Suzy Goes See’s Best Of 2014


2014 has been a busy year. Choosing memorable moments from the 194 shows I had reviewed in these 12 months is a mind-bending exercise, but a wonderful opportunity that shows just how amazing and vibrant, theatre people are in Sydney. Thank you to artists, companies, publicists and punters who continue to support Suzy Goes See. Have a lovely holiday season and a happy new year! Now on to the Best Of 2014 list (all in random order)…

Suzy x

 Avant Garde Angels
The bravest and most creatively experimental works in 2014.

 Quirky Questers
The most unusual and colourful characters to appear on our stages in 2014.

♥ Design Doyennes
Outstanding visual design in 2014. Fabulous lights, sets and costumes.

♥ Darlings Of Dance
Breathtaking brilliance in the dance space of 2014.

♥ Musical Marvels
Outstanding performers in cabaret and musicals in 2014.

♥ Second Fiddle Superstars
Scene-stealers of 2014 in supporting roles.

♥ Ensemble Excellence
Casts in 2014 rich with chemistry and talent.

♥ Champs Of Comedy
Best comedic performances of 2014.

♥ Daredevils Of Drama
Best actors in dramatic roles in 2014.

♥ Wise With Words
Best new scripts of 2014.

 Directorial Dominance
Best direction in 2014.

♥ Shows Of The Year
The mighty Top 10.

♥ Suzy’s Special Soft Spot
A special mention for the diversity of cultures that have featured in its programming this year.

  • ATYP



Photography by Roderick Ng, Dec 2014


Best of 2018 | Best of 2017 | Best of 2016Best of 2015Best Of 2013

Review: Stop Kiss (Unlikely Productions / ATYP)

rsz_gxmphotogrpahy2014-1-3Venue: ATYP (Walsh Bay NSW), Mar 5 – 22, 2014
Director: Anthony Skuse
Playwright: Diana Son
Actors: Olivia Stambouliah, Gabrielle Scawthorn, Aaron Tsindos, Ben McIvor, Robert Jago, Kate Fraser, Suzanne Pereira
Image by Gez Xavier Mansfield

Theatre review
One of the main things explored in theatre is emotion. We ask, what are these different things we feel, how do we create these feelings, how do we differentiate between cheap and authentic sentiment, and how do they affect our lives as individuals and collectives? Stop Kiss leaves its audience with such emotional intensity that these questions come to the fore. Diana Son’s script tells the simplest of stories, but its unique structure in terms of a non-linear timeline, and an unusual depiction of romantic love, keeps us enthralled, and speaks deeply to the most basic humanity in us all .

Under Anthony Skuse’s wonderful direction, Stop Kiss is both theatrical and sincere. There is masterful use of space, which gives the production a sophisticated aesthetic. In spite of budget constraints, the show is a handsome one. Set design is thoroughly considered, and elegantly executed by Gez Xavier Mansfield, and lighting by Sara Swersky is subtle yet varied and effective. The many scene transitions are established with elegant flair. We jump around in time and space with minimum fuss and maximum efficiency.

The love story and its romance are managed with restraint. Skuse deliberately downplays a lot of the drama, so that its powerful concepts work overtime in our heads. Like a striptease, we are only ever given just enough information so that our minds can conjure up all the salacious details on their own. The cast benefits from this sense of inhibition, as it allows for a somewhat ironic magnification of their inner worlds. We seem to obtain a better insight into what people are thinking and feeling when they are prevented from doing too much.

Gabrielle Scawthorn’s performance as Sara is marvelous, culminating in a final scene that can only be described as heartbreaking. The character she has created is not only believable, we find ourselves in constant need of seeing more, and knowing more. Her work is equally committed whether playing light or dark, and she tells her character’s story with careful compassion that is beautiful to watch. The connection Scawthorn makes with her audience is as intense as Sara’s falling in love in the story.

Olivia Stambouliah plays Callie with vivacity and complexity. Her energy keeps the show uplifted and dynamic, and her focus is magnetic. There is a steely determination in her performance that is at times impressive, but at others, slightly distracting. The actor sometimes works too hard but her final moments onstage are truly remarkable, and intelligently crafted. Ben McIvor has two memorable scenes as Peter. He finds a balance between tenderness, frustration and despondency, and portrays a character that is empathetic and immediately affable.

