Suzy Goes See’s Best Of 2014


2014 has been a busy year. Choosing memorable moments from the 194 shows I had reviewed in these 12 months is a mind-bending exercise, but a wonderful opportunity that shows just how amazing and vibrant, theatre people are in Sydney. Thank you to artists, companies, publicists and punters who continue to support Suzy Goes See. Have a lovely holiday season and a happy new year! Now on to the Best Of 2014 list (all in random order)…

Suzy x

 Avant Garde Angels
The bravest and most creatively experimental works in 2014.

 Quirky Questers
The most unusual and colourful characters to appear on our stages in 2014.

♥ Design Doyennes
Outstanding visual design in 2014. Fabulous lights, sets and costumes.

♥ Darlings Of Dance
Breathtaking brilliance in the dance space of 2014.

♥ Musical Marvels
Outstanding performers in cabaret and musicals in 2014.

♥ Second Fiddle Superstars
Scene-stealers of 2014 in supporting roles.

♥ Ensemble Excellence
Casts in 2014 rich with chemistry and talent.

♥ Champs Of Comedy
Best comedic performances of 2014.

♥ Daredevils Of Drama
Best actors in dramatic roles in 2014.

♥ Wise With Words
Best new scripts of 2014.

 Directorial Dominance
Best direction in 2014.

♥ Shows Of The Year
The mighty Top 10.

♥ Suzy’s Special Soft Spot
A special mention for the diversity of cultures that have featured in its programming this year.

  • ATYP



Photography by Roderick Ng, Dec 2014


Best of 2018 | Best of 2017 | Best of 2016Best of 2015Best Of 2013

Review: The Age Of Entitlement (Mongrel Mouth)

mongrelmouthVenue: Merchants House (Sydney NSW), Dec 3 – 20, 2014
Playwright: Saman Shad
Director: Duncan Maurice
Cast: Adam Connelly, Ali Crew, Amelia Tranter, Aston Campbell, Charlie Upton, Christina Sankari, Danny Gubbay, Eli King, Ezequiel Martinez, Guilia Clemente, Julia Landrey, Latisha Owens, Mark Williamson, Moreblessing Maturure, Paloma Alma, Rowan McDonald, Sage Godrei, Sharon Zeeman, Tess Marshall

Theatre review
Nineteen actors in a beautifully preserved old building present a simple story about politics. We navigate our way through rooms and characters, observing and speaking with these mysterious people, trying to piece together narratives, and to find an understanding of each personality’s agenda, and also what the artists are attempting to convey. The action centres around Lara, who is presented on the ground floor as a student leader of the left, and in a different room upstairs, she is an older politician raising funds to become the head of her right-wing party.

There is a certain amount of chaos from the immersive experiment that keeps us on our toes. It is challenging work that does not let its audience feel comfortable at any point, and director Duncan Maurice is determined for his work to be intriguing and thought-provoking. Placing his actors at such close proximity, we are forced to engage and interpret. Maurice leaves us no room to hide, and we are pressured into taking a stand. The performance feels slightly longer than its eighty minutes. The unusual format leaves us to compose a cohesive tale from many disparate fragments, but unravelling the riddles does not take much time. We are then left to loiter around the hallways waiting for a conclusion of some description to occur, which fortunately, does eventuate, and in quite spectacular style.

Julia Landrey plays X, a member of the student union who proves to be more radical than her peers. X is often positioned alone, so that when we encounter her, she is free to express hidden beliefs that might be too controversial for her comrades. The nature of the work requires a good amount of thick-skinned daring from its cast, and Landrey’s strength ensures that she connects well, even though the role’s presence is an intimidating one. Her impressive improvisational skills allow for brilliant conversations to unfold, and we find ourselves becoming more involved than ever anticipated.

Some of the group is less effective, but they all contribute to the unusual carnival flavour that the production will be remembered for. There are instances where characters seem narrow in scope, which often lead to a shallow sense of plot and oversimplification of ideas. A substantial part of the discussion The Age Of Entitlement aims to inspire, is the tension between the left and right of politics, and the way Australian society shapes its attitudes according to convenient alliances.

The production is well designed. Alex PF Jackson’s work for makeup, hair and costumes especially, are noteworthy. Set and lights are slightly less polished, but spaces are adequately dressed to evoke a sense of fantasy and transportative theatricality.

