Review: Man Of La Mancha (Squabbalogic Independent Music Theatre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Sydney NSW), Feb 25 – Mar 21, 2015
Book: Dale Wasserman
Lyrics: Joe Darion
Music: Mitch Leigh
Director: Jay James-Moody
Cast: Stephen Anderson, Marika Aubrey, Hayden Barltrop, Reece Budin, Ross Chisari, Laurence Coy, Paul Geddes, Courtney Glass, Brendan Hay, Glenn Hill, Jay James-Moody, Rob Johnson, Shondelle Pratt, Kyle Sapsford, Tony Sheldon, Joanna Weinberg, Richard Woodhouse
Images by Michael Francis

Theatre review
Optimism and delusion can sometimes be different sides of the same coin. In an often dreadful world, having only a realistic mindset can be a debilitating existence. Hope is essential for moving forward, and at certain points in life, the only thing that we can cling to. The darker the days, the braver the dreams, and against the backdrop of the Spanish Inquisition, Man Of La Mancha features perhaps the most idealist of all literary characters, Don Quixote.

Jay James-Moody’s direction of the work is dark and desolate. The pessimism underlying the protagonist’s fantastical imaginings overwhelms the stage, and while melancholia can be a beautiful thing, it can also be oppressive. The production is polished and slick, and nothing much seems to be out of place, but the lack of a joyful energy makes for a show that feels monotonous, even though it bears a warm sincerity that can become very moving at crucial points.

Tony Sheldon’s rendition of the principal song “The Impossible Dream” is perfectly delivered, and he shows us what it is that makes a star. Sheldon’s performance is perhaps not sufficiently effervescent in earlier sequences, and the tone of the show is set too grave too early, but the depth that he brings to the role is more than anyone can hope to glean from a commercial musical, and his ability to create quiet moments of profundity is a thing to behold. In the role of Aldonza is Marika Aubrey who provides a much needed vibrancy to the music with her very bright timbre, but her acting does not reach the level of authenticity necessary for her narrative to engage. Much is made of Aldonza’s struggle for goodness, but we never quite believe that story.

More compelling is Ross Chisari whose impressive disciplines in voice and movement stand him in good stead, for a dependably charming performance as Don Quixote’s squire Sancho Panza. Chisari also serves as choreographer, and his work on that front is equally accomplished. The cast is moved around the stage with meaning and ease, and his efforts at creating colour from gestures and tableau are subtle but highly effective. The creatives do a solid job on the production, making this the best looking show from Squabbalogic thus far. Brendan Hay’s costumes, Simon Greer’s set and Benjamin Brockman’s lights are transportative and aesthetically sophisticated, and even though they are unable to inject greater buoyancy into the dramatics, they achieve great success with its visual imagery.

The dark is meaningless without light. Man Of La Mancha is lovingly crafted, but it does not communicate with enough fluency. It needs to be punchier, with greater dynamic range, so that our emotions can fluctuate with its story. The plot is written so that we come to a powerful conclusion, but what we feel does not match closely enough to what is seen unfolding on the stage. The artists here have dared to dream, and that is important, for as long as the brave lead the way, the rest can follow.

Review: Vampire Lesbians Of Sodom (Brevity Theatre)

brevityVenue: Kings Cross Hotel (Kings Cross NSW), Feb 25 – Mar 7, 2015
Playwright: Charles Busch
Director: Samantha Young
Actors: Jamie Collette, Skyler Ellis, Nick Gell, Pollyanna Nowicki, Olivia O’Flynn, Eliza Reilly

Theatre review

Queer culture and art are intrinsically anarchic. They are concerned with destabilising the status quo, not just for the things we talk about, but also for the ways in which they are discussed. Charles Busch’s Vampire Lesbians Of Sodom is a comedy that imagines an absurd narrative, and places it in an absurdist theatrical structure. There are rules to making a show work, and while they are not entirely disregarded in Busch’s writing, there is a thorough subversion of conventions that results in a highly unusual text that not only makes us laugh, but also encourages a more enlightened and evolved way of looking at social dynamics.

