Review: Noises Off (Sydney Theatre Company)

noisesoffVenue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Feb 17 – Apr 5, 2014
Playwright: Michael Frayn
Director: Jonathan Biggins
Actors: Alan Dukes, Lindsay Farris, Marcus Graham, Ron Haddrick, Danielle King, Genevieve Lemon, Tracy Mann, Josh McConville, Ash Ricardo

Theatre review
Sydney Theatre Company’s new production of the now classic farce, Noises Off, is comedy at its broadest. This comedy of errors is not sophisticated in concept but its execution under the directorship of Jonathan Biggins is highly accomplished and outlandishly dynamic. From men falling off staircases to women sitting on sardines, and girls in gartered lingerie to boys in bell bottoms and mullet hair cuts, Biggins approaches Frayn’s 1982 work with the most basic of motivations. He wants to make us laugh, and he is determined to pull out all the stops to make it happen.

The cast Biggins has assembled shares his vision. They show no qualms in playing for laughs at every available opportunity, which means that not all characters are clearly defined, and some plot lines get lost in all the mayhem, but the entertainment value of their show is guaranteed. Josh McConville as Roger/Garry impresses with his athletic agility and the most exaggerated physical gags in the production. The volume of his performance sets the standard for how extravagant the actors can go on that stage.

Tracy Mann plays Flavia/Belinda with more subtlety, but her use of voice is strongest in the cast. The excessively, and comically, stagey English accent from the era not only assists with a more distinct characterisation, its overt articulation actually provides clarity to the many twists and turns that occur in the busy story. Ash Ricardo as the Vicki/Brooke “bimbo” characters triumphs in spite of the restrictive and narrow scope given. Her energetic interpretation brings a fresh edginess, and the running joke about her contact lens is a big crowd pleaser. Marcus Graham, usually known for dramatically serious roles, is surprisingly effective as Lloyd. Like the rest of the cast, his enjoyment of the show is genuine, and infectious.

Laughter is the best medicine. Theatre goers can often be an uptight bunch. Jonathan Biggins’ Noises Off forces us to open up and it speaks to a different part of our minds. Like the brilliant extended section in Act 2 where virtually no words are spoken, but the biggest laughs are heard, our senses are kept busy. We work overtime to keep up, not with lines and ideas, but by observing all the funny unfold and responding with the thoroughly visceral, and biological, guttural guffaws from deep within… that space which is too often hidden away from the light of day.

Review: La Femme Boheme (The Spice Cellar)

lafemmeboheme1Venue: The Spice Cellar (Sydney NSW), Wed evenings
Performers: Mariesa Mae, Penelope Morgan, Olly Stanton, Antigone Foster (guest)
Image by Matt Waugh

Theatre review (of Feb 26, 2014 show)
La Femme Boheme are two stunning burlesque performers, Mariesa Mae and Penelope Morgan. Their residency at The Spice Cellar begins at 8pm every Wednesday night, showcasing a series of numbers, solo and partnered, designed to fascinate and allure. Also present at tonight’s performance were pianist Olly Stanton and guest singer Antigone Foster, providing further entertainment to complement the stars.

The femmes’ show is raunchy but also elegant. It appeals to audiences of all sexual persuasions, as their work is not only about providing titillation. There is humour peppered throughout the evening, with a resulting experience that is cheerily light-hearted. There is a sweet fairy tale, a funny monologue about Mae’s early discovery of the art form in primary school, and a sequence involving multi-coloured balloons worn like bananas on Josephine Baker.

The women are a perfect visual match. They are virtually identical in height and shape, but they are also entirely distinct in personality and styles. Morgan is coy, while Mae is assertive. The yin-yang dynamic gives the show a lovely balance, but Morgan does stand out with a little more polish and confidence. Her sequence in a glorious mirrored bath tub is a show stealer, and truly breathtaking.

Most of the music is pre-recorded, but Stanton and Foster’s live performances add good variety to the evening. The grand piano in The Spice Cellar sounds and looks fabulous, and Stanton playing cabaret and burlesque classics on it certainly elevates the tone of the proceedings. Foster’s vocals are strong and idiosyncratic, giving excellent counterpoint to the headliners, especially in more familiar fare like “Cry Me A River” and “Hey Big Spender”.

