Neighbourhood Watch (Ensemble Theatre)

rsz_watchoneVenue: Ensemble Theatre (Kirribilli NSW), Dec 12, 2013 – Jan 25, 2014
Playwright: Alan Ayckbourn
Director: Anna Crawford
Actors: Brian Meegan, Fiona Press, Gillian Axtell, Douglas Hansell, Lizzie Mitchell, Jamie Oxenbould, Olivia Pigeot, Bill Young

Theatre review
Alan Ayckbourn’s brilliant script is a work about the anxieties of middle classes in English suburbia. Its comedy is flamboyantly unhinged, and bears the strong flavour of absurdist British humour that is loved on stages and television the world over. His characters are quirky and colourful, yet complex enough to prevent them from becoming mere caricatures. Ayckbourn’s construction of “the frightening other” is masterful. We watch the onstage characters imagine a threat without actually seeing any substantiation for their terror. Audiences are implicated into the farce being performed, because we share in the imagery of the imagined enemy, but the play constantly reminds us of the stupidity in the scenarios being presented and indeed, the irrationality of those fears.

Brian Meegan is an effective leading man, playing the neighbourhood watch group leader Martin Massie with charm and energetic ardor. All the action is structured around him, and he displays great commitment and gravitas that holds the plot together. Jamie Oxenbould plays the cuckolded Gareth. His characterisation is idiosyncratic and subtle, turning a smaller part into a memorable, and very odd, stand out role.

Direction of the play focuses on plot trajectories, resulting in very clear storytelling, and amusing discourse on themes and concepts. However, interpretation of the play’s comedy elements falls short. There is an emphasis on realism in performances while the text seems to require a much broader comic style. Potential for laughter resides in virtually every line of Ayckbourn’s sharp writing, but his wit is not always strongly delivered.

Neighbourhood Watch deals with issues of class and hypocrisy in our societies. It exposes what we all know to be true, but in a way that surprises and fascinates. Its characters are simultaneously familiar and unpredictable, and they present a story that we can all relate to, regardless of which side of the fence we imagine ourselves to be situated.

www.ensemble.com.au

Suzy Goes See’s Best Of 2013

Images from a few 2013 stand-outs: A Sign Of The Times, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, All My Sons, Hamlet, Empire: Terror On The High Seas, Hay Fever, Bodytorque.Technique, Waiting For Godot.

Images from a few 2013 stand-outs: A Sign Of The Times, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, All My Sons, Hamlet, Empire: Terror On The High Seas, Hay Fever, Bodytorque.Technique, Waiting For Godot.

This is a wrap up of special moments since the commencement of Suzy Goes See in April 2013. A personal selection from over 100 productions seen in Sydney. Thank you to artists, companies, publicists and punters who have supported Suzy Goes See in 2013. I cannot wait for more shenanigans with you in the new year!

Update: Click here for the Best Of 2014 list.

Suzy x

♥ Avant Garde Angels
The bravest and most creative experimental works in 2013.

♥ Quirky Questers
The most unusual and colourful characters to appear on our stages in 2013.

♥ Design Doyennes
Outstanding visual design in 2013. Fabulous lights, sets and costumes.

♥ Darlings Of Dance
Breathtaking brilliance in the dance space of 2013.

♥ Musical Marvels
Outstanding performers in cabaret and musicals in 2013.

♥ Second Fiddle Superstars
Scene-stealers of 2013 in supporting roles.

♥ Champs Of Comedy
The cleverest, sharpest, and funniest performances of 2013.

♥ Daredevils Of Drama
Bold and excellent acting in dramatic roles in 2013.

♥ Wise With Words
The most interesting and intelligent scripts of 2013.

♥ Directorial Dominance
The most impressive work in direction for 2013.

♥ Shows Of The Year
Nice coincidence to have different genres represented: drama, musical, dance, comedy and cabaret.

♥ Suzy’s Special Soft Spot
For an exceptional work I saw in Melbourne.

End

Our Home ‘Ngalpun Mudth’ (NAISDA Dance College)

naisdaVenue: Carriageworks (Eveleigh NSW), Dec 11 – 14, 2013
Creative Director: Raymond D. Blanco

Theatre review
NAISDA Dance College on the NSW Central Coast offers a four-year diploma course to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, and Our Home ‘Ngalpun Mudth’ is their 2013 end of year performance showcase at Carriageworks in Sydney. The event celebrates the graduation of 5 students, with over two hours of dance, featuring ten choreographers including Frances Rings an Artist in Residence at Bangarra Dance Theatre and Australian dance legend Graeme Murphy.

