Theatre

Two Gentlemen of Verona

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Normanhurst Uniting Church Musical Society put their best foot forward in the Shakespearean jazz-rock musical; “Two Gentlemen of Verona”. The plot takes wild twists and turns and we get pulled along this torrent of comedic miscommunication. Proteus loves Julia, while his best friend Valentino loves Sylvia. A basic premise becomes complicated when Proteus travels to Milan to see Valentino,  and falls in love with someone other than his beloved Julia- and thus hilarity ensues.

The plot is as predictable as any Shakespearean comedy, but since we’re immersed in the moment, every plot twist is a shock. NUCMS did well to surprise us, directing actors to make use of the audience space and interact with us. With a live band and frantic characters, the actors carried the mayhem with great enthusiasm and energy. Suddenly he’s in love with her, suddenly someone is pregnant,  suddenly there’s a betrayal, and all placated by a Greek Chorus-esque ensemble.

This musical seems like such fun. The organised chaos gave the production a live excitement. Charmian Fauvet’s performance of Julia was beautiful. Her vocals are so sweet and she glows in the spotlight.  Although in a miasma of entanglement, Fauvet presents a love-lorn Julia with such passion. Jessica Knight’s portrayal of Sylvia was fresh and effervescent. With light footed dance numbers and lyric-heavy vocals, Knight played a love-torn damzel with life and colour.  The chorus, were like shadows, slipping on and off stage only to propel the plot and play with the characters. Cupid and his helper also had a role to play, meddling with everyone like a puppeteer.

This musical was silliness and comedy gold. A fun night out for the family.

For more information,  visit: http://nucms.org

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The New Theatre presents; THE CHERRY ORCHARD

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Based on the play by Anton Chekov, “The Cherry Orchard” is brought to life at the New Theatre.  Under direction from Clemence Williams, the production uses David Mamet’s rhythmic stage play to explore the complexities of the human condition. We are presented with a cast of characters who have such strong needs and desires, and yet, their unquenchable thirst remains unfulfilled.

Chekov can be very difficult material to work with, and yet the New Theatre made this tale accessible.  The stage, being three levels into the living room of a country house, was expertly designed to draw us into their domestic sphere. The audience is invited to be a part of their menial existence, and in doing so, we identify with the characters; their loves and losses. The set managed to put everything in context, so Chekov became a story of human emotion and tension. The complexities of life’s mysteries and frustrations then became our own, as I for one forgot I was watching a play, and began immersing in the trivialities before me.

The production added an interesting element to the tale;  the live music created by ambient guitar and atonal vocals seemed like an experiment in synergy and pacing. I found the music was an effective addition to the immersive experience, as the tale took on a dreamlike surreal quality. My partner, however found the vocals to be distracting at times. I think there was a good effort made to achieve a balance between the tension of the story and the creation of atmosphere. The music was able to remove me from the story in order to immerse in the production.

As well as through music, the play creates a certain energy through the physicality of the actors. At times, the characters were reminiscent of Russian clowns, and at other times, the characters were realistic and natural images of ourselves. Both types of characters challenged the audience to an introspective reflection about their relationships with each other. The ensemble is stellar in their command of the stage, particularly Cecilia Morrow’s portrayal of Dunyasha, and Nicholas Papdemetriou’s portrayal of Firs. Traditionally clown parts, these characters added added extra dimension and whimsical flavour to an already complex tale.

I really enjoyed this production from the New Theatre. It was thought provoking and beautiful, with an abruptly absurd ending. Go to get lost in a Russian winter.

Image credits: http://newtheatre.org.au/season-2016/the-cherry-orchard/

Georgy Girl, The Musical

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I grew up to the sound of The Seekers. Although not from the swingin’ sixties, my parents played The Seekers and their glorious harmonies would echo through the house. ‘Georgy Girl, The Musical’ showcases the hits of The Seekers, while weaving a potted biography of their rise to stardom. The musical is more of a tribute to the music and the band, rather than traditional musical theater. 