Political theatre gives voice to causes and groups, and on occasion, it changes minds. This show does not tell us what to think, but it espouses the importance of holding beliefs and standing up for them. Almost contradictory is the way it interrogates our practice of identifying with political sides, but that conflict gives the work a meaningful complexity that feels resonant with our lived experiences. Maybe a few people will begin to think differently of their political attitudes from attending Entitlement, but more likely is its effect on how we think of theatre’s relationship with the public and its modes of expression. There is so much to be explored when artists and audience meet, especially when all the old rules are broken.

Review: Guilty Pleasures (Blue Saint Productions)

bluesaintVenue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), Dec 17 – 21, 2014
Book: Joshua Robson
Lyrics: Hugo Chiarella
Director: Joshua Robson
Music Director and Composer: Robert Tripolino
Cast: Angelique Cassimatis
Image by Mike Snow

Theatre review
Joshua Robson, Hugo Chiarella and Robert Tripolino’s Guilty Pleasures is a 45 minute musical with murderous women and their bad men. It is Chicago‘s “Cell Block H” expanded, and they’ve all had it coming. Comprising a series of independent stories about fatal romances, the short narratives are amusing, with compelling songs that add drama and a colourful sense of theatricality.

Performed by just one woman, the work demands that Angelique Cassimatis provides range and variety to each character, but the show does not have enough tonal shifts in performance or design, to create textural complexity from its string of tales. Robson’s direction blends each segment to form a cohesive whole, leaving behind the lively and fluctuating nature of the text. Cassimatis’s training and experience is evident, especially with her physical discipline and dance abilities, but her approach tends to be a technical one. Her talents in singing and acting seem to come less naturally, but the actor’s conviction is clear to see, and her energetic presence helps endear her to the crowd.

Burlesque touches in the production provide a sexy edge to the already risqué themes it covers. The writing has a dark humour that would appeal to those who seek a musical theatre experience that is less than “family-friendly”, but its execution might be a little subdued for some. Written and directed by three men, Guilty Pleasures is a feminine work with a queer sensibility and a charming cynicism about romantic relationships. The women in the show are determined to define themselves against the men in their lives, and all pay a hefty price at the end.

Review: Your Skin My Skin (NAISDA Dance College)

naisdaVenue: Carriageworks (Eveleigh NSW), Dec 10 – 13, 2014
Director: Frances Rings
Image from Twitter @theNCIE

Theatre review
Identity is a subject that features in any art education, but for students at NAISDA Dance College, Aboriginality is a central tenet that guides their learning experience in dance and performance. Also known as the National Aboriginal and Islander Skills Association (40 years old this year), NAISDA’s end of year showcase for 2014 is entitled Your Skin My Skin. The program represents a gamut of dance styles, but the topic of race is never far behind. A series of sensitively curated items are linked by cultural dance and music under the leadership of tutors Heather Mitijangba and Tony Mudalyun, and musicians Shane Dhawa and Timothy Djirrmurmur. Regardless of how individual dance pieces come about, we are reminded that heritage is part of their creation, and the land that our feet rest upon is crucial to the expressions on stage.

The event commences with Rika’s Story, choreographed by the nine performers of the piece with Shaun Parker at the helm. The piece provides the perfect introduction to the college and the evening, with graduating student Rika Hamaguchi’s confident verbal narration giving insight into the group’s thoughts about study experiences and her feelings at this significant time as she embarks on a new chapter in life. Through Hamaguchi’s words, we gain an understanding of the meaning and origins of the movements being displayed, as well as the psychology behind them. Also graduating are Hans Ahwang, Czack Ses Bero, Casey Natty, Kyle Shilling and Philip Walford, who have all completed NAISDA’s four-year Diploma of Professional Dance Performance.

Shilling presents the only solo piece of the schedule. Justice? is a meditation on Aboriginal deaths in custody, with impressive choreography and music created by the student. His work is intensely emotional and energetic, and he demonstrates surprising maturity and gravity. Also memorable is Natty, who shows excellent focus and a solid presence in his various appearances. The athletic dancer executes choreography with precision and flair, and like all of the graduating class, rich with potential and promise. The young men’s performance in Grinding Stone by Frances Rings (an excerpt from Bangarra Dance Theatre’s artefact) is a highlight, bringing poignancy and depth to their mysterious dance.

Aside from the passionate achievements of NAISDA’s students, Your Skin My Skin is successful also for its excellent aesthetic values and accomplished technical capacities. The show runs smoothly with beautiful transitions, and atmosphere is always gauged just right. Music and sound might be second fiddle, but they are as delightful as the dance imagery occupying centre stage. NAISDA’s night of nights is a celebration of the year’s work by its fabulous staff and students, and an annual performance with heart and soul that dance enthusiasts will certainly enjoy.

