Review: The Young Tycoons (Spooky Duck Productions / Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

darlinghursttheatreVenue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), May 16 – Jun 15, 2014
Playwright: CJ Johnson
Director: Michael Pigott
Actors: Briallen Clarke, Laurence Coy, Andrew Cutcliffe, Paige Gardiner, Edmund Lembke-Hogan, James Lugton, Gabrielle Scawthorn, Terry Serio, John Turnbull
Image by Noni Carroll

Theatre review
Australia’s media moguls are a source of constant fascination for the general public. We are intrigued by their wealth and power, their influence on politics and public policy, and their control over our daily discourse through news and information that they disseminate. They are part of a celebrity culture that feeds an insatiable appetite for inconsequential gossip, with their public lives exposed to public scrutiny. Our interest in the Murodchs and Packers of the world is usually nothing more than a petty fixation, but keeping an eye on the powers that be is clearly necessary, as leaving them completely to their own devices would very likely result in calamity.

CJ Johnson’s writing does not create direct links between the actions of The Young Tycoons and our own lives. They are objects presented for our examination and entertainment. It is arguable whether the characters are intrinsically interesting, but in Darlinghurst Theatre’s 2014 production, it seems that it is the actors’ work that determines how the story connects. Edmund Lembke-Hogan is spirited and comical as Kim Vogler, one of the play’s two third-generation billionaires. His performance focuses on delivering robust comedy, and it works. Equally effective is Laurence Coy’s Ted Vogler, Kim’s father, whose coarse demeanour is irresistible and an obvious favourite of the audience.

Women play second fiddle in the show, but they shine brightly in their own right. Paige Gardiner elevates a somewhat amoral personality by attributing to her character Sally Kilmarten, a believable complexity and affable warmth. Gabrielle Scawthorn has the thankless task of playing the severest role in quite a boisterous comedy, but she attacks her scenes with conviction and a surprising dignity that prevents Sherilyn Moss from turning into an unfortunate caricature.

The play is composed of successive short scenes. This allows for its pace to be fast and exhilarating, but scene transitions are not always managed smoothly. Director Michael Pigott adds an understated stylistic flair, but having every scene detached and standing alone can sometimes be disruptive to the narrative flow and feels too literally interpreted. Sound design does help on several occasions, but can itself be distracting at certain points. The Young Tycoons is a funny show about people of a certain echelon. Its appeal might not be general, but it will no doubt speak to many who cannot escape the seductive and scintillating cult of celebrity.

Review: Scenes From An Execution (Tooth And Sinew Theatre)

toothsinewVenue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), May 13 – 31, 2014
Playwright: Howard Barker
Director: Richard Hilliar
Actors: Lucy Miller, Jeremy Waters, Mark Lee, Katherine Shearer, Nicole Wineberg, Peter Maple, Brendan Miles, Lynden Jones
Image by Katy Green Loughrey

Theatre review
There are many pleasures to be found at the theatre but what we seek essentially, is to be fascinated by the unusual talents of live performers, and to satisfy the craving we have for stories that are engaging and meaningful. Howard Barker’s Scenes From An Execution is strangely hypnotic. His tale unfolds slowly, taking unconventional and sometimes uncomfortable diversions, but the promise of a substantial imminence is always palpable, and the conclusion is certainly gratifying. Barker’s writing is poetically beautiful, and his ideas are inspiringly radical. His varied themes include love, war, art, religion, politics and propaganda, covering with depth, many of the big questions that are as relevant today as they had been in Venice 1571, where the play is situated.

A remarkable feature of the work is its extraordinary protagonist Galactia, a painter of note, and a woman with a liberated and unorthodox lifestyle. Our own values are examined through her resolute belief in an artist’s responsibility to uphold truths, even in the face of great adversity and sacrifice. Barker’s heroine is powerful and awe-inspiring. She is a feminist ideal, and sadly, a manifestation that rarely figures in the narratives of our cultures. Galactia’s fearless determination and assertive wisdom is realised on the Sydney stage magnificently by actor Lucy Miller. Miller is convincing, compelling and electrifying. She approaches the character with raging imagination and delivers a performance completely arresting in its meticulousness and unpredictability. Even in scenes lit so dim we can barely see, Miller is riveting, and her creation is a woman on a pedestal that we all must aspire to.

Supporting Miller is an exceptional cast. It is a rare gathering (especially in independent theatre) with all actors displaying astounding talent and impressive experience. It is truly a joy to watch these artists work their magic, all performing with gusto as well as nuance, each carving out many memorable moments for themselves. Mark Lee as Urgentino is energetic and full of passion. Sharply ironic, and fabulously witty, Lee’s command of the script ensures that his scenes are consistently entertaining, and politically cutting. Jeremy Waters brings a complexity to his role of Carpeta that keeps us intrigued and enthralled. His love affair with Galactia is surprisingly dimensioned, and his depiction of an artist under the control of money and power is simultaneously funny and heartbreaking. Waters is an intense and intelligent actor, whose unmissable performance in the closing moments of Act 1 leaves us breathless.

