Review: The Overcoat (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Nov 15 – Dec 1, 2018
Book & Lyrics: Michael Costi (based on the short story by Nikolai Gogol)
Music: Rosemarie Costi
Director: Constantine Costi
Cast: Laura Bunting, Kate Cheel, Aaron Tsindos, Charles Wu
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Nikolai is an unremarkable man, an ordinary citizen of Russia, who lives and works in St Petersburg, not unlike the faceless millions in any of the world’s cities. He is unambitious, able to be content with a simple life, but the most basic of human requirements, dignity, eludes him. He is sold a luxurious coat, one he is unable to afford, with the promise that the new garment would finally help him gain the respect of people he sees every day at work. Based on Nikolai Gogol’s short novel of the same name, The Overcoat is about injustice, and the sacrifices some have to make, just to attain a level of subsistence.

Adapted by Michael Costi, whose book and lyrics retain the poignancy of the original, this musical version is an understated but thoroughly moving work of theatre. Rosemarie Costi’s music is consistently gripping, and delightfully idiosyncratic, incorporating shades of Kurt Weill and Stephen Sondheim to find exquisite balance in this sophisticated take on the genre. Director Constantine Costi exhibits great style, alongside a sensitive understanding of drama, for a production that lulls us gently to some very deep places in our hearts and minds.

Performer Charles Wu is an enchanting presence, vulnerable yet confident as Nikolai. Not only does he earn our empathy for the pitiful character, Wu elevates our experience of the sad story with his capacity to inspire our intellect. Aaron Tsindos’ booming voice thrills and satisfies, as do his extravagant depictions of several unforgettable supporting roles. Laura Bunting and Kate Cheel create a range of ebullient personalities, both actors proving themselves to be as commanding as they are charming.

Our protagonist procures his coat, with money that should have gone to food and rent. Before society can provide him with a feeling of belonging, Nikolai must give up more than all he has; we come to the cruel realisation that the real world does not offer unconditional love. When we participate in the labour force, we go to work for survival and for salvation, but there is never any guarantee that the exchange can be a fair one. In fact, we see in The Overcoat, that when the marketplace is left to its own devices, many of us are put in positions where we have to give more than we can ever receive in return. The unfairness is ubiquitous, and without intervention, disparities can only widen.

www.belvoir.com.au

Review: The Wild Party (Seymour Centre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Nov 15 – 24, 2018
Book: Michael J. Lachiusa, George C. Wolfe
Music & Lyrics: Michael J. Lachiusa
Director: Alexander Andrews
Cast: Michael Boulus, Jack Dawson, Nick Errol, Emily Hart, Prudence Holloway, Matthew Hyde, Tayla Jarrett, Katelin Koprivec, Victoria Luxton, Matilda Moran, Rosalie Neumair, Sophie Perkins, Olivier Rahmé, Zach Selmes, Samuel Skuthorp, Georgina Walker, Simon Ward, Jordan Warren, Madeleine Wighton, Victoria Zerbst
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
It is New York City in the 1920s, and the party is lit. Bohemian types gather at the behest of volatile lovers Queenie and Burrs; not a single introvert in sight, all thirsty for a good time, ready to make the drama happen. Michael J. Lachiusa and George C. Wolfe’s 2000 musical The Wild Party is a rollicking ride with colourful characters taking us through a succession of exuberant numbers, celebrating life in the most exciting of cities.

Under Alexander Andrews’ direction, The Wild Party is a dazzling, fun-filled romp. Even though its narrative becomes somewhat vague, the production’s relentless vibrancy keeps us engaged and uplifted. Music direction by Conrad Hamill is lush and decadent, a wonderfully evocative element. Outstanding choreography by Madison Lee brings unexpected sophistication. Imaginative and adventurous, Lee’s work is thoroughly compelling, and along with dance captain Sophie Perkins’ efforts, it is the way bodies move through every second in this staging, that proves truly splendid. A group of 5 chorines, Victoria Luxton, Matilda Moran, Rosalie Neumair, Jordan Warren and the aforementioned Perkins, are the stars, brilliant with their spirit and charm, extraordinarily cohesive with all that they present.

