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 www.darlinghursttheatre.com
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.

www.genesiantheatre.com.au

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.

www.epicentretheatre.org.au

Review: Phaedra (Lies, Lies And Propaganda)

liesliesVenue: TAP Gallery (Surry Hills NSW), Jul 17 – 26, 2014
Playwright: Euripides (based on Hippolytus)
Director: Michael Dean
Cast: Danielle Baynes, Melissa Brownlow, Sinead Curry, Cheyne Fynn, Richard Hilliar, Katrina Rautenberg, Nathaniel Scotcher, Jennifer White
Image by Sasha Cohen

Theatre review
The art of making theatre requires the consideration of space and time. It needs to set itself apart from literature and recorded media like film and music. The audience’s immersive experience is not parenthetical or supplementary, it is central to the appreciation of a work. Michael Dean’s Phaedra uses space and bodies not only to tell stories, but also to enthrall, delight and fascinate our senses. By extensively exploring the possibilities of holding a captive audience, it does what no other art form can. Along with Catherine Steele’s design and Christopher Page’s lighting, we find ourselves inside a blood-soaked painting that is at once romantic and abhorrent. The four fabulous actors who make up the chorus are relentless in acknowledging our gaze, and the seductive power they wield, pulls us further into a world where tears are shed, blood is let and everyone loses their mind.

Phaedra’s story is about desire, its origins, its moralities, and its effects. She falls in love with her stepson, and all hell breaks loose. Phaedra struggles with her thoughts and emotions, and we examine the meanings of our own relationships with love and sex. The production’s director is part of the action, positioned behind two turntables, underscoring performances with old vinyl records that he distorts and scratches. The soundtrack is often discordant, attempting to place distance between us and the characters. We see Euripides’ universe, but we are also reminded of our realities; the two are pitched playfully against each other.

Danielle Baynes as Phaedra, exemplifies sensuality and beauty. She portrays longing and pain with a quiet authenticity, and executes stage directions elegantly. Baynes’ voice and physicality are disciplined and the actor is eminently watchable, but the show wants more intensity from her. Drama is the order of the day, and there is no limit to how much ostentation an actor can bring to the role. Hipploytus is played by the equally beautiful Richard Hilliar, whose presence almost overwhelms the tiny venue. The feminist subversion of his role gives him much to play with, and his choices are shrewd. His lines are flamboyant and powerful, but also primitive and offensive by today’s conventions. The need to be restrained in delivery is appropriate, and Hilliar finds a good balance, constantly shifting between subtlety and theatricality. Theseus is performed with strong emotional commitment by Katrina Rautenberg. It is interesting that her interpretation of the role does not obviously deviate from its inherent masculinity. There seems a missed opportunity for greater commentary on gender, but Rautenberg playing things straight displays effectively, her impressive focus and precision.

The queer aesthetic extends beyond the casting of Theseus. It informs many of the production’s creative decisions and the result is something that feels original and daring. Dean’s show is memorable and exciting, and adds to our cultural landscape, a voice that is not sufficiently represented. It espouses a different way of doing things, one that is thoughtful, spirited, and full of flair. It is irreverent and mischievous, but also dark and heavy. It is why we need the theatre.

www.liesliesandpropaganda.com

Review: A Doll’s House (Sport For Jove Theatre)

sportforjoveVenue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Jul 17 – Aug 2, 2014
Playwright: Henrik Ibsen (adapted by Adam Cook)
Director: Adam Cook
Cast: Annie Byron, Barry French, Anthony Gooley, Douglas Hansell, Matilda Ridgway, Francesca Savige
Image by Seiya Taguchi

Theatre review
It has been well over a century since Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House first appeared on a Copenhagen stage in 1879, but the play is still a popular choice in Australia today. Its story and characters continue to resonate, and its social commentary remains relevant to many of our lives. The themes of gender politics, marriage and self-actualisation are no less significant than they were in Ibsen’s day. The sexual revolution might have come and gone, but judging by the power of Sport For Jove’s current production, the societal dysfunctions illustrated in A Doll’s House are not yet a relic of the past. Indeed, we face the question of whether these injustices can ever be eradicated, or if it is human nature that insists on power structures that subjugate and oppress.

Adam Cook’s adaptation gives the language a vernacular update, which allows Nora’s world to be accessible by contemporary Australian audiences. There is a familiarity to their speech that positions them as our peers rather than historical literary figures, and we are encouraged to relate to the unfolding events on a personal level. Cook’s flair as a director makes the issues at hand feel immediate and palpable. The realism he creates on stage is a nod to Ibsen’s legacy, and an effective avenue to communicate a sense of the everyday realities that we share with the personalities on stage. Cook is especially thoughtful in his handling of the more politically biting portions of the script. He makes sure that meanings are highlighted, and we are never allowed to ignore the elements that make this a landmark work.

