Review: La Traviata (Belvoir St Theatre / Sisters Grimm)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Aug 27 – Sep 20, 2015
Creators: Ash Flanders, Declan Greene
Director: Declan Greene
Cast: Ash Flanders, Emma Maye Gibson, Michael Lewis, Zindzi Okenyo
Images by Patrick Boland

Theatre review
Giuseppe Verdi’s opera La Traviata is about love and money. In Ash Flanders and Declan Greene’s radical re-imagination, a third theme of art is added to create a work of theatre that moves emphasis away from sentimental indulgence, to something that is altogether more contemporary, and intellectual. The exploration of ideas becomes an explicit one. Through five separate sequences, we are encouraged to think about our economy and consider the extent to which our lives are required to be commodified in order to survive, or at least to be able to find justification for our social existences.

Flanders and Greene are interested in the problems of thinking about art as product, and in their attempt to determine what it is that gives art a sense of value, a series of funny but thoughtful scenes are created. Each one a different genre, their presentation also addresses the clichés of art reflecting upon itself, and the difficulties in producing anything original, especially within this contemporary and introspective concept. The same operas are staged every year, yet artists are pressured to be innovative, and in our current political climate, the capitalistic ideal of “excellence” is applied to art in an attempt to understand and indeed, control how artists do their work. These absurdities are effectively, and entertainingly, encapsulated in Flanders and Greene’s show. Each section is executed with charm and sharp humour, but the transitions between them are not always managed with the same amount of flair. One also questions the straightforward division of scenes, which comes across too simple and convenient. The fourth sequence involves a question and answer format that aims to perform a sort of “reality” genre that accurately depicts the state of communications today, but the discussions demystify the abstractions that had come before, and the transformation of what was ephemerally beautiful into plainer terms is unfortunate. Perhaps a statement is made about the diminishment of romance and mystery in our lives, but it is an ironic and disappointing loss.

Greene’s talent with aesthetic and atmosphere is a drawcard of the production. Along with designers Marg Horwell (set and costumes), Matthew Marshall (lighting) and Steve Toulmin (music and sound), this overhaul of La Traviata is a consistently fascinating one, particularly at its more classically operatic moments. There is a strong desire for the work to connect, which often results in an appealing brashness that matches its quite madcap humour. It takes every opportunity to express itself with flamboyance and extravagance, but unlike the lavish operas at bigger venues, its sensibility is firmly anti-establishment. Quirky and queer, the world it creates is adventurous, dynamic and consistently idiosyncratic, with compelling symbols that interrogate our imagination and delight our eyes and ears. Performers Emma Maye Gibson and Michael Lewis leave an impression with their accomplished voices late in the piece, surprising us with morsels of operatic singing that we had all but given up expecting. It is a strong cast, each with solid presences and a confidence in their material that helps us appreciate the topics being dissected. In the absence of narrative, their cohesion in energy and comedy styles gives the show its compelling driving force.

Our hero Violetta chooses love over money at every stage of her life story. There is never a hint that money could ever mean more than her one true love. The sacrifices she makes for Alfredo eventually destroys her, and although we observe in sadness her tragic death, the profound meanings of integrity and truth emerge clearer than ever. Death pales in comparison to passion. When one is able to identify the greatest love of all, life is worth living.

www.belvoir.com.au | www.sistersgrimm.com.au

Review: Anything Goes (Opera Australia / Gordon Frost Organisation)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), from Sep 5 – Oct 11, 2015
Music and Lyrics: Cole Porter
Book: Guy Bolton & P.G. Wodehouse, Howard Lindsay & Russel Crouse, Timothy Crouse, John Weidman
Director: Dean Bryant
Cast: Gerry Connolly, Carmen Duncan, Bartholomew John, Wayne Scott Kermond, Debora Krizak, Claire Lyon, Todd McKenney, Caroline O’Connor, Alex Rathgeber
Images by Jeff Busby

Theatre review
Cole Porter’s songs are amongst the most familiar in the Western world, and Anything Goes boasts a whole raft of evergreen hits, all taking pride of place in the musical. Originally staged in 1934, the show has been revived many times, along with film versions in 1936 and 1956 and a television special in 1954. Porter’s music is unquestionably delightful and quite irresistible. The wit of his lyrics, and catchiness of his melodies were perfect for stage and screen during his active years from the 1920’s until his final TV score in 1958 for Aladdin. This latest rendering of Anything Goes is a nostalgic gem that brings back all that is wonderful of the era, and adapts it to contemporary tastes. Direction by Dean Bryant is snappy and bold, but the production is always mindful of the conservative American climate that it re-enacts and never allows itself to get vulgar, although moments of bawdy humour are plentiful and extremely well-received. Where there are forbidden fruits, the idea of “anything goes” can take hold anywhere, and Bryant’s less is more approach pays off. By being only slightly naughty, he makes us laugh from beginning to end, tapping into a sense of old-fashioned cheekiness that still works.

