Les Illuminations (Sydney Dance Company)

816436-les-illuminations[1]Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Aug 28 – 31, 2013
Choreographer: Rafael Bonachela
Music: Benjamin Britten
Musicians: Sydney Symphony Orchestra
Vocalist: Katie Noonan
Dancers: Sydney Dance Company

Theatre review
Rafael Bonachela’s latest work with the Sydney Dance Company is set to the music of Benjamin Britten from the 1930s. Bonachela’s immense respect for the music has produced a work that is sensitive to the audience’s aural experience, where the dancers are never allowed to overwhelm or contradict Britten’s essence. It is a successful meeting of creative art forms, but the music is kept paramount.

If beauty is ever a theme in theatre, Les Illuminations embraces it wholeheartedly. Eight dancers perform with a variety of moods and energies, but ultimately all the nuances they bring to the stage dissolve into fleeting moments, for what remains in the aftermath is a sense of sublime beauty. In part 1, Bernhard Knauer embodies a certain lightness and delivers a dream-like quality to the dance. The effortlessness he displays is delightful, and representative of Bonachela’s style, which is chiefly of a sensual nature, rather than giving prominence to technical athleticism. Janessa Dufty impresses as always with her magnetic presence and supreme confidence. Her performance style is characterised by strength and freedom, with a quality that is exceptionally alluring. In part 2, Thomas Bradley’s androgyny is important to the reading of Bonachela’s work, which in this instance, will be remembered for featuring multiple pas de deux sequences. A queer influence gives “partner work” texture, elevating gender dynamics from mere romance to more interesting ideas, and more complex notions of relationships and love.

Katie Noonan’s voice in the classical space is a marvellous revelation. Her singing comes to us with a transportative other-worldliness. It is perfect. Memorable segments of the show involve the dancers engaging us and each other, but with minimal movement. Our eyes and ears are seduced into a state of rapture, with Noonan’s timber ringing as though in dreams of purity and beauty, as though suspended in time.


5 Questions with Stephen Carnell

stephencarnellWhat is your favourite swear word?


What are you wearing?


What is love?

An irresistible attraction that lasts.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?

Can’t remember, so no stars.

Is your new show going to be any good?

It’ll be hilarious!
Read Suzy’s review here.


Stephen Carnell is producer and director of Spring Comedy Double Bill.
Show dates: 27 Aug – 7 Sep, 2013
Show venue: TAP Gallery

5 Questions with Elena Gabrielle


What is your favourite swear word?
I don’t swear, I’m a wholesome girl.

What are you wearing?
Edible Glitter… It’s easily digestible, non-toxic and will make your insides sparkle.

What is love?
Baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, no more!

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
A variety show featuring burlesque, cabaret, comedy and the like here in Melbourne… I gave it 4 stars.

Is your new show going to be any good?
Of course, I wouldn’t be bringing it to Sydney if it wasn’t.


Elena Gabrielle is writer and star of The Sexual Awakening Of Virgina Poppycock, part of Sydney Fringe 2013.
Show dates: 25 – 28 Sep, 2013
Show venue: Seymour Centre
Image by 3 Fates Media.

Spring Comedy Double Bill (Blancmange Productions)

summerofbloodVenue: TAP Gallery (Darlinghurst NSW), Aug 27 – Sep 7, 2013

Brad Checks In
Playwright: Paula Noble
Director: Steven Tait
Actors: Chris Miller, Sam Smith, Katherine Shearer, Laura Holmes, Jim Gosden, Katrina Rautenberg

Summer Of Blood
Playwright: Robert Armstrong
Director: Stephen Carnell
Actors: Brennan Muhoberac, Chris Miller, Katherine Shearer, Laura Holmes, Jim Gosden

Theatre review
Two comedies that have very little in common thematically are staged successively over 3 hours. Both are structured almost like film scripts with numerous scene changes and emphasis on character development. Four of the actors appear in both shows, displaying range by taking on drastically different roles.

