Review: Little Miss Sunshine (New Theatre)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Nov 12 – Dec 14, 2019
Book: James Lapine
Music & Lyrics: William Finn
Director: Deborah Jones
Cast: Kiera Dzeparoski, Sarah Furnari, Aneke Golowenko, Martin Grelis, John Grinston, Ellacoco Hammer McIver, Gavin Leahy, Christopher O’Shea, Fiona Pearson, Julian Ramundi, Grace Ryan, Adam van den Bok
Images by Bob Seary

Theatre review
Olive dreams of winning the Miss America beauty contest one day but is for now, more than happy competing in child pageants. When she qualifies for a prestigious event 800 miles away, the Hoover family finds itself in the tight quarters of a mini bus, travelling together and living in each other’s pockets, on the road for two days. A musical version of the 2006 film, Little Miss Sunshine is about kinship, and the dreams of regular folk. It is a work replete with pathos and tenderness, a bittersweet comedy that can touch the hardest of hearts.

Director Deborah Jones infuses the production with a charming quirkiness that endears us to all of its characters. Beautifully lit by Michael Schell, against a whimsical set by David Marshall-Martin, which includes a truly delightful interpretation of the famed vintage Volkswagen, as seen at the movies. Musical direction by Laura Heuston makes good use of a three piece band to convey a swathe of emotions, for a show best consumed with generous doses of sentimentality.

An impressive level of conviction is demonstrated by the cast, memorable also for a sense of cohesion they bring to this story about the ordinary American family. Young Olive is played by Kiera Dzeparoski, whose effervescence provides persuasive driving force for the narrative. As mother Sheryl, Fiona Pearson’s astonishing singing voice delivers the most enjoyable moments of Little Miss Sunshine. John Grinston is very funny as Grandpa, with an irrepressible zest for life that gives heart and soul to the staging. Equally hilarious is Sarah Furnari, strong in all three of her roles, making us laugh heartily with each of her appearances.

It often seems that life is determined to beat us down, as though it knows the potency of our resilience. When we first meet the Hoover family, its members are at varying degrees of failure, with several personalities close to giving up. It is true that having loved ones as support, can help us weather difficulties of all kinds, but for those less fortunate, the human spirit must not be underestimated. Some live without families, and some even have to live without love, but there is always a way out, no matter how hard it may get.

www.newtheatre.org.au

5 Questions with Kiera Dzeparoski and Christoper O’Shea

Kiera Dzeparoski

Christopher O’Shea: Seeing as you have an older brother in both the musical and real life, what is the difference between Olive’s relationship with Dwayne, and yours with your brother, or what are the similarities?
Kiera Dzeparoski: Olive and Dwayne have such a strong bond which can definitely be seen throughout the show. Olive really depends on Dwayne as she looks up to him. This is definitely a shared quality with Dwayne and my brother in real life as I look up to him and depend on him if I ever need help with anything. The only difference between my brother and Dwayne is probably that my brother is more outgoing and willing to go and play a couple of rounds of basketball or soccer with me, which I think is something Dwayne might not enjoy doing. Dwayne’s more the type of guy to sit down and read Nietzsche 😊.

If you could perform in one show for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?
If I could perform in one show for the rest of my life, it would have to be really funny, entertaining and have lots of plot twists. There are definitely heaps of shows I could pick from but if I had to choose one it would have to be Stranger Things. It’s such an incredible tv series that keeps me on the edge of my seat and is filled with such amazing actors.

What parts of Olive can you see in yourself?
Olive and I share a lot of personality traits such as being kind, unique, outgoing, bright, energetic and very bubbly. The only thing that is very different between Olive and myself is our sense of style. Olive’s sense of style is very out there, her ideal wardrobe would be full of bright colors, baggy pants and t-shirts and heaps of hand me downs that don’t necessarily fit well.

