Review: The Diary Of Anne Frank (New Theatre)

newtheatre1Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Jun 9 – Jul 11, 2015
Playwrights: Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett
Director: Sam Thomas
Cast: James Bean, Caroline Levien, Rowena McNicol, Jessie Miles, Jodine Muir, Martin Portus, Martin Searles, Geoff Sirmai, Justina Ward, David Wiernik
Photography © Matthias Engesser

Theatre review
Based on Anne Frank’s The Diary Of A Young Girl, this classic play by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett premiered 1955 in New York City. It is classic in structure and subject matter, with characters and a narrative that follows all the rules of conventional drama. Even though the work is based entirely on true events, the script is filled with elements that ensure a theatricality that writers of fiction can scarcely dream up. Anne Frank’s story is a significant part of our literary and social history, and although not particularly groundbreaking or trendy by today’s expectations, its resonances are intense and undeniable.

Direction by Sam Thomas is nuanced and sensitive, but also exuberantly dynamic. She has created a rare cohesiveness in a cast that is unified by a vision and tone that aims to tell Anne Frank’s story with clarity and a lot of heart. Thomas’ measured approach is quiet, and her hand is an invisible one. Front and centre are not the egos of artists, but the tragedy of WWII and a young girl’s experiences and understanding of it. All the cruelty and savagery of war, and the catastrophic debasement of Jewish peoples are presented powerfully, with a formidable tension that builds gently and gradually through accomplished design work from all aspects, most notably Heidi Brosnan’s lights and James Ackland’s sound. Costume by Famke Visser, and Allan Walpole’s set both contribute effective and elegant solutions to the expression of time and space, quickly drawing us into life in the now legendary attic in Amsterdam.

All 10 actors involved are perfectly cast, each with an individually memorable presence and all creating poignancy from different perspectives. The chemistry on stage is effortless but unmissable, and we never question the authenticity of their very close relationships. In the role of Anne is Justina Ward, who never quite looks thirteen years-old, but who has us firmly in the palm of her hand, delighting us with an animated personality and a precisely studied interpretation of Anne’s psychological and emotional evolution over the two years. Palpable, joyful and thoroughly adorable, Ward’s work as leading lady in The Diary Of Anne Frank is quite the revelation.

The problem with old stories is that we dismiss them as stale, forgetting what it is that makes them persevere. Sam Thomas and her team have well and truly dusted off every cobweb and revealed afresh, a tale of humanity and hope, that will touch even the hardest of hearts. The work moves us by appealing to our common benevolence, but is never overly sentimental. The characters are simply realistic and genuine, so we cannot see them as anything but our sisters and brothers. The memory of Anne lives on because our belief in justice never fades, and the need to uphold it in our societies never diminishes. The fallibility of human nature means that different groups are persecuted at different times, but there is also a determination in us all that want to do right, and it is to that spirit that this play speaks.

5 Questions with Cecelia Peters and Jessica Arthur

Cecelia Peters

Cecelia Peters

Jessica Arthur: What is your ultimate Sugar fantasy (think Homer Simpson in sugar land or Willy Wonka’s Chocolate factory).
Cecelia Peters: The Dalai Lama, José Gonzalez and myself in a hotel room – stay with me – We order an abundance of raw vegan treats from room service (yes I’m one of the ‘kale people’. I also don’t want to offend the Dalai Lama and I’m not sure of José’s dietary requirements) and sit on the balcony, play music, slowly eat yummy goodness, and smile and everything is perfect. The end.

What is the most embarrassing thing you did as a teenager? or what is your guilty pleasure?
I feel as though the teen years are about embarrassing yourself on a daily basis and then learning to manage the urge to hide in bed all day. Or maybe that was just me. Does that answer the question?

A typical question, always a goodie – which three people, dead or alive, would you invite to a dinner party and why them in particular?
There are so many inspirational people I would want to invite (mainly to show off how intellectually gifted I am). However, above all I’d want the table banter to be brilliant so I would say, purely for entertainment reasons, Amy Schumer, Dorothy Parker and Ella Fitzgerald.

What is some golden acting advice you’ve been given that you always keep in mind?
Whilst I was at WAAPA I worked with an Irish director called Patrick sutton. He understood my impulses more than I did. He said to me “Cece. You can’t ever switch off on stage: you’re not the kind of actor who can get away with it. You have to keep the ball in the air, don’t let it drop, or it falls flat.” I guess because it wasn’t some passed down line from the hundreds of acting methods that it just stayed with me. So simple. Don’t let the ball drop.

