5 Questions with Kit Bennett

kitbennett>What is your favourite swear word?
‘Fuck’ because it is so versatile – it’s the only fucking word that can be put every fucking where and still make fucking sense ūüôā

What are you wearing?
A red top, black trousers and no shoes. I am not a fan of shoes.

What is love?
A wondrous feeling that is rather difficult to put into words. If I were to try, I’d say… It’s exciting, it’s fun, it’s beautiful, it’s scary, it’s within your soul, it’s comforting, it makes you dizzy, it makes you laugh. It’s just a bloody brilliant ride!

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
I last saw Cyrano de Bergerac by Sport for Jove up at Leura. I can’t fault it. I loved every second of it. 5 stars!

Is your new show going to be any good?
Absolutely. There are so many amazingly talented people involved. I hope it will have the audience reflecting on their own spiritual journeys and spark a fair few conversations in the foyer afterwards.

Kit Bennett is one of seven actors in High Windows Low Doorways.
Show dates: 19 – 30 Mar, 2014
Show venue: TAP Gallery

5 Questions with Orlena Steele-Prior

orlenasteelepriorWhat is your favourite swear word?
‘Chupalo conchetumadre!!’ It’s one of the few phrases I know in Spanish.

What are you wearing?
100 denier opaque tights with reeboks and a stripy skirt and cardigan.

What is love?
Love is like a gentle sunny breeze on your face – it’s nurturing, compassionate and light.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
I last saw Cat On A Hot Tin Roof and enjoyed it – was demanding in parts though. I’d give it 3.5 stars.

Is your new show going to be any good?
My new show is going to be awesomeness! Funny, endearing, insightful, charming and sexy. Ooops did I just describe myself? ūüėČ

Orlena Steele-Prior stars as the angel Michaela in Heaven Help Us.
Show dates: 12 – 29 Mar, 2014
Show venue: Bordello Theatre

Review: The Embroidery Girl (China Wuxi Performing Arts Group)

embroiderygirl2Venue: State Theatre (Sydney NSW), Feb 18 – 19, 2014
Choreographer: Zhang Jiwen
Music: Zou Hang
Dancers: Zhang Yashu, Tang Chenglong, Liu Xin, Mi Xia

Theatre review
The Embroidery Girl is a balletic work that encompasses traditional Chinese forms of performance, along with a narrative based on a fable set at the end of the Qing dynasty in the 1910s. While its basic premise is a tragic love story, there is a pervasive and fundamental theme of freedom that provides a solemn resonance that grounds the production. The work does not consciously present itself as a Westernised theatrical form. Instead, we see a show that is thoroughly Chinese, but with a sense of evolution that is shaded by international influences. The work reflects the opening up of societies in China to external cultures, but without an urgency to lose their own.

The company’s style is operatic. The performers on stage do not sing, but there is a strong emphasis on portraying emotional intensity, not just with physicality but also with their faces. To Australian eyes, these are highly exaggerated expressions and do take a little getting used to. The production features four principal dancers, all of whom are charismatic and technically proficient. Leading lady Zhang Yashu is heart and soul of the show, and plays the tortured Xiu Niang whose predicaments are illustrated with rich and dynamic choreography over the 90 minute program. Zhang’s work is precise and powerful, with a luminescence that not only lights up the majestic State Theatre, but also supremely commanding. The ensemble is relegated to playing slightly more than scenery when supporting Zhang. The images she creates with her body and spirit, are sublimely beautiful.

Visual design is accomplished. Lighting is especially thoughtful, giving the show mood, romance and emotion, as well as efficiently and cleverly depicting time and spacial transitions. Costumes are not always elegant but they are effective at providing context and assist greatly with characterisations. Music is expertly created and performed but sadly, not live. Choreography is particularly strong in partner work where lyricism is blended with sharp, abrupt movement for a modern twist. Sections tend to be short, which makes the show feel energetic and exciting.

