Review: The Beauty Queen Of Leenane (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Roslyn Packer Theatre at Walsh Bay (Sydney NSW), Nov 18 – Dec 21, 2019
Playwright: Martin McDonagh
Director: Paige Rattray
Cast: Noni Hazlehurst, Hamish Michael, Shiv Palekar, Yael Stone
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Maureen is full of resentment, because she has to live at home to care for her incapacitated and very demanding mother Mag. After a passionate night with Pato however, Maureen starts to think of a brighter future, and in Martin McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen Of Leenane, we wonder how much of destiny is indeed predetermined, as our protagonist navigates what appears to be a new shift in luck.

The play is savage in its depictions of hard lives. Maureen and Mag are Irish women of the lower classes, and fending for themselves is nigh on impossible, as made abundantly clear in this painful story, about the compounding disadvantage of living with disability and poverty, as well as the structural sexism that functions as a major component keeping them at the bottom of the pile. McDonagh’s comedy is of the darkest variety, becoming pitch black as we approach its end.

It is a magnificently accomplished production that director Paige Rattray has assembled. Humour and drama are balanced exquisitely against dread and revulsion, for an entirely mesmerising experience at the theatre. Production design by Renée Mulder offers sensational rendering of the Folan’s home, both inside and out, for a vision of unimaginable decrepitude, reminiscent of the stuff nightmares are made of. The Beauty Queen Of Leenane is a masterpiece in the style of the modern Gothic horror; although devoid of supernatural elements, its atmosphere is unmistakably ominous.

Stunning performances by all four actors have us absolutely riveted. Maureen is played by Yael Stone who dances on a knife’s edge, in an intoxicating portrayal of a woman at the end of her tether, having us on the edge of our seats, with the psychological thrill of witnessing someone on the brink of losing her mind. Our perception of mother Mag oscillates precariously between humour and terror, as the fantastic Noni Hazlehurst masterfully manipulates her role to offer us immense entertainment.

Shiv Palekar has us amazed with his exceptional comic timing, as the puerile and very laddish neighbour Ray, able to deliver huge laughs with every one of his precise and intuitively executed punchlines. Maureen’s object of affection Pato too is a funny character, made tender and surprisingly earnest by Hamish Michael, who brings valuable sentimentality to the often brutal narrative.

Maureen’s world is a horrible existence, one that she has been taught to never leave. Poverty keeps people in their place. It works as a form of indoctrination that hopes to make large numbers feel a sense of acceptance of their stations, so that they can remain exploited for generations, if not for eternity. The two women are stuck at home, languishing and never daring to move beyond the familiar. They will not be rescued, but the rules are there ready to be broken, if only they were to choose defiance.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au

Review: Rudy & Cuthbert Too (Kings Cross Theatre)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Nov 17 – 21, 2019
Playwrights: Toby Blome, Zelman Cressey-Gladwin
Director: Jo Turner
Cast: Toby Blome, Zelman Cressey-Gladwin
Images by Jasmin Simmons

Theatre review
Rudy and Cuthbert are throwing a party. They consult a listicle on the internet, for ten sure-fire ways to make it a success, but it appears that information on the world wide web is not always reliable. In accordance with the top tips they had discovered, the young men work hard to make fun. Performers Toby Blome and Zelman Cressey-Gladwin, on the other hand, are effortless in their approach, for a whimsical comedy based on mime and clowning principles.

There is an unmistakable innocence in the characters, that sets the tone for the show. Having presented themselves to be devoid of agenda, other than the simple intention of having a party for their friends, we watch circumstances evolve, and observe the way things begin to happen to Rudy and Cuthbert, to arrive at an understanding that life has its way of taking you by surprise.

Directed by Jo Turner, the show is perfectly paced, to offer an experience that is deeply amusing and consistently delightful. The escalation in stakes and therefore tension, gives Rudy & Cuthbert Too an emotional dimension that is perhaps surprising for a presentation of this form. Although eccentric in style, Blome and Cressey-Gladwin have energetic presences that always maintain a firm grip over their audience. The boys make it a point to look like they are fooling around, but their irrefutable proficiency would suggest that they mean business.

