Review: All’s Well That Ends Well (Sport For Jove Theatre)

rsz_img_63263574684765Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Mar 27 – Apr 12, 2014
Playwright: William Shakespeare
Director: Damien Ryan
Actors: Christopher Stalley, Christopher Tomkinson, Damien Strouthos, Edmund Lembke-Hogan, Eloise Winestock, Francesca Savige, George Banders, James Lugton, Megan Drury, Michael Pigott, Robert Alexander, Robin Goldsworthy, Sam Haft, Sandra Eldridge, Teresa Jakovich
Image by Seiya Taguchi

Theatre review
Sport For Jove’s production of Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well is sleek and action-packed. Damien Ryan’s direction makes every effort to reach out to his audience to keep us mesmerised and entertained. Like a Hollywood film, everything is made to be seductive, but Ryan has the fortunate knack of giving things a sense of sophistication, including full frontal nudity and a completely insane love story.

One of the Bard’s “problem plays”, it is both a tragedy and a comedy. Ryan takes advantage of its “dramedy” quality and forms a creation full of texture and surprise, maneuvering around the text with a freedom that flaunts his artistic genius and courage. His interpretation is utterly contemporary, frequently fantastical and flamboyant, but never inappropriately so. Shakespeare’s outlandish writing meets its match in Ryan’s wildness. Acutely aware of the pleasure derived from visceral responses in the theatre, Ryan magnifies elements of eroticism, humour, tension and shock that are found in the original text, but also has the talent to keep the central story engaging and plot lines coherent. In other words, his direction leaves nothing more to want.

Shakespeare’s male characters are generally more interesting, and that is certainly the case here. The men in the cast have much more room to play, and their work dominates this stage. Edmund Lembke-Hogan is perfectly cast as Bertram. He has the good looks that make the ludicrous love story almost believable. His performance is spirited but precise, with commanding energy that fills the venue and a disciplined focus that keeps his character defined in spite of the often chaotic settings. Conversely, George Banders shines with the looseness in his acting style. Banders is a thoroughly funny and charming man whose character Parolles is easily the most liked of the show. He reads the audience well, and times his delivery impeccably to get us laughing at every opportunity. The production’s comedy makes its three hours feel a mere breath, and Banders is responsible for the best of it. The King of France is played by Robert Alexander who exemplifies charisma and experience. The meticulous detail in his portrayal turns a smaller role into a spellbinding one. His chemistry with co-actors is excellent but the gravity he brings on stage prevents him from ever being outshone.

Set, lighting and sound design are incredibly impressive. Ambitious in scale and scope, the creatives have outdone themselves with a show that is glorious in its look and feel. Its physical environment seems to be perpetually changing, and except for some mechanical noise issues, stage management is executed quite flawlessly. The versatility of Antoinette Barboutis’ set is a real marvel, but costume design is the one blemish in this grand visual experience.

The story is not an appealing one. A woman going to extremes for the love of a man who had shown her only disdain and humiliation is hardly a great idea for today’s stages, but Sport For Jove Theatre’s magical endeavour has transformed a 500 year-old script into a night of glorious theatre. Shakespeare was their starting point, but where they have ended up is a place beyond his wildest dreams.

www.sportforjove.com.au

Review: Stitching (Little Spoon Theatre Co)

stitchingVenue: TAP Gallery (Darlinghurst NSW), Mar 26 – Apr 12, 2014
Playwright: Anthony Neilson
Director: Mark Westbrook
Music: Chelsea Reed
Actors: Lara Lightfoot, Wade Doolan

Theatre review
Stitching by Anthony Neilson is cleverly written. It includes many ingredients that makes for great theatre; entertainment, shock value, emotional depth, realistic characters, an unusual story, and a brilliantly structured timeline. Neilson’s script is irresistible, and it is to Little Spoon Theatre Co’s great credit that they have identified and imported it from the UK for the Sydney audience.

Mark Westbrook’s direction anchors the production in a space of grief. A heavy aching permeates, and the atmosphere he creates is dark and severe. It feels authentic, but the narrow range of moods can be a little fatiguing. The thoroughness at which he has excavated the text with his cast is impressive. Every word is charged with intention and imagery, keeping us completely enthralled for the entire duration. The use of music (composed and performed live by Chelsea Reed) lets us breathe and reflect between scenes. Reed’s work adds beauty and helps release the suppressed sentimentalities of the characters. Westbrook paces the show well and his handling of the unusual timeline is marvellous work, but misses an opportunity at the crucial climax to shock the audience as the script obviously intends. Opening night jitters perhaps?

