Review: The Things I Could Never Tell Steven (Whimsical Productions)

Venue: Limelight on Oxford (Darlinghurst NSW), Feb 20 – Mar 2, 2019
Music & Lyrics: Jye Bryant
Directors: Ghassan Kassisieh, Katherine Nheu
Cast: Julia Hyde, Joey Sheehan, Suzanne Chin, Tim Martin
Images by Zaina Ahmed

Theatre review
Steven is constantly evasive, nowhere to be seen, because he had done the wrong thing. After their recent nuptials, Steven’s wife finds that he often disappears, and we discover that he chooses to spend time instead with an ex, a male lover happy to rekindle the relationship, unaware of Steven’s change in marital status. Steven however would only stay for the sex, and vanish in between coitus, unable to extend intimacy beyond the flesh. Jye Bryant’s The Things I Could Never Tell Steven tells an intriguing story about sexual orientation for our times, to provoke questions about identity, and to discuss the quickly evolving meanings of marriage under our newly egalitarian legislation.

Bryant’s musical features songs that are beautifully melodic, with witty lyrics that offer plentiful amusement. Musical direction by Ghassan Kassisieh, who provides accompaniment on keyboard, is precise and pleasant. The production is minimally designed, but directors Kassisieh and Katherine Nheu offer elegant staging solutions that keep meaningful emphasis on the songs. Performer Julia Hyde is very impressive as Steven’s unnamed wife, with a wonderful voice that delivers considerable dynamism to the show. Her mother-in-law is played by Suzanne Chin who brings an excellent measure of comedic energy to proceedings. Joey Sheehan is less effective with the humour, but as Steven’s ex his falsetto is a real auditory joy, and Tim Martin who, although not sufficiently dramatic in approach, is nonetheless convincing in his portrayal of the reliably stoic father.

Steven is not present to plead his case, but he is clearly not the marrying type. In times past, we would have conveniently attributed his misbehaviour to him being a closet case, but now we are free to examine his tale as one about the relevance and purpose of marriage. It is possible that Steven’s regret is simply about attachment, of having to sacrifice his selfhood for no good reason, regardless of the genders at play in the musical. He should have known to interrogate rules around monogamy and fidelity before taking that solemn vow, and more importantly, he should have challenged notions of conformity and conventions, that have brought him to this point of dilemma.

www.whimsicalproductions.com.au

Review: Dorian Gray Naked (Popinjay Productions)

Venue: Limelight on Oxford (Darlinghurst NSW), Jan 30 – Feb 16, 2019
Libretto: Melvyn Morrow
Music: Dion Condack
Director: Melvyn Morrow
Cast: Blake Appelqvist

Theatre review
A fictional character provides the inside scoop on his author Oscar Wilde, in Melvyn Morrow’s Dorian Gray Naked. Resurrected to speculate on the inner workings of a novel, from a time when homosexuality was an abomination that would render entire existences underground and secret, Dorian the Adonis/Narcissus of queer literature offers a revised perspective for our comparatively liberated times.

Imaginative and appropriately flamboyant, Morrow waxes lyrical about what might have been. Together with Dion Condack’s music, Dorian Gray Naked paints a melancholic and often abstract picture, about artistic creation, highly sentimental but insufficiently witty. Performer Blake Appelqvist’s affected approach, punctuated by incessant sharp inhales, executed like DIY sound effects, can be alienating, but his presence is a strong one that fills the room effortlessly. It is basically a one-man show, but with Condack positioned onstage, passionate on the piano, interplay between the two men are inevitable in this exploration of gay culture and history.

Choreographer Nathan Mark Wright uses exaggerated body shapes to make a statement about camp, and to disrupt the meanings of masculinity in Wilde’s suspicious narrative of heterosexual love. The effect is skin deep, but it reveals an aspect of gayness that is obsessive about surface. Although Dorian Gray Naked is thorough with its reinventions and fabrications, it seems incapable of reaching greater emotional or psychological depths that will achieve meaningful resonance. It remains mainly a cerebral experience, and for some, that could be enough.

www.limelightonoxford.com.au

Review: The Jungle (Outrage Productions)

Venue: Darlo Drama (Darlinghurst NSW), Dec 14 – 18, 2018
Playwright: Louis Nowra
Director: Glen Hamilton
Cast: Gabriela Castillo, Nicole Florio, Gaurav Kharbanda, Jo-Ann Pass, Benjamin Pierce, Timothy Rochford, Hugo Schlanger, Andrew Singh, Romney Stanton, Annelies Tjetjep, Mark Wilson
Images by RMF Photography

Theatre review
A jumble of scenes situated in Sydney, with people that may or may not seem familiar, constitute Louis Nowra’s The Jungle. The stories are from 1995, and sensationalist in a way that was probably trendy for the time. 23 years on, its sleaze and general naughtiness can feel slightly pretentious, but the perspective it provides of an Australian city that is not concerned with the middle class, presents an opportunity to ruminate on the changes we have undergone in just one generation. Not yet nostalgic, but certainly reflective, The Jungle reveals the banal bourgeois values that have, in a relatively short period, taken over our town.

