Review: Wyngarde! A Celebration (G.bod Theatre)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Feb 19 – Mar 2, 2019
Devised by: Garth Holcombe, Peter Mountford
Director: Peter Mountford
Cast: Garth Holcombe
Images by Richard Hedger

Theatre review
Peter Wyngarde gained mainstream popularity in 1969 as Jason King, a novelist turned sleuth, in the UK television series Department S. A flamboyant actor, known for his horseshoe moustache and bronzed skin, he is one of innumerable twentieth century celebrities who had never come out of the closet, yet remains an integral part of British gay culture. His 1975 arrest for gross indecency in a public toilet forms part of his mystique, but as was typical of the times, his queerness was kept obscured, refused acknowledgement by wider society. The public would only allow a sex symbol who could not threaten their heteronormativity, and Wyngarde acquiesced.

Garth Holcombe and Peter Mountford’s Wyngarde! A Celebration is a re-framing of the personality, an insistence that we look at old narratives with new eyes, to form a history that makes sense in terms of how we experience the world today. As though a private audience with Wyngarde himself, in which his inhibitions are shed, and we witness him able to be his true self at last. Holcombe has the right charisma for the role, but is occasionally hesitant. The cocky debonair masculinity of a bygone era is portrayed alongside a camp sensibility, to make a statement about the evolution of gay identities, and to form a reminder of a community’s legacy of struggle.

For all the bravado that Wyngarde enjoys putting on display, there is a loneliness that pervades. There is an unmistakable pride in his long career in stage and film, but we sense something unfulfilled. Wyngarde! A Celebration can feel too gentle in its approach. We want a bawdy tell-all, but it gives us instead, something with more integrity than we are perhaps accustom to, in this age of ubiquitous intrusion and humiliation. It is our nature to seek authenticity, but it appears that revealing everything often serves to distract from the truth. Many things are left unsaid in Wyngarde’s story, and that is perhaps his very essence, and the most accurate representation of the man we have come looking for.

Review: The Killing Of Sister George (G.bod Theatre)

gbodtheatreVenue: King Street Theatre (Newtown NSW), Feb 24 – Mar 4, 2016
Playwright: Frank Marcus
Director: Peter Mountford
Cast: Deborah Jones, Sarah Jane Kelly, Natasha McNamara, Helen Stuart
Image by Richard Hedger

Theatre review
Sister George is a real piece of work. A radio star adored by many who know only her fictitious persona, George is insufferable for those who have to be in her actual presence. Fame gets to people’s heads, and our protagonist is a self-obsessed monster who uses and abuses all in sight, especially her doll-like lover Childie, a feeble woman struggling to discern love from exploitation in their codependency in 1964 London.

Under Peter Mountford’s direction, the sexual nature of that relationship is emphasised. Homosexuality is not swept under the carpet, and we are confronted by the overt BDSM quality of George and Childie’s union with its depiction of consensual and subversive eroticism. Although fascinating, there are issues with plot consistency as a result, and the production is a couple more days from being well-rehearsed. The show does however, pick up pace gradually for an experience memorable for its thorough unconventionality.

In taking on the responsibility of playing George, Deborah Jones is required to portray villainy in a way that is both repulsive and compelling. Jones does not quite reach that level of starry charisma demanded of her role, but it is a believable performance which brings up the right issues of contention and asks appropriate questions regarding power imbalances in same-sex relationships. Natasha McNamara’s work as Childie is authentic and complex, with a conflicting duality that provokes us into considering the meaning of love, and the many scandalous forms of its manifestations.

The women in The Killing Of Sister George explain the way they treat themselves and each other, but they do not explain their lesbianism. Peter Mountford has ingeniously reached back 52 years to find a text that allows an expression of gayness that is above the need for justification, and beyond our tired boundaries of sexual differences. This is no “tragiporn” that feels emburdened by its mere existence to make itself accountable to some vague authority of social expectation, but gives voice to real personalities who rarely find their way into our run-of-the-mill narratives. It is a juicy story about love, sex, power and fame, except believe it or not, there are no men in it.

Review: Queen Bette (G.bod Theatre / The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Feb 25 – Mar 15, 2015
Devised by: Jeanette Cronin, Peter Mountford
Director: Peter Mountford
Cast: Jeanette Cronin
Images by Richard Hedger

Theatre review
Heroes are worshiped for their exceptional lives and for their extensive contributions to society. Legends persist through the passage of time, especially when they are trailblazers who provide inspiration and guidance, showing us extraordinary ways to be. Examining how someone leaves a mark on the world, is how we can come to find the meaning of life, for their legacies hold the key to our existential angst. Queen Bette is a biographical tribute to one of the greatest screen sirens of the Hollywood golden age, Bette Davis. The text draws material from Davis’ autobiography and from various interviews she had given, not intending to give an in-depth account of sordid gossip, but to depict a great talent, her brilliant career, and an incredibly formidable drive. Davis’ outspokenness allows for the play’s devisors to assemble a script that is vibrant, funny, and tremendously expressive, and the largely chronological plot is a sensible mechanism to satisfy our need for creating a sense of coherence from fragments of a very big life.

In Jeanette Cronin’s company, the show’s 60 minutes go by in a flash. The performer’s work is more exciting and engaging than anyone can hope for in a role this iconic, and like Queen Bette Davis herself, Cronin’s ability to have us fall in love simultaneously with both actor and character, is sublime. We feel as though suspended in time, watching her genius in action, with all its technical proficiencies, emotional astuteness and physical splendour. Her mastery turns the audience into putty in her hands, captivated and gleeful at every twist and turn she introduces to the theatrical experience that we are subject to. Direction by Peter Mountford is dynamically paced, with unexpected stylistic changes developing between scenes to keep us attentive and fascinated. There is a conscious use of Davis’ words to spark activity, colour and energy on stage, so that the work is more than just the recitation of her admittedly engrossing speeches. Interesting perspectives and commentary are added to the star’s history, and a seemingly endless range of variance is achieved in the creation of her presence, so that we come into contact with a Bette Davis who evolves before our eyes, and who is always capable of surprising us.

Queen Bette may be about a departed film idol, but it keeps its sentimentality firmly in check. There is little intrusion into the personal, only revealing very key events, or situations that have an impact on her work. What we see are her professional achievements, how she had attained them and her basking in many moments of glory. It is not the whole story, but it is how we want to remember a role model, and how we want to tell stories so that there is a basis for emulation, or at least, an indication of our human spirit’s magnitude. Women like Davis, and Cronin, help us envision what success looks like, and their magnificence is a reminder that we too, can be brighter and better. We too can be sovereign.

In Rehearsal: Queen Bette

Rehearsal images above from Queen Bette by g.bod theatre, part of the 2015 Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras season. Photography by Richard Hedger.
At The Old 505 Theatre, from Feb 25 – Mar 1, 2015.
More info at

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.

5 Questions with Peter Mountford

petermountfordWhat is your favourite swear word?
Pissing arseholes. My mother would swear very occasionally but when she did this is what she’d say.

What are you wearing?
Purple and green Bjorn Borgs’.

What is love?
Baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, no more.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
Bangarra’s Patyegarang. Absolutely 5.

Is your new show going to be any good?
I have a feeling it will be very good but will also piss a few people off.



Peter Mountford is directing A View Of Concrete by Gareth Ellis.
Show dates: 22 Jul – 2 Aug, 2014
Show venue: King Street Theatre