Review: Once In Royal David’s City (New Theatre)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Mar 19 – Apr 13, 2019
Playwright: Michael Gow
Director: Patrick Howard
Cast: Alana Birtles, Ben Brighton, Amy Victoria Brooks, Sandra Campbell, Nathalie Fenwick, Nicholas Foustellis, Angela Johnston, Alice Livingstone,
Aimee Lodge, Francisco Lopez, Martin Portus, Bryden White-Tuohey
Images by Bob Seary

Theatre review
Will is on the verge of beginning a new job, just as his mother coincidentally lays dying in hospital. It is a new life that beckons, and with all the emotions that should feel overwhelming, Will retreats into a lot of academia, as is typical of theatre directors and educationalists. He spends his time thinking about Marx and Brecht, dealing with ideas of resource ownership and distanciation; not quite preparing for the period of mourning that is sure to come. Michael Gow’s Once In Royal David’s City is a piece of writing perhaps not entirely interested in coherence, allowing itself to move in various directions, almost defying our need to condense its contents into a more conventional narrative form.

Patrick Howard’s direction reveals with honesty, the often contradictory states of being human. Will never quite behaves the way we expect him to, yet there is nothing unbelievable about how he goes about his business. There are some hallmarks of Brechtian theatre in the presentation, although those expressions can seem perfunctory. It is a handsome looking show, put together with excellent taste by production and lighting designer Victor Kalka, and costume associate Luciana Nguyen. Their minimalist style suits the bluntness of Gow’s writing, unpretentious but elegant.

Actor Francisco Lopez brings an unassuming geniality to the lead role, effective in monologues that allow him to directly address the audience, but too mellow in contrast with scene partners. More compelling performances come from the likes of Sandra Campbell, whose commanding presence in several small parts proves refreshing. Amy Victoria Brooks too, is memorable as Gail, an anguished soul roaming the hospital, in search of connection and consolation. Will’s mother Jeannie is played by Alice Livingstone, ironically lively, able to bring verve to a character that is otherwise written with little originality.

To love books is in some ways better than loving people. Books can be crafted to perfection, and we as readers can hold dear, words and ideas that we deem to be impeccably arranged. To love humans however, is quite another thing. Not only are we deeply flawed, we are transient, destined to break hearts wherever bonds are created. Death and impermanence, however are the ultimate provocation, intensifying all the sensations that define love. The heart wants what the heart wants. Mortal or immortal, it is hardly up to us to choose for whom we fall.

www.newtheatre.org.au

Review: My Night With Reg (New Theatre)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Feb 5 – Mar 9, 2019
Playwright: Kevin Elyot
Director: Alice Livingstone
Cast: Michael Brindley, Steve Corner, Nick Curnow, James Gordon, Steven Ljubovic, John-Paul Santucci
Images by Bob Seary

Theatre review
In Kevin Elyot’s My Night With Reg, we meet a group of London gays, in the throes of the 1980s AIDS crisis. Just as a new post-Stonewall liberation had begun to inform the way these men were able to live, a dark period of oppression again descends upon them, threatening to quash any promise of a bright future for the community. The play portrays the intimate world of traumatised individuals, all suffering from the reverberations of a then mysterious killer disease, whilst demonstrating the undying vibrancy of an irrepressibly spirited band of brothers.

It is a sentimental piece, oddly apolitical, with an authenticity that today represents not just an enjoyable sense of nostalgia, but also provides opportunity for a valuable historical study of a society not long past. Elyot’s jokes are as funny as they would have been at their 1994 premiere, but his sorrowful expressions are less resonant, with the advent of significant medical advancement, so many years after the fact.

An endearing cast presents a heartfelt production, directed by Alice Livingstone who orchestrates an entertaining 95-minute exploration into queer identities, from the perspective of middle-class white gay communities of the time. Some of the acting is lacking in precision, and sensitive moments deflate as a result, but the show delivers sufficient poignancy for it to be an ultimately satisfying experience. Comedic roles in My Night With Reg leave the strongest impressions, with Steve Corner’s outrageously lascivious turn as Benny particularly delightful, diligently balanced with some very surprising vulnerability that proves affecting. Also memorable is Steven Ljubovic, whose quintessential rendering of cabin crew Daniel, is unapologetically camp, complete with one-liners that are simply irresistible.

