Review: Cruise Control (Ensemble Theatre)

ensembleVenue: Ensemble Theatre (Kirribilli NSW), Apr 26 – Jun 14, 2014
Playwright: David Williamson
Director: David Williamson
Actors: Helen Dallimore, Michelle Doake, Kate Fitzpatrick, Kenneth Moraleda, Peter Phelps, Henri Szeps, Felix Williamson
Image by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
This review will discuss several key plot details that are controversial and problematic, including the play’s conclusion, which is extremely contentious. If you do not wish to discover specifics of the show, it is advisable that you return to this review after attending the performance.

Cruise Control features 3 married couples on a cruise liner, and their service attendant. The travellers are differentiated by nationality, but they are all of Caucasian appearance. All are wealthy, but the show goes to great lengths to demonstrate their individually distinct characteristics, using the most old fashioned stereotypes to set up dynamics. The posh British, the laid-back Australians, and the elderly Jewish New Yorkers.

Felix Williamson plays British writer Richard Manton, the most outrageously offensive character imaginable. He is pompous, insulting, self-absorbed, and slaps his wife in the face. The man has no redeeming features, but the actor’s work is marvellous, providing scene after scene of tension and frisson. Fiona Manton is played by Michelle Doake who does a good job of providing some dignity to a woman who inexplicably remains in love with an awful man who abuses her. She is successful in her career and owns everything in the Manton household, but bizarrely persists with her dysfunctional marriage. At the end of the voyage, we catch a glimpse of her emancipation due to the sudden death of her husband, only to discover that she is plunging immediately into another relationship with a co-worker who has declared his love via the internet. Doake is a strong actor, but not even Meryl Streep can make this turn of events digestible.

Imogen Brodie is an Australian woman, with no vocation or discernible talent. Played by Helen Dallimore who has excellent presence and timing, Mrs Brodie is an attractive wife, who swans around complaining about her husband and flirting with Richard Manton, and eventually serves as the unwitting seductress who causes the death of Manton. The charismatic Peter Phelps takes on the role of dinky di larrikin Darren Brodie. He is irreverent, spends too much time working on his surf wear business, and is more than a little rough around the edges. He might be covered in tattoos and a “Bra Boy”, but because he tells Manton to stop hitting his wife, gives bottles of expensive champagne to service staff, and refuses to wear a dinner suit, he is depicted as the Aussie with a heart of gold. Phelps might be extremely likeable, but having him commit murder at the very end of the play, and inviting applause for it is completely preposterous.

The Wassermans are played by stage and screen veterans Kate Pitzpatrick and Henri Szeps. Aside from inconsistencies in their New York accents, both put on charming performances and provide all the humour that is required of their characters. Szeps shines in his supporting role, with a brilliant playfulness that makes his character endearing and enjoyable. Fitzpatrick is strong in her role, but she does not escape the uniformly poor representation of females in this outing. Silky Wasserman issues several threats to her cowering husband, constantly talking about divorce only to reveal that her menace is empty and frivolous.

It is arguable whether the explicit identification of the Wasserman’s Jewish heritage is necessary, but there is no question that the inclusion of Filipino cruise attendant Charlie, is problematic. Played by Kenneth Moraleda, Charlie seems to exist purely to show some kind of strange altruistic awareness that there are less fortunate people in the world. He does not participate in the main narratives, except to serve alcohol to the main players. We do however, hear about his struggles at making ends meet, which is totally irrelevant to the stories unfolding. Worse still, the guests make a big gesture of a generous gratuity payment when saying goodbye, further humiliating Charlie’s position of servitude. Also inappropriate is Phelps mimicking a Chinese language when on the phone for business dealings. Many in the opening night crowd did find it funny, but it is clearly nothing more than an archaic stunt that is terribly ill judged.

David Williamson’s writing is loved by many, but this latest work does not live up to that adulation. Several flaws in his directing ability are also exposed, most notably with the inelegant use of space, and frequently awkward handling of scene transitions. There is however, good chemistry between all actors, and the plot does communicate clearly at every point. This is a production that is technically accomplished, with every element of design and performance coming across polished and professional, which makes this lost opportunity even more lamentable.