Brad Checks In deals with relationships in the modern era of online social networking. It is a familiar premise that many would easily relate to, but the play strangely features a central character entwined in a web with three women’s affections, without establishing or explaining his appeal. There are however, enjoyable performances, including Katherine Shearer’s Di who is dynamic and mischievous, and the only female character who was not entirely defined in terms of her relationship with the main character Brad. Sam Smith plays a womanising cad with charm and humour with a more naturalistic approach that contrasts well with the rest of the cast.

Summer Of Blood showcases a cast of manic characters, with frequently funny results. Laura Holmes delivers the biggest laughs with her confident comedic abilities. Chris Miller’s exhilarating performance is crucial to the liveliness of the play, setting the bar for his co-actors in terms of energy levels. Brennan Muhoberac is utterly convincing as an adult virgin who becomes increasingly tainted by greed. Director Stephen Carnell uses film effectively and relevantly, interplaying with live action in a memorable section of the play. Film geeks will relish in the facts and trivia introduced into the script, with references ranging from Alfred Hitchcock to Mary Harron. This is a satisfying, albeit messy romp about genre film, and the aspirations of people in the B-movie industry, but audiences will remember it for the schlocky blood letting, colourful characters and the many laughs it delivers.


Fred (Old 505 Theatre)

lisachappellVenue: Old 505 Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Aug 28 – Sep 8, 2013
Playwright: Lisa Chappell
Director: Christopher Stollery
Actor: Lisa Chappell

Theatre review
One woman in an ugly costume, one chair, no set, no props, no “multimedia” elements. This is bare bones theatre that relies squarely on performance, writing and direction. The fact that Fred works so successfully is a real testament to the talent and hard work that Lisa Chappell and Christopher Stollery have put into their craft. This show is relentlessly dark, but also extremely funny. It strikes a balance between the horrific and the hilarious, creating an emotional effect that is painfully unsettling but entirely entrancing.

Chappell’s skill as an actor is exceptional. The thoroughness at which she maps out the frequent and dramatic changes in tone of performance and psychological states is the highlight of this production. Her ability to portray the insanity of being lost in an agonising and devastating memory in one second, and flicking back in an instant to frivolous silliness, is sublime. Also impressive, is that the audience is only ever allowed to see the character, Deidre on stage. The actor, Lisa, is perfectly hidden from view, even though she is right in front of your eyes, expertly casting her magic over a spellbound crowd. Her director Stollery provides a creative and critical “third eye”, and together, they have spawned a one-woman tour de force that is unmissable.

Equally noteworthy is Chappell’s script. Her work explores some of the most morbid crevices of the human imagination, but her storytelling stubbornly remains in the realm of jokes and laughter. This is a perfect (and intense) representation of trauma, mental illness and the human instinct for survival. While the play concludes abruptly, it does so with good reason. It might disrupt the audience’s sentimental response to the character in question, but it is in the awakening from the fantasy into stone cold sober reality that the truth hits home.


Murder On The Nile (The Genesian Theatre)

murderonthenileVenue: The Genesian Theatre (Sydney NSW), Aug 25 – Oct 5, 2013
Playwright: Agatha Christie
Director: Nanette Frew
Actors: Michael Barnacoat, Lilianna Komljenovic, Lachlan McNabb, Martin Estridge, Ros Richards
Image by Mark Banks

Theatre review
The power of an Agatha Christie work lies in its intrigue and suspense. The way her tales unfold is eminently captivating and beloved by audiences across generations and continents. The Genesian Theatre’s production of Murder On The Nile tells a witty and compelling story set on a cruise liner in Egypt, with colourful characters that retain their appeal 76 years after inception.

Design elements are basic but charming. The set is evocative of 1930s art deco, and effectively conveys a sense of languid luxury that is romantically nostalgic. Lighting is simple but elegant, never drawing attention upon itself, but efficient in its servitude to the play.