The Hoovers go through some pretty crazy stuff throughout the musical, what is your favourite moment of the musical if you have one?
The Hoover family is definitively a very unlucky family who encounter lots of bizarre moments throughout the musical, but I really enjoy every moment of it! My favourite scene in the musical is the pageant. Its full of so many comedic moments which always make me laugh, I particularly enjoy the first part of the pageant when they introduce the contestant that will be competing for the title of Little Miss Sunshine.

What would make you want to travel across the country stuck in a bus with your family?
The thing that would make me want to travel across the country in a bus stuck with my family, would have to be really big and exciting like watching heaps of musicals each night and to be able to stay in a beautiful resort along the beach, so I could do yoga on the soft sand. It would definitely have to be a long vacation to add up for the hours I spent in the bus!

Christopher O’Shea

Kiera Dzeparoski: Which character from the Hoover family does Dwayne have the worst relationship with?
Christopher O’Shea: I think Dwayne has lots of issues with both his parents, however he finds his dad pretty ridiculous, Dwayne is quite nihilistic and keeps to himself, and feels like his father pushes so much ‘meaningless positivity’ towards him. This makes them clash, as Dwayne would just rather be left alone.

If all family members except for Olive where to enter a beauty pageant, who would win?
I think definitely uncle Frank, during the show he genuinely enjoys the beauty pageant, and it seems like he would get up there and participate at the drop of a hat.

If you won $100 000, what would you spend it on?
I would love to get a new car, one that would last me for a long long time, something new, with one of those reverse cameras, as I’m terrible at parallel parking. In a cool bright colour like a pink or yellow.

Which animal would you have as a pet if you could have any animal in the world?
I currently have a dog, she’s pretty great, however, I think it would be pretty cool to have a monkey/chimp, could try teach it sign language! Can you imagine actually communicating with your pet??!

If you could be friends with any fictional character, who would it be and why?
Oh gosh, so many to choose from, I guess I would have to choose the Genie from Aladdin, then I get three wishes, which is awesome, and he also just seems generally fun and exciting to be around.

Kiera Dzeparoski and Christoper O’Shea can be seen in Little Miss Sunshine, the musical.
Dates: 12 Nov – 14 Dec, 2019
Venue: New Theatre

Review: The Angry Brigade (New Theatre)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Oct 1 – Nov 2, 2019
Playwright: James Graham
Director: Alex Bryant-Smith
Cast: Benjamin Balte, Will Bartolo, Sonya Kerr, Nicholas Papademetriou, Kelly Robinson, Davey Seagle, Madeleine Withington
Images by Bob Seary

Theatre review
John Barker, Hilary Creek, Jim Greenfield and Anna Mendelssohn were sentenced to ten years’ jail for carrying out a series of bombings in London, in the early 70’s. They were home-grown terrorists, university degree holders with a self-righteous streak that had clearly gone out of control. Playwright James Graham completed The Angry Brigade in 2014, at a time when terrorism is routinely presented as a phenomenon akin to foreign invasion, used by politicians and the media to capitalise on our penchant for racial prejudice.

The play demonstrates that it is far more likely to be the disenfranchised within our communities who are drawn to such extremities, that the root of these problems are well within our own purview, and much less likely to emanate from an outside enemy that can only be controlled with further violence. The way our patriarchal capitalistic societies are currently structured, necessitates that a portion of us must face disadvantage, in order that all our hierarchical systems can function. We observe the anarchic activity of The Angry Brigade with a degree of empathy, and although unlikely to agree with their radical methods, their grievances about the Western world, so wonderfully articulated by Graham, are certainly persuasive.

A wonderful passion is introduced by director Alex Bryant-Smith, who assembles a production replete with humour as well as a sense of political urgency. Set design by Sallyanne Facer manufactures distinct spaces for the two acts, each of them evocative and efficient. Lights by Michael Schell add dramatic flourish to the staging, and Glenn Braithwaithe’s work on sound ensures tension is appropriately calibrated from one scene to another.

