Review: Metamorphosis (Throwing Shade Theatre Company)

throwingshadeVenue: The Factory Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Mar 31 – Apr 2, 2016
Playwright: Steven Berkoff (based on Franz Kafka’s novella)
Director: Andrew Langcake
Cast: Harley Connor, Darcie Irwin-Simpson, William Jordan, Susan M Kennedy, David McLaughlin

Theatre review
Gregor wakes up one day and finds himself transformed into something gigantic and hideous. He has turned from a responsible and upstanding citizen into a monster, and can no longer carry out his obligations to family and society. His physicality and behaviour have changed, but his feelings remain human, and he suffers the ostracism that results from his sudden abandonment of normal life. Steven Berkoff’s adaptation of Franz Kafka’s popular classic is sarcastic yet charming, with a biting humour that tickles without interfering with the dark themes being explored. The narrative is clearly fantastical, but its concerns are kept strictly human.

Direction by Andrew Langcake is highly stylised, appropriately so, with shades of Surrealism and German Expressionism. He creates a heightened aura within the story’s sad circumstances, one that is both dreamlike and nightmarish. While the stage is designed with some flair, it lacks a certain intimacy that the work seems to require. Powerful moments would be more effective if they are able to confront us with greater immediacy, but we are kept safe by a disconnecting rift between audience and action.

It is a strong cast that gives us this Metamorphosis. The players have a unified energy and tone that portray a convincing netherworld, with an entertaining flamboyance that gives the work’s inherent eccentricity a strange allure. Susan M Kennedy is captivating as Mrs Samsa, dramatic, emotional and bold with her artistic choices. Gregor is played by Harley Connor, who impresses with strength and versatility both physically and vocally. Although tucked up in a corner far upstage, the actor’s vibrancy is unmistakeable, and the curious character he creates, is very fascinating indeed. An unlovable monster that is of no use to anyone, and a drain to society, is the stuff of our deepest fantasies. There are times when we see only the futility of all our duties, and wish to play the rebel, walking away with a big flick of the middle finger, but we keep ourselves in check. We know that the consequences can only be dire.

Review: Kayak (Cross Pollinate Productions)

crosspollinateVenue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Mar 29 – Apr 9, 2016
Playwright: Katherine Thomson
Director: Adam Cook
Cast: Matthew Cheetham, Matilda Ridgway, Francesca Savige
Image by Mansoor Noor Photography

Theatre review
Desperate people do desperate things, and in Kayak, their actions are certainly outrageous. Katherine Thomson’s dark comedy features three characters, all lonely and lost, grasping at whatever crosses their paths that may contain salvation. Morals and ethics vanish when the going gets tough, and it is that process by which a person loses their mind, that provides the play with its biting humour. Thomson’s characters and dialogue are delightfully perverse and although they do not seem to make perfect psychological sense, it does provide sufficient contextual logic for us to connect with the increasingly wild stories that unfold.

Director Adam Cook’s interpretation of the work is full of energy, with attention placed on creating a lively and vibrant show. The narrative is conveyed with appropriate comedic levity, and each character is clearly defined, but the all-important humour of the production relies heavily on the cast, who do not always deliver the jokes with as much complexity as the material calls for. Matilda Ridgway is strongest, and very clever with the way she enacts the many surprises written for her character Wen. It is a charming performance, with an exaggerated quirkiness that is both theatrical and captivating. All players are passionate and determined to portray intense emotion, but the show lacks a certain melancholy. There are lots of tears, but we do not feel their sadness, and it is that sadness that is central to all the high jinks that transpire.

Wen, Ruth and Luke are dysfunctional people, crippled by misfortune. We identify with their pain because the causes of their troubles are all familiar. At the root of their many shenanigans are setbacks and misery that have descended upon us at one time or another, and while we may not express our grief in such dramatic fashion, the fantastical events they go through somehow ring true, perhaps relating to the fears we have about not being able to spring back, of not having enough resilience to cope with life. They crumble and fall into disaster, and we watch knowing that we are the lucky ones, if only for the moment, because disaster does happen, and people do break.

