Hamlet (Belvoir St Theatre)

hamletVenue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Oct 12 – Dec 1, 2013
Playwright: William Shakespeare
Director: Simon Stone
Actors: Toby Schmitz, Emily Barclay, Luke Byrne, Thomas Campbell, John Gaden, Nathan Lovejoy, Robyn Nevin, Anthony Phelan, Maximilian Riebl, Greg Stone

Theatre review
Shakespeare’s tragedies are vehicles for artists to express the extremities of human emotion and inconceivable psychological torment. When created well, a staging of plays like Hamlet will allow for the most outlandish and ostentatious of acting styles. In Belvoir’s production, Toby Schmitz pushes his portrayal of Hamlet over the edge of sanity, giving us one of the year’s most memorable theatrical performances.

Taking the brave decision to remove the ambiguity of the protagonist’s insanity, director Simon Stone’s version of events presents a Hamlet that is as much about mental disorders as it is about death and betrayal. Consequently, Schmitz’s choices are liberated, and he explores states of grief and madness with great intensity and high-octane drama. It is a delicious performance and the actor is magnetically powerful, while being controlled and considered. Schmitz is as intelligent as he is artistic, and the combination is lethal.

Greg Stone plays Polonius with great flair and confidence. This is an actor who loves Shakespeare’s words and knows how to use them. His performance is a real delight. Robyn Nevin’s role is less substantial, but she delivers what we have come to expect of her. Loads of gravitas and focus, and incredible elegance.

Many liberties are taken in Stone’s work, including a very clever take on the “play within a play” scene in which Lord Hamlet’s death is re-enacted, and some of the best use of incidental music in a long while. Stone displays not just originality and ingenuity, but also a keen sense of playfulness. His Hamlet is surprising, intriguing and taut. It runs slightly over two hours, and every moment is imbued with wonder and tension. This is exhilarating theatre. Stone’s show has a dangerous flirtation with abstraction which adds to its intrigue and seductive quality, but unfortunately becomes overwhelming in the final scenes. The play closes strongly but the journey at the end is slightly rocky. Nevertheless, this slightly abridged Hamlet is a courageous and accomplished work, one that showcases some of the best theatre practitioners and their dedication to, and faith in the art form.

www.belvoir.com.au

Grease (Lyric Theatre)

grease1Venue: Lyric Theatre (Sydney NSW), from Oct 13, 2013
Based on the original by: Jim Jacobs, Warren Casey
Performers: Rob Mills, Gretel Scarlett, Stephen Mahy, Lucy Maunder, Todd McKenney, Bert Newton, Anthony Callea

Theatre review
Grease (1978) is one of Australia’s most loved films of all time. Our relationship with its songs and characters is an intimately familiar one, and this familiarity ensures that the staging of its musical version for Australian audiences is a safe bet. This theatrical presentation is a faithful adaptation of the cinematic version, and aims at providing entertainment and nostalgia, both of which are delivered in dazzling abundance.

Danny Zuko is played by Rob Mills, who has carved a career out of incredible charisma, and an impressive, consistent improvement in his stage craft. Now ten years in the public eye, Mills’ performance in Grease is a turning point in his career. The leading man’s voice is today at its most vibrant and versatile, and while not always known to be a great dancer, he attacks all choreography with gusto and flair, proving himself once and for all to be a formidable player in the musical arena.

Todd McKenney is Teen Angel (the fairy godfather), and steals the show with his only appearance in the eminently memorable “Beauty School Dropout” sequence. McKenney shows himself to be the proverbial Mr Showbiz, all sparkling toothy smiles and nifty footwork. The way his physical prowess owns the stage is mesmerising, and he absolutely exemplifies all we love about musical theatre. Also a stand out is Stephen Mahy who elevates Kenickie from a run-of-the-mill bad boy to one with impressive showmanship and great comic timing. He also happens to be dashingly handsome.

The Sandy in this production is, however, miscast. Gretel Scarlett has a stunning singing voice, but lacks the pop sensibility that is associated with Olivia Newton-John’s legendary recordings. Scarlett is a statuesque beauty and the perfect visual match with her leading man, but her interpretation of the wholesome girl from down under comes across slightly bland. It is bewildering also, that her two key moments (her solo, and her penultimate transformation) are not supported by stronger stage effects for greater dramatics.

