Review: The Credeaux Canvas (Lambert House Enterprises)

lamberthouseVenue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Jan 29 – Feb 14, 2015
Playwright: Keith Bunin
Director: Ross McGregor
Cast: Emilie Cocquerel, Carmen Duncan, Felix Johnson, James Wright

Theatre review
In Keith Bunin’s The Credeaux Canvas, the commodification of art and youthful ambition are explored through the intertwined lives of three young Americans in 2001 New York City. This is a story of broken dreams and deceit, as well as the often underplayed hardships of growing up. On the surface, Bunin’s characters have everything in the world going for them, each with talent, intelligence and social access, but they make choices that are doomed from the start, and all have to pay the price for their mistakes. The play delves into relationships and events, but leaves us to question the ways humans err, and to investigate what it is that likens us to the moth that gets burned by a flame.

This is a handsome production, beautifully and thoughtfully designed to evoke an accurate sense of time, space, and drama. Emma Vine’s set of a dilapidated apartment is executed with sophistication and flair, and lighting by Liam O’Keefe adds variety and nuance to scenes with careful subtlety. A highlight of the show is music by Christopher Gordon, who takes charge of scene transitions with great imagination and impressive elegance.

Ross McGregor directs the show with a passionate sensibility. He tries to keep scenes active and lively, but is restricted by individual abilities of his cast. Leading lady Emilie Coquerel is polished and energetic, but her character never feels believable enough, although it must be said that her transformations are depicted with good clarity. The key role of Winston is played by James Wright, who brings a natural naiveté to the painter’s wide-eyed entrance into adulthood. Both Coquerel and Wright can be overly self-conscious, most notably in a nude scene where the actors engage uncomfortably in a long conversation, revealing not much more than their bodies.

Felix Johnson is a dynamic performer who shows great commitment in his supporting part of Jamie, with an endearing emotional volatility that allows us to identify and engage with his narrative. Veteran actor Carmen Duncan appears in just one scene, but blinds the audience with her formidable talent and skill. She plays art collector Tess with sensational presence and brilliant humour, captivating the crowd in a way that only extensive experience and that enviable star quality can.

Death is mentioned several times in The Credeaux Canvas, and indeed, life is short, and although we only have one chance at it, mistakes are made so that they can be rectified, and through regret, we can grow. There is a darkness to the play’s conclusion with its characters finding themselves at a juncture where they can either continue on roads of destruction, or make a change for the better. It is a significant point in time for them, but their story gives us the knowledge that every moment is an opportunity to move, from the dark to the light.

Review: Beyond Therapy (Understudy Theatre)

understudytheatreVenue: King Street Theatre (Newtown NSW), Jan 28 – Feb 14, 2015
Playwright: Christopher Durang
Director: Johann Walraven
Cast: Tel Benjamin, David Hooley, Andrew Johnston, Rebecca Scott, Nadia Townsend, Jasper Whincop

Theatre review
Christopher Durang’s sensational Beyond Therapy was first staged in 1981, at a time when psychotherapy and counselling were just arriving into the consciousness of the mainstream. Unlike the tendency today to class every colourful mode of behaviour and thought pattern as dysfunction of one sort or another, the play emerges from a period which paid attention to the peculiarities of human expression to locate machinations that might be able to provide explanations to our ever-present existential angst. The inevitable interrogation of normalcy, and the dismantlement of conventional expectations takes pride of place in Durang’s meditation on life for the thirtysomethings, but Johann Walraven’s direction of the piece does not always adhere to that sense of chaotic ideology. Walraven’s exploration of the play comes from a realistic perspective, trying to find coherence in what is essentially absurd and wild at heart. His need to find understanding is entirely reasonable, but the approach causes a muting of what could have been a comedy that guffaws at a much higher octane. The show is about being crazy, and although Walraven does not forget that fact, his interest in grounding the action in a place of logic sometimes gets in the way.

Performances by the cast of six are committed and focused, but an air of restraint permeates the atmosphere. The material requires no straitjacket, and when the actors find moments of abandonment, the production clicks right into position. Nadia Townsend plays Dr Wallace with a kind of Saturday Night Live sensibility, playing for laughs rather than earnest authenticity and her approach works well. There is no need for actors to provide explanation for Durang’s words because they are loud and clear on their own. They should, however, bring an energy to the stage that embodies a manic universe that the text is keen to reveal, so that its raucous comedy can be unleashed. Chemistry in the work is honest and resolutely present, especially in a sequence that sees Rebecca Scott’s character Prudence taunting the patrons at a restaurant. The ensemble loses its self consciousness and takes on an exciting unhinged humour, delivering some of the biggest laughs of the show.