The program is structured around contemporary Australian Indigenous dance forms, but influences from Asia, Europe, Latin America and Africa are infused, reflecting the multiculturalism of modern Australian life. Kristina Chan’s work Two Players Games is a highlight. Set to the mid-20th century American music of Santo & Johnny, the piece utilises the talents of dancing sisters Taree and Caleena Sansbury to great effect and shows a very thorough and interesting study of their collective physical language. Graeme Murphy’s The Protecting Veil brings an air of sophistication to the evening, and challenges the students with a more technically demanding piece.

Comedy elements were found in Shouse, a devised work under the guidance of Aku Kadogo and Vicki Van Hout’s Colonial Idiot, which uses sound bites from Ross Noble’s stand up performances. Both are intelligently constructed, and allow the young talents to shine with their exuberance and enthusiasm. Frances Rings takes a more serious perspective of her student subjects in Dismorph, and we see a successful exploration into the lives and emotional landscapes of young Indigenous people.

The evening ends with the entire ensemble flooding the performance space for a Moa Island Cultural Dance. Created alongside live musicians, and their cultural tutors, this finale is grand, magnificent, and euphoric. This is where the students are in their element. They lose their youthful inhibitions and perform with extraordinary passion and a level of assuredness rarely seen on any stage. The audience granted a standing ovation on opening night, heralding an auspicious start to the careers of NAISDA’s newest group of talents. May they flourish swiftly, and welcome every success that arrives with open arms.

www.naisda.com.au

The Dreamer Examines His Pillow (Unpathed Theatre Company)

dreamerexaminesVenue: TAP Gallery (Darlinghurst NSW), Dec 10 – 21, 2013
Playwright: John Patrick Shanley
Director: Vashti Pontaks
Actors: Ainslie Clouston, Scott Lee, Peter McAllum
Image by Tom Bannerman

Theatre review (of preview performance, Dec 11)
The best stories in theatre and film contain messages and morals that are applicable to lives everywhere. The Dreamer Examines His Pillow seeks to unpack profound truths of our shared experiences, and present on stage an enlightened point of view that can enrich and inspire everyone. John Patrick Shanley’s script was written early on in his career, but is masterful in the way it expresses its philosophies, mainly from the perspective of a middle-aged character.

Peter McAllum plays Dad, the aforementioned role, with powerful conviction and exquisite relish. It is evident that McAllum has a good affiliation with the material, and many of the play’s complex ideas are articulated effortlessly and clearly through his portrayal. McAllum is thoroughly enjoyable to watch. He dominates in his scenes, and is quite obviously having the time of his life in this unique gem of an opportunity.

Direction by Vashti Pontaks relies heavily on performances from her three actors, who are all keenly energetic, but who also vary in experience and ability. While they are all focussed and charismatic, the depth of some sections do not always translate well when in the hands of the younger performers. Chemistry is also lacking between the young leads, and humorous moments are sometimes missed. Pontaks’ strength lies in the more serious aspects of the play, but the length of the work requires that its lighter sections deliver the laughs, in order that interest is more effectively sustained.

A lot of Dreamer is about courage, and Pontaks drives that message through beautifully. She also constructs a world where the concept of fear is palpably believable. The courage we need for living full lives, and the courage artists need for bringing their work to fruition, are explored and on display in this earnest and dynamic production. It is up to us to rise from our slumber, and to decide for ourselves whether an unexamined life is worth living.

www.unpathed.com.au

Cowboy Mouth (Such&Such Productions)

rsz_img_8354Venue: TAP Gallery (Darlinghurst NSW), Dec 4 – 7, 2013
Playwrights: Sam Shepard & Patti Smith
Director: Kate Wadey
Actors: Bianca London, Jake Lyall

Theatre review
The script is a challenging one. It is full of incoherence, and has consistent stylistic allusions to intoxication. Abstraction is its addiction, and effort is required of both artist and audience to embrace and appreciate it. Words on stage function differently from when they are in a book. We listen to them at a speed dictated by actors, and do not have the luxury to ruminate on complex sections at our own leisure. Fortunately, Kate Wadey’s direction is careful to tell the story visually and through music, creating a show that relies on more than the delivery of lines to connect.

Wadey’s creative decisions are interesting and well thought through. She utilises her actors’ skills well, showing them off in the best light possible, thus drawing us into their bizarre love story. Wadey has chosen to play the characters’ conversation relatively straightforward, which helps with grounding the abstract nature of the writing, but sacrifices the opportunity for more outlandish theatrical expression. There is a sense of restraint that makes for an elegant interpretation, but could at times come across slightly conservative.

Jake Lyall plays Slim with great conviction and power. Within the confines of script and direction, he does a beautiful job of bringing to life a character that we do not necessarily understand a great deal of. He portrays a wide range of emotion with authenticity and clarity, and it is his emotional journey that forms the main plot trajectory on which we travel. Lyall is a charismatic performer who commands attention easily, and shows intelligence in the measured way he tackles the role.