Review: Fiddler On The Roof (Capitol Theatre)

fiddlerjeffbusbyVenue: Capitol Theatre (Sydney NSW), Mar 24 – May 6, 2016
Music: Jerry Brock
Lyrics: Sheldon Harnick
Book: Joseph Stein
Director: Roger Hodgman
Cast: Blake Bowden, Sara Grenfell, Glen Hogstrom, Andrew Kroenert, Lior, Mark Mitchell, Jensen Overend, Anthony Pepe, Annie Stanford, Monica Swayne, Derek Taylor, Sigrid Thornton, Jessica Vickers, Anthony Warlow, Nicki Wendt, David Whitney, Teagan Wouters
Images by Jeff Busby

Theatre review
Stories of diaspora never seem to lose their relevance. Fiddler On The Roof is over 50 years of age, but its story of religious persecution consists of an authenticity that every generation will find poignant. As the problem of refugees escalates and takes over our airwaves, themes in the musical hold a deep resonance that relate directly to big issues of the day that all of us are made to face. Tevye and his family are charming folk that, although culturally different from contemporary Australians, endear to us with familiar and admirable qualities, representing the best of our shared humanity. Tevye is an honourable and humble man, with little to his name except for a loving family, and the respect of his community. The songs are similarly heart-warming, with an integrity found in its folk and traditional style, that sets it apart from the tried, tested and very tired styles of music in many other shows of the Broadway genre.

Anthony Warlow’s performance as Tevye is truly remarkable. From physicality and voice, to humour and spirit, Warlow is exemplary on the stage, with impressive star power coupled with indisputable talent, eclipsing every other element of this production. He is a grand presence who is able to convey subtleties. He entertains but keeps us conscious of the higher stakes at play. His generosity extends not only to his audience, but also to his colleagues, whom he offers strong support for their individual shining moments. Monica Swayne and Blake Bowden play Hodel and Perchik, one of the story’s romantic couples, with beautiful chemistry and moving passion. Swayne’s solo rendition of “Far From The Home I Love” is a tearjerker executed without overblown sentimentality, only pristine honesty accompanying a sensational voice able to portray a sublime vulnerability in spite of its palpable strength.

The show is at its best when scenes are tender, deep and meaningful. Sequences of exuberance are less consistent, with many of its early moments seeming to lack energy and spontaneity. Fortunately Act II, although shorter in length, becomes much more dramatically engaging, leading to a heartbreaking conclusion orchestrated with outstanding sensitivity and elegance. It is not often that a big musical touches us beyond the superficial, but the message of peace that it conveys from beginning to end, in different guises, speaks profoundly, and we can only respond accordingly.

5 Questions with Tom Campbell and Troy Harrison

Tom Campbell

Tom Campbell

Troy Harrison: It’s not often that all cast members are on-stage every second of a production but such is the case in Savages. How have you found that?
Tom Campbell: With all of us on stage at all times, it meant that we had to bond and connect with each other pretty quickly. Particularly in this play, where there are big sections of poetry and we rely on each other to pick up each others cues, focus as one group and really work together as an ensemble. In saying that, I really don’t enjoy working with any of you, so it’s been tough.

Some actors look for similarities between themselves and the characters they play as a way to connect so are there any between award winning actor Tom Campbell and lying, loser Runt?
Ummmmm…. Well, we’re both liars……and both losers… yeah. And they both enjoy a drink.

What character have you never played but would love to?
Bobby in Company, The Baker in Into The Woods or Leo Frank in Parade. A musical please.

If a film was made about your life who would you want to play you and who would really get the part?
I could only hope for Mark Ruffalo, although he was very shouty in Spotlight. Some ladies in a foyer once told me I looked like Ben Affleck but I think they were on acid. Look, ultimately, Barbara Streisand would most probably be cast.

Do you like me?
No. I don’t like you. I’m desperately in love with you.