Adding to the already decadent flavour of Busch’s script, is a burlesque sensibility brought on by the incorporation of Musical Director Matthew Predny’s original compositions. The songs are sharp-witted and rousing, helping to propel our glee to dizzying euphoric heights. Also wonderful is Benjamin Brockman’s lighting design, successfully transforming a very ordinary venue into a theatre buzzing with a sordid and libidinous fecundity.

Central to the show’s themes is a playful but resolutely emancipated view of gender and sexuality, and emanating from that, a kind of paradigm that challenges the heteronormative imperative that affects every life. Director Samantha Young does exemplary work with the comedy as well as the politics of the piece. Part John Waters and part Mel Brooks, she brings a powerful and specific sense of humour that will prove to be curiously amusing to some, and uproarious for others. There is an intense and adventurous spirit that seeks to explore the limits of performance, philosophy and taste, conjuring a night of wild entertainment that pushes the right buttons.

The cast of six is cheeky and exuberant, with a unified comedic tone that truly delights, although it must be noted that each impressive player is given ample space to showcase their distinct and considerable talents. Eliza Reilly as Madeleine Astarte is sure-footed and engaging, adding an unexpected polish to the very bawdy material. Her Mae West-style delivery of punch lines is charming and effective, and the actor displays a natural flair for timing that endears herself to the audience with seemingly little effort. Astarte’s arch nemesis La Condessa is played by Nicholas Gell, whose very energetic and extravagant performance never feels out of place no matter how over the top he pitches it. It is a rare opportunity to witness an actor be completely ridiculous, and enthralling us with the hammiest presentation one can possibly imagine.

Edgy theatre is easier to dream up than to actualise (especially in conservative spaces like the Sydney theatre scene), but this version of Vampire Lesbians Of Sodom is certainly mad, bad, and dangerous to know. There will be some who find it too frivolous, and yet others who think it too gruff, but this is not a show that aims to please everyone, for it knows its crowd, and caters only for its own kind.

Review: As You Like It (Bell Shakespeare)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Feb 21 – Mar 28, 2015
Playwright: William Shakespeare
Director: Peter Evans
Cast: George Banders, John Bell, Gareth Davies, Alan Dukes, Emily Eskell, Charlie Garber, Zahra Newman, Kelly Paterniti, Dorje Swallow, Tony Taylor, Abi Tucker
Images by Rush

Theatre review
As You Like It is not one of Shakespeare’s phenomenally poignant stories, nor is it an exceptional work of fantastical exuberance. It offers interesting personalities and amusing situations, but lacks a sense of grandeur and elements of surprise. Shakespeare might be idolised in all the right quarters, but his writing is certainly not without its detractors. His use of language especially, can be alienating for twenty-first century audiences, and when handled with less than expert proficiency, productions rarely deliver good results. Peter Evans’ direction never quite takes flight. There is plenty of investment into characters who seem to be dynamic and colourful, but we struggle to relate to anyone. Action on stage is lively and confident, but nobody connects with authenticity.

It is never certain where the centre of the play lies. The obvious focus would be on the love story between Rosalind and Orlando, but the remarkably poor chemistry between the two leads leave us searching for something more meaningful, or at least with some level of appeal. Zahra Newman as Rosalind is effervescent and a joy to watch when given the opportunity to take centre stage, but the important quality of romance in her narrative does not convince. Playing Orlando is the regrettably miscast Charlie Garber, whose charming presence and considerable comedic talents prove not to be sufficient for the role to take shape in our imagination. He does his best to exhibit commitment to the more dramatic sequences, but his efforts pale in comparison to when he gets to play the fool.

The stars of the show are its designers. Michael Hankin’s set brings to the stage a glorious interpretation of a Shakespearean forest, with floral garlands cascading from above, adding beautiful dimension and breathtaking hues to the performance space. Lighting by Paul Jackson is sensual but also varied, effectively depicting the movement of time and transformation of space. Kate Aubrey’s costumes are subtle and elegant, with just enough theatrical flourish to help actors establish mood and traits of individuality. Music and sound are utilised with great impact to influence atmosphere and to provide a sense of unpredictability. Kelly Ryall’s songs are pure entertainment, and an excellent touch that helps enrich an otherwise unexciting plot structure.