Set and costumes are designed by Hugh O’Connor, who turns in excellent work on both fronts. Set pieces are elegantly selected and coordinated, and the space created is appropriately quaint. The sense of a nouveau riche class is gently evoked in its purposefully elegant blend of blues, greys and wood. The doors in Ibsen’s script are frequently cited, and they do come into focus often but unfortunately, the ones chosen are too modern for the context and can appear disharmonious with the established aesthetic. Costumes are beautiful and flattering, and every ensemble helps with character portrayals. They inspire postures and mannerisms for the actors, and also ignite our imagination with notions of time, space and personalities. It must be noted though, that Torvald’s tuxedo in the final scenes is severely ill-fitted and a disruption to the otherwise charming visuals that O’Connor has created.

Nora is played by Matilda Ridgway with outstanding dynamism and depth. Her delivery is a thorough study of one of Western theatre’s most celebrated characters. Ridgway’s deep understanding of the work’s nuances as well as her intelligent awareness of the audience’s expectations, contribute to a compelling and impressive performance. Her decision to play up Nora’s twee qualities is an interesting one. It pulls into sharp focus the falsity of her marriage, but loses somewhat, the dimension of someone of great fortitude, and someone who is capable of cunning when necessary. Nevertheless, Ridgway’s work in the penultimate scene of upheaval will be fondly remembered for its sheer dramatic force and emotional impact.

Douglas Hansell is an entertaining actor who creates a Torvald that is lively and intriguing. Humour always bubbles under his surface, which makes Torvald’s objectionable features amusing to observe, but by the same token, the presence Hansell provides tends to feel slightly flippant. Anthony Gooley is magnetic when he exhibits Krogstad’s menacing side. The danger he unleashes is thrilling and seductive, but his depiction of desperation is uneven. His love scene with Kristine (played with an alluring stoicism by Francesca Savige) is a little lacking in polish, but it ends on a high note with ardently moving results.

The audacity of the play’s conclusion will never fade. Nora’s eventual decisions are simultaneously controversial and heroic. She justifies her actions with great conviction, and even though Ibsen leaves us little room for doubt, the play ends with a stinging hint of discomfort. Adam Cook and Matilda Ridgway have achieved something quite remarkable. We rejoice in their Nora’s exaltation, but we do not forget the dangers that lie ahead. Like their Nora, we too choose to risk everything, for everything counts for nothing, if all that is lived is a lie.

www.sportforjove.com.au

Review: This Is My Box (Rue de la Rocket)

ruedelarocketVenue: Bondi Pavilion Theatre (Bondi NSW), Jul 16 – 19
Playwrights: Karli Evans, Erin Taylor, Karena Thomas
Director: Erin Taylor
Cast: Karli Evans, Karena Thomas

Theatre review
This Is My Box features two women in very colourful exercise gear exorcising demons. Their costumes do not change, but the actors go through many different characters in this hour long piece. They portray familiar everyday personalities from different walks of life, but they are all unified by their inanities. This is a work about the people we are afraid of becoming. They come from every social class, but are all less than intelligent. Their lives are filled with mundanity and they do not seem to have any mental capacity to escape their respective hells. This is probably a work about all of us, even though it may initially seem to be about “those people”.

The script is superb. It has all the hallmarks of a thoroughly devised work, relying on much more than words, where every moment is made absurd, and with a plot trajectory that is never predictable, yet everything seems to make sense. The narrative is about instincts and emotional reactions, rather than logic and story. Characters and scene changes are distinct, which gives the production a formal grounding, and its theatrical structure. There is a lot of fooling around, but the disciplines that conspire to create this coherent whole are clear to see.

Both performers are compelling, and all their roles are hilarious. Their use of voice, movement and face are exaggerated but appropriately so. It is almost like clown work, except with social commentary. Karli Evans is slightly more proficient with her physicality, while Karena Thomas tickles our funny bone with some very dynamic facial expressions. It is a high energy performance, by women with impressive and confident presences.

Erin Taylor’s direction is sensitive to the strengths of the players. She appears to have a deep understanding of the women’s abilities, and strives to expose all of their best features in these manic 60 minutes. Taylor commits to a specific sense of humour that is probably not of the widest appeal, but the conviction harnessed on stage is absolutely euphoric. The work is critical of many Australian women, but it is never mean spirited. It embodies a kind of sisterhood that is self conscious but generous. It is about girls who do not want to turn into their mothers but are wise enough to realise some inevitabilities.

www.ruedelarocket.com