Review: Beyond The Neck (Emu Productions / Epicentre Theatre Company)

kstVenue: King Street Theatre (Newtown NSW), May 28 – Jun 13, 2015
Playwright: Tom Holloway
Director: Markus Weber
Cast: Dana Brierley, Jessica Hobden, David Ritchie, Brayden Sim
Image by Thomas Adams

Theatre review
Not a day goes by that we do not hear about terrorism. The fear of being attacked by enemies is reinforced by our government and media fervidly, but the truth of our experience shows that it is not external forces that have caused us greatest harm, but those within that we consider to be neighbours. The “Martin Place Siege” of just half a year ago shocked the entire nation, and brought back memories of the horrific “Port Arthur Massacre” of 1996, where 35 people were killed and 23 wounded. Tom Holloway’s Beyond The Neck is an expression of a deep grief that is inflicted upon a community after a catastrophe of that magnitude. The play’s intent is to heal, and to explore the nature of emotional and psychological trauma.

The four-actor cast performs most of the piece in individual monologues, with several moments of very brief interaction. Not all are well prepared, in fact some appear to be quite unready for the production, but Dana Brierley and Jessica Hobden work well to portray their characters with a degree of passion and accuracy. There is a misplaced flavour of melodrama to their intensity, but they help to bring variance to the energy on stage.

Music is played fairly loudly in the background for most of the duration, and is almost always a distraction. The mood it creates is often contrary to what the actors try to achieve, and the audience is prevented from connecting meaningfully with the stories being told. Set design seems unnecessarily busy and visually confusing, with levels and colours that do not contribute to the poignancy of the play.

The production is a timely one, considering our interest in the subject matter. Many of us have strong feelings about events of mass terror, and an opportunity for catharsis is undoubtedly welcome, but on this occasion there is insufficient clarity in the execution of its purpose. The issues we face are complex and a lot more is required for those things to begin to make sense. |

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.

Review: An Ideal Husband (Epicentre Theatre Company)

epicentreVenue: Zenith Theatre (Chatswood NSW), Jul 18 – 26, 2014
Playwright: Oscar Wilde
Director: Christine Firkin
Cast: Jessica-Belle Keogh, Emily Pollard, Hannah Pembroke, Sandy Velini, Emily McGowan, Kelly Rae Olander, James Belfrage, Benjamin Vickers, Pam Ennor, Andre Cougle

Theatre review
Politics and corruption propel the plot in An Ideal Husband. The concept of a person facing consequences from misdeeds, and the possibility of turning over a new leaf, are also discussed. The analysis of these subjects however, are not the most appealing feature of Oscar Wilde’s work. What we want is his wit. The strength of his work lies in the characters he creates, and more importantly, the way in which they communicate. Director Christine Firkin seeks to enliven much of the humour in Wilde’s text. There is a clear commitment to comedy in this production, and when scenes are effective, they are quite magical. Interpretations of Wilde’s writing rely heavily on performance. A director is not an acting coach, and it is obvious here that Firkin too, banks on the aptitude and intellectual maturity of her cast, to deliver the play’s sophisticated and challenging farce.

Benjamin Vickers’ star sparkles in the production. The role of Viscount Goring demands a balance of frivolity and acumen, which Vickers executes beautifully. He has an assured focus that reveals itself through a performance that is precise and considered, while also feeling unrestrained and alive. The playfulness he brings to the stage is thoroughly charming, and adds a crucial element of dynamism to community theatre that can often be overly serious and staid.

Lady Chiltern is played by Jessica-Belle Keogh, whose interpretations of Wilde’s words are consistently rich and vivid. Keogh is at first sight an excessively youthful Gertrude, but she proves herself to be believable and compelling. The actor does however, have a tendency to use her laughter as a device to improve comic timing when lines are sparse, which can detract from the authenticity of her characterisation. Emily Pollard is a suitably devious Mrs Cheveley. She has a keen sense for comedy, and is skillful at creating stage chemistry. Pollard has the vivacity that her role requires, but her body language can be fidgety at times, which comes across as being slightly lacking in confidence.

Firkin’s direction ensures that the show is tight, and its story is told with clarity. She keeps the performance at an energetic level by creating movement, especially during long passages of conversations. It is not a lavish production of great polish, but it is accomplished on many fronts. Idealism is a value we can all appreciate, but perfection is always elusive. It is the journey that moves us closer to it that counts, especially in making art.

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.