Strong performances by a well rehearsed team keep us fascinated and invested in this true crime story, where meaningful breaking of rules lead to indefensible ethical violations. Davey Seagle leaves a remarkable impression with his actorly intensity for the dual roles of Smith and John, brought to life with wit and vigour. Madeleine Withington brings emotional authenticity to the pivotal part of Anna, deftly delivering a narrative climax that packs a punch. Benjamin Balte and Sonya Kerr play the remaining transgressors, both able to generate moments of brilliance that have us captivated. A range of smaller roles are shared by Will Bartolo, Nicholas Papademetriou and Kelly Robinson, all accomplished with admirable style and imagination.

Like many things that are dangerous, anarchy can be useful in small doses. It is undeniable that some of what has been institutionalised, would be better off demolished, and in these instances, a hint of nihilistic chaos could help instigate change. Revolutions occur because they are necessary but it is unimaginable that shifts in power can ever happen without conflict and disorder, although violence should always be regarded as preventable. Anarchy can be looked upon as a transitory concept, a methodology for those who have nothing to lose, to rise up and demand for improved conditions, even when they do not have all the answers close at hand.

www.newtheatre.org.au

5 Questions with Sonya Kerr and Madeleine Withington

Sonya Kerr

Madeleine Withington: What are you loving right now? Why?
Sonya Kerr: So many things!! Rewatching old favourite shows, trying out new recipes, working on The Angry Brigade with such an awesome cast! Haha. I’m a busy person so right now I’m actually really loving spending the small amount of time I have free hanging out with my husband.

What will always make you belly laugh? 
Monty Python. I grew up watching them and no matter how many times I’ve watched Flying Circus or any of the films I still laugh like it’s the first time. The Two Ronnies also makes me laugh ridiculously hard.

Has doing this play changed or shifted your beliefs/philosophies in any way?
I don’t think it’s changed my beliefs but it has certainly made me see how anarchy can be attractive. When you feel like the system is built against you, it certainly seems like smashing against that system is the only option. I’m a big believer in the power of protest and of the people, so I think if I was around in the 70s in London I definitely would have been a supporter of The Brigade.

Does anger come easily to you?
Not really. I get disappointed, especially in relation to politics. Irritation comes easily. Lots of things irritate me, but true anger? It takes a lot for me to get really angry. I honestly can’t remember that last time I was angry. I think I’d be a member of the Mildly Irritated Brigade.

Does violence solve anything?
That’s such a hard question! While I do believe that violence begets violence, situations occur when violence is the only effective response. From something as simple as self defence to something as complex as a world war, I think the best I can say is that we should avoid violence whenever we can and exercise restraint whenever we cannot. 

Madeleine Withington

Sonya Kerr: What makes you angry?
Madeleine Withington: So many things. I get angry a bit too easily, I feel. There are things that are worth my anger and there are things that aren’t. I’m still learning to tell the difference. Injustice gets me, when people are disrepectful, if someone does something to hurt someone I love. I get angry at the media, and the politicians, and Australia in general, very often. Capitalism. That gets me furious. The kyriarchy. That’s a bit general, but it is probably best not to turn this into a dissertation. I got mad at the Angry Birds 2 film recently. I haven’t seen it. Just that it exists. See? Still learning. There’s so many things, I honestly don’t know if I can go into them all. 

Do you believe in the power of protesting?
Yes I do. Even outside of creating change at a structural level, I think it can be very important in showing people that they aren’t alone. At the climate strike that was the feeling I had. After months and months of crumbling internally, to show up to thousands of people demanding change together, it definitely made me teary. It was weirdly nourishing? And definitely made me eager for more action on a personal level, rather than encouraging complacency. I think in that sense particularly, protest can be crucial.

