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: Wouldman (The Old 505 Theatre)

wouldman1Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Sep 17 – 28, 2014
Playwright: Justin Buchta
Director: Justin Buchta
Cast: Justin Buchta

Theatre review
Wouldman is like a super hero. His costume is made of wood and in it, he would do many things. Justin Buchta’s very unique one-man show is an amalgamation of many disciplines and forms. There are influences from mime, dance and mask work. He even does yoga and attempts auto-fellatio (simulated). There are songs and poetry, and stories are sometimes narrated but the show is not at all narrative driven. It is abstract, almost dadaist, with segments that flow into each other, some chapters more decipherable than others. This is a fascinating show that is frequently funny and amusing, with an expansively creative approach to communication.

Buchta is an extremely energetic performer, who uses his solid presence to give the production an air of impulsiveness. He seems to leave many elements to chance, creating an atmosphere that is consistently surprising and alive. Buchta keeps us thoroughly engaged even while he bewilders us with his avant garde antics, and we respond with a complex mix of thoughts and emotions. The show’s style of ambiguity is an inviting one that can be challenging at times, but always with sufficient frames of reference to construe meanings.

The artist’s creativity is characterised by a sense of boundless freedom, one that does not require adherence to conventions and expectations. Buchta is concerned with the act of expression itself, and meanings are left to fashion their own lives. This is an art that encourages open hearts and minds in order that interaction can occur. Justin Buchta proves himself in Wouldman to be risky and fearless, but it remains to be seen if his audience is equally gallant.

Review: The Matilda Waltz (New Theatre)

newtheatreVenue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Sep 19 – 27, 2014
Director: Sam Thomas
Playwright: Deborah Mulhall
Cast: James Bean, Adrian Adam, Carla Nirella, Morgan Powell, Michael Sutherland, Sonja Donohoe, Adam Gray, Katrina Rautenberg, Roberto Zenca

Theatre review
The Matilda Waltz is the story of five generations of women in Australia, commencing with siblings Vera and Ida Templeton in 1894. We follow a series of their love lives, which all result in daughters being born (yes, they are all heterosexual and, spoiler alert, they all choose Caucasian husbands). The play is narrated by icons of Australian-European literature and fine art, Banjo Paterson and Russel Drysdale, but it is unclear how much of the piece is a work of fiction. The women are not weak characters, they all have purpose and some even display ambition, but Deborah Mulhall’s writing defines each of them against the men who they chance upon. Romance and reproduction is big with the Templeton ladies, it seems, but in the space of a hundred years, they do not come in contact with any indigenous characters or later migrants from non-European regions. We do however, see one of the women venture into “Nam” to almost get killed by the Viet Cong.

It can be frustrating watching actors play different roles and not realising that fact until several scenes later. Chronology in much of the first half is also unclear. Sam Thomas’ direction is not without flair, but important details are neglected, which makes for a confusing experience. Fortunately, there is good work to be found in the revelation of each narrative that unfolds. Characters are not explored with much depth (the play is abridged for the Sydney Fringe schedule), but they are interesting and quite colourful. Virtually every scene features two characters in dialogue, and Thomas creates good chemistry on the stage between all cast members.

The actors are attractive and committed, but the script does not offer them enough to exhibit great skill or talent. The young men of the cast are utilised like boxed up Ken dolls, all gorgeous to look at but without space to flex their acting muscles. We only get to see powerful emotions from a couple of the women but those moments are so fleeting, they seem almost frivolous. Carla Nirella is animated and humorous as the uptight Ida, providing some laughs in the early sequences. Also charming is Sonja Donohoe who manages to find some range and subtlety in her scenes. Adrian Adam plays Drysdale and the American diplomat Richard with a confident presence, and he works hard to bring some fire to the production.

Encapsulating a century into 70 minutes is challenging. To create short stories out of entire lifetimes is not meaningless, but requires greater imagination and innovation. Australia’s recorded history is by some accounts, the longest in the world and we have much to choose from, and our persistent obsession with the recent European settlement needs to subside.

