Review: To Kill A Mockingbird (New Theatre)

rsz_1393776_612820905463443_633420420_nVenue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Mar 18 – Apr 19, 2014
Playwright: Christopher Sergel (from the novel by Harper Lee)
Director: Annette Rowlison
Actors: Khadija Ali, Katy Avery, Claudette Clarke, Sarah Carroll, Teagan Croft, Cheyne Fynn, Steve Donelan, Christine Greenough, John Keightley, Dave Kirkham, Kai Lewins, Craig Meneaud, Hudson Musty, David Ross, Donna Sizer, Lynden Jones, Peter Maple, Ryan Whitworth
Image by Bob Seary

Theatre review
Harper Lee’s book was published in 1960, and has since become one of the most popular novels in modern times. Its central theme of social injustice remains poignant and the depiction of its characters’ courage to oppose them, is no less powerful half a century later. New Theatre’s staging is mindful of the story’s significances and director Annette Rowlison’s work pays reverence to our collective memory of To Kill A Mockingbird, whether in the form of book, film or theatre.

Rowlinson’s rendering of the American South in the 1930s has a charming and sentimental beauty. There is a joyfulness in watching children play outside, and neighbours going about their daily business on their porches and front lawns. The trio of child actors, led by Teagan Croft as Scout, bring magic to the stage with their undeniable talent, and Rowlinson’s ability to create chemistry between these vibrant children and their adult counterparts is central to the success of the show. In fact, the show only falters in the court scenes where the children are not in prominence.

Atticus Finch is played by Lynden Jones with great integrity. The subtlety in his performance is an intelligent choice for a character that audiences know so well. There is no need to explain who Atticus is. He takes into account our familiarity, and saves his dramatics only for a handful of emotional scenes. Jones’ most heightened moment happens in the courtroom, and his powerful delivery rescues that scene from being otherwise slightly low on energy.

The support cast is uniformly strong. In fact all actors bring something special and each have memorable moments in the production. Katy Avery as Mayella Ewell transforms her simple role into a riveting one, and the intensity at which she attacks her part is a highlight. Claudette Clarke’s Calpurina is grounded and tender. She has a relaxed confidence that is very enjoyable. Sarah Carroll plays Maudie Atkinson, who is the Finchs’ neighbour and our narrator. She brings an air of upbeat optimism that is comforting, and also provides an effective voice of reason that is a crucial mechanism of the plot.

Boo Radley’s appearance towards the conclusion can be tricky to handle, but Rowlinsons’ artistic sensitivity shines through and the scene is a triumph. A moving crescendo is delivered, and the moral of the tale is brought home. It is impossible to not love To Kill A Mockingbird. We have all experienced ostracism, and we have all witnessed discrimination. Boo Radley lives in all of us, and to see him materialise and lovingly depicted on stage, is profound.

Review: Quack (Sydney University Dramatic Society)

rsz_1img_5842Venue: University of Sydney Studio B (Camperdown NSW), Mar 19 – 22, 2014
Director: Zach Beavon-Collin
Playwright: Ian Wilding
Actors: Nick Welsh, Alexander Richmond, Melissa McShane, Geneva Gilmour, Alex Magowan, Meg McLellan

Theatre review
Ian Wilding’s fantastical script is action-packed, funny, and satirical. Its influences are genre film and popular television, which makes it a natural choice for the young theatre makers at University of Sydney. Using the western and zombie genres, and taking inspiration from the Australian adversarial political system, Wilding creates a strange bygone world in which everything seems to be an analogy for the state of our world today.

The Sydney University Dramatic Society’s production is as playful as the script allows. Zach Beavon-Collin’s direction makes lovely use of the atmospherics, greatly assisted by lighting and music design, and indulges heavily in the gory details of all the zombie action. His work will be remembered for blood and pus that overtakes the stage for a good half of the show, which is unfortunate for the actors whose performances are subsumed by the theme park quality of the experience.