The Embroidery Girl is grand and fascinating. For Western audiences, its cultural difference¬†possesses an exoticism that reads as colourful and distinctive. Beyond the allure of the unfamiliar, we relate to the universal themes of romantic love, and the pursuit of personal emancipation. Aristotle wrote that the purpose of tragedy is to evoke a wonder born of pity and fear, the result of which is cathartic.¬†Xiu Niang receives very little of what she desires, but Zhang Yashu’s dance for us is inspiring and uplifting.


5 Questions with Sarah Hodgetts

sarahhodgettsWhat is your favourite swear word?
Malakas (my one fluent word in Greek).

What are you wearing?
Brown sandals and a long floral dress with jelly beans in the pockets.

What is love?
Watching someone vomit and not wanting to find someone else to deal with the mess.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
Empire. 4 1/2 stars. It has everything: bendy people, bananas and a strong man balancing a feather.

Is your new show going to be any good?
Define ‘good’‚Ķ if you mean a slick production then yes, but if you mean a well behaved show then absolutely not.

Sarah Hodgetts stars in Tidy Town Of The Year, from Sydney Independent Theatre Co’s 2014 season.
Show dates: 4 – 22 Mar, 2014
Show venue: The Old Fitzroy Hotel

5 Questions with Wayne Tunks

waynetunksWhat is your favourite swear word?
I do love the F word, it is useful for so many things. And as a writer I love to give the C word to women, for me it sounds best when said angrily by a woman.

What are you wearing?
I’m about to head to a Hawaiian themed birthday party so wearing a very dodgy shirt that could burst into flames if I go near an open fire.

What is love?
A great 90’s song by Haddaway and also the theme of my new show. In fact one of the Madonna lyric quotes I use near the front of the show is, “I’m going to tell you about love”.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
James And the Giant Peach that I directed at Christmas featuring 24 students aged 8 – 12 years. I give it 5 wines.

Is your new show going to be any good?
Well the Melbourne audiences seemed to enjoy it for Midsumma at La Mama. And most of the show is set in Sydney, it’s going to be great to come home with this show!

Wayne Tunks stars in Everything I Know I Learnt From Madonna, part of the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras 2014 season.
Show dates: 18 – 22 Feb, 2014
Show venue: The Old Fitzroy Hotel

Review: Once In Royal David‚Äôs City (Belvoir St Theatre)

rsz_auditorium-onceinroyaldavidscityThis review first published in Auditorium Magazine (Spring 2014)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Feb 8 – March 23, 2014
Playwright: Michael Gow
Director: Eamon Flack
Actors: Helen Buday, Brendan Cowell, Maggie Dence, Harry Greenwood, Lech Mackiewicz, Tara Morice, Helen Morse, Anthony Phelan

Theatre review
Michael Gow’s latest work is about political theatre. In both content and form, it explores the meaning of the very concept by delving into the life and writings of Bertolt Brecht, and by telling the story of Will Drummond, a Sydney theatre practitioner dealing with the impending death of his mother. Drummond is invited by a high school to speak to its students on the very topic of political theatre, revealing to us Drummond’s strong feelings about the education system and his passion for his vocation.

Gow’s play consists of a string of monologues by Drummond, either addressing the audience directly, or his sick mother who sleeps through his speeches. Minor characters appear sporadically to assist with plot trajectories, but they exist mostly to illustrate Drummond’s points of discussion. This is essentially a one-man show, where Gow’s own ideas and ideals are thinly veiled as his protagonist’s. It is clear that he has things to say, and he resolves to say them in the most straightforward way possible.

Brendan Cowell is the leading man, and the success and effectiveness of the production rests firmly on the quality of his performance. Cowell possesses the lethal, and contradictory, combination of unassuming looks and enigmatic magnetism. He plays the down-to-earth regular guy with ease, but has a star quality that is persistently captivating.

Cowell plays up his character’s theatricality. We accept that Drummond is going through great turmoil with his mother’s illness, and coupled with an outspoken and flamboyant personality, opportunities open up for impassioned and extravagant rants about the state of the world as seen by both character and writer. Things could easily become grim and repetitive but Cowell’s conviction in every line is impressive, and believable. The actor has an obvious connection to the text, and it is his love for the material that makes us listen, and judging by some of the stirrings in the audience, possibly even persuasive.

