Review: Meet Me In St. Louis (New Theatre)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Dec 17 – 21, 2019
Book: Hugh Wheeler
Songs: Ralph Blane, Hugh Martin
Director: Matt Hourigan
Cast: Denzel Bruhn, Jayden Castle, Phoebe Clark, Sinead Cristaudo, Lana Domeney, Grace Driscoll, Lincoln Elliott, Amy Humphreys, Claudia Joller, Katelin Koprevic, Victoria Luxton, Alexis O’Donnell, Jared Palessen, Matthew Predny, Oliver Roach, Caitlin Shannon-Duhigg, Jerome Studdy, Andrew Symes

Theatre review
Young Esther is in love with John, the boy next door, but her family is set to move to New York as a result of her father’s recent promotion at work. It is clearly not the story of Meet Me In St. Louis that captivates, but its celebrated songs that we connect with. Based on the legendary 1944 film, this is a musical production of the most traditional kind, that holds special appeal for audiences of a conservative vein. There is nothing unpredictable or original here, only an abundance of nostalgia that many will no doubt find satisfying.

Matt Hourigan directs and choreographs, displaying considerable theatrical flair, although use of space can be more inventive. The band can sound somewhat distant, but music direction by Oscar Balle-Bowness remains a delight. Visual elements are adequately assembled, to help us imagine America at the dawn of the previous century. Performers look, comically, either too old or too young for their roles, but the quality of singing is consistently high, with leads Phoebe Clark and Matthew Predny leaving strong impressions with their vocal abilities.

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” has since become one of the most popular songs of the festive season. A deeply melancholic lyric that wistfully harks back to an idealistic past, “once again as in olden days, happy golden days of yore,” overzealous with the trust we place on old memories, and the frankly strange belief that things always used to be better, back in the day. The truth is that we have progressed in many ways, and although life is never without its challenges, to yearn for anything that might involve a regression of our existences, is simply unwise.

www.facebook.com/starkeeperproductions/

Review: Blue Christmas (New Ghosts Theatre Company)



Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Dec 11 – 22, 2019
Images by Clare Hawley

Good People
Playwright: Katy Warner
Director: Lucy Clements
Cast: Clementine Anderson, Laura Djanegara, Sasha Dyer, Chika Ikogwe, Jane Watt, Emma Wright

Shandy’s Corner
Playwright: Gretel Vella
Director: Lucy Clements
Cast: Clementine Anderson, Meg Clarke, Laura Djanegara, Harriet Gordon-Anderson, Zoe Jensen, Vaishnavi Suryaprakash

Theatre review
It is Christmas time, when things come to a boiling point for two groups of women. In Katy Warner’s Good People, old friends have their holiday in Indonesia cut short by a state of emergency, as violence breaks out and tourists are corralled and confined to an airport. These Australians have witnessed the true face of poverty, and are now confronting the brutal implications of their privileged first world lives. Shandy’s Corner by Gretel Vella takes place in a women’s shelter, in first world Australia, where the consequences of our patriarchal systems are on full display, with broken individuals trying to regain their agency and a sense of dignity.

Both hour-long works are sensitively written and immensely contemplative, offering valuable perspectives on the kinds of lives we currently inhabit. Directed by Lucy Clements, the double-bill presentation grips from start to end. Good People is provocative, able to instigate meaningful conversations, while Shandy’s Corner is fabulously entertaining, with a dark humour that proves deeply satisfying. Clements injects an infectious passion into every scene, for a theatre that communicates with efficacious power.

An excellent impression is left by a very strong and cohesive cast, remarkably engaging in their delivery of two ensemble pieces, with not a single weak link. Clementine Anderson and Laura Djanegara perform in both stories, taking the opportunity to demonstrate versatility, but are especially memorable in Shandy’s Corner for their compelling portrayals of women overcoming adversity in wildly different ways. Harriet Gordon-Anderson and Emma Wright bring complex characterisations and excellent drama to the staging, intense with the emotions they convey. Funny ladies Meg Clarke and Zoe Jensen are thoroughly enjoyable in comedic roles, each actor with approaches as bold as their imaginations.

