Review: Bad (Old Fitz Theatre / Red Line Productions)

redline2Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Jan 14 – 31, 2015
Director: Scott Witt
Cast: Penny Greenhalgh, Kate Walder
Image by Yael Stempler

Theatre review
Bad is a show performed by clowns about acting (amongst other things). Along with director Scott Witt, performers Penny Greenhalgh and Kate Walder have devised a work that uses clowning traditions and influences from Commedia dell’arte, to deliver a theatrical experience that is slightly left of centre. Their show is more amusing than it is funny, and their ideas are familiar rather than original, but there is an earnestness and purity to their approach that can be quite charming.

Walder is the “stunt woman” clown who speaks with a French accent, toddling around in a pair of tap shoes. Insisting that she is Cate Blanchett, the Hollywood and theatre star, she goes on to present a show entitled ‘Where’s My Bucket, Mom?’, enlisting the help of Greenhalgh, “philosopher” clown who gradually warms to the idea of being Geoffrey Rush (another star of stage and screen). The plot and story are chaotic and random, but we are always brought back to the theme of performance. Walder and Greenhalgh explore the nature of the theatrical space and the experience of acting using their unconventional methods, with mixed results. The pair is well rehearsed, but the play’s frenzied style and structure require more intense energy levels to provide a sense of abandonment and absurdity to match its concepts. Both actors seem fairly cautious, creating a space that feels safe, where we would prefer a sense of danger and unpredictability.

Not every actor is a clown, but all clowns act. They give us something unique, that can be found in their license to transgress. Clowns do not speak much, because they communicate in better ways. They reach out to us in realms that are beyond words, so that we understand the world from a different perspective. When done right, they impart a kind of wisdom that brings unexpected enlightenment. Bad is not always good, but what’s worse is doing things the same way over and over again. There is a courage at play here, and we need more of it.

Review: Masterclass (Old Fitz Theatre / Red Line Productions)

redlineVenue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Jan 14 – 31, 2015
Playwrights: Gareth Davies, Charlie Garber
Directors: Gareth Davies, Charlie Garber
Cast: Gareth Davies, Charlie Garber
Image by Marnya Rothe

Theatre review
Two actors collaborate on a work for the stage, talking about what they know best. Gareth Davies and Charlie Garber’s Masterclass is about the craft and experience of acting, and all the anxieties associated with it. They take the art of self-mockery to great heights by depicting versions of themselves that are flamboyantly theatrical and deeply cynical, to interrogate the nature of their creative beast. An extreme self-consciousness manifests itself in a persistent need to make light of their art form, which delivers gales of laughter effectively, but its attempts to demystify and deconstruct the psychology and process of the actor takes irreverence to a sometimes uncomfortable place, and one begins to question the exasperating disquiet that Davies and Garber seem to feel about their profession. We see their resistance against taking any of their craft seriously, but we see them exploring this iconoclasm, with impressive commitment and skill.

There is a distinct, almost stubborn sense of humour at play, but the pair manipulates pace, rhythm, and plot dynamics to give the work variations in tone that keep us engaged, despite its very simple premise. Garber has a quiet confidence that allows him to portray the wild comedy of Masterclass with relative restraint. His style is often deadpan, but the clarity of intent he brings to every moment gives a surprising coherence to his unorthodox part, and a convincing strength to his punchlines. Davies’ approach is wider in range, and his comedic choices are decidedly riskier. The man’s energy is the foundation of the piece, and his control over spatial atmosphere and his audience’s responses is quite marvellous. We do not necessarily empathise with every idea Davies expresses, but there is certainly a lot to be admired of his ability to entertain, while conveying concepts that can be quite obscure.

Technical design is a crucial element to the structure and timing of this comedy production. Uncredited work on sound and Benjamin Brockman’s lights add much needed sophistication to an otherwise aesthetically challenged show. The play’s context allows for imaginative use of sets, props and costumes, but no investment is placed on those areas, and Brockman is called upon to provide all visual embellishment in the black box to admittedly satisfying results. Also noteworthy is stage manager Nick Foustellis’ precise and elegant execution of cues and changes.

The play concludes with a hint of poignancy that arrives after a long wait. The two young men prove themselves to be brilliant at light entertainment, but they seem to shy away from the inevitable gravitas that any theatrical piece requires. Not every story needs to give you something to think about, but when careless, jokes can leave you feeling empty. The sweet taste of success is for delighting in, and young talent should learn to embrace their gifts, even in the land of tall poppies.

5 Questions with Haiha Le

haihaleWhat is your favourite swear word?
I’m not discerning. I love them all, swearing is shitfuckincuntty rad! I started timidly, a late bloomer at 16, but once the floodgates opened I became a veritable gutter mouth.

What are you wearing?
Nothing but the blood of a virgin coconut (organic & cold pressed).

What is love?
A four letter English word worth seven points in scrabble. In Vietnamese it’s Yêu, which sounds like ‘Ewww’ when pronounced in English.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
Cyrano de Bergerac at Sydney Theatre Company. I give it 3 gold stickers. Props to the actors though, they get 5 gold stickers.

