Review: Avenue Q (Enmore Theatre)

avenueqVenue: Enmore Theatre (Newtown NSW), from Jul 2 – 18, 2015
Music and lyrics: Robert Lopez, Jeff Marx
Book: Jeff Whitty
Director: Jo Turner
Cast: Shauntelle Benjamin, Julia Dray, Kimberley Hodgson, Madeleine Jones, Owen Little, Matthew Predny, Nicholas Richard, Justin Smith, Riley Sutton, Rowena Vilar

Theatre review
On Avenue Q, everyone is struggling with the challenges of life, and all have quirks that lead them to feeling marginalised by society at some point, but they are a community that provides support to each other, no matter their differences. They embrace the diversity of their street, and never fail to put judgements aside, for a song and a dance, and more than a few laughs. It has been 12 years since the show’s original première off-Broadway, and the bona fide hit is now a well-oiled machine, tuned to perfection. The script is clever and engaging, with punchlines that never fail, and the songs are all witty and extraordinarily catchy.

Jo Turner’s direction for this Sydney run, is lively, mischievous, and surprisingly moving. He is conscious of the brand’s gently subversive nature, and speaks politically at appropriate moments, but it is his emphasis on the show’s joyful comedy and its sentimental poignancies that cuts through strongest. Every moment seems meaningful, and while not always deep, Turner consistently draws from us powerful emotional responses, both light and dark. The stage is kept active and busy, so that our senses are keenly enthralled, but our attention is focused on a tightly woven plot, relayed with crystal clarity, as is its range of characters.

A strong Australian cast is at the production’s helm, with Matthew Predny’s work as vocalist, puppeteer and actor leaving the greatest impression for his two roles, Princeton and Rod. Charming, effervescent and impossibly sweet, we devour everything that he offers up, and are amazed by all that he is capable of. Also compelling is Madeleine Jones as Kate Monster, whose big dreams remind us of forgotten idealism and who touches us with her tender youth and innocence. Jones’ portrayal is passionate, with thrilling vocals that gain control of our emotions with ease. It is a very warm presence that the team brings to the stage, making us all feel like everything’s A-OK, and we want to know how to get to Avenue Q… how to get to Avenue Q.

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.

Inspiration Porn (New Theatre)

rsz_24_inspiration_pornVenue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Sep 26 – 28, 2013
Performers: Hayley Flowers, Kiruna Stamell, Damien Noyce, James Cunningham, Josphine Lancuba, Asphyxia
Image by Jeff Tan

Theatre review
Inspiration Porn features six different acts presenting their individual works. Their common thread is the idea of inspiration, and what results is a moving night at the theatre.

Kiruna Stamell’s Coffee & Sheep is mainly physical theatre, although there are monologual elements. She also uses burlesque in her act, as well as a good dose of absurdity, which all adds up to a form of performance that resists categorisation. Stamell is simultaneously funny and serious, and the audience is never too sure whether a message exists in her work. What is certain though, is the irresistible magnetism of this performer, and the effectiveness of her work. She keeps you enthralled, bewildered, and wanting more. Stamell is the kind of artist that cultivates a loyal following, a natural star.

James Cunningham presents a highly unusual dance routine based around the loss of the use of his left arm. He also demonstrates an exercise involving a mirror that helps him negotiate his new physicality. Almost creating an illusion of symmetry using his functioning arm, Cunningham talks us through the process and we are thoroughly transfixed. In his presentation, we witness the strength of spirit that has been awoken by his unfortunate accident.

Finally, we are served an extract from The Grimstones, a gothic marionette performance that is truly sublime. These wooden characters by artist Asphyxia, possess a kind of hyper-reality and they convey emotions that no real actor can. Their story is simple but due to the way their world has been constructed and presented, every gesture they make becomes deeply touching. Even though their world is far removed from our daily lives, there is a sense of authenticity that connects with us, and we feel the puppet masters earnestly tugging at our heartstrings.…