A song lyric that you live by.
“Twerk hard, play hard,” by the Internet.

Jessica Arthur

Jessica Arthur

Cecelia Peters: Favourite city judging by its art scene?
Jessica Arthur: Favourite city art-scene-wise definitely has to be Vienna. I spent my days in the Museumsquartier and nights at the theatre. My favourite place was the Leopold Museum where I fell in love with my favourite artist Egon Schiele. I also couch-surfed with some hippy, bridge dancing, juggling to tango music, dumpster diving folk so Vienna takes the sweet Austrian cake for me.

Who’s your favourite feminist at the moment?
My friend just gave me How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran. I am only a few chapters in but she is a true contemporary feminist and also HILARIOUS. Also I must mention my two buddies Katie Cawthorne and Laura Lethlean who I have co-founded The Anchor theatre company with. We have a group on facebook where we share feminist articles and they will both forever be my favourite feminists!

Where’s your happy place in Sydney ? Do you have one?
My happy place in Sydney is more like a happy moment. That moment is when you’re coming out of the City Circle tunnel and you get that always remarkable view of Circular Quay from the train. As a Melbournian in Sydney it always astounds me and it will never get old. (I must also give a shout out to Satellite cafe in Newtown because they have great coffee and it is such a chill place to meet up with friends).

Do you get ESP with your twin brother?
Sadly no, but we can have full conversations where only a few knowing looks and very little words are required.

Favourite show this year thus far?
Kill The Messenger at Belvoir because of what it did as a piece of theatre. In my mind, theatre should say something and spark thought to the extent that you leave the theatre and think about what you saw for days after. The content of Kill The Messenger did that for me and continues to do so months after viewing it.

Jessica Arthur is directing Cecelia Peters in The Sugar Syndrome by Lucy Prebble.
Dates: 15 – 30 June, 2015
Venue: District 01

Review: Beyond The Neck (Emu Productions / Epicentre Theatre Company)

kstVenue: King Street Theatre (Newtown NSW), May 28 – Jun 13, 2015
Playwright: Tom Holloway
Director: Markus Weber
Cast: Dana Brierley, Jessica Hobden, David Ritchie, Brayden Sim
Image by Thomas Adams

Theatre review
Not a day goes by that we do not hear about terrorism. The fear of being attacked by enemies is reinforced by our government and media fervidly, but the truth of our experience shows that it is not external forces that have caused us greatest harm, but those within that we consider to be neighbours. The “Martin Place Siege” of just half a year ago shocked the entire nation, and brought back memories of the horrific “Port Arthur Massacre” of 1996, where 35 people were killed and 23 wounded. Tom Holloway’s Beyond The Neck is an expression of a deep grief that is inflicted upon a community after a catastrophe of that magnitude. The play’s intent is to heal, and to explore the nature of emotional and psychological trauma.

The four-actor cast performs most of the piece in individual monologues, with several moments of very brief interaction. Not all are well prepared, in fact some appear to be quite unready for the production, but Dana Brierley and Jessica Hobden work well to portray their characters with a degree of passion and accuracy. There is a misplaced flavour of melodrama to their intensity, but they help to bring variance to the energy on stage.

Music is played fairly loudly in the background for most of the duration, and is almost always a distraction. The mood it creates is often contrary to what the actors try to achieve, and the audience is prevented from connecting meaningfully with the stories being told. Set design seems unnecessarily busy and visually confusing, with levels and colours that do not contribute to the poignancy of the play.

The production is a timely one, considering our interest in the subject matter. Many of us have strong feelings about events of mass terror, and an opportunity for catharsis is undoubtedly welcome, but on this occasion there is insufficient clarity in the execution of its purpose. The issues we face are complex and a lot more is required for those things to begin to make sense. |

Review: Love (Shut The Front Door)

shutthefrontdoorVenue: PACT Theatre (Erskineville NSW), June 2 – 6, 2015
Playwright: Patricia Cornelius
Director: Sean O’Riordan
Cast: Kimberly Kelly, Ebony Halliday, Ford Sarhan

Theatre review
Art can tackle any subject matter, but when it ventures into the more obscure parts of life, artist and viewer must both find a way of communication that achieves some level of resonance. Patricia Cornelius’ Love features three young drug addicts and their aimless existences. Nothing they experience is more than fleeting pleasures, except for the romantic love that they may, or may not, have found. Cornelius’ use of language is an interesting exploration into the speech of young Australians from the low rungs of life’s echelon. They speak plainly, but their words do not express depth of thought and emotion. The best they can manage is frustration, which is perhaps a true representation of youth. For many theatregoers, the characters’ lives are distant and objectionable, and although Sean O’Riordan’s direction translates plot lines well, we struggle to find any common ground. Horrible things happen but finding empathy is challenging.

