be immense and the ensemble are mightily tested in the elaborate swift changes that they must make to continue this production without a wrinkle to its technique in achieving a sleek smoothness in its storytelling journey.

With the change of date, the fears and weariness of war, are inserted by Mr Lucas, into the stories of a few of the victorious American armed forces in Paris meeting and mingling with the French survivors, introducing the poisonous and ruthless, insidious political monstrosity of anti-semitism that still persisted in the psychological abuse present in a supposed liberated world, post 1945. The name of our Narrator/composer American soldier figure is changed from Adam Cook to Adam Hotchby to underline his Jewish heritage (out of respect to the  Gershwin family Jewish heritage, I suppose) and with the introduction of a French Jewish family, Madame and Monsieur Baurel and their son, Henri, who reveal their resistance activity during the German (Nazi) occupation of France. It attempts to bring a layer of serious contemplation to the world of this musical. This conceit works more or less, depending entirely on your own disposition.

The other thematic gesture is the careful layering in of the development in Art: painting, music and dance. Of the quiet battle between rigorous classicism and the exploration of the modernist stretch into the abstract image on painting, sculpture and the choreographic shifts of other types of dance movement, with the accompanying explosion of Jazz as a means to express life in modern times, adopting the sounds of the machinery of war and industry, into musical composition for both classical and popular contemporary stages, in the Concert Houses, the Cabaret and  radio platforms! This conceit works a treat.

The structure of this Musical book is, unfortunately, formulaic. The classic romantic-comedy leads, supported by the second-banana buddies, and pushing against traditions represented by the older and supposedly wiser Elders of the tribe. Jerry Mulligan (Robbie Fairchild) and Lise Dassin (Leanne Cofe), Adam Hotchby (Jonathan Hickey) the romantic leads; Henri (Sam Ward) and Milo (Ashleigh Rubenach) as the second-bananas, he an aspiring Cabaret performer, she an enthusiastic American art philanthropist; with Anne Wood and David Whitney as the resistant Elders, Madame and Monsieur Baurel. 

The conformity of the Book, however is created and sustained by the expertise of the performers. The dance drives the production; the ballet world and the cabaret/musical theatre world. Robbie Fairchild (once a member of the New York City Ballet) and Leanne Cofe (once of the Royal Ballet, London) are wonderfully skilled to act as both soloists and partners of the Christopher Wheeldon choreography, Mr Fairchild is particularly brilliant. Both can also sing quite well. In the Cabaret world, Sam Wood, and Ashleigh Rubenach are delightful both as singers and dancers of that world. Mr Wood a bit of a scene stealer - in a good way, I mean. While the entire ensemble are required to dance in the ballet and cabaret mode - the tap dance, particularly rousing. They are impressive. Some 33 performers I read!!!!

The ingredients of this AN AMERICAN IN PARIS is first rate, and yet the sum of the experience is a trifle dull. The long 17-minute dance sequence - the climax of the intentions of the work - does not quite achieve its focus or our hold attention - true, for me, in the film, as well - and one felt that there were too many endings to the show. It just kept going on and on. At 2 hours and 20 minutes, perhaps a firmer editing was what was called for. I saw the New York Production as well, and it had a much larger space and, certainly, the 'pool' of high quality artists to choose from much, much larger. There, too, on Broadway, the time palled.

Is it the lack of genuine Gershwin songs that defeated the experience? We had:  "I got Rhythm"; "S 'Wonderful"; "They Can't take That Away from Me","Stairway To Paradise"; and a few others, and when the orchestra lighted into full swing, led by Victoria Scammell, we were transported to a kind of Heaven but it seemed to me (and I am no expert), the other adaptations and orchestrations by Rob Fisher were less than impressive. When I recognised phrases from other Gershwin material I lit up with empathic recognition, only to be disappointed that we didn't get more of it. Was it that the Gershwin was relatively light on in the two hours twenty minutes? Is that the explanation for the disappointed feeling at the end of the night?

Go see.

Monday, March 21, 2022

North by North West

By special arrangement with Warner Bros. Theatre Ventures and the Melbourne Theatre Company (MTC), NORTH BY NORTHWEST, adapted by Carolyn Burns, based on the Alfred Hitchcock film, written by Ernest Lehman, at the Lyric Theatre in the Star Casino complex. 9th March - 3rd April.