Troy Harrison

Troy Harrison

Tom Campbell: You worked for Darlinghurst Theatre in their first season in The Motherfucker With The Hat [Suzy’s review here]. Are you looking forward to revisiting the stage at the Eternity?
Troy Harrison: I am. I think the Eternity is one of the most beautiful theatres in Australia and Darlo are a great company to work for. My company, Workhorse Theatre Company was a co producer of Motherfucker, producing and acting in a production is quite an intense experience so it’s nice to be here and be able to focus purely on being an actor.

You worked on cruise ships years ago… tell me how gross they are?
Yep, I had a career as a dancer before I studied acting and I started out on cruise ships when I was 18. As for how gross they are, it depends on what type of gross you’re talking about so I’ll just say what happens in international waters, stays in international waters.

What’s the worst/most embarrassing thing you’ve ever done whilst pissed?
Voted Liberal. I was young and drunk but that’s no excuse. I’m so ashamed.

What do you think of the lock-out laws?
I think it’s a band aid solution to a much bigger problem. The binge drinking culture and the violence that can be a part of it needs to be seriously addressed. But having lockout laws only in a certain area does nothing but shift the problem to other areas. I also don’t think it’s a good look for our state government that the casinos are exempt. Whether it’s true or not it makes it look like money talks. And perception is everything in politics.

How’s preparations for the new ‘arrival’?
I’m guessing that you’re talking about my impending second child and not the extra terrestrials you’re always warning us about… but thanks for my tinfoil hat. Prep is going well. It’s a different experience the second time around. Living with a two year old is as fun as you’d think and gives you very little time to just enjoy the pregnancy like the first. Although watching my little girl cuddle and kiss my wife’s belly saying “cuddles for bubba” is quite possibly the greatest thing ever. I’ve also been rehearsing for Savages six days a week for the past month so my wife has been doing it all. She’s a champion. I’m extremely lucky with the two girls in my life.

Tom Campbell and Troy Harrison can be seen in Darlinghurst Theatre’s Savages by Patricia Cornelius.
Dates: 1 April – 1 May, 2016
Venue: Eternity Playhouse

5 Questions with Cherrie Whalen-David and Caspar Hardaker

Cherrie Whalen-David

Cherrie Whalen-David

Caspar Hardaker: What is the most valuable experience you’ve gained from working on Plaything?
Cherrie Whalen-David: This play is a real workout for the brain. Not only is the play quite wordy, so challenging to learn the dialogue, but there is the abstract element to get my head around as well.

What is your favourite pastime when you have no obligations to anything?
I love spending time with friends and family enjoying delicious food and wine.

Are there such things as aliens in our galaxy?
Not in my world, but perhaps I’ve just been too busy to notice them.

What’s the most awkward experience you’ve had whilst performing?
During The run of The Cherry Orchard (last year at The Depot Theatre) I managed to tip coffee all over myself one evening , luckily my character had a butler to help tidy her up.

Are you a cat or a dog type of person?
We currently have 2 cats whom I love but am secretly hoping to get a white West Highland Terrier one day.

Caspar Hardaker

Caspar Hardaker

Cherrie Whalen-David: Your character in Plaything loves to party. What’s your idea of a great night out?
Caspar Hardaker: My idea of a great night out is actually completely different to my character’s. I actually would prefer having a night in with movies and a glass of red. If I’m planning on having a big one then I guess I would love to be able to buy food and alcohol without spending too much money but that’s somewhat of an inescapable conundrum in my life.

A character in Plaything dies suddenly in mysterious circumstances. What would you choose as your last supper?
As a last supper I would have to go with a superfluous amount of garlic dip, garlic bread, Woodford Margherita pizza, and a lovely glass (or bottle(s)) of Shiraz.

How tall are you Casper?
Last time I checked I was about 6 foot 5, or 6 foot 6. In centimetres I think I’m around 195cm.

If you weren’t an actor what other career would you like to pursue?
I would be pretty open to anything really. I don’t really know what I’d choose straight away but possibly something to do with children or music. Or maybe even both!

What’s your favourite time of the year?
My favourite time of the year is Spring. When the weather starts to change and you can smell the jacarandas and feel summer. Good vibes and festivities are upon the horizon and everything feels like it’s just around the corner. What’s not to love?

