Review: Amadeus (Sydney Opera House)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Dec 27, 2022 – Jan 21, 2023
Playwright: Peter Schaffer
Director: Craig Ilott
Cast: Joseph Althouse, Katherine Allen, Lily Balatincz, Blazey Best, Michael Denkha, Gabriel Fancourt, Belinda Giblin, Glenn Hazeldine, ‘Ana Ika, Michaela Leisk, Daniel Macey, Arky Michael, Sean O’Shea, Joshua Oxley, Josh Quong Tart, Rahel Romahn, Laura Scandizzo, Toby Schmitz, Michael Sheen, Daniel Verschuer
Images by Daniel Boud

Theatre review

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was barely 36 when he died an impoverished man in 1791. The influential Antonio Salieri was at the time, director of the Italian opera in Vienna, and although he understood the genius of Mozart’s work, did little to improve the rival composer’s circumstances. In Peter Schaffer’s Amadeus, it is suggested that Salieri may even have been responsible for the poisoning and subsequent death of Mozart. The 1979 play explores the human experience of envy, as it relates to art and status, demonstrating the extent to which it can lead a person to destruction.

Almost half a century hence, Craig Ilott’s direction of the piece is memorable for its extravagant incorporation of live music (performed by The Metropolitan Orchestra), which delivers for the production an unmistakeable transcendence, such is the power of Mozart. Also highly impressive are costumes by Romance Was Born and Anna Cordingley, providing remarkable flourish and extraordinary exuberance, against a restrained black stage. Designed by Michael Scott-Mitchell, the set feels appropriately grand, with clever placement of stairs that facilitate many visually satisfying configurations of performers and their kaleidoscopic attire. Lights by Nick Schlieper offer a touch of sophistication, helping us pay attention to the real drama unfolding, in the middle of a lot of hullabaloo.

Actor Michael Sheen is full of mighty vigour, as the hateful Salieri, unrelenting in his assertions of passion and energy, for a story that urges meaningful introspection. More textured in approach is Rahel Romahn, whose Mozart proves endearing and exigently sympathetic. Both Sheen and Romahn bring great nuance and vulnerability to their roles, albeit in wildly contrasting styles. The wonderfully whimsical duo of Belinda Giblin and Josh Quong Tart, are notable as a pair of characters known as Venticelli, representing a more objective perspective in this controversially revisionist take on Mozart’s demise.

Salieri and Mozart wax lyrical about God, acknowledging the presence of divinity in artistic pursuits, but also attributing many of their very human decisions to their Christian deity. If Salieri did inflict harm on Mozart, we can infer that much of it was bolstered by religious faith, as observed in his perverse belief that God does answer his dangerously narcissistic prayers. It is perhaps true that art, especially when sublime and beautiful, comes from an otherworldly realm, but it is plain to see, that there is nothing at all celestial, in all the damage that people impose.

www.redlineproductions.com.au

Review: Velvet Rewired (Sydney Opera House)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Dec 22, 2022 – Feb 12, 2023
Director/Creator: Craig Ilott
Cast: Joe Accaria, Jacinta Gulisano, Marcia Hines, Sasha Lee Saunders, Craig Reid, Beau Sargent, Tom Sharah, Sven and Jan, Harley Timmermans
Images by Daniel Boud

Theatre review

Performer Tom Sharah plays someone meek, miserable and lost, inside an exuberant clubland peppered with decadence and brimming with cacophonous life. It is the story of a man’s broken heart, that provides a vague sense of narrative to Velvet Rewired, a theatrical presentation in the form probably best described, as a variety show. Comprising 75 minutes of classic disco hits, and nary a word of dialogue, it is a cornucopia of colour and movement that we are thrust into, along with an old school devil-may-care spiritedness, that hopes to awaken the most wearied of our modern cosmopolitan dispositions.

Created and directed by Craig Ilott, Velvet Rewired provides an excuse for an instance of hedonism, where all the strain of staying alive can be set aside. Ilott urges us to indulge in his fantasy realm, by removing rhyme and reason from our interactions with the staging. Indeed it is when mind-boggling stunts occupy our attention, and we lose our breath gawking at incredible physical feats, by the likes of aerialists Beau Sargent and Harley Timmermans, rollerskating acrobats Sven and Jan, and hula hooping wonder Craig Reid, that the show really lifts us away from the mundane.

Also out of this world, is the singing diva Marcia Hines whose voice and presence help move us somewhere decidedly more transcendent, or rapturous even. Jacinta Gulisano and Sasha Lee Saunders appear to be the hardest working women in showbusiness, onstage for almost the entirety, singing and dancing with great energy and precision, as only the most passionate of artists can. Amy Campbell’s choreography takes care to accentuate the best of this duo’s qualities.

Joe Accaria too is always in sight, as the charismatic DJ perched atop in his secular pulpit, orchestrating the action through his control of the irresistible disco beats. Accaria’s work as musical director for Velvet Rewired is powerful, able to revive the magic of funk and soul music from almost half a century ago, to deliver a sense of timeless euphoria. Lights by Matthew Marshall are dazzling, as they take advantage of the genre’s capacity for limitless ostentation. James Browne’s set design involves a catwalk that makes each member of audience feel part of the action, and his costumes bear a flamboyance and sexiness, that keep our eyes satisfied.

The aforementioned Tom Sharah sparkles when his unnamed character attains his moment of spiritual emancipation. At a show like Velvet Rewired we too are gifted a flash of freedom, where for a few minutes nothing else matters, but the sensual basslines of tried and tested records, that will offer epiphany and redemption, maybe not everlasting, but certain to return when least expected.

www.velvetrewired.com

Review: The Lovers (Bell Shakespeare)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Oct 23 – Nov 20, 2022
Writer: Laura Murphy (adapted from William Shakespeare)
Director: Shaun Rennie
Cast: Natalie Abbott, Blake Appelqvist, Stellar Perry, Monique Sallé, Brittanie Shipway, Jerrod Smith
Images by Daniel Boud

Theatre review

William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is given the musical treatment, by Laura Murphy who condenses one of The Bard’s most accessible stories, into something even more digestible. In her new work The Lovers a distinct pop sensibility is applied across everything she touches on, but art lovers be warned, Murphy’s appreciation of pop is a lot less Andy Warhol, and a whole lot more Taylor Swift. Like Swift, Murphy’s lyrics can be criticised for not being poetic enough, with an attitude too devoid of sass, to be considered legitimately cool. Commercial success however, has shown time and again to