It is probably not a rare occurrence that tears are shed in the theatre, but the emotions in Stop Kiss are exceptional. We cry because we understand that true love is precious and rare, but we also cry in the knowledge that homophobic violence is widespread and alive. The play ends in a dark place, but it thankfully leaves us with a morsel of hope. Tears can be self-indulgent, but they are also the beginning of every important and necessary change in the places we live. This play may not be obviously political, but one hopes that its gentle approach would have an effect on those who have yet to be converted by our more strident preachers.

Review: The Vaudevillians (Strut & Fret Production House)

vaudevillians1Venue: The Vanguard (Newtown NSW), Feb 18 – Mar 2, 2014
Musical Director: Richard Andriessen (Major Scales)
Performers: Jerick Hoffer (Jinkx Monsoon), Richard Andriessen (Major Scales)

Theatre review
The premise is simple. Spouses Kitty Witless and Dan Von Dandy were accidentally frozen under a torrent of snow and cocaine in the 1920s, but were discovered and revived in our very recent times of global warming. Both happen to be brilliant performers, and have found their way to Sydney, just in time to present their show for the Mardi Gras season.

Cabaret is about performance. Stories are rarely important, but storytelling is everything. The Vaudevillians are played by Jinkx Monsoon and Major Scales, American artists who are truly of an “international standard”. Scales provides excellent support to his leading lady. He is superb on the piano, and the re-arrangements he has created are intelligent and delightful. The choice of familiar songs by the likes of Madonna, Daft Punk, Cyndi Lauper, M.I.A., and Britney Spears makes for a setlist that would appeal to most, but it is his extravagantly comical interpretations that make them all so thoroughly entertaining. Scales does falter a little in confidence when performing his solo number, but it is wonderfully refreshing to see a highly animated and energetic piano man.

Jinkx Monsoon is a comic cabaret artist of the highest calibre. Clearly, The Vaudevillians is a work tailored to her specific talents and abilities, but the 80 minute show impresses and overflows with scintillating wit, belly laughs and stunning singing. Monsoon’s vocals are powerful, and she seems to have an infinite well of techniques for turning every line in every song into something that earns the audience’s laughter. A segment referencing Henrik Ibsen, “A Doll’s House 2: Electric Boogaloo” sees the leading lady attack Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” with the greatest amount of flamboyant drama one could ever wish to see. She is like a young Gloria Swanson, only louder and a whole lot sillier.

Combining disciplined training (you can hear it in her singing, and see it with her splits and headstands) and a sense of looseness that is unafraid of heckles and other chanced occurrences, Monsoon’s style is deceptively casual, and incredibly brave. It is live performance at its most thrilling, where the audience feels that anything could happen because the performers and the show’s structure allow, or even ask for it. There is danger in the air, the kind that is completely delicious and irresistible. The Vaudevillians is fun, entertaining theatre. Monsoon and Scales are silly as they come, but without a hint of stupidity, and their show is filled with genuine talent and quite genius creativity.

Review: Everything I Know I Learnt From Madonna (Tunks Productions / Sydney Independent Theatre Company)

rsz_1899685_623939144321658_1856255859_oVenue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Feb 18 – 22, 2014
Playwright: Wayne Tunks
Director: Fiona Hallenan-Barker
Actor: Wayne Tunks
Image by Katy Green Loughrey

Theatre review
Madonna, the pop star, means many things to many people. Like many brassy women in the public eye, she is regarded by gay communities as an icon. An outspoken proponent of the gay movement since the early 1990s, it is understandable that her place with LGBT people has endured the years. In this one-man play by Wayne Tunks, he talks about his obsession with Madonna in the introduction, then goes on to share with us his stories of coming out and relationships with various men, liberally quoting lyrics by his hero at every available opportunity. His script is an interesting one. It is almost as if Tunks is unable to verbalise his thoughts and feelings without the aide of Madonna songs, so her words keep appearing in his monologue, sometimes seamlessly, sometimes a little forced, but it is no doubt that his admiration is beyond skin deep, and that her work actually provides a space of solace. It looks a lot like religion.

Tunks is an actor full of vigour. He appears on stage and is determined to seize your attention, and for the entirey of his performance, we pay close attention to his stories. It helps that Tunks’ voice is commanding and versatile. It is naturalistic acting but there is definitely not a hint of mumbling, everything is said loud and clear, which is fortunate as the bareness of the staging and minimal direction of the near two hour work, leave nothing else for Tunks and his audience to hold on to.