Cherrie Whalen-David and Caspar Hardaker can be seen in Plaything by Simon Dodd.
Dates: 30 Mar – 16 Apr, 2016
Venue: The Depot Theatre

Review: Connect With Excellence (Ever After Theatre / Red Door Arts)

everaftertheatreVenue: Rozelle Neighbourhood Centre (Rozelle NSW), Mar 23 – 24, 2016
Playwrights: Emily Dash, Alyson Evans
Director: Alyson Evans
Cast: Rosie Amis, Kerrie Ann Bezzina, Christine Blanche, Jessie Chapman, Matthew Cutmore, Emily Dash, Teneile English, Patti Gilbert, Steve Konstantopoulos, Emma Plant, Roddy Salinas, Kate Walker, Lucy Watson

Theatre review
Lola is the passionate leader of “The Removal of Physical & Socio-cultural Barriers & Establishment of Equal Opportunities Committee” in Rozelle, one of Sydney’s more glamorous suburbs. We are taken on a tour of the neighbourhood, with headphones on, trailing behind Lola and her wheelchair, as she evaluates our suitability for joining the committee. Travelling through shops, streets and buildings, we hear stories from local residents and business operators, about people with disabilities, the challenges they face and the way they relate with community. We ponder on the differences and similarities of their experiences with able-bodied people, and spend a lot of the duration walking in their shoes.

Scripted by Emily Dash and Alyson Evans, Connect With Excellence is exuberant, humorous, and very touching. The impressive strength of ordinary people takes centre stage, while invisible privilege is exposed, making us confront our own positions in society, and the generosity we may or may not extend to others in everyday interactions. The work is delicately composed to take us through a visceral and emotional journey, going deeper and deeper as time passes, into our personal humanity. It is a meditative and profoundly reflective process that allows art to do its most sacred job, which is to make people better. The show brings to our attention, not only the challenges faced by people with disabilities, but also the unsung heroes who overcome barriers on a daily basis.

Dash’s performance as Lola is full of charm, wit and fortitude. The spirited and often bossy personality she creates makes for an effective and commanding tour leader, and her warm presence gives us a sense of security, as we step out of our comfort zones to look at Rozelle through her eyes. The show is amusing and entertaining, but also inherently political. It culminates in a pledge from each individual, with pen on paper, on how we wish to effect change. It is a decision and commitment that we make for the world that we share, to think about the needs of community, and to play a part in bringing about improvements, big and small.

Review: Unfinished Works (Bontom Productions)

bontomVenue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Mar 23 – Apr 2, 2016
Playwright: Thomas De Angelis
Director: Clemence Williams
Cast: Deborah Galano, Kyle Kazmarziks, Lucy Goleby, Contessa Treffone, Rhett Walton

Theatre review (of a preview performance)
Thomas De Angelis’ Unfinished Works talks about art and the selling of art, but it is also concerned with how young people discover adulthood, and the challenges it presents. Strong themes and engaging characters give the play its allure, but its ideas are not always as clever as they wish to be. Dialogue and plot structure also require further refinement and deeper thought, but its concluding, and climactic, scenes are fortunately the most effective and powerful of its two-hour duration.

There is an earnest and provocative spirit, introduced by director Clemence Williams, who explores the text with great honesty and is always conscious of giving proceedings a dimension of emotional intensity. There could be more humour in the way characters interact, and a less innocent approach to the portrayal of their individual foibles, but Williams’ work is thoughtful and energetic, and a delight to connect with. Bringing visual sophistication is designer Charles Davis, who finds simple but smart solutions to accompany the production’s examination and representation of the art world. His set and lights are minimal in style, but very charming indeed.