Review: Shakespeare’s Reservoir Dogs (The Vanguard)

reservoirdogsVenue: The Vanguard (Newtown NSW), Apr 29 – May 2, 2014
Playright: Steven Hopley (based on the screenplay by Roger Avary and Quentin Tarantino)
Director: Steven Hopley
Actors: Chris Miller, Richard Hilliar, Diego AR Melo, Lukasz Embart, Jerry Retford, Patrick Magee, Leof Kingsford-Smith, Anthony Campanella, Dominic Santangelo

Theatre review
Quentin Tarantino’s 1992 film debut, Reservoir Dogs established him early on as a popular new auteur. Combining violence, humour, popular culture references and non-linear narratives, Tarantino’s distinctive and refreshing style captured the attention of many, and the film has now garnered cult classic status. Steven Hopley’s new adaptation is a faithful yet radical retelling, keeping characters and events intact, but transposing all the “colourful” language of the original into the style of William Shakespeare.

Shakespeare’s Reservoir Dogs script is a thorough rejuvenation that shows an unusual flair and love for the Bard. Hopley’s direction of his own writing is mindful of audiences that might find the new text challenging, taking great care to utilise all his actors’ capacities to stage a show that is surprisingly accessible. This staging understandably features less of the film’s memorable ultra-violence, but its elements of humour are played up considerably to great effect. Hopley does not shy away from opportunities to make light of this “self-parody”. Management of the unconventional timeline is slightly flawed, but the constant referencing of Tarantino’s film is handled with remarkable sophistication, and for fans of the original in particular, this new staging is tremendous fun.

The cast amassed by Hopley and producer Russall S. Beattie is an impressive one. Full of passion and commitment, the men are individually strong performers who have managed to find excellent chemistry within their group. Chris Miller’s playfully flamboyant performance as Sir White provides a firm anchor for the production. He shows a genuine affinity for the material at hand, and is wonderfully entertaining in his enthusiasm. Richard Hilliar, in the role of Sir Orange, has a presence that is consistently dynamic. The actor has an engaging charm and an understated approach to comedy that is delightfully amusing. Anthony Campanella has a memorable soliloquy that he executes with outlandish gusto. His ability to communicate meaning with his Shakespearean lines is second to none. A crowd favourite is the show’s troubadour, played by Dominic Santangelo. He has a license to play the fool, and is clearly not afraid to use it.

Also noteworthy is Tristan Coumbe’s work as costume designer. Tribute is paid to the film’s unforgettable imagery, of characters in black suits and white shirts. Coumbe’s Tudor style interpretations using modern fabrics, including black leather, contribute not only to the players’ believability, they also convey an interesting sense of time and space in the absence of set pieces. The costumes’ contemporary, sexy edge is a good reflection of the show’s boisterous irreverence.

Familiarity with the film is not necessary, but it would certainly help with enjoyment of this “update”. Many in attendance on opening night responded buoyantly to recreations of classic scenes and celebrated lines. Nostalgia in the air was evident. For those less au fait with Tarantino’s work, the quality of performance by this exceptional ensemble is more than adequate to please any discerning theatregoer.

In Rehearsal: Trainspotting

Rehearsal images above from Trainspotting by Black Box Theatre. Photographed by Mark O’Connor.
At King Street Theatre, from May 8 – 24, 2014.
More info at

Review: Pride And Prejudice (The Genesian Theatre)

genesianVenue: The Genesian Theatre (Sydney NSW), Apr 26 – Jun 7, 2014
Playwright: Simon Reade (based on the novel by Jane Austen)
Director: Owen Gimblett
Actors: Jena Napoletano, Chris James, Timothy Bennett, Shane Bates, Christopher Butel, Camilla Vernon

Theatre review
Simon Reade’s recent update of the Austen classic is a witty, swiftly-paced adaptation that caters to today’s impatient audiences and our short attention spans. Scenes are short, and humour is planted at every opportunity with just enough subtlety. The Bennett parents especially, are written with an upbeat playfulness that could provide enough comedy for any viewer who might be less inclined towards old fashioned romance.

Timothy Bennett plays Mr Bennett to excellent effect. He is funny, warm and charming, with a confident demeanour that establishes him as the most proficient performer on stage. Bennett’s comic timing is strongest in the cast, and his every appearance is keenly anticipated. Jena Napoletano shows good commitment as Elizabeth Bennett. She gives her role a delightful presence, and works well with other members of the cast who generally suffer from a lack of experience. It is unfortunate that more roles are not taken up by stronger actors, as the script clearly shows great promise.

Notwithstanding the amateur standard of some character portrayals, the Genesian’s Pride And Prejudice is blithesome and enjoyable. It may not live up to our own imagined versions of the much-loved novel, but it is certainly able to give more than a little enchanting reminder of our endearment for sweet Elizabeth and her Mr Darcy.

