Suzy Goes See’s Best Of 2014

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2014 has been a busy year. Choosing memorable moments from the 194 shows I had reviewed in these 12 months is a mind-bending exercise, but a wonderful opportunity that shows just how amazing and vibrant, theatre people are in Sydney. Thank you to artists, companies, publicists and punters who continue to support Suzy Goes See. Have a lovely holiday season and a happy new year! Now on to the Best Of 2014 list (all in random order)…

Suzy x

 Avant Garde Angels
The bravest and most creatively experimental works in 2014.

 Quirky Questers
The most unusual and colourful characters to appear on our stages in 2014.

♥ Design Doyennes
Outstanding visual design in 2014. Fabulous lights, sets and costumes.

♥ Darlings Of Dance
Breathtaking brilliance in the dance space of 2014.

♥ Musical Marvels
Outstanding performers in cabaret and musicals in 2014.

♥ Second Fiddle Superstars
Scene-stealers of 2014 in supporting roles.

♥ Ensemble Excellence
Casts in 2014 rich with chemistry and talent.

♥ Champs Of Comedy
Best comedic performances of 2014.

♥ Daredevils Of Drama
Best actors in dramatic roles in 2014.

♥ Wise With Words
Best new scripts of 2014.

 Directorial Dominance
Best direction in 2014.

♥ Shows Of The Year
The mighty Top 10.

♥ Suzy’s Special Soft Spot
A special mention for the diversity of cultures that have featured in its programming this year.

  • ATYP

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Photography by Roderick Ng, Dec 2014

Click here to see Best Of 2013

Review: The Age Of Entitlement (Mongrel Mouth)

mongrelmouthVenue: Merchants House (Sydney NSW), Dec 3 – 20, 2014
Playwright: Saman Shad
Director: Duncan Maurice
Cast: Adam Connelly, Ali Crew, Amelia Tranter, Aston Campbell, Charlie Upton, Christina Sankari, Danny Gubbay, Eli King, Ezequiel Martinez, Guilia Clemente, Julia Landrey, Latisha Owens, Mark Williamson, Moreblessing Maturure, Paloma Alma, Rowan McDonald, Sage Godrei, Sharon Zeeman, Tess Marshall

Theatre review
Nineteen actors in a beautifully preserved old building present a simple story about politics. We navigate our way through rooms and characters, observing and speaking with these mysterious people, trying to piece together narratives, and to find an understanding of each personality’s agenda, and also what the artists are attempting to convey. The action centres around Lara, who is presented on the ground floor as a student leader of the left, and in a different room upstairs, she is an older politician raising funds to become the head of her right-wing party.

There is a certain amount of chaos from the immersive experiment that keeps us on our toes. It is challenging work that does not let its audience feel comfortable at any point, and director Duncan Maurice is determined for his work to be intriguing and thought-provoking. Placing his actors at such close proximity, we are forced to engage and interpret. Maurice leaves us no room to hide, and we are pressured into taking a stand. The performance feels slightly longer than its eighty minutes. The unusual format leaves us to compose a cohesive tale from many disparate fragments, but unravelling the riddles does not take much time. We are then left to loiter around the hallways waiting for a conclusion of some description to occur, which fortunately, does eventuate, and in quite spectacular style.

Julia Landrey plays X, a member of the student union who proves to be more radical than her peers. X is often positioned alone, so that when we encounter her, she is free to express hidden beliefs that might be too controversial for her comrades. The nature of the work requires a good amount of thick-skinned daring from its cast, and Landrey’s strength ensures that she connects well, even though the role’s presence is an intimidating one. Her impressive improvisational skills allow for brilliant conversations to unfold, and we find ourselves becoming more involved than ever anticipated.

Some of the group is less effective, but they all contribute to the unusual carnival flavour that the production will be remembered for. There are instances where characters seem narrow in scope, which often lead to a shallow sense of plot and oversimplification of ideas. A substantial part of the discussion The Age Of Entitlement aims to inspire, is the tension between the left and right of politics, and the way Australian society shapes its attitudes according to convenient alliances.

The production is well designed. Alex PF Jackson’s work for makeup, hair and costumes especially, are noteworthy. Set and lights are slightly less polished, but spaces are adequately dressed to evoke a sense of fantasy and transportative theatricality.