What do you hope audiences will get from The Angry Brigade?
Hope and fury. Momentum. An impulse to examine their convictions? Questions for themselves. I really hope that people come away feeling a little bit uncomfortable, like there is something in the corner of their vision they don’t really want to look at, and that they then work up the courage to look at it directly. Does that make sense? If someone came out and said they weren’t sure how to feel, I’d be happy with that I think.

What brings you joy?
Again, so many things! I guess that’s a good balance? Working, I love working. I feel very joyful onstage. My partner. Drinking coffee with my partner on the weekend in our flat. My friends. My friends are incredible. Playing pool badly and having a beer and talking absolute nonsense. Writing. Being underwater, I love being underwater. Animals, any animals at all, they’re all hilarious, except for moths, not a fan of moths. Terry Pratchett books. Music. My family. Showers. Oh god, hot showers. Shower oranges. If you know, you know. I have reasonably simple joys I guess.

You play the role of Anna in The Angry Brigade. Do you identify with anything in her personality or politics? 
Yes, quite a lot actually. It was her who initially drew me to the play. She is going through this very human thing of trying to align her ideas of what should be, with what “the soft animal” of her body wants. I think if you are someone who is at all given to introspection, that that is a very recognisable feeling. She also keeps questioning what “real” is, trying to keep her ideas free of influence. I mean that’s fighting a losing battle, but again, relatable. Also, destroy capitalism. The system is broken. I think Anna would be on board with that.

Sonya Kerr and Madeleine Withington can be seen in The Angry Brigade, by James Graham.
Dates: 1 Oct – 2 Nov, 2019
Venue: New Theatre

Review: Doctor Shopping / In The Bag (Cobbstar Productions)

Venue: Cobbstar Productions (Paddington NSW), Sep 11 – 22, 2019
Playwright: Shaun Angus Hall

Doctor Shopping
Director: Tamara Cook
Cast: Patrick James, Rory O’Keeffe, Monica Sayers, Kristian Schmid

In The Bag
Director: Brian Cobb
Cast: Angela Elphick, Michael Kotsohilis, Giuseppe Rotondella, Lukey Timmins
Theatre review
The late Shaun Angus Hall was only in his twenties when he wrote these two plays in the 90s. Both very broad comedies with intentions only to entertain, they bear a sensibility that seems dated now, as we go through an era of hypersensitivity in relation to issues of race, misogyny and homophobia, but Hall’s proficiency with dialogue remains evident.

Doctor Shopping takes place mainly in a living room with four people who do nothing but abuse prescription drugs, while action in In The Bag happens at the race course, with goofy men gambling big bucks to dire results. Well crafted, but lacking in sophistication, these are plays with a specific appeal, that will prove very popular with the right crowd.

Direction for both shows prove accomplished. Tamara Cook gives Doctor Shopping an enjoyable playfulness, notable for her non-judgemental representation of addiction. Brian Cobb embellishes every moment of In The Bag with an overt humour, delivering robust energy from start to end.

Each story features four performers, all of whom are focused and enthusiastic; the quality of acting is an unequivocal highlight of the event. Kristian Schmid demonstrates excellent range as Ferris in Doctor Shopping, able to convey the light and dark of his character with ease. Giuseppe Rotondella’s strong presence as Angus provides In The Bag with a reliable anchor, and Angela Elphick’s multiple roles too are memorable, each one distinct and confident.

Some words seem to move with the times, but others can feel like relics. The nature of theatre allows old writing to be revived, and when necessary, it provides the opportunity for obsolete ideas to find relevance in a different era. Audiences however, can be stuck in the past, whether nostalgic or simply traditional. Theatre too, can decide whether to progress, or to ignore the future.

www.cobbstarproductions.com

Review: Trojan Barbie (New Theatre)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Sep 16 – 21, 2019
Playwright: Christine Evans
Director: Maddison Huber
Cast: Anthea Agoratsios, Sophie Avellino, Deng Deng, Sam Flack, Cathy Friend, Tristen Knox, Anjelica Murdaca, Taleece Paki, Lisa Robinson, Shannon Rossiter, Amy Sole, Kristelle Zibara

Theatre review
An homage to Euripides’ The Trojan Women, Christine Evans’ 2009 play Trojan Barbie places focus on legendary women of the Trojan War. Modern day tourist Lotte, who restores dolls in her normal life, is flung back to ancient times, where she is trapped in a women’s camp, witnessing the atrocities of war. Evans’ work is suitably tragic, but also surprisingly humorous in many of its early scenes. Familiar characters are rendered with a contemporary sensibility, allowing us to relate better to their stories, and to keep us amused.

