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.

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.

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.

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

In Rehearsal: Constellations

Rehearsal images above from Constellations, part of Darlinghurst Theatre’s 2014 season.
At Eternity Playhouse, from Aug 8 – Sep 7, 2014.
More info at
Photography by Gez Xavier Mansfield

5 Questions with Tim Reuben

timreubenWhat is your favourite swear word?
Fuck. It’s so versatile. Take it anywhere. It’s the swiss army knife of swear words.

What are you wearing?
A red thermal top and trackie pants. I’m a fashionista. Also I’m about to go and help paint the set at ATYP.

What is love?
Love is a surprise party on your birthday.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
I saw A Good Person Of Szechuan at the Malthouse in Melbourne. 5 stars. It was gripping, comical and poignant.

Is your new show going to be any good?
Yep. I love the play, and we have an amazing director in James Dalton. He’s in his element. I think the show is gonna be a real ride for the audience.

Tim Reuben is starring in Mr Kolpert.
Show dates: 30 Jul – 16 Aug, 2014
Show venue: ATYP

Review: Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure (The Genesian Theatre)

genesianVenue: The Genesian Theatre (Sydney NSW), Jul 5 – Aug 9, 2014
Playwright: Steven Dietz (based on the original by William Gillette and Arthur Conan Doyle)
Director: Michael Heming
Cast: John Willis-Richards, John Grinston, Emma Medbury, Mark Nagle, Marty O’Neill, Tom Atkins, Rebecca Piplica, Marley Erueti

Theatre review
Steven Dietz’s 2006 adaptation has elements of intrigue, suspense, comedy, and like many retellings of iconic literary figures, ample amounts of self-references. It obviously holds greater appeal for fans of Sherlock Holmes, but it is by no means a prerequisite for its enjoyment. The plot is classically structured, with characters that are distinctly conceived, and vibrant dialogue designed to entertain and amuse.

John Willis-Richards plays Holmes with delightful campness. He brings an effervescence that keeps the show lively, but needs to take time with wordier speeches so that nuances are uncovered more clearly. Mark Nagle’s very animated King of Bohemia is completely farcical. He delivers many laughs with his confident physicality and ridiculous German accent. Marley Erueti plays several supporting roles, but has an excellent stage presence that consistently draws our attention. He performs his parts with excellent conviction and wins us over with his charisma.

The production features a great deal of hammy acting, which can be a problem when it gets in the way of the narrative. There are moments when posturing and vocal embellishment obfuscate the story, leading to some degree of confusion. Design elements help immensely, especially Martin Searles’ work for costumes. His pieces contribute efficiently to the portrayals of personalities, time and space, and his attention to detail gives the production a very polished look. Searles’ talent with colour, shape and texture is a star of the show.

This might be touted as Holmes’ “final adventure”, but his popularity will no doubt see him reincarnated, revived and re-adapted for all manner of media. The mystery and wit that characterises his stories can be found in some of this production, and enthusiasts in particular would find it a charming effort.

Review: An Ideal Husband (Epicentre Theatre Company)

epicentreVenue: Zenith Theatre (Chatswood NSW), Jul 18 – 26, 2014
Playwright: Oscar Wilde
Director: Christine Firkin
Cast: Jessica-Belle Keogh, Emily Pollard, Hannah Pembroke, Sandy Velini, Emily McGowan, Kelly Rae Olander, James Belfrage, Benjamin Vickers, Pam Ennor, Andre Cougle

Theatre review
Politics and corruption propel the plot in An Ideal Husband. The concept of a person facing consequences from misdeeds, and the possibility of turning over a new leaf, are also discussed. The analysis of these subjects however, are not the most appealing feature of Oscar Wilde’s work. What we want is his wit. The strength of his work lies in the characters he creates, and more importantly, the way in which they communicate. Director Christine Firkin seeks to enliven much of the humour in Wilde’s text. There is a clear commitment to comedy in this production, and when scenes are effective, they are quite magical. Interpretations of Wilde’s writing rely heavily on performance. A director is not an acting coach, and it is obvious here that Firkin too, banks on the aptitude and intellectual maturity of her cast, to deliver the play’s sophisticated and challenging farce.

Benjamin Vickers’ star sparkles in the production. The role of Viscount Goring demands a balance of frivolity and acumen, which Vickers executes beautifully. He has an assured focus that reveals itself through a performance that is precise and considered, while also feeling unrestrained and alive. The playfulness he brings to the stage is thoroughly charming, and adds a crucial element of dynamism to community theatre that can often be overly serious and staid.

Lady Chiltern is played by Jessica-Belle Keogh, whose interpretations of Wilde’s words are consistently rich and vivid. Keogh is at first sight an excessively youthful Gertrude, but she proves herself to be believable and compelling. The actor does however, have a tendency to use her laughter as a device to improve comic timing when lines are sparse, which can detract from the authenticity of her characterisation. Emily Pollard is a suitably devious Mrs Cheveley. She has a keen sense for comedy, and is skillful at creating stage chemistry. Pollard has the vivacity that her role requires, but her body language can be fidgety at times, which comes across as being slightly lacking in confidence.

Firkin’s direction ensures that the show is tight, and its story is told with clarity. She keeps the performance at an energetic level by creating movement, especially during long passages of conversations. It is not a lavish production of great polish, but it is accomplished on many fronts. Idealism is a value we can all appreciate, but perfection is always elusive. It is the journey that moves us closer to it that counts, especially in making art.