5 Questions with Melvyn Morrow

melvynmorrowWhat is your favourite swear word?
Tony Abbott.

What are you wearing?
Shorts and a polo.

What is love?
Tis not hereafter. Present mirth has present laughter. What’s to come is still unsure.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
The Big Funk. 3 stars, and 5 stars to Jess Loudon who has just joined our cast.

Is your new show going to be any good?
No. It’s going to be effing sensational on every front.
Melvyn Morrow’s Vice is set in a Catholic boys’ school, and tackles a highly controversial subject head on.
Show dates: 21 Apr – 9 May, 2015
Show venue: King Street Theatre

Review: Beyond Therapy (Understudy Theatre)

understudytheatreVenue: King Street Theatre (Newtown NSW), Jan 28 – Feb 14, 2015
Playwright: Christopher Durang
Director: Johann Walraven
Cast: Tel Benjamin, David Hooley, Andrew Johnston, Rebecca Scott, Nadia Townsend, Jasper Whincop

Theatre review
Christopher Durang’s sensational Beyond Therapy was first staged in 1981, at a time when psychotherapy and counselling were just arriving into the consciousness of the mainstream. Unlike the tendency today to class every colourful mode of behaviour and thought pattern as dysfunction of one sort or another, the play emerges from a period which paid attention to the peculiarities of human expression to locate machinations that might be able to provide explanations to our ever-present existential angst. The inevitable interrogation of normalcy, and the dismantlement of conventional expectations takes pride of place in Durang’s meditation on life for the thirtysomethings, but Johann Walraven’s direction of the piece does not always adhere to that sense of chaotic ideology. Walraven’s exploration of the play comes from a realistic perspective, trying to find coherence in what is essentially absurd and wild at heart. His need to find understanding is entirely reasonable, but the approach causes a muting of what could have been a comedy that guffaws at a much higher octane. The show is about being crazy, and although Walraven does not forget that fact, his interest in grounding the action in a place of logic sometimes gets in the way.

Performances by the cast of six are committed and focused, but an air of restraint permeates the atmosphere. The material requires no straitjacket, and when the actors find moments of abandonment, the production clicks right into position. Nadia Townsend plays Dr Wallace with a kind of Saturday Night Live sensibility, playing for laughs rather than earnest authenticity and her approach works well. There is no need for actors to provide explanation for Durang’s words because they are loud and clear on their own. They should, however, bring an energy to the stage that embodies a manic universe that the text is keen to reveal, so that its raucous comedy can be unleashed. Chemistry in the work is honest and resolutely present, especially in a sequence that sees Rebecca Scott’s character Prudence taunting the patrons at a restaurant. The ensemble loses its self consciousness and takes on an exciting unhinged humour, delivering some of the biggest laughs of the show.

Themes in Beyond Therapy are timeless and universal. It talks about growing up and marriage, within a context that investigates the meanings of sanity and social acceptability. Great art attempts to excavate the layers of fictions that we place between our daily lives and a sense of truth that seems to lie in an irrefutable core somewhere. We go about our business moving from one day to the next with the niggling suspicion that most of what we do is farcical, and entirely laughable if not desperately pointless. Yet, most of us would rather play the role of the sane, persisting with the anxieties and uncertainty of a life done in appropriateness. We believe that the alternative is out there, but we are afraid of what it might present, especially when madness begins to look no more closer to truth than our private falsities.


5 Questions with Kyle Stephens

kylestephensWhat is your favourite swear word?
It’s a kids’ show. Sugar Honey Ice Tea.

What are you wearing?
Well this is embarrassing but I’m wearing a tiger onesie.

What is love?
Love is what I share with my lovely girlfriend Amy Fisher. It’s like a sore tummy except with joy on top of it… and hugs haha.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
The last thing I saw that wasn’t what I was working on was Ruthless at the Seymour Centre. It was 10 out of 10.

Is your new show going to be any good?
It’s going to be amazing.