A key subject of the play, is the notion of Brecht’s famed “alienation effect” from the original “verfremdungseffekt”, and the popular misunderstanding of that concept to imply an emotional disengagement. Drummond, in his school lecture, expounds that Brecht had actually believed that passion and emotion are in fact important, as it is only through a sense of anger that action will be taken. He further elaborates that apathy and despondency are precisely the sentiments that need to be avoided, and that theatre needs to move away from a state of powerless depression, toward one of questioning and empowerment.

Director Eamon Flack adopts the Brechtian and Marxist influences of Drummond’s life, and stages a production that is¬†carefully and self-awaredly minimal in distraction, and strident with its ideology. Visual design elements are pared down. Lighting is fairly sophisticated, but costumes, sets and props are basic, and only engaged when necessary. Actors are required to be still, only moving when relevant. The “fourth wall” is removed for many of Drummond’s monologues, and songs are sung during scene changes as direct reference to some of Brecht’s documented techniques.

Once In Royal David‚Äôs City is an interesting exercise in the relationship between emotion, theatre practice, and political action. We see a theatre director gradually becoming more socially active through his work, as his personal circumstances turn increasingly emotional. This is not entirely convincing as a storyline, but what is most striking about the production is the assertive volume at which Michael Gow’s own ideologies are pitched. His perspectives have clearly influenced Flack, Cowell and others in the cast, but the extent to which their performance will affect Belvoir’s audience can probably never be certain.


Review: Privates On Parade (New Theatre)

rsz_1069838_594783037267230_490878940_nVenue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Feb 11 ‚Äď Mar 8, 2014
Playwright: Peter Nichols
Music: Denis King
Director: Alice Livingstone
Choreographer: Trent Kidd
Actors: Matt Butcher, Jamie Collette, Peter Eyers, David Hooley, Morgan Junor-Larwood, James Lee, Henry Moss, David Ouch, Diana Perini, Martin Searles, Gerwin Widjaja
Image by Bob Seary

Theatre review
Written in 1977, this “play with music” appeared just two years before the inaugural Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras parade. It contains some of the earliest progressive depictions of same sex relationships, and is an excellent choice for the New Theatre to present it in conjunction with the Mardi Gras festival this year. The work comes from a time before political correctness, and includes many references to ethnicity, gender and sexual preference that could make contemporary audiences cringe, but director Alice Livingstone is mindful of the change in context and deals with those awkward moments shrewdly and with sensitivity.

Livingstone’s decision to add a prologue featuring the “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boys” is a stroke of genius.¬†Gerwin Widjaja, Henry Moss and David Ouch play a trio of drag queens in cheongsams inviting the audience to 1948 Singapore, and providing a side of the fictitious¬†SADUSEA¬†(Song And Dance Unit South East Asia) that is missing from Peter Nichols’ show. More importantly, it showcases the talents of Widjaja and Ouch, who would otherwise have been completely mute as the multiple “oriental men” in the original work.

The greatest strength of this production is its cast. Diana Perini in particular rises to the challenge, and does almost everything one could possibly ask of a performer. She plays comedy and tragedy, sings in ensemble and solo, dances en pointe and on tap heels, gets her top off, and does a mean Indian accent. Her role is not terribly interesting, but she sure makes a jaw-dropping one-woman tour de force out of it. James Lee plays Terri Dennis, the most flamboyant character imaginable. He masters all his song and dance routines, and endears himself as a crowd favourite from his very first appearance. Lee is also very effective in creating chemistry, always bringing out the best in his co-actors when appearing together. There is an effortless warmth to this man that most performers can only dream of. David Hooley is polished and disciplined as Steven Flowers. He seems slight in stature but his singing is big and confident, and his tap dancing is thoroughly impressive. His dreamy “Fred and Ginger” style sequence with Perini is most memorable.

Politics shift constantly, and ideologies evolve. Old works of art can be left behind and buried, but creativity can unearth and shine new light on them. We need not be afraid of mistakes past, if we learn to deal with them at every developed age. A 1977 comedy about British forces in 1948 Singapore, has crossed many borders, time and geographical, to reach this point. It is with refreshed enlightenment and a sense of progressiveness that should mark our approach to it today.


