Review: There Will Be A Climax (Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Jan 9 – Feb 3, 2018
Playwright: Alexander Berlage and The Company
Director: Alexander Berlage
Cast: Toby Blome, Oliver Crump, Duncan Ragg, Geneva Schofield, Alex Stylianou, Contessa Treffone
Image by Robert Catto

Theatre review
Six clowns in tuxedos are on a constantly revolving stage, wordless but full of shenanigans. We can be certain that Alexander Berlage’s There Will Be A Climax has a strong inner logic. It is abundantly clear that the ensemble knows exactly what they are doing at every moment. What it all means to the viewer however, is quite a different matter.

We can interpret the show to be a meditation on the process of attaining zen, but to approach the production with excessive intellectual interest would probably disappoint. The show is either very funny or curiously macabre, depending on one’s own constitution.

It is a visceral experience, extremely energetic, often impressive with its inventiveness, although with a tendency for monotony in its dogged pursuit for amusement. A more daring approach to lighting would deliver a less predictable outcome, but it is has to be noted that Nicholas Fry’s work on set and costume design is beautifully imagined and cleverly executed.

The cast is a wacky bunch, and very crowd-pleasing; some actors seem more interesting than others, but the team’s ability to share limelight is admirable. There is a lot of trust and generosity amongst the six that gives the show an extraordinary sense of balance and sturdy confidence.

Much of the enjoyment relies on the uncompromising precision being performed, and we feel our attention being manipulated with great rigour, by something incredibly well-rehearsed, but for all its boisterousness, too little of There Will Be A Climax is left to chance. Its artistry, although wonderfully exuberant, can feel too safe. At the theatre, wildness contained, is misplaced politeness. The crowd has been persuaded to listen, but more needs to be said.

www.redlineproductions.com.au

Review: The Olympians (NIDA)

nidaVenue: NIDA Parade Theatres (Kensington NSW), June 11 – 18, 2016
Playwright: Stephen Sewell
Director: Jeff Janisheski
Cast: Saxon Blackett, Callan Colley, Laura Djanegara, Megan Hind, Imogen Morgan, Wil Ridley, Louis Seguier, Emele Ugavule, Ross Walker

Theatre review
We take sport very seriously in Australia. Billions of dollars have been generated from the industry, and countless personalities have attained national iconic status over the years. Stephen Sewell’s The Olympians attempts to deconstruct the sporting hero, with a story set in the Olympic village of the 2016 Rio games. It is a piece of writing highly critical of sporting and popular culture, using a narrative about a fallen star lost in sex and drugs, appealing to the same need in our audienceship that keeps tabloid journalism in business. Its characters are familiar but caricatured, and although hugely ambitious in scope, the play would probably be more effective if scaled down to its simple essence. Greek tragedy meets television realism in The Olympians for a curious exploration of dramatic form, but the play would make a stronger point if its many subtexts are trimmed down to a more succinct articulation of its thoughtful message.

Direction by Jeff Janiesheski is equally adventurous and imaginative with its approach. The very generously sized stage poses a challenge that Janiesheski responds by delivering amplified theatrical expressions for every scene, resulting in a work that can often feel too obvious with how it chooses to communicate, leaving little room for nuance or irony. The production’s humour is rarely effective but energy from a tireless cast and vigorous lighting effects by Ross Graham help retain our attention. Lead actor Wil Ridley shows good precision and discipline as the dishonoured Porter, especially proficient in some of the play’s more heightened sequences of sentimentality. Imogen Morgan is memorable as Jess, a bimbo type who encounters the goddess Aphrodite. Morgan’s ability to convey consistent authenticity in her role sets her apart in a group that seems to work more intently on exterior presentations than on emotional efficacy and psychological believability.

