Review: Machine (Eclective Productions)

rsz_10245432_622290321179288_1955330957718505088_nVenue: Old 505 Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Apr 16 – 20, 2014
Playwright: Melissa Lee Speyer
Director: Rachel Chant
Actors: Lucy Heffernan, David Jackson

Theatre review
Suicide often finds its way into art. It is the most direct contemplation on the value and meaning of life, when questioning “to be or not to be”. Melissa Lee Speyer’s Machine is a pessimistic appraisal of life, and a work that embodies great sensitivity and beauty in its melancholy.

Rachel Scane channels that sense of resignation into her set design.It is basic and cold, but elegantly executed. Together with lighting designer Benjamin Brockman’s work, the space is cleverly transformed into a purgatory of sorts, with a sense of ethereality and impending doom.

Machine‘s story of suicide features Lucy Heffernan as Christine, and David Jackson as her guardian angel. The structure of the play interestingly places focus on the angel who takes us through events in Christine’s life, and her subsequent decision to end it. He also gives the impression from early on, that she is safe in his hands, even in the midst of her depression. As a result, the stakes are never high in the show. The assurance he provides, detaches us from Christine’s predicament, and even though Heffernan’s performance is committed and strong, we do not connect with her suffering. We know that Christine is being watched over, regardless of how things may end. Jackson has conviction in his acting, but the lack of experience and confidence is evident. It is noteworthy however, that Jackson’s smaller subsidiary roles are performed well when he takes the form of Christine’s encounters.

The Angel seems to be the problem. If it is the intention of the artists to create a work that is emotionally involving, we need more access to Christine. Her pain is universal, but we need to feel closer for the drama to work. She has much to divulge, but her Angel shields too much for her, and from us. The girl needs to stand alone.

www.facebook.com/EclectiveProductions

5 Questions with John Adam

johnadamWhat is your favourite swear word?
There’s only one left which still has any impact. No prizes.

What are you wearing?
Jeans. T-shirt. Sneakers.

What is love?
The only thing that gives life meaning.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
Best recent show was The Cherry Orchard at Melbourne Theatre Company. 4.5/5.

Is your new show going to be any good?
The best bang-for-your-buck musical-goers are likely to get.

 

John Adam is appearing in The King And I with Opera Australia.
Show details: QPAC Brisbane from 13 Apr 2014, Princess Theatre Melbourne from 10 Jun 2014, Sydney Opera House from 9 Sep 2014

5 Questions with Amylea Griffin

rsz_1337586_5087674What is your favourite swear word?
Cunt is a glorious and sadly misunderstood word. It just wants to be loved like its male counterparts. Embrace cunt.

What are you wearing?
I had a semi-date semi-planned tonight, but the dude (semi?) bailed, something about snot, so I’m currently wearing my least attractive pyjamas and fluffiest dressing gown.

What is love?
Look, I’m just gonna be real; if you provide me with a steady supply of food and aren’t banging your neighbour, there’s a good chance I’ll fall in love with you.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
I think it was Frankenstein. The set was badass; lighting and sound were relatively badass; the actor playing the Monster was badass as fuck. Because of him I give it sixteen glittery stars.

Is your new show going to be any good?
It’s gon’ be real good. It will be weird and whacky with a perfect amount of sass. For me there aren’t many more exciting things than a fresh new Australian work. The writer knows things about words. Our team is tight. We want to make pretty art and we will make pretty art. Come and see it.

Amylea Griffin is appearing in Amanda, with Old Monk Productions.
Show dates: 13 – 18 May, 2014
Show venue: TAP Gallery

Review: Construction Of The Human Heart (Apocalypse Theatre Company)

rsz_cothh_170Venue: TAP Gallery (Darlinghurst NSW), Apr 16 – May 3, 2014
Playwright: Ross Mueller
Director: Dino Dimitriadis
Actors: Cat Martin, Michael Cullen
Image by Matthew Duchesne

Theatre review
We live much of our selves through relationships. Meanings are derived through the way we interact with people who surround us. In these interactions, we create stories through creative processes that require collusion from different kinds of intimacies and relations. In Construction Of The Human Heart, life, theatre and words are at war with stories.The characters Him and Her are in the depths of tragedy, and we see their struggle to connect, to move forward, to remain stagnant, and to be.

Sheets of paper with words are everywhere on the stage. The characters attempt to create narratives with the lines they have written, but coherence is beyond reach and connection is impossible. They fail to find meaning. In their desperation, they devise a myriad scenarios, and forge divergent possibilities, but all lead to disintegration and sorrow.

Ross Mueller’s script is intriguing, seductive, and powerful. Its structure is sophisticated and intelligent, but the emotions it conveys is familiar and immediate. It pleasures the mind with challenging elements, and a whole lot of wit, but it devastates the heart with the truths and emotions it portrays.

Direction in this production is provided by Dino Dimitriadis whose excellent work establishes clarity out of abstraction, and externalises for the audience what is really a deeply introspective exploration. It is strange to term this an entertaining show, but the many gear changes it makes with emotions, keeps us thoroughly engaged and fascinated. Dimitradis’ ability in communicating the script’s many subtle nuances is impressive, but it is doubtless that the strength of his cast assists greatly with the play’s success.

