Review: Three Sisters (Sydney University Dramatic Society)

sudsVenue: University of Sydney Studio B (Camperdown NSW), Jul 30 – Aug 9, 2014
Director: Saro Lusty-Cavallari
Playwright: Anton Chekhov (translated by Laurence Senelick)
Cast: Alex Magowan, Chenier Moore, Henriette Tkalec, Honey Abbott, Maree Raad, Zach Beavon-Collin, Victoria Zerbst, Adam Waldman, Brendan Colnan, Ruby Brown, Christian Byers, Meg McLellan, Georgia Coverdale

Theatre review
It is hard to imagine a life without hopes and dreams. The nature of being human has so much to do with our expectations of tomorrow. Most of us think of our days on earth as a linear string of hours, and much as we are bound to the here and now, it is often the moments that follow, that propels us. Chekhov’s Three Sisters is about a dissatisfaction with the present, and the longing for a different time and place.

Saro Lusty-Cavallari’s direction finds beauty in the solemn and the bleak. He handles the optimism of Chekhov’s writing with youthful skepticism, and articulates it through a vision that is gentle and cool. Lusty-Cavallari enjoys conceptual expression, and the conflict between his fondness for abstraction and the writer’s realism creates interesting tensions. The narratives are not relayed with great clarity, but the manipulation of mood and atmosphere is successful. His cast is large, with thirteen young actors of varying abilities, but he features them well. There is no question that Lusty-Cavallari’s first production with professional performers will deliver impressive results; the amount of potential hastening to rupture is unmistakable.

Stronger performers of the group include Chenier Moore who plays a character more than twice his age. Moore’s connection with the script and with his cohorts feels genuine, which allows him to deliver the most engaging and polished characterisation in the production. Henriette Tkalec plays Irina with fascinating results. Tkalec is a young actor with excellent presence, and fierce conviction. Her focus gives energy to scenes, even when textual interpretations are slightly indistinct. There are several delightfully quirky characters in the production, but Adam Waldman’s is most memorable. The actor shows a real passion for the stage, and his enjoyment is infectious. The wide-eyed innocence of his portrayal is endearing, but Waldman’s work would benefit from an amplification of his character’s transformation as the plot develops.

The production is faithful to Chekhov’s artistic legacy. There are no great subversions or unnecessary deconstructions, but the manufacturing of realism is never easy. Training and skill is required of all collaborative elements in order for something that looks like daily life can become effective theatre. This production is not lacking in spirit and diligence, but its participants need more time, which they fortunately have in abundance.

www.sudsusyd.com

Review: Tartuffe (Bell Shakespeare)

bellshakespeareVenue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Jul 26 – Aug 23, 2014
Playwright: Justin Fleming (after Molière)
Director: Peter Evans
Cast: Leon Ford, Sean O’Shea, Helen Dallimore, Geraldine Hakewill, Kate Mulvany, Charlie Garber, Tom Hobbs, Jennifer Hagan, Robert Jago, Russell Smith, Scott Witt
Images by Lisa Tomasetti

Theatre review (originally published at Auditorium Magazine)

Stories that stand the test of time contain truths that resonate across generations. They bear a universality that seems to derive from the very essence of being human, and a good retelling of those tales will always reveal to us, the nature of our being, and perhaps more importantly, the morals we should live by, however we choose to respond. Tartuffe has a central theme that does not age. Our relationship with religion as individuals and as collectives come into scathing scrutiny, and the way this resonance persists is a potent indication of the concerns we live with, and sadly, how little some things evolve. Molière’s play is now 350 years old, and what was controversial then, can still be used for contentious discussion today.

Justin Fleming’s exciting new script shows great talent and flair. It is an adaptation that feels updated and immediate, yet it preserves a classic sensibility, most notably through his use of rhymes. The original featured rhyming couplets, and Fleming’s decision not to deviate too far from it is felicitous, especially with new rhyme structures that are more varied and surprising. The play’s religious complexion is faithfully retained, but Fleming’s writing reconditions its gender dynamics to reflect modern day conventions. From this perspective, it is pleasing to observe the diminishment of sexism, even if religion’s place in the world seems to have obstinately endured over these centuries. By far the most drastic flourish is found in the overhauled ending of the piece. The change is a brave one, but its effectiveness is debatable. While it displays a quirky humour that can fit quite well with the style of Molière, the production falters at this point of “supernaturality”, not quite able to execute a vision with sufficient aplomb.