Alfred Hitchcock had decided he needed a change of style and, particularly, after the twisted Freudian themes and motifs of his then disparaged VERTIGO - released in 1958 (it, belatedly has become  regarded as a Hitchcockian Masterpiece) - he began a treatment of THE WRECK OF THE MARY DEARE, based on a novel by Hammond Innes with screenwriter Ernest Lehman. It didn't work out. They quit on it. Being under contract they had to produce something for M.G.M. , so the Cold War suspense thriller, romantic-comedy, NORTH BY NORTHWEST, gradually crystallised.

It seems that Hitchcock had collected in his spare time a glad-bag of scenes and images he would love to see filmed. Taking that cue from their creative conversations Lehman went on a field trip to pick up some location colour from Hitchcock's 'dreams' and after visiting the UN headquarters in New York, taking a trip on the Twentieth Century Limited to Chicago, checking in at the Ambassador East Hotel, with a park carer taking a scramble up the side of Mt Rushmore, among other adventures. He returned home and at their first re-meeting sat down with Hitchcock to put a screenplay together with what amounted to be an itinerary without a plot. 

Together they put their hero into a predicament and worked out how to get him out of the trouble he found himself in. Then he was dropped into new trouble and once again they had to solve how to extricate him. On and on it went with the question "Now what?" always being posed and explored to solve. "I never knew where I was going,' said Lehman.

'As a result ," Mr Lehman tells us, "Everything was written in increments: moving a little bit forward, then a little bit more, a page at a time. "Okay, you've got him out of Grand Central Station. Now he's on the train, now what? Well, there's no female character in it yet. I better put Eve on the train. But what should I do with her? ..." Always asking, "What do I do next?" So, in the end, the audience never knows what's coming next, because (we) didn't either."

NORTH BY NORTHWEST is one of Hitchcock's most successful films: in fact, an instant success that has been maintained over 60 years of cinematic life:  a suspense thriller of misidentification of an innocent bystander, Roger O. Thornhill - a classic Cold War paranoia, which Hitchcock had used many times before, (the two versions of THE MAN THAT KNEW TOO MUCH, for instance - 1934 & 1956) - that ensures a chase across the United States unravelling a double, double spy plot engaging with knives, planes and guns, bullets both live and blanks, resulting, of course, with the reveal of a micro-film that both sides want, hidden in the rounded tummy of an expensive art piece! 

Add to the spine of this narrative adventure fantasy a script that instead of straight dialogue is mostly, really, repartee, or if you prefer, foreplay - a long verbal flirtation with lots of meaningful looks - and you have a mixture of genre that is irresistible. Physical adventure, intrigue and lots of humour, of innuendo laden with charm - charm and deliberate restraint. The original filmic casting was Cary Grant, the greatest of the Hollywood comic charmers at this time and under his spell Eva Marie Saint, his co-star, rose to the occasion to be his equal, being provocatively charming, right back. The audience no matter their sexual identification swooned as these two handsome figures 'battled' it out. This film has always been a favourite and hasn't aged one bit in its ability to tantalise and please its audience. Suspense and longing smiles. NORTH BY NORTHWEST is critically regarded as Hitchcock's lightest film.

Most of us in this Opening Night audience knew the film and so we arrived at the Lyric Theatre knowing what happens to the innocent Roger Thornhill (David Campbell), and how he and the other characters are extricated from one trouble spot to another. The "What next?' we already knew. So, the "HOW" in the Lyric theatre is not so much the thrill of the plot twists of escape but rather the "HOW" are they going to bring certain famous sequences in the film to life on stage. You know, HOW are they going to solve the extraordinary stalking and chase of the hero by a crop duster plane, spitting bullets at him. The climb and chase across the Mount Rushmore sculptures. This is the the thrill tension of the anticipated stage version of NORTH BY NORTHWEST for us fans of Hitchcock. For the audience seeing the story for the first time they are having a double wonder of a production. The Lehman adventure story and the cleverness of the playful storytelling techniques  - the respectful, stylish mashing of actor with Audio-Visual tools., it turns out. Of the genius of Hitchcock and of the team of creatives working with Simon Phillips.

