Review: The Bridges Of Madison County (Hayes Theatre)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), Mar 6 – Apr 5, 2020
Book: Marsha Norman (based on the novel by Robert James Waller)
Music & Lyrics: Jason Robert Brown
Director: Neil Gooding
Cast: Michael Beckley, Anton Berezin, Beth Daly, Kate Maree Hoolihan, Zoe Ioannou, Katie McKee, Ian Stenlake, Grady Swithenbank
Images by Grant Leslie

Theatre review
When we encounter Francesca, she is a housewife in 1960s Iowa, with 2 kids and a husband, seemingly happy to be on a farm living the simple life. A fortuitous meeting with photographer Robert however, reveals that she does want more. The Bridges of Madison County is one of the most famous of American romances, a novella by Robert James Waller that has sold over 60 million copies since its initial publication in 1992. Francesca’s struggles about fulfilling her duties as wife and mother, are presented as completely incongruent with what might be a greater happiness. For a moment, she experiences exhilaration with Robert, but must weigh the consequences should she dare to follow her heart.

This musical version, first created in 2013, features strong songwriting by Jason Robert Brown, but its individual numbers, although delightful, do not necessarily add up to a satisfying plot for the show. Direction by Neil Gooding is able to suffuse a sense of intensity to the emotions being depicted, but the general pace for its storytelling is unsatisfying. Design and technical aspects of the production are on the whole accomplished, with Phoebe Pilcher’s work on lights noteworthy for bringing valuable flamboyance to the staging.

Performer Kate Maree Hoolihan plays a very sentimental Francesca. Her interpretation tends to be simplistic, but proves ultimately to be a moving one. Ian Stenlake looks every bit the National Geographer photographer and love interest Robert, but some of his singing at crucial points are not quite up to scratch. Although evident that the couple works hard to find chemistry, the attraction between the two is never really convincing. Beth Daly and Michael Beckley however are memorable as Marge and Charlie, quirky neighbours who bring occasional but very needed humour to the staging.

In the song “Almost Real”, we hear Francesca talk about her relationship with Chiara, her sister in Naples, who “would open her legs just as easy as speaking.” In her efforts to separate herself from that negative perspective of a free woman, Francesca spends her life doing what she thinks is the right thing, but it is clear that all she does is dedicate herself to being a subject of conformity. Although an indisputably credible character, the writers of Bridges refuse to allow Francesca the gratification she craves, and deserves. We are made to think that to be a good mother, Francesca simply has to give herself up, and that we must all realise, is a lie.

www.goodingproductions.com

Review: The Rise And Disguise Of Elizabeth R (Sugary Rum Productions)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), Feb 13 – Mar 1, 2020
Book & Lyrics: Gerry Connolly, Nick Coyle, Gus Murray
Music: Max Lambert
Director: Shaun Rennie
Cast: Gerry Connolly, Rob Mallett, Laura Murphy
Images by Kate Williams

Theatre review
The Queen of England comes to terms with her long career, and the significant diminishment of her empire, in The Rise And Disguise Of Elizabeth R by Gerry Connolly, Nick Coyle and Gus Murray. Connolly himself too, faces a reckoning in the show, as we watch the star confront his achievements as entertainer and impersonator of the Queen, a man of a certain age unable to step out of a majestic shadow, forever eclipsed. These two stories form the basis of a rich tapestry, a multi-disciplinary presentation involving burlesque, cabaret and stand up, intersecting with conventional theatre and Broadway elements, for a witty exploration into the amalgamated phenomena of legacy and ageing.

Directed by Shaun Rennie, the production captivates our senses with its irresistible exuberance, and engages our minds through considered examinations of the Queen as cultural catalyst and icon. Costumes and set design by Jeremy Allen, along with lights by Trent Suidgeest, serve up striking imagery, able to create beauty for every scene, whether fantastical or realistic. Connolly’s performance is unfortunately tentative, but although lacking in confidence, occasional glimpses of genius are revealed in his knack for subtle but acerbic irony. A small but very strong supporting cast keeps us buoyant, with the spirited duo of Rob Mallett and Laura Murphy bringing exceptional proficiency and charisma to the stage. Also noteworthy are Leah Howard’s choreography and Max Lambert’s musical direction, both consistently surprising with their work, and valuable in helping to sustain high energy levels for the 80-minute duration.