John Bell plays Jacques, and late in the second act, delivers the famous “all the world’s a stage” monologue. For a moment, the theatre turns electric, and descends into an attentive hush. The magic is real, and there is no mistaking its existence when it does take over. It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a very big team of talents to put on a show of Bell Shakespeare’s usual ambitious scale, but on this occasion, it seems that the sum of its parts has not resulted in a collaboration greater than the whole.

Review: Pope Head (Théâtre Excentrique)

r0_3_1200_678_w1200_h678_fmax[1]Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Feb 24 – Mar 6, 2015
Playwright: Garry Roost
Director: Paul Garnault
Cast: Garry Roost

Theatre review
Francis Bacon’s art is among the most revered of the twentieth century. His paintings continue to travel the world’s museums, and his following grows with each year and generation.The power of his work is immediate and compelling, often arousing visceral responses in the viewer before their intellectual, political and historical dimensions can even begin to be explored. Garry Roost’s play is a biography on Bacon that takes cues from stage conventions, as well as from Bacon’s work with its sense of abstraction and energetic expressionism.

Roost’s writing is manic and intense, with a pace and structure that presents a serious challenge to any actor. The unconfined and free-wheeling thought and speech patterns that emerge from the text is frequently incoherent, but fascinating. The words have a definite rhythm that reflects an understanding of the personality it represents, one that is unrelenting, passionate and thoroughly original. An actor usually takes to the stage in order to share narratives and ideas, but Roost is not quite a storyteller on this occasion. His performance focuses on a re-creation of Bacon’s very being that delivers, his idiosyncratic presence and unique mannerisms. We are presented with something of an apparition, accurately imitated and fabulously convincing, but also alienating and at times, puzzling. There is a difference between knowing someone through facts and figures, and gaining insight from observing a creature as it goes about its business, as though from a detached and empirical position. We learn a little about the painter from Roost’s script, but it is from his intuitive portrayal that we acquire a greater appreciation of the man whose legacy has touched many.

We rely on artists to do things differently. It is a thankless task to discover rules and then dismantle them in the public sphere. Audiences need to be disoriented and provoked, even though we prefer to be fed the same formulaic nonsense at every outing. Bacon’s paintings are at their best, upsetting and offensive, and this theatrical manifestation of Pope Head does its best to pay tribute. It is not an easy show to digest, and it is not the most amusing hour of live entertainment, but it does reinforce the memory of a great career and provides the most valuable of all creative endeavours, divine inspiration.

Review: Kill The Messenger (Belvoir St Theatre)

belvoir1Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Feb 14 – Mar 8, 2015
Playwright: Nakkiah Lui
Director: Anthea Williams
Cast: Matthew Backer, Katie Beckett, Nakkiah Lui, Sam O’Sullivan, Lasarus Ratuere
Image by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Nakkiah Lui has a sadness to share. Lui is a young Gamillaroi and Torres Strait Islander woman who has seen and experienced the extraordinary injustices suffered by our Aboriginal communities, and she brings a passionate commitment to the writing of a work that attempts to articulate the incredible complexities unique to our first Australians. She aims for truth on all fronts, because the need to expose history, emotions, hopes and confused turbulence is an urgent one, and it is clear that the expression and release of an inconceivable darkness is an imperative that resists any suppression. Lui’s script is a coherent but fragile one with seams that threaten to unravel at any moment. The difficulty of representing deep, personal wounds in text form is addressed directly in the play itself, with Lui speaking as its autobiographical protagonist and declaring the conundrum of maintaining authenticity in the process of creating a work for an audience. Indeed, the play is imperfectly structured, but its message is communicated with magnificent saliency and the poignancy it carries is exceptionally profound.