Anything Goes features an ensemble cast, with many small (and very lightweight) narratives held together by the conceit of a classic cruise liner setting. We do not usually expect definitive stars for this variety of show, but Caroline O’Connor’s presence clearly dominates. Her skill, energy and seasoned pizazz, together with supreme confidence and splendid comic timing, ensures that her talent is a cut above the rest and that her every appearance jolts the crowd into spasms of irrepressible excitement. Also fantastic are the young lovebirds, Claire Lyon and Alex Rathgeber, both with impeccable voices beautifully suited to the genre, and each with physical disciplines that let the depiction of their characters be believable, charming, and terribly romantic. Their rendition of De-Lovely is a show-stopper with demanding choreography by Andrew Hallsworth executed with tremendous flair and exquisite sentimentality, bringing to the show a sophistication that exceeds all expectations. Supporting players are effective comedians but less gratifying in their respective musical numbers, most of which appear in Act II, and causing an unfortunate dip in energy as the show attempts to reach its climatic conclusion.

Designers of the show must be lauded for a lavish production that looks outstanding in its refinement and elegance. Even though visual elements are probably derivative and significantly inspired by previous incarnations, costumes by Dale Ferguson are a treat to behold and a genuine highlight. Ferguson’s set, along with Matt Scott’s lights, are as dynamic and intelligent as they come. Every movement on stage occurs flawlessly, and our eyes shift effortlessly under the spell of their technical wizardry. Placement of the orchestra in the elevated centre stage is a genius touch that recalls big band formations of the past, and contributes to a wonderful acoustic dimension impressively balanced by Michael Waters on sound design.

The title might be Anything Goes, but nothing is left to chance. There is little logic in the stories and characters we see (and its occasional racial humour will undeniably offend some), but everything on the stage is measured to utmost precision. It is professional theatre at its strongest, and will provide benchmarks on many aspects of performing arts, in Australia and worldwide. Musicals are not the best at advancing a society’s politics and civilisation, and it rarely reveals rare truths of the human condition, but a work of this standard will inspire greatness in many forms. A night of sheer entertainment might not move mountains, but where we can find meaning, is the way it helps us see that mere mortals are the ones to make miracles happen.

www.anythinggoesmusical.com.au

Review: The Goat Or Who Is Sylvia? (King Street Theatre)

goatVenue: King Street Theatre (Newtown NSW), Sep 7 – 12, 2015
Playwright: Edward Albee
Director: Barry Walsh
Cast: Jeremy Burtenshaw, Kiki Skountzos, Johnny Nolan, Mathew Rope

Theatre review
Examining the relationship between morals and sex is a boundless task, but also an exceedingly rewarding one. Looking closely at our attitudes surrounding the most fundamental of desires reveals almost everything there is to know about being human, especially the way we formulate beliefs and ideals. In Edward Albee’s The Goat Or Who Is Sylvia?, we encounter at close range, one of the most shocking of our taboos, and are forced to evaluate the rules of society, sexual and otherwise, along with the ways in which we uphold them. The script is outrageous and wild, transgressive and radical. It ignores notions of taste and belligerently challenges its audience, but grounds its arguments firmly in logic. The combination of intellect and sensationalist amusement in the play addresses the nature of theatre perfectly; we are captivated and entertained, but it refuses to let our participation in the work be a passive one. Questions are raised, and whether we like it or not, it pushes our boundaries to get us to the appropriate answers.

Barry Walsh’s direction lacks refinement, but his flamboyant and fearless approach to the material conveys the text’s progressive ideologies charmingly. There is an infectious joyfulness in the subversive tone that pervades the work, but Walsh takes care in preventing its aggression from becoming unbearable for regular audiences. When the production is at its strongest, we are uplifted by its refreshing philosophy and daring suggestions, but at its weakest, performances can feel stilted and its comedy underdeveloped. Cast members are full of conviction, with Kiki Skountzos’ work as Stevie leaving the strongest impression. Energetic and precise, her ability to blend light and dark in the blackest of comedies is perhaps the most polished aspect of this staging. Jeremy Burtenshaw’s kooky interpretation of his role Martin, is an enjoyable one, but the actor is not always convincing playing a man twice his own age. There is insufficient depth in the presentation of his character’s predicament, but its very absurd and unnerving nature helps the actor’s performance connect firmly with our attention.