Review: 4 Sydney Fringe Shows (PACT)

pactfringeVenue: PACT (Erskineville NSW), Sep 24 – 27, 2014
Images by PACT

All The Single Lad(ie)s
Company: The Cutting Room Floor
Writer: Zoe Hollyoak
Director: Scott Corbett
Cast: Braiden Dunn, Verity Softly, Jack Walker

Fire Twirling
Company: Circaholics Anonymous

Devisor: Coleman Grehan
Cast: Coleman Grehan

Composer: Mary Mainsbridge

Theatre review
The night begins with All The Single Lad(ie)s, a play about gender politics, featuring a woman and a man in a BDSM fantasy scenario that turns sour, with interludes by a drag queen Tammy Packs who gives lectures on gender in between performing the greatest hits of Beyoncé Knowles. The production and its concepts lack complexity, but actor Verity Softly’s performance is committed and energetic. The production discusses the futility of a feminism that wishes to usurp debates about gender and sex, and explores the meaning of power and consent against the backdrop of a scenario extrapolating sexual domination and rape. Its perspective is aggressive but feels one-sided and therefore, a little convenient.

In the courtyard outside, members of Circaholics Anonymous perform a series of stunts and sequences featuring the art of fire twirling. There is a power to the flames that affects the crowd on a visceral level, beyond the visual. The team present many thrilling moments where the act gets too close to danger, eliciting cheers and yelps from its audience. The show does not have a strong sense of narrative, and things can feel repetitive at times, but there is a hypnotic quality to their performance that can prove captivating especially for the very young. The cast needs to find greater charisma to allow us to connect with their personalities, but they are well-trained and energetic. Their amazing skills do not fail to impress.

Coleman Grehan’s Him is a performance art / dance piece inspired by the Japanese Butoh discipline. Grehan uses his body, saliva and paint to illustrate human emotion and experience. Beautiful moments involving audience members painting directly onto Grehan’s body are impossibly tender and poignant, proving the efficacy of visual and time-based art over the use of words in representing humanity. Music is integral to the magic of the piece, and while they are not created specifically for the presentation, each track is selected with great sensitivity and circumspection.

Bodyscapes features Mary Mainbridge with cords hanging off her clothing, singing and dancing behind a translucent screen. Her body is used to operate “a movement-controlled instrument called the Telechord”, and computer graphic imagery is projected onto the screen that keeps her partially obscured. The visuals are fascinating, and confusing. To the side of the space is another screen displaying a different set of image projections, and three men in collaboration, illuminated only by their computer monitors. The synergy of technology and human is wonderful to observe, and Mainbridge’s brand of intelligent dance music is simultaneously ethereal and sophisticated.

The temporary division of the PACT space into three small studios is very well conceived. The program is at its strongest when there is a focus on the avant garde, and on this occasion, the intimacy of the tiny black boxes are perfectly suited to each unconventional production. In its 50th year, the centre for emerging artists remains a vital part of our artistic landscape.

Review: Gruesome Playground Injuries (The Kings Collective)

thekingscollectiveVenue: TAP Gallery (Darlinghurst NSW), Sep 23 – 28, 2014
Writer: Rajiv Joseph
Director: Anthony Gooley
Cast: Aaron Glenane, Megan McGlinchey
Image by Kate Williams Photography

Theatre review
The beauty of love is most potent when its departure is close at hand. Rajiv Joseph’s Gruesome Playground Injuries is about a relationship defined by absence. Its characters spend short periods together, sharing brief moments of intensity through each significant age, and then disappear from each other’s lives for years after. Kayleen and Doug’s romance is an eternal flower that does not bear fruit. They do not become partners, spouses or lovers but their bond grows stronger with each passing year. Their story is a tragic one, and Joseph’s script is filled with poignancy, shifting from the very light to the deeply sorrowful, constantly alternating between laughter and tears to tell a moving tale that no person can react with indifference. The events may not have happened to any of us, but we understand all the feelings involved, and this is a production that allows us to luxuriate in all the joy and pain that the couple has experienced.

The outrageously accident-prone Doug is played by Aaron Glenane, whose magnificence in the role cannot be overstated. His authenticity is immediate and thorough, and whether performing slapstick or catastrophe, he always remains believable and compelling. The brightness of the actor’s energy gives the stage a liveliness that captivates us, and his warm presence creates a likability in his character that holds our empathy from scene one to the end. Glenane is perfect in the part, and his work here is impeccable. Also engaging is Megan McGlinchey who takes on the role of Kayleen with a fierce sense of commitment and remarkable focus. McGlinchey is less effective in sequences that require her to portray her character’s later years, but the honesty in her acting provides an integrity to her work that sustains our empathy even when her narrative is missing the purity of Doug’s. The actors form a formidable pair, with an extraordinary chemistry between them that makes the production gleam with magic.