At the core of their show is a commitment to creating images of beauty. It is an interesting and rare balance that La Femme Boheme explore, one that does not alienate any adult; man or woman, gay or straight. Desire exists in many forms, and the ladies allow us to relate to them in different ways. Are they goddesses, kittens, heroines, or clowns? The choice is yours, but the performance is best consumed with an open mind.

5 Questions with Lara Lightfoot

laralightfootWhat is your favourite swear word?
Cunt. Gosh, I can’t believe I just said that. It never used to be. I blame our trip to Scotland, they use it like lose change.

What are you wearing?
A black pencil skirt, singlet and sandals – squeezing what I can out of these sunny days.

What is love?
Generosity in listening and in being.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
All My Sons at Darlinghurst Theatre. 4/5 stars.

Is your new show going to be any good?
Yes, I think it will be. The play is already heartbreakingly brilliant, and we’re working with a fabulous team of creatives. I hope our audience connect with the elements that drew us to this script, but ultimately it will be for them to decide.

Lara Lightfoot is starring in Stitching.
Show dates: 26 Mar – 12 Apr, 2014
Show venue: TAP Gallery

Review: The Vaudevillians (Strut & Fret Production House)

vaudevillians1Venue: The Vanguard (Newtown NSW), Feb 18 – Mar 2, 2014
Musical Director: Richard Andriessen (Major Scales)
Performers: Jerick Hoffer (Jinkx Monsoon), Richard Andriessen (Major Scales)

Theatre review
The premise is simple. Spouses Kitty Witless and Dan Von Dandy were accidentally frozen under a torrent of snow and cocaine in the 1920s, but were discovered and revived in our very recent times of global warming. Both happen to be brilliant performers, and have found their way to Sydney, just in time to present their show for the Mardi Gras season.

Cabaret is about performance. Stories are rarely important, but storytelling is everything. The Vaudevillians are played by Jinkx Monsoon and Major Scales, American artists who are truly of an “international standard”. Scales provides excellent support to his leading lady. He is superb on the piano, and the re-arrangements he has created are intelligent and delightful. The choice of familiar songs by the likes of Madonna, Daft Punk, Cyndi Lauper, M.I.A., and Britney Spears makes for a setlist that would appeal to most, but it is his extravagantly comical interpretations that make them all so thoroughly entertaining. Scales does falter a little in confidence when performing his solo number, but it is wonderfully refreshing to see a highly animated and energetic piano man.

Jinkx Monsoon is a comic cabaret artist of the highest calibre. Clearly, The Vaudevillians is a work tailored to her specific talents and abilities, but the 80 minute show impresses and overflows with scintillating wit, belly laughs and stunning singing. Monsoon’s vocals are powerful, and she seems to have an infinite well of techniques for turning every line in every song into something that earns the audience’s laughter. A segment referencing Henrik Ibsen, “A Doll’s House 2: Electric Boogaloo” sees the leading lady attack Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” with the greatest amount of flamboyant drama one could ever wish to see. She is like a young Gloria Swanson, only louder and a whole lot sillier.

Combining disciplined training (you can hear it in her singing, and see it with her splits and headstands) and a sense of looseness that is unafraid of heckles and other chanced occurrences, Monsoon’s style is deceptively casual, and incredibly brave. It is live performance at its most thrilling, where the audience feels that anything could happen because the performers and the show’s structure allow, or even ask for it. There is danger in the air, the kind that is completely delicious and irresistible. The Vaudevillians is fun, entertaining theatre. Monsoon and Scales are silly as they come, but without a hint of stupidity, and their show is filled with genuine talent and quite genius creativity.

5 Questions with Nathan Lovejoy

rsz_nathan_lovejoy_from_clybourne_park_168_1What is your favourite swear word?
Shit that’s a tough one. Cunt? Gets a run in Clybourne Park and I love that it’s head and shoulders above other swear words, in that it’s deemed more offensive – which is odd to me.

What are you wearing?
I’ve been test driving some verrrrrry low crotch jeans I have to wear in the show. Getting used to them, might even buy them after!

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?
Well I’ll go with the best thing I’ve seen this year, so far… Sport for Jove’s Cyrano De Bergerac. Damian Ryan is a genius and so is his cast. 5 stars.

Is your new show going to be any good?
I hope so. It’s an amazing play that’s played around the world and won a swag of awards. I hope we do it justice and that cunts like it.