Georgina Walker plays a very alluring Queenie, with an attitude and physical gestures that are flawlessly reminiscent of that bygone era. Sound engineering is often deficient, and Walker’s voice suffers as a result, but the intricacy of her performance is no less impressive. Prudence Holloway and Victoria Zerbst take on flamboyant roles with extravagant aplomb, both actors fierce and fabulous.

Parties are worth little when participants are unable to let their hair down, but as we see in The Wild Party, things can go too far. Art however, plays by different rules, and social transgressions are often an important part of how it can create impact. Considering the context, this staging is perhaps slightly polite, so it is never really able to provide much more than entertainment. To be wild, is to explore boundaries and question the rules. Little Miss Goody Two-Shoes may well be liked by everyone, but she is unlikely to have left an indelible mark anywhere.

www.littletriangle.com.au

Review: Madiba (State Theatre)

Venue: State Theatre (Sydney NSW), Nov 1 – 18, 2018
Book: Jean-Pierre Hadida, Alicia Sebrien
Author & Composer: Jean-Pierre Hadida
Additional Material: Lunik Grio, Emmanuelle Sebrien
Directors: Pierre-Yves Duchesne, Dennis Watkins
Cast: Courtney Bell, Barry Conrad, David Denis, Blake Erickson, Perci Moeketsi, Ruva Ngwenya, Tim ‘Timomatic’ Omaji, Madeline Perrone, Tarisai Vushe
Images by Serge Thomann

Theatre review
Known as Father of the Nation, South Africa’s Nelson Mandela served 27 years in prison, for activities opposing apartheid. In the musical Madiba, we see his personal struggles, and the inspiration he had provided, and continues to provide, for racial reconciliation in the region and around the world. Mandela’s heroic aura is unwavering as the centrepiece of a production that unfortunately, never quite lives up to the man’s eminence.

The writing manages to establish coherence for a timeline that stretches fifty years, but it is insufficiently rousing, for themes that one expects to be much more intrinsically emotional. The minimalist approach to visual design proves a challenge for the large stage, with lights that get absorbed by heavy curtains before adequate illumination can be provided to performers.

It is however, an excellent cast that presents the musical, with Perci Moeketsi effortlessly convincing as Mandela, an affable presence who reminds us of the warm personality so often seen in the media. Brilliant dancing by David Denis, Tim ‘Timomatic’ Omaji and a very spirited ensemble, has us thoroughly mesmerised. Barry Conrad, Ruva Ngwenya and Tarisai Vushe thrill us with their singing, making full use of the opportunity to showcase their extraordinary vocal talents.

When Noah emerged from his ark after the great flood, a rainbow of peace appeared in the sky, signifying a new beginning. The dream of a rainbow nation in post-apartheid South Africa, is a vision about inclusivity, for a future in which black and white are no longer divided. Now five years after Mandela’s passing, white supremacy can be seen trying again to rear its ugly head, everywhere from Europe and America, to Africa and Australia. The project of decolonisation is a huge undertaking, an extremely difficult exercise that often seems doomed to failure, but forces determined to defeat fascism can never be crushed. We remember the sacrifices made by Mandela and his country, and the progress they were able to attain under onerous circumstances, and use them as motivation, for all the battles that lie ahead.

wwww.madibamusical.com.au

Review: Freud’s Last Session (Clock & Spiel Productions)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Oct 30 – Nov 10, 2018
Playwright: Mark St. Germain
Director: Hailey McQueen
Cast: Yannick Lawry, Nicholas Papademetriou
Images by Alison Lee Rubie

Theatre review
Two men, one atheist and one Christian have an intelligent, and civilised, discussion about the existence of God, in Mark St. Germain’s Freud’s Last Session. A fictional account of Sigmund Freud, approaching the end of life, inviting C.S. Lewis in for a meeting, presumably to help allay inevitable fears of impending death. Everything they talk about is relevant, even fundamental to our very being, but these are ideas we have tossed around in our minds many times, with decisions settled for each individual years ago. Some might be able to see new light on old questions and find the play intellectually stimulating, but for most, the best it can offer is an opportunity to hear the other side of arguments, within its stringently binary presentation of truths.