In an arena where individuals are ruthlessly pitted against each other, the sporting field allows only one winner at a time. Perhaps it is the idea of making concrete the abstract concept of “the best” that gives sport an allure that art has been unable to compete with. Awards are given out in artistic communities the world over, but there is nothing definitive about the good and bad in art, and certainly, the judgements we may bestow upon them are almost never more than irrelevant privileged perspective. People are drawn to the certainties of sport, and the creation of winners and losers in its equations. The nature of art resists that singular objectivity. Great art dismantles systems of segregation and exclusion to speak with universality as though at the Olympics, except all are to emerge victorious.

www.nida.edu.au

Review: Bring It On (Supply Evolution)

bringitonVenue: NIDA Parade Theatres (Sydney NSW), June 27 – July 9, 2015
Music: Tom Kitt, Lin-Manuel Miranda
Lyrics: Amanda Green, Lin-Manuel Miranda
Libretto: Jeff Whitty
Director: Rod Herbert
Choreographers: Melissa McKenzie, Tracey Rasmussen
Cast: Isaac Bradley, Sophie Carol, Jaime Hadwen, Justin Hitchcock, Kat Hoyos, Timothy Langan, Alexandra Lewtas, Henry Moss, Ashley Power, Kirsty Sturgess, Temujin Tera, Jessica Van Wyk, Nicole Vella,

Theatre review
Cashing in on the success of the 2000 film, the Bring It On musical first premièred in the USA in 2011. The work retains characters and dramatics of the original, but unlike the film soundtrack, which featured a best-selling collection of memorable songs, compositions for the stage version are never quite as catchy. Its writing feels generic, almost paint-by-numbers, obviously created for the Broadway stage where it had played for less than half a year.

Direction for this Sydney production is similarly predictable. Rod Herbert puts effort into getting things right, with a desire to emulate a certain idea of conventional musical theatre, rather than focussing on real moments on stage that could develop personalities and relationships for us to become engaged with. There is a lot of hullabaloo, but very little magic, with performances that often look like play-acting that never go beyond the surface, and a humour that is rarely effective beyond the plainly cheesy context. On a brighter note, the show is well-rehearsed. Except for several instances of cheer stunts not achieving their target, the cast always seems energetic and in confident stride.

The role of Danielle is played by Kat Hoyos, whose presence is strongest in the very large cast, and who comes closest to a performance that contains some quality of authenticity. Her vocals do not live up to the demanding material, but she looks and feels the part, and we believe the personal narrative she conveys. Male members of the cast play smaller supporting roles, but Isaac Bradley, Temujin Tera and Henry Moss bring flashes of sparkle to the stage with their respective solos. Bradley and Tera impress with their rap sequences in the opening of Act Two, and Moss belts out convincing notes in his several show stoppers. Also a very big voice is leading lady Alex Lewtas, who sings her numbers well, but we never quite believe the Campbell she portrays. Her approach is too simplistic, with more than a hint of Disney, and the important elements of duplicity and sinisterness that accompany her saccharine sweetness fail to take hold.

Scenic design is too understated for a brash work like Bring It On, but Benjamin Brockman’s lights are a good effort at making up for its shortfalls. Brockman’s work is key to the depiction of time and scene transitions, and he provides surprise, emotion and an overall glossiness, to a staging that can easily turn hollow. It is to the production’s great credit that a live band is utilised for the performance, but sound design is inconsistent, and the show never quite affects us with sufficient power, on a sonic level.

No matter how formulaic a creation, tales of the underdog can always move an audience. We want the small guy with the big heart to come out on top, because it is easy to identify with the ones who struggle. This musical aims high but does not reach far enough. Ambition should not be discouraged, and there is no room in the arts for the tall poppy syndrome. The sky is the limit, and the only way for all, is up.

www.bringitonthemusical.com.au

5 Questions with Garry Stewart

garrystewartWhat is your favourite swear word?
Gosh!

What are you wearing?
Billions of bacteria and a few grams of body hair.

What is love?
A complex neurochemical and hormonal process.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
Hofesh Shechter’s Sun. I don’t believe in a rating system for art.

Is your new show going to be any good?
You be the judge.

 

 

Garry Stewart’s new work Choreography, presented as part of NIDA Student Productions.
Show dates: 21 – 28 Oct, 2014
Show venue: Carriageworks

5 Questions with Stephen Sewell

stephensewellWhat is your favourite swear word?
“Abbott”, as in “holy Abbott!!” or “what the Abbott??!!” somehow it just seems to suit the times.

What are you wearing?
Nothing. What are you wearing?

What is love?
A good reason to stay on the diet.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
Hamlet – 11

Is your new show going to be any good?
I believe we’ll all be sent to jail, it’s so good.

 

 

Stephen Sewell is playwright for Kandahar Gate, presented as part of NIDA Student Productions 2014.
Show dates: 17 – 24 Jun, 2014
Show venue: NIDA Parade Theatres