Nathan Lovejoy is starring in Clybourne Park.
Show dates: 13 Mar – 19 Apr, 2014
Show venue: Ensemble Theatre

Review: Everything I Know I Learnt From Madonna (Tunks Productions / Sydney Independent Theatre Company)

rsz_1899685_623939144321658_1856255859_oVenue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Feb 18 – 22, 2014
Playwright: Wayne Tunks
Director: Fiona Hallenan-Barker
Actor: Wayne Tunks
Image by Katy Green Loughrey

Theatre review
Madonna, the pop star, means many things to many people. Like many brassy women in the public eye, she is regarded by gay communities as an icon. An outspoken proponent of the gay movement since the early 1990s, it is understandable that her place with LGBT people has endured the years. In this one-man play by Wayne Tunks, he talks about his obsession with Madonna in the introduction, then goes on to share with us his stories of coming out and relationships with various men, liberally quoting lyrics by his hero at every available opportunity. His script is an interesting one. It is almost as if Tunks is unable to verbalise his thoughts and feelings without the aide of Madonna songs, so her words keep appearing in his monologue, sometimes seamlessly, sometimes a little forced, but it is no doubt that his admiration is beyond skin deep, and that her work actually provides a space of solace. It looks a lot like religion.

Tunks is an actor full of vigour. He appears on stage and is determined to seize your attention, and for the entirey of his performance, we pay close attention to his stories. It helps that Tunks’ voice is commanding and versatile. It is naturalistic acting but there is definitely not a hint of mumbling, everything is said loud and clear, which is fortunate as the bareness of the staging and minimal direction of the near two hour work, leave nothing else for Tunks and his audience to hold on to.

The show overflows with earnestness. For a seemingly shallow premise of pop star fandom, it contains no irony and very little frivolity. We are presented love stories with a string of men, Sean, Warren, Guy, Jesus, and (presumably) Brahim. They are not particularly colourful events, in fact, slightly mundane. There isn’t really a set up of context, just a man keen to share with a captive crowd, and we are inspired by his fighting spirit that never gets dampened by failed relationships. He keeps getting back in business as though nothing’s better than more because ultimately, what can you lose?

“You’re never gonna see me standin’ still, I’m never gonna stop ’till I get my fill” (Over And Over, Madonna 1984).

Review: The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me (Lambert House Enterprises)

rsz_1796028_10202558976807602_539984011_oVenue: Ginger’s Oxford Hotel (Darlinghurst NSW), Feb 19 – 27, 2014
Playwright: David Drake
Director: Kynan Francis
Actors: Ben Hudson, James Wright

Theatre review
American playwright and actor David Drake’s 1994 one-man play is revived to coincide with the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras 2014 season. This time, Australian director Kynan Francis casts two actors, makes several updates to the script, and chooses a cabaret style venue to stage a radical re-telling of a piece of radical writing. Drake’s work from the post-ACT UP era was fresh and optimistic, arriving at a time when the shock of the AIDS epidemic had begun to subside, and communities were galvanised and empowered. A new gay identity had emerged, characterised by a buoyancy that had previously remained elusive. The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me is an important work that represents this transformation. It remembers the horrors of a time of closeted secrecy and overt persecution, but articulates a vision of the future of equality and emancipation.

Ben Hudson is the more sure footed of both actors. He exhibits a close affiliation with the themes of the work, with a performance that is stirringly passionate and authentic. There is no question that Hudson would have been able to carry the show on his own, but Francis’ decision to partner him up is not an unwise one. While James Wright is less experienced, he holds his own. Like a young brother following closely behind, he completes the picture, and adds more to the production that is immediately evident. Both are brave yet vulnerable, and both understand the weightiness of the material they have taken on. There is a lot of careful reverence and sensitivity in this production, giving it an uplifting and beautiful spirituality.

Francis’ direction is deep and meaningful. His thorough familiarity with the script and its contexts ensures that every scene, moment and nuance is depicted with emotional accuracy and poignancy, and with political impact. The use of two actors effectively portrays the bonds between gay men, as brothers, lovers and compatriots. Some of this work is very moving. There is also technical brilliance on show, particularly with the performance of an extended section set against music. For a production of such small scale, it is surprisingly, and impressively, well rehearsed.

In 1994, the idea that all adults will one day be able to marry equally in the eyes of the law was hard to imagine. Our battles today might feel arduous and frustrating, but The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me shows just how far our society has progressed. The play ends in the year 2020, when Oklahoma becomes the final USA state to legalise same-sex marriage. We are now 6 years away from that fictitious moment, and things seem altogether more hopeful and brighter than ever before.…

5 Questions with Ben Winspear

rsz_benwinspearWhat is your favourite swear word?
Aaghfufuuugenwhoputthatbloodythere?The noise you make when you step on a toy with bare feet in the dark.