The performers begin the piece with insufficient passion, but eventually find their feet to portray more genuine sentiments in the latter half. The play is about love and romance, but we are rarely able to be convinced of the relationships on stage, which unfortunately makes the production quite precarious at many points. Ford Sarhan provides good support as Lenny, with a natural comic ability that can deliver laughs at will. Even though the actor can feel like the show’s saving grace, his style of performance does not always find cohesion with his colleagues, and the tone he introduces, although delightful, seems to run contrary to intentions of the text. Leading ladies Kimberly Kelly and Ebony Halliday are less charming, but both manage to provide strong focus and poignancy at the end.

For some, the only thing worth living for are the relationships they foster. Those less fortunate might have nothing but a string of pointless moments interrupted only by emptiness. Creating a life with meaning does not come easy, but with education and age, enlightenment is always within reach for those of us in the developed world. Love asks us to think of the young and how we treat them. Our prejudices are put to test, but converting fundamental beliefs is a difficult task, and compassion proves not to come spontaneously in all cases.

Review: Venus In Fur (Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

darlo1Venue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), May 29 – Jul 5, 2015
Playwright: David Ives
Director: Grace Barnes
Cast: Anna Houston, Gareth Reeves
Image by Helen White

Theatre review
The bedroom is not for thinking about politics, if sexual pleasures are to be had. This statement reveals the wealth of meanings that are embedded into our desires and the way we satisfy them. David Ives’ Venus In Fur is a brilliant exploration into the manifestations of our sexualities, and an examination of impulses that might run contrary to our intentions and the kinds of people we wish ourselves to be. The quality of autonomous irrepressibility of our sexual appetites often betray the public personae we convey to the world. Ives’ writing is supremely complex, but truthfully so. It is highly intellectual but never pretentious or overly academic. It is a rare articulation of the way our problematic sexual selves resist suppression and tempering, and it looks at the implications of those deeper meanings that our sex seem to express. Through a context of sado-masochism, the play investigates the chasm between private and social, how we are able, or unable, to understand our true selves, and the impact that sex can have on the rest of one’s life. Also, Venus In Fur is some of the wittiest and most outrageously entertaining theatre one can ever wish to experience.

Direction by Grace Barnes is completely masterful, with a firm grasp on all the script’s themes that constantly and unpredictably fluctuate, thus representing the inconvenient and devious ways human nature can manifest. Barnes’ work pays attention to the most minute of nuances, and turns them into poignant, sometimes formidable statements, but she also creates flamboyant sequences of theatricality that are nothing short of edge-of-your-seat stuff. There are loud political messages being said here, and there is a delicious assertiveness that accompanies them, even (or maybe, especially) if they do come into conflict with one another. When art wants to get at the truth of something, the results are often antagonistic, and in this case, the incessant exposure of our humanly contradictions is exciting and at times, rapturously so. It is an acknowledgement of all our strengths and weaknesses, and a celebration of our determined exertion to become better.

Anna Houston is magnificent as Vanda, an enigmatic character written so vast, she seems destined to embody all of womanhood. It is an impossible idea, but Houston’s work is boundlessly passionate and versatile, and she exceeds all requirements of the hugely demanding text. The actor is dynamic at every moment, always keeping us entertained with a bold comic sensibility, and challenging our mental capacities with a range of subtexts so acerbic and provocative, that we cannot help but be entranced. The wildness of her approach is informed by a powerful impetus that can be emotional, political, or libidinous, depending on what she wishes to portray. Houston is a captivating performer full of drama and depth, perfectly formed for this show, and the kind who can shine in any other role on any stage. Her colleague Gareth Reeves is less vibrant in the role of Thomas, but equally solid and compelling. Reeves’ depiction of sexism from a male perspective is honest and surprisingly delicate. The authenticity of his work is key to the show’s intellectual effectiveness. The presentation of sexism as convoluted and inextricable gives the production an immense feeling of texture and an impression of interminable layers that plays on our minds relentlessly. Reeves’ commitment and focus gives the show an air of confidence, which allows us to lose ourselves in the plot, and let the players take us on a ride of extremes.

