Review: Little Miss Sunshine (New Theatre)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Nov 12 – Dec 14, 2019
Book: James Lapine
Music & Lyrics: William Finn
Director: Deborah Jones
Cast: Kiera Dzeparoski, Sarah Furnari, Aneke Golowenko, Martin Grelis, John Grinston, Ellacoco Hammer McIver, Gavin Leahy, Christopher O’Shea, Fiona Pearson, Julian Ramundi, Grace Ryan, Adam van den Bok
Images by Bob Seary

Theatre review
Olive dreams of winning the Miss America beauty contest one day but is for now, more than happy competing in child pageants. When she qualifies for a prestigious event 800 miles away, the Hoover family finds itself in the tight quarters of a mini bus, travelling together and living in each other’s pockets, on the road for two days. A musical version of the 2006 film, Little Miss Sunshine is about kinship, and the dreams of regular folk. It is a work replete with pathos and tenderness, a bittersweet comedy that can touch the hardest of hearts.

Director Deborah Jones infuses the production with a charming quirkiness that endears us to all of its characters. Beautifully lit by Michael Schell, against a whimsical set by David Marshall-Martin, which includes a truly delightful interpretation of the famed vintage Volkswagen, as seen at the movies. Musical direction by Laura Heuston makes good use of a three piece band to convey a swathe of emotions, for a show best consumed with generous doses of sentimentality.

An impressive level of conviction is demonstrated by the cast, memorable also for a sense of cohesion they bring to this story about the ordinary American family. Young Olive is played by Kiera Dzeparoski, whose effervescence provides persuasive driving force for the narrative. As mother Sheryl, Fiona Pearson’s astonishing singing voice delivers the most enjoyable moments of Little Miss Sunshine. John Grinston is very funny as Grandpa, with an irrepressible zest for life that gives heart and soul to the staging. Equally hilarious is Sarah Furnari, strong in all three of her roles, making us laugh heartily with each of her appearances.

It often seems that life is determined to beat us down, as though it knows the potency of our resilience. When we first meet the Hoover family, its members are at varying degrees of failure, with several personalities close to giving up. It is true that having loved ones as support, can help us weather difficulties of all kinds, but for those less fortunate, the human spirit must not be underestimated. Some live without families, and some even have to live without love, but there is always a way out, no matter how hard it may get.

www.newtheatre.org.au

Review: Simple Souls (Fringe HQ)

Venue: Fringe HQ (Potts Point NSW), Nov 13 – 30, 2019
Playwright: Paul Gilchrist
Director: Paul Gilchrist
Cast: Alison Benstead, Julia Christensen, Lisa Haanssens, Simon Lee, Thu Nguyen, Madeleine Withington

Theatre review
Frustrated with the senseless jibber-jabber she encounters on the internet, Marguerite embarks on creating a work of theatre, with people who have responded to a paper sign she had stuck onto a lamppost. Using the parody of a TV game show, Marguerite and her new friends proceed to criticise their audience for the stupid things being said on social media, but soon discover the exercise to be futile, as they fail to move beyond this easy act of castigation.

With Simple Souls, playwright Paul Gilchrist expresses a burning desire to determine how we can be better persons, in this age of high technology and deep divisions. He passionately explores why we are so poorly behaved, asking if our nature is capable of improvement, or if we are in an immutable state, on the road to no return. Simple Souls implores us all to be more reflective, and is itself very analytical, about how we are with one another, and how it thinks we might be able to learn to get along.

Gilchrist’s approach for direction is much more basic than how he writes. Early sections of the staging are enjoyable, with less complicated ideas accompanied by a playfulness that keeps us amused, as it prepares us for more sophisticated ideas to come. As the text gets increasingly dense, the performance ramps up in intensity, which may be appropriate in terms of the tension it conveys, but the speed at which Gilchrist dispenses his philosophy can prove too challenging. His thoughts are undoubtedly fascinating, but they race past too quickly for us to attain full appreciation.

Actor Madeleine Withington brings a convincing despondency to Marguerite’s story, and a dissatisfaction with the world that is understandably emphatic. Julian Christensen and Simon Lee play Trudy and Thomas respectively, flamboyant characters with admirable energy, both effective in injecting a valuable sense of theatricality that sustains our attention. The introverted Veronica who is never without her glove puppet, is brought to life by Alison Benstead whose depiction of naivety and idealism, gives the play unexpectedly meaningful balance.