Review: Sweet Charity (Luckiest Productions / Neil Gooding Productions)

rsz_sc_0005_bps4219Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), Feb 7 – Mar 9, 2014
Book: Neil Simon
Music: Cy Coleman
Lyrics: Dorothy Fields
Director: Dean Bryant
Choreography: Andrew Hallsworth
Musical Direction: Andrew Worboys
Actors: Verity Hunt-Ballard, Martin Crewes, Debora Krizak, Lisa Sontag

Theatre review
Bob Fosse directed and choreographed the iconic Sweet Charity, on stage and on film, in the late 1960s. The dance sequences are some of the most striking moving images ever seen, so one of the main challenges in staging the work today would be the treatment given to the re-creation of those scenes.

The current production at Hayes Theatre Co, helmed by director Dean Bryant and choreographer Andrew Hallsworth straddles between faithfulness and innovation. There is an acknowledgment that times and audiences have changed, but also an awareness that the immortal is a hard act to follow. Bryant’s adaptation uses the theatre’s spacial limitations to his advantage, and turns the work into an intimate and emotionally rich experience. There is a sense of things being scaled down, but for the most part, he achieves a good intensity on stage that results from the distillation of something conceptually grander. Hallsworth’s thankless task of re-interpreting Fosse’s choreography is surprisingly effective,¬†even if the numbers “Hey Big Spender” and “Rich Man’s Frug” do leave us pining desperately for the film.

Visual elements are especially noteworthy. Ross Graham’s lighting is varied, dynamic and sensually appealing,¬†providing the minimal set an aura of tragic beauty. It also gives logic to time and place, making the innumerable scene transitions happen flawlessly. Tim Chappel’s costumes and Ben Moir’s wigs are thoughtful and impactful without being overwhelming. They tell the story of the characters even before they begin to speak.

Martin Crewes plays a trio of Charity’s men, and delights with every role. The energy he brings to the stage is staggering, and he possesses a headstrong determination that is seductive and commanding. Crewes impresses with his powerful and creative song interpretations, and is responsible for both the funniest and saddest moments of the show in his role of Oscar. Debora Krizak shines as Nickie, one of the more jaded dance hall hostesses, and is easily the raunchiest and most colourful of characters. Krizak’s ability to portray earthiness and pathos is a real highlight. Verity Hunt-Ballard is the star of the show, with a vocal talent that makes Charity’s songs more meaningful than ever. The comic elements of the role are difficult (it’s not the funniest of scripts), but Hunt-Ballard is deeply moving at every tragic turn.

Sweet Charity can be thought of as pre-feminist. It constantly defines its women in terms of their relationships with men, and depicts their work in the adult industry as unquestionably pessimistic. All efforts are made for them to appear vivacious and intelligent, but their desires are left unexamined and unevolved. Unlike Fosse’s film, this production does not leave you with thoughts of glitz, glamour and glossy dance routines. Instead, it makes you ponder the big questions in our lives… and the meaning of love.




Review: Thank You For Being A Friend (Matthew Management / Neil Gooding Productions)

goldengirlsVenue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Feb 13 – 28, 2014
Playwrights: Thomas Duncan-Watt, Jonathan Worsley
Directors: Neil Gooding, Luke Joslin
Performers: Julia Billington, Chrystal de Grussa, Donna Lee, Darren Mapes, Nigel Turner-Carroll

Theatre review
The Golden Girls was a big TV hit series in the 1980s, and has left an indelible mark on audiences everywhere. Many of us remember catchphrases, character traits, relationship dynamics, and plot structures. Indeed it is nostalgia that gives this revival in puppetry form its appeal. There are minor references to contemporary culture (like a “cell phone”, Fifty Shades Of Grey and Kim Kardashian), but effort was put into a show and script that is absolutely faithful to the original. The set is a delightful re-creation. We even get ad breaks that feature commercials from the era, of defunct fashion labels and forgotten brands.

