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.

Review: Stalking The Bogeyman (Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), May 23 – Jun 23, 2018
Playwrights: David Holthouse, Markus Potter (additional writing by Santino Fontana, Shane Stones, Shane Ziegler)
Director: Neil Gooding
Cast: Noel Hodda, Radek Jonak, Deborah Jones, Graeme McRae, Alexander Palacio, Anne Tenney
Images by John Marmaras

Theatre review
David was raped at the age of seven. The damage that follows is unimaginable, and the vigilante action he plans to carry out is understandable, even if some of us will no doubt have misgivings about his intentions to kill. In Stalking The Bogeyman, we are not asked to pass judgement on David’s decisions, but to witness the repercussions of sexual assault, especially as it pertains to the very young. Incidents that take place over several minutes, cause reverberations that last a lifetime. We meet David 25 years after the fateful night, and his struggles are unabated.

With these extraordinary stakes at hand, the play is appropriately enthralling; we are desperate to see how the story concludes. Not only do we want to know, how and if the characters find resolution, it is important that we discover what it is, that our societies would consider to be the right thing to do. In the creation of this play, our values are placed under magnification, and we hope for it to tell us more about ourselves that we may not already know.

It is an engaging production, with Neil Gooding’s restrained direction keeping things concise and clear. Ideas in Stalking The Bogeyman are simple, and powerfully conveyed on this stage. Leading man Graeme McRae’s vulnerability as David is a vital component, that preserves our empathy comprehensively, through every step of the proceedings. The eponymous bogeyman is played by Radek Jonak, whose portrayal of malevolence is as impressive as the electrifying energy he introduces with each appearance.

The play ends on an abrupt, and perhaps anticlimactic note. The drama fizzles out, but as it is “based on a true story” we appreciate the honesty of its divulgements. It is true, that when disaster strikes, we are rarely able to procure redress or compensation that is ever going to be satisfactory. That which cannot be undone, requires that victims find ways, often radical in nature, to make their daily existences bearable. Many even more unfortunate, have suffered annihilating consequences. Another day will dawn, if only for battling the lingering shadows of yesterday.

5 Questions with Radek Jonak and Anne Tenney

Radek Jonak

Anne Tenney: You are a joy to have in the rehearsal room, endlessly entertaining and very funny, how did your teachers survive your school days, or, did they?
Radek Jonak: No teachers were harmed in the process! At school, I was actually quiet subdued, I was an overweight kid just blending in. When I get to know people then I relax and be myself.

When you first read Stalking The Bogeyman, what were your initial thoughts about the character, and have you played a similar role in your career to date?
Initial thought was, this guy is everything I stand against, as a human being. Never played a similar role, usually get cast as a cop or a criminal.

In one of your other lives you are a fitness instructor and personal trainer, so you mostly begin your day around 4 am, how do you work this in with a nightly performance schedule?
This will be the first time I will be doing it! Hope to get a lot of naps in.

If you won an all expenses paid trip to anywhere in the world where would you head off to?
Maldives, that island is slowly sinking, and it just looks amazing.

In your career, have you worked on any projects that have given you the opportunity to display your comedic talents?
With my mates, yes! Short films, web series etc. But professionally in a comedic role? No, never had the chance.

Anne Tenney

Radek Jonak: Watching you in this show, you bring along such ease and fun, when you are on stage. When was the first time you remember that you thought, I want to do this for a living?
Anne Tenney: Thank you, Radek. I was acting in a production of The Ballad Of The Sad Cafe during my NIDA years, and, such a beautiful, magical world had been created on the stage, atmospheric lighting etc, etc, it was one of those theatrical experiences where
everything came together. I felt at home , I was collaborating with a group of people all working towards the same end. And that was, to tell a story. So, I was bitten!

If you didn’t end up doing acting, what would have been your back up plan?
Still thinking about that one… Any back up plan I have flirted with inevitably has something to do with the arts, Painting (not houses), writing, so fairly impractical but would love to work with children, or the elderly, and that could be still on the cards.

Name three other actors (dead or alive) you would invite to have dinner with.
OK, first person that comes to mind is Judi Dench, then Deborah Mailman, and Ben Mendelsohn.