Marguerite toys with the notion that stupid people have it easier, but there really is no way for anyone to know if other people’s lives are truly any better. The weight of the world is heavy on the shoulders of our protagonist, who is doing the right thing by resisting evils, and trying to invent solutions for the problems that she has identified. However admirable her efforts, it seems that the only one facing defeat is herself, as we watch Marguerite gradually consumed by anger and resentment. There is much that needs to be done, but part of the project is to survive one’s own darkness, even if unjustifiable optimism that makes one look a simpleton, is required.

www.subtlenuance.com

Review: School Of Rock (Capitol Theatre)

Venue: Capitol Theatre (Sydney NSW), Nov 8 – Feb 16, 2019
Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics: Glenn Slater
Book: Julian Fellowes
Director: Laurence Connor
Cast: Brent Hill, Nadia Komazec, Amy Lehpamer, John O’Hara, Zane Blumeris, Cooper Alexis, Jude Hyland, Cherami Mya Remulta, Cole Zoernleib, Joel Bishop, Paisley Motum, Brandon Santos, Sara Petrovski, Zoe Zantey, Deeana Cheong Foo, Sabina Felias

Theatre review
Fifth-graders at the prestigious Horace Green prep school, are suddenly thrown into chaos, when their substitute teacher arrives to replace all of their academic syllabus, with a secret mission to participate in a rock music competition. For a few short weeks, the man-child Dewey’s passion for rock, becomes a central part of these twelve children’s lives, and in the process, each is able to develop a sense of worth and self-esteem, from their accidental exposure to the anarchic art form.

Based on the 2003 film by Richard Linklater, this musical version of School Of Rock is similarly rousing, able to provide inspiration to audiences of all ages. With a story about the clash of class and culture, it reveals with excellent humour, some of the problems we experience as a result of the way we organise society, and the impact that it has on children. This stage adaptation is thoroughly enjoyable, a commercial product of musical theatre that hits all the right spots, featuring powerful tunes and exquisite stage craft,

Performer Brent Hill is a charismatic Dewey, an energetic and confident presence that effortlessly maintains a disarming vivacity for the show’s entirety. School principal Mullins is played by the highly skilled Amy Lehpamer, detailed and captivating with all that she brings to the stage. Twelve astonishing young performers make up the rebel mob, each one impressive in their own right. The precocious Deeana Cheong Foo is especially remarkable as the bright and headstrong Summer, a convincing actor noteworthy for her proficiency in comic timing. Zane Blumeris as Zack on the guitar, and Cherami Mya Remulta as Katie the bassist, are two unforgettable musicians, in a group of extraordinary prodigies responsible for making the show come alive.

In School Of Rock, we see children go from subdued to wild, and learn the value of experimentation and self-expression. It is a journey of discovery that the kids embark on, and in the joy of their momentary emancipation, we observe each one embracing a courage that will serve them well in all the days to come. Not everyone in the band will continue being rock stars, but no matter how they progress from this point, we can be sure that they will henceforth be able to recognise the resonance of authenticity whenever it appears.

www.schoolofrockthemusical.com

Review: I’m With Her (Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

Venue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Nov 9 – Dec 1, 2019
Lead Writer: Victoria Midwinter Pitt
Director: Victoria Midwinter Pitt
Cast: Gabrielle Chan, Shakira Clanton, Lynette Curran, Deborah Galanos, Emily Havea
Images by Robert Catto

Theatre review
Named after a prominent slogan from Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, I’m With Her features nine remarkable women, and their tales of resistance in relation to patriarchal structures that have tried to stand in the way of women’s achievements. Indeed these are success stories, representing only those who had made it in spite of immense opposition, but through them we observe not only the struggles that women everywhere encounter, but also how some of us have been able to emerge victorious.

Based on first-hand accounts by some of our favourite Australians, from Julia Gillard to Marcia Langton, as well as some lesser known but equally accomplished others, the work offers valuable inspiration to those who encounter roadblocks everyday on account of our gender. Created by Victoria Midwinter Pitt, the three-hour show is infrequently sentimental, but always powerful with what it says in terms of our capacity to weather storms and overcome obstacles. There is a uniformity in how each monologue unfolds, that reflects the similarity of experiences, and the journeys we have to make, in order to attain fulfilling lives.

Although repetitive in its form, I’m With Her is composed of anecdotes from highly compelling individuals, performed by an exceptionally sincere cast. Shakira Clanton’s emotional intensity, along with a precision in her motivations, give resonance to everything she utters. Similarly affecting is Emily Havea, who brings valuable zeal to the show. The whimsical Gabrielle Chan is memorable for her wonderful sense of humour, and Lynette Curran’s ability to convey vulnerability keeps us on the edge of our seats. Deborah Galanos is robust in her portrayals, and as with all the other actors in I’m With Her, presents an indelible impression of strength and resilience.