No matter what a person does for work, it should always be personally fulfilling, but if an individual’s contributions to community are substantial, life can begin to take on real meaning. Both the show’s main characters are frustrated with the people they have become. They rarely see beyond the repetitive toil that dictates how each day pans out, even though what they do constitutes extensive benefit to societies. We are taught to think about work in selfish ways, always looking at it in personal terms of profit and advantage, ignoring the greater good that can result from a broader comprehension of one’s decisions. The Queen is a lucky woman, not only for the wealth and power bestowed upon her, but also for being affixed to a path that offers her endless opportunities to make the world a better place. The rest of us have destinies that are more pliable, and we need to rise to the challenge of making bolder choices as a result of understanding those freedoms and responsibilities.

www.facebook.com/sugaryrumproductions

Review: H.M.S. Pinafore (Hayes Theatre)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), Nov 8 – Dec 14, 2019
Book: W.S. Gilbert
Music: Arthur Sullivan
Director: Kate Gaul
Cast: Katherine Allen, Gavin Brown, Thomas Campbell, Jermaine Chau, Tobias Cole, Sean Hall, Bobbie Jean Henning, Dominic Lui, Rory O’Keeffe, Billie Palin, Zach Selmes
Images by Phil Erbacher

Theatre review
It is all aboard the love boat in Gilbert & Sullivan’s 141-year-old operetta H.M.S. Pinafore. On the naval vessel, we find romances that transcend the English class system, as well as classic tropes of mistaken identities, and raucous sailor buffoonery of the guileless variety. The songs remain delightful, but its narrative is predictably outdated. Under Kate Gaul’s direction however, much of the show is made new again, by her resolute queering of how the story is told.

Genderfucking is the order of the day in this interpretation of H.M.S. Pinafore. A doggedly heterosexual world is radically transformed into something much less binary, where we no longer have to care what’s between the legs, as long as we understand that the heart wants, what the heart wants. With extravagant makeup design by Rachel Dal Santo, uniformly applied on all members of cast, everyone becomes sexually ambiguous. We are born naked and the rest is drag, as the saying goes, and the production is all the better for it. A modern sensibility permeates all of the show, that has suddenly turned refreshing and quite entrancing. Its humour is rejuvenated, featuring a roster of performers that are all very keen, very able and impressively comical in their embrace of a newly mandated approach of subversiveness.

Soprano Katherine Allen sings beautifully the part of Josephine, and brings a confident exuberance that transforms her damsel in distress character, into something much more likeable. Her beau Ralph is given irresistible charm by Billie Palin, who adds to her performance of masculinity, a renewed sense of dimension and meaning. Thomas Campbell is unforgettable as a hirsute version of Little Buttercup, with exaggerated gestures conveying an overt femininity for his role, using the art of drag to expose the absurdity of our obsession with gendered behaviour. Tobias Cole and Rory O’Keefe play Capt. Corcoran and Sir Jospeh Porter respectively, for persuasively funny depictions of powerful men, both creative in their camp renderings of otherwise hackneyed archetypes.

Music director Zara Stanton’s arrangements are highly inventive, incorporating a small number of instruments performed on stage by the ensemble, although a lack of percussion and bass does detract slightly from the rowdy mood. Nate Edmondson’s sound design delivers some of the biggest and most unexpected laughs of the production. Choreography by Ash Bee adds to the humour of the piece, although the movement of bodies can seem insufficiently robust at certain points. Melanie Lertz does wonderfully as production designer, for costumes and a set that are whimsical, joyful, and satisfyingly vivid. Fausto Brusamolino’s dynamic lights too are similarly pleasing, memorable for an air of romantic sophistication that they manufacture.

