Review: Dubbo Championship Wrestling (Hayes Theatre)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), 13 May – 11 Jun, 2022
Book & Lyrics: Daniel Cullen
Music: Daniel Cullen, James Cullen
Director: Sheridan Harbridge
Cast: Zoe Ioannou, Genevieve Lemon, Luke Leong-Tay, Noni McCallum, Terry Serio, Justin Smith, Aaron Tsindos, Bishanyia Vincent
Images by Phil Erbacher

Theatre review
Due to extenuating circumstances, city girl Rose is forced to return to her hometown, where her father Des runs a flagging business, providing entertainment to locals through wrestling events that have seen better days. Daniel and James Cullen’s Dubbo Championship Wrestling is exactly as you would expect it; a humorous take on country life that explores our cultural cringe, as a people obsessed with the idea of never being sophisticated enough, but are ultimately full of heart.

That structural conceit may be as tired as Des’ team of misfit employees, but juxtaposing wrestling with musical theatre, is undoubtedly a stroke of genius. Director Sheridan Harbridge creates, from the extravagance of both art forms, ample moments of spectacle, and of slapstick, for a show memorable for its unapologetic brashness. Musical direction by Glenn Moorhouse takes inspiration from classic  Australian rock music, and combines it with Broadway conventions, to form a soundscape that is relentlessly energetic.

Set design by Ella Butler adapts the stage to manufacture a surprisingly expansive accommodation, for a generously sized wrestling ring, on which most of the action takes place. Butler’s costumes are appropriately loud and comedic, and effective in giving immediate visual definition to each of the show’s characters. Lights by Trent Suidgeest work overtime to provide vibrancy and exuberance. They elevate Des’ poverty-stricken Dubbo Dome, to something altogether more fabulous and edifying.

Tim Dashwood’s accomplishments as fight director, along with Ellen Simpson’s choreography, form a crucial part of Dubbo Championship Wrestling‘s uniqueness. Movement is fundamental to any work of theatre, but to witness the re-creation of fantastical sequences of high camp brawling, set to live singing, is quite a thrill.

Performer Zoe Ioannou is a superb lead as Rose, with strong vocals that convey precisely the inner spirit of the young rebel, but more importantly, it is Ioannou’s singularly impressive physical discipline that truly sets her apart, as she executes every dance step and fight move to incredible perfection. Terry Serio is convincing as the battered and bruised Des, allowing us to empathise with his idealistic plight. Rose’s mother Cheryl is played by Bishanyia Vincent, who brings valuable dramatic intensity and emotional authenticity, to a production that tends to venture very far into caricature territory. Especially noteworthy is the hilarious Aaron Tsindos, simply irrepressible as Perfect Ten Ken, fully relishing in the world of absurdity that these people inhabit.

As a species, we are endlessly amused with the kinds of aspirations that other people hold. Often we are deprecating of what other people wish to achieve with their lives, wondering why they are not more like us. Certainly there are some ambitions that are more noble than others, but in Dubbo Championship Wrestling we see that the fighting spirit that each person is able to gather from within, is quite a marvel. Des and his cohort may not wish to change the world, but the ferocity with which they dedicate energy to their passions, is endlessly inspiring.

www.hayestheatre.com.au

Review: Lizzie (Hayes Theatre)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), 13 Jan – 5 Feb, 2022
Book: Tim Maner
Music & Lyrics: Steven Cheslik-Demeyer, Tim Maner, Alan Stevens Hewitt
Director: Maeve Marsden
Cast: Stefanie Caccamo, Ali Calder, Marissa Saroca, Sarah Ward
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
It was 1892 in Massachusetts, that Lizzie Borden was believed to have murdered her father and step-mother. There is little in the musical Lizzie, that talks about the morality of her actions, and although it does not necessarily make her a heroic figure, the central ferocity of her convictions, is quite an admirable thing to behold.

Based on an original concept by Steven Cheslik-Demeyer and Tim Maner, the show depicts a young woman living in puritanical times, but unable to contain her fury that arises from persistent ill-treatment. That very inexorable and fervid drive, if present today in our somewhat improved circumstances, would surely see Lizzie achieve a great deal more than notoriety and scandal.