The overall excellent cast, along with the brilliant band, and big budget set and costume design, all conspire to materialise a “real life” version of a celluloid dream we have all cherished through the years. The joy Grease represents and all the memories it evokes is invaluable, and much more than what we have come to expect of commercial musical theatre.

www.greaseistheword.com.au

The Vehicle Failed To Stop (Version 1.0)

vehiclefailed1Venue: Carriageworks (Eveleigh NSW), Oct 15 – 26, 2013
Devisors: Sean Bacon, Irving Gregory, Jane Phegan, Paul Prestipino, Kym Vercoe, Olivia Stambouliah
Actors: Irving Gregory, Jane Phegan, Olivia Stambouliah

Theatre review
The subject is a heavy one, and the themes are serious. We are shown a side to the Iraq war that is little known, and the evidence provided is scandalous and outrageous. The tone of the production is suitably sombre, but it is a lively show that comprises quick and sharp scenes, holding its audience’s attention from start to end.

Exploration of theatrical techniques and devices are a key interest of this group (the exploding car is wonderful). Using the war story as a backdrop for a wide range of experimentation with sounds, visuals, and all the possibilities of an empty space, this is a highly creative work that is centred on form as much as it emphasises its content. Indeed, both form and content are interesting and thoroughly delved into, but on occasion, they seem to diverge and distract from one another. There are points in the performance where what is being shown on stage is so complex and enthralling, that the story seems to fall by the wayside. The originality of Version 1.0’s theatrical craft is accomplished and important, and so is the message of the story. Fortunately, both manage to get their days in the sun, although not always at the same time.

Aside from three actors, we see on side stage (in this multimedia production), a team of two musicians and a video artist. Their work alternates between providing background effects and featuring heavily at the foreground, but always married perfectly with the stage action. This genre of performance is still unconventional and not always practised successfully, but The Vehicle Failed To Stop is an example of how close collaborative efforts can give birth to something authentic and deliver theatre that is intriguing and unique.

www.versiononepointzero.com

5 Questions with Andrew Henry

andrewhenryWhat is your favourite swear word?
“Fuck” for its magnificent versatility.

What are you wearing?
A singlet, chinos and my trusty old boots.

What is love?
Life’s great discovery.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
Miss Julie at Belvoir. Five out of five, it was incredibly uncomfortable and the most dangerous play I have seen for many years. I fucking loved it.

Is your new show going to be any good?
Not at all, the writing is terrible. This Arthur Miller guy had no talent for writing plays.

Andrew Henry is appearing in All My Sons, by Arthur Miller.
Show dates: 1 Nov – 1 Dec, 2013
Show venue: Eternity Playhouse

5 Questions with Jai Higgs

jaihiggs1What is your favourite swear word?
Definitely CUNT. Sound it out. C-u-n-t… Feel how each sound moves further forward in your mouth, starting the back of the throat and ending with a sharp, direct spit? It’s like the word is designed to cut through the air and attack the listener. I know it sounds like I’ve over-thought the trajectory of this word, but it’s only because my character unleashes the c-bomb a couple of times in this show, honestly…

What are you wearing?
My corporate slave-wear. Please come and see An Ordinary Person so that we can all make millions and I can overthrow my capitalist overlords to devote my life unceasingly to my craft.

What is love?
A battlefield. Am I right, ladies??

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
Miss Julie at Belvoir. 4.5 stars. What the actual fuck? It was the most intense piece of theatre I’ve seen in a long time. I sat in my seat for five minutes afterwards trying to digest what had just happened.

Is your new show going to be any good?
Fuck yeah. It’s going to make King Lear look like Mean Girls.

Jai Higgs is appearing in An Ordinary Person.
Show dates: 22 Oct – 16 Nov, 2013
Show venue: The Old Fitzroy Hotel

5 Questions with Lizzie Schebesta

lizzieschebestaWhat is your favourite swear word?
Fuck, I don’t know ? They’re all pretty good. Swear words are the most delicious part of the English language… And so they should be. They offer instant consolation when life sucks balls.

What are you wearing?
It’s 5am. I’m wearing my pyjamas.

What is love?
A mixture of adrenaline, dopamine and serotonin designed to make you procreate and stay alive.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
Penelope. Ten stars. It was fantastic. Beautifully realised and very funny.

Is your new show going to be any good?
Mind blowingly good. It’ll change your life.

 

 

Lizzie Schebesta plays Jacqueline Kennedy in the world premiere of Love Field.
Show dates: 23 Oct – 2 Nov, 2013
Show venue: Tap Gallery

5 Questions with Pontus Aleryd

pontusalerydWhat is your favourite swear word?
HelvetesJävlaSkit (Swedish).

What are you wearing?
Undies.