It is not the kind of presentation that provides solutions to our problems, because it works hard to avoid fiction. There is humour in much of the dialogue but the comedy is black, and the reality it makes us face is desperate and sombre. Kill The Messenger embodies a sorrow that is entrenched in many of our lands and its peoples, but it is never without hope. Lui’s fighting spirit is the loud voice that instigates every line and action, and it is one that refuses to surrender. Anthea Williams makes the right decision to place words at the very forefront of the show. Her directorial style is minimalist so that no theatrical factor is allowed to become an obfuscating agent, and all we can hear is the script, and consequently, all we see is the stark cruelty that some of our society is capable of. Performances, while not always consistent, are passionate and engaging. The strongest player is Lasarus Ratuere in the role of Paul, a tragic figure and an unfortunate stereotype perhaps, but depicted with sensitive nuance so that his humanity manifests infinitely larger than his faults. The actor’s work is impressively dynamic, with a surprising gravity barely hiding beneath an ability to portray hardship and misfortune in deceptive nonchalance. Also very moving is the playwright’s own presence on stage.  Lui can sometimes be overly animated in scenes with co-actors, but her many soliloquies are beautifully tuned. Her confidence is obvious, and her conviction, immense. When Lui speaks to (and confronts) us, her every intention and emotion reverberates, leaving us nowhere to hide.

Kill The Messenger is art at its most important and social activism at its most necessary. It is also a colourful and vibrant piece of theatre that has an irresistible power to captivate and engage. Nakkiah Lui’s work has all the bleak honesty of youth, but none of the pretension. Her play is barely resolved because she sees through the state of our affairs and recognises the dire plight that many of her sisters and brothers are living in. She does not pretend to know the way out, but her determination to find it is the foundation of this compelling work. We must cry, if only to acknowledge the undeniable grief that exists in the blood that pumps through the veins of this great continent, but afterwards, we will find clarity, if only in our hearts.

5 Questions with Moreblessing Maturure

moreblessingWhat is your favourite swear word?
I would have to say fucking, except it has to be pronounced a certain way. Silent ‘F’ replaced with a soft ‘P’ sound then the rest kinda sounds like ‘uggin’. In summary it’s how you would imagine Alf Stewart saying it.

What are you wearing?
I would like to have you all believe that I’m wearing trackies and a pyjama top because I’m about to sleep but lesbehonest, actually no, we’ll go with that.

What is love?
Ooowwooaaahhhh woo ooohh. Well it’s the decision to always make the effort no matter if it’s reciprocated, noticed or appreciated.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
Wow it’s been too long. It would be Missing Pages by Lainey Molloy and Bianca Zouppas shown at ATYP Theatre had me sitting on the edge of my seat hyperventilating as stuttering Lewis Carol was trying to remember why he was at the trial. 6.53 stars easily.

Is your new show going to be any good?
Look. I’ll be honest, it’s not going to be just any good, it’ll be the best goods in town. You’ll have to laugh otherwise you’ll cry. Tickets will sell like whatever came AFTER hotcakes.

Moreblessing Maturure is appearing in Fallout, by Lauren Pearce.
Show dates: 18 – 27 Mar, 2015
Show venue: Exchange Hotel Balmain

Review: Swan Lake (The Australian Ballet)

Venue: Capitol Theatre (Sydney NSW), Feb 20 – 28, 2015
Choreographer: Graeme Murphy
Images by Branco Gaica and Lisa Tomasetti

Theatre review

Graeme Murphy’s Swan Lake is deeply romantic, with a narrative involving a love triangle, savage betrayals, and a descent into madness. It depicts emotions that many are familiar with, only with an intensity that few can bear to experience. Having established a framework with Tchaikovsky’s music from 1876, Murphy’s creation is a fantastical universe based on the old tale of a young maiden’s heartbreak, drawing on its supernatural elements and the woeful tragedy that befalls her. First performed in 2002, this recent incarnation of Swan Lake is faithful to classical styles, but also modern in its sensibilities. Murphy’s characteristic use of fabrics is incorporated into his choreography on several occasions, the physical expression of insanity is refreshingly unconventional, and the removal of sorcerers and curses from its story to provide a contemporised context of mental illness, all contribute to a production that is of and for our times.