The show overflows with earnestness. For a seemingly shallow premise of pop star fandom, it contains no irony and very little frivolity. We are presented love stories with a string of men, Sean, Warren, Guy, Jesus, and (presumably) Brahim. They are not particularly colourful events, in fact, slightly mundane. There isn’t really a set up of context, just a man keen to share with a captive crowd, and we are inspired by his fighting spirit that never gets dampened by failed relationships. He keeps getting back in business as though nothing’s better than more because ultimately, what can you lose?

“You’re never gonna see me standin’ still, I’m never gonna stop ’till I get my fill” (Over And Over, Madonna 1984).

Review: Desperate Houseboys (Matthew Management / Neil Gooding Productions)

despboysVenue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Feb 18 – 28, 2014
Playwrights: Cole Escola, Jeffery Self
Directors: Christian Coulson
Performers: Cole Escola, Jeffery Self

Theatre review
It takes a certain amount of gall and audacity to present a work that is entirely frivolous. Theatre practitioners are rarely able to look at their work as purely entertainment, while having no concern for conventions and audience expectations. Cole Escola and Jeffery Self’s Desperate Houseboys is creative, original, irreverent and wild. It is Generation Y post-modernism, attacking the notion of comedy with constant references to popular, theatre and gay culture, with the aide of theatrical structures that shift throughout the hour. It is like John Waters, only a lot younger.

Cole Escola and Jeffery Self do not seem to take themselves seriously. There are no discernible politics, and no obvious ambition to their work, but their supreme confidence in their niche is rare and admirable. Their undeniable talent is thoroughly utilised in this production, but it is within their comfort zones that the action takes place. It is high camp and highly amusing, without a need to try being too clever. Maybe because these young men are already extremely clever.

Their performance is energetic, with a manic silliness that characterises their persona and show. Like all great comic duos, the chemistry that exists between Escola and Self is bewilderingly powerful. Escola is more animated of the two, but Self is hardly the Dean Martin in this relationship. Both are outlandish and ridiculous, and it is this meeting of likeness that creates their success. It can be argued that their work requires these same qualities from its audience. This is a show about inside jokes, not necessarily with its themes, but in tone. Desperate Houseboys appeals to a specific sense of humour, one which is neither mainstream nor common. This would then mean that what Escola and Self have here is pure comedy gold for the right audience, but for others, quite possibly the opposite.

Presented as part of the Mardi Gras festival, the question remains whether Escola and Self are too offbeat for the target audience. With LGBT liberation in Sydney entering its fifth decade, and so many advances made in our sociopolitical lives, has the “gay community” become something too mainstream for this brand of madness? Have the Sydney gays gone too straight for a show about lube closets and overgrown twinks?

Review: The Dead Ones (Vitalstatistix)

thedeadonesVenue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Feb 18 – 22, 2014
Playwright: Margie Fischer
Directors: Catherine Fitzgerald
Performers: Margie Fischer

Theatre review
In The Dead Ones, Margie Fischer presents a live reading of her own diary entries from a time of profound loss. Through her reflections, memories and experiences of the mourning process, we are offered an insight into some of the true fundamentals of life. Accompanied by photographs of family members and their home, Fischer’s story is inviting, engaging and universal. Beginning with her parents’ plight in Nazi Austria, through their migration to Shanghai, and eventual settlement in Australia, details of their struggles, as well as happier times, allow us to relate intimately and emotionally.

Fischer’s performance is a generous one. The catharsis resulting from her work is as much for her audience as it is for herself. Death touches everyone but it does not live in everyday discourse. Through Fischer’s meditations about losing all of her immediate family, we see what is of real value in life, and the meanings that are held in images, possessions, relations and places. We think about the things discarded when a person dies, and what is preserved by those left behind. Every mundane thing is turned sacred.

Witnessing a person mourn from close proximity and in detail, we cannot help but contemplate our own relationships. For the good ones we have, we think about gratitude and appreciation. For the others, we are inspired to re-examine circumstances and consider improvements. People often debate on art’s purpose. If art does indeed have a purpose, Margie Fischer’s contribution here is a noble one.

5 Questions with Wayne Tunks

waynetunksWhat is your favourite swear word?
I do love the F word, it is useful for so many things. And as a writer I love to give the C word to women, for me it sounds best when said angrily by a woman.