It is a polished production, with Hailey McQueen’s direction giving the theological themes an elegant and balanced focus. Tyler Ray Hawkins’ work on set decoration is noteworthy for its visual flair, cleverly manufacturing a sense of vibrant theatricality whilst maintaining realism in Freud’s office. Both actors deliver solid performances, with Nicholas Papademetriou particularly convincing as the ailing psychoanalyst, accurate in his portrayal of a legendary figure in his last days, but in a manner that is charmingly playful, to have us engaged and entertained. Lewis is played by Yannick Lawry, appropriately uptight, with an energetic presence that keeps things lively for his audience.

Life is mysterious, so there is no surprise that we often respond by embracing ideas that pertain to the supernatural. Science is in the business of demystification, but our nature seems not to permit an end to human interrogations; for every answer we discover, further questions will arise. The world is determined to be unknowable, yet we desire only to thrive on certainty. God may or may not exist, but if we agree that our time on earth is real, it should then follow that our emphasis must always be concerned with the here and now. The truth however is that, whatever we think is holy up above, has served to divide us. We see ourselves doing unspeakably cruel things to one another in the name of God, yet are unable to disown religious doctrines, refusing to acknowledge the harm that it can cause. The world has never been without Gods, so to imagine ourselves as entirely secular, although an appealing idea, is probably futile. The next best thing would be to trust that each of us can learn to be better persons with each passing day, no matter how ridiculous our personal beliefs.

www.clockandspielproductions.com

Review: Degenerate Art (Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Oct 17 – Nov 4, 2018
Playwright: Toby Schmitz
Cast: Septimus Caton, Guy Edmonds, Giles Gartrell-Mills, Henry Nixon, Megan O’Connell, Rupert Reid, Toby Schmitz
Images by John Mamaras

Theatre review
If it were a painting, Toby Schmitz’s Degenerate Art would comprise a thousand tiny brush strokes, too detailed and too intricate, but they collude to present broad strokes that are imperiously forceful, certain to make an impact. Like other bad boy artists of renown such as Adam Cullen and Damien Hirst, the work is brash and obnoxious, replete with evidence of genius, but unlike white box museums that allow us to glance, gasp and swiftly walk past, Schmitz’s 100 minutes of grandiose cocky art, holds us hostage in our overly snug seats, intimidating us into thinking that some very big meaning lies behind all that is being waxed lyrical in the playwright’s very many excessive diatribes.

The play is ostensibly about Hitler’s relationship with art, and the ironic and incongruous phenomenon of fascist attitudes always seeming to surround the dissemination and consumption of art. We see prominent Nazi figures of the time, arguing over art like any healthy society should, but the way these white men cannot help but escalate their competition of penis extensions into acts of violence, is despicable and telling. Visually sumptuous, the staging is provided a glossy glamour by Alexander Berlage’s diligent lighting design. Schmitz assembles a testosterone fest that begins desirous but eventually turns shrill, with shouty blokes intent on asserting their importance, a reminder that art cannot help but imitate real life.

Although little room for nuance, Degenerate Art is a showcase for some remarkable performances, and the rhapsodic peacocking of its six male actors proves to be truly impressive. Megan O’Connell too, is an effective and memorable narrator, despite never really being able to overcome looking like an afterthought. It is frustrating that we are still being subjected to groups of white men talking about Nazism. To some, it might make sense that white male villains can only be played by white men, but for others, this is completely counter-intuitive, and a lazy, even irresponsible way of getting into discussions about fascism. Actions speak louder than words, especially when the words are deafening.