Affairs on the ship are kept underground, because of violations to conventions of class and hierarchy. On the stage, however, it is precisely these violations that we indulge in, so it only makes sense that notions of normalcy are required to go through a process of subversion, in order that we may enjoy H.M.S. Pinafore‘s underlying criticism of our hypocrisy. For centuries, we have thought of romantic love as splendid and almighty, yet societies everywhere have kept it a privilege only for those who fit the straight and narrow. What were once despicable perverts now take centre stage, as we learn to broaden every definition of who we are.

www.hayestheatre.com.au

Review: Caroline, Or Change (Hayes Theatre)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), Aug 23 – Sep 21, 2019
Book: Tony Kushner
Music: Jeanine Tesori
Lyrics: Tony Kushner
Director: Mitchell Butel
Cast: Nkechi Anele, Andrew Cutcliffe, Alexandra Fricot, Amy Hack, Emily Havea, Tony Llewellyn-Jones, Genevieve Lemon, Ruva Ngwenya, Elenoa Rokobaro, Elijah Williams and Ryan Yeates
Images by Phil Erbacher

Theatre review
Caroline works in the basement of the Gellman household, washing and drying clothing in the stifling heat of Louisiana, 1963. Eight year-old Noah Gellman had recently lost his mother, and the Jewish boy is forming a fixation on his African-American cleaning lady, the intensity of which is amplified by his stepmother’s decision to have Caroline keep any money that the child may forget to remove from his pockets, before sending them to get laundered. Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori’s Caroline, Or Change is set during the peak of America’s civil rights movement, and although political marches and demonstrations are occurring far away, a distinct sense of resistance is beginning to take hold in the Gellman basement.

The material is poetic, and operatic. Often darkly humorous, Caroline, Or Change is an unconventional musical that does not rely on catchy melodies or cheap sentimentality, to sustain our interest. It intrigues with its powerful narrative, and its two very fascinating central characters. Directed by Mitchell Butel, many of the writing’s deeper resonances can seem lost in the cacophonous renderings of the musical format, but the show’s highly polished look and sound proves seductive, and along with some truly outstanding performances, we are kept absolutely enthralled.

Set design by Simon Greer is wonderfully evocative, and with four tiers of performing space, the small stage is quite miraculously expanded to accommodate the complex spatial requirements of the text. Lights by Alexander Berlage are romantic and lyrical, yet effective in providing dramatic punctuation whenever required. Anthony Lorenz’s sound design is excellent, able to make cohesive, and pleasurable, the multifarious dimensions emanating from singers and instruments.

Elenoa Rokobaro brings her phenomenal voice to Caroline, with a quality of singing that is impressive by any barometer of assessment. Her creation is an appropriately stoic personality, who gradually unravels, for a sophisticated and dignified depiction of resilient blackness. Ryan Yeates is a compelling Noah, technically precise but also emotionally authentic, almost effortless in his passionate expressions of a child discovering the harsh realities of existence. Rose, the stepmother, is played by an exuberant Amy Hack, whose faultless comedy is hugely gratifying, in this otherwise despondent tale. Ruva Ngwenya is a scene-stealer in her various parts, whether presenting herself as soul chanteuse or opera diva, we revel in all that she delivers.

The show ends on a note of hope, with Caroline looking to the future for solace and salvation. More than 50 years have past, and although there is comfort to be found in the strides that have no doubt been taken, there is clearly a long way yet to go, before Martin Luther King’s dream can be fully realised. In the progress towards equality, there are always those who will fight back against what is right. It seems today, that those who are wrong, are gaining momentum in their deplorable efforts to bring regression to how our lives are structured. The Gellmans look on the surface to be good people, but their inability and refusal to make things better for their wider community, is a problem that many of us have inherited and continue to persist with.

www.hayestheatre.com.au

Review: Catch Me If You Can (Hayes Theatre)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), Jul 19 – Aug 18, 2019
Book: Terrance McNally
Music: Marc Shaiman
Lyrics: Scott Wittman, Marc Shaiman
Director: Cameron Mitchell
Cast: Jordan Angelides, Simon Burke, Jessica Di Costa, Jarood Draper, Tim Draxl, Joel Houwen, Penny Martin, Heather McInerney, Monique Salle, Jake Speer, Erica Stubbs, Riley Sutton, Stacey Thompson
Images by Robert Catto

Theatre review
It is the incredible but true story of Frank Abagnale, the young con man who pulled outlandish stunts in the middle of the previous century, and succeeded for years at evading authorities. One of the most notorious impostors of the time, made legendary by Steve Spielberg’s 2002 film Catch Me If You Can, Abagnale was able to pass himself off as a pilot, a doctor and a lawyer (amongst other things) and in the process expose the fallibility of American systems, along with the nature of the privilege that is bestowed upon white men. If you look and sound a certain way, you could get away with anything.

Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman’s songs for this musical rendition are consistently enjoyable and appropriately colourful with a swinging sixties vibe, but although cohesive as a whole, Terrance McNally’s book seems to make for a experience that is surprisingly low on stakes and therefore lacking in tension. Cameron Mitchell’s work as director and choreographer is energetic, able to hold our attention for the duration, although a lacklustre set design does make for a production that often appears vacant and unexciting.

Leading man Jake Speer sings his songs immaculately, a precise performer who brings great conviction to his part. As a crook however, Speer is too vanilla, lacking in mischief for a role that is entirely about perversion. The show is stolen by Tim Draxl, who plays FBI agent Hanratty with exceptional charisma, bringing much needed pizzazz to the strangely disengaging plot. Simon Burke and Penny Martin play the parents, both adorable in their quirky manifestations. Burke’s chemistry with Speer is particularly endearing, for father-and-son scenes remarkable in their authenticity.

It is true that we are all capable of doing bad, and the domino effect that ensues, from lies and other misdeeds, are certainly a phenomenon familiar to many. Frank Abagnale started on a slippery slope that saw him commit years to being a fraud, and we see him waiting to be caught, as though the brakes can only be pushed by an external entity. Self-destruction is a cruel mistress. Like an addiction that we feel powerless over, it tells us that we can stop it at any time, knowing that we will never find the wherewithal to turn over a new leaf that easily.

www.hayestheatre.com.au | www.laurenpetersdesign.com

Review: American Psycho (BB Arts & Two Doors Productions)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), May 10 – Jun 9, 2019
Book: Roberto Aguirre-Sarcasa (based on the novel by Bret Easton Ellis)
Music & Lyrics: Duncan Sheik
Director: Alexander Berlage
Cast: Blake Appelqvist, Erin Clare, Shannon Dooley, Ben Gerrard, Eric James Gravolin, Amy Hack, Loren Hunter, Julian Kuo, Kristina McNamara, Liam Nunan, Daniel Raso
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Bret Easton Ellis’ seminal 1991 novel American Psycho encapsulates a kind of sickness that had emerged from 1980’s capitalism. The story of exemplary yuppie Patrick Bateman was a wild indictment of Western culture at the time, one obsessed with prestige and facade, centred around the mythical Wall Street model of success. Evil personified, he served as an icon of all that had hitherto gone wrong, a monster materialising not from supernatural realms, but borne out of economic reality. The book’s detailed and extreme violence sparked great outrage, but the unassailable truths behind Ellis’ extravagant depictions, have made it a classic that remains pertinent three decades on.

Roberto Aguirre-Sarcasa and Duncan Sheik’s musical version is understandably much more tame in comparison, but thanks to the extraordinary characters and narrative it inherits, the show is still able to captivate, even if Sheik’s original songs are at best mediocre. It must be noted however, that musical direction by Andrew Worboys succeeds masterfully, at elevating these show tunes, turning very average melodies and lyrics into genuinely exciting numbers. Visual design too, is remarkable. Isabel Hudson’s revolving stage and butchers-style strip curtains are high gloss and very sexy, and even though slightly noisy at times, their theatrical effect is truly marvellous. The stage management team, headed by Brooke Verburg must be congratulated for their super smooth execution of mind-boggling logistics, most obviously in terms of performers’ complicated entrances and exits, all flawlessly enacted to quite magical results. Choreographer Yvette Lee demonstrates exceptional attention to detail and a highly sophisticated style, that bring the stage to flamboyant life.

Director Alexander Berlage’s lighting design is suitably sleek, and highly evocative. Along with Mason Browne’s costumes, they establish an aesthetic that is as much about contemporary fashion as it is about the 80’s; alluring, colourful and ostentatious, and ambitious like Patrick. Berlage’s direction of the piece certainly corresponds with his protagonist’s love of the surface. First half is all frothy and camp, a queer interrogation into toxic and hyper masculinity, that sits well within the musical genre. American Psycho‘s notoriety means that we know the tale to be terrifyingly macabre, but the production’s obsession with portraying a vacuous culture, can feel more bubblegum than menacing, although at no point is it ever less than fabulously entertaining. Second half becomes much more satisfying, as things get sinister, as we approach the true horror of the story.