Audio-visual design by Mia Holton is noteworthy for delivering breathtaking imagery via a series of cleverly assembled projections. Further enhancing theatricality is sound and music by Tegan Nicholls, punctuating the journey with aural cues that help us absorb nuances as they arrive. Kelsey Lee’s lights are delicately calibrated, to guide us through shifts in mood and attitude, as we traverse these profound testimonies.

Many of these, are women at the top of their game, but it is important we remember that these games are often themselves the problem. One of the personalities we meet is Sister Patricia Madigan, who wishes for women to one day be ordained as priests, but we must not ignore the fact that even if a female pope should eventuate, the church is still Catholic. Having more women in power will certainly improve things for everyone, but we must not pretend that any tactic that retains old systems that thrive on the subjugation of vast numbers of people, is the way to solve our problems. As we continue with trying to get more women replacing men at positions of influence, it is imperative that we think up new ways to organise our lives. Glass ceilings can be broken, but the end game is to have all of us elevated.

www.darlinghursttheatre.com

Review: H.M.S. Pinafore (Hayes Theatre)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), Nov 8 – Dec 14, 2019
Book: W.S. Gilbert
Music: Arthur Sullivan
Director: Kate Gaul
Cast: Katherine Allen, Gavin Brown, Thomas Campbell, Jermaine Chau, Tobias Cole, Sean Hall, Bobbie Jean Henning, Dominic Lui, Rory O’Keeffe, Billie Palin, Zach Selmes
Images by Phil Erbacher

Theatre review
It is all aboard the love boat in Gilbert & Sullivan’s 141-year-old operetta H.M.S. Pinafore. On the naval vessel, we find romances that transcend the English class system, as well as classic tropes of mistaken identities, and raucous sailor buffoonery of the guileless variety. The songs remain delightful, but its narrative is predictably outdated. Under Kate Gaul’s direction however, much of the show is made new again, by her resolute queering of how the story is told.

Genderfucking is the order of the day in this interpretation of H.M.S. Pinafore. A doggedly heterosexual world is radically transformed into something much less binary, where we no longer have to care what’s between the legs, as long as we understand that the heart wants, what the heart wants. With extravagant makeup design by Rachel Dal Santo, uniformly applied on all members of cast, everyone becomes sexually ambiguous. We are born naked and the rest is drag, as the saying goes, and the production is all the better for it. A modern sensibility permeates all of the show, that has suddenly turned refreshing and quite entrancing. Its humour is rejuvenated, featuring a roster of performers that are all very keen, very able and impressively comical in their embrace of a newly mandated approach of subversiveness.

Soprano Katherine Allen sings beautifully the part of Josephine, and brings a confident exuberance that transforms her damsel in distress character, into something much more likeable. Her beau Ralph is given irresistible charm by Billie Palin, who adds to her performance of masculinity, a renewed sense of dimension and meaning. Thomas Campbell is unforgettable as a hirsute version of Little Buttercup, with exaggerated gestures conveying an overt femininity for his role, using the art of drag to expose the absurdity of our obsession with gendered behaviour. Tobias Cole and Rory O’Keefe play Capt. Corcoran and Sir Jospeh Porter respectively, for persuasively funny depictions of powerful men, both creative in their camp renderings of otherwise hackneyed archetypes.

Music director Zara Stanton’s arrangements are highly inventive, incorporating a small number of instruments performed on stage by the ensemble, although a lack of percussion and bass does detract slightly from the rowdy mood. Nate Edmondson’s sound design delivers some of the biggest and most unexpected laughs of the production. Choreography by Ash Bee adds to the humour of the piece, although the movement of bodies can seem insufficiently robust at certain points. Melanie Lertz does wonderfully as production designer, for costumes and a set that are whimsical, joyful, and satisfyingly vivid. Fausto Brusamolino’s dynamic lights too are similarly pleasing, memorable for an air of romantic sophistication that they manufacture.