Directed by Maeve Marsden, who uses the hard rock energy of Lizzie‘s song list, to facilitate a passionate staging that appeals to our desire, for stories about feisty women in these modern times. Musical direction by Victoria Falconer is a highlight, informed by feminist philosophy and brimming with a joyful punk edge. Ghenoa Gela’s choreography is inventive and unpredictable, offering physical manifestations to characters that allow us to read them more clearly between the lines.

Melanie Liertz’s set and costume designs evoke a gothic quality that is perfectly suited to the narrative, although several vertical poles positioned downstage can sometimes obscure the view of action taking place further upstage. Verity Hampson’s lights are a dramatic element of the show, bringing great dynamism to all the imagery being presented.

Performer Marissa Saroca as Lizzie, is spirited and wonderfully enthusiastic, although her vocals can be slightly hit-and-miss for the musical’s very rambunctious tunes. Ali Calder and Sarah Ward play the sister and the maid, respectively, and both are reliable in delivering big rock vocals, whilst making some genuinely hilarious comedic choices that endear themselves to the audience incontrovertibly. The part of Lizzie’s love interest Alice, is performed by Stefanie Caccamo who sings beautifully, albeit in a more conventional Broadway style, and who makes believable the speculative sapphic romance.

Considering the conditions women like Lizzie Borden had had to tolerate just to survive, it is a wonder that more murders were not committed. That we think of her as an exception only shows the depth of our habit for compliance, and our capacity to withstand abuse and humiliation. Most of us never reach breaking point, and that is without question, the way manifold forces work to exploit our tendency to bend and acquiesce. We do not always need to draw blood in order to rise up, but it is important that we learn to take cues from women like Lizzie, who have lost patience, long before we are completely drained of the ability to retaliate.

www.hayestheatre.com.au

Review: Merrily We Roll Along (Hayes Theatre)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), 21 Oct – 27 Nov, 2021
Book: George Furth
Music & Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim
Director: Dean Bryant
Cast: Andrew Coshan, Georgina Hopson, Evan Lever, Vidya Makan, Elise McCann, Ainsley Melham, Tiarne Sue Yek, Aaron Tsindos
Images by Phil Erbacher

Theatre review
The story begins in 1976 and with each scene, we are moved back further in time, eventually to 1957. This 2021 Hayes Theatre staging of Stephen Sondheim’s 1981 musical “Merrily We Roll Along” is a nostalgic delight, as we look back to simpler times of the previous century, taking the opportunity to relish in a tale about the loss of innocence, that seems little more than quaint by what we are used to today.

Young people from that bygone era, like those of our current times, were deeply embroiled in socio-economic upheaval. However, it is evident from George Furth’s book (on which Sondheim’s musical was based), that critical events in 1960’s America, such as the civil rights movement and the war in Vietnam, were able to be conveniently swept aside, in favour of a brand of sentimental reminiscence intent on making life seem so insular, in its wilful naivete.

We are made to examine the friendship between three white artistic types, whose lot in life were dependant only on luck and on the ruggedness of the individual. Their narratives are exempt from being tainted by their proximity to power, and their complicity in social structures that are manifestly unjust. It is perhaps a relief that this form of storytelling, is no longer quite as widely condoned in today’s, shall we say, more politically conscious climate. Black lives always did matter, but how we think and talk about those associated issues seem, thankfully, to have irrevocably changed.

On the other hand, many do continue to enjoy the escapism of the theatrical arts. These increasingly trying times, have made us  feel an irresistible need to seek momentary refuge, in things that are less god damned serious, and in the world of musical theatre, there is perhaps nothing better than to resort to the great songs of Sondheim. They always bear a sense of repetitive familiarity, yet reliably refreshing; toe-tappers that will prove uplifting even at times of awesome pessimism, and because they were written so long ago, we can let ourselves off the hook, for indulging in something that is so completely devoid of wokeness.

Musical direction for the production is brilliantly harnessed by Andrew Worboys, who knows exactly how to make everything shine and sparkle, for a welcome return to communal entertainment after many months of sustained isolation. In the many instances when one becomes painfully aware of the unbearable flimsiness of the characters in “Merrily We Roll Along”, there is always Worboys’ omnipotent work to return to, for something to properly sink our teeth into.

Direction is provided by Dean Bryant, who adds stylish embellishment whenever possible, including clever incorporation of Dave Bergman’s video projections that widen our experience of time and space in the intimate auditorium. Set design by Jeremy Allen is wonderfully chic, as are Melanie Liertz’s costumes, and Veronique Bennett’s beautiful golden lights transport us somewhere decidedly cosier and softer, than the harsh realities of the outside world. It is noteworthy that Bryant’s ability to fabricate a sense of gravity for the staging is remarkable, considering the often banal quality of what is actually being explored.