The director and players are mindful that clarity is key in the performance of Christie’s murder mystery. While some actors appear slightly miscast, they are all able to communicate the plot perfectly, so that the drama and tension inherent in the play are actualised on stage to great effect. Michael Barnacoat plays Canon Pennyfather with good commitment and excellent diction, giving crucial lengthy speeches in a manner that is highly engaging. Martin Estridge and Ros Richards are crowd favourites, playing eccentric characters with great aplomb, dominating the funniest moments in the show.

The Genesian has always been reliable in delivering great entertainment, and Murder On The Nile is no exception. Some things never change, and this much loved theatre company is thankfully one of them.


Jerusalem (New Theatre)

New TheatreVenue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Aug 21 – Sep 14, 2013
Playwright: Jez Butterworth
Director: Helen Tonkin
Actors: Nicholas Eadie, Jeremy Waters, Peter Nettell, Emma Louise, Peter McAllum
Image by Matthias Engesser

Theatre review
Upon entering the theatre, one is immediately struck by the power of the production design. Set design in particular is a highlight of this production. Tom Bannerman’s conversion of the stage into a dramatically evocative backdrop is absolutely essential to the storytelling. The creation of five different entrances is intelligent, and along with lighting, mood is established long before the first actor appears.

Nicholas Eadie is charismatic in the lead role. He brings variety to his performance, which provides entertainment and also creates a character that is multi-faceted and mysterious. He does however, have inconsistencies with the accent in his speech that could be distracting for some audiences. Jeremy Waters is a delightful actor, full of vigour and presence. He plays Ginger with great flair, equally confident with comic as well as dramatic moments. Peter Nettell is scarily convincing in his portrayal of Wesley. It is a very committed and genuine performance that leaves a lasting impression in spite of the part being a smaller one.

At the heart of Jerusalem is a tale about land rights and commercialism. It has interesting parallels with contemporary Australian issues involving our Aboriginal communities and how they are situated within the economy. This English play makes arguments about territorial ownership in relation to ancestry and money, and how these tensions manifest socially. If Butterworth’s ideas had been applied to a more localised context, their impact could have been even greater. Instead, the show is left intact and unmodified from its foreignness, which gives it an eccentric and exotic quality, but it demands more from the audience, as its cultural specificity is at times challenging and complicated.


Double Think (Force Majeure)

Double_Think_5104__bg.jpg  1024×683Venue: Reginald Theatre, Seymour Centre (Sydney NSW), Aug 21 – 24, 2013
Choreographer: Byron Perry
Music: Luke Smiles
Dancers: Kirstie McCracken, Lee Serle

Theatre review
In Force Majeure’s Double Think, the space of dance theatre is explored to its fullest extent and possibilities. The company pushes aggressively at the boundaries of dance and music, introducing concepts from all aspects to dismantle and to re-create a form of performance that is about dance, but not the way we know it. The use of inanimate objects and its relationship with light, for example, or the substitution of music for silence and speech, open up ways for the presentation of a kind of show that is not only fresh and unusual, but also seductive, communicative and intellectual. It is the ultimate application of talent and opportunity that one witnesses in this production.

Dancers Kirstie McCracken and Lee Serle are about a foot apart in height, but their symbiotic closeness delivers a sense of divinity and awe that gives their performance a feeling of sublime magic. Their ability to portray one being in two bodies, with unimaginable unison can only be a result of discipline, coloured by blood, sweat and tears. There are breathtaking sections where they display superhuman memory with the most intricate and lengthy choreography, astonishing their audience with the seemingly infinite capacities of their bodies and minds. It is noteworthy also, that both, but especially Serle, have the ability to reach out and connect with a crowd like true entertainers, rather than lofty professional dancers who tend to be more detached in their approach.