Political theatre gives voice to causes and groups, and on occasion, it changes minds. This show does not tell us what to think, but it espouses the importance of holding beliefs and standing up for them. Almost contradictory is the way it interrogates our practice of identifying with political sides, but that conflict gives the work a meaningful complexity that feels resonant with our lived experiences. Maybe a few people will begin to think differently of their political attitudes from attending Entitlement, but more likely is its effect on how we think of theatre’s relationship with the public and its modes of expression. There is so much to be explored when artists and audience meet, especially when all the old rules are broken.

www.mongrelmouth.com

Review: Guilty Pleasures (Blue Saint Productions)

bluesaintVenue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), Dec 17 – 21, 2014
Book: Joshua Robson
Lyrics: Hugo Chiarella
Director: Joshua Robson
Music Director and Composer: Robert Tripolino
Cast: Angelique Cassimatis
Image by Mike Snow

Theatre review
Joshua Robson, Hugo Chiarella and Robert Tripolino’s Guilty Pleasures is a 45 minute musical with murderous women and their bad men. It is Chicago‘s “Cell Block H” expanded, and they’ve all had it coming. Comprising a series of independent stories about fatal romances, the short narratives are amusing, with compelling songs that add drama and a colourful sense of theatricality.

Performed by just one woman, the work demands that Angelique Cassimatis provides range and variety to each character, but the show does not have enough tonal shifts in performance or design, to create textural complexity from its string of tales. Robson’s direction blends each segment to form a cohesive whole, leaving behind the lively and fluctuating nature of the text. Cassimatis’s training and experience is evident, especially with her physical discipline and dance abilities, but her approach tends to be a technical one. Her talents in singing and acting seem to come less naturally, but the actor’s conviction is clear to see, and her energetic presence helps endear her to the crowd.

Burlesque touches in the production provide a sexy edge to the already risqué themes it covers. The writing has a dark humour that would appeal to those who seek a musical theatre experience that is less than “family-friendly”, but its execution might be a little subdued for some. Written and directed by three men, Guilty Pleasures is a feminine work with a queer sensibility and a charming cynicism about romantic relationships. The women in the show are determined to define themselves against the men in their lives, and all pay a hefty price at the end.

www.bluesaint.com.au

Review: Your Skin My Skin (NAISDA Dance College)

naisdaVenue: Carriageworks (Eveleigh NSW), Dec 10 – 13, 2014
Director: Frances Rings
Image from Twitter @theNCIE

Theatre review
Identity is a subject that features in any art education, but for students at NAISDA Dance College, Aboriginality is a central tenet that guides their learning experience in dance and performance. Also known as the National Aboriginal and Islander Skills Association (40 years old this year), NAISDA’s end of year showcase for 2014 is entitled Your Skin My Skin. The program represents a gamut of dance styles, but the topic of race is never far behind. A series of sensitively curated items are linked by cultural dance and music under the leadership of tutors Heather Mitijangba and Tony Mudalyun, and musicians Shane Dhawa and Timothy Djirrmurmur. Regardless of how individual dance pieces come about, we are reminded that heritage is part of their creation, and the land that our feet rest upon is crucial to the expressions on stage.

The event commences with Rika’s Story, choreographed by the nine performers of the piece with Shaun Parker at the helm. The piece provides the perfect introduction to the college and the evening, with graduating student Rika Hamaguchi’s confident verbal narration giving insight into the group’s thoughts about study experiences and her feelings at this significant time as she embarks on a new chapter in life. Through Hamaguchi’s words, we gain an understanding of the meaning and origins of the movements being displayed, as well as the psychology behind them. Also graduating are Hans Ahwang, Czack Ses Bero, Casey Natty, Kyle Shilling and Philip Walford, who have all completed NAISDA’s four-year Diploma of Professional Dance Performance.

Shilling presents the only solo piece of the schedule. Justice? is a meditation on Aboriginal deaths in custody, with impressive choreography and music created by the student. His work is intensely emotional and energetic, and he demonstrates surprising maturity and gravity. Also memorable is Natty, who shows excellent focus and a solid presence in his various appearances. The athletic dancer executes choreography with precision and flair, and like all of the graduating class, rich with potential and promise. The young men’s performance in Grinding Stone by Frances Rings (an excerpt from Bangarra Dance Theatre’s artefact) is a highlight, bringing poignancy and depth to their mysterious dance.