In this production the physical solution of the HOW are they going to do it is where laughter of surprise and wonder at the audacious theatricality of the methods employed becomes an assured source of holding this night together for all the audience: those who are familiar and those who are not. This staged version of NORTH BY NORTHWEST is a rich night of fun and joy.

The adaptation of this screenplay by Carolyn Burns under the direction of Simon Philips, from the resources of the Melbourne Theatre Company (MTC), is adroit in managing all of the main events. The play text is a true adaptation of the original - it is respectfully faithful. It begins with a set Design (Simon Phillips and Nick Schlieper), of a ghostly white skeletal cage-like structure of parallel lines both horizontal and vertical across the back of the stage and coming down both sides, 'wings', of the stage - left and right. The production begins with a boldly tongue-in-cheek recreation of the Saul Bass opening credits offering an inventive solution that in doing so, announces a restrained comic tone, right from the start, that is then, remarkably sustained throughout the entire of the production. 

The wonderful comic balance that Simon Phillips achieves is one that has a cosy period identification that never pushes into farce or vulgarity.  There is no Sydney Oxford Street Camp going on in this production and the respect given the source material never wavers into parody and one trusts, instinctively, that there is not going to be a musical 'drag' interpolation going to be featured in this storytelling creation, unlike the Kip Williams' offers in works like his CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF***, THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY or, believe it or not, DEATH OF A SALESMAN***. Anything Goes when Mr Williams or his Assistant Artists takes hold of the Classic repertoire - Sydney's audiences' penchant to demand superficial style over substance - to celebrate it with standing ovations and applause - seems to give the Sydney Theatre Company (STC), Mr Williams and his assistants licence to indulge its audiences (and themselves, it seems.)

The colour palette of the Lighting (Nick Schlieper), is that slightly underlit warmth that Francis Ford Coppola and his cinematographer, Gordon Willis, captured so beautifully in THE GODFATHER trilogy - and is cosy, safe, 'homey'. Further, sonically, the famous Bernard Herrmann score from the original film has been given permission to be used and its familiar, propulsive Spanish dance rhythm known as the fandango is awoken, recalled, and our, probably, subliminal memory, unconsciously use it to support  Mr Phillips' imaginative solutions, joyfully, to assist in accepting the manner of the choices made by the production artists. Other Composition and Soundscape are harmoniously created by Ian McDonald.

On the Set, there are in each of the wing branches two cubicles where the cast using a pointed, live camera 'play' with toys - tools - to project images on a large screen on the back wall. The images are made up of comic toys and child-like illustrations that ground the feel of the 'art' into the games some of us have created in our bedrooms, as kids, getting out our crayons or paint brushes with a tone colour of the Hollywood technicolour of the '50's to make the background images of our own stories, whilst we also built/organised: toy planes on a stick that will crash into a toy bus and catch fire, or a train set moved on tracks past the camera to be projected in real time onto a screen. (Memories of the work of the Australian company, MY DARLING PATRICIA'S came to call.) And, just wait until you see the solution to creating the climatic scramble of our heroes across the Mount Rushmore monument. It is MTC artistic integrity, not STC vulgarity holding it all together. Ingenious and amusing in its wonderous cheeky concept. The Audio Visual design of newspaper headlines etc by Josh Burns also uses techniques of the old Hollywood studios that ramps up the visual support for the storytelling.

On the floor of the stage, chairs and some prop lounges (on wheels) are wheeled about to create images of a car, taxi, a train carriage, the interior of an art auction, bedrooms and foyers of hotels etc. The very busy choreographic control by the company of actors of the props for the scenes have a tight rein of efficiency and balletic elan.

A company of 12 actors create to what appears to be a cast of hundreds. Berynn Schwerdt, Dorje Swallow, Kaen Chan, Lachlan Woods, Nicholas Bell, Sharon Millerchip, Wadih Dona, Alex Rathgeber, Caroline Craig and Douglas Hansell. David Campbell as the hero, Roger Thornhill, is the only actor with one character to maintain. Everybody else swiftly shape shift with the assistance of Costume (Esther Marie Hayes) and wig, make-up. It seemed to me that Ms Hayes work is exemplary in solving the quick changes that are necessary for the production's fluidity but it is at the expense of a good consistent period look. There is however no real excuse for the fit and cut of Mr Campbell's suit that more often than not looks like 'a bag of fruit' than the tailored serenity of the original. This Thornhill looks flustered and baggy in the suit he dons rather than in neat control. This Thornhill does not support the 'coolness' the confidence of the original by a long, long shot. (I read that Cary Grant had seven identical versions of his suit to maintain the character's temperament visually throughout the shoot of the film. Not so, alas, for Mr Campbell. The film went way over budget to complete! - that set of suits, perhaps?! The MTC, probably did not have the budget.)