Is your new show going to be any good?
Hells yeh, hi five!

Haiha Le is starring in Dream Home by David Williamson.
Show dates: 31 Jan – 28 Mar, 2015
Show venue: Ensemble Theatre

5 Questions with Shane Bosher

shanebosherWhat is your favourite swear word?
There are three that regularly vie for #1 spot: bullcrap, fuckpuppet and cunting. All almost unspeakable.

What are you wearing?
I go for a simple look: black t, classic blue jeans, black Nike trainers. Consider it my contemporary take on the classic 1970s director garb: black skivvy, leather jacket, cigarette.

What is love?
Love is a wonderful predicament which has been destroying and enriching people’s lives since forever. It’s simplicity, it’s courage, it’s vulnerability, it’s difficulty, it’s joy – it is all of the things. Without it, stories would be rubbish and I’d be out of a job.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
A touring version of The Sound Of Music in New Zealand. I left after the Mother Superior had climbed every mountain. A gruelling trip up into the Alps with wobbly vibrato and wobblier sets. 2 stars. Am seeing Tabac Rouge tomorrow, so am holding out all hope for that to restore the faith.

Is your new show going to be any good?
It’s a whole lot of crash bang love. Great play, top notch cast, stellar production team and the Old Fitz as you’ve never seen it before. I reckon so.

Shane Bosher is directing Cock by Mike Bartlett.
Show dates: 3 Feb – 6 Mar, 2015
Show venue: The Old Fitzroy Hotel

Review: Radiance (Belvoir St Theatre)

belvoirVenue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Jan 3 – Feb 8, 2015
Playwright: Louis Nowra
Director: Leah Purcell
Cast: Leah Purcell, Shari Sebbens, Miranda Tapsell
Image by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Our relationships with parents may not all be bad, but they are certainly complex. Louis Nowra’s Radiance offers a look at the way one woman’s human errors reverberate for generations after, and accordingly, we observe the inevitable karmic inheritance from predecessors. Cressy, Mae and Nona are three sisters who have reunited in North Queensland for their mother’s funeral. Their personalities are vastly different, and there is no shortage of friction as they navigate their rare time together in the old house where they had grown up. Nowra’s script is dramatic and sensual, with an aggressive but beautiful energy that surprises in a milieu that is frequently dark and plagued with anxiety.

Leah Purcell’s direction suffers from her additional responsibilities as actor in the role of Cressy. The play is uneven, with group dynamics feeling lacklustre even though the portrayal of closeness between the women is successful. Their interchanges are believable but come across oddly tame, notwithstanding some quite sensational themes. There is an understated elegance to the piece, but it is needlessly subdued, with many missed opportunities for bigger laughs and more heightened drama. It is noteworthy however, that Purcell is able to find authenticity in the writing, and the emotions of the text are adequately played out so that we feel in touch with the essence of the narrative, despite the scarcity of a sense of theatricality.

As actor, Purcell is never convincing as an opera diva who has found success overseas, and her overly restrained interpretation not only does little to embody class, it also detracts from some of the more flamboyant sections of the play. Fortunately, Purcell’s ability to deliver gravity in key revelatory moments holds our attention, and she gives the plot an enjoyable coherence. Middle child Mae is played by Shari Sebbens whose presence is noticeably weaker than her counterparts’. Her work is focused and strong, but her depiction of seriousness can read a little dreary, and consequently, her character becomes too distant. On the other hand, the youngest role of Nona is engagingly and empathetically performed by Miranda Tapsell, who connects with us from her very first entrance. The vibrancy she introduces to her scenes is remarkable, if only that energy is sustained by the other players. Tapsell has an easy confidence that keeps us on her side, and the compassion she brings to her character allows us to believe the extraordinary circumstances we witness unfolding.

Sound design by Brendan O’Brien is thorough and thoughtful, adding a dimension to the show that facilitates the articulation of a complicated and deep emotional universe. Dale Ferguson’s set is sophisticatedly beautiful, but his design forces a substantial portion of the play to be performed quite far upstage, prohibiting us from getting more involved.

Louis Nowra’s script is undeniably rich and seductive. It deals with familiar difficulties of real life, but the world it inhabits is almost exotic. Radiance uncovers a wildness that exists in our own homes, one that hides in plain sight yet begs to be examined. Secrets are associated with shame, but it is the abandonment of shame that will ultimately set us free.

Review: Short+Sweet Theatre 2015 Top 80 Week 1 (Short+Sweet)

shortsweetVenue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Jan 7 – 11, 2015
Festival Director: Pete Malicki
Image by Sylvi Soe

Theatre review
Sydney’s Short+Sweet Theatre festival features around 160 different 10-minute plays over 8 weeks. It is an excellent opportunity for talents of all experience levels to experiment, and a way for a myriad Australian stories to be told. The festival takes the form of a competition, with winners selected by judges and audiences, to be announced in March. The contest environment might encourage participants to only create crowd-pleasing works, but the event is actually quite varied in style and substance. On each night, ten plays are presented by a wildly diverse group of artists with no discernible unifying theme, which means that the likelihood of any audience member enjoying every piece in the program is slim, but discovering a couple of works that would appeal is certainly not difficult.