It is appropriate that the Christmas message here relates to the inherent injustices of our way of life. To respond to these plays, we can do no better than to think, “what would Jesus do?” in the face of these man-made tragedies. Christianity proclaims to be about caring for the poor and the oppressed, as it preaches in Proverbs 31:8-9, to “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” When we look around us, there is little that can be construed as holy, but good art remains, and it is eternally sacred.

www.newghoststheatre.com

Review: The Last Days Of Judas Iscariot (Gamut Theatre Co)

Venue: Darlo Drama (Darlinghurst NSW), Dec 8 – 17, 2019
Playwright: Stephen Adly Guirgis
Director: Glen Hamilton
Cast: Edgar Antonio Atienza, Nicole Florio, David Hodgkins, Melinda Jensen, Erica Nelson, Stephanie Reeves, Hugo Schlanger, James Sugrue, Paula Williams, Mark J. Wilson
Images by Craig O’Regan

Theatre review
Cunningham is a lawyer in the celestial realm, working hard to get Judas out of hell. The courtroom in Stephen Adly Guirgis’ The Last Days Of Judas Iscariot, is situated in purgatory, where all things are undecided, and fates can be reversed. Themes of betrayal and regret feature prominently in this Christian story, as we imagine the fallout after Judas’ deathly kiss. It is a humorous piece, although never sacrilegious and consequently predictable, with its meditations on the ancient narrative.

Directed by Glen Hamilton, the production is faithful to Guirgis’ writing style, playful but also searingly earnest. Some scenes pack more punch than others, for a show that struggles to be consistently engaging. An ensemble of eleven take on twenty-seven roles, with varying levels of effectiveness. Stronger performers include Melinda Jensen and Stephanie Reeves, particularly memorable for their moments in drag, playing Pontius Pilate and Caiaphas the Elder respectively, both suddenly powerful with their interpretations of fossilised men.

A scene involving Cunningham in a fiery exchange with Satan, is a stand out, with actors Erica Nelson and Nicole Florio bringing vigour and authenticity to the play’s climax. James Sugrue is somewhat hesitant as Judas, but leaves a good impression with his exacting portrayal of Sigmund Freud.

However we might choose to think of Judas, has no bearing on the man himself, and can only ever be a reflection of how we regard our own lives. We rely on religion to help us turn chaos into order, so that a semblance of peace can be attained, for few of us can bear to look reality squarely in its eye. Villains allow us to think of ourselves as good, so that we may walk the earth with resilience and fortitude, but to be able to see fallibility in the self is emancipatory, and necessary in finding the capacity to love.

www.judasplay.com

Review: The Split (The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Dec 3 – 14, 2019
Playwright: Sarah Hamilton
Director: Charley Sanders
Cast: Amy Victoria Brooks, Max Garcia-Underwood

Theatre review
We are with Jules and Tom are on a small boat, where for several days and nights, they have isolated themselves to sort out an unspeakable problem. It must be a difficult one because we see them evading the issue, indulging instead in a lot of mundane chat and frivolous activity, leaving their purpose ignored in the background.

Sarah Hamilton’s The Split demonstrates what it is like, when things are too hard to deal with, especially if they relate to matters of the heart. The work is keenly observed, although its unrelenting sense of wistfulness can prove a challenge for the 90-minute duration. The couple is in a state of fragility, and we watch them unable to access anything that might fracture their emotional equilibrium, resulting in a play that stays too much in a delicate space, refusing to deliver a more obvious drama, or comedy, that would sustain our interest.

Performers in The Split are beautifully focused, very confident and precise with their respective portrayals. Amy Victoria Brooks and Max Garcia-Underwood may not deliver convincing sizzle as lovers, but both actors bring a valuable depth to their characters, able to convey authenticity for every scene. Director Charley Sanders’ storytelling is honest, but the production is too subdued in approach, and as a consequence, insufficiently engaging. Lights and video projections by Kobe Donaldson contribute some visual appeal to the staging, although atmosphere could be further enhanced to complement the writing’s sensual melancholy.