What is love?
Equality, generosity and a lot of fun.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
South Pacific – 53.5 stars (that’s REALLY good).

Is your new show going to be any good?
Both these plays are very special, Three Winters Green will affect you emotionally and psychologically, and Butterflies Are Free is a fast moving rom-com drama, both with a warm heart.

Pontus Aleryd is stage managing Three Winters Green and Butterfiles Are Free, two plays in repertory.
Show dates: 17 Oct – 3 Nov, 2013
Show venue: King Street Theatre

The Good, The Bad & The Lawyer (Big Splash Productions)

rsz_gbl_40_-_geoff_mark_marcVenue: TAP Gallery (Surry Hills NSW), Oct 10 – 27, 2013
Playwright: Tony Laumberg
Director: Richard Cotter
Actors: Mark McCann, Tricia Youlden, Brigid O’Sullivan, Geoff Sirmai, Marc Kay

Theatre review
This is Tony Laumberg’s fifth script with his Crowley characters. Henry is a conservative Sydney lawyer, and his wife Margaret is a headstrong left-leaning “home maker” who likes nothing more than to challenge her husband’s belief system. In this installment, Margaret decides to welcome an asylum seeker from Iran in their home much to Henry’s chagrin, but the real conflict begins when Henry’s cousin Mickey arrives from Queensland, with a lot of baggage.

Performances in this comedy are consistently exuberant. Geoff Sirmai’s portrayal of Ahmed (the Iranian) should be noted for avoiding gross stereotyping, and also for being the most surprising character in the show. The actors all have different individual strengths that are used to their maximum potential, but some moments could benefit from a little curbing of enthusiasm. Their madcap frenetic energy is effective to a point, but too much of a good thing ends up a little repetitious in this 2 hour production.

The play’s structure is a classic one, and Laumberg is adept at writing jokes and clever punch lines. A bit of editing would perhaps tighten the second half the show, but The Good, The Bad & The Lawyer delivers a night of entertainment with plenty of good, clean laughs.

www.tapgallery.org.au

5 Questions with Luke Holmes

lukeholmesWhat is your favourite swear word?
Fuck, mainly for the variety. It’s one of the most versatile words there is.

What are you wearing?
Shorts and a t-shirt.

What is love?
When you’re happy to risk a lot of pain for a chance at a little bit of happiness.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
Penelope at the TAP Gallery. 4 out of 5 stars.

Is your new show going to be any good?
Triune will be three whole types of awesome 🙂

 

Luke Holmes is writer and performer of Triune.
Show dates: 22 Nov – 7 Dec, 2013
Show venue: TAP Gallery

Hay Fever (New Theatre)

hayfever1Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Oct 8 – Nov 2, 2013
Playwright: Noël Coward
Director: Rosane McNamara
Actors: Alice Livingstone, Jorja Brain, James Bean, David Halgren
Image by Bob Seary

Theatre review
Noël Coward’s work has an irreverent and subversive sensibility that stands the test of time. Hay Fever is about a family that is characterised by early 20th century notions of decadence and the bohemian, and Rosane McNamara’s vision has created an interpretation that speaks to modern audiences, while retaining all the robust and wicked humour that Coward is best known for.

Judith Bliss is the matriarch of the household, and a middle-aged star of the theatre who seems unable to live life without manufactured drama and exaggerated affectations. Played with flair and excellent humour by Alice Livingstone, the role is front and centre of the show, and absolutely crucial to the success of this production. Livingstone’s firm Cowardian grasp of flamboyance and wit is marvellous. Her skills in high camp delivers barrels of laughter, and she carves out a character that is perversely alluring despite her hideous indulgences. Livingstone’s counterparts do not quite match up to her comedic excellence, but all have created distinct and memorable personalities that move the plot along with clarity and sharpness.

Another star of the show is production design; all visual elements are impressive. Set and lighting design are effective, and their take on 1920s Art Deco is graceful and charming. Costumes are superb and detailed, and in the case of the character Myra especially, hair and makeup are simply stunning.

New Theatre’s Hay Fever is a bold and wonderful achievement. Noël Coward’s characters and wittiness are not the simplest to portray, and even though this production does not hit every punchline perfectly (most notably when the leading lady is off-stage), it is remarkable that his story is brought to life so vividly. With the passage of time, its century-old aesthetics might look to be outmoded, but Rosane McNamara’s direction fleshes out everything that is exceptional and unconventional in Coward’s writing that is rarely, if ever, replicated.

www.newtheatre.org.au