Your agent just rang and said, Anne you have been offered to do any part you like… what would it be?
Well, I am too old for her now, but I have always wanted to have a crack at playing Masha from Chekhov’s The Seagull, maybe something similarly comically mournful.

Cat or dog? Warm or cold? Day or night? Sweet or sour? Film or theatre? Skydive or bungee? Early riser or sleep in?
Well, I like them both, depending upon personality, but will say dog. Cold… warm if I can be immersed in cold water. Sour. Day. Film or theatre, mmmm, that’s a toughy, have to sit on the fence, and say a little bit of both. Skydive. ONLY if a gun was being held to my head . And definitely… an early riser.

Radek Jonak and Anne Tenney are appearing in Stalking The Bogeyman, by Markus Potter and David Holthouse.
Dates: 23 May – 23 Jun, 2018
Venue: Old Fitz Theatre

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: Truth, Beauty And A Picture Of You (Neil Gooding Productions)

hayestheatrecoVenue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), May 9 – Jun 1, 2014
Book: Alex Broun, Tim Freedman
Music: Tim Freedman
Lyrics: Tim Freedman
Director: Neil Gooding
Musical Director: Andrew Worboys
Cast: Ian Stenlake, Scott Irwin, Erica Lovell, Toby Francis, Ross Chisari

Theatre review
Opera and the stage musical are theatre genres with their own defined song structures. Music is written in a specific way so that the genre works. Tim Freedman’s songs were written not for the stage, but for the world of pop and rock. This “juke box” musical is formed with highlights of his recording career with The Whitlams, and it is debatable how well the selection stands up against compositions tailored for the genre, but there is no question that this premier production of Truth, Beauty And A Picture Of You is effective on many levels.

Freedman and Alex Broun have built around the songs, a story replete with nostalgia and sentimentality, ensuring an emotional experience that audiences expect of the format. Characters and lines are thoughtfully crafted, with scenes between songs sometimes leaving a greater impression than the musical numbers themselves. Neil Gooding’s direction utilises space limitations of the Hayes Theatre to his advantage, evoking wistfully, the grunge of the 1990s and of Newtown, where the action is set, but it should be said that visual design could benefit from being a little more adventurous. The incorporation of live musicians within the space is charming. Gooding allows them to be within sight, but they are never intrusive. Above all, Gooding is a sensitive storyteller. The plot unfolds beautifully, with surprise, laughter and pathos always in the mix. His cast is a strong one, and the conviction of their performances is impressively engrossing.

Ian Stenlake, in the role of Anton, unleashes remarkable charisma. He is not a heroic protagonist, but his confident presence captivates us, and makes us care for all that he goes through. Stenlake’s ability to portray frivolity and an Australian casualness is wonderfully endearing, and his comic timing is a highlight of the show. Scott Irwin plays Charlie, buoyant and optimistic in 1994, but wearied and dejected in 2014. His unbelievable transformation between both eras bears an authenticity that is astonishing. Irwin’s work is subtle but powerful. His depiction of the character’s darker moments are devastating, and it is this gravity that gives the production its soul.

Younger members of the cast might be slightly less accomplished, but their talents are evident. Their vocal abilities in particular are outstanding, and they bring new life to many of the songs. It is unfortunate that the only obvious technical weakness of the production has to do with the way voices are mixed, as the band tends to drown out some of the singing in the bigger numbers. Erica Lovell as Beatrice is delightful and spirited. She is the strongest actor in the young bunch, and turns a somewhat inconsequential character into a memorable one.

Truth, Beauty And A Picture Of You is a moving show about love in its many guises. It tugs at our heartstrings and touches deeply. Like every great musical, it is affecting and entertaining, and it presents an opportunity to showcase some of our greatest talents, in whom we find great joy and sublime inspiration. |

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: Sweet Charity (Luckiest Productions / Neil Gooding Productions)

rsz_sc_0005_bps4219Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), Feb 7 – Mar 9, 2014
Book: Neil Simon
Music: Cy Coleman
Lyrics: Dorothy Fields
Director: Dean Bryant
Choreography: Andrew Hallsworth
Musical Direction: Andrew Worboys
Actors: Verity Hunt-Ballard, Martin Crewes, Debora Krizak, Lisa Sontag

Theatre review
Bob Fosse directed and choreographed the iconic Sweet Charity, on stage and on film, in the late 1960s. The dance sequences are some of the most striking moving images ever seen, so one of the main challenges in staging the work today would be the treatment given to the re-creation of those scenes.