Performer Ainsley Melham is sensational in the role of Charley Kringas, bringing incredible precision and unexpected complexity to a personality who can otherwise easily be thought of as prosaic. Elise McCann sings every note with clarity and gusto, and as Mary Flynn, McCann is memorably feisty, in a show that has problems allowing enough depth into any of its women characters. Playing Franklin Shepard is Andrew Coshan, who although demonstrates commitment, has a tendency to come across too ordinary and somewhat immaterial, for someone who is meant to occupy the very centre of the story. Supporting players are generally excellent, with Georgina Hopson and Vidya Makan particularly endearing with the effortless comedy they deliver at every turn.

It is true, that we cannot make a better future, without knowing the past. It is also true, that to live in the past, is detrimental to efforts for meaningful progress. The reverse chronology of “Merrily We Roll Along” shows us the history of old friends, so that we can see the value in redemption, along with the importance of embracing humility as a guiding principle in relationships. Sorry seems to be the hardest word, but as proven time and again, it sure pays dividends.

www.hayestheatre.com.au

Review: Half Time (Hayes Theatre)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), Apr 1 – May 2, 2021
Book: Chad Beguelin, Bob Martin
Lyrics: Nell Benjamin
Music: Matthew Sklar
Director: Helen Dallimore
Cast: Zoe Carides, Gabrielle Chan, Dolores Dunbar, Deni Gordon, Jaime Hadwen, Chaska Halliday, Nancye Hayes, Stefanie Jones, Donna Lee, Joy Miller, Coby Njoroge, Wendy-Lee Purdy, Eric Rasmussen, Monica Sayers, Tom Sharah
Images by David Hooley

Theatre review
The title of Half Time refers to the bit of song-and-dance that typically occurs in the middle of American sporting events. It is a tradition involving professional performers, who as we find out in the show, have an inordinately premature use-by date of 27 years old. As a marketing gimmick the New Jersey Cougars, a basketball team, assemble a group of seniors to present a surprising version of that mid-game entertainment. A noble idea on the surface, it is soon exposed to be an exercise based on the humiliation of our old.

Half Time the musical however, is a loving showcase of elders in the arts industry. The eight central roles are filled by our community’s most advanced, in an ensemble piece that tackles ageism head on. Director Helen Dallimore does an admirable job of keeping us emotionally invested, in stories that are perhaps much too cliché-laden and almost embarrassing in their predictability. Music by Matthew Sklar is sufficiently enjoyable, but it is the infectious earnestness harnessed by Dallimore that holds our attention.

Strong vocals by Dolores Dunbar-Joanne and Deni Gordon, provide their respective songs with a sentimentality that many will find deeply moving. Idiosyncratic personalities created by Zoe Carides, Gabrielle Chan and Nancye Hayes are memorable, and genuinely funny, in a production that endeavours to challenge our preconceived notions of the ageing process. Stefanie Jones gives a highly polished rendition of Tara, the old folks’ choreographer and coach, whilst Chaska Halliday and Coby Njoroge waste no opportunity to steal the show, whenever their breath-taking talents are positioned centre stage.

As the Chinese saying goes, “the older the ginger, the spicier it gets.” It is an incontrovertible truth that wisdom comes with age, yet the elderly (especially elderly women) are routinely shunned from so much of our lives. The tendency for the young to think of them as inconvenient, difficult and slow, and therefore exclude them from decisions on how things are run in the Western world, can only be of detrimental effect. To only value youthful qualities, is to risk repeating mistakes, as evidenced by so much that has been in written of history.