Played by Cat Martin, Her is memorable for the strength she displays. Martin’s portrayal of suffering is cleverly obscured, and her creative decisions never aim for the obvious. The universality of the characters’ experience calls for a depiction of agony that is unexpected, and Martin’s use of humour and stoicism gives her work a beautiful complexity. Michael Cullen is a dynamic Him. Cullen is an energetic performer, with an inviting warmth that quickly endears him to the audience. His performance feels authentic and we cannot help but feel moved by it.

We use words to understand our selves, to connect, and to project our futures. We may also use them to re-write histories, to live in pretense and denial, and to lie. In Construction Of The Human Heart, words show us a truth that is rarely articulated; they are the mirror that reveals the way we operate in the throes of darkness.

www.apocalypsetheatrecompany.com

Review: Dancing Naked In The Backyard (Brave New Word)

bravenewwordVenue: TAP Gallery (Darlinghurst NSW), Apr 15 – 26, 2014
Playwright: C.J. Naylor
Director: Travis Kecek
Actors: Matt Hopkins, Zasu Towle, Estelle Healey, Alan Long, Sam Smith, Sascha Hall, Kara Stewart

Theatre review
Contentious issues in our daily lives can make for great theatre. Dancing Naked In The Backyard explores over-development in suburbia, and attempts to make an argument for population growth control in residential areas. A shady character Reland, spearheads the Sylvan Towers project that will see construction of six-storey apartment blocks on quiet Hinton Street. In opposition is the clean cut Derwent who makes it his mission to stop the project from being approved by local government.

The premise is simple, and the production is plain. The script and direction are straightforward in what they wish to say, but what results is a show that feels overly didactic, and the lack of complexity in their argument makes for scenes that feel repetitive. The themes being discussed are not uninteresting, but the characterisation of Derwent representing good and Reland bad, is too obviously unbalanced and consequently, unconvincing.

Derwent is played by Matt Hopkins who does his best at channelling his character’s conviction into his own performance. The material he works with is not always strong, but he is believable and charming in the role. Hopkins has great presence, and his eagerness in connecting with co-actors gives him a sense of polish, and conveys confidence. Estelle Healey is memorable as the highly idiosyncratic Nancy. At times funny, and at others awkward, she might not always hit her marks but she is definitely a magnetic personality that adds exuberance to the stage.

The play clearly has a point to make, but its one-sided approach can cause its audience to question the validity of the debate at hand. Lamenting the introduction of low rise apartments into an idyllic suburb is romantic, but our daily lives point to a realistic perspective that is not sufficiently represented in the work. Backyards with unobstructed views are very nice to have, and almost everyone dreams of owning one, but when that privilege runs out, and we seek to mourn its disappearance, it is important to first scrutinise the rights we claim to have over this piece of earth we inhabit.

www.bnwtheatre.com.au

In Rehearsal: Shakespeare’s Reservoir Dogs

Rehearsal images above from Shakespeare’s Reservoir Dogs.
At The Vanguard, from Apr 29 – May 2, 2014.
More info at www.thevanguard.com.au

Review: Strictly Ballroom (Lyric Theatre)

Venue: Lyric Theatre (Sydney NSW), from Mar 25, 2014
Book: Baz Luhrmann, Craig Pearce
Original Score: Elliot Wheeler
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Choreographer: John O’Connell
Performers: Thomas Lacey, Phoebe Panaretos, Bob Baines, Drew Forsythe, Natalie Gamsu, Robert Grubb, Fernando Mira, Heather Mitchell, Mark Owen-Taylor, Sophia Katos

Theatre review (originally published at auditoriummag.com)
The transformation of Strictly Ballroom into a work for the musical stage is a logical progression. The themes and structure of the film obviously lend themselves to a rendering that would fit readily into the popular genre, and Baz Luhrmann’s penchant for ostentation, flamboyance, and musical numbers in his films makes him a marketer’s dream in this lucrative market.

As an internationally lauded luminary of film imagery, our expectations of production and costume design in his show are understandably high. Fresh from receiving her third and fourth Academy Awards just a month prior to opening night, long-time collaborator Catherine Martin’s work as set and costume designer is irrefutably stunning. Working with already outlandish costumes from the world of ballroom dancing, Martin’s creations take a giant leap forward, into a realm of fairy tales and pure fantasy. There is no requirement for restraint on this stage, and we are treated to the most gloriously colourful and glitzy wigs and costumes that had previously existed only in our dreams.

Martin’s sets are effective and dynamic. The scenes are not located anywhere exotic, but the several suburban venues depicted are created with flair and great imagination. There is very efficient use of space with mobile pieces that work independently, but are also combined for different perspectives. It is not a story that features pyramids, castles or helicopters, but this is a visually arresting stage, which exploits every depth and height that the space can afford, and which sparkles at every corner. There are sequins, paillettes, beads and crystals shimmering at all times, helping to establish an aesthetic that fits in perfectly with this fantastical realm.