Glen Hamilton’s direction incorporates little in terms of visual design, leaving all of the production’s theatricality to a very hyperbolic ensemble. Their energy is admirable, players such as Nicole Florio and Romney Stanton are particularly animated, and they bring a valuable verve to the stage, but there is an overall lack of nuance that prevents the show from speaking with sufficient depth. Actor Gabriela Castillo does a remarkable job of her roles, turning three hapless girls in a frequently misogynistic piece of writing, into fascinating characters with moments of palpable drama.

It is a relief to see that we are no longer who we once were, for life is change, and stagnation can be dangerous. We might be tempted to say that change does not necessarily represent improvement, but to insist that things were better in the past, is to forget the many deficiencies of yesterday. Sydney may have lost some of its romance and idealism, but for the millions who choose to live here, we choose to believe in its potentials and the bright future that we so faithfully envision. The big clean up bears a momentum that refuses to ever come to a halt, but in our hearts, the memory of a dirty, dingy town still resonates, and the spirit of that old disreputable concrete jungle keeps on pulsating.

www.thejungleplay.com

Review: Crime And Punishment (Secret House)

Venue: Limelight on Oxford (Darlinghurst NSW), Dec 12 – 22, 2018
Playwright: Chris Hannan (from the novel by Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
Director: Anthony Skuse
Cast: Jane Angharad, Hannah Barlow, Tim Kemp, Philippe Klaus, Beth McMullen, Madeleine Miller, James Smithers, Shan-Ree Tan, Charles Upton, Natasha Vickery
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
When deciding to proceed with his plan for murder and robbery, Raskolvikov thinks of his actions as merely an extension of attempts to participate, in an economy he considers to be entirely utilitarian. If one is to survive the world at all costs, and if cost is always a matter of subjectivity, then the concept of morality holds no currency, in a system determined to reward the self-interested. Chris Hannan explores the implications of what might be termed human conscience in his adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s Crime And Punishment. The protagonist wrestles with internal conflicts, emotional and intellectual, trying to escape punishment, from society and from himself.

The bleakness of Raskolvikov’s destitute existence is depicted persuasively under Anthony Skuse’s direction, whose own production design accomplishes an elegant evocation of Russia at a time we associate with the end of the Industrial Revolution, and the rise of urbanisation as we know it. Skuse’s sound design too, is an affecting element, if slightly repetitive in its rendering. Lights by Martin Kinnane bring visual interest, helpful in creating a sense of dynamism for the production. Actor James Smithers is convincing in the leading role, able to prevent us from feeling alienated, so that we stay engaged with the murderer’s narrative. Chemistry between performers can be improved for a more focused sense of storytelling, but individual characters are portrayed with good conviction.

The work posits the loss of religion as a possible equivalence to the loss of morality, thereby giving religion a great deal of credit where it may not be due. In the decades that have past since Dostoyevsky’s 1866 publication of Crime And Punishment, atheism has become a movement undeniable in its ubiquity, and secular societies have demonstrated that our capacity for upholding that which is truly righteous, has surpassed dogmatic and draconian structures that had come before.

There is no doubt that many lives have been improved by religion, but it is important that we recognise the evils that it routinely inspires and sanctions. At the end of 2018, Australian politics is abuzz with the prospect of introducing additional protections for religious practices, thereby safeguarding bigoted portions of those beliefs, and in effect, placing human rights beneath archaic doctrines. Raskolvikov killed people, not because of a loss of faith; the fact remains that the murders had taken place, in spite of all the religion being imposed upon him.

www.secrethouse.com.au

Review: Company (Limelight On Oxford)