Production values are very accomplished, and thoroughly enjoyable. Lighting design is crucial in physical theatre, and Benjamin Cisterne’s work here is a triumph. The final sequence in which the dancers move very quickly in very dim light creating images that the eyes perceive but the brain fails to comprehend, is probably going to be an effect copied by many in the future. Choreographer Byron Perry has his fingerprints all over this creation. Nothing has escaped his attention, and we are beneficiary of his wonderful vision.


A Feat Incomplete (Old 505 Theatre)

afeatincomplete1Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Aug 21 – 25, 2013
Playwright: Erica J Brennan, David Buckley
Actors: Erica J Brennan, David Buckley

Theatre review
This is an honest and simple work that meditates on the nature of theatre creation. It deconstructs both form and content to get to the core of what it means to make a work for the theatre. It is the process of stripping down, rather than building up, that characterises this piece.

The run time is fairly short, which keeps the delivery of ideas sharp and fresh, and thankfully prevents things from being too drawn out and self indulgent, which is a fate that tends to befall many experimental theatre practitioners. There is however, a lack of elegance in the visual elements of the production. Aside from Brennan’s red eyes and horns, and Buckley’s nudity, more work could have been put into the execution of design aspects.

Attention is placed instead on the relationship between author and muse, resulting in charming sequences that explore love and intimacy, as well as the mystical space between “dreaming and death”. The artists also deal with the notion of “story” and the tension that exists in relation to narrative structures and lack thereof, in the creation of their art. A Feat Incomplete is brave in its conscious resistance against conventions of storytelling. This is a risky undertaking that can easily lead to an overly alienating experience, but both artists give performances that fascinate and intrigue.


The Merchant Of Venice (Sydney Shakespeare Company)

Sydney Shakespeare CompanyVenue: TAP Gallery (Darlinghurst NSW), Aug 7 – 24, 2013
Playwright: William Shakespeare
Director: Steven Hopley
Actors: Mark Lee, Lizzie Schebesta, Anthony Campanella, Alex Nicholas
Image by Rob Studdert

Theatre review
In the modern age of advanced technology and new media, our attention spans continue to diminish at alarming rates. The prospect of sitting through any film or play that runs over 90 minutes can spell torture, but director Steven Hopley’s production makes three hours shrink into just a few blinks of an eye. It is true that time flies when you’re having fun. The Merchant Of Venice is mostly a comedy, and the cast makes full use of comic opportunities, unafraid to explore with silliness and to play for laughs. It can be argued that some of the players are engaged mainly for their ability to make us laugh, and this a decision we are grateful for.

The stand-out actors however, are the ones who excel with the drama they bring to the show. Mark Lee is by far the most accomplished of the group, and is enthralling as Shylock. Lee’s level of focus and conviction in his role brings a level of dignity to the “problematic villain” created by Shakespeare 4 centuries ago. This is an intense and disciplined performance that lifts the entire production, giving it a surprisingly polished gleam. Lizzie Schebesta brings youth and gravitas simultaneously, providing credibility to the otherwise frivolous central love story. Her strong presence holds its own within the male-dominated group, and her Portia impresses as an unexpected feminist figure (as much as the Shakespearean text could allow). Anthony Campanella plays the secondary role of Antonio, but he impresses from the start with excellent command of his lines, somehow able to make every word ring with clarity and truth.

Antonio however, has an awkward relationship with Portia’s fiancé Bassanio, The closeness of these characters is overplayed with a palpable sexual chemistry. This does not lend to the overall balance of the play, especially at its conclusion where all’s well that ends well and Bassanio and Portia are overjoyed at being together at last, with Antonio forgotten in the background. Another matter of disquiet is the handling of the anti-semitic nature of Shakespeare’s work. This production is faithful to its original vision, which does not sit well with contemporary Australian audiences and is a genuine quandary. This issue lingers on after the play has concluded, and one is left with quite shocking ideas of racial prejudice to ponder over, which of course, is never a bad thing.