All four puppeteers have a thorough understanding of the roles they assume. The mannerisms and voices they replicate are funny and thoroughly delightful. Donna Lee’s depiction of Sophia is endearing and, like on the TV show, delivers the biggest punchlines. Darren Mapes facial expressions are so reminiscent of Beatrice Arthur’s Dorothy, one probably looks at him more than his puppet. Julia Billington never fails to get a laugh whenever she brings up St. Olaf as Rose, and Chrystal de Grussa’s Blanche is a hilariously overblown version of Blanche Devereaux, whose “man-eater” antics remain uproariously ridiculous. Also noteworthy is Nigel Turner-Carroll, the fifth member of the cast who tackles a host of male support characters with aplomb and great humour.

The production is part of the 2014 Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras program, not only because of Blanche’s gay son’s appearance, but also because of our memories of the original series’ efforts at discussing issues such as coming out, same-sex marriage, AIDS and discrimination against people with HIV. This loving tribute has rekindled a strangely deep relationship between audience and those golden girls.¬†These ladies are fictional, but they are also dear friends.


Review: Falsettos (Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

falsettos1Venue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Feb 7 – Mar 16, 2014
Book by William Finn, James Lapine
Music and lyrics: William Finn
Director: Stephen Colyer
Co-musical directors: Nigel Ubrihien, Chris King
Actors: Stephen Anderson, Margi de Ferranti, Ben Hall, Tamlyn Henderson, Elise McCann, Katrina Retallick, Isaac Shaw
Image by Helen White

Theatre review
Falsettos is a musical that has everything. More than that, Darlinghurst Theatre’s latest production achieves excellence on many different levels, and provides a theatrical experience that exceeds many shows in Sydney of much grander scales (with far heftier price tags). This is a modest and intimate interpretation of an off-Broadway musical that first took form in 1981, but it surprises with the emotional punch it delivers, and the incredibly impressive standard of choreography, direction and performance.

When an actor is allowed to showcase the clich√©d triple-threat in demanding roles, results can be breathtaking, and in the case of lead man Tamlyn Henderson, it is definitely so. Henderson’s performance is skilful and complex. He draws laughter and tears, all the while being Mr Showbiz, all booming singing voice and nifty footwork, but simultaneously completely believable and tender in his characterisation.¬†Henderson is in a word, fantastic.

Katrina Retallick brings an extraordinary warmth to her Trina, and performs the single most memorable number of the night, based entirely on a step aerobics routine. Young actor Isaac Shaw steals hearts in the role of the irresistibly cute Jason, displaying talent and ability that matches up confidently to his adult counterparts.

In spite of his¬†ugly wig and spectacles,¬†Stephen Anderson’s natural charisma is clearly evident. His comic ability is well utilised in the show, and his singing voice is delightfully versatile and reliably resonant. Ben Hall provides the story’s eye candy, and certainly lives up to that challenge. Thankfully, Hall imbues his role with a healthy sense of humour, and is a strong enough singer to hold his own (but does suffer a little from the lack of microphones). It must be noted that¬†Nigel Ubrihien’s solo piano accompaniment is outstanding, and does what a full orchestra sometimes fails to do. The feel and accuracy he contributes to the sonic landscape of the production is absolutely crucial and perfectly executed.

Visual design elements are effective but understated. Ingenuity is shown in the use of seven coffin-like structures that are incorporated elegantly into stage design and choreography, but could probably benefit from a little sprucing up. Our eyes focus on characters, while set, props, costumes and lighting take a back seat in this musical.

Director Stephen Colyer’s extensive background in dance shines through brilliantly. His use of movement and the physical form is intricate, deeply considered, and beautiful. The lines between choreography and direction are entirely blurred. Characters never dance for the sake of dancing alone. Every move is for character development and storytelling. Colyer obviously knows all there is to know about entertainment and show pacing, but he is also careful to handle the material with sensitivity and spirituality, which in turn produces a good level of depth that accompanies the sentimentalities that pervade the writing. The show he has created is artistically inventive and technically accomplished. It is also highly entertaining, thought provoking and full of humanity. This is the musical format thoroughly evolved.