Kyle Stephens is in Mother Goose by Emu Productions.
Show dates: 8 -23 Dec, 2014
Show venue: King Street Theatre

Review: Leaves (Théâtre Excentrique / Emu Productions)

theatreexcentriqueVenue: King Street Theatre (Newtown NSW), Nov 18 – 29, 2014
Playwright: Steve McGrath
Director: Markus Weber
Cast: Martin Ashley Jones, Steve McGrath, Gerry Sont

Theatre review
Three men from privileged backgrounds are turning fifty, and they head out for a camping trip to commemorate the occasion. It seems that their mid-life crises have not subsided, and they struggle to find meaning and fulfillment in spite of having successful careers as a psycho therapist, a barrister, and a real estate agent. Steve McGrath’s script includes many interesting elements that keep the plot layered and unpredictable, with a peculiar sense of humour that gives it an air of whimsy. Some of the jokes are corny, and the overall structure of the play is slightly inelegant, but McGrath’s themes of time, mortality, and the quest for enlightenment are contextualised with enough creativity for Leaves to sustain interest.

Like one of the presenting companies’ names, direction of the work by Markus Weber is eccentric. The production is vibrant, often with a frenzied, almost childlike energy that translates passionately, but there is a general lack of focus that can make narrative details hard to follow. Visual design is adventurous and very colourful, but lighting cues tend to be haphazard and poorly timed (or the show might have been suffering from technical troubles on the night of review). The cast is committed, especially Gerry Sont in the role of Chas, the realtor, who drives the action with a blend of exuberance and frailty that characterises the dilemma being explored. Each actor possesses a degree of authenticity, and they manufacture a lively and noisy atmosphere, but their chemistry is not always convincing. They seem to understand their own parts well, but are detached from the others. Similarly, the play struggles to find coherence, although its philosophy does manage to come across surprisingly clear.

Growing older is no walk in the park for the men in Leaves, and perhaps for men everywhere. There is an interesting link between masculinity and the ageing process, where a shedding of exteriors becomes almost inevitable, and the exposure of weaknesses presents an unexpected challenge. Death for the fifty year-old is a conflicting concept, working as a reminder of the brevity of life, yet bringing to attention, the vulnerability of the body. The remaining years are short, but also long, and it is with a zestful maturity that one can navigate the autumn of life and turn it into days of wine and roses.


5 Questions with Gerry Sont

gerrysontWhat is your favourite swear word?

What are you wearing?
Blue sweat shirt, jeans and sneakers.

What is love?
My wife! (I have to say that or she’ll kill me…)

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
The Maids at the STC, 4 stars, mainly for Elizabeth Debicki’s outstanding performance.

Is your new show going to be any good?
Does a bear shit in the woods? (Yes)

Gerry Sont is appearing in Leaves by Théâtre Excentrique and Emu Productions.
Show dates: 18 -29 Nov, 2014
Show venue: King Street Theatre

5 Questions with Andrew McGregor

andrewmcgregorWhat is your favourite swear word?
“Fuck it” Cause when I’m afraid of doing something or questioning whether I should do it. “Fuck it” is what makes me carry on.

What are you wearing?
Pink Floyd t-shirt with a Hawaiian shirt over it, and my Batman necklace engraved with WWBD (What would Batman do).

What is love?

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
The Book Of Mormon at Eugene O’Neill Theatre in New York City. There is not enough stars in the world to give to such an amazing performance.

Is your new show going to be any good?
I hope so, I have alot of faith in my fellow performer and friends. We’ve had alot of fun over the past couple months, juggling rehearsals along with uni and work.

Andrew McGregor is performing in Boys’ Life by Howard Korder.
Show dates: 19 – 22 Aug, 2014
Show venue: King Street Theatre

Review: A View Of Concrete (G.bod Theatre)

gbodtheatreVenue: King Street Theatre (Newtown NSW), Jul 22 – Aug 2, 2014
Playwright: Gareth Ellis
Director: Peter Mountford
Cast: Taryn Brine, Tim Dashwood, Matt Longman, Rebecca Martin

Theatre review
There is a side to life and human nature that is dangerous and destructive. Many of us are fortunate enough not to have to dwell too deeply, physically and mentally, inside those spaces of terror. They are on the periphery and we battle constantly and unconsciously to keep them at bay, to protect ourselves from those dark sides, believing the unthinkable to be too unbearable for our fragile and feeble existences. In A View Of Concrete, Gareth Ellis writes about that darkness, featuring four characters each with quirks so offbeat and intense, that one might prefer to term them obsessions. Their shared experiences through illicit drug use proffer a view into their compulsive indulgences, and into our own fears about impulses we might secretly harbour and repress. Ellis’ script is an energetic one, with interesting personalities that are outrageous yet realistic.