Both actors are wonderful in this production. Lara Lightfoot’s moments of subtlety and verve are perfectly apportioned. She is a naturally exuberant performer, but knows how to work with restraint to create a palpable intensity that is unforced and captivating. Her Abby is a remarkably intriguing character who is also convincing and realistic. Wade Doolan’s delicate performance as Stuart is a thoughtful and touching one. The sense of loss he portrays is readily identifiable, and the generous complexity in his characterisation gives the play its humanity. The chemistry between both actors is superb. A rare level of trust exists that creates an environment allowing no stone to be unturned, and their extensive exploration as players in this work makes for extraordinarily rich theatre.

www.littlespoontheatre.com

Review: Six Characters In Search Of An Author (Sydney University Dramatic Society)

sixcharactersVenue: University of Sydney Studio B (Camperdown NSW), Mar 26 – 29, 2014
Director: Saro Lusty-Cavallari
Playwright: Luigi Pirandello, adapted by Saro Lusty-Cavallari
Actors: Laura Barandregt, Sam Brewer, Jacinta Gregory, Joshua Free, Zerrin Craig-Adams, Lucinda Vitek, Stella Ktenas, Tansy Gardam, Nick Welsh, Alexander Richmond, Melissa McShane, Geneva Gilmour, Alex Magowan, Meg McLellan

Theatre review
Luigi Pirandello’s original was first created almost a century ago. It explores philosophical concepts of identity, and the nature of the theatrical arts. Saro Lusty-Cavallari’s update of Six Characters In Search Of An Author for the Sydney University Dramatic Society demonstrates that the central mechanics of Pirandello’s work contains fundamental truisms that retain their resonance, in spite of time’s passage and the gimmicky structure of the play.

Lusty-Cavallari’s brave decision in staging this text pays off. It is obviously a challenging proposition, and there are several sections in the first act that lack clarity, but he has created something fascinating and strangely engaging. Big questions about self-identity are presented with complexity and intrigue. We think about the meaning of personalities, how they are formed, and their elasticity. It is always a pleasure examining existentialist open-ended questions, and Lusty-Cavallari clearly has a flair in dealing with them in a delicate manner.

The director’s elegant use of space shows a good aesthetic eye, and his management of actors is also accomplished. The cast is a strong one, with Sam Brewer’s performance as The Father giving the show an excellent sense of confidence and finesse. Brewer’s love for words shines through, and our attention is firmly held by it. He is not the most agile of artistes, but the physical vocabulary he does have is perfectly suited to the task on hand. Laura Barandregt plays the role of the Assistant Director, and gives the show a necessary lightness that the audience is unquestionably grateful for. Her conviction for the stage is obvious, but the casualness of her demeanour can be distracting at times. Zerrin Craig-Adams is an effervescent character, with energy that brings a lot of life to the stage. She is an ambitious actor, and will no doubt develop her techniques to greater refinement in time.

To tackle challenging art is noble. It is a hallmark of civilisation when people take on things that seem too difficult and uncertain. Six Characters In Search Of An Author is about asking questions, and trusting that providing answers is only secondary if at all relevant. This show might not always make sense but it is tautly composed. It is colourful and entertaining, even as its intellectualism seeps out of every pore.

www.sudsusyd.com

5 Questions with Megan Drury

megandruryWhat is your favourite swear word?
Favourite, “Cunt” – delicious in the mouth (innuendo intended)
Most used, “Fuck” – and it’s various conjugations (pun intended)
For particularly frustrating moments (and only to myself) I find a whole improvised emphatic grammatically incorrect string of random expletives very useful.

What are you wearing?
Oh, um… undies.

What is love?
1) An English word used to linguistically interpret strong feelings of compassion, affection, appreciation, attraction, attachment…
2) Freedom and liberation from fear / Pure creativity / An incredible flow of boundless, open energy
3) The Beast (reference: Bloodletting, Concrete Blonde. circa 1990)

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
I saw two shows last week. Stars, out of 5… Stop Kiss 4 1/2, and Once In Royal David’s City 3 1/2.

Is your new show going to be any good?
I’m in a repertory season of two Shakespeare plays! And yes… yes… a thousand times yes!! Twelfth Night, Or What You Will is a remount, so we already know it’s a wonderful, lively, hilarious, moving, joy of a production! You won’t have seen a Twelfth Night like this ever, come along! And… All’s Well That Ends Well is going to be remarkable! Reshaped and freshly interpreted. A rarely performed Shakespeare, it’s an absolute must see, don’t miss it!

Megan Drury is appearing in Twelfth Night and All’s Well That Ends Well.
Show dates: 27 Mar – 12 Apr, 2014
Show venue: Seymour Centre