The work is operatic and epic in tone, and its duration is certainly not brief. The three-act saga can feel self-indulgent in the later portions of the piece, but execution on all fronts is consistently of a high standard. Kristian Fredrikson’s sets and costumes, and Damien Cooper’s lights in the century old Capitol Theatre is a dream materialised before our eyes. As a thing of beauty, Swan Lake is intricately constructed to deliver a luxuriant feast for the senses, appealing especially to our need for traditional aesthetics that offer comfort, as well as offering a sublime sensuality that is best represented by those who know their bodies best.

Dancers of The Australian Ballet are vibrant and enthusiastic, almost rhapsodic in their connection with their assignment. Their enthusiasm is a source of infectious joy, and there are few pleasures in life sweeter than witnessing accomplished dancers caught in a moment of euphoria. Madeleine Eastoe as the forlorn Odette, proves herself to be a formidable talent with physical abilities that enthral, an impressive capacity to convey emotion, and most of all, an innate understanding of grace that brings a sense of the sublime to her performance. Eastoe has a quietly magnetic presence, but she delivers all the dynamic range required of the choreography, often surprising us by the power that radiates from her slight being.

Odette’s retreat into a secure space of her imagination is symbolic of the increasingly insular ways we live our lives. With the evolution of technology, and the increase in wealth in many cities, we are more than ever before, disconnected from one another. The ballet is a social institution, an enjoyment of which cannot be replaced by any screen of any size. Life can seem too daunting and reality can sometimes be too painful, but artists do what they do, so that we can enter into their world momentarily to find an instance of contact. It is magic to see world class talent in action on a grand old stage, and it is also magic to sit in the dark with many hundreds of others who are for a few minutes, looking at and hoping for the same things.

Review: Piccolo Tales (Piccolo Bar)

piccolotalesVenue: Piccolo Bar (Kings Cross NSW), Feb 3 – May 28, 2015
Playwright: Vashti Hughes
Director: James Winter
Cast: Vashti Hughes, Vittorio
Image by Roslyn Sharp

Theatre review
Vittorio has been operating the coffee machine at Kings Cross’ Piccolo Bar for 50 years. He has seen the area through phases of evolution, and calls himself “the last man standing”. Vashti Hughes’ Piccolo Tales chronicles Vittorio’s experiences, observations and reflections on the people and life of Kings Cross, perhaps the most colourful locality in Australia. The script lovingly captures a character full of verve and vigour, and details the ups and downs of his days as a stalwart of an extraordinary community composed of people from every class and vocation. Hughes’ writing is documentary, but rich with comedy and drama, powerfully assisted by Ross Johnston’s music (original and curated) that works to further amplify emotional dimensions of each wistful anecdote.

The production takes place in the very café from which Vittoria sees the world. Ten members of the audience are squeezed inside the tiny interior, and others contend with watching from outside through windows and a doorway. Hughes performs the key role, as well as several diverse incidental characters. Vittoria is himself positioned inside so that he is free to interject and on occasion, take over the stage for short, but very satisfying, spurts of flamboyant displays. Hughes’ remarkable skills as entertainer and storyteller are beautifully showcased in depictions of exciting personalities, with complex shades of light and dark, and an ubiquitous, tender pathos. The largely monologue format requires that the actor finds strong rapport with her very intimate audience, and she connects impressively, whether scenes are buoyant or introspective. Direction by James Winter is consistently sensitive and thoughtful. His work is melancholic, but has an optimistic sensibility, with an irresistible comedic tone that never has to try too hard. A generous spirit that embraces humanity in its many unfathomable forms is evident in the production, and we luxuriate in its unique glowing warmth.

Inter-generational dialogue is not always easy, but we have much to learn from our elders. The histories of our homes are of utmost importance, but finding out about them are seldom part of our daily priorities. Piccolo Tales addresses the need to preserve priceless memories, so that all who live in Kings Cross, and those who go through it, can gain a better understanding of its enigmatic glory. Without legends and connections to history and community, homes are only houses, and the meanings of things are banished to emptiness.