Design elements are understated but necessarily so. Sound and lights contribute greatly to psychological dimensions that are always in play. Aside from a few thunderous roars and purposefully abrupt light changes, Sian James-Holland (lighting designer) and Jessica James-Moody (composer and sound designer) work quietly to add to tensions and atmosphere without drawing attention to themselves. Realistic costume design by Mel Page also serves plot and characters beautifully without too much embellishment, although some fetishistic leather items do seem to have an ebullient effect on some members of the audience.

Telling stories about the other, inevitably makes one an easy target for criticism. Men writing plays about the subjugation of women can never escape chastisement, but an artist stepping into a minefield provides opportunities to reflect on the worst and most rarely visited recesses of our being. David Ives’s perspectives are unique and refreshing in contemporary discourse on issues of gender and sex. It takes a lot of sophistication to get into discussions that flow erratically like experimental jazz music, but Venus In Fur‘s consistent resonances assure us of the validity of its many controversial ideas. There are few things more valuable in art than its analysis of repressed or forbidden subjects, especially when they address the fundamentals of all human life, like love, sex, and the struggle for who gets to be on top.

5 Questions with Katy Curtain and David Woodland

Katy Curtain

Katy Curtain

David Woodland: If you were to kill someone, how would you do it?
Katy Curtain: I’m not sure, but I know how I’d get rid of the body? If you’ve seen Breaking Bad, you can probably guess where my head’s at…

What was the last show you wished you were in?
I remember having really strong performance envy when I saw La Soiree a while back. It just looked like constant joy. But if I were in it, I wouldn’t be able to watch it, so win win.

If you had to make everyone read one book, what would it be?
Lying by Sam Harris, because it’s a life changer that could improve human behaviour en masse, and it’s conveniently teeny tiny! It fully fleshes out how white lies are most destructive to the person telling them. The way it explores thoughts and behaviour is fascinating.

What fictional television world would you like to spend a week in?
The Sopranos! That part of the world has always captivated me! And a week would be the perfect amount of time to eat my weight in Italian-American food, revel in the accent and indulge in the novelty of gang life before actually having to prove my loyalty.

When you were a child, what did you want to be?
Pat Rafter’s pregnant wife. I saw her on TV all the time when he was playing. She was filmed crying in the crowd one of the times he won the US Open, and I can’t remember if she was pregnant or if I just thought it would be a cooler story if she was. Anyway, I shoved a basketball up my top, made myself cry and walked around like her for a day. I was 7, so I can probably count it as my first acting credit.

David Woodland

David Woodland

Katy Curtain: What’s the best theatre experience you’ve had in Sydney?
David Woodland: As a performer or audience member? Working with Brevity as a performer is definitely up there with the best. The experience of Wittenberg was something that I was extremely proud to be a part of. It challenged me as a performer, and was just a killer script. As an audience member…this is a hard question…I see more indie theatre over main stage, and many experiences stick out in both. But I will say that at the moment there has been a lot of great independent works going on all over Sydney. I can’t pick an overall best, but Phaedra (Lies, Lies and Propaganda) blew my mind.

What would you do with 8 million dollars?
Probably put it with the other eight and not tell anyone… oh shit!

Who is your hero?
I have many influences. In every part of my life, I am influenced by certain people to a degree but ultimately, we are in this alone. So at the risk of sounding conceited, I think that you have to be your own hero. I think that you have to believe and trust that you can be whatever you want to be. That you do not need to rely on anyone to bring you success and happiness but yourself. This is not to say that you don’t need help along the way, but the buck stops with you. This is your game.

Or I could just say Han Solo.

What was your most unrealistic childhood expectation?
That if I held the LP of The Best Of ABBA on a certain angle, I might be able to see up Agnetha’s dress.

What is the most visited website in your browser history (excluding day to day Google, Facebook, email and banking)?
Probably I didn’t do very well at school. The answer to the previous question and the fact that I asked my year eleven English teacher if there was a country called Latin (not my finest hour) may possibly be a reason for this?

Katy Curtain and David Woodland will be appearing in Being Norwegian by David Greig.
Dates: 9 – 21 June, 2015
Venue: The Old Fitz Theatre