Anthony Gooley’s direction places emphasis on extracting brave and extravagant creative choices from his cast. The piece has a sense of grandness in the volume at which it portrays human emotion that comes from the sheer corporeality that is presented before our eyes. What Gooley has delivered is more than an accurate implementation of Joseph’s writing, it is an amplification, one that is dramatic, powerful and uncompromisingly visceral. The story spans thirty years, and the sentiments represented are correspondingly deep. Passion is conspicuous on this stage, and the director’s efforts at making its presence felt are commendable. The inventive use of space shows creative flair, and along with an accomplished design team comprising Toby Knyvett (lights) and Tyler Hawkins (set and costumes), visual design is noticeably elegant. The variation in atmosphere between scenes is efficiently and sensitively executed, with imaginative input from sound designers David Stalley, David Couri and Philip Orr.

This is an exceptional production that showcases brilliant acting, tells an exciting story, and issues a reminder of what heartbreak feels like. Love cannot be explained in words, but it can be enacted in the theatre, as Gruesome Playground Injuries does, to enormous satisfaction.

Review: Desperately Young At Heart (New Theatre)

roberthofmannVenue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Sep 23 – 27, 2014
Director: Stuart Maunder
Cast: Robert Hofmann, Cherie Boogaart, Tommaso Pollio
Image by John Marshall

Theatre review
Robert Hofmann’s work Desperately Young At Heart features the singer in various guises, performing humorous renditions of jazz and musical theatre classics. The show’s title reveals the fun-loving approach taken by Hofmann, but it serves also as a warning that nothing particularly poignant transpires. The songs are linked by a performance that sees Hofmann transform with wigs and costumes, although no obvious narrative connects each incarnation. Its sense of pageantry feels at home in the cabaret format, and while not terribly original, the show does afford an amusing glimpse into the creative mind of its author.

Hofmann’s baritone voice is accomplished and confident, with shades of opera that give his singing an enveloping power. The gender diversity of his characters is a key feature of the show, but Hofmann’s liberal use of falsetto is less effective. Mezzo-soprano Cherie Boogaart’s appearance is brief but memorable. Her comic abilities are competent, but it is her voice that truly delights. Pianist Tommaso Pollio is the unsung hero of the piece, single-handedly controlling the many mood transitions with ease and flair.

The presentation tries to be loud and outrageous, but it is the quieter moments when Hofmann works with more subtlety that resonate better. Desperately Young At Heart strength is the matured skill of its performers, whose expertise is clear to see. It is an opportunity for the artists to practise a genre of theatre different from their usual vocations, and results are mixed. It is not an enormously adventurous venture, but their enthusiasm in presenting a labour of love is quite infectious.

Review: Aunt Agony (New Theatre)

auntagonyVenue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Sep 15 – 22, 2014
Director: Michael Campbell
Playwright: Richard Black
Cast: Sasha Dyer, Dave Kirkham, Taylor Owynns

Theatre review
In a society that overvalues youth, we often forget that quirky old people are much more amusing and fascinating creatures than their offspring. Richard Black’s Aunt Agony is a farcical black comedy that imagines the secret wild life of Aunt Lynn from the conservative Upper North Shore of Sydney. Lynn is an eccentric and flamboyant lady who lives with a cat and a dark side. Her niece Christine has just ended a relationship and seeks refuge in Lynn’s apartment. Their love-hate relationship reveals a series of antics, funny and sinister, that forms the plot of this surprisingly textured show. Black’s characters are vibrant and his scenarios whimsically formulated, with punchy dialogue and timely sociopolitical references.

The work becomes tighter in pace after the halfway point. Early scenes move a little slow, preventing tension from taking form satisfactorily. Perhaps some edits to the script can provide some energy. The actors’ rhythms can also benefit from an increase in speed, but Michael Campbell’s direction is quite accomplished. He injects a wonderful playfulness to the production, and makes brave choices that befit the idiosyncrasy of the lead character. The play’s more nefarious elements are handled with just enough seriousness to retain their sobering reverberations, but they do not get in the way of the overall joviality of the show.

Lynn is played by the effervescent Taylor Owynns who is endearing from her very first entrance. She has a likability that keep us on her side no matter how abhorrent her shenanigans become. Owynns performs a charming madness, but some of her techniques can feel slightly repetitive. The show requires a high level of energy from her, and she delivers on most occasions especially when in close collaboration with Sasha Dyer who takes on the role of Christine. Dyer comes to life when the show’s brashness escalates. She is a spirited performer who works well with physical comedy, and there are many opportunities for her talents to shine through on this stage. Dyer’s firm commitment and focus makes substantial what is essentially a supporting part. Also providing effective support is Dave Kirkham whose good humour makes his brief appearances delightful and memorable.