Great artists have the courage and eloquence to speak up and tell society what it does wrong. They show us the arbitrariness and the irrationality of our beliefs and conventions, and aim to find restoration based on ideas that are truer, kinder and more inclusive of the different types of people that we inevitably are. The issues that The Goat Or Who Is Sylvia? discusses are difficult and messy. We are not allowed to respond with convenient and tired pre-made solutions, but are encouraged to go through a process of deliberation that is often agonising and disarming. This show is the furthest possible thing from boring, and its ridiculous comedy is the absolute antithesis of stupidity. It requires an adventurous spirit and an open mind to tackle, which explains why it finds itself tucked away in the obscure depths of Sydney’s independent theatre.

www.kingstreettheatre.com.au

5 Questions with Rowan Davie and Stacey Duckworth

Stacey Duckworth

Stacey Duckworth

Rowan Davie: So this play I’ve written, that I’ve cast you in, is it like, Tennessee-Williams-good? Basically, is it in your top 5?
Stacey Duckworth: Oh. Yeah. Goes without saying! For suresies. Its probably not fair, though, to compare it to all the other plays… Outside that though, its a hard list to compile, although it seems to have come down to roles I’d love to perform, or plays that hold particular poignancy from my life. Hedda Gabler, Macbeth, The Importance of Being Earnest, Undermilk Wood, Once – technically a musical, but I saw it in NYC, a life changing trip and truly inspiring performances.

Two parter: You play a film producer, Moët. a) What does Moët do on a quiet Wednesday night once she’s left the studio? b) What/who is her spirit animal?
a) its straight into silk pyjamas, a lean cuisine, a glass of chardonnay and The Bachelor on catch up. b) hummingbird. She’s in constant motion, high pitched, delicate and loves flowers.

Stacey, you played Ophelia to my Hamlet all last year and your singing stole the show. Are you planning to steal Infinity Taster as well? And what acting techniques will you use to go about that?
Well, there’s nothing you can do about talent, but I have taken a leaf out of Paul’s book and slipped a few re-writes into the script. You’ll have to wait til opening night to see the whole spectacular but theres a strong chance of glitter and snap pants.

When it’s all done and dusted, what does the Stacey Duckworth tombstone read?
But wonder on, till truth make all things plain.

Why, seriously, why bother coming to this show?
It’s fun, it’s silly, it’s short, and you can drink in the theatre.

Rowan Davie

Rowan Davie

You wrote a play and cast a bunch of your friends in it. So whats the best (and worst) thing about working with your friends?
Drinking during rehearsals and drinking during rehearsals. Also they’re really really uncritical of the play.

Where do you draw inspiration from as a writer, and how, or is, that different from as an actor?
For me, they both come from the same place – sharing intimacy with other people. I love writers and actors. I’m so impressed whenever anyone writes anything and puts it out there. I’m reading Ka by Roberto Calasso about Hindu mythology. The play on before us at The Fitz, Annie Baker’s The Aliens totally had me going, “wow, I love how simple this is, and the silences and the kinds of characters.” But going off Infinity Taster, it looks like I’ve been inspired by The Simpsons and Saving Private Ryan. Or at least Matt Damon.

In Infinity Taster, your character Paul, is trapped inside his own movie. Have you ever similarly been or felt trapped?
Never. But metaphorically, yes, very perceptive Stace. I guess Paul, being trapped as a dead body in a war movie, is pointing to the feeling of being trapped in your own mind, by your own ego, where concepts and thoughts rule (and are at war with each other) and you are unable to escape into the present moment. And I go through that.

Who plays you in the movie, “Rowan Davie, my shambles of a life” ?
Can it please be Gareth Davies? That man should do everyone’s biopic.

What’s your most important/meaningful/memorable theatre experience?
Hmm.. I’m gonna say Ariane Mnouchkine’s Le Dernier Caravanserail at a Melbourne Fest in ’05. I think it was a 6 hour show in 2 parts. They pulled off the ‘moving sea out of bed sheets thing’ but with 40 actors and twenty metre high waves, while refugees were trying to make it across ropes from one boat to another. It was utterly tragic and completely inspirational. If Infinity Taster was 1/1000th as good, job done.