What are you wearing?
I’m about to head to a Hawaiian themed birthday party so wearing a very dodgy shirt that could burst into flames if I go near an open fire.

What is love?
A great 90’s song by Haddaway and also the theme of my new show. In fact one of the Madonna lyric quotes I use near the front of the show is, “I’m going to tell you about love”.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
James And the Giant Peach that I directed at Christmas featuring 24 students aged 8 – 12 years. I give it 5 wines.

Is your new show going to be any good?
Well the Melbourne audiences seemed to enjoy it for Midsumma at La Mama. And most of the show is set in Sydney, it’s going to be great to come home with this show!

Wayne Tunks stars in Everything I Know I Learnt From Madonna, part of the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras 2014 season.
Show dates: 18 – 22 Feb, 2014
Show venue: The Old Fitzroy Hotel

Review: Privates On Parade (New Theatre)

rsz_1069838_594783037267230_490878940_nVenue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Feb 11 – Mar 8, 2014
Playwright: Peter Nichols
Music: Denis King
Director: Alice Livingstone
Choreographer: Trent Kidd
Actors: Matt Butcher, Jamie Collette, Peter Eyers, David Hooley, Morgan Junor-Larwood, James Lee, Henry Moss, David Ouch, Diana Perini, Martin Searles, Gerwin Widjaja
Image by Bob Seary

Theatre review
Written in 1977, this “play with music” appeared just two years before the inaugural Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras parade. It contains some of the earliest progressive depictions of same sex relationships, and is an excellent choice for the New Theatre to present it in conjunction with the Mardi Gras festival this year. The work comes from a time before political correctness, and includes many references to ethnicity, gender and sexual preference that could make contemporary audiences cringe, but director Alice Livingstone is mindful of the change in context and deals with those awkward moments shrewdly and with sensitivity.

Livingstone’s decision to add a prologue featuring the “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boys” is a stroke of genius. Gerwin Widjaja, Henry Moss and David Ouch play a trio of drag queens in cheongsams inviting the audience to 1948 Singapore, and providing a side of the fictitious SADUSEA (Song And Dance Unit South East Asia) that is missing from Peter Nichols’ show. More importantly, it showcases the talents of Widjaja and Ouch, who would otherwise have been completely mute as the multiple “oriental men” in the original work.

The greatest strength of this production is its cast. Diana Perini in particular rises to the challenge, and does almost everything one could possibly ask of a performer. She plays comedy and tragedy, sings in ensemble and solo, dances en pointe and on tap heels, gets her top off, and does a mean Indian accent. Her role is not terribly interesting, but she sure makes a jaw-dropping one-woman tour de force out of it. James Lee plays Terri Dennis, the most flamboyant character imaginable. He masters all his song and dance routines, and endears himself as a crowd favourite from his very first appearance. Lee is also very effective in creating chemistry, always bringing out the best in his co-actors when appearing together. There is an effortless warmth to this man that most performers can only dream of. David Hooley is polished and disciplined as Steven Flowers. He seems slight in stature but his singing is big and confident, and his tap dancing is thoroughly impressive. His dreamy “Fred and Ginger” style sequence with Perini is most memorable.

Politics shift constantly, and ideologies evolve. Old works of art can be left behind and buried, but creativity can unearth and shine new light on them. We need not be afraid of mistakes past, if we learn to deal with them at every developed age. A 1977 comedy about British forces in 1948 Singapore, has crossed many borders, time and geographical, to reach this point. It is with refreshed enlightenment and a sense of progressiveness that should mark our approach to it today.

Review: Thank You For Being A Friend (Matthew Management / Neil Gooding Productions)

goldengirlsVenue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Feb 13 – 28, 2014
Playwrights: Thomas Duncan-Watt, Jonathan Worsley
Directors: Neil Gooding, Luke Joslin
Performers: Julia Billington, Chrystal de Grussa, Donna Lee, Darren Mapes, Nigel Turner-Carroll

Theatre review
The Golden Girls was a big TV hit series in the 1980s, and has left an indelible mark on audiences everywhere. Many of us remember catchphrases, character traits, relationship dynamics, and plot structures. Indeed it is nostalgia that gives this revival in puppetry form its appeal. There are minor references to contemporary culture (like a “cell phone”, Fifty Shades Of Grey and Kim Kardashian), but effort was put into a show and script that is absolutely faithful to the original. The set is a delightful re-creation. We even get ad breaks that feature commercials from the era, of defunct fashion labels and forgotten brands.