Short plays are challenging to performers who need to provide depth to characters who appear only fleetingly. They have less scripted pages to rely on, so ingenuity becomes central to their process. Ally Morgan plays Stephanie Tamara Anderson, a terminally ill teenager in Bokkie Robertson’s Wish (pictured above). Morgan’s confidence and conviction is a joy to watch, and the playful enthusiasm she brings to the stage is thoroughly captivating. In Jeffrey Hampson’s Wherefore Art Thou Oh Writing Inspiration, Hampson plays the role of William Shakespeare in an imagined struggle to create a new play, tentatively titled ‘Juliet and Romeo’. His performance finds focus after a shaky start, and endears to the crowd with a humorous take on the creative process.

Choose by Sam Jenkins is an intelligent work that entertains and amuses its audience, with a daring and fresh approach to theatre-making. Jenkins’ creation seems to be partly improvisational and partly scripted, but there is no way to tell for sure. The only person we see is a volunteer who reacts to Jenkins’ voice which provides prompts and narration. There is an element of Choose Your Own Adventure to its structure, and it relies heavily on Jenkins’ brilliant sense of humour and lightning fast responses to keep us excitedly engaged. A great strength of the piece is its unpredictability, and its success is evident in how much we wish to see it again, with a different unsuspecting subject steering Jenkins in different directions.

The Short+Sweet brand has expanded across the globe, and is now “the biggest little play festival in the world”. It provides excellent context for community involvement and unparalleled exposure, and is a crucial part of the Australian theatrical landscape that unearths impressive talent and inventive ideas. An event of this scale will have moments of disappointment, and patience will be tested, but with the bad, comes the good, and when the good shines through, all else is forgotten.

5 Questions with Gareth Davies

garethdaviesWhat is your favourite swear word?
Swearing is the refuge of thieves and louts, a thinking man with a moderate grasp of the English language needs not swear to display his displeasure. Although the word ‘cunt’ is pleasing to yell out of bus windows.

What are you wearing?
Hopes, dreams, and some loose thai fisherman’s pants.

What is love?
Love, huh? It’s a warm bicycle seat, paella on the barbecue. It’s a short gasp and a long goodbye. Long fingers. Smooth skin. Sticky hearts. Jewels from a dragons trove. It’s smart casual. But what would I know, right? I’m just one more sucker who looks good in a dinner jacket.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
I don’t see shows because I might pick up bad habits, so, I guess my own? Five stars.

Is your new show going to be any good?
Not our problem.

Masterclass, by Gareth Davies and Charlie Garber.
Show dates: 14 – 31 Jan, 2015
Show venue: The Old Fitzroy Hotel

5 Questions with Sonya Kerr

sonyakerrWhat is your favourite swear word?
That’s such a hard one! Although I have just discovered a new one, which I am enjoying immensely, ‘cockwomble’. It’s just terribly fun to say, and can be used in a variety of ways! Due to the show I have been using and enjoying the word ‘bally’ too though, and you can put them together. “What a bally cockwomble.”

What are you wearing?
I just got home from rehearsal, so nothing terribly exciting. Blue jeans, black t-shirt, lace ups and black 50’s headscarf.

What is love?
The willingness to accept someone else’s weirdness, put up with their annoying habits and share all the odd things life throws your way, wholeheartedly and joyously!

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
Last one I saw was The Motherf**ker With The Hat at Darlinghurst Theatre. Awesome show – 5 stars.

Is your new show going to be any good?
It bally well better be! Honestly, I think we have a lovely cast and a fantastic story to tell, so I think audiences will walk away happy.

Sonya Kerr plays Catherine Winslow in The Winslow Boy, by Terence Rattigan.
Show dates: 17th Jan – 14 Feb, 2015
Show venue: The Genesian Theatre

5 Questions with Charlie Garber

charliegarberWhat is your favourite swear word?
Swear words. My favourite. Hmmm. Well, I’ve always liked *&%^*$$@#%Y. But then there’s *&^. I suppose I’d have to go with ).

What are you wearing?
What am I wearing? What am I wearing?! Jesus! You know, I’ve just trawled Facebook for the last ten minutes. The world is a truly sorrowful place. What am I wearing??!! 2014 has been a ragged year of war, lies, paedophilia and greed… Grey Bonds briefs and a blue and white striped Vanishing Elephant T, all piled languorously on a teal linen doona cover.

What is love?
Love is the chill of a demon baby’s breath glimpsed from an antique pram on a frozen park lake.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
The last show I saw was Cyrano de Bergerac at STC. I give it five bags of popcorn and five bags of soda.

Is your new show going to be any good?
Masterclass is the show and it’s a steaming pile of garbage.

Masterclass, by Gareth Davies and Charlie Garber.
Show dates: 14 – 31 Jan, 2015
Show venue: The Old Fitzroy Hotel