Aside from the passionate achievements of NAISDA’s students, Your Skin My Skin is successful also for its excellent aesthetic values and accomplished technical capacities. The show runs smoothly with beautiful transitions, and atmosphere is always gauged just right. Music and sound might be second fiddle, but they are as delightful as the dance imagery occupying centre stage. NAISDA’s night of nights is a celebration of the year’s work by its fabulous staff and students, and an annual performance with heart and soul that dance enthusiasts will certainly enjoy.

www.naisda.com.au

Review: Tell Me Again (Eye Of The Storm / The Old 505 Theatre)

old505Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Dec 3 – 21, 2014
Playwright: Jeanette Cronin
Director: Michael Pigott
Cast: Jeanette Cronin, James Lugton

Theatre review
The stage is a sacred space. It has endless possibilities, and many have occupied and used it for different purposes, to achieve every imaginable effect and result. Jeanette Cronin’s Tell Me Again shows a love and respect for the theatrical form and its audience, aiming to provide a moment in time with something deeply emotional, perhaps making us feel things in a way that our real daily lives are too fragile or restless to permit. Cronin’s play invites us to encounter what is truest of the human experience, by instigating a series of raw and naked visceral responses by removing the protection of narrative and logic. It is poetry in motion that encourages us to get in touch with the the spirit within that compels us toward every action, yet that internal essence seldom seeks to be the centre of attention. For these 80 minutes, we come face to face with it, and it is sublime.

Direction and design of the work by Michael Pigott creates an inviting beauty that lets us connect with the work in a place that story usually resides. He engages our curiosity and we begin to apply our own stories to what he lets us experience. Where there is emotion, there is a human need to explain and understand its origin, and it is the spectator’s own creativity that is summoned in Tell Me Again. Pigott’s work is extremely tender and sensitive, but there is also an uninhibitedness that prevents things from becoming predictable. There are instances however, where the show seems to drift away from our consciousness, as we indulge in the ideas it inspires, but it invariably pulls us back with touches of drama and passion.

Flawless performances by Cronin and James Lugton produce a couple of characters palpable in their authenticity, and stunning with chemistry. Lugton’s minimal approach strips away layers of affectation so that only the very essential is left, and exposed like fresh wounds. It is a physical manifestation of the concept of love, not always immediate and recognisable, but incredibly moving and profound at the end. Cronin is intense but quiet, with a wild and devastating power barely hidden, explosive secrets brimming under the surface. The role she plays is strange but not a stranger. In fact, the complexities Cronin displays are familiar, feeling like private flashbacks unfolding before our eyes despite the peculiarity of the play’s eccentric plot.

We cannot live in a constant state of elevated sentimentality, but leaving emotions concealed is on one hand damaging and on the other, an unfortunate deprivation. Feelings are scary things, but Tell Me Again turns them seductive and irresistible. The indulgence in sadness and melancholy is an occasional necessity, and art is its friendly abettor, but in this production, escapism is not to be found, and the pain that remains, is naked.

www.venue505.com/theatre

Review: Rupert (Stage Mogul / Theatre Royal)

rupertVenue: Theatre Royal (Sydney NSW), Nov 25 – Dec 20, 2014
Playwright: David Williamson
Director: Lee Lewis
Actors: James Cromwell, Jane Turner, Guy Edmonds, Scott Sheridan, Hai Ha Le, Bert LaBonte, John Leary, Jane Phegan, Ben Wood, Glenn Hazeldine, Danielle Cormack

Theatre review
Biographies of fascinating people appeal to our inquisitive nature. We want to know how people tick, to discover reason behind behaviour, and to uncover secrets of the rich and famous. Rupert Murdoch is one of the world’s most well-known business people, with a personal and professional history that is documented ubiquitously in the public domain. David Williamson’s script is a chronological rehash of Murdoch’s many milestones, but does not provide analysis or insight that might offer a fresh perspective of the prominent figure. The plot reads like a Wikipedia entry, with one key event after another, none of which is surprising and everything is predictable.