The venue is a large one, with a stage size that is challenging for any play featuring only a handful of performers in each scene. Director Peter Evans’ emphasis on authenticity in dialogue delivery is admirable, but memorable moments of the production come from performances that are more about flamboyance than nuance, and the frequently realistic level of interpretation seems to waste not just the vastness of the auditorium, but also the wildness of Molière’s concepts. As a result, performers like Scott Witt who have a greater command of physical capacities capture more of our attention (Witt also serves as Movement Director). Theatre is as much about space as it is about words. There are texts difficult to master, and likewise, there are stages that are harder to conquer. Not all characters are externalised enough, whether due to ability or creative choices, and the comedy is consequently uneven. Leon Ford as Tartuffe is neither majestic nor repulsive. The actor does have a captivating presence, but the role calls for more extravagant malevolence and a certain enigma that is never achieved. The play provides for his entrance tremendous build-up, but when he finally materialises, the Tartuffe we see does not live up to our imagined personality who is more evil and animated, and definitely less attractive.

The script is outlandish and titillating, always with an air of controversy, but what Evans puts on stage is safe by comparison. There is irreverence in content but not in its form. Bell Shakespeare is a professional theatre company doing theatre properly, and their Tartuffe is charming and polished. Expectations of a more anarchic rendering may be unrealistic, but Molière’s themes evoke heresy and inspire mischief, and without some quality of impoliteness, the play is reduced to something quite frivolous. There is social significance to this story, and due attention needs to be placed on its relevance to the community it plays for. We are after all, in the age of the Mad Monk (one of our Prime Minister’s nicknames), and we have political leaders who advocate the replacement of secular social workers in schools with chaplains. There is clearly fertile ground that can be penetrated, in order that a stronger social criticism can be made from taking on this platform.

The character of Orgon is played by Sean O’Shea, who becomes increasingly delightful as the hysteria escalates. Like many of the cast, his early scenes seem oddly subdued, but greater exuberance appears further into the piece. O’Shea has a playfulness that connects well with his audience, and establishes a good level of believability as both the master of the house and the fool. However, the mockery out of Orgon is not made strongly enough. It can be argued that the gravity of the play lies in Orgon and his mother’s irrational trust in Tartuffe, and the devastating effects that follow. The pertinence of their blind faith cannot be understated, and not giving it greater prominence seems to be missing the point altogether.

Stand out performances include Kate Mulvany’s Dorine, who is easily the most colourful and confident on stage. Mulvany’s remarkable wit is clearly a highlight, and her enthusiasm for creating theatrical magic out of every sentence is a marvel to watch. Charlier Garber’s comedy style is an excellent match for the frenetic energy of Molière’s crazed world. Garber capitalises on his extraordinary lankiness and idiosyncratic hairstyle, manufacturing an almost cartoonish character that never fails to amuse.

Also commendable are the production’s visual design aspects, especially Anna Cordingley’s work on costumes and sets. The script self-consciously mentions “Dolce, Galliano and McQueen”, indicating the family’s affluence and interest in style, and Cordingley certainly manages to impress upon us, a world of some extravagance and luxury, including an unforgettably exquisite costume for Madame Pernelle. Over-sized set pieces add a sense of wonder, and help with segmenting and shrinking stage spaces, but the unruly wheels on a very dominant chesterfield sofa need to be tamed to prevent its repeated, unintended and distracting slipping and sliding.

Bell Shakespeare’s Tartuffe is an entertaining work with committed performances and slick production values. Its level of professionalism is exceptional in an artistic landscape that tends to reserve our biggest talents for commercial musical theatre, and for productions overseas. Great stories however, are not only about entertainment and refinement. They are defined by the depth at which they move us, and as Molière’s immortality has shown, it is always the moral of the story that truly counts.

www.bellshakespeare.com.au

5 Questions with Georgia Coverdale

georgiasuzyWhat is your favourite swear word?
Probably “fuck that”. In a despondent mood you can say it in response to almost anything.

What are you wearing?
A black oversized jumper and friendly pastel-coloured pants.

What is love?
Adventure.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
It’s Dark Outside by Perth Theatre Company as part of Dark Mofo Festival. Could be the most moving thing I have ever seen. Five Stars.

Is your new show going to be any good?
I hope so… We’ve only been able to fit in 2 weeks of rehearsals but the people are great and it’s cookin’ along!

Georgia Coverdale is appearing in Three Sisters with Sydney University Dramatic Society.
Show dates: 30 Jul – 9 Aug, 2014
Show venue: Studio B, University of Sydney

5 Questions with Kathy Petrakis

kathypetrakisWhat is your favourite swear word?
It would have to be ‘shit’. I probably say it the most frequently. I save ‘fuck’ for the more serious occasions.