The cast is a committed one, but the humour of Wilding’s writing proves to be challenging. Alex Magowan is an exception, leaving an impression with consistently effective comedy. His portrayal of Gunner as an overblown caricature is exaggeratedly brash but a very welcome presence to scenes in the first act that tend to be lacking in energy. Meg McLellan is another supporting actor who shines in each of her appearances. She plays Rodney with a sense of precision, and provides an authenticity that sets her apart as being the most polished of the group. Alexander Richmond is strongest of the leads. His Dr Littlewood takes some time to develop, but in zombie form, the actor is impressive (and repulsive).

As mentioned before, some of the technical elements and music are crucial to the more successful aspects of this production. Josie Gibson’s original score is an accomplished one and often steals the show. Lighting designer Chrysanti Chandra works with minimal facilities, but does well to manufacture a lushness in the show’s moodier sections. These artists might be young and hungry for experience, but they prove themselves to be anything but a bunch of quacks.

Review: Short+Sweet Theatre 2014 (Short+Sweet)

rsz_1529736_585635138198747_2022174908_oVenue: King St Theatre (Newtown NSW) and Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Jan 8 – Mar 22, 2014
Festival Director: Pete Malicki

Theatre review
Short+Sweet Theatre in Sydney featured 160 ten-minute plays this year. After 10 weeks of performances at the King Street Theatre in Newtown, a Gala event was held on Mar 21 at the larger Seymour Centre, featuring 12 of the best and most memorable. The selection is fairly varied, and would appeal to a wide range of audience types, but unsurprisingly, most of the work that have made the cut are comedic, with only two exceptions.

The Blue Balloon, written by Angie Farrow is a surrealist piece that uses visual design and physical theatre to tell its story. Direction is a little lacking in focus, but the team’s radical approach to the short play format is admirable. Late For School is the only work of tragedy at the Gala. Written by Iain Moss and directed by Lisa Eismen, the play stands out not only for being entirely different in tone, it was also the only monologue of the night. Its structure uses suspense, tension and drama beautifully, and actor Patricia Rowling does a splendid job taking us from curiosity to sadness in a very short time.

The night featured many fine performances including Lynda Leavers in Moonage Daydream by Vee Malnar, in which she plays a very drunk David Bowie fan. Her comic timing is exceptional, and so is Richard Carwin’s in Therapist by John Lombard, who captivates with a performance based on gay and straight stereotypes. In the work Nana, conventions are broken. Writer Micah Joel and director Tom Richards have created a thoughtful piece about sexuality in the elderly. Ros Richards’ daring and playful performance as the sexually liberated Nana is a rare treat. A hint of sadness appears towards the end of her story, which seems to add more complexity than the short format allows, but it is a nice touch nonetheless, to try to keep things in a realistic space.

It is noteworthy that through the entire Short+Sweet season, which also includes Short+Sweet Dance and Short+Sweet Cabaret, the rate of participation by women is significantly high. This is a festival that women are drawn to, and one where they do brilliantly. Some Other Toy by Fleur Beaupert features more sexual liberation, this time in a young woman, and a young female robot. It features some of the more original and fascinating concepts in the program, but its innovation is cleverly paired with a lot of laughs, making it a surprising crowd-pleaser. Wild Flowers (deftly directed by Alexandra Hines, pictured above) is another work helmed by funny women. Lauren O’Rourke’s performance as Violet is the most outrageous of the night and her ten minutes of incredible comedy is glorious.

After 12 years of growth, the Short+Sweet festival has produced around 2,500 plays and now finds itself in six different countries. Its success demonstrates that the demand and need for it is real. Practitioners want to participate in it, whether as a means to some other end, or as a destination in its own right, and audiences flock to it to see what our artists are cooking up. The cream of this year’s crop is undoubtedly excellent, but it is also the sheer volume of artists involved (750+ writers, directors and actors) that is impressive. The theatrical arts are indeed thriving in Sydney.