Design of the show is pleasant and efficient, but the set leaves empty space in the down stage area, which is not often utilised. Moving set pieces closer to the audience would allow more intimacy and hence create greater impact. The production leaves a lasting impression with meaningful morsels littered through its text. It is often hilarious with a giddy silliness, but its entertainment value is sometimes coupled with poignancy, proving itself to be the kind of madcap comedy that refuses to underestimate its audience.

Review: The Sheds (New Theatre)

theshedsVenue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Sep 17 – 21, 2014
Director: James Cunningham
Playwright: James Cunningham
Cast: Patrick Chirico, Ludwik Exposto, Andii Mulders

Theatre review
James Cunningham’s The Sheds begins when an AFL player Darren Anderson decides to reveal his homosexuality to his team and the public. It is not about the experience of being in the closet, but what happens after one decides to come out in an almost entirely male environment. Cunningham’s concepts for the play are strong. The tensions between the sporting industry and the very rare occurrences of fracture in its overwhelming heteronormativity are fertile ground for exploration, and indeed an area that our society needs to examine more closely. It is also a credit to the script that Anderson is portrayed as a liberated personality, without emphasis on his struggles, thus preventing the context from being dated and banal. Anderson’s character is paralleled by his friend and colleague Jimmy Davis, who has his own secrets, and the narrative is made substantial by Davis’ repression and its subsequent dramatic consequences.

Unfortunately, execution of Cunningham’s concepts are disappointing. His script is too obvious and plain, with unimaginative dialogue that feels compelled to tell too much, as though it is playing to a radio audience. Speech patterns for each of its three characters do not seem to vary. The way language is used does not sufficiently relay the differences in background and personalities. We appreciate that they are close compatriots who play for the same team, but the story requires a more distinct style of conversation for each character. Cunningham’s direction tries to create movement for the stage, but it can feel superfluous at times. There is a lot of pacing around, and changing of clothing, as though the actors are unable to deliver their lines without being told what to do with their hands. Transitions between scenes are handled without finesse. The actors often leave the stage, only to walk back in, a quick moment later. The passage of time can be conveyed more creatively than simply providing exits and entrances.

The cast is a good-looking one that represents a contemporary multi-ethnicity. The men are all athletic, which makes their depiction of the sporting space convincing, and while their instances of full-frontal nudity can seem a little gratuitous and distracting, it is nonetheless pleasurable to watch. The acting is not strong, with stilted performances and poor diction that make the plot a challenge to follow, but their energy levels are generally buoyant and there is a good level of enthusiasm that fills a lot of the show’s fifty minutes.

There is an urgent need for diversity in Australian theatre, and The Sheds makes a contribution. It talks of ethnicity, sexuality and mateship in a way that is fresh and timely. Cunningham’s voice is unseasoned, but it is a necessary one. We do not expect success to come out of every experimentation, but it is the courage to try that will always impress.

Review: This Is Our Youth (The Kings Collective)

thekingscollectiveVenue: TAP Gallery (Darlinghurst NSW), Sep 16 – 21, 2014
Writer: Kenneth Lonergan
Director: Dan Eady
Cast: Joshua Brennan, Scott Lee, Georgia Scott
Image by Kate Williams Photography

Theatre review
Not all stories are universal. There will be characters we are interested in, and others that we do not give two hoots about. Kenneth Lonergan’s This Is Our Youth is a lamentation of sorts about spoilt rich kids. It is concerned with the neglected offspring of wealthy baby boomers, providing a perspective of new money in 1980’s Manhattan and the repercussions on its subsequent generation. Lonergan’s script is full of mischief and energy, but embodies the pointlessness of the characters it portrays. Their lives are lost, frivolous and sordid. Everything is dazed and confused, but the writing provides a rich and colourful inventory of drama and jokes for an electrifying work of theatre, and this is what The Kings Collective delivers.