Review: Tell Me Again (Eye Of The Storm / The Old 505 Theatre)

old505Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Dec 3 – 21, 2014
Playwright: Jeanette Cronin
Director: Michael Pigott
Cast: Jeanette Cronin, James Lugton

Theatre review
The stage is a sacred space. It has endless possibilities, and many have occupied and used it for different purposes, to achieve every imaginable effect and result. Jeanette Cronin’s Tell Me Again shows a love and respect for the theatrical form and its audience, aiming to provide a moment in time with something deeply emotional, perhaps making us feel things in a way that our real daily lives are too fragile or restless to permit. Cronin’s play invites us to encounter what is truest of the human experience, by instigating a series of raw and naked visceral responses by removing the protection of narrative and logic. It is poetry in motion that encourages us to get in touch with the the spirit within that compels us toward every action, yet that internal essence seldom seeks to be the centre of attention. For these 80 minutes, we come face to face with it, and it is sublime.

Direction and design of the work by Michael Pigott creates an inviting beauty that lets us connect with the work in a place that story usually resides. He engages our curiosity and we begin to apply our own stories to what he lets us experience. Where there is emotion, there is a human need to explain and understand its origin, and it is the spectator’s own creativity that is summoned in Tell Me Again. Pigott’s work is extremely tender and sensitive, but there is also an uninhibitedness that prevents things from becoming predictable. There are instances however, where the show seems to drift away from our consciousness, as we indulge in the ideas it inspires, but it invariably pulls us back with touches of drama and passion.

Flawless performances by Cronin and James Lugton produce a couple of characters palpable in their authenticity, and stunning with chemistry. Lugton’s minimal approach strips away layers of affectation so that only the very essential is left, and exposed like fresh wounds. It is a physical manifestation of the concept of love, not always immediate and recognisable, but incredibly moving and profound at the end. Cronin is intense but quiet, with a wild and devastating power barely hidden, explosive secrets brimming under the surface. The role she plays is strange but not a stranger. In fact, the complexities Cronin displays are familiar, feeling like private flashbacks unfolding before our eyes despite the peculiarity of the play’s eccentric plot.

We cannot live in a constant state of elevated sentimentality, but leaving emotions concealed is on one hand damaging and on the other, an unfortunate deprivation. Feelings are scary things, but Tell Me Again turns them seductive and irresistible. The indulgence in sadness and melancholy is an occasional necessity, and art is its friendly abettor, but in this production, escapism is not to be found, and the pain that remains, is naked.

Review: Rupert (Stage Mogul / Theatre Royal)

rupertVenue: Theatre Royal (Sydney NSW), Nov 25 – Dec 20, 2014
Playwright: David Williamson
Director: Lee Lewis
Actors: James Cromwell, Jane Turner, Guy Edmonds, Scott Sheridan, Hai Ha Le, Bert LaBonte, John Leary, Jane Phegan, Ben Wood, Glenn Hazeldine, Danielle Cormack

Theatre review
Biographies of fascinating people appeal to our inquisitive nature. We want to know how people tick, to discover reason behind behaviour, and to uncover secrets of the rich and famous. Rupert Murdoch is one of the world’s most well-known business people, with a personal and professional history that is documented ubiquitously in the public domain. David Williamson’s script is a chronological rehash of Murdoch’s many milestones, but does not provide analysis or insight that might offer a fresh perspective of the prominent figure. The plot reads like a Wikipedia entry, with one key event after another, none of which is surprising and everything is predictable.

Director Lee Lewis does an admirable job of creating a dynamic and colourful show from the plain script. The show feels like a Broadway musical with bells and whistles in every scene taking focus away from the lack of story and drama. Lewis does her best to add excitement with well paced and energetic sequences, but at over two hours, our attention struggles to stay interested in the deficient narrative. The production is designed successfully, with composer Kelly Ryall and lighting designer Niklas Pajanti both adding flair and inventiveness to the proceedings, and Stephen Curtis’ set and audio-visual elements giving the large performance space focus, shape and texture. Murdoch’s tabloid format takes to the stage, giving us cosmetic lavishness, and distraction from the real issues.

There are two Ruperts in the show. James Cromwell is presented as Murdoch as he is today (complete with Twitter account) telling us his side of the story like a narrator to the piece. Cromwell’s energy is oddly placid, but the actor’s sturdy presence helps him portray the allure of power and wealth convincingly. Guy Edmonds is outstanding as Murdoch in the flashbacks. He is astute, charming and sprightly, with a clarity that engages his audience, and a vibrancy that entertains. Edmonds does all the heavy lifting in the show, and his talent is a real highlight. Jane Turner’s comic abilities deliver a memorable, absurdist version of Margaret Thatcher, and Glenn Hazeldine impresses with a range of characters showcasing his amazing skills at mimicry and farcical exuberance.