Peter Mountford’s direction of the piece introduces considerable dynamism to the stage. There is a prominent choreographic aspect to his work that aims to engage us visually, which also demands of his cast, a level of exertion to keep energies high and sustained. Actor Tim Dashwood’s proficiency with the work’s physical requirements sets him apart, delivering a performance that combines seamlessly, speech with movement, for a theatrical form that is delightfully poetic. The fluency Dashwood displays with his actorly capacities is richly entertaining and impressive.

Also captivating is Taryn Brine, brimming with sensitivity in the role of Billie. Brine’s presence is raw and palpable like an open wound, contributing effectively to the production’s aura of decrepitude. Rebecca Martin plays the treble notes in the group, using her naturally vibrant demeanour to provide volume and power to the show. Matt Longman is subdued by comparison, but like others in the cast, he is genuine on stage and the focus and commitment to his part is clear to see.

This is a team keen on experimentation, and their creative approach to performance has conceived a show that is surprising and fresh. It does not make strong emotional connections, but it is thought-provoking nonetheless. The play is rigorous in its efforts at originality, but it feels distant, even clinical at times. A View Of Concrete reveals some of modern life’s difficulties, and shows us the insidious pain that exists. Its concepts are seductive, but the form it takes is slightly alienating. We want to feel the tragedy that we see before our eyes, but that indulgence is kept elusive.


Review: Trainspotting (Black Box Theatre)

trainspottingVenue: King Street Theatre (Newtown NSW), May 8 – 24, 2014
Playwright: Harry Gibson (based on the novel by Irvine Welsh)
Director: Luke Berman
Actors: Damien Carr, Taylor Beadle-Williams, Brendon Taylor, Leigh Scully

Theatre review
Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting is one of the defining cultural landmarks of the 1990s. From novel, to play, and eventually to the blockbusting hit film, its immense popularity and pervasiveness in landscapes the world over is testament not only to the quality of work by artists involved, but also to the way its story has resonated and subsequently appropriated as a sign of the times.

Black Box Theatre’s staging of the 1994 Harry Gibson adaptation seems, on the surface, to be an exercise in nostalgia. It is entirely too predictable to have a group of Gen-Y enthusiasts take on a cult classic that pushes the boundaries of decency, but what they have created is a work that is surprisingly relevant, and very well crafted indeed. Luke Berman’s direction is exciting, colourful and crisp. Scenes move along quickly but clearly, as though injected with adrenaline. The action is heightened and dynamic, but sentiments are always elucidated. Berman has a sensitivity that ensures the text’s many controversial elements are handled circumspectly, with just the right amount of restraint that keeps bad taste from turning unacceptable.

Berman’s cast is truly impressive. They are a fearless and captivating foursome, whose love for the art of performance is absolutely evident. By taking on multiple roles, they all receive significant stage time and are able to showcase creative versatility, but we are not always able to identify the characters being played, although it must be said, that this does not seem to alter the enjoyment of the work. Damien Carr plays Mark, the protagonist and narrator of the piece. The duality of simultaneously narrating the story and performing the scenes being described is fascinating, and Carr does a stellar job of it. He is on stage for virtually the entire duration, and is able to provide a consistently focused energy that keeps us engaged and involved. Taylor Beadle-Williams is magnificent in her roles. There is often a baroque exuberance in her work that articulates perfectly the aesthetic of Welsh’s hallucinatory world, but at the core of her performance is a fixation on truth, which gives all her characters a beautiful empathy that is irresistible.

Drug abuse and the “junkie” subculture is sadly, not a relic of the past. Trainspotting‘s articulation of that underworld satisfies our curiosity, telling us about the fringe dwellers who reside on our peripheries. We are reminded that the world is a shared one, and our beliefs about life are often fundamentally the same. Even when our values diverge, and our judgemental minds divide us, it is our common humanity that allows us to look into the experience of others, drawing parallels where they exist, and discovering through these diversities what is enduring, and what actually matters.


Review: The Jungle Book (Emu Productions / King St Theatre)

rsz_1620714_737788869599707_8034336185139306069_nVenue: King Street Theatre (Newtown NSW), Apr 14 – 26, 2014
Book and Lyrics: Markus Weber (based on the original by Rudyard Kipling)
Composer: Michael Summ
Director: Markus Weber
Actors: Maria De Marco, Badaidilaga Maftuh-Flynn, Mark Power, Mandy Fung, Bernard Wheatley, Brett O’Neill, Kyle Stephens
Image by Lorina Stacey Schwenke

Theatre review
Markus Weber and Michael Summ’s version of The Jungle Book is a beautifully-written musical derived from Rudyard Kipling’s famed writings. Familiar characters are retained, and even though these songs are less well-known, they are delightfully catchy and pleasantly melodic.