www.redlineproductions.com.au

Review: Julius Caesar (Bell Shakespeare)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Oct 23 – Nov 25, 2018
Playwright: William Shakespeare
Director: James Evans
Cast: Jemwel Danao, Maryanne Fonceca, Ghenoa Gela, Neveen Hanna, Emily Havea, James Lugton, Kenneth Ransom, Nick Simpson-Deeks, Russell Smith, Sara Zwangobani
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review
Some things never change, and Shakespeare’s Julius Ceasar could just as well be a story about Canberra in 2018. A controversial leader gets knifed, and all hell breaks loose, in this tale of a mutiny that does not go quite as planned. Cassius and Brutus conspire to have their leader extinguished, in order that a better system of government can be installed, but after Caesar’s death, they find themselves quite inadvertently shot in the foot. This is the story of Malcolm Turnbull, of Tony Abbott, of Julia Gillard, and of Kevin Rudd; a tradition of the Australian government that seems a recent phenomenon, but is in fact centuries old. Even after the chief takes a brutal fall, discontent among the ranks refuses to dissipate, and the process of elimination keeps repeating.

An appropriately modern tone is injected by director James Evans, who assembles for the production, a satisfyingly cinematic look and feel. Music by Nate Edmondson is particularly noteworthy. Luscious, bold and flamboyantly epic, sound proves itself this staging’s most reliable element, whenever we begin searching for explanations to the goings on.

Actor Kenneth Ransom is an unusual Caesar, statuesque but with a subdued presence. Cassius and Brutus are played by Nick Simpson-Deeks and James Lugton respectively, both delivering entertaining and rich characterisations, as well as impressing us with their marvellous ability at harnessing chemistry. In the role of Mark Antony is Sara Zwangobani who all but steals the show in Act III, when her disarming luminosity is given opportunity to occupy centre stage. The actor is intense and authentic, with a visceral power in her performance as the Roman leader that truly dominates.

A healthy democracy requires that we go the polls every few years to cast a ballot on who we wish to have representing us. This does not happen every time the tide changes or every moment we feel disillusioned by those whom we had given office. It is certainly not dependent on how private media companies and other interests wish to exercise their influence. There will always be people who think they know better than the populace, and seek to subvert our electoral rights. We can only hope that those who reject the universal rights all citizens are equally entitled to, like Cassius and Brutus, will in real life, suffer every consequence of their corruption.

www.bellshakespeare.com.au

Review: Two Hearts (The Anchor Theatre Company)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Oct 19 – Nov 3, 2018
Playwright: Laura Lethlean
Director: Jessica Arthur
Cast: Phoebe Grainer, Damon Manns, Eliza Scott
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Girl meets boy at an inner-city house party, and they quickly fall in love. What follows is predictable, in an inevitable way perhaps, with things between the young couple taking shape like all the romantic narratives before, as though human connections can never stray far from established repetitious forms. In Laura Lethlean’s Two Hearts, love and sex are an exhilarating phenomenon, yet simultaneously, nauseatingly benign, except for the inclusion of a mysterious figure roaming the periphery, occasionally interjecting for gentle disruptions to the very ordinary story.

Tranquil and delicate, director Jessica Arthur’s approach makes for a show distinctively ethereal in tone, with an endearing cast helping to sustain our interest. Leading lady Eliza Scott’s playful exuberance and impressive lack of pretension, are valuable components to her engaging presence. Damon Manns brings outstanding ingenuity to his role, cleverly creating unexpected dimensions, to elevate a character that could otherwise be awkwardly pedestrian. The tricky part of the hallucinatory third-wheel is played by Phoebe Grainer, whose quiet concentration and honest impulses, provide an elegant solution to the play’s surreal aspects.

Two Hearts is in some ways a work about regret, a painful state of being, involving intense emotions that refuse to dissipate. We are held hostage, suspended in time but heavy with irreconcilable memories, partially paralysed and acutely embittered. It endures, because we fear the duplication of those grave mistakes, unable to trust that lessons have been learned. To let go of regret, is a simple idea, but being human is seldom a convenient exercise; the journey between inspiration and fruition is almost never the straightest and shortest distance between two points. We can only try to visualise the destination, and try to move ourselves in the right direction. Success may or may not come to pass, but stagnation is the only failure we must avoid.

www.facebook.com/AnchorTheatre