What are you wearing?
I lost my favourite tracky dacks… So I’m rehearsing in something that looks a lot like a pair of old Qantas pyjamas.

What is love?
When you hear your daughter say in her sleep “I have the best dad in the whole world.”

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
Jump For Jordan, Griffin Theatre. There are six wonderful performers in this beautiful, funny mirage, all of them stars.

Is your new show going to be any good?
If you enjoy your demonic possession, WWE wrestling and pole dancing with a dash of Daoism, you’ll probably feel right at home.

Ben Winspear is directing UNSW students in their production of Monkey – An Epic Tale of Cosmic Struggle.
Show dates: 11 – 15 Mar, 2014
Show venue: Io Myers Studio, UNSW

Review: Desperate Houseboys (Matthew Management / Neil Gooding Productions)

despboysVenue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Feb 18 – 28, 2014
Playwrights: Cole Escola, Jeffery Self
Directors: Christian Coulson
Performers: Cole Escola, Jeffery Self

Theatre review
It takes a certain amount of gall and audacity to present a work that is entirely frivolous. Theatre practitioners are rarely able to look at their work as purely entertainment, while having no concern for conventions and audience expectations. Cole Escola and Jeffery Self’s Desperate Houseboys is creative, original, irreverent and wild. It is Generation Y post-modernism, attacking the notion of comedy with constant references to popular, theatre and gay culture, with the aide of theatrical structures that shift throughout the hour. It is like John Waters, only a lot younger.

Cole Escola and Jeffery Self do not seem to take themselves seriously. There are no discernible politics, and no obvious ambition to their work, but their supreme confidence in their niche is rare and admirable. Their undeniable talent is thoroughly utilised in this production, but it is within their comfort zones that the action takes place. It is high camp and highly amusing, without a need to try being too clever. Maybe because these young men are already extremely clever.

Their performance is energetic, with a manic silliness that characterises their persona and show. Like all great comic duos, the chemistry that exists between Escola and Self is bewilderingly powerful. Escola is more animated of the two, but Self is hardly the Dean Martin in this relationship. Both are outlandish and ridiculous, and it is this meeting of likeness that creates their success. It can be argued that their work requires these same qualities from its audience. This is a show about inside jokes, not necessarily with its themes, but in tone. Desperate Houseboys appeals to a specific sense of humour, one which is neither mainstream nor common. This would then mean that what Escola and Self have here is pure comedy gold for the right audience, but for others, quite possibly the opposite.

Presented as part of the Mardi Gras festival, the question remains whether Escola and Self are too offbeat for the target audience. With LGBT liberation in Sydney entering its fifth decade, and so many advances made in our sociopolitical lives, has the “gay community” become something too mainstream for this brand of madness? Have the Sydney gays gone too straight for a show about lube closets and overgrown twinks?

Review: The Dead Ones (Vitalstatistix)

thedeadonesVenue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Feb 18 – 22, 2014
Playwright: Margie Fischer
Directors: Catherine Fitzgerald
Performers: Margie Fischer

Theatre review
In The Dead Ones, Margie Fischer presents a live reading of her own diary entries from a time of profound loss. Through her reflections, memories and experiences of the mourning process, we are offered an insight into some of the true fundamentals of life. Accompanied by photographs of family members and their home, Fischer’s story is inviting, engaging and universal. Beginning with her parents’ plight in Nazi Austria, through their migration to Shanghai, and eventual settlement in Australia, details of their struggles, as well as happier times, allow us to relate intimately and emotionally.

Fischer’s performance is a generous one. The catharsis resulting from her work is as much for her audience as it is for herself. Death touches everyone but it does not live in everyday discourse. Through Fischer’s meditations about losing all of her immediate family, we see what is of real value in life, and the meanings that are held in images, possessions, relations and places. We think about the things discarded when a person dies, and what is preserved by those left behind. Every mundane thing is turned sacred.

Witnessing a person mourn from close proximity and in detail, we cannot help but contemplate our own relationships. For the good ones we have, we think about gratitude and appreciation. For the others, we are inspired to re-examine circumstances and consider improvements. People often debate on art’s purpose. If art does indeed have a purpose, Margie Fischer’s contribution here is a noble one.