Strictly Ballroom embraces wholeheartedly the kitsch value of musicals, and its visual elements are only the beginning. Although it does carefully cater to middle class family audiences, every aspect is expressed through a rejection of banal refinement and conventional good taste. Its story is highly romanticised, the emotions it portrays are brash, the songs are oversweet and obvious, and all performers approach their roles with a sense of unbridled and confident exaggeration. If there is ever a moment for a concoction with this much cheese to work, this would be it, but very unfortunately, the show misses its mark on several levels.

Humour is appropriately peppered throughout the plot. There is much to make fun of, with ridiculous characters and contexts all clearly bearing the promise to deliver laughs, but many of the jokes fall flat. Luhrmann’s direction seems to lack an emphasis on the comedy. Punchlines often do not work, and the atmosphere struggles to keep buoyant. An exception is the role of Liz, played by Sophia Katos, who is memorable as the most consistently funny member of the cast. A number of roles have been created chiefly for comic relief, and Katos’ execution is clearly the strongest.

Leading the cast is Thomas Lacey, an attractive man and a strong dancer, both qualities shared by his character Scott Hastings. Lacey is also an adequate singer, but the scale of the production requires a much more experienced voice that will stand its own amongst all the frenetic activity on stage. Weaker still is Lacey’s acting, which fails to connect him with his love interest, and renders their relationship completely uninteresting and unconvincing. Equally responsible is Phoebe Panaretos, who is admittedly more evenly skilled in the various disciplines of musical theatre, but her lack of charisma in the very central role of Fran is a key disappointment. Panaretos is not a weak performer, but it is evident that she is simply too inexperienced for the challenge bestowed upon her.

Better performances come from the likes of Heather Mitchell, who is endearing as Shirley Hastings, the male protagonist’s mother. Mitchell’s characterisation is vibrant and believable, and although not the strongest of singers, she brings a warmth to the production despite playing someone fairly unpleasant. Also in parental roles are Natalie Gamsu and Fernando Mira, who both impress as characters of Spanish heritage. Gamsu’s distinctive voice is outstanding in a production that seems to have cast performers according to dance ability and appearance, and Mira is a charismatic actor, whose talents as a flamenco dancer are showcased brilliantly, but needs to find greater confidence in his singing.

One of the themes in Strictly Ballroom is the tension between ethnic groups in Australia. This is expressed in the romantic relationship between Fran and Scott, and also in their dance. Their families are depicted in wildly different lights, but both are spirited, joyful and moving. Regretfully, this meaningful and dramatic subject matter is not explored in sufficient depth. The young leads seem too easily accepted by each others’ families, and the penultimate obstacle to their love takes form instead, in the young man’s dilemma about competition dance partners. The opportunity for a more emotive conclusion is sacrificed for one that is more vivacious, but also needlessly frivolous. Ultimately it is the production’s marvelous visual beauty that triumphs, but a three hour show requires more than pleasure for the eyes. It needs to do something for the soul, which discerns the difference between style and substance, and recognises all that glitters is not gold.

www.strictlyballroomthemusical.com

In Rehearsal: Cruise Control

Rehearsal images above from Cruise Control, by Ensemble Theatre.
At Ensemble Theatre, from Apr 26 – Jun 14, 2014.
More info at www.ensemble.com.au
Images by Clare Hawley

5 Questions with David Jeffrey

rsz_1025511_636851856363720_536653313_oWhat is your favourite swear word?
“Big Poos”, it always makes my boy laugh.

What are you wearing?
Shorts, shoes, no socks, no cowboy boots.

What is love?
Let me begin. “L, is for the way you look at me. O, for the only one I see. V, is for very, very, extraordinary. E, is for even more than the one that you adore”. Thank you and goodnight.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
When Irish Eyes… by the Year 9 drama company at Newtown High School of the Performing Arts. One out of one stars.

Is your new show going to be any good?
Have your autograph books ready! No seriously, no, seriously, yes. Oh the pain.

David Jeffrey is appearing in Thom Pain (Based On Nothing), part of SITCO’s 2014 season.
Show dates: 5 – 10 May, 2014
Show venue: The Old Fitzroy Hotel

5 Questions with Marty Rhone

martyrhoneWhat is your favourite swear word?
The F bomb. It can sum up so many things in so many contexts. I don’t think there is a better word that can so expressively sum up a situation or feeling.

What are you wearing?
Jocks; it’s pretty warm here in Brisbane.

What is love?
Love can be so many things and so many emotions; from adoration and passion to admiration and respect, but most of all I think it is something or someone you always want to have in your life and without it or them your life would be an empty existence.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
It was so forgettable I can’t even remember the title but the actors did their best with ordinary material so for that I give them 5 stars.

Is your new show going to be any good?
Potentially as good as any before it.

Marty Rhone is appearing in The King And I with Opera Australia.
Show details: QPAC Brisbane from 13 Apr 2014, Princess Theatre Melbourne from 10 Jun 2014, Sydney Opera House from 9 Sep 2014