Amber McMahon, plays the heroine, Eve, with a wig that looks like the blonde straw that appeared in M.G.M.'s THE WIZARD OF OZ, perched on the top of her head, hair-sprayed to what looked like a lethal stiffness of curled sharp edges. Ms McMahon, as well, never quite manages to make her Grace-Kelly period 'costumes' look like 'clothes' that her character has chosen to wear. The suits are okay but the 'cocktail' look not so well accomplished. Fortunately, Ms McMahon has a personal style that almost excuses the uncomfortable look in those required petticoats.

All of the actors have the difficulty of playing roles meant to be captured by a camera and hence there is a need to theatrically illustrate the subtleties at a scale that can reach into the back rows of the theatre. It can add a coarsening to the comedy of Lehmann and Hitchcock's screenplay, none more, for instance, than in the famous train repartee between Thornhill and Eve Kendall. Ms McMahon mostly succeeds with this problem though sometimes she treads to the very edge of vulgarity with choices like the throw of her legs in the bed scene in the train. It gets a laugh but almost prostitutes Eve's character. It is on the edge and one can see the temptation that Ms McMahon is resisting - for the bigger comic gesture to score a laugh is a fairly familiar choice employed by Ms McMahon in her past work offers. It is an admirable "battle' that we can gauge Ms  McMahon is having to subdue that usual comic reflex trait, to have us identify her Eve Kendall as a saintly sophisticated operator.

Bert LaBonte is a smooth operator,  seductive as the villain Phillip Van Damm. He is all that we could wish for, with the memory of James Mason oozing into our consciousness of recognition in some of the Labonte stylish body language and a capacity to wear his clothing as if it were tailored just for him.

 Genevieve Lemon is consummate in her comic invention of Roger's mother, Mrs Dinah Thornhill, and manages to create a mordant wit for her many other minor tasks. 

Tony Llwellyn-Jones pulls out his usual fussy physical choices to make the 'Professor', they are hardly distinguishable from his performance as Pickering in the Julie Andrews production of MY FAIR LADY***of a few years ago. 

Dorje Swallow and Lachlan Woods (Leonard) make an impression in the ensemble work.

The vocal work of the company, employing a familiar '50's mid-Atlantic Hollywood dialect to create period and consistency helps enormously for us to enter the game of the theatre with them. It's a fake Studio dialect, but it is instantly recognisable and fun.

David Campbell who is more often seen in Musicals on stage (or, as a host on daytime television), plays straight down the line in this play, with some subdued comic flair and a genuine truth with his own pleasant aura of a nice guy projecting a dignified restraint necessary for us to believe the dilemmas and interactions of his beleaguered hero, Roger Thornhill. 

Cary Grant began his career as a comic acrobat in the Music Halls of London and Vaudeville Theatres in New York and once he began making strides in the film industry in Hollywood it was his well trained physical body language that assisted him to create a musical rhythm for all his work. Watch his physical timing in the Screwball Comedies of the 30's and 40's to see what I mean expressly. (Charles Chaplain and Burt Lancaster are two other athletic bodies that made distinctive physical impressions on screen) Bernard Herrmann of his choice of the Spanish fandango for the main thematics of his score for NORTH BY NORTHWEST, didn't seem to make sense for a movie that takes place entirely in America, but Herrmann had a genius for music embodying a movie's psychological DNA. Herrmann's inspiration became clear when he explained that his use of the fandango was inspired by Grant's "Astaire-like agility," which was never more apparent than in the crop-dusting sequence, where he sprints through the cornfield like an Olympic athlete. It is this physical agility, the suave movement of the body, the instinctive body memory reach that seduces us, along with his turn-of-phrase, the witty quip, the musical cadence and timing that distinguishes Grant's Thornhill. 