Time travel aspects are not always presented effectively in the production, leaving us confused at several points, but director Maddison Huber ensures that each personality we encounter in her show, is distinct and memorable. Actor Lisa Robinson demonstrates strong comic abilities as Lotte, adept at delivering laughs even in the midst of battleground horrors. Kristelle Zibara is a convincing Hecuba, intense with the sorrow her maternal role is charged to convey. Sophie Avellino and Cathy Friend take on different kinds of madness, for Helen and Cassandra respectively, both performers bringing appropriate flamboyance to invigorate the stage. The show succeeds at dramatic moments of catastrophe, but when the action calls for a gentler touch, its lack of nuance can make for a less than satisfying experience.

A Chinese proverb says that women hold up half the sky. Even as men insist on occupying positions of power, we are always required to be on hand to pick up the pieces, whenever they bring degradation and destruction to the world. It is important that we look beyond how things currently operate, and commit to working towards a new system that does not simply replace men with women. These hierarchical modes of organising society have proven to be severely deficient, no matter who sits on top of the pile. If we want to ensure that nobody loses, it must mean that old ways of thinking about success, about winning, must be radically eliminated.

www.facebook.com/Scribe-Theatre

Review: The Becoming (New Theatre)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Sep 15 – 20, 2019
Playwright: Katie Pollock
Director: Brett Heath
Cast: Alison Benstead, Jo Goddard, Ben Hanly, Patrick Holman, Sarah Maguire, Paul Wilson

Theatre review
Greta and Gregor are rich kids from the eastern suburbs of Sydney, both going through significant transformation, as a response to the world’s current state of tumult. Katie Pollock’s The Becoming can be seen as a coming-of-age tale, but is more likely to be taken as commentary on the sociopolitical mess we are experiencing today. We see Greta deciding to be a nicer person, whilst Gregor turns angry and militant; it is as though one environment has bred two extremists on either ends of a spectrum, both of which the play presents as ineffectual and regrettable. It is an amusing context that Pollock has located, inspired by Franz Kafka, and obviously pertinent with its thematic concerns. As a work of absurdist comedy however, its characters never really depart sufficiently from the mundane, with a sense of humour that is probably too subdued.

Directed by Brett Heath, the show is thankfully raucous in atmosphere, although the players never really attain a level of authenticity that would allow its ideas to resonate. Each role is approached with an enjoyable sense of theatricality, but we struggle to connect with anything meaningful even if the text does point to matters contemporary and troubling. Sarah Maguire’s indefatigable ebullience as Greta helps sustain our attention, and Patrick Holman is suitably offbeat as the misguided Gregor, particularly noteworthy for his performance of live drums that prove to be a rousing and sophisticated touch.

It is true that so much of what we observe to be happening in society, can be infuriating. Greta and Gregor may have found radical ways to express their dissatisfaction, but they achieve nothing, other than to escape that dreadful sense of helplessness when one is crippled with inaction. When the system is broken, those of us who are more intrepid, like the siblings in The Becoming, might be moved to try for solutions, but it is revealing that the two do not confer, choosing instead to operate independently even though they live under the same roof, and share the same blood. They are unable to listen to the other, each so certain of their own beliefs. Watching the collapse of this kinship, of humans failing to connect, it becomes unsurprising that disaster should unfold.

www.newtheatre.org.au