5 Questions with Benjamin Brockman

benjaminbrockmanWhat is your favourite swear word?
It is a mixture of Cum-Dumpster and Bitch-Tits the hyphen makes it dirtier.

What are you wearing?
Emotionally I am currently wearing me heart on my sleeve but physically I am naked wrapped in my leopard spotted sheets, I feel like Cruella de Vil if Cruella de Vil had a sex change and moved to Dulwich Hill.

What is love?
What’s love got to do got to do with it? (Tina, bless) But if you must know Love is Lust over a longer period of time with some glitter thrown on top and baked at 220 for a few months (I am in an on and off relationship with theatre, and let me tell you just between us he is a very ruff top)

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
Shit, I haven’t seen other shows in a long time other then my own shows and I don’t mean to be biased but my own work is at least 26 out of 5 pretzels. I just watched The Theory Of Everything, 5 out of 5 pretzels.

Is your new show going to be any good?
I think you meant to ask me where to buy tickets, because this show is going to be the hottest thing you will see this year! Ingredients include: Bubbles, music, lesbians(fem and butch), Cher, Glitter, Skin, more Glitter, High Heels, Sequins, Hairy Cleavage, Spice Girls, Vampires, Non Hairy Cleavage & a 2000 year old Hyman did I mention CHER?! How could the show not be any good?

Benjamin Brockman is designing set and lights for Vampire Lesbians Of Sodom by Charles Busch.
Show dates: 25 Feb – 7 Mar, 2015
Show venue: Kings Cross Hotel

Review: The Plot (Mantouridion Theatre)

theplot1Venue: Mantouridion Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Feb 13 – Mar 1, 2015
Playwright: Evdokia Katahanas
Director: Sophie Kelly
Cast: Dina Panozzo, Deborah Galanos, Dina Gillespie, Maggie Blinco, Jennifer White, Julie Hudspeth, Matt Charleston, Nicholas Papademetriou, Michael Kotsohilis
Image by Mark Micaleff Photography

Theatre review
Stories about the underdog hold an everlasting appeal. We identify with the struggles of a person facing odds that are almost too much to endure, and the dramatic tensions that can be derived from those circumstances are unmistakable. Evdokia Katahanas’ The Plot talks about a social worker’s fight against the powers that be, at an aged care facility. Lily is an intimate confidante of the people she cares for, but their best interest are not always a priority for the directors, who are more concerned with keeping up appearances and a pleasing bottom line. Katahanas’ script includes elements that entertain and amuse, as well as characters that are colourfully diverse, but the structure of her writing prevents a comfortable rhythm from taking hold. Scenes of realism are interrupted by monologues, creating a plot that although rich in variety, can tend toward feeling fractured and uneven.

The production is performed by an accomplished and confident cast, led by the eminently energetic Dina Panozzo. In the role of Lily, Panozzo is full of empathy and passion, and she puts us firmly on her side from her very first appearance. Her warm presence connects with audience and co-actors, and her valiant and generous approach gives the production a sense of enthusiastic benevolence. The performance space is a large hall, and director Sophie Kelly addresses that daunting vastness effectively. She prevents any hint of dull stasis from occurring by encouraging movement and introducing sonic dimensions that fill the room beautifully. Composer Stephen Rae and sound designer Daniel Natoli both contribute strong work to the production. Kelly’s penchant for drawing out quite extravagant styles of acting ensures that the show remains entertaining for its duration.

How we treat the elderly can often be disgraceful. All our lives owe a debt to generations before, and when our seniors are no longer able to fend for themselves, it is completely reprehensible when they suffer mistreatment and abuse. The Plot shows that there are many admirable people devoted to providing care for those who are in need, but their honourable motives can be impeded by bureaucracy and the ineptitude of those in more powerful positions. Lily’s fight is a good one, even if every battle cannot be won.