Review: Attempts On Her Life (Sydney University Dramatic Society / Periscope Productions)

rsz_suds___periscope_present__attempts_on_her_lifeVenue: University of Sydney Studio B (Camperdown NSW), Apr 23 – 26, 2014
Directors: Clemence Williams, Benjamin Sheen
Playwright: Martin Crimp
Actors: Daniel Beratis, Bridget Haberecht, Felicia King, Brittany Lewis, Brendan McDougall, Steffan Rizzi, Julia Robertson, Jack Scott, Harriet Streeter, Leili Walker

Theatre review
The subject matter is brutal, intense and grim. Martin Crimp’s writing however, is not interested in conventional storytelling. He places emphasis instead on exploring theatrical structures that work with plots in unusual and challenging ways. Artist and audience are required to invent new approaches in order to relate to the text and its artistic form. Preconceived notions about the nature of theatre are brought to turmoil in the face of Crimp’s determined sense of nihilism.

Directors Clemence Williams and Benjamin Sheen do an excellent job of extracting a style of performance from their cast of ten that is cohesive and authentic. The harmony and assuredness of the ensemble gives the stage an energy that captivates, and their individual personalities contribute to a show that is layered and complex. Williams and Sheen do well to create variation between scenes, which keeps things unpredictable and nimbly paced. It is noteworthy that the team is comprised of two separate groups, SUDS in Sydney and Periscope in Melbourne, but there is not a hint of discernible disjunction onstage.

Actor Leili Walker stands out with strong presence and a sharp focus. There is a lack of self consciousness in her performance that conveys confidence beyond her years. Also memorable is Julia Robertson who engages with clear motivations that are always intensely genuine. It is remarkable that she is able to introduce psychological truth into a performance that is persistently characterised by an overt anti-naturalism.

Somewhere in Attempts On Her Life lies a tale that is disturbing and devastating. Its insistence on a wildly non-narrative mode of expression means that the play does not move us emotionally. We are forced to access instead, our mental capacities, where we are, hopefully, more likely to be inspired for social change and political action.

5 Questions with Ian Ferrington

ianferringtonWhat is your favourite swear word?
Fuck is the purest, but dick is the funniest. Given the 1950s setting of our show, we’ve tried to do as much with ‘darn’ as possible.

What are you wearing?
The bottom half of a black suit and a white t-shirt.

What is love?
Finding something you can give everything to.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
Just came back from Belvoir’s The Government Inspector. Four stars, very fresh and entertaining.

Is your new show going to be any good?
Fuck yes. Sorry, darn right.


Ian Ferrington is director and co-writer of an original musical, The Detective’s Handbook for Sydney University Dramatic Society.
Show dates: 30 Apr – 10 May, 2014
Show venue: Studio B, University of Sydney

Review: Lies, Love And Hitler (CADA Studio Productions / Sydney Independent Theatre Company)

rsz_photo_by_katy_green_loughrey___llh8___james_scott__langley___doug_chapman__bonhoeffer____flickr___photo_sharing_Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Apr 15 – May 3, 2014
Playwright: Elizabeth Avery Scott
Director: Rochelle Whyte
Actors: James Scott, Doug Chapman, Ylaria Rogers
Image by Katy Green Loughrey

Theatre review
Romance and art are not usually complementary; theirs is a fraught relationship. Art conventions are concerned with all that is deep in the human experience, and romance pursues something that is often inane and fleeting. Elizabeth Avery Scott’s script however, manages to place romance in its centre, and through themes of ethics, politics, history and religion, tells a story that is engaging and intelligent.

Scott’s structure for Love, Lies And Hitler discusses the nature of ethics, and unpacks perennial questions that we face in every ethical dilemma. A parallel is drawn across time and space, between a university lecturer’s love affair with a student, and a German theologian’s involvement in the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. The stakes are different, but our thought processes are intriguingly similar when determining right from wrong.

With topics like capital punishment, sexual harassment and Nazism put in focus, the play’s solemnity is inescapable. Director Rochelle Whyte handles the play’s dark sides with sensitivity and reverence, and her skill in introducing seamlessly, the apparition of Dietrich Bonhoeffer from 1945, into scenes at a university in modern day Australia is commendable. Less effective are her interpretation of the script’s moments of levity. These are frequently hurried through, and jokes are neglected, resulting in a show that feels heavier than necessary.

Ylaria Rogers plays Hannah and Hermione, displaying great efficiency and simplicity with both characters. Rogers places emphasis on moving the plot along swiftly, and telling her parts of the story clearly, but her portrayals would benefit from greater complexity and presence. James Scott is a very dynamic Paul Langley. His charisma quickly connects him with the audience, and we enjoy the tenacity in his performance, which is confident and thoroughly considered. There is however, a deliberateness to his style that can at times make his character seem less than authentic. Bonhoeffer is played by Doug Chapman, who has a subtle and naturalist approach that contrasts strongly with the other actors, and consequently, and ironically, helps him leave the greatest impression. Chapman provides a healthy counterbalance to the production with his restraint, which is also a quality that keeps us engrossed.