So much of Rupert is strong and accomplished, but all the accoutrements in the world will not create a great story with a script as dry as this. All the interesting questions one might ask Murdoch in a personal encounter are not addressed. We leave not learning anything new, not understanding the man behind the madness, and completely unsatisfied.

Review: Absent Friends (Ensemble Theatre)

Venue: Ensemble Theatre (Kirribilli NSW), Dec 4, 2014 – Jan 24, 2015.
Playwright: Alan Ayckbourn
Director: Mark Kilmurry
Cast: Michelle Doake, Darren Gilshenan, Brian Meegan, Jessica Sullivan, Richard Sydenham, Queenie Van De Zandt
Images by Katy Green Loughrey

Theatre review
Theatre is much more than storytelling, but the allure of a captivating narrative is hard to resist. In Alan Ayckbourn’s 1974 play Absent Friends, a vague context is set up as a springboard for innovative use of time and space, and in the case of director Mark Kilmurry’s efforts, to deliver an unusual and unexpected form of comedy that challenges our notions of performance and entertainment. Diana is throwing a tea party for an old friend who is mourning the death of his fiancée. The group comprises six distinct and diverse personalities, each independently fascinating but unified by a mode of presentation clearly established by Kilmurry.

The show is often absurd and slapstick in tone, and we find ourselves laughing at inane moments that have little to do with the story, but it strives for something that is ultimately quite precise and polished. The enjoyment of the work lies in the way human traits and behaviour are exaggerated so that we recognise parts of life that are usually too subtle to grip our attention. Small things matter, and the production moves focus away from key plot points to emphasise minute interchanges that occur between friends. It encourages us to appreciate friendship not for the impact they may have on major life events, but for the unadulterated bliss derived from physical company and emotional closeness. Kilmurry’s direction is brave, but not always effective. The work depends heavily on the cast’s chemistry with its audience and achieving that familiarity was hit and miss on opening night.

Darren Gilshenan plays Colin, the recently bereaved, with effervescent irony and a mischievous presence. The actor’s sense of humour is a perfect match for the farce that unfolds. We believe the tragedy that Colin experiences, but are also persuaded by Gilshenan’s comic charms and impeccable timing. In the role of Marge is Queenie Van De Zandt, whose considered and dynamic approach provides some of the show’s biggest laughs. Her work is enchanting, exacting and hilarious, with an edginess that provides a vibrant energy whenever she takes centre stage. Michelle Doake and Richard Sydenham both perform outrageously memorable scenes, but are less consistent with their level of engagement with viewers.

We all need to laugh, but what people consider funny is a mystery, and attempts at locating keys to that mystery requires constant reinvention. Absent Friends has an experimental spirit that lights up the theatre. It takes many risks, and while they may not all pay off, the work impresses with its exhilarating and original take on live performance. The play may be forty years-old, but the jokes it presents are fresh as a daisy.

5 Questions with Kyle Stephens

kylestephensWhat is your favourite swear word?
It’s a kids’ show. Sugar Honey Ice Tea.

What are you wearing?
Well this is embarrassing but I’m wearing a tiger onesie.

What is love?
Love is what I share with my lovely girlfriend Amy Fisher. It’s like a sore tummy except with joy on top of it… and hugs haha.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
The last thing I saw that wasn’t what I was working on was Ruthless at the Seymour Centre. It was 10 out of 10.

Is your new show going to be any good?
It’s going to be amazing.

Kyle Stephens is in Mother Goose by Emu Productions.
Show dates: 8 -23 Dec, 2014
Show venue: King Street Theatre

Review: Cinderella (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Nov 13 – Dec 14, 2014
Playwright: Matthew Whittet (based on an original concept by Anthea Williams)
Director: Anthea Williams
Cast: Mandy McElhinney, Matthew Whittet
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Fairy tales appeal to our basic desires. They address our need to be acknowledged and exalted, which is probably why they so often take the form of love stories. Matthew Whittet and Anthea Williams’s Cinderella is about our need for love, but it seeks to transform the fantasies and lies of Disney world, relocating it to a space of truth, lived experience, and disappointment. Its characters Ashley and Ash, are thoroughly familiar beings who remind us of ourselves and of people we meet everyday. They are strangers in the night who reach out to each other, hoping for a connection, and it is that possibility of a soul finding its other half that touches and engages us.