List of prize winners below:

Best Actress runner up

Best Actor runner up

Best Actress

Best Actor

Best Script
BLABBERMOUTH by Cerise de Gelder (VIC)

Best Director

Best Newcomer (Male)
DREW HOLMES of Newcastle (Star of ADVANCED by Jo Ford)

Best Newcomer (Female)
ROBYN PATERSON (writer, director and star of one-woman show THE SOUTH AFREAKINS)

Overall People’s Choice Winner
THERAPIST – writer-directors Rob White & Leah White, starring Richard Carwin & Rowena McNicol

Overall People’s Choice Winner
GUIDED BY VOICES by Mark Konik (ACT) directed by Florence Kermet and Rosemary Ghazi, starring Jamie Merendino, Nat Jobe, Kat Hoyos and Aimee Timmins

Overall Wildcards Winner
THE BLUE BALLOON by Angie Farrow, directed by Cecile Payet and starring Daniel Gorski, Rachael Williams, Hannah Zaslawski, Anthony White, Lyna Collins, Ethan Lowinger, Olga Pagrati, Brooke Doherty and Ivan Kurnia

Best Production
MOONAGE DAYDREAM by Vee Malnar, directed by Tom Richards, starring Greg Wilken and Lynda Leavers

5 Questions with Vanessa Cole

vanessacoleWhat is your favourite swear word?
I say shit a lot. It’s simple, it’s old fashioned but it’s good.

What are you wearing?
My staples: a smile, an element of corny and my pyjamas.

What is love?
Holy shit. Love is everything. It sends you crazy and completely sane at the same time. It’s insatiably addictive. It’s courage-making. It’s here to stay.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
Clybourne Park at Ensemble. It’s excellent. Poignant, moving and wonderfully executed.

Is your new show going to be any good?
No. Ok, that’s a lie :p It’s going to be brill! It’s adorable, it’s dark, it’s surreal. There are puppets, monsters and skinks, AND it explores characters and themes we generally don’t see on stage. This is my kind of show. Winning!

Vanessa Cole is appearing in Cough.
Show dates: 10 – 20 Apr, 2014
Show venue: 107 Projects

Review: High Windows Low Doorways (Subtlenuance)

subtlenuanceVenue: TAP Gallery (Darlinghurst NSW), Mar 19 – 30, 2014
Playwrights: Jonathan Ari Lander, Noelle Janaczewska, Katie Pollock, Alison Rooke, Mark Langham, Ellana Costa, Melita Rowston
Director: Paul Gilchrist
Actors: Alice Keohavong, Helen Tonkin, Peter McAllum, Matt Butcher, Kit Bennett, Gavin Roach, Naomi Livingstone
Image by Zorica Purlija

Theatre review
Subtlenuance’s new production features seven monologues by seven different actors and seven different playwrights. The monologues are presented as a cohesive whole by director Paul Gilchrist, although it is always clear where each story begins and ends. The theme that binds them is the concept of spirituality, with a focus on the actors’ personal experiences, rather than their beliefs.

Common themes emerge. We hear revelations about family, religion and the metaphysical. We also see a sense of struggle that often comes into play in these reflections on spiritual lives. Naomi Livingstone’s piece starts in a space of hopelessness and pain. Her performance is heartfelt and sincere, with a powerful emotional quality that she tends to slightly over-indulge in. Nevertheless, the authenticity in her expression invites us in and helps us connect with her story. Ellana Costa’s interpretation of her story is well structured, and the imagery they create is vivid and uplifting. Gavin Roach’s style is vibrant and camp. The actor’s enjoyment of the stage and his eagerness in keeping his audience engaged, makes him the most entertaining of the group. Mark Langham’s script for Roach’s story is probably the most complex in the show, which helps the performer craft a segment that is more elaborate, physical and livelier than the others.

Matt Butcher’s piece about his grandmother is one of loss and longing. He craves an impossible meeting with her, and finds solace in his memories of their time together. Jonathan Ari Lander does a good job putting those recollections to words, and Butcher uses them to paint a bitter sweet picture of reminiscence and love. In a similar vein, Helen Tonkin recalls her father, further illustrating the link between family and spirituality. Assisted by Peter McAllum’s performance, their depiction of the father and daughter relationship tenderly demonstrates the depth at which childhood experiences affect our lives.