Director Richard Hillier’s obvious talent is his thorough understanding of the craft of acting. He has created all the circumstances required for the cast to unleash their best upon us. Hillier’s sensitivity for spaces, whether mental, emotional or physical, allows him to facilitate all the action that happens between actors, and the connection between stage and audience. Hillier indulges in abstractions, but is careful to provide points of focus to always keep us reeled in. His affinity with the the play’s core message is a strong one, and the authentic clarity at which he voices it is full of flair, and indeed, admirable.

Death and taxes are said to be the only certainties in life. In Scenes From An Execution, a deconstruction of war and of our political leaders gives us an opportunity to gain insight into our part as mere mortals and pawns in a world of deceit and manipulation, rife with the glorification of needless deaths. Hogwash is ubiquitous but where great art exists, we find the eternal and the truth, and we rediscover the divine within.

Review: The Rise And Fall Of Little Voice (Lane Cove Theatre Company)

lanecoveVenue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), May 15 – 24, 2014
Playwright: Jim Cartwright
Director: Christine Firkin
Actors: Debbie Neilson, Wendy Morton, Michelle Bellamy, Nick Bolton, Luke Reeves, Kevin Weir, Mark Reiss
Image by Geoff Sirmai

Theatre review
Northern England is a long distance away, with its own significant cultural and language affectations. The desire to stage a production from that region for a Sydney audience, demonstrates the universal appeal of Jim Cartwight’s script. The Rise And Fall Of Little Voice is a comedy that examines the darker side of family dynamics in a deceptively upbeat manner. It tackles dysfunction and neglect in the guise of a pseudo-musical, with ample measures of broad campy humour and a lot of singing.

Lane Cove Theatre’s production places emphasis on the play’s light-hearted elements. We see the drunken fumblings of a desperate middle-aged woman Mari Hoff, her daughter LV’s burgeoning and very innocent romance, and their neighbour’s kooky jesting. There is some effort at depicting Hoff’s love interest with some sinisterness, but by and large, the show lacks a gravity that would give meaning to its story and characters. Little Voice relies heavily on empathy and personal identification for its dramatics to be effective, but the narrative does not always connect sufficiently with its audience. An important aspect of the play is the loss of the family’s paternal figure that causes disharmony and grief, and it is the memory both women bear of the man that provides impetus for the plot, but his presence is unsatisfactorily sparse in this staging. He leaves a hole in their lives, but we are blissfully oblivious to it.

Wendy Morton is an energetic actor who provides Mari Hoff with an emotional neediness and instability that is uncomfortably believable. There is a sense of self-abandonment in Morton’s work that is entertaining and fitting, but the character she creates has too much warmth, and comes across overly endearing. The story needs a mother with a cruel and villainous edge to justify her appointed conclusion, and to help explain her daughter’s strangeness, but Morton lacks those malevolent qualities in her otherwise delightful portrayal. LV is played by Debbie Neilson who shines in musical sections where her talents as an impressionist take centre stage. She performs as Judy Garland, Lulu, Edith Piaf, Marlene Dietrich and Shirley Bassey, and is particularly memorable with her mimicry of Marilyn Monroe and Shirley Temple. It is clear that Neilson’s vocal ability contributes greatly to her part in the show, but the actor is not ideally cast. Neilson is a vibrant and gregarious performer who seems to be at odds with the timidness and melancholy that is fundamental to her character. In the role of her love interest Billy, is Luke Reeves who delivers the most consistent and convincing characterisation in the show. The script does not demand very much of the actor, but Reeves is clear of his contribution to the plot, and addresses each scene with charm and precision.

Little Voice is effervescent and colourful, but it is the exploration of the writing’s psychological and emotional depths that would give it a sense of authenticity. Death and mourning are themes that touch all our lives, and truthful theatrical renderings always resonate. Coming of age tales are appealing because they speak of hope, but they need the darkness before the light in order to hit home.

Review: Something To Be Done (Gabatwa Studios)

rsz_10259032_782336098466784_8926997888061039248_oVenue: TAP Gallery (Darlinghurst NSW), May 13 – Jun 1, 2014
Writer: Gabriel McCarthy
Performer: Gabriel McCarthy

Theatre review
Reminiscent of work by Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin and Rowan Atkinson, Gabriel McCarthy’s one-man show communicates without words, relying instead on the actor’s ability to create meaning with his body and face. The story is vague, but its themes are clear. McCarthy’s show is about innocence, mortality, love, and art. There is also a sense of burgeoning manhood being explored by the performer who discovers the universe around him, but within an independence that he manufactures, almost to stake his claim on a personal and self-determined identity.