Stories about genocidal persecution and Hitler never dry up. They also never fail to fascinate. Love, Lies And Hitler is a show that entertains and enlightens. We think about our individual ethical boundaries and moral structures, while it seduces us with love stories past and present, and a surprising brand of romance that does not patronise.

5 Questions with Debbie Neilson

rsz_debbie_neilson_8x12_medWhat is your favourite swear word?
Holy moly.

What are you wearing?
Still in my PJs 😉

What is love?
Complex and exciting!

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
I recently saw Noises Off at the Opera House by Sydney Theatre Co and I give it 7 stars out of 5! It was so amazing it had me crying with laughter. The comic timing from every cast member was immaculate; and, best of all, you could tell they were all having so much fun on stage. Which is why I bounced to my feet at the end for a standing ovation!

Is your new show going to be any good?
Little Voice has comedy, drama, singing and even some dancing so it has a bit for everyone’s buds. Our show is going to be fun cause we’re all having fun on stage so hopefully it’s contagious to the audience!

Debbie Neilson plays the title role in The Rise And Fall Of Little Voice, at the New Theatre in Newtown.
Show dates: 15 – 24 May, 2014
Show venue: New Theatre

5 Questions with Olga Solar

olgasolarWhat is your favourite swear word?
Poop. It’s short, straight to the point AND it’s a palindrome. What more could you want in a swear word?

What are you wearing?
My warm bright orange tigger pyjamas that my Mum got me, They won me a “best pyjama award” in High School.

What is love?
Sharing the last tim tam in the packet.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
Sport For Jove’s All’s Well That Ends Well. Great multi-purpose set, awesome lighting, super actors. 4.5/5 big gold stars!

Is your new show going to be any good?
It’s going to be the bees knees, come see what all our hard work has paid off to be!

Olga Solar is co-writer of an original musical, The Detective’s Handbook for Sydney University Dramatic Society.
Show dates: 30 Apr – 10 May, 2014
Show venue: Studio B, University of Sydney

Review: The Jungle Book (Emu Productions / King St Theatre)

rsz_1620714_737788869599707_8034336185139306069_nVenue: King Street Theatre (Newtown NSW), Apr 14 – 26, 2014
Book and Lyrics: Markus Weber (based on the original by Rudyard Kipling)
Composer: Michael Summ
Director: Markus Weber
Actors: Maria De Marco, Badaidilaga Maftuh-Flynn, Mark Power, Mandy Fung, Bernard Wheatley, Brett O’Neill, Kyle Stephens
Image by Lorina Stacey Schwenke

Theatre review
Markus Weber and Michael Summ’s version of The Jungle Book is a beautifully-written musical derived from Rudyard Kipling’s famed writings. Familiar characters are retained, and even though these songs are less well-known, they are delightfully catchy and pleasantly melodic.

Markus Weber’s current production is fairly minimal, and relies on the strength of the songs and text to carry the show. Musical arrangements are joyful and effective for most of the material, but several numbers need an update from an unfortunate and uncomfortable 1990s pop/rock sound. Weber’s use of space is thoughtfully varied. The multi-tiered stage is designed well, and used cleverly to keep the attention of the audience. It is noteworthy that although a vast majority of the crowd is very young, the musical has enough content to entertain any adult companion.

There are moments however, where performances falter, and confusion emerges. Even though performances are spirited, calibre of players vary dramatically. The show is designed for children, but the roles are not simple, and it relies heavily on what the actors can bring to the production.

Maria De Marco’s singing voice is strongest in the cast, using it wonderfully to convey the story wonderfully despite not having assistance from microphones. She plays Bagheera, the black leopard who delivers several poignant moments that give the production a necessary shade of gravity. Badaidilaga Maftuh-Flynn plays Mowgli, the only human character. Maftuh-Flynn performs with conviction, and has the gift of being able to portray emotion with great clarity without appearing to be doing very much at all. Brett O’Neill is a vibrant King Louie, the amusingly deluded monkey who never fails to entertain. O’Neill’s energy is big and focused, and his keen sense of comic timing shows him to be the most polished actor on this stage, leaving an excellent impression, notwithstanding the brevity of his appearance.

The Jungle Book‘s message of ecological awareness is a critical one. The anthropomorphism of wildlife imparts to younger generations, values of conservationism that are noble and necessary. Providing children with an understanding that animals are not our slaves or property is a responsibility we must take, if only for our own survival.