The trouble with monologues is that they are too often written without keeping in mind the other senses that an audience brings with it to the theatre. There must be a difference between reading a poem or a memoir on paper, and going to see a staged performance. There are instances in this production that feel as though the writing would have worked better in a book, but the personal nature of the material helps make the production feel earnest and accessible. There is a resonance that exists where people dig deep to tell personal stories, and in High Windows Low Doorways, the cast wants us to hear them, but the commonality of our experiences also makes us feel heard.

5 Questions with Ainslie McGlynn

ainsliemcglynnWhat is your favourite swear word?
Darn 😉

What are you wearing?
Leopard print pants and a black singlet.

What is love?
Life force.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
Privates On Parade. 4 fabulous stars.

Is your new show going to be any good?
You’re kidding me?




Ainslie McGlynn is appearing in A Moment On The Lips, with Mad March Hare Theatre Company.
Show dates: 25 Mar – 12 Apr, 2014
Show venue: The Old Fitzroy Hotel

Review: Clybourne Park (Ensemble Theatre)

clybourneparkVenue: Ensemble Theatre (Kirribilli NSW), Mar 13 – Apr 19, 2014
Playwright: Bruce Norris
Director: Tanya Goldberg
Actors: Paula Arundell, Thomas Campbell, Briallen Clarke, Nathan Lovejoy, Wendy Strehlow, Richard Sydenham, Cleave Williams

Theatre review
Bruce Norris’ multi-award winning play is a stunning work about racism and its manifestations in American neighbourhoods. By looking at the formation of communities and the process of home acquisition over the last 50 years, Norris captures the evolution of attitudes regarding ethnic diversity and political correctness in the USA. It is a script that is dynamic, entertaining and funny, while maintaining a complexity that reflects the intricately divergent beliefs we hold on the subject. We all accept that racism is not to be tolerated, but it is our individual and differing definitions of the concept that gives Clybourne Park its dramatic exuberance.

Direction by Tanya Goldberg for this production by the Ensemble Theatre is exciting and impressive. Goldberg’s work is full of intellectual depth but also gleefully entertaining. She relishes in the dark and sometimes sardonic humour of the script, making us laugh at every opportunity but always keeping us aware of the precariousness of the topics being discussed. We are never sure if our laughter is appropriate, and we are constantly required to assess the political correctness of our responses to what unfolds on stage. Goldberg’s achievement in creating an electric piece of theatre, while presenting some of the bravest and most contentious points of view on race, is truly remarkable.

This cast of seven is magnificent. Each player takes on two roles (except Thomas Campbell who adds an extra one at the end), and every character we see is thoroughly explored and colourfully executed. The chemistry between all is playful and powerful. It is quite incredible to see a stage full of infallible actors with so much confidence and surety in their undertaking. Nathan Lovejoy’s impeccable timing is showcased well without his comic abilities overwhelming the deeper meanings being communicated. Several scenes involving Lovejoy’s characters speaking with varying degrees of offensiveness are delivered with a poignant irony that is dangerous and delicious. Briallen Clarke is animated and vivacious, with a natural ability at commanding attention. She is a charming and funny actor who creates endearing characters effortlessly. Richard Sydenham brings charisma and gravity to his roles. The dramatic tension he creates as Russ is absolutely enthralling theatre. Paula Arundell has two very different roles but introduces the same amount of passion into both. Her dignified performance in Act 1 transforms into something more unexpected and complex in the second half. Her characters are interesting and challenging, giving the play a sense of daring edginess.

There are things in life that are difficult to articulate due to the many valid yet conflicting perspectives that apply. Politics is distilled by the media into simple, black and white sound bites, and our minds and thoughts are shaped accordingly. Clybourne Park is a reminder that our world is infinitely large, and perpetually evolving. In our navigation through different lives and communities, rules and social norms are constantly in flux. Our minds need to always be developing because nothing ever stays the same, least of all the sensitive needs of human beings.