The show is 75 minutes long, and while it does switch gears often and there is plenty of variety to prevent any hint of self-indulgence, its scenes are not always engaging. The format of the production is challenging, as it requires of its audience, a mode of watching that is acutely different from what is conventional and mainstream. It does what it wants, with admirable eccentricity and idiosyncrasy, but we need something more. Many great works have touched audiences without the use of words, and it is the artist’s responsibility to locate that point of connection.

Erin Harvey is stage manager, and does a splendid job with the minimal technical facilities at hand. The show looks and feels refined, with a set by Christie Kay Bennett that is basic but considered and restrained. The show’s innumerable sound cues are a key feature, and Harvey’s faultless execution is noteworthy. A thorough understanding of the show and its performer is necessary, and the chemistry between tech and talent for this production is beautifully harmonious.

McCarthy is a performer with great skill and presence. He is phenomenally agile and energetic, and his ability to convey concepts and to express intention is remarkable. There are many memorable moments of vigorous gesturing and lively leaping, but the actor is equally effective in significant pauses, unafraid of a more silent approach. There is a sincerity to the man that is endearing, but his story is less captivating. Even though it is not difficult to follow, it is too abstract. We want to connect, but it is too distant. The tale seems personal, but it is also shrouded, and maybe a little elusive with its message.

Review: Amanda (Old Monk Productions)

oldmonkVenue: TAP Gallery (Darlinghurst NSW), May 13 – 18, 2014
Playwright: Mark Langham
Director: Mark Langham
Actors: Amylea Griffin, Paul Armstrong, Elizabeth Macgregor

Theatre review
Amanda is a new play that asks questions the way an inquisitive small child would. Its persistent wonderment inspires thoughts and ideas that range from the familiar and enduring, to fresh and complex ones that we rarely encounter outside of the world of art. Mark Langham is a brave writer who dares to explore deep and dark recesses of the human condition, even when there is no guaranteed satisfaction or indeed, conclusion. Langham’s approach is philosophical, but his creativity for the stage is savvy and accomplished. Amanda is an intriguing work, with interesting characters that hold our attention. Their provocative lives are richly imagined, and thoroughly engaging.

The protagonist Amanda is a childlike woman, played by Amylea Griffin who brings a necessary gravity to a performance that is intense and energetic. It is noteworthy that the character is not portrayed with weakness even though her story is one of victimhood and injustice. Griffin’s sense of defiance is an important and beautiful ingredient to her work, but there is a lack of levity to her delivery that could have helped craft a more dimensioned characterisation. Paul Armstrong takes on a trio of personalities with good variation and conviction. The actor’s relaxed nature contrasts well with his co-players’ sense of severity, but is also able to inject power and dynamism when required. Elizabeth Macgregor’s characters are colourful and deliciously odd, but her interpretations tend to be fairly subdued. Although missing the opportunity to create something quite eccentric, Macgregor’s portrayals are effective, and sensitive to the plot’s progression.

Langham’s direction does not shy away from expressive dramatics that create a sumptuous texture in the moody script, but the performers’ inconsistent group chemistry is an issue. Virtually every scene involves the actors in collaboration, but they are not always in tune. Early scenes seem to work better, but as complexities accrue, the work starts to lose its persuasiveness. The plot evolves into greater abstraction, with actors seeming to proffer incongruous perspectives of the text, and decipherment becomes difficult.

Amanda might be challenging, but it is not without pleasures. The play is full of intellectual stimulants, and the writer’s lines are pointedly witty. Directing one’s own script is a tall order. Langham tends to place too much trust on the autonomy of his words, but he does an admirable job of materialising his concepts and presenting a show that communicates on emotional and cerebral levels.

5 Questions with Paige Gardiner

Paige-Gardiner-headshotWhat is your favourite swear word?
I always enjoy a sarcastic “Oh, for f…”, a la Ricky Gervais. But I am careful to always cut it off just at the right moment.

What are you wearing?
Some verrry sexy polka-dot flannel pyjamas and Ugg boots.

What is love?
Love is having the best kind of people around you to pick you up whenever you fall. And also going out for breakfast on a Sunday morning with someone special.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
Perplex at STC. Once again, Sarah Giles has mastered absurdist comedy. I am definitely not of any authority to give it stars, but it was brilliant!!

Is your new show going to be any good?
Of course! How could it not be with this stellar cast! Such a privilege to work with them all.

Paige Gardiner is appearing in The Young Tycoons, from Darlinghurst Theatre Company’s 2014 season.
Show dates: 16 May – 15 Jun, 2014
Show venue: Eternity Playhouse

In Rehearsal: The Young Tycoons

Rehearsal images above from The Young Tycoons, part of Darlinghurst Theatre’s 2014 season.
At Eternity Playhouse, from May 16 – Jun 15, 2014.
More info at
Photography by Richard Farland

5 Questions with Brent Thorpe

rsz_brent2-webWhat is your favourite swear word?
Shithouse. You don’t hear it much these days.