We get closer to Judith Durham (Pippa Grandison) as she navigates the breezy heights of fame and glory at such a young age, and the sacrifices she had to make along the way. The show gives her more focus, so we come to understand how she chose to break from the group and pursue her own interests. What’s more, the show helps us understand how she managed to maintain her girl-next-door approach during a time when then London was a buzz with Beatles-mania. The Melbourne folk quartet managed to keep their own aesthetic and their own sound while climbing to the top of the charts. The Seekers were a genuine and authentic Australian band who made it, on talent and perseverance. 

The production really gives them justice. It would be hard to boil down a fifty year career into a two hour stage production, but it was a real hit. With comical commentary from Ron Edgeworth (Adam Murphy) we’re taken on a wild ride, through the technicoloured sixties and the horn rimmed BBC studios. The costuming was so fun- prompting comments under breath that “I remember having those boots, I had a pair of those!” The ensemble gave such physical performances, it was difficult not to be swept up in the hype of the time.

The cast brought life to the production.  The energy of the ensemble really lifted the biographical tale and gave it a bounce. The real stars, however, were The Seekers. Phillip Lowe, Mike McLeish and Glaston Toft (as Keith Potger, Bruce Woodley and Athol Guy) were a phenomenal combination. Together, their harmonies were sublime, and their renditions of hit favourites were show stopping.  Pippa Grandison’s performance of Judith Durham was exceptional. Her voice carried the harmonies in The Seekers,  and really shone when she performed solo tracks. The opening number of act two was a real ‘wow’ moment- her vocals are precise, controlled and so powerful.

The cast really made this musical something special. They brought back the sixties and gave The Seekers a voice to private aspects of their public career. While the musical is a trip down memory lane for some, it was was a great moment of discovery for others like myself, who are unfamiliar with the story behind the band. It’s also a chance to stir up feelings of Australian pride for a group of talented musicians who we can call our own.

The State Theatre are dropping prices for the final performances of ‘Georgy Girl, The Musical’ and I think it’s definitely worth going to for a genuinely fun night out. 

The Old 505 Theatre presents: THE BEST BROTHERS

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Two brothers, who don’t see eye to eye, are brought together by a family tragedy- the passing of their mother. They bicker over everything, no stone is left unturned. ‘The Best Brothers’ is fresh take on the old tale of the chaotic aftermath following the death of a loved one.

With only two actors and under ten props, the set and production showed versatility and resourcefulness. We watch as the characters navigate the awkward waters of family reunions and old regrets. Slowly, the plot unfolds to illuminate past troubles that probably would’ve been better off left in the past. Together, they come to grips with who they are, and what they mean to each other, warts and all. This is a tale of acceptance, more than anything else.

There were moments of poignant poetry scattered throughout the play. Interwoven through the funeral process is a storyline that follows the consciousness of the deceased mother. These were monologues of hers boasted a touch of absurdism, as the actors portrayed her, voicing her musings. These monologues were lyrical in their flow- they observed the aesthetic beauty of the brothers’ conflict, adding backstory and depth to their decisions.

The plot had complexities as their shared past was revealed to us. The plot turned and tension increased right up until the last moments, keeping the audience guessing what would come next. The actors grappled lengthy dialogue, and brought empathy to feuding brothers. They kept us engaged with slapstick and light humour, even when confronting the darkest of themes. Their unresolved issues regarding marital struggles, sexuality and family ties were all resurfaced in a whimsical way, that ultimately celebrated family.

This is a compelling production showing at the Old 505 Eliza. ‘The Best Brothers’ sports high intensity banter, quick repartee and slick observations about families in crisis. Oh, and a dog. This play had something for everyone.

Image credit: http://old505theatre.com/shows/the-best-brothers-1448249328.html

The Ensemble presents- GOOD PEOPLE

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Have you ever thought your life would be different if you had just a few lucky breaks, or a leg up in life?  If only a few opportunities came around your way, would things be different for the better? ‘Good People’ by David Lindsay-Abaire is a play that looks into dispelling the myth that if you’re good and hardworking, you can get anywhere in life.