There certainly are more relevant queer stories to tell for 2019, but to forget those who had fought hard for today’s freedoms, would be unconscionable. From living underground to nuptial vows, the journey for LGBTQI rights was (and in many other places, remains to be) long and arduous. My Night With Reg does not explicitly show external forces of subjugation, but the limitations and compromises to how we had lived, are clear. Having emerged triumphant, it is important that we know to value and to take advantage of these new liberties, and to revisit tales of our past, for a reminder of today’s privilege, is key.

www.newtheatre.org.au

Review: Ned (Plush Duck Productions)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Dec 18 – 22, 2018
Book: Anna Lyon, Marc McIntyre
Music & Lyrics: Adam Lyon
Director: Miranda Middleton
Cast: Erin Bogart, Denzel Bruhn, Rowan Brunt, Siobhan Clifford, Sinead Cristaudo, Lincoln Elliott, Martin Everett, Jacqui Greenfield, Jodie Harris, Rob Hartley, David Hov, Josh McElroy, Courtney Powell, Marcus Rivera, Georgia Rodgers , Carmel Rodrigues, Cypriana Singh, Guy Webster
Images by Shakira Wilson

Theatre review
For many Australians of European descent, the legend of Ned Kelly is a crucial element in the way identity is imagined. An outlaw with a heart of gold, the anti-authoritarian myth has helped create a notion of selfhood, that persists even in these days of bourgeois ubiquity. In the new musical Ned, old stories are resurrected once again, to reinforce ideals that are at once romantic and subversive, reflecting perhaps a longing for more innocent times, or simply to offer a reminder of the kind of people Australians have, for a long time, prided ourselves to be.

The work is in many ways derivative and predictable, with form and content both proving to be risk averse, for this Broadway-style biographical drama. There might be little that feels inventive, but its ambition is certainly laudable. Peter Rubie’s lighting design provides a sense of grandeur and polish, for captivating imagery that help elevate the simple tale. Conductor Hamish Stening puts passion into the music, keeping proceedings lively and entertaining.

Leading man Joshua McElroy is suitably moody as Ned Kelly, with an imposing physical presence that comfortably seizes the limelight. Jodie Harris is excellent as the hero’s mother Ellen, strong in voice and in personality, for a powerful characterisation of the early migrant woman. The cast is generally well-rehearsed, although choreography has a tendency to be unflattering and therefore distracting.

Ned Kelly keeps returning to our consciousness, because we have a fondness for thinking that he is a good representation of who we are. It is more likely however, that Kelly stands for values we wish to possess, but that we can no longer lay claim to. Over a century has past, and we are a world away from the rough and tumble of Van Diemen’s Land. In today’s highly materialistic existences, rebels are quashed, not by ideological compromises, but by the imperious might of money.

www.plushduckproductions.com.au

5 Questions with Marcus Rivera and Cypriana Singh

Marcus Rivera

Cypriana Singh: If you had to play another character in Ned who would it be and why?
Marcus Rivera: I’d be interested to play Fitzpatrick because I’m drawn to what you’d call the “villainous” character who, on the surface, won’t catch your attention, but as the story unfolds, you realise, was incredibly instrumental in the (tragic) fate of the lead. I also want to make Fitz even more sinister!

Has rehearsals and getting to know the Kelly story changed your opinion of the Kelly’s and Australian bush ranger folklore?
Absolutely. I think it’s fantastic that Hamish, Miranda and the team have taken on this momentous project because it will help more people realise the complexity of the Australian bushland stories of the past. I developed an appreciation for it for sure! Although I wonder how the story would have unfolded if Ned had a wifi and a million Instagram followers to share his story!

What is Superintendent Hares’ most endearing quality?
He’s a stickler for the rules and, unlike Fitzpatrick, has a lot of integrity. Okay, it’s a bit of a stretch to say he is the equivalent of Atticus Finch from To Kill A Mockingbird in trying to get to the truth but the audience will know what I mean when they watch one of the scenes I have with Fitzpatrick. I think he’s trying to act tough because he’s got a big job to do but deep inside, he’s a softie.