When both Ashleys meet, their accidental encounter is an awkward one. They are not brassy personalities, and their attempts at stretching beyond their individual comfort zones in the act of seduction becomes the comedic core of the production. The actors are brilliant comics who deliver laughs with precision, but the plot feels repetitive in its emphasis on creating jokes from that incessant awkwardness that subsumes the otherwise interesting development of character and relationship that takes place under the surface. A major tonal shift finally occurs in the last quarter of the show, bringing a breath of fresh air along with immense poignancy. The conclusion is beautifully crafted, although the depth that is eventually exposed feels sadly momentary.

The charismatic Whittet plays Ash with an attractive ease, consistently amusing his audience with a quirky instinctual approach. The actor has a slight physique and his countenance is plain, but the magnetic presence he adds to the stage assertively demands our attention, determined to entertain at every opportunity. Also enjoyable is Mandy McElhinney, who presents herself as a committed comedian, always sensitive to punchlines and timing. Her enthusiasm for creating laughter is infectious, but it also alienates us from the emotional arc of her character’s journey. We wish to dive into Ashley’s experience, but often find ourselves pushed out to observe only the funny side of scenarios. It is noteworthy that McElhinney and Whittet perform the final dark scenes with excellent and surprising intensity, leaving us wishing for more of their serious sides.

This Cinderella is an accurate and timely representation of romance in the digital age. Technology and commerce have penetrated every aspect of our lives, yet some of our notions of love and relationships are adamantly traditional and wholesome. The show looks at how we survive loneliness, and the meaning of sex and relationships in the era of dating apps and casual hook ups. The reality is unbearably grim, but it is human to shield our vulnerability with dreams. In affairs of the heart, delusions and hope are two sides of the same coin, and only the ones looking at the stars will stand a chance of fleeing the gutter.

Review: Wasn’t Tomorrow Wonderful? (Fernerkle / Jordy Shea Theatrical)

jordysheaVenue: Sydney Theatre School (Chippendale NSW), Dec 3 – 14, 2014
Writer: Malcolm Frawley
Director: Malcolm Frawley
Cast: Josephine Waller, Stephen Bracken, Sarah Westhoff, Lauren Maddever, Genevieve Jarrett, Eleni Panayi, Emma Medbury, Demitra Sealy, Benjamin Hanly, Bass Hathaway, Claire Gandy, Ellis Neil, Nick Logan, Robert Carne

Theatre review
The play begins the day before Tegan and Silas are to wed, but Tegan quickly initiates a flashback to show us how the young couple had met and their subsequent journey towards matrimony. There is nothing extraordinary about their love story, in fact things are astonishingly plain. In an early scene, maid of honour Chloe mentions taking ecstasy in a club, but Tegan promptly reminds her that this version of events is to be revised for polite public consumption, indicating a tale that might be embellished and imaginary, but is sorely lacking in authenticity and truth.

Malcolm Frawley’s script and direction is strangely reminiscent of pantomime, yet it attempts to deal with adult subject matter. There is a lot of interest in sexuality and fidelity, although those themes are never explored with any depth or originality, and words like “slut” are used liberally presumable to criticize female sexual behaviour (or maybe just for comic effect). The lovebirds go through some incredibly trivial tensions in their relationship, but we are never too concerned because their story’s happy ending had already been revealed in the play’s introduction.

Leading lady Josie Waller holds the production together with excellent conviction, but is unable to elevate the role beyond something quite surface and disappointingly unintelligent. Stephen Bracken is the handsome Silas, but the play presents him with no challenge and few lines, often requiring him only to look bewildered and worried. Lauren Maddever has the unenviable task of playing Sophie, a young woman who has to subject herself to a series of makeovers in order to rid herself of her idiosyncratic appearance, as though turning into one of the crowd would deliver her from unhappiness. Bass Hathaway plays a series of characters, leaving a strong impression with his comedic abilities. In the role of Kelvin, he is genuinely funny playing a love struck young man hypnotised by the woman of his dreams.

It is disconcerting that Wasn’t Tomorrow Wonderful?‘s archaic notions of gender roles are central to its plot and narratives. There is also an immaturity on many fronts that makes the production feel underdeveloped and unstudied, even though it is obviously put together with earnestness. Like Sophie, artists can sometimes be derivative in their approach. The show takes the form of something familiar, and while it is not realistic to expect everything in the theatre to be original, it does not offer anything fresh or amusing. It has an adventurous spirit, but it needs to find greater inventiveness, to say something that had not already been said too many times before.