The play has such humanity.  Set in a lower socio-economic area, Margaret (Tara Morice) reconnects with old friend, Mike (Christopher Stollery), who seems to have done well for himself after getting out of the Southside. From there, life’s struggles are brought to the forefront, as we wonder if things would’ve been different. It’s a very simple storyline, but The Ensemble does wonders with it.

‘Good People’ is expertly written, by Pulitzer prize winning playwright, David Lindsay-Abaire. The play thrives off misdirection, as key characters withhold information, which snowballs into a murky pool of miscommunication and old regret.  Tara Morice is excellent as Margaret.  She plays her character as steadfast, headstrong and with a strong sense of justice. Yet, Morice gives her depth and compassion, a moral compass that begs the question- did she make the right decision years ago when it mattered? Does sacrifice make you a good person?

The Ensemble does well to show the balance in conflicting perspectives here,  as we are left without a definitive answer. Zindzi Okenyo’s performance of Kate is only for a short time in the second act, yet her own mix of complexities allows for another voice- our moral judgment is suddenly redundant as Kate challenges Margaret,  and we’re left just as conflicted as the characters. The climax of the whole production builds upon nailbiting tension from scenes before and suddenly, the audience take a collective gasp. It would be very difficult to divorce yourself from the play. We were all involved and connected to some element of the plot or characters.

The performance received a standing ovation from the audience in opening night.  The cast deserved it too- their roles are emotionally complex audience and would be mentally taxing. The minor characters also had deep layers,  adding humor and humanity to the production.

Finally, commendations to the set designer and production team.  With a limited set, they were able to bring the Southside to life. I was gripped by this performance at The Ensemble. An electric cast, a professional crew, tackling life’s hardest questions.

Image credit: http://ensemble.com.au/plays/good-people

Short and Sweet Gala Finals 2016

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The Short and Sweet Gala Finals at The Depot theatre were very impressive this year. There was such a variety of plays performed, having made it through Wildcard rounds, People’s Choice, Judges’ picks and weekly Top 80s. I’m always in awe at how well crafted these plays are, with wicked plot twists, sharp dialogue and astute social critiques. What’s more, the commitment from the actors this year was very impressive. There were several monologues performed,  as well as ensemble pieces with music, with casts that ranged in age and cultural background. Congratulations to all the acts that participated in 2016 Short and Sweet!

“Game Night” took to the stage first. In a satirical take on family conflict, the audience was taken on a journey following a game of monopoly that lead to chaos. A fun, lighthearted play to get the audience laughing and set the scene for the night.

“Baby Blues” threw us into the deep end with a hilarious monologue delivered by a hand puppet. This fun play gave a cute critique on middle class parenting and the perils that come with it, from the perspective of a baby. With subtle commentary on the debate around public breastfeeding, Ruth Pieloor, gave a flawless performance.

I particularly enjoyed “The Political Bachelorette”. This reality game show parody had fast quips and explicit commentary of contemporary Australian politics. The characterisation and political rhetoric was very well captured. In fact, I hope to see Kate Macdessi in the writing credits of revues or skits (Chaser-esque) in the near future. It was very current, with clever commentary on gender equality and our government system.

“Walked Over” was one of my favourites. In an astute snapshot of married life, we were faced with a conversation between a man and wife, that oozed with tension and acidity. The wife clearly had a stranglehold over her partner and he didn’t have much freedom at all. This play was really lifted by the cast- unnerving and completely convincing, and ended with a tip of the hat to Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho”. Excellent plot twist!

“Heaven.Com” was a unique insight into Heaven, and what would happen if Heaven were finally hooked up to the Internet. In a cheeky look at illegal downloading, hacking and overseas service centres, this play was a light comedy that put the IT industry in the spotlight.

“Tea Time” was this year’s pick by the festival director, and presented the sad reality of life with Alzheimer’s disease and/dementia. It was rather unsettling, because it felt more like a vignette of real life, with sneaky echoes of Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot”.