Bianca London’s portrayal of Cavale highlights the innocence of the couple. London has the valuable quality of affability, and the wide-eyed wonder she brings to the piece lightens the work, making it more palatable, although the bleak inebriation that characterises the writers’ legacy from the period is missed. Nostalgia and reminiscence is not a major driving force in this production of Cowboy Mouth, but as an exploration of intimate theatre, it succeeds in creating something unconventional, landing at a space that is certainly off the beaten track.

www.facebook.com/SuchandSuchproductions

Decadence (Apriori Projects)

decadence1Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Dec 4 – 7, 2013
Playwright: Steven Berkoff
Director: Serhat Caradee
Actors: Katherine Shearer, Rowan McDonald

Theatre review
Steven Berkoff’s script Decadence is essentially about morality, and it displays thoroughly and explicitly, the manifestations of immorality within the context of 1980s Thatcherite Britain. It is bold writing in verse form, with emphasis on language and character dynamics, and minimal reliance on conventional narrative structures. Berkoff’s characters are cold and obnoxious. This is not the kind of play that inspires empathy or identification, but it is persistently fascinating.

Serhat Caradee’s direction focuses squarely on the performances of his two leads, and his efforts pay off with excellent work from the actors. Caradee is particularly strong in sustaining the high energy, almost chaotic tone of the show, while giving texture and layers to what is basically a play based on a singular idea. There are a few moments, however, where one could imagine a greater user of space. Whether it be additional performers, multimedia elements, or set and props, various supplementary components could have been introduced to magnify some of the dramatics, even though the relatively bare staging does have its charms.

Katherine Shearer’s infectious playfulness endears her instantly to the audience. There is an old-fashioned sensibility to her mode of performance which is full of allure, and perfectly suited to the era in which the action is set. She brings a joy to the stage, providing a welcome counterbalance to the dark cynicism of the writing. Rowan McDonald is a highly animated actor, who obviously enjoys the absurdity and biting social criticism of the play. The range of physical, vocal and facial expressions he introduces into his work is truly breathtaking. There is a dogged tenacity to McDonald’s stagecraft that is magnetic, and he holds our attention to present concepts that are sometimes subversive, and always entertaining.

Indeed, Berkoff’s subversive spirit is represented with great success in this production. The energetic and entertaining performers prevent things from being too alienating, but the work’s political edge is thankfully not lost. The message might be a difficult one to take in, but the thrills and spills of the ride are certainly rewarding.

www.venue505.com/theatre

On/Off (Bordello Theatre)

onoff2Venue: Bordello Theatre (Potts Point NSW), Nov 30 – Dec 15, 2013
Playwright: Lisa Chappell
Director: Scott Witt
Actors: Lisa Chappell, Marissa Dikkenberg
Image by Simon Dikkenberg

Theatre review
When an actor and a singer come together to create a work in the cabaret space, it is a sure sign that they are on a mission to break theatrical rules in order to create something unique and fresh. On/Off certainly gives us something new and innovative, but more than that, this is a work that entertains, fascinates, and connects on many levels. It takes its audience on an emotional roller coaster ride, well aware that it is the contrast of funny and sad that makes each reaction more powerful. We laugh and cry, and laugh again. With its unusual structure and excellent performances, the show forces us to let down our guard, and takes control of all our sentiments.

Scott Witt’s direction is superb. He constantly plays with juxtapositions, making use of the wildly different characteristics of the two actors, and the spacial concepts of on stage and off stage, and crafts a work that is as emotionally volatile as it is confident in its structure and plot. The journey is incredibly bumpy, but the destination is crystal clear. The experience of witnessing one actor on stage, and the other off, while listening to a familiar cabaret standard, is a pleasure that has to be seen to be believed.

Marissa Dikkenberg’s depiction of her character’s disintegration is marvellous. Her singing voice is strong, but she uses her skills carefully to maintain the believability of her character. Sara is a bland “Stepford housewife” type, who goes through a thorough and clamorous break down, progressing from a chirpy and sober state of delusion into a complete drunken mess. Lisa Chappell’s presence in the tiny Bordello Theatre is colossal, and her acting is faultless. Her drama and comedy are both high octane, but the gory authenticity she puts into her work makes every moment convincing. Chappell’s performance is determined to hit her audience like a ton of bricks. It is unabashed, unapologetic theatricality at its most flamboyant and audacious, and completely delicious.

This is alternative art, but formulated with the intention to communicate to wide audiences. It is a story about life’s disappointments, human resilience, and the value of friendship. These themes are universal, and also passionate. The words to one of the songs in the show sum things up best, “you’ve got to laugh a little, cry a little… and when the world is through with us, we’ve got each other’s arms.” Many things happen in On/Off, but what endures is The Glory Of Love.

www.facebook.com/lisachappellonoff