Lucy Goleby does an astonishing job as Frank, the complicated art star with a lot of weight on her shoulders. Goleby’s portrayals of fear and cynicism feels thoroughly authentic, and the assertive confidence that persist alongside all her insecurities is fascinating to observe. The pairing of vulnerability and strength is beautifully inhabited by the actor, and it is that palpable humanity she depicts that keeps us engrossed. The other leading lady of the piece is Contessa Treffone who plays Isabel, a young woman finding her place in the world, defining her self against family and negotiating grey areas of ambition and sex. Treffone shows strong focus and conviction, and although slightly twee in tone, she is more than capable of holding our attention. The chemistry between both women is full of sparks and a real joy to watch. Unfinished Works does not explicitly discuss the issue of feminism, but there is no need to, because the women it places on stage are prime examples of how we are and how we should be seen; independent, intelligent, ambitious, and frightfully flawed.

5 Questions with Ayeesha Ash and Heather Manley

Ayeesha Ash

Ayeesha Ash

Heather Manley: Rent is your first musical after studying Acting at WAAPA. How do you find the rehearsal process compared to a straight play?
Ayeesha Ash: The rehearsal process hasn’t been extremely different, it’s just focusing on song lyrics instead of dialogue and making sure I know my choreography perfectly, so that I don’t accidentally hit someone in the head with a prop.

If you had to choose one cuisine to eat for the rest of your life what would it be?
Definitely Japanese. Sushi, sashami, wakame, edamame. SOY SAUCE.

What has been your favourite performing experience?
In my final year at WAAPA my class toured a show that we wrote to Dublin. It was such a great experience being able to perform a piece we were so connected to on the other side of the world.

What strange fact about you do not many people know?
When I was a kid I would only have a shower if I was wearing my rain hat (I’ve grown out of that phase now).

Would you rather be married to a man with a fish head and a normal body or a normal head with a fish body, and why?
Normal head and fish body because he would probably be a really good ocean swimmer. He could take me on ocean dates and introduce me to all of his whale friends.

Heather Manley

Heather Manley

Ayeesha Ash: What’s been the most challenging piece to learn in Rent?
Heather Manley: I think the whole thing was a bit of a challenge because it’s a return season and we are entering a cast where almost all of the members were in the first run and knew all the numbers already. My brain was so full of lyrics and choreography within the first week.

Who is your favourite character to play in the show and why?
I really like playing Mimi’s sassy mom and singing in Spanish. Who doesn’t love to be sassy when they get the chance?

If you were an animal, what type of animal would you be?
Definitely a bird. It’s always been a fantasy of mine to be able to fly. And I’m a bit obsessed with birds – I have four cockatiels as pets back home in Guam.

If you could turn any movie into a musical what would it be?
I think Miss Congeniality is screaming to be a musical!

Who did you prefer in the 90s: Britney or Xtina?
Britney Spears’ album with ‘Hit Me Baby One More Time’ was the first album I bought, so definitely Britney.

Ayeesha Ash and Heather Manley can be seen in the new season of Rent the musical.
Dates: 29 Mar – 17 Apr, 2016
Venue: Hayes Theatre

Click here for Suzy’s review of last year’s production of Rent.

Review: Ghost (Theatre Royal)

ghostVenue: Theatre Royal (Sydney NSW), Mar 18 – May 14, 2016
Book & Lyrics: Bruce Joel Rubin
Music & Lyrics: Glen Ballard, Dave Stewart
Director: Matthew Warchus
Cast: Wendy Mae Brown, Ross Chisari, David Denis, Rob Mills, Jemma Rix, David Roberts, Lydia Warr, Evette Marie White
Image by Jeff Busby

Theatre review
The 1990 film Ghost is remembered for its fantastical melodrama involving spirits, murderers, a psychic, and a pair of lovers with a penchant for ceramics. The 2011 musical version retains the very eventful narrative of its original, as well as an extravagant sentimentality that has become closely associated with Ghost. It is undoubtedly a cheesy operation, but no one on stage or in the audience pretends that it is anything otherwise. Its characters are two-dimensional, all singing formulaic showtunes, and the chorus makes sure that the very last row of nosebleeds would notice their every move, even though choreography is already terribly obvious.