All four puppeteers have a thorough understanding of the roles they assume. The mannerisms and voices they replicate are funny and thoroughly delightful. Donna Lee’s depiction of Sophia is endearing and, like on the TV show, delivers the biggest punchlines. Darren Mapes facial expressions are so reminiscent of Beatrice Arthur’s Dorothy, one probably looks at him more than his puppet. Julia Billington never fails to get a laugh whenever she brings up St. Olaf as Rose, and Chrystal de Grussa’s Blanche is a hilariously overblown version of Blanche Devereaux, whose “man-eater” antics remain uproariously ridiculous. Also noteworthy is Nigel Turner-Carroll, the fifth member of the cast who tackles a host of male support characters with aplomb and great humour.

The production is part of the 2014 Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras program, not only because of Blanche’s gay son’s appearance, but also because of our memories of the original series’ efforts at discussing issues such as coming out, same-sex marriage, AIDS and discrimination against people with HIV. This loving tribute has rekindled a strangely deep relationship between audience and those golden girls. These ladies are fictional, but they are also dear friends.

Review: Falsettos (Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

falsettos1Venue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Feb 7 – Mar 16, 2014
Book by William Finn, James Lapine
Music and lyrics: William Finn
Director: Stephen Colyer
Co-musical directors: Nigel Ubrihien, Chris King
Actors: Stephen Anderson, Margi de Ferranti, Ben Hall, Tamlyn Henderson, Elise McCann, Katrina Retallick, Isaac Shaw
Image by Helen White

Theatre review
Falsettos is a musical that has everything. More than that, Darlinghurst Theatre’s latest production achieves excellence on many different levels, and provides a theatrical experience that exceeds many shows in Sydney of much grander scales (with far heftier price tags). This is a modest and intimate interpretation of an off-Broadway musical that first took form in 1981, but it surprises with the emotional punch it delivers, and the incredibly impressive standard of choreography, direction and performance.

When an actor is allowed to showcase the clichéd triple-threat in demanding roles, results can be breathtaking, and in the case of lead man Tamlyn Henderson, it is definitely so. Henderson’s performance is skilful and complex. He draws laughter and tears, all the while being Mr Showbiz, all booming singing voice and nifty footwork, but simultaneously completely believable and tender in his characterisation. Henderson is in a word, fantastic.

Katrina Retallick brings an extraordinary warmth to her Trina, and performs the single most memorable number of the night, based entirely on a step aerobics routine. Young actor Isaac Shaw steals hearts in the role of the irresistibly cute Jason, displaying talent and ability that matches up confidently to his adult counterparts.

In spite of his ugly wig and spectacles, Stephen Anderson’s natural charisma is clearly evident. His comic ability is well utilised in the show, and his singing voice is delightfully versatile and reliably resonant. Ben Hall provides the story’s eye candy, and certainly lives up to that challenge. Thankfully, Hall imbues his role with a healthy sense of humour, and is a strong enough singer to hold his own (but does suffer a little from the lack of microphones). It must be noted that Nigel Ubrihien’s solo piano accompaniment is outstanding, and does what a full orchestra sometimes fails to do. The feel and accuracy he contributes to the sonic landscape of the production is absolutely crucial and perfectly executed.

Visual design elements are effective but understated. Ingenuity is shown in the use of seven coffin-like structures that are incorporated elegantly into stage design and choreography, but could probably benefit from a little sprucing up. Our eyes focus on characters, while set, props, costumes and lighting take a back seat in this musical.

Director Stephen Colyer’s extensive background in dance shines through brilliantly. His use of movement and the physical form is intricate, deeply considered, and beautiful. The lines between choreography and direction are entirely blurred. Characters never dance for the sake of dancing alone. Every move is for character development and storytelling. Colyer obviously knows all there is to know about entertainment and show pacing, but he is also careful to handle the material with sensitivity and spirituality, which in turn produces a good level of depth that accompanies the sentimentalities that pervade the writing. The show he has created is artistically inventive and technically accomplished. It is also highly entertaining, thought provoking and full of humanity. This is the musical format thoroughly evolved.