The current production at Hayes Theatre Co, helmed by director Dean Bryant and choreographer Andrew Hallsworth straddles between faithfulness and innovation. There is an acknowledgment that times and audiences have changed, but also an awareness that the immortal is a hard act to follow. Bryant’s adaptation uses the theatre’s spacial limitations to his advantage, and turns the work into an intimate and emotionally rich experience. There is a sense of things being scaled down, but for the most part, he achieves a good intensity on stage that results from the distillation of something conceptually grander. Hallsworth’s thankless task of re-interpreting Fosse’s choreography is surprisingly effective, even if the numbers “Hey Big Spender” and “Rich Man’s Frug” do leave us pining desperately for the film.

Visual elements are especially noteworthy. Ross Graham’s lighting is varied, dynamic and sensually appealing, providing the minimal set an aura of tragic beauty. It also gives logic to time and place, making the innumerable scene transitions happen flawlessly. Tim Chappel’s costumes and Ben Moir’s wigs are thoughtful and impactful without being overwhelming. They tell the story of the characters even before they begin to speak.

Martin Crewes plays a trio of Charity’s men, and delights with every role. The energy he brings to the stage is staggering, and he possesses a headstrong determination that is seductive and commanding. Crewes impresses with his powerful and creative song interpretations, and is responsible for both the funniest and saddest moments of the show in his role of Oscar. Debora Krizak shines as Nickie, one of the more jaded dance hall hostesses, and is easily the raunchiest and most colourful of characters. Krizak’s ability to portray earthiness and pathos is a real highlight. Verity Hunt-Ballard is the star of the show, with a vocal talent that makes Charity’s songs more meaningful than ever. The comic elements of the role are difficult (it’s not the funniest of scripts), but Hunt-Ballard is deeply moving at every tragic turn.

Sweet Charity can be thought of as pre-feminist. It constantly defines its women in terms of their relationships with men, and depicts their work in the adult industry as unquestionably pessimistic. All efforts are made for them to appear vivacious and intelligent, but their desires are left unexamined and unevolved. Unlike Fosse’s film, this production does not leave you with thoughts of glitz, glamour and glossy dance routines. Instead, it makes you ponder the big questions in our lives… and the meaning of love.

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.

5 Questions with Cole Escola

coleescolaWhat is your favourite swear word?

What are you wearing?
A tasteful bolero jacket made of recycled human flesh and a pair of wedge sandals from Jessica Simpson’s Payless collection. For makeup I chose a neutral lip color and coupled it with a smokey eye. Instead of blush or bronzer, I finished the look with a thick layer of battery acid to give it that “I just died in a car accident” effect. No pants.

What is love?
Full disclosure, I’ve never even heard that word before. Sorry, I guess we don’t have it in the states.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
The last show I saw was Waiting For Godot on Broadway starring Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart. I give it zero stars. Take that, McKellen!

Is your new show going to be any good?
I wish I could lie, but unfortunately the show is going to be extremely good. Honestly, it will be a transformative experience for everyone involved. We’re going to break down some walls and make some truly heartening discoveries. No pants.

Cole Escola is performing in Desperate Houseboys, part of the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras 2014 festival.
Show dates: 18 – 28 Feb, 2014
Show venue: Seymour Centre

5 Questions with Darren Mapes

darrennmapesWhat is your favourite swear word?
The “C” word. Anyone who is offended needs to play the c*nt game. I’ll teach you how to play over a couple of drinks 🙂

What are you wearing?
Bonds. I’m a simple guy.

What is love?
Sister Mary Bruno told me “God is Love” as she beat me with a ruler.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
Carrie the musical, 4. I’ve always wanted to have Kathy Bates over for dinner, but now I’ll just ask Margi de Ferranti instead, her performance was incredible.

Is your new show going to be any good?
It’s gonna be hilarious. The Golden Girls and puppets? How can you go wrong? 🙂

Darren Mapes is performing in Thank You For Being A Friend, part of the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras 2014 festival.
Show dates: 14 – 28 Feb, 2014
Show venue: Seymour Centre