Themes in Beyond Therapy are timeless and universal. It talks about growing up and marriage, within a context that investigates the meanings of sanity and social acceptability. Great art attempts to excavate the layers of fictions that we place between our daily lives and a sense of truth that seems to lie in an irrefutable core somewhere. We go about our business moving from one day to the next with the niggling suspicion that most of what we do is farcical, and entirely laughable if not desperately pointless. Yet, most of us would rather play the role of the sane, persisting with the anxieties and uncertainty of a life done in appropriateness. We believe that the alternative is out there, but we are afraid of what it might present, especially when madness begins to look no more closer to truth than our private falsities.

5 Questions with Anna Freeland

annafreelandWhat is your favourite swear word?
Fuck. Especially when said with an English accent. So classy.

What are you wearing?
A grey knit jumper, patterned trackies & socks. Sorry Sydney, what Summer?

What is love?
A hard thing to define without cheapening it. For me it’s a treasured and beauteous thing. It’s also the person who drives me places and looks after me when I’m sick, makes me cups of tea and watches Parks & Rec with me.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
Miracle City at The Hayes. It was epic. Blazey Best had me simultaneously in stitches and tears. 4.5 stars.

Is your new show going to be any good?
Any good? Suzy, you’re gonna have the time of your life! Honestly though, it’s a fantastic show to be a part of; the music is provocative, the story is classic and the dancing is dirty, what’s not to love?

Anna Freeland can be seen in Dirty Dancing, the musical.
Show dates: until Feb 22, 2015 in Sydney (the show then heads to Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth.)
Show venue: Sydney Lyric Theatre

5 Questions with Anna Colless

annacollessWhat is your favourite swear word?
I heard a friend say fudgeknuckles the other day and I’ve rather taken to it. Mostly because I can’t figure out what on earth inspired her to come up with it.

What are you wearing?
A luxurious fur, elbow-length gloves and a suave new hat. Oh wait that’s not a mirror, that’s a painting… Nevermind.

What is love?
Love is everything.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
I saw Doorstep Arts’ production of Next To Normal at the Hayes Theatre, and I’d give it a solid 4 stars. Or to put it another way, 1 star for every time I was moved to tears. It was a phenomenal show.

Is your new show going to be any good?
If the little I have seen so far is anything to judge by, it’s going to be a heck of a lot more than good! You really don’t want to miss this chance to see such an incredible show performed by what is truly a stellar cast!

Anna Colless is in A Little Night Music by The Sydney University Musical Theatre Ensemble.
Show dates: 25 -28 Mar, 2015
Show venue: Seymour Centre

5 Questions with Sheridan Harbridge

sheridanharbridgeWhat is your favourite swear word?
I’ve always been fond of douche rag and cunt wad.

What are you wearing?
An old faded summer dress, tights for rehearsals, and fluro yellow plastic shoes. It’s as terrible as it sounds.

What is love?
Sleep ins. Eggs, coffee and sharing a good view.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
Yana Alana Between The Cracks. ‘Twas excellent stuff.

Is your new show going to be any good?
Of course! I’m in it! And I’ll try and get my fluro shoes in it too.

Sheridan Harbridge is appearing in Gaybies, part of the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras festival programme.
Show dates: 6 Feb – 8 Mar, 2015
Show venue: Eternity Playhouse

Review: PUNCTURE (Legs On The Wall / Form Dance Projects / Vox – Sydney Philharmonia Choirs)

Venue: Riverside Theatre (Parramatta NSW), Jan 21 – 25, 2015
Director: Patrick Nolan
Choreographer: Kathryn Puie
Composer: Stefan Gregory
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review
Dancers are at the forefront in the exploration of theatrical space. Without the burden of words and narratives, they open up senses to what the physical presence of things and bodies can do on a stage, and how we communicate between persons, to create meaning where little or none had existed before. Puncture features a great number of people, some are dancers, and the others singers, introduced as though emerging from the audience, and we are encouraged to identify with them, and to read their performance as though what they present have come from us, even if we feel secure in our seats with temporary passivity. The mix of characters features a beautifully diverse range of ages and ethnicities that reflect the breadth of human experience, and of Australian life. The vocalists in particular, are almost a visual copy of the viewing crowd, and efforts at incorporating them into the dance, provide some of the more emotional moments of the piece.