Life is hard; all we can do is to give it our best shot. As we watch Jules and Tom fail at what they had set out to achieve, we examine the way people deal with painful situations, in the understanding that it is the very nature of pain, that makes us run away from what we acknowledge needs to be addressed. The two take it slow, waiting for the ache to subside, so that they can finally arrive at a moment of confrontation that both know to be necessary. Not everything can be ripped off like a band aid. We learn that some things deserve the luxury of time, even if everything in this moment, does feel like a real state of emergency.

www.houseofsand.org

Review: Krapp’s Last Tape (Red Line Productions)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Nov 26 – Dec 14, 2019
Playwright: Samuel Beckett
Director: Gale Edwards
Cast: Jonathan Biggins
Images by John Marmaras

Theatre review
Another grumpy old man takes to the stage in Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape. He brings along a sense of confusion, perhaps disillusioned and defeated by a world that never lived up to its promises. A wall of filing cabinets containing a lifetime of voice recordings that he has made, an ongoing project representing a memoir that is both self-important, and self derisive. Indeed, it charts the man’s ageing process, from idealistic to despondent, as we find him in a state of decrepitude.

Most of the show involves Krapp listening to his tape machine, playing a collection of narrations that could only ever mean more to him than to anyone else. We observe past and present converge as he sits attentive to his personal oral history. Directed by Gale Edwards, the staging bears an affecting melancholy, with Veronique Benett’s lights and Brian Thomson’s set design providing just the right ennui. Actor Jonathan Biggins is confident and a sturdy presence, able to convey degrees of regret for a role that seems to be about little besides. He provides a charming wistfulness that translates as a sort of gentle comedy, more likely to elicit empathy than it would laughter.

Krapp looks back in anger and in pain, making us wonder about the way we regard the past, as it relates to today and tomorrow. On the occasion of his 69th birthday, he demonstrates that the older we get, the less we are able to be buoyed by the future. The anguish he experiences, as he hits playback on the tape, is a result of poor choices and bad luck. Decisions can be made every which way; right, wrong, indeterminate, bearing in mind that regret is valuable only as a concept for future use.

www.redlineproductions.com.au

Review: Coram Boy (Kings Cross Theatre)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Nov 22 – Dec 7, 2019
Playwright: Helen Edmundson (adapted from the novel by Jamila Gavin)
Directors: Michael Dean, John Harrison
Cast: Rebecca Abdel-Messih, Lloyd Allison-Young, Violette Ayad, Andrew Den, Ryan Hodson, Joshua McElroy, Tinashe Mangwana, Suz Mawer, Emma O’Sullivan, Gideon Payten-Griffiths, Ariadne Sgouros, Annie Stafford, Amanda Stephens-Lee, Petronella Van Tienen, Joshua Wiseman
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
The story revolves around the “Coram Hospital for Deserted Children” in 18th century London. Babies are abandoned, with some subsequently rescued and many others allowed to die, in Jamila Gavin’s novel Coram Boy, adapted for the stage by Helen Edmundson. The epic features unfeeling landowners, ruthless criminals, desperate mothers, music prodigies and George Frideric Handel, all woven into a very big play with narratives that all concern themselves with the welfare of children.

Wonderfully imaginative and often very touching, Coram Boy is written almost like a screenplay, with short scenes taking place in a myriad different places. Directors Michael Dean and John Harrison orchestrate the action marvellously, adventurous in their efforts to help us suspend disbelief inside a small black auditorium, allowing us to see in our mind’s eye, old streets, stately homes and the deep blue ocean. Lighting design by Benjamin Brockman is instrumental in manufacturing these impossible visions, extravagant and evocative with everything he presents. Similarly rhapsodic is Nate Edmondson’s sound design, an unbelievably rich aspect of the show, thoroughly assembled to cover all bases for a luscious rendering of this period drama.