The cast is extraordinary. Three young actors, sublime as a group but individually sensational, give a performance that is quite literally flawless. They all make bold choices that delight and surprise us, but are always thoughtful and sensitive to the creation of depth in their characters. We are enthralled by the dynamism in their work but never lose sight of contexts and circumstances. Joshua Brennan is Dennis, the misguided alpha male, whose bravado, anger and aggression are the only things getting him through life that do not come in small self-sealing plastic bags. Brennan’s range begins at bombastic, and then escalates further. His work is outrageously flamboyant but completely engaging, and one is able to sense a lot of substance behind his delicious madness. The material gives him many opportunities for comedy and he executes them brilliantly, but poignant moments at the end are slightly less effective even though his portrayal continues to be convincing.

Georgia Scott transforms the supporting role of Jessica into a memorable one. She fools us with a Barbie-esque appearance and surreptitiously shifts the play into intellectual gear. Scott brings a palpable complexity with strength, humour and tenderness, creating an authentic sentimentality that gives the production its humanistic aspect. Her romantic scenes with Warren are beautiful and real, allowing the play to speak compassionately, albeit fleetingly. The feminine voice is only secondary in the play, but Scott’s work is disproportionately impressive.

Warren is a clever young man who suffers from a lack of confidence and direction. He allows his father and friends to dominate him, and seeks refuge in drugs to silence his intelligence. Scott Lee’s moving depiction of that impotency gives the play its weight, and his comedic flair sets the tone of the production. Lee’s phenomenal chemistry with both colleagues shows an openness in approach that gives theatre its sizzle, and every second is kept lively by his marvelous commitment and presence.

Direction of the piece by Dan Eady ensures excellent entertainment and precise storytelling, without an instance of misplaced focus or loss of energy. This is the tightest of ships that any captain can hope to deploy. Audiences will laugh, be touched, and be provoked into thought, but the play’s social message is not a particularly potent one. It is hard to summon up any empathy for the very rich, even if they are innocent young adults. This Is Our Youth is thrilling and amusing, and while it does have some depth, they can be tenuous. Fortunately, theatre is about the craft as much as it is about meanings, and on this occasion, the artists are alchemists that have turned lead into gold.

Review: Procne & Tereus (Montague Basement)

montaguebasementVenue: TAP Gallery (Darlinghurst NSW), Sep 16 – 20, 2014
Director: Saro Lusty-Cavallari
Playwright: Saro Lusty-Cavallari
Cast: Christian Byers, Lucinda Howes, Victoria Zerbst

Theatre review
Philomela visits her sister Procne’s home. Procne and her boyfriend Tereus are only a little older but their lives seem a world away from Philomela’s university student existence. The couple is expecting a child, but Tereus is more interested in the wine. He enjoys the intoxication and likes the way its price tag makes him look. The play begins in a space of middle-class ordinariness, but like in many middle-class spaces, there is an insidious deluge of quiet anxiety. Not enough happens to write home about, but its inanity gradually wears you down into sickness. In Procne & Tereus, we associate that anxiety with early adulthood, and a sense of being at crossroads, always wondering what that crucial next step holds. The young cast play older characters, and we see our frightening reflection in their portrayal of innocence lost.

Saro Lusty-Cavallari’s script is simple but poignant. His love for the art of inference makes that which is not being said, speak louder. His direction is even more accomplished, with a brave and adventurous spirit that emerges alongside thoughtfulness and subtlety. Not all manoeuvres are elegant, but there is always clarity in intent and a theatrical flair that feels natural yet purposeful. Lusty-Cavallari’s work is conceived with complexity, but his execution is articulate and concise. His talent is real, and its development is incredibly exciting.

Tereus is played by Christian Byers who deceives us with a surface of frivolity. His darkness within is almost completely hidden but Byers drops hints of malice that unnerve with a dangerous delight. It is a relaxed performance, sometimes silly in tone, but there is an impressive measuredness that accompanies his exaggerated nonchalance. Lucinda Howes as Procne, brings realism to the production with a restrained and minimalist approach that is strangely engaging, but her energy levels can read a little muted at times. Victoria Zerbst’s commitment to the role of Philomela is spine-tingling, and her presence shines through when performing the more surreal sections of the play.

Lighting by Eunice Huang and sound by Lusty-Cavallari and Byers, are key features of the production. Atmosphere is shaped and varied beautifully, contributing substantially to the narrative’s coherence. This Greek tragedy leaves us at a satisfying, albeit apocalyptic end. It relates marriage and family to questions about gender and sex. The story is grim because it is about our taboos. It shows us some of our greatest fears, and warns us about our unexamined but commonly-held beliefs. It leaves us nowhere to hide because its truths prevail.