What are you wearing?
I have to admit it’s afternoon and I’m still in my pink striped PJs. Writer’s prerogative.

What is love?
Putting someone else’s needs above your wants. A respect and desire to bring out the best in the other person.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
The Crash Test Drama finals at New Theatre. The best of the 10 minute plays for the season with excellent performances all round – a tough one for the judges. I would give it 4.5 stars.

Is your new show going to be any good?
It’s going to be fantastic! If it can make you shed a tear, it’s done its job. A talented cast really brings the script alive and it’s definitely different to anything else out there right now.

Kathy Petrakis is directing her own play Black Rainbow.
Show dates: 13 – 24 Aug, 2014
Show venue: TAP Gallery

Review: A View Of Concrete (G.bod Theatre)

gbodtheatreVenue: King Street Theatre (Newtown NSW), Jul 22 – Aug 2, 2014
Playwright: Gareth Ellis
Director: Peter Mountford
Cast: Taryn Brine, Tim Dashwood, Matt Longman, Rebecca Martin

Theatre review
There is a side to life and human nature that is dangerous and destructive. Many of us are fortunate enough not to have to dwell too deeply, physically and mentally, inside those spaces of terror. They are on the periphery and we battle constantly and unconsciously to keep them at bay, to protect ourselves from those dark sides, believing the unthinkable to be too unbearable for our fragile and feeble existences. In A View Of Concrete, Gareth Ellis writes about that darkness, featuring four characters each with quirks so offbeat and intense, that one might prefer to term them obsessions. Their shared experiences through illicit drug use proffer a view into their compulsive indulgences, and into our own fears about impulses we might secretly harbour and repress. Ellis’ script is an energetic one, with interesting personalities that are outrageous yet realistic.

Peter Mountford’s direction of the piece introduces considerable dynamism to the stage. There is a prominent choreographic aspect to his work that aims to engage us visually, which also demands of his cast, a level of exertion to keep energies high and sustained. Actor Tim Dashwood’s proficiency with the work’s physical requirements sets him apart, delivering a performance that combines seamlessly, speech with movement, for a theatrical form that is delightfully poetic. The fluency Dashwood displays with his actorly capacities is richly entertaining and impressive.

Also captivating is Taryn Brine, brimming with sensitivity in the role of Billie. Brine’s presence is raw and palpable like an open wound, contributing effectively to the production’s aura of decrepitude. Rebecca Martin plays the treble notes in the group, using her naturally vibrant demeanour to provide volume and power to the show. Matt Longman is subdued by comparison, but like others in the cast, he is genuine on stage and the focus and commitment to his part is clear to see.

This is a team keen on experimentation, and their creative approach to performance has conceived a show that is surprising and fresh. It does not make strong emotional connections, but it is thought-provoking nonetheless. The play is rigorous in its efforts at originality, but it feels distant, even clinical at times. A View Of Concrete reveals some of modern life’s difficulties, and shows us the insidious pain that exists. Its concepts are seductive, but the form it takes is slightly alienating. We want to feel the tragedy that we see before our eyes, but that indulgence is kept elusive.

www.facebook.com/Gbodtheatre

5 Questions with Henriette Tkalec

Henriette SuzyWhat is your favourite swear word?
I say fuck more than I can poke a stick at so… Fuck is barely my favourite but I’ve spent so much time with the bastard by now that he may as well be. Like a dirty uncle who tells the best jokes but you wish didn’t come around quite so often. On second thought. I do love to say cunt once in a while. Or not so once in a while. It’s a feel good word.

What are you wearing?
A mink scarf and my pajamas. It’s cold god damn it.

What is love?
Respect. Knowing your own life could mean less than theirs. Not being able to get through the simplest of tasks without wishing they were there too.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
A 5 year old giving an impromptu stand up comedy/ acrobatic/ beauty pageant routine (hey, a show’s a show). It was pretty fucking good. I’ll give it a not so modest 4.

Is your new show going to be any good?
Well I always say – you’re only as good as your script. And Chekhov’s genuinely got his shit sorted, so hopefully by omission we will have ours. And there’s a great dynamic in the cast and that always translates on stage!

Henriette Tkalec is Appearing in Three Sisters with Sydney University Dramatic Society.
Show dates: 30 Jul – 9 Aug, 2014
Show venue: Studio B, University of Sydney