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.

Review: Pinball (Duck Duck Goose Theatre Company)

pinball1Venue: TAP Gallery (Darlinghurst NSW), Feb 11 – 28, 2014
Playwright: Alison Lyssa
Director: Sarah Vickery
Actors: Ali Aitken, John Michael Burdon, Leo Domingan, Emma Louise, Faran Martin, Karoline O’Sullivan

Theatre review
Pinball first appeared in 1980/81, providing an early voice for the plight of lesbian mothers, who had faced oppressive heteronormative forces in their fight for rights to custody of their children. Alison Lyssa’s words are powerful and devastating. With the passage of time, her feminist point of view as expressed in the play may resonate differently from original intentions, but her depiction of misogyny and homophobia in Western and Christian societal structures remains accurate, scathing and raw.

Sarah Vickery’s direction, like the pinball, brings colour, movement, bells and whistles to the work, effectively preventing the play from lingering too much in dark and dour territory. There is however an unevenness and disunity in acting styles, which results in confusion with storylines, and performers detracting from each other’s work. Karoline O’Sullivan plays melodrama well and excels with a sense of fragility and earnestness, but without the appropriate support from the rest of the production, her performance seems off-kilter. John Michael Burdon works extremely hard in all of his five roles, and is delightful in scenes that require his assertive flamboyance, but less effective when restraint is needed.

Pinball machines are frustrating. They deny your will and go where they wish, despite all your attempts at imposing control over their journeys. This is also true of revolutionary politics and art. Feminism and queer politics seek to destabilise and correct the failings of our status quo, and theatre has the responsibility to challenge and advance conventions when things become too cosy and predictable. Sometimes it’s just not about you liking it.

5 Questions with Major Scales

majorscalesWhat is your favourite swear word?
I don’t use swear words, just the words around them (Son of a *** / Mother ***).

What are you wearing?
I’m relaxing at home in my smoking jacket and pince-nez.

What is love?
Love is never having to say “You’re wearing THAT?”

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
4 stars to the man on the street who swallowed a balloon whole. 5 stars for getting it back out.

Is your new show going to be any good?
That’s for history to decide.

Major Scales is appearing in The Vaudevillians, part of the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras 2014 festival.
Show dates: 18 Feb – 2 Mar, 2013
Show venue: The Vanguard

5 Questions with Jinkx Monsoon

jinkxmonsoonWhat is your favourite swear word?
Not to be too on the nose, but I would have to say shit.

What are you wearing?
Three girdles, five pairs of tights and Opera gloves.

What is love?
I wish I knew.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
Briefs. 5 out of 5. It has everything I love in a circus show, plus ten times more man butt.

Is your new show going to be any good?
That’s for history to decide.


Jinkx Monsoon is appearing in The Vaudevillians, part of the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras 2014 festival.
Show dates: 18 Feb – 2 Mar, 2013
Show venue: The Vanguard
Image by Jose A. Guzman Colon

5 Questions with Ben Hall

benhallWhat is your favourite swear word?
Oh! Fuck wank bugger shitting arse head and hole! Courtesy of Bill Nighy.

What are you wearing?
A smile. Because I worked out how to avoid answering this question.

What is love?
A decision.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
Cyrano De Bergerac by the Sport for Jove Theatre Company out in the Blue Mountains. Five Stars. I have two methods for a good show 1. when I’m not critiquing every scene and 2. I don’t check my phone. Didn’t do either. Was easily one of the funniest plays I have seen in years and set that against the mountain backdrop, you don’t even notice that the sun has set behind you.

Is your new show going to be any good?
Put it this way it has a cast including Katrina Retallick and Margi Diferranti (that alone should get you in the door), a lyric that will have you laughing hysterically and crying in the same number, plus Tamlyn Henderson and I boxing half naked which then turns into passionate lovemaking… and that’s just the 3rd number.

Ben Hall is appearing in Falsettos, from Darlinghurst Theatre Company’s 2014 season and part of the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras 2014 festival.
Show dates: 7 Feb – 16 Mar, 2014
Show venue: Eternity Playhouse