You’ve played a few villains in your career. Can you rank your previous roles from evil to most evil? Where does Hare rank?
Ohhh, I’d like to use the descriptions “had terrible role models” or “misunderstood” instead of straight up “evil” but Hare is up there with The Engineer, the ‘pimp’ role I played in Miss Saigon. He is above the ‘could have been evil’ role that I played in The King And I. I was the understudy for The Kralahome in that musical. As for Sweeny Todd, Hare was very much a square and very virtuous in the role that I played there.

If you could be any Disney Princess who would be and why?
I’d have to say Ariel. No other Disney princess can say they battled a villain who is half-woman, half-Octopus! Ariel was the ultimate outsider. She was half-fish for goodness sake! That’s some serious fairy tale ending there.

Cypriana Singh

Marcus Rivera: What is your favourite scene from Ned and why?
Cypriana Singh: Ned deals with difficult time in Australian history and there are a lot of ‘heavy’ plot points. I really enjoy the lighter moments in the show and the cast always has a lot of fun when we have the chance, but my favourite scene leans more toward the serious side. Maggie has a really fun moment with Constable Fitzpatrick, I won’t spoil anything but it involves flowers, potatoes and a knife.

How can the theatre community benefit from diversity?
The more diverse the stories, actors and creatives are on a project the more varied the perspectives are. Diversity makes theatre more accessible and inclusive of wider audiences. Art encourages empathy; diverse stories allow for relevant, interesting content while unifying the community through a shared experience.

If you could play a character in Game of Thrones, which character would you like to play?
I’d love to be Jon Snow; so handsome so likeable… but if we are being realistic in this casting process then I’d probably be one of the Sand Snakes or a White Walker.

Drama or comedy, pick one. Why.
Comedy. It’s good to laugh.

Favourite Broadway musical and why?
I can’t pick my favourite flavour of ice cream let alone my favourite musical. Today let’s go with a triple scoop cone of Bridges Of Madison County, The Light In The Piazza and Fiddler On The Roof.

Marcus Rivera and Cypriana Singh can be seen in Ned: A New Australian Musical.
Dates: 18 – 22 December, 2018
Venue: New Theatre

Review: Broadway Bound (New Theatre)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Nov 13 – Dec 15, 2018
Playwright: Neil Simon
Director: Rosane McNamara
Cast: Les Asmussen, Patrick Holman, Brett Heath, Suzann James, Susan Jordan, Simon Lee
Images by Chris Lundie

Theatre review
Brothers Eugene and Stanley are comedy writers on the brink of commercial success, close to leaving home for the bright lights of New York City. Their parents’ marriage however, is disintegrating, and in Neil Simon’s Broadway Bound we see members of the Jerome family growing up, including Kate and Jack, who have to come to terms with major transformations taking place in their mature years. The semi-autobiographical play provides a glimpse of America in the middle of last century, with all its post-war optimism and nostalgic charm, but the work has not aged well. Although written only in 1986, its humour already proves tired, and where its themes can seem timeless, the drama is unfortunately lacklustre.

Rosane McNamara’s direction does however, provide us with a prudent amount of theatrical vitality. There is little to be excited about in the writing, but onstage activity is determined to keep us engaged. Actor Simon Lee is especially animated with his performance as Stanley, providing a necessary vigour that wills us into sharing in his character’s idealism. The innocence of younger sibling Eugene is made convincing by wide-eyed Patrick Holman, who demonstrates himself a reliable anchor for the family’s increasingly unstable dynamics. Their long-suffering mother Kate, is elevated by Suzann James’ impressive capacity for nuance, in a rich portrayal that is remarkably well-observed and accurate.