What are you wearing?
An electric blue and black leopard-print caftan with powder-blue mules and I’m wrapped in a white cashmere pashmina. It’s a bit chilly this arvo. No jewelry. No make-up. When I’m at home I like to tone things down a bit.

What is love?
Some people have said that the exotic juices and sauces that flow my very being are the essence of love. But in all seriousness you should come to my show because my young co-star, Nathan, and myself demonstrate what love is live on stage! You’ve probably never seen anything so beautiful before in your life. Seriously.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
It was John Waters at the Opera House. Is that a show? He always gets at least seventeen stars from me. He made my distant, distant, distant, distant, distant, distant cousin, Divine into a legendary movie star and household name. I love him for that and I’m patiently waiting for him to do the same for me.

Is your new show going to be any good?
Good? Are you kidding? I work my clacker off in this thing! For two minutes and forty five seconds I sing and dance up a storm. The rest of the time we’re doing the greatest acting you will ever see on a public stage. I mean it. Better than Cate Blanchett and Joel Edgerton in ‘Streetcar.’ We promise to astound you and transport you to places you can’t imagine. Have you got goosebumps yet?

Brent Thorpe is writer and star of Beauty! Glamour! Fame!
Show dates: 5 Jun – 3 Jul, 2014 (Thursdays only)
Show venue: The Imperial Hotel

5 Questions with Tansy Gardam

SONY DSCWhat is your favourite swear word?
Fuck. It’s so versatile. Particularly when used in “for fuck’s sake.”

What are you wearing?
Jeans and an Elvis Costello t-shirt.

What is love?
It’s like trust and affection had a baby.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
Zena Ladna at La Mama. 1.5 stars.

Is your new show going to be any good?
Yes. I know everyone says that, but it’s fantastic – the cast are all phenomenal and we’re doing something a bit different with the show, which I feel a lot of musical theatre shies away from. We’ve cross cast leads and added in conga lines and I can’t wait for people to see it.

Tansy Gardam is directing A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum for The Intercol Musical – The University of Sydney.
Show dates: 14 – 17 May, 2014
Show venue: Seymour Centre

Review: The Detective’s Handbook (Sydney University Dramatic Society)

rsz_10344095_783993371619707_864135050788121539_oVenue: University of Sydney Studio B (Camperdown NSW), Apr 30 – May 10, 2014
Book and Lyrics: Ian Ferrington
Score: Olga Solar
Director: Ian Ferrington
Actors: Alessandro Tuniz, Matt Bartlett, Alexander Richmond, Natasha Vickery, Victoria Zerbst, Elliott Miller, Alice Birbara

Theatre review
The Detective’s Handbook is a new musical written by Ian Ferrington, with score provided by Olga Solar. It is a satirical take on film noir, bringing to mind, films like Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982) and Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988). It is persistently self-conscious, but it takes its parody seriously, placing as much focus on storytelling and its musical numbers, as it does on creating laughs.

Ferrington’s vision is ambitious and idiosyncratic. His work might not look original, but it bears a quirkiness that prevents it from feeling derivative. His writing is witty and charming, but his characters, although spirited, are too traditional. Ferrington’s direction is energetic, with an emphasis on rhythms, which keeps things buoyant and lively. There is however, a need for punchlines and plot twists to be cleaned up for clearer delivery. Olga Solar’s delightful music is beautifully woven into the narratives, and effectively provides characters with interest and complexion. There is a noticeable lack of melodies in most of the songs, with the team’s decision to adopt a “rap-infused 1950s showtune jazz” style. It is debatable whether that choice is a wise one, but the two most memorable numbers, “Too Much To Ask” and “Congratulations”, are both conventionally structured, hummable tunes.

Matt Bartlett has the strongest singing voice in the cast, and plays Detective Jimmy Hartman with great conviction, creating a character that stands out as the most believable of the group. The actor brings a warmth to his performance, and quickly establishes a good connection with the audience. Natasha Vickery plays her three characters with panache and levity. She embraces the show’s giddy style of comedy with good humour, and although required to play silly often, we remember her performance to be a polished one. Other players tend to have an oversimplified approach, with characterisations that do not develop far enough to sustain a show that’s considerably more substantial than a skit.

This is a musical with a lot of frivolity, but it also demonstrates impressive flair. Ferrington and Solar’s material contains great potential, with generous room for comedians to provide dynamic and creative interpretations. This production might be a little under-cooked with too many one trick ponies, but there is no doubt that if explored with greater depth, its future incarnation could well be The Big Noir Musical Hit.