If we commit to honouring our elders the way so many Indigenous cultures do, we will have to shift our values, in a way that changes priorities in politics and economics. Resources will have to be regarded differently. We may even begin to see our relationship with nature, and ergo with the planet, in a radically different way. To place attention and care on the process of how each of us dies, instead of obsessing over an unattainable eternal youth, is likely the key, ironical as it may seem, to much better ways of life.

www.hayestheatre.com.au | www.nineteen98productions.com.au

Review: Young Frankenstein (Hayes Theatre)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), Feb 18 – Mar 20, 2021
Book: Mel Brooks, Thomas Meehan
Music & Lyrics: Mel Brooks
Director: Alexander Berlage
Cast: Matthew Backer, Olivia Charalambous, Shannon Dooley, Nick Eynaud, Ben Gerrard, Amy Hack, Luke Leong-Tay, Lucia Mastrantone
Images by Daniel Boud

Theatre review
American neurosurgeon Dr. Frederick Frankenstein has to make a trip to Transylvania, in order that he may secure the inheritance of a vast estate, upon the untimely death of his infamous nature-meddling grandfather. Mel Brooks’ 2007 musical version of Young Frankenstein, came to Broadway 33 years after the success of his 1974 film. What was originally a spoof of classic horror cinema, is now turned into a parody of Brooks’ own comedy oeuvre. It is arguable how well his body of work has stood the test of time, but as this new iteration of the musical at Hayes Theatre demonstrates, Mel Brooks’ writing contains indubitable genius, and with the right approach and attitude, a brilliant masterpiece can be unveiled.

Directed by Alexander Berlage (winner of 2018 and 2019 gongs for Best Direction of a Musical at the Sydney Theatre Awards), Young Frankenstein is post-modern, high-camp theatrical amusement at its best. Berlage takes radical liberties with the text, stridently ensuring that every moment of the show delivers something disarmingly witty, or at the very least kooky and fascinating. What results is a fast-paced production that feels constantly buoyed by humour, shimmering with inventiveness. Central to Berlage’s method, is an unyielding allegiance to principles of queerness, that locates for the intrinsic irony of Brooks’ universe, an amplified sense of flamboyant absurdity. Although not exactly the wildest of rides, the show is perhaps better suited to the open-minded.

The staging looks exquisite, even though many jokes are made about budgetary constraints met by Australian independent theatre. Isabel Hudson’s set is comprised of staircases that go nowhere, and doorways of unusual proportions, splendidly converting M.C. Escher’s legendary drawings into physical reality. In turn, these unusual architectural structures make for fantastical contortions, in how human figures traverse the space, for laughs as well as for sheer eccentricity. Costumes by Mason Brown combine the traditional with the subversive, making Savile Row meet Leigh Bowery, for an aesthetic that feels unexpectedly cohesive, and a true visual delight. Trent Suidgeest’s lighting design too is an absolute joy. Oscillating between vibrant clashes of primary colours, and a green monochrome that pays tribute to the black and white of the 1974 film and of the ones from early last century to which Brooks refers, Suidgeest provides a deeply satisfying sense of stylistic dynamism that is both relentless and surprising.

Leading man Matthew Backer’s appearance may be nothing like Gene Wilder’s, but fears of an inferior depiction of Dr. Frederick Frankenstein are laid to rest from the very first scene. The performer is meticulous yet instinctual, thoughtful but rambunctious, with mesmeric eyes that seize our attention, as they reveal all we need to know about the story, and the wider cultural implications of what we are witnessing. Also noteworthy is his reliably marvellous singing voice, a proverbial cherry on top that has us endlessly spoilt.

Shannon Dooley plays Elizabeth with wonderful idiosyncrasy, an admirably brassy presence whose scintillating confidence seems to know no bounds. The problematic German “dumb blonde” character Inga is given a clever twist. By casting male performer Ben Gerrard in the role, its offensive quality is dampened, and Gerrard’s respectfully controlled drag interpretation proves that intelligent, innovative thinking can solve many artistic conundrums, even those related to sacred, often archaic, legacies. Performers in Young Frankenstein are, without exception, accomplished and appealing. Luke Leong-Tay’s Igor and Lucia Mastrantone’s Frau Blucher are both effervescent and irresistibly mischievous. Nick Eynaud’s irreverent take on The Monster further emphasises the audacious flaunting of queerness, for a show that seems to have much more interesting things to say, than what Brooks had ever intended.

It is likely true, that many of us have reached a point of exhaustion, after a year of the pandemic, and half a decade of Trumpism and tumult from the far-right. If the Americans’ embrace of the silly 1974 Young Frankenstein film, was a reflection of their disillusionment and fatigue, from their participation in the war in Vietnam, then this new musical rendition arrives just in time to fulfil our need for something thoroughly and unapologetically frivolous. It is not always a good time for levity; the world has serious things to sort out, and art is sometimes all we have. For now, however, the brain deserves a rest, and the soul needs nothing more than a good hard laugh.

www.hayestheatre.com.au

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.

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