Throughout the huge responsibility of this very big role - Thornhill is in in almost every scene of the play - the wit of the text is assiduously available within Mr Campbell's 'tool box' and he seems to have worked hard to require the disciplines to make it work, but his characterisation is undermined, relatively, in the lack of consistent strength of skill in the physical life. Mr Campbell, does not persuade us, of his Olympic stamina, he does not seem to appear to have the "Astaire physical agility," or an apt state of physical fitness to employ as part of his characterisation. Mr Campbell is pleasantly charming, and it is that identification of his own inimitable self that we identify, (his morning television hosting) that helps us to carry him over the line and make his Thornhill work. We like David Campbell and we want to make his performance as Roger Thornhill to work as well. It does.

When I was a kid one of my passions was collecting the editions of a comic book called CLASSIC COMICS. These comics were coloured illustrated versions of Classic movies e.g. ROB ROY, A TALE OF TWO CITIES, THE BLACK SHIELD OF FALWORTH. I used to hang out for the publication of each one in the local newspaper store, along with my Disney Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck comics. This Simon Phillips' production has the coloured illustrated warmth of those childhood memories of the 1950's comic. NORTH BY NORTHWEST in the Lyric Theatre, has the same visual radiating comfort as those Classic Comic books, with the added bonus of a restrained tongue-in-cheek humour of the knowingly theatrical solutions used to bring us, on the stage, this Cold War Chase Thriller. 

This production is a cartoon for adults and for their children as well, I suspect. Nothing offensive here, but a clever and advantageous use of 'oldie-worldie' Audio-Visual techniques that tells a story with clarity of drama and wit. The storytelling is front and centre here, unlike the STC's THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY, where the Audio-Visuals and the Director are the star of the evening, burying the one actor so that the storytelling of Oscar Wilde's story becomes lost in the self-conscious employment of modern techniques of image making. 

The actors in this Melbourne Theatre Company production are permitted to be the storytellers of Ernest Lehman and Alfred Hitchcock's NORTH BY NORTHWEST. 

The actors are primary. 

Under the behest of Simon Phillips they reveal respect and trust in the original work and triumph in a most delightful way.

N.B. A resource for this post: 

1. CARY GRANT : A Brilliant Disguise, by Scott Eyman - Simon and Schuster - 2020.

2. The very good notes in the program - unusually interesting and informative.

Monday, March 7, 2022

Hand to God

Red Line Productions present, HAND TO GOD, by Robert Askins at the Old Fitz Theatre, Woolloomooloo. 24Th February - 26th March.

Because of mitigating circumstances in my little personal life I have pulled back from attending the theatre (The contemporary cinema seems to be more rewarding!)  The last time I went to the theatre was to see DEATH OF A SALESMAN at the Roslyn Packer Theatre in December. 

So, I ventured out as the Pandemic seemed to have quietened and my medical adventures, too, have become more manageable if not "cured'. I have a loyalty for the Red Line and Old Fitz and as well admire the work of the director of this production of HAND TO GOD, by Robert Askins: Alexander Berlage.

In between the deluge of rainfall that Sydney has been enduring I got myself to the theatre with a young acting student as my guest.  By Public Transport as I have never driven!

The Set Design, is what we see on entering the theatre, by Jeremy Allen and Emma White, and is at first, in the back halls of a minor Christian church in Cypress, Texas, where a recent widow, Margery (Merridy Eastman), holds classes in a  self-created Ministry of Puppetry, to spread the stories of Jesus and his gospel. The walls of the hall are painted with many stirring missionary images of Jesus, including one wrapped in the Stars and Stripes of the good old USA. There are several other locations we travel to which the Designers have facilitated with deft choices for speed and identification.

Margery's teenaged son, Jason (Philip Lynch), is in trauma and has created a hand-sock puppet called 'Tyrone' in class that has begun to help him divest his grief  and anger at the loss of his father and at the 'bewilderment' his mother seems to have adopted as a way of being. To say 'Tyrone' is an angry puppet is an understatement and he becomes more and more uninhibited - foul-mouthed and gross - in expressing his rage. It appears that Jason has become 'possessed' by the devil and has developed a split personality: SPLIT!

Pastor Gregg (Gerard Carroll) who has a passion for his parishioner, Margery, (and it is fairly 'muscular' in expression), has conceived Jason is in need of a good old-fashioned exorcism  - his wooden crucifix in its leather holster - which in misadventure compounds to make a most tumultuous resolution. Sometimes satirically funny.