Rowan Davie and Stacey Duckworth will be appearing in Infinity Taster, by Rowan Davie.
Dates: 15 – 19 September, 2015
Venue: Old Fitz Theatre

Review: Death And The Maiden (Sydney Theatre Company / Melbourne Theatre Company)

sydneytheatrecoVenue: Wharf 1 Sydney Theatre Company (Walsh Bay NSW), Aug 28 – Oct 17, 2015
Playwright: Ariel Dorfman
Director: Leticia Cáceres
Cast: Eugene Gilfedder, Steve Mouzakis, Susie Porter
Image by Jeff Busby

Theatre review
Paulina resides in the space of terror. Captured, tortured, and raped; not only have the fractures in her world endured 15 years since the devastating event, her thirst for revenge is becoming an increasingly uncontrollable force that drives her to the extremities of Ariel Dorfman’s Death And The Maiden. Paulina was blindfolded during her ordeal but remembers the voice of her rapist, and during a chance encounter one night, she identifies a kindly, mild-mannered man Roberto to be the perpetrator, and proceeds to keep him captive in her home. Stripped and tied to a chair, Roberto is threatened by Paulina’s revolver and her accusations, but maintains his innocence. Paulina fluctuates between demanding a confession and wanting his life, but we are never sure if Roberto is in fact the right man. Dorfman’s work is dramatic and tense, with an undeniable political emphasis. Inspired by Chile’s progression from totalitarianism to democracy in the 1980’s, difficult questions about finding justice for victims of the state are explored. In an Australian context, the most direct association one could make would involve the continuing mistreatment of our Indigenous communities, but there are no obvious adaptations in the production that attempt to find a more specific point of relevance for its audience.

Scenic and lighting design by Nick Schilieper reduces the space and concentrates the action efficiently onto a small stage, so that nothing distracts us from the show’s intimate sequences. The leanness of its appearance however, conveys only a monotonously cold atmosphere. Correspondingly, Leticia Cáceres’ work as director seems to pay fastidious attention only to performances by its three players. The production feels insufficiently ambitious in scope, eschewing a bolder use of space that could have assisted us in relating to the unfolding plot better, by depicting either the oppressiveness of Paulina’s home and mental state, or a wider and more identifiable political and social environment. Composer and sound designer The Sweats excels in his control over atmosphere and scene transitions. He introduces a sophistication, along with a sense of drama to a staging that is often too minimalist in its overall style.

Leading lady Susie Porter presents a likeable and convincing Paulina. Porter’s cerebral portrayal gives integrity to the story being told, and her gracious presence keeps us firmly on her character’s side, but her performance is ultimately a tepid one that lacks a certain operatic quality required for the production to engage more powerfully. Porter’s interpretation is one steeped in depression, where a more dynamic madness would allow the narrative’s controversial aspects greater potency, and therefore elicit a more robust response from its audience. The actor’s work comes across psychologically accurate and very thoughtful, but the Latin American text asks for a fire that may only exist beyond rationality, which itself (being rational or not) is after all, one of its chief concerns. In the role of Paulina’s husband Gerardo, is Steve Mouzakis, who takes every opportunity to raise temperatures in the theatre. It is a smaller part but one that moves through different emotional phases, and the performer brings a spirited passion to each of them, reflecting an impressive conviction that viewers can no doubt appreciate. Eugene Gilfedder makes an interesting villain of Roberto. Probably not quite as charismatic as Porter, and therefore tilting the adversarial balance slightly off between duelling characters, but nonetheless an intriguing personality. He keeps us guessing, which is central to the play’s effectiveness, and provides fine tension at its concluding moments.

Death And The Maiden contains poignant moments of philosophy and drama, but at 25 years old, its resonances require translation. We are certainly no strangers to concepts of political upheaval, war and terror, but what we view to be tangible threats have changed. In spite of the production’s success at achieving a good level of believability, the play feels distant. We are reminded that our concerns have evolved, and although we often consider our civilisations to have improved, the fact remains that the things that haunt us never go away; they only take the form of something else. The fears in the play are different from ours today, but the vulnerabilities we share are interminable, and it is that darkness that Paulina needs to release with indomitable fury.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au | www.mtc.com.au/

Review: Moondance – Isotopic Reflections‏ (De Quincey Co)

Venue: Erskineville Village Anglican Church (Erskineville NSW), September 4 – 19, 2015
Choreography: Tess de Quincey
Video Animation: Samuel James
Photography: Vsevolod Vlaskine
Sound: Vic McEwan
Cast: Tess de Quincey
Images by Vsevolod Vlaskine

Theatre review
We face the far end of the church. There are two narrow stained glass windows, and the central double doors are painted white, as is the wall on which it sits. A video is projected onto the entirety of that surface, composed of photography created from the moon’s light, the beautiful images we see are completely abstract, monochromatic blobs and scribbles that could mean nothing or everything, with sound that is more cinematic than musical, atmospheric and visceral in its transmission. A person emerges in a long, white hooded raincoat, devoid of gender, ethnicity and age, Tess de Quincey performs the majority of the piece with her back to us. She responds and reacts, attempting to understand her relationship with the imagery before her, and we ponder the connection between dancer and photography, human and moon.