Patrick Nolan and Kathryn Puie have created in Puncture, something that is a little less self-conscious, and a little more accessible than what we have come to expect of modern dance. They investigate the notion of inclusiveness to address the art of performance, as well as the consumption side of show business. It is a noble ambition to blur the lines of where the show starts and where it ends, but redefining audienceship is a difficult exercise. While not always successful, the ideology of breaking barriers provides strong impetus that shapes the show into something that feels adventurous and earnest. We are at our most engaged when the cast tackles the unconventional. The incorporation of rigging (executed behind the scenes by Jon Blake and Felix Kerdijk) to lift bodies 4 metres away from the ground, the soprano on an aerial hoop, and the tender interchanges between choristers and dancers; we are kept fascinated and entertained.

The 22-strong choir is led by Music Director Elizabeth Scott and Composer Stefan Gregory, with accompaniment on piano by Luke Byrne and on percussion by Bree Van Reyk. The marriage between what we hear and see is wonderfully cohesive, with the music at its most successful when it ventures into the avant garde. Even at its most daring, all the sounds are elegantly resolved, except when words like “hello” and “love” are used, disrupting the abstract beauty that wishes to be experienced in personal ways. It is noteworthy that there are many intriguing personalities in the choir, who could have been featured more heavily in the work’s choreography. Trained dancers tend to lose their individualities in the very discipline they invest in, and the juxtaposition provided on this occasion with non-dancers on the same stage is a main feature. Getting the singers to do more with their bodies is probably challenging, but it is precisely the idea of redefinition that would be elevated further, and the meanings that one draws from Puncture can therefore be more powerful.

Many in the show are dedicated and accomplished dancers, but this is not a piece about athleticism or superhuman faculties. It is an expression of how we live, feel and breathe as individuals and as collectives. Its themes are not always clear, but it articulates its concerns with sensitivity and focus. These artists intend to show us something important in their inimitable ways, and if we think that everything important can be put into words, then they have proven us wrong. / /

Review: After Dinner (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Wharf 1 Sydney Theatre Company (Walsh Bay NSW), Jan 15 – Mar 7, 2015
Playwright: Andrew Bovell
Director: Imara Savage
Cast: Glenn Hazeldine, Anita Hegh, Rebecca Massey, Josh McConville, Helen Thomson
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
As our societies become increasingly concerned with political correctness, theatre seems to have to reach back through the annals of time to locate comedies that appeal to wide audiences, and ones that do not disrupt any of our delicate sensibilities. Contemporary subject matter is replaced with nostalgia, and we can laugh at days gone by in the safety of imagining that things have improved since. Andrew Bovell’s 1988 play After Dinner is a harmless piece about loneliness and sex. It does not resonate with great poignancy, but it does strike a chord with accurate depictions of human emotion and behaviour.

The production’s core feature is its extraordinary cast. All five actors are brilliant comics and they take the opportunity to showcase their very best under the generous direction of Imara Savage, who cleverly places focus on performance above all else. The script and its humour have aged significantly, but Savage’s team apply a modern interpretation that gives an unexpected edge to what could have been a desperately clichéd farce.

Helen Thomson plays Monika with magnificent aplomb. There is a fearless abandon to her approach that gives the show an air of wildness and decadence, encouraging the crowd to indulge in the text’s many mischievous, and occasionally blue, jokes. Thomson’s extravagant sense of humour is infectious and irresistible, and the almost ridiculous bigness of her performance is given solid support by a gentle empathy she invests into her character’s underlying sadness. The role of Stephen is played by Josh McConville, who manages to miraculously marry sleaze with sweet, creating a persona that is as repulsive as he is charming. The actor’s physicality is perfectly exploited (with the help of stunning work on wigs by David Jennings) to create an appearance and a movement vocabulary that is nothing short of hilarious, and very evocative indeed, of a kind of unfortunate barfly from the era.

Design elements of the production are effective but less than ambitious. The look and sound of the work is surprisingly tame for a decade that is associated with poor taste and general gaudiness, but fortunately, all the action that takes place on stage is anything but beige. Beneath the energetic and incessant provision of laughter, is a view into modern lives, and the challenges we experience with issues of intimacy. Instead of after dinner tribute bands, we talk today, about hook up apps and sexting, but continue to be confounded by the search for love and some of its illusions of fulfillment. With the unfathomable advances in information technology, communications have taken over every aspect of every second, yet loneliness is more present than ever before.

5 Questions with Rhys Keir

Rhys Keir HeadshotWhat is your favourite swear word?
Is this going to come back to haunt me when I audition for Playschool or run for Mayor? Well… it’s Motherfucker. I’ve always loved the way that word feels to say and it’s the only swear word that my Dad really, really hates. Plus when I’m freestyle rapping, which I do frequently and terribly, it’s a good filler word while I’m trying to think of what to say.

What are you wearing?
No word of a lie… I’m currently in my backyard pool wearing green underpants (please excuse the graphic imagery).