Whilst Jessica (Michelle Ny), another church-goer having a crush on her friend Jason has developed a puppet of her own, 'Jolene', who exhibits free-wheeling sexual fantasies and breasts stuffed in the sock-puppet to rival, in scale, those of Dolly Parton!  The scenario that Jessica has imagined for 'Jolene' is creepy and disturbing to the extreme -  with what 'Jolene' offers 'Tyrone', laughter may be the only sensible way to receive it in the theatre.

Teenager, schoolfriend, of Jason, Timothy (Ryan Morgan), does not need a puppet persona to assuage his teenage psychological developments, he simply declares his sexual attraction and fantasies to Margery and in her own emotional turmoil, she is grateful and throws all inhibitions to the wind and indulges in gratifying and addictive sexual adventures up to and including a dominatrix S&M fashion with this eager minor - a pederasty that is more than comically icky. It is inappropriate to say the least. 

The play purports to talk of faith, morality, religious hypocrisy, and the frailties of trauma in a family visited by 'death'. In production it is more interested in making us laugh no matter the appropriatness of technique or content. HAND TO GOD, first appeared off-Broadway in 2011, returned to a larger off-Broadway theatre in 2014, and then migrated to Broadway proper for a ten month season in 2015.

Twenty minutes into this very good production, I just felt that the content and concerns of this play had been made radically outdated since the pressures of world climate change and the epidemiological traumas in our lives that has confronted us. This play now just seemed trivial and ultimately vulgar and a horrifying example of the gross hedonism that we as a cultural community had evolved in accepting HAND TO GOD as a normality. 

I became swiftly objective in this experience and brooded that if this is what the gate-keepers of Red Line believe is the play we need in our lives, in 2022, today, I had better take more care about what I decide to spend my precious time watching. The content  of HAND TO GOD, and its contemporary appropriateness turned this night and my effort to attend as a total waste of my time. And, this is no matter the very clever work by all the actors, elicited by Alexander Berlage, supported by all the other artists, including the contributions of the Lighting Design by Phoebe Pilcher and, especially, the technicalities of the Sound Design by Daniel Herten to finding the way to tell this story by American, Robert Askins to us.

For, it is wonderful to welcome Merridy Eastman back to the theatre, who gives a nuanced performance of wonderfully gauged choices in comic technique married to a moving - heart-on-sleeve emotional sensibility. Her Margery a three dimensional woman in an hysterical farce. Her  Margery is in desperate need of rescue, and it is so palpable that one wants to reach out to hug her and quieten her life grief. Ms Eastman's is a standout performance, one so complex and so vulnerable.

Philip Lynch is striking in his energies in inhabiting Jason with 'Tyrone' grafted to his right arm, but, it is a performance in action that seems to beggar us to admire Mr Lynch's work - the actor's consciousness dominates the story offers, preventing us from identifying sympathetically with the back-story quandries of Mr Askins' character, Jason.  Mr Lynch whilst relishing his opportunity to play this split personality lets his personal satisfaction with what he is doing show.

Ryan Morgan, Michelle Ny and Gerrard Carroll, with writing that is relatively threadbare for their characters' backstory and journey, still manage to triumph with full on commitment, even when they are grossly larger than life. They definitely keep us in the loop of this genre's technicalities.

HAND TO GOD, then, despite the professionalism of all the artists involved has dated considerably since its first appearance, 11 years ago. It is a long time ago. In the cultural climate of 2022 this play is a hollow relic of another time and value sensibility. Mind you, on the Opening Night, some of the audience were whooping it up - friends of the theatre and actors or general public? Who knows? My companion and I were not so easily pleased. It will be a personal decision to 'give in' or decline, push away.

There are recent plays out there that have surfaced  elsewhere and deserve to be seen in Sydney. Red Line ought to check out the resources of a competing Sydney company: OUTHOUSE. OUTHOUSE seem with every work they bring to us to find theatre experiences that are pertinent, challenging and entertaining. e.g. ULSTER AMERICAN, GLORIA, JOHN. All three of these contemporary plays (and others) changed its audience point-of-view of the world that they and we live in. The writers having the courage and the intelligence of wit to entertain us as well. It all begins with the quality of the writing, the writer.