Click-baits are deceptive by nature, and they take without giving anything satisfying in return. Theatre is quite the opposite. It allows us to sit in what is usually a state of passivity, while extraordinary attempts at deciphering the universe’s meanings are being offered up in earnest. Whether entertaining, informative, inspiring, or exasperating, these gifts from artists everywhere are immense, and a crucial element in determining how our civilisation does or does not flourish. There is no question that most of Australia’s art is devalued. If we could only give it as much as we do the endless pointless clicks on our phones, our extinction might just become avertible.

www.facebook.com/rudycuthbert

Review: Packer & Sons (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Nov 11 – Dec 22, 2019
Playwright: Tommy Murphy
Director: Eamon Flack
Cast: Nick Bartlett, John Gaden, Anthony Harkin, John Howard, Brandon McClelland, Josh McConville, Nate Sammut, Byron Wolffe
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
It is assumed in Tommy Murphy’s Packer & Sons that we would be interested in three generations of awful men, simply because they rank amongst some of the most notorious people in the country. The play makes little effort to elicit our emotional investment in these repulsive characters, relying only on their celebrity to fascinate, as it dives straight into the nitty-gritty of their ruthless business dealings. Frank, Kerry and James Packer wield a lot of power as media moguls, and as the top one percentile their every major financial decision causes reverberations for the rest of us, yet the family shows nothing but contempt for consumers who they only seek to exploit and never to serve.

Packer & Sons seems to have an abundance of misplaced empathy for the Packer boys. James at its conclusion especially, weeps and wails as though innocent of all sins, begging for father’s approval, in an extended sequence that we can only regard with incredulity. We want to laugh at these animals, but the production is reluctant to heap scorn, expending its energy instead on the inner mechanics of the empire, as though offering something revelatory or profound.

The production is remarkably unimaginative, with too great an emphasis on a realism that works only to inform us on things that have long been public knowledge. Eamon Flack’s direction is able to convey with accuracy, dynamics between the men, which form the crux of the piece, but this focus on father-son relations is ultimately insufficiently substantial to sustain our engagement. Design elements of the presentation are accomplished, if slightly underwhelming, in their representations of some of the world’s wealthiest. The staging misses an opportunity to mock the Packer’s obsession with money and commercial success, especially in visual terms.

Actor John Howard is effective as tyrants of the dynasty, the grumpy old men Frank and Kerry, persuasive with the cunning he depicts, as the cruel instigator of chaotic discord at home and at work. Howard’s portrayal of toxic fatherhood in both roles, is a captivating feature of the show. As James and young Kerry, Josh McConville is irrepressibly vivacious. The energetic desperation that he embodies for Kerry, almost makes up for Packer & Sons‘s lacklustre drama.

Performances feel predictable, in this obvious and conservative take on a story about the patriarchy. Everything seems to be done the most convenient way, and the result is just banal. These characters are hateful, and if we are to spend any theatrical time with them, the approach should not be any less controversial than the way these assholes have always presented themselves, and prided themselves to be.

www.belvoir.com.au

Review: Little Miss Sunshine (New Theatre)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Nov 12 – Dec 14, 2019
Book: James Lapine
Music & Lyrics: William Finn
Director: Deborah Jones
Cast: Kiera Dzeparoski, Sarah Furnari, Aneke Golowenko, Martin Grelis, John Grinston, Ellacoco Hammer McIver, Gavin Leahy, Christopher O’Shea, Fiona Pearson, Julian Ramundi, Grace Ryan, Adam van den Bok
Images by Bob Seary

Theatre review
Olive dreams of winning the Miss America beauty contest one day but is for now, more than happy competing in child pageants. When she qualifies for a prestigious event 800 miles away, the Hoover family finds itself in the tight quarters of a mini bus, travelling together and living in each other’s pockets, on the road for two days. A musical version of the 2006 film, Little Miss Sunshine is about kinship, and the dreams of regular folk. It is a work replete with pathos and tenderness, a bittersweet comedy that can touch the hardest of hearts.

Director Deborah Jones infuses the production with a charming quirkiness that endears us to all of its characters. Beautifully lit by Michael Schell, against a whimsical set by David Marshall-Martin, which includes a truly delightful interpretation of the famed vintage Volkswagen, as seen at the movies. Musical direction by Laura Heuston makes good use of a three piece band to convey a swathe of emotions, for a show best consumed with generous doses of sentimentality.