What is love?
Seeing the best of someone and the worst of someone, and choosing both (stole that from a poem).

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
I saw Sport For Jove put on The Crucible at Bella Vista Farm. I’ve been going to that festival every year since it started and it’s one of my favourite parts of the year. An amazing show. 4.5 stars. That deduction of 0.5 stars comes from pure jealously and envy that I wasn’t in it.

Is your new show going to be any good?
I have every reason to think so! It contributes towards a very important discussion and there are some very talented people involved.

Rhys Keir is appearing in Gaybies, part of the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras festival programme.
Show dates: 6 Feb – 8 Mar, 2015
Show venue: Eternity Playhouse

Review: The Winslow Boy (The Genesian Theatre)

genesianVenue: The Genesian Theatre (Sydney NSW), Jan 17 – Feb 14, 2015
Playwright: Terence Rattigan
Director: Nanette Frew
Cast: Matthew Balkus, Meg Mooney, Lois Marsh, David Stewart-Hunter, Sonya Kerr, Lachlan McNab, David Prickett, Tom Massey, Jane Thorpe, Mehran Mortezaei, Roger Gimblett

Theatre review
Terence Rattigan’s 1946 work The Winslow Boy centres around the theme, “let right be done”, and its distinction from the concept of attaining justice. Not a great deal is made of this intellectual dissection in Nanette Frew’s direction, but in place of philosophical depth is quaint nostalgia and lighthearted entertainment. The interpretation is anti-naturalistic, with more than a hint of stylistic emulation of English theatre and life in the 1910s, resulting in a production that is staid and distant to begin with, but slowly warms up to something that is ultimately quite delightful.

There are good performances in the piece, including Sonya Kerr who plays Catherine Winslow, a suffragette finding her way through a changing world for women. Kerr is vibrant and playful, bringing a fun liveliness to the space. Her enthusiasm is not always matched by colleagues, but her persistence pays off and she creates the most engaging character of the show. In the role of Sir Robert Morton is Roger Gimblett whose chemistry with Kerr is a highlight. Gimblett is a dynamic actor who delivers effective drama, but would benefit with greater familiarity with his lines. The master of the house Arthur Winslow is performed with elegant gravity by David Stewart-Hunter who is a convincing patriarch, if a little oversubtle in approach.

Many audiences love a period piece, and Genesian’s The Winslow Boy satisfies on some levels. Cosmetically, it is well put together (especially Sandra Bass’ hats and Sharon Case’s wigs), but much of the execution feels surface, with characterisations and storytelling requiring further development. The production gives its creators much to be pleased about, but bars can always be raised higher in artistic expression, even when tackling a century old tale.

Review: Short+Sweet Theatre 2015 Top 80 Week 2 (Short+Sweet)

shortsweetVenue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Jan 14 – 18, 2015
Festival Director: Pete Malicki
Image by Sylvi Soe

Theatre review
Week two of 2015 Short+Sweet Theatre features a wealth of talent. There is exciting writing, clever direction, inspired acting, and sharp costuming to be found peppered through the night. Although no single work is able to be outstanding in every creative capacity, memorable moments are many, and the event continues to be an important one for Sydney artists and audiences alike.

Robert Renshaw’s Chat To Death teeters on the precipice of pornography, but the dangerous eroticism he explores is thrilling and beautiful, although quite explicit. The context he builds is not perfectly resolved, but his use of language more than satisfies. In Ryan Pemberton’s Business Meeting, a macabre and very quirky take on what happens in corporate boardrooms is beautifully directed by Pemberton whose sense of humour is odd, unique and very appealing. Direction is also a highlight in Rachel Welch’s So Says The Sea. James Hartley finds nuance in a deceptively simple script, and portrays surprising depth in just ten minutes. His cast is a strong one, especially Petrie Porter and Aleks Mikic who both impress with committed and meaningful interpretations of what could have been quite plain characters.

Other fabulous performances include Matthew Friedman, whose own piece The Least Impossible Thing That Happened This Evening opens the programme with vibrant energy and genuine enthusiasm. Equally buoyant is Jo Ford’s Chance You Can Dance, whose outrageously camp actors Hilary Park and Drew Holmes deliver irresistible laugh out loud sequences with their charming references to familiar cultural archetypes. Gavin Vance’s Screamers! The Wizard Of Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! (pictured above) stars the unforgettable Joseph Chetty who plays an Australian version of Dorothy Gale, blending drag comedy with a bawdy cabaret approach to present a scathing critique of the Abbott government, culminating in a live rendition of ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ that is thoroughly and utterly electrifying. Dorothy’s call for a better national leader is a convincing one, and for a quick minute, she makes us believe in the pot of gold that lies at the end.