Fifteen passionate members of cast bring soulful life to a huge roster of personalities, all of them imbued a sense of authenticity under the strict supervision of Dean and Harrison. The powerful Lloyd Allison-Young is captivating with the flamboyance he brings to the baddie Otis Gardiner, as is Gideon Payen-Griffiths who plays Handel, and other roles, with a delicious sense of theatrical ostentation. Annie Stafford takes care to introduce valuable nuance to the ingenue Melissa Milcote, while Joshua Wiseman impresses with musical talents that measure up beautifully to his considerable acting abilities.

Ariadne Sgouros is unforgettable with the emotional intensity she provides Mrs Lynch, a complex character with severely conflicting qualities that the actor makes truthful. Equally genuine in presence is Violette Ayad as Isobel Ashbrook, whose subtleties never fail to catch our attention, even in a sea of persistent cacophony. The noteworthy Emma O’Sullivan takes on a range of smaller parts with gusto, remarkably persuasive with all of them.

The greatest inspiration one would take from Coram Boy relates to the immense ambition on display. A grander project could not be envisioned for a smaller space, yet all three hours of the experience is entrancing, satisfying and fruitful. The rich people in the story have every resource to do good, but they do only bad. It may not be true that money will only bring forth evil, but it is clear that on this occasion, necessity has become the mother of invention. Endless shows have been put on costing more, but have delivered far less. When we feel as though in the gutter, looking at starry affairs of the wealthy, it is important to remember that the problems that money can solve for our individual lives, are not often as exhaustive as they seem to promise. When a lot is done with very little, is when we know that something truly great has been achieved.

www.kingsxtheatre.com

Review: The Odd Couple (Ensemble Theatre)

Venue: Ensemble Theatre (Kirribilli NSW), Nov 22 – Dec 29, 2019
Playwright: Neil Simon
Director: Mark Kilmurry
Cast: Laurence Coy, Katie Fitchett, Robert Jago, James Lugton, Brian Meegan, Nicholas Papademetriou, Olivia Pigeot, Steve Rodgers
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review
Felix has left his wife, and is moving in with Oscar who is himself also a divorcee. The two are good friends, but also vastly different personalities, which means that their newly single lives are proving to be less harmonious than either had hoped for. Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple is over half a century old, but much of the comedy, largely based on laddish antics, still works. It would appear that the man-child trope still resonates, in fact its interest in the immature adult is probably more pertinent in our age of high tech comfort and reduced responsibilities. A pervasive and perpetual state of arrested development seems to be taking hold, and the farcical childishness of characters in Simon’s play becomes surprisingly relevant.

Energetic and entertaining, Mark Kilmurry’s crowd pleasing direction revives the work for an audience hankering for 1960s American nostalgia. Costumes and a set by designer Hugh O’Connor are effective contributions to the overall vibrancy of the production, along with Christopher Page’s lights maintaining a sense of joviality for the staging.

Actor Steve Rodgers is endearing as the fun-loving easy-going Oscar, able to turn the slob into someone disarmingly likeable. Felix the neat freak is played by Brian Meegan, who demonstrates unexpected range for the role, delivering charming humour alongside the portrayal of someone struggling with the difficulties of divorce. Stage chemistry is enjoyable, not just between the two, but also for all other members of cast. The group of eight embodies a cohesiveness that ensures solid comic timing from start to end, with Katie Fitchett and Olivia Pigeot particularly remarkable, in their ability to manufacture hilarity for scenes involving a couple of very poorly written female characters.

The success of relationships should be judged by their quality, and not in accordance with duration, yet we obsess over the number of years that people stay together, ignoring all the times those individuals may be suffering inside unhappy unions. Divorces are celebratory occasions, as they mark an end to one’s hardship, allowing them to begin again and find ways to welcome better days, that may have been elusive for considerable lengths of time. Narratives determine so much of our behaviour and emotions. If we know to make better sense of our stories, how we feel about our lives can be correspondingly improved.

www.ensemble.com.au