There is no room for subtlety here, and the production calls for a certain amount of toughness on the part of its audience in order to stomach its garish approach on all fronts. It is paint by numbers Broadway style, but those predictable blueprints are established for a reason. Ghost provides entertainment, escape and amusement. It gives us moments where we suspend disbelief and reach for the most naive parts of our minds to indulge in all its saccharine wonder, as we gasp at its melange of levitating bodies, disappearing apparitions and actors walking through doors. We might find our intelligence insulted at certain points, but we are accepting of it, as evidenced by box office takings the world over for productions of this nature.

Accolades for Whoopi Goldberg’s film performance as the outlandish Oda Mae, including an Oscar, demonstrate our appetite for the brash and gaudy. The role is performed here by Wendy Mae Brown who does a close proximation of the very memorable hustler-turned-psychic. The delightful character is played by a spirited actor with an impressive voice who relishes every punchline and their accompanying laughter. The leads are much more subdued in tone. Rob Mills and Jemma Rix are excellent performers assigned big songs but nothing much else. Their singing is often spectacular, and both are easy on the eye, which makes them perfectly cast.

It is hard to be enthusiastic after the fact, when a show gives you everything that you had seen many times before, but there is no doubt that we find ourselves powerless and captivated by its tried and tested moments of musical theatre. Ghost provides a familiarity that many wish to revisit time and time again. It reduces us to a childlike stupor, and many would pay good money for that fleeting pleasure. It may not be a special work of art, but in comparison to everyday life, this is magic through and through.

Review: That Eye, The Sky (New Theatre)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Mar 15 – Apr 16, 2016
Playwrights: Richard Roxburgh, Justin Monjo (adapted from the novel by Tim Winton)
Director: David Burrowes
Cast: Alex Bryant-Smith, Joel Horwood, Shaun Martindale, Jenae O’Connor, Romney Stanton, Simon Thomson, Emma Wright
Photography © Bob Seary

Theatre review
Religion is a subject that art can always rely on to evoke and provoke, especially in these modern times when scarcely any two persons are able to find complete agreement about who, what or how it is that we are being looked over, or indeed that supreme beings exist at all who we have to be answerable to. We meet the 13 year-old boy Ort just as his young mind begins to understand abstract concepts about faith. He finds God, but the relationship is a rocky one, and salvation continues to elude him.

That Eye, The Sky is a tender story about a sensitive child in challenging circumstances, but David Burrowes’ direction does not deliver an emotionally charged experience capitalising on our susceptibility to impassioned empathising of the pure or the weak. His show is polished and quiet, a feast for the senses, but it keeps us at a distant position of observation, never giving us the opportunity to delve into the romance of the piece. The work is consistently cerebral, which feels somewhat contradictory to the issues being explored, but all facets of production are impressively executed. The design team does exceptional work, especially Benjamin Brockman on lights, and the duo of Hugo Smart and Dean Barry Revell on sound and music, with brilliantly conceived flourishes that play much more than a subsidiary role to the actors on stage. Set design by Tom Bannerman and costumes by Alana Canceri create a sophisticated and powerful visual impact in spite of their understated approach.

The actors are equally strong, with Joel Horwood’s portrayal of Ort remarkable for its deceptive ease. Horwood is a grown, and very tall, man who makes us believe unreservedly in the innocent and prepubescent being he brings to the stage. The wide-eyed wonder he performs seems effortlessly achieved and every youthful quirk of voice and gesture is convincing and delightful. His family is played by Romney Stanton and Emma Wright, both resplendent with sensitivity, nuance and psychological accuracy. Their work is restrained and elegant, but surprisingly memorable. Shaun Martindale plays the pivotal role of Henry with an energetic spontaneity. He brings a sense of danger to the show, and although not always sufficiently effective at key plot moments, there is a quality of enigma in his work that adds to the complexity of what is being said.

We should not expect every work of theatre to produce the same emotional effects. Art can do much more than to speak to one’s feelings, and on this occasion, we discover the sensation of being moved without having to respond with sentimentality. The production’s style is perhaps at odds with the very substance of its story that seem to call for a more gushy approach, but what it does create is a sensual landscape that we can watch in admiration. Beauty is sublime, but it will not always move you how you wish.