Director Lee Lewis does an admirable job of creating a dynamic and colourful show from the plain script. The show feels like a Broadway musical with bells and whistles in every scene taking focus away from the lack of story and drama. Lewis does her best to add excitement with well paced and energetic sequences, but at over two hours, our attention struggles to stay interested in the deficient narrative. The production is designed successfully, with composer Kelly Ryall and lighting designer Niklas Pajanti both adding flair and inventiveness to the proceedings, and Stephen Curtis’ set and audio-visual elements giving the large performance space focus, shape and texture. Murdoch’s tabloid format takes to the stage, giving us cosmetic lavishness, and distraction from the real issues.

There are two Ruperts in the show. James Cromwell is presented as Murdoch as he is today (complete with Twitter account) telling us his side of the story like a narrator to the piece. Cromwell’s energy is oddly placid, but the actor’s sturdy presence helps him portray the allure of power and wealth convincingly. Guy Edmonds is outstanding as Murdoch in the flashbacks. He is astute, charming and sprightly, with a clarity that engages his audience, and a vibrancy that entertains. Edmonds does all the heavy lifting in the show, and his talent is a real highlight. Jane Turner’s comic abilities deliver a memorable, absurdist version of Margaret Thatcher, and Glenn Hazeldine impresses with a range of characters showcasing his amazing skills at mimicry and farcical exuberance.

So much of Rupert is strong and accomplished, but all the accoutrements in the world will not create a great story with a script as dry as this. All the interesting questions one might ask Murdoch in a personal encounter are not addressed. We leave not learning anything new, not understanding the man behind the madness, and completely unsatisfied.

www.rupertonstage.com

Review: Absent Friends (Ensemble Theatre)

Venue: Ensemble Theatre (Kirribilli NSW), Dec 4, 2014 – Jan 24, 2015.
Playwright: Alan Ayckbourn
Director: Mark Kilmurry
Cast: Michelle Doake, Darren Gilshenan, Brian Meegan, Jessica Sullivan, Richard Sydenham, Queenie Van De Zandt
Images by Katy Green Loughrey

Theatre review
Theatre is much more than storytelling, but the allure of a captivating narrative is hard to resist. In Alan Ayckbourn’s 1974 play Absent Friends, a vague context is set up as a springboard for innovative use of time and space, and in the case of director Mark Kilmurry’s efforts, to deliver an unusual and unexpected form of comedy that challenges our notions of performance and entertainment. Diana is throwing a tea party for an old friend who is mourning the death of his fiancée. The group comprises six distinct and diverse personalities, each independently fascinating but unified by a mode of presentation clearly established by Kilmurry.

The show is often absurd and slapstick in tone, and we find ourselves laughing at inane moments that have little to do with the story, but it strives for something that is ultimately quite precise and polished. The enjoyment of the work lies in the way human traits and behaviour are exaggerated so that we recognise parts of life that are usually too subtle to grip our attention. Small things matter, and the production moves focus away from key plot points to emphasise minute interchanges that occur between friends. It encourages us to appreciate friendship not for the impact they may have on major life events, but for the unadulterated bliss derived from physical company and emotional closeness. Kilmurry’s direction is brave, but not always effective. The work depends heavily on the cast’s chemistry with its audience and achieving that familiarity was hit and miss on opening night.

Darren Gilshenan plays Colin, the recently bereaved, with effervescent irony and a mischievous presence. The actor’s sense of humour is a perfect match for the farce that unfolds. We believe the tragedy that Colin experiences, but are also persuaded by Gilshenan’s comic charms and impeccable timing. In the role of Marge is Queenie Van De Zandt, whose considered and dynamic approach provides some of the show’s biggest laughs. Her work is enchanting, exacting and hilarious, with an edginess that provides a vibrant energy whenever she takes centre stage. Michelle Doake and Richard Sydenham both perform outrageously memorable scenes, but are less consistent with their level of engagement with viewers.

We all need to laugh, but what people consider funny is a mystery, and attempts at locating keys to that mystery requires constant reinvention. Absent Friends has an experimental spirit that lights up the theatre. It takes many risks, and while they may not all pay off, the work impresses with its exhilarating and original take on live performance. The play may be forty years-old, but the jokes it presents are fresh as a daisy.

www.ensemble.com.au