“Chemistry Test” ended the first half with a bang. This clinical comedy of Internet dating called for very physical performances from the actors, and left the audience laughing with a last minute plot twist. It was a feel good performance that held up a mirror to our online habits,  and the profiles we post of ourselves.

Following interval, “Match of the Century” was the highlight of my night. It was a polished mash up of hip hop and rap, with a sprinkling of slam poetry, aided by talented musicians on double bass, percussion and keyboard. This flawless performance followed a 1970s chess tournament between the  Soviet and the United States. The ensemble were so quick and never missed a beat- their fast dialogue was mind boggling. Sublime!

The Wildcard Finals Judges’ Choice was “Bi. Cycle (The Sammy Steel Spin Class)”. Written and performed by Sam Anderson, this play was a whirlwind monologue exploring sexuality through the cathartic process of instructing a spin class. Anderson’s performance was so physical and incredibly passionate. The lack of props left everything to the imagination, and the slick wordplay made for a powerful message. A clear crowd favourite.

“Blind Date” was a whimsical play on the art of dating, and showcased the thoughts of the couple through performed subconscious banter. Clever and feel good, this play was a fun snapshot of dating reality.

“Who Wants To Be A Channel Nine Intern?” was a really fun play about a job interview – gone reality show. This performance gathered momentum and just snowballed Into laughter that bounced off the audience.  It felt quite improvised and self aware.  With a lot of production elements in sound and lighting, it really felt like the real deal.

“Sauerkraut” was a unique monologue set in Nazi Germany. Writer and performer Gina Cohen displayed a passionate and physical performance that was able to to create the scene in our collective imaginary. She had incredible focus and commitment.

“The Revenge of Mr Meowgi” was the perfect play to finish the night with. A grown man in a morphsuit, acting like a cat trying to sabotage a date- the audience was in hysterics. Such a fun concept ended the night on a high. 

I look forward to next year’s line up.

Image credit:

Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks; The Concourse

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A stellar cast promises a stellar performance, and ‘Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks’ was no exception. Directed by award winner Sandra Bates, and written by the internationally acclaimed, Richard Alfieri, the Ensemble’s latest production has taken off, and can be found touring the Concourse at Chatswood until the 13th of March.

This is such a clever play. Lily Harrison, performed by the esteemed Nancye Hayes, advertises for a dance teacher, performed by the very talented Todd McKenney, who comes to teacher her six dance lessons in six weeks. Through the course of the play, we discover that there’s more them that meets the eye, and they comfort each other through past pains, and learn to accept help.

Although the Florida penthouse suite remains the same set throughout the production, and despite the fact that other characters make an appearance through the plotline, the show rests on the shoulders of theatre legends Hayes and McKenney. Their characters are bestowed with quick-witted dialogue and quips that drip with acidity and spite and yet- their characters are so rich. Ultimately, they have a genuine warmth that makes them endearing. Both characters are wounded souls, whose only balsam for loneliness becomes each other.

Hayes and McKenney take us on an emotional rollercoaster. The Concourse was full on opening night and the audience because roared with laughter. They are able to portray such a warmth and authenticity, and in doing so, their characters came to life with very real struggles and human concerns.

As can be expected, one of the highlights of the show was to see McKenney and Hayes dance. Todd McKenney is so light on his feet, so effortlessly flawless. Together with Hayes, they swept across the stage in a whirlwind of contemporary rock ‘n’ roll, swing, the Cha Cha, the Viennese Waltz, and the Foxtrot and more. Although Hayes is herself a well-seasoned dancer, she transitioned very plausibly from beginner to expert- and they never missed a beat.

With slick choreography and beautifully soft lighting, reminiscent of the American East Coast, this production is an all-round treat. And having casted professional dancers, it was lovely to see their performances placed emphasis on the characters and human story. Very enjoyable, and I recommend to all.

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Image credits: 

http://www.altmedia.net.au/review-six-dance-lessons-in-six-weeks/114143

http://www.limelightmagazine.com.au/news/todd-mckenney-becomes-patron-ensemble-theatre