Venue: Limelight on Oxford (Darlinghurst NSW), Nov 14 – Dec 1, 2018
Book: George Furth
Music & Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim
Director: Julie Baz
Cast: Heather Campbell, Maree Cole, Grace Driscoll, Emily Dreyer, Lincoln Elliott, Jacqui Greenfield, Michele Lansdown, Michael McPhee, Alexander Morgan, Bridget Patterson, Brendan Paul, Ileana Pipitone, Marcus Rivera, Richard Woodhouse
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Bobby is celebrating his thirty-fifth birthday, with friends who all appear to be married couples, unable to resist badgering him into finding a wife of his own. Stephen Sondheim’s Company is approaching half a century old, and although its conceit seems archaic, we know that the experience it depicts remains resolutely accurate. People are often unwilling to accept single life as a valid and healthy option, and even though the musical does not portray marriage to be comprehensively wonderful, its insistence that Bobby comes to an acquiescence, in spite of his quite fabulous New York City bachelor existence, is representative of our narrow definitions of identity.

George Furth’s book for the 1970 creation might bear an exasperating plot that does not stand the test of time, but Sondheim’s songs continue to be sublime. Directed by Julie Baz, the production is entertaining and spirited, on a very busy stage that although not always visually appealing, is consistently ebullient, with an ensemble cast full of beans. Leading man Brendan Paul does an adequate job of his singing, but it is his radiant high-wattage smile that really charms. Heather Campbell is deeply impressive as Amy, delivering a rendition of the notoriously difficult “Getting Married Today” at an exceptional standard. Another memorable tune, “The Ladies Who Lunch” is performed by the commanding Michele Lansdown, whose interpretation of the socialite lush Joanne, is a delightful contrast to a lot of the squeaky clean goings on. Also noteworthy are the jubilant musicians that make up a sensational six-piece band, led by Antonio Fernandez whose music direction brings us a great deal of class, through his faithful interpretation of a now nostalgic score.

When Bobby finally admits to his loneliness, we question the veracity of his proclamations, wondering if it is a case of peer pressure leading our protagonist, to invent feelings that are not entirely authentic. Sondheim came out as gay in 1998, at the age of 68. Company is essentially a work he had written about the confirmed bachelor, at a time when his sexuality was in the closet, in which the protagonist’s friends are confounded by his refusal to settle with a woman. The incessant nagging leads to Bobby eventual relenting, not by actually marrying a woman, but by performing a ruse of regret and embarrassment, that many gay people have had to carry out, as a strategy in dealing with the heteronormativity that they inevitably have to contend with. Like many LGBTQ people, Bobby probably feels no need to satisfy those traditional expectations, but a big song and dance is always useful in getting them off our backs.

www.limelightonoxford.com.au

5 Questions with Emily Dreyer and Grace Driscoll

Emily Dreyer

Grace Driscoll: What drew you to working on a show as iconic as Company?
Emily Dreyer: The music! Stephen Sondheim is an absolute genius and the score is just incredible. Every musical number in the show is catchy and innately engaging… as well as challenging at times for singers which makes it just as much fun to rehearse as it is to watch being performed. Also, some of the cast and production team I have worked with before so it’s always a pleasure working with them again!

Why do you believe audiences should come see this show?
It’s so relatable, the music is outstanding, it’s hilarious and it will overall be a fantastic night out… to be honest I wouldn’t want to miss it!

What first ignited your passion for dancing/musical theatre?
I grew up training in ballet at the Elizabeth McGirr School of Ballet doing one big concert every two years! One year we did a version of Mary Poppins and I got the chance to be Jane (one of the children), after our one show was over, 11 year old me was so depressed for about two weeks… that’s when I knew I needed more. I then moved into other styles of dance and seriously started musical theatre training two years ago when I started at ED5International.

Where do you hope to see yourself professionally in 5 years time?
In a touring company for a musical but if we are really reaching for the stars Broadway!

Who is your musical theatre inspiration?
It changes all the time but at the moment it would have to be Donna McKechnie and Charlotte D’Amboise. Donna McKechnie was the original Kathy in Company and then went on to be the original Cassie in A Chorus Line. Watching footage of her performing is just so inspiring and to be able to do a solo dance number in a musical is so rare and Donna McKechnie is just incredible. I feel so lucky to be playing the same role of Kathy and being able to dance “Tick-Tock”, which is often left out of productions of Company. Charlotte D’Amboise played Kathy and Cassie too, but many years later in revivals and she is just as inspiring but reminds me of how it’s important to put yourself and your strengths into the role. I have so many people that are always inspiring me from my teachers, my dance students and of course the cast and production team of Company at Limelight on Oxford.