Affairs on the ship are kept underground, because of violations to conventions of class and hierarchy. On the stage, however, it is precisely these violations that we indulge in, so it only makes sense that notions of normalcy are required to go through a process of subversion, in order that we may enjoy H.M.S. Pinafore‘s underlying criticism of our hypocrisy. For centuries, we have thought of romantic love as splendid and almighty, yet societies everywhere have kept it a privilege only for those who fit the straight and narrow. What were once despicable perverts now take centre stage, as we learn to broaden every definition of who we are.

www.hayestheatre.com.au

Review: Water (Fringe HQ)

Venue: Fringe HQ (Potts Point NSW), Nov 5 – 16, 2019
Playwright: Mark Langham
Director: Mark Langham
Cast: Tristan Black, Lib Campbell, Mark Langham, Stephen Lloyd-Coombs
Image by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
It may seem peculiar that an incompetent undercover operative from the First World War should be memorialised, but Carl Hans Lody is certainly not the only mediocre man to have left a mark. Water by Mark Langham is a biographical work about Lody, a somewhat naive man who had inadvertently become a historical figure, for being the first German spy to be put on trial and subsequently executed in the UK. There is little in the story that could elicit emotional investment, but Langham’s humour is nonetheless enjoyable, and Water represents amusing theatre for those in search of light entertainment.

Langham’s own direction of the piece provides a style of comedy that is crisp and confident, featuring a uniformly delightful cast of four. Leading man Stephen Lloyd-Coombs is a compelling presence, able to introduce considerable charisma to what is essentially a diffident personality. Lib Campbell demonstrates great versatility and vibrancy in all her roles, as does Tristan Black, who impresses with an intense and captivating energy that he brings to the stage. As performer, Langham is exacting, able to portray a wide variety of roles with admirable clarity and contrast. Also noteworthy is sound by the aforementioned Black, and lighting by Sophie Pekbilimli, both minimal and unobtrusive in approach, yet effective in helping us navigate the play’s swift spatial transformations.

All Lody really wanted was to sail the oceans and see the world, but he ends up in our history books, completely by accident. It is perhaps true that there is nothing more meaningful than to follow one’s bliss, even when the act can seem entirely selfish and indulgent. Only in the pursuit of something that is authentic to one’s nature, can one ever imagine attaining a state of peace and purity. To understand that which fundamentally constitutes authenticity however, is the inexhaustibly difficult part. Often it is much easier to make an evaluation of what the world needs, and commit to serving those purposes. Ultimately, it is a question of doing good, the definition of which seems always to be contentious.

www.wheresharold.wordpress.com

Review: A Delicate Balance (Chippen Street Theatre)

Venue: Chippen Street Theatre (Chippendale NSW), Nov 7 – 16, 2019
Playwright: Edward Albee
Director: Viktor Kalka
Cast: James Bean, Martin Bell, Alison Chambers, Zoë Crawford, Suzann James, Alice Livingstone
Images by Blake Condon

Theatre review
Agnes and Tobias are rich, white, empty nesters who appear to live the suburban dream, yet not a moment goes by that is not filled with anxiety, in Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance. Everything seems in place so that the couple could go about their business without a care in the world, but there is a terror that permeates. We soon discover that all the characters in their home suffer from an intense and prolonged existential crisis. Albee shows only the manifestations of his characters’ fears, leaving us to find an explanation for their condition.

Under Viktor Kalka’s direction, the 53 year-old play retains its pertinent bite. Although the production lacks visual flourish, Kalka is able to manufacture a disquiet that rings with authenticity. Ryan Devlin’s restrained sound design helps us locate dramatic tension, as the plot moves through waves of dilemma.

The show is demanding of its cast, and can at times seem under rehearsed. Agnes is played by Alice Livingstone, who brings an appropriate sense of loss and bewilderment to proceedings. Martin Bell as Tobias has a tendency to be subdued in approach, but occasional emotional outbursts make for excellent drama. Their daughter Julia is made compelling by Zoë Crawford, and Suzann James as Agnes’ sister Claire, offers a persuasive portrait of an alcoholic escapist. James Bean and Alison Chambers leave a strong impression as family friends Harry and Edna, both actors invigorating with the precise humour that they bring to the stage.

Agnes and Tobias adhere to all the rules, and even though their cookie-cutter existence appears perfect on the outside, there is nothing right about how they feel on the inside. Every day we are told what achievement and success looks like, but if we follow every prescribed route, without sufficiently interrogating their true purposes and consequences, we risk using up our time only on the wishes of others.

The characters in A Delicate Balance spend all their energies wrestling frustrations, but fail to identify what they need that will deliver peace, or even a modicum of joy. They are in constant struggle with the expectations of those they do not like, refusing to disengage with the familiar, as though addicted to the comfort of their pain. It is true that people care too much about all the wrong things, but to shift focus to where the good things are, is always easier said than done.

www.chippenstreet.com | www.facebook.com/SydneyClassicTheatreCo