Our appreciation of the work does not occur immediately. It is all too strange and silent, and we feel lost in the bareness of its audacious start. Every visual and aural element conspires to move our awareness away from everyday mundanity, and in time, we are unknowingly hypnotised. A meditative quality sets in, captivating our senses, but perhaps more importantly, our minds. We go through periods of thought, trying to create meaning in the sight of dancer against photographic patterns, and we go through periods of release, allowing our senses to experience things as they are, without the interference of logic. It is an unusual pleasure, emerging from the idiosyncrasy of de Quincey’s presence, drawing us in to share in her perspective of the world. In the show’s best moments, time stands still, and we fear for it to end. We want the indulgence to go on, and we want to luxuriate in the sense of elevation it provides, lulled away from our usual petty concerns, into a space of hallucinatory ethereality and eternal bliss.

Lunar tributes have existed since time immemorial. Life on earth is meaningful only when we reach beyond, for the stars and moon. We cannot understand ourselves only from within; humanity requires that we look outside to make sense of what we go through on this planet. Whether sending rockets to Mars or dancing our bodies, art must think of infinity, in order to locate significance, value, or magic. To be human, is to move beyond corporeality, sometimes towards the far reaches of the ether, even if only in our heads.

www.dequinceyco.net

5 Questions with William Erimya and Patrick Magee

William Erimya

William Erimya

Patrick Magee: Have you ever solved a crime in real life?
Will Erimya: I haven’t solved any major crimes, though I am so close to solving who the Zodiac Killer is. I like solving mysteries around the house, like the case of the misplaced keys, why are all these lights on and who ate all the food.

You have the finest beard and moustache the world has ever seen. Who is your facial hair hero?
I’m very hairy and it just grows with out any warning. I admire Super Mario and Craig David’s facial hairs.

Do you prefer doing scripted or improvised shows?
I like both, but I tend to prefer improvised shows. There’s no greater thrill than doing a wholly improvised show. You get such a great adrenaline rush.

What is your comedy secret?
There’s no secret. But, just in case every month I perform a sacred blood ritual at the altar of Kalgar the Everliving. Just in case.

Lastly, shag-marry-kill with Sherlock, Watson and Moriarty?
Shag: Sherlock – you can’t tie him down to a long term relationship, plus you’d always be second fiddle to solving crimes. Marry: Watson – he’s a doctor, so he’s a bit more stable and probably very well off. Kill: Moriarty – he’s a bad guy. So I’d kill him, without a doubt, no questions asked, shoot first still won’t ask questions.

Patrick Magee

Patrick Magee

Will Erimya: In real life who do you identify with more, Sherlock or Watson?
Patrick Magee: Probably Sherlock, because like him I am an arrogant genius with a crippling cocaine habit.

What is your favorite Sherlock Holmes book/mystery?
Out of the Conan Doyle stories I have a soft spot for A Scandal In Bohemia and The Problem Of Thor Bridge, although you can’t go past The Adventure Of The Lion’s Mane, where the murderer is (spoiler alert) a jellyfish that Holmes bashes to death with a rock. I also really like Nicholas Meyer’s The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, which is all about Holmes kicking his cocaine habit with the help of Sigmund Freud.

What made you want to do comedy?
I got tricked into it by an old gypsy woman and I’ve been looking for an out ever since. I’m doing The Game Is Afoot so I can pretend to be a cool action hero instead of a dumb comedian.

How would you get away with a crime?
I’d probably just confess to it in a kind of sarcastic voice so people wouldn’t take me seriously.

Have you ever committed a crime?
Not really. I’m the Zodiac Killer, but that was ages ago so I don’t know if it still counts.

William Erimya and Patrick Magee will be appearing in The Game is Afoot: An Improvised Sherlock Holmes Mystery, part of Sydney Fringe 2015.
Dates: 9 – 13 September, 2015
Venue: The Factory Theatre