Markus Weber’s current production is fairly minimal, and relies on the strength of the songs and text to carry the show. Musical arrangements are joyful and effective for most of the material, but several numbers need an update from an unfortunate and uncomfortable 1990s pop/rock sound. Weber’s use of space is thoughtfully varied. The multi-tiered stage is designed well, and used cleverly to keep the attention of the audience. It is noteworthy that although a vast majority of the crowd is very young, the musical has enough content to entertain any adult companion.

There are moments however, where performances falter, and confusion emerges. Even though performances are spirited, calibre of players vary dramatically. The show is designed for children, but the roles are not simple, and it relies heavily on what the actors can bring to the production.

Maria De Marco’s singing voice is strongest in the cast, using it wonderfully to convey the story wonderfully despite not having assistance from microphones. She plays Bagheera, the black leopard who delivers several poignant moments that give the production a necessary shade of gravity. Badaidilaga Maftuh-Flynn plays Mowgli, the only human character. Maftuh-Flynn performs with conviction, and has the gift of being able to portray emotion with great clarity without appearing to be doing very much at all. Brett O’Neill is a vibrant King Louie, the amusingly deluded monkey who never fails to entertain. O’Neill’s energy is big and focused, and his keen sense of comic timing shows him to be the most polished actor on this stage, leaving an excellent impression, notwithstanding the brevity of his appearance.

The Jungle Book‘s message of ecological awareness is a critical one. The anthropomorphism of wildlife imparts to younger generations, values of conservationism that are noble and necessary. Providing children with an understanding that animals are not our slaves or property is a responsibility we must take, if only for our own survival.


Review: Dimboola (Epicentre Theatre Company)

rsz_1506680_10151906976482061_1759131297_nVenue: King Street Theatre (Newtown NSW), Mar 13 – 22, 2014
Playwright: Jack Hibberd
Director: Darcy Green
Actors: Darcy Green, Louis Green, Ashleigh O’Brien, Phillip Ross, Alixandra Kupcik, Adam Delaunay, Anna Dooley, Julian Ramundi, Connor Luck, Annie Schofield, Kimberly Kelly, Zoe Tidemann, Letitia Sutherland, Tim Mathews, Michael Yore, Cameron Hutt

Theatre review
Jack Hibberd’s Dimboola is a play written with the metaphysical “fourth wall” completely removed. The audience’s presence is always acknowledged and whenever possible, characters are made to involve us in their story. In Epicentre Theatre’s production, even lighting design embraces the concept, with the entire theatre lit a bright white, and house lights are never turned off so that we are all conscious about being part of the onstage action.

Darcy Green’s direction pays tribute to 1970s Australia, with visual design aspects made to look very close to the 1979 film version, and actors determined to take us on a time travel expedition in which references to 2014 are strictly forbidden. What results is an experience that is unique, if a little bizarre. The humour is broad and old-fashioned. Under the guise of a country town wedding reception, the setting is relentlessly drunken and raucous. The air of wild disarray is successfully created by the uniformly strong cast, but some jokes and plot lines do get lost amidst the bedlam.

Adam Delaunay plays Angus with gleeful exaggeration, in a style that is reminiscent of villains in pantomimes. We don’t hear very much of what he has to say but his physical work is impressive and certainly attention grabbing. Anna Dooley as Florrie has some of the funniest facial expressions one can hope to encounter in the flesh. Her fight scene in particular is uproarious, and the most memorable moment in the show. Annie Schofield is hilarious as Shirl, playing up her character’s parochialism to great effect. It is a big and noisy crowd at the party, but Schofield works enough magic to stand out, with a characterisation that can be described as, well, a bloody ripper.

This work is an oddity. It is an interesting observational study of one aspect of our identity from a time past, so the audience does view it from a detached (and ironic) distance. We watch the nostalgia, but do not always find ourselves deeply immersed in it. Perhaps an update might improve the experience. Dimboola shows how we feel about ourselves when we are not at our best. The show is cheerful, forgiving and delirious, much like how we often think of each other.