Performer Ben Gerrard may not be entirely convincing as the demonic American, but the intelligent commentary he infuses into every line and lyric, every glance and gesture, ensures a resonance that communicates on levels beyond the obvious. We are repulsed by Patrick, but Gerrard’s charm keeps us attentive. Without a moral to its story, American Psycho is only obscene, and our leading man’s admirable efforts at driving home the message, represents the show’s beacon of integrity. Memorable supporting players include Liam Nunan whose turn as Luis, the closet homosexual, proves to be as comical as it is heartbreaking. Loren Hunter has the unenviable task of playing Jean, the dowdy secretary who falls in love with Patrick, a difficult role that she, quite miraculously, makes believable and empathetic.

Patrick, at twenty-seven, is a big fan of Donald Trump. The role models we choose, are a direct reflection of our values. Unable to see past the superficial glamour of the rich and powerful, Patrick invests his entirety to the pursuit of money and status. Morality is irrelevant. Today, Trump is President. It would be erroneous to imagine that all 63 million who had voted for him are devoid of morality, but these numbers tell a symptom that we would be remiss to ignore. Over the course of time, virtues are constructed, and re-constructed. In 1991, American Psycho controversially appeared as a cautionary tale of sorts. In 2019, the yuppies are nowhere to be seen yet we only have to look in the mirror to wonder, if resistance against greed is always futile.

www.bbartsentertainment.com | www.hayestheatre.com.au

Review: Monty Python’s Spamalot (One Eyed Man Productions)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), Mar 6 – Apr 13, 2019
Book & Lyrics: Eric Idle (based on the film Monty Python And The Holy Grail)
Music: John Du Prez, Eric Idle
Director: Richard Carroll
Cast: Marty Alix, Blake Appelqvist, Cramer Cain, Rob Johnson, Josie Lane, Aaron Tsindos, Bishanyia Vincent, Jane Watt
Images by John McRae

Theatre review
Hard to believe that it has been half a century, since Monty Python began its influence on British comedy and entertainment. Since first appearing in 1969, their distinct style of irreverent humour has helped define laughter for generations, all over the globe. With a particular interest in lampooning figures of authority, the Monty Python brand has been a force in counter-culture, allowing us to use its absurdity to investigate what is considered polite and normal in many of our societies. Monty Python’s Spamalot is a characteristically iconoclastic and rambunctious take on musical theatre, adapted from their now legendary Monty Python And The Holy Grail, the 1975 film centring on the misadventures of King Arthur and his knights.

Under Richard Carroll’s direction, these old jokes prove to be funny as ever, with liberal updates making the show feel unexpectedly immediate. The production appeals to fanatics, but also caters to a general contemporary audience. We are all there for a good time, and the laughter it delivers is fast and furious. Performer Cramer Cain is solid as King Arthur, with an effortless strength to his presence that keeps our attention on the lead role, in the middle of a lot of hullabaloo. Josie Lane is a tremendous delight as Lady of the Lake, an unrelenting diva who refuses to let her audience forget who the real star should be. Her sensational combination of self-effacing hilarity and vocal prowess, is truly remarkable. The brilliant ensemble is tirelessly goofy, and highly inventive. It is a group completely dedicated to creating a high-octane electrifying experience, determined to pull us out of the mundane, for two hours of unbridled lunatic pleasure.

The written word will gather dust, with many having faded away with time, forgotten and forever buried. The nature of theatre compels us to make everything new again. No matter the origins of a text, those who take it upon themselves to bring the past onto the stage, must find ways to connect the old with the here and now, so that art can do its job and not be a meaningless relic. The spirit of Monty Python is shown here to be eternal. For as long as we believe in venerating kings and gods, its humour will cut them down to size, to offer a reality check that can only be healthy. Laughter eases pain, and by helping us see through the nonsense, Monty Python is able to make real life that little bit more bearable.

www.oneeyedmanproductions.com | www.hayestheatre.com.au