We meet the Jeromes at a moment of chaos, when big changes are underway for each individual. The turmoil signals that life is in motion, that although stability is required for us to thrive, occasional upheaval is necessary, to prevent us from complacent stagnation. Age is only a number, but our mortality is inference that growth and progress are essential to the human experience. If everything stays the same, time bears little meaning. Whether one thinks of time as limited or abundant, there is no denying that to waste it, is an irrevocable blunder.

www.newtheatre.org.au

Review: What The Butler Saw (New Theatre)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Oct 2 – Nov 3, 2018
Playwright: Joe Orton
Director: Danielle Maas
Cast: Madeleine Carr, Jake Fryer-Hornsby, Andrew Guy, Martin Quinn, Ariadne Sgouros, Amrik Tumber
Images by Bob Seary

Theatre review
The play is set inside a psychiatrist’s clinic, with four doors facilitating the all too familiar frenzied parading of manic personalities, in this rowdy old-fashioned English farce. Joe Orton’s What The Butler Saw first appeared 1969 in London’s West End, presumably conceived to take the mickey out of fuddy duddy types, by placing mildly scandalising dialogue and activity at its centre, for what could now be thought of as a sort of relic of the swinging sixties. It involves experts and authorities being ridiculed, which is always a pertinent and gratifying function of the theatre, but a substantial reinvention of the hackneyed sex comedy genre would be required, if Orton’s work is to remain truly effective.

It is a handsome production, designed by Tobias Manderson-Galvin with lighting by Martin Kinnane, but director Danielle Maas’ efforts for something delirious and avidly hectic, often disintegrates into little more than a confusing wreck. It is however noteworthy that the show does deliver improved coherence in Act II, for those who are able to persist and return to the action post-intermission. There is no shortage of conviction from its cast (actor Amrik Tumber’s capacity for memorising some very long bizarre speeches is impressive), but their comedy feels forced, and attempts to outrage never reach anywhere far enough to provoke meaningful response.

Although muted and peculiarly tentative, semblances of an anarchic spirit can be detected in the show. Art practices are valuable when they find ways to shake us out of our mundane stupor, offering a wake up call to all that we forget to question. It can provide answers, or it can simply help us begin to examine things that are hitherto undisputed or axiomatic. What The Butler Saw wants to lift the lid on subjects like the medical establishment, law enforcement, gender constructs, traditional marriage, and (gasp), incest; all of which are worthy of exploration no doubt, but it seems that our apathy can be quite a formidable encumbrance to be coming up against.

www.newtheatre.org.au

Review: Uz: The Town (The Sydney Fringe)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Sep 17 – 22, 2018
Playwright: Gabriel Calderón (translated by Verónica Barac)
Director: Verónica Barac
Cast: Christie Aucamp-Schutte, Lily Balatincz, Joshua Morel, Cooper Mortlock, Daniel Pollock, Mau Salinas, Lucy Starita, Renae Valastro, Tiffany Wong
Images by Elizabeth Chua

Theatre review
It appears God has done it again. Grace, a Stepford wife type, is charged with the task of killing her own child. Just like Abraham’s celestial conversations all those centuries ago, Grace is a woman of faith who listens to everything that God orders, especially when his voice booms down from the heavens directly into her kitchen. Gabriel Calderón’s Uz: The Town is a subversive work, tackling issues around foolish pietism and the social hypocrisies that derive from religious beliefs. Its premise may seem a tad too familiar, but its humour is scintillating, and defiantly outrageous as it proceeds to demolish all that is held dear.

The production is appropriately hammy in style, with exaggerated performances helping to make the caustic dialogue slightly more palatable. Director Verónica Barac manufactures a wild and enjoyably chaotic energy for the piece, but some of the play’s more dangerous statements might require a clearer sense of irony to prevent misinterpretation. As Grace, actor Lily Balatincz is at her best when the character turns irredeemably maniacal. Her portrayal of religious fervour may not always be sufficiently nuanced, but the actor is certainly well-rehearsed and spirited with what she brings to the stage. Mau Salinas is memorable as Grace’s husband Jack, an absurd and grotesque figure that provides a touch of extravagance to the experience.

We can all have our own nonsensical preoccupations, in fact those are what give colour to the magnificence of life, but when we intrude upon each other’s freedoms, as we so often do, is when life turns dark. People know what it is like to be on the receiving end of transgressions, but we continue to inflict harm on others in spite of our better judgement. We recognise that Grace should know better, but we also understand the weakness that allows us to succumb, to the convenience of surrendering agency. Standing up for one’s own principles is hard, and sadly, many are incapable of it.

www.facebook.com/uzthetown/