Grace Driscoll

Emily Dreyer: What about your character Marta is similar to you?
Grace Driscoll: I love playing Marta, as I feel like she is a very heightened version of myself. I think we share the same passion and thirst for life, and that even the smallest things excite us. We both love experiencing new things, and are open to learning from every person we meet. I am however, without a doubt, a self-professed dork- which isn’t what most people necessarily think of cool, trendy Marta. In order to find my way into her, I tried to channel my natural weirdness but in a way where she is 100% unapologetic about it. Embracing herself, her ideas and her opinions wholeheartedly and boldly, is what I believe makes her so confident and so effortlessly cool.

What is your favourite part about being in Company?
My favourite part about being in Company is working with such an incredible team and just doing a musical. Because I’ve only just completed studying, it has been such a long time since I’ve done a musical, and to get the opportunity to now do it, with material as rich as this, in a brand new theatre and with a company this talented, feels like an absolute dream! Being the baby of the cast, I am constantly in awe of everyone’s talent, experience and expertise in their craft and have learnt so much from every single person.

If anyone could come and see the show who would it be and why?
I think this show is perfect for… everyone! The story is so real and so accessible for anyone who has ever been in a relationship. I think Sydney audiences young and ‘older-than-young’ will enjoy what this musical has to give, so I encourage everyone to book tickets and have a night out at the theatre. Also, come and checkout the incredible new venue that is Limelight! I anticipate it will soon be a prime theatre-goers hot spot.

What brings you to musical theatre?
I was first introduced to musicals by my grandfather’s collection of old movie musicals that I would play, entranced and on repeat whenever I visited, including The Sound Of Music and The King And I. It wasn’t until I was 10 where I saw a community production of Guys And Dolls that I became hooked on musicals and performing. This passion has since taken me through two training courses, 800km away from home, and given me many lifelong friends. There’s something so special about combining the elements of song, music and dance in order to tell a story. I love reading a script or a score that is rich with good writing and detail, and wanting nothing more than to share it with audiences.

Dream musical role and why?
Too many to list! My number one role would definitely be Natasha in Dave Malloy’s Natasha, Pierre And The Great Comet 1812. Similar to Sondheim’s Company, Malloy’s writing is so detailed and intricate which makes for some stunningly beautiful songs. I also love the fact that the show promotes diversity in its casting, despite the setting being 19th century Russia.

Emily Dreyer and Grace Driscoll can be seen in Company by Stephen Sondheim.
Dates: 14 November – 1 December, 2018
Venue: Limelight On Oxford

Review: Giving Up The Ghost (Pop Up Theatre)

Venue: Limelight on Oxford (Darlinghurst NSW), Oct 17 – Nov 3, 2018
Playwright: Rivka Hartman
Director: Rivka Hartman
Cast: Elaine Hudson, Chris Orchard, Andrew Wang, Madeleine Withington

Theatre review
There is a coffin in Lana’s living room, because her husband Ben had just died. Although the corpse lies securely within, Ben’s ghost is up and about, teasing and bantering with his wife, as they might had done for forty years of marriage. They argue over their daughter Gemma, who is considering giving up a valuable career opportunity for her less than ideal boyfriend. Lana tries to offer surreptitious parental guidance, with Ben interfering in the background, whilst everyone frantically gears up for the funeral.

Rivka Hartman’s Giving Up The Ghost is a screwball comedy about the grieving process. Looking at how we deal with loss, the play examines the consequences that we suffer, when a loved one passes on. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it is not the giddy humour, but the serious ideas in Hartman’s show that really engage. Discussions relating to euthanasia are particularly stimulating, and we are left somewhat bewildered that the controversial topic does not occupy a more substantial portion of the plot.

Actor Elaine Hudson’s exuberance as Lana has us charmed. Along with Chris Orchard, who plays the very lively ghost of Ben, both prove to be confident personalities able to hold our attention with little effort. Their performances become palpable when the story turns solemn, allowing for a more naturalistic approach than earlier scenes of quite laboured madcapery. Madeleine Withington demonstrates good capacity for nuance in the role of Gemma, and Andrew Wang plays her depthless boyfriend with a laudable, albeit slightly green, boldness.

Gemma is not a woman completely of her parents’ invention, but it is a pleasure to observe her values reflect those of Lana and Ben’s. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and we delight in the idea that the best of our persons could potentially be bequeathed to future generations. It is true that we are ultimately no more than ash and dust, but all that we do while we walk the earth, whether good or bad, deliberate or accidental, will have reverberations beyond the grave. Only a fool will believe that all of life is within one’s control, but to be careless with the time that we do have, is unconscionable.

www.limelightonoxford.com.au