An impressive level of conviction is demonstrated by the cast, memorable also for a sense of cohesion they bring to this story about the ordinary American family. Young Olive is played by Kiera Dzeparoski, whose effervescence provides persuasive driving force for the narrative. As mother Sheryl, Fiona Pearson’s astonishing singing voice delivers the most enjoyable moments of Little Miss Sunshine. John Grinston is very funny as Grandpa, with an irrepressible zest for life that gives heart and soul to the staging. Equally hilarious is Sarah Furnari, strong in all three of her roles, making us laugh heartily with each of her appearances.

It often seems that life is determined to beat us down, as though it knows the potency of our resilience. When we first meet the Hoover family, its members are at varying degrees of failure, with several personalities close to giving up. It is true that having loved ones as support, can help us weather difficulties of all kinds, but for those less fortunate, the human spirit must not be underestimated. Some live without families, and some even have to live without love, but there is always a way out, no matter how hard it may get.

www.newtheatre.org.au

Review: Simple Souls (Fringe HQ)

Venue: Fringe HQ (Potts Point NSW), Nov 13 – 30, 2019
Playwright: Paul Gilchrist
Director: Paul Gilchrist
Cast: Alison Benstead, Julia Christensen, Lisa Haanssens, Simon Lee, Thu Nguyen, Madeleine Withington

Theatre review
Frustrated with the senseless jibber-jabber she encounters on the internet, Marguerite embarks on creating a work of theatre, with people who have responded to a paper sign she had stuck onto a lamppost. Using the parody of a TV game show, Marguerite and her new friends proceed to criticise their audience for the stupid things being said on social media, but soon discover the exercise to be futile, as they fail to move beyond this easy act of castigation.

With Simple Souls, playwright Paul Gilchrist expresses a burning desire to determine how we can be better persons, in this age of high technology and deep divisions. He passionately explores why we are so poorly behaved, asking if our nature is capable of improvement, or if we are in an immutable state, on the road to no return. Simple Souls implores us all to be more reflective, and is itself very analytical, about how we are with one another, and how it thinks we might be able to learn to get along.

Gilchrist’s approach for direction is much more basic than how he writes. Early sections of the staging are enjoyable, with less complicated ideas accompanied by a playfulness that keeps us amused, as it prepares us for more sophisticated ideas to come. As the text gets increasingly dense, the performance ramps up in intensity, which may be appropriate in terms of the tension it conveys, but the speed at which Gilchrist dispenses his philosophy can prove too challenging. His thoughts are undoubtedly fascinating, but they race past too quickly for us to attain full appreciation.

Actor Madeleine Withington brings a convincing despondency to Marguerite’s story, and a dissatisfaction with the world that is understandably emphatic. Julian Christensen and Simon Lee play Trudy and Thomas respectively, flamboyant characters with admirable energy, both effective in injecting a valuable sense of theatricality that sustains our attention. The introverted Veronica who is never without her glove puppet, is brought to life by Alison Benstead whose depiction of naivety and idealism, gives the play unexpectedly meaningful balance.

Marguerite toys with the notion that stupid people have it easier, but there really is no way for anyone to know if other people’s lives are truly any better. The weight of the world is heavy on the shoulders of our protagonist, who is doing the right thing by resisting evils, and trying to invent solutions for the problems that she has identified. However admirable her efforts, it seems that the only one facing defeat is herself, as we watch Marguerite gradually consumed by anger and resentment. There is much that needs to be done, but part of the project is to survive one’s own darkness, even if unjustifiable optimism that makes one look a simpleton, is required.

www.subtlenuance.com

Review: School Of Rock (Capitol Theatre)

Venue: Capitol Theatre (Sydney NSW), Nov 8 – Feb 16, 2019
Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics: Glenn Slater
Book: Julian Fellowes
Director: Laurence Connor
Cast: Brent Hill, Nadia Komazec, Amy Lehpamer, John O’Hara, Zane Blumeris, Cooper Alexis, Jude Hyland, Cherami Mya Remulta, Cole Zoernleib, Joel Bishop, Paisley Motum, Brandon Santos, Sara Petrovski, Zoe Zantey, Deeana Cheong Foo, Sabina Felias

Theatre review
Fifth-graders at the prestigious Horace Green prep school, are suddenly thrown into chaos, when their substitute teacher arrives to replace all of their academic syllabus, with a secret mission to participate in a rock music competition. For a few short weeks, the man-child Dewey’s passion for rock, becomes a central part of these twelve children’s lives, and in the process, each is able to develop a sense of worth and self-esteem, from their accidental exposure to the anarchic art form.

Based on the 2003 film by Richard Linklater, this musical version of School Of Rock is similarly rousing, able to provide inspiration to audiences of all ages. With a story about the clash of class and culture, it reveals with excellent humour, some of the problems we experience as a result of the way we organise society, and the impact that it has on children. This stage adaptation is thoroughly enjoyable, a commercial product of musical theatre that hits all the right spots, featuring powerful tunes and exquisite stage craft,

Performer Brent Hill is a charismatic Dewey, an energetic and confident presence that effortlessly maintains a disarming vivacity for the show’s entirety. School principal Mullins is played by the highly skilled Amy Lehpamer, detailed and captivating with all that she brings to the stage. Twelve astonishing young performers make up the rebel mob, each one impressive in their own right. The precocious Deeana Cheong Foo is especially remarkable as the bright and headstrong Summer, a convincing actor noteworthy for her proficiency in comic timing. Zane Blumeris as Zack on the guitar, and Cherami Mya Remulta as Katie the bassist, are two unforgettable musicians, in a group of extraordinary prodigies responsible for making the show come alive.

In School Of Rock, we see children go from subdued to wild, and learn the value of experimentation and self-expression. It is a journey of discovery that the kids embark on, and in the joy of their momentary emancipation, we observe each one embracing a courage that will serve them well in all the days to come. Not everyone in the band will continue being rock stars, but no matter how they progress from this point, we can be sure that they will henceforth be able to recognise the resonance of authenticity whenever it appears.

www.schoolofrockthemusical.com

Review: I’m With Her (Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

Venue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Nov 9 – Dec 1, 2019
Lead Writer: Victoria Midwinter Pitt
Director: Victoria Midwinter Pitt
Cast: Gabrielle Chan, Shakira Clanton, Lynette Curran, Deborah Galanos, Emily Havea
Images by Robert Catto

Theatre review
Named after a prominent slogan from Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, I’m With Her features nine remarkable women, and their tales of resistance in relation to patriarchal structures that have tried to stand in the way of women’s achievements. Indeed these are success stories, representing only those who had made it in spite of immense opposition, but through them we observe not only the struggles that women everywhere encounter, but also how some of us have been able to emerge victorious.

Based on first-hand accounts by some of our favourite Australians, from Julia Gillard to Marcia Langton, as well as some lesser known but equally accomplished others, the work offers valuable inspiration to those who encounter roadblocks everyday on account of our gender. Created by Victoria Midwinter Pitt, the three-hour show is infrequently sentimental, but always powerful with what it says in terms of our capacity to weather storms and overcome obstacles. There is a uniformity in how each monologue unfolds, that reflects the similarity of experiences, and the journeys we have to make, in order to attain fulfilling lives.

Although repetitive in its form, I’m With Her is composed of anecdotes from highly compelling individuals, performed by an exceptionally sincere cast. Shakira Clanton’s emotional intensity, along with a precision in her motivations, give resonance to everything she utters. Similarly affecting is Emily Havea, who brings valuable zeal to the show. The whimsical Gabrielle Chan is memorable for her wonderful sense of humour, and Lynette Curran’s ability to convey vulnerability keeps us on the edge of our seats. Deborah Galanos is robust in her portrayals, and as with all the other actors in I’m With Her, presents an indelible impression of strength and resilience.

Audio-visual design by Mia Holton is noteworthy for delivering breathtaking imagery via a series of cleverly assembled projections. Further enhancing theatricality is sound and music by Tegan Nicholls, punctuating the journey with aural cues that help us absorb nuances as they arrive. Kelsey Lee’s lights are delicately calibrated, to guide us through shifts in mood and attitude, as we traverse these profound testimonies.

Many of these, are women at the top of their game, but it is important we remember that these games are often themselves the problem. One of the personalities we meet is Sister Patricia Madigan, who wishes for women to one day be ordained as priests, but we must not ignore the fact that even if a female pope should eventuate, the church is still Catholic. Having more women in power will certainly improve things for everyone, but we must not pretend that any tactic that retains old systems that thrive on the subjugation of vast numbers of people, is the way to solve our problems. As we continue with trying to get more women replacing men at positions of influence, it is imperative that we think up new ways to organise our lives. Glass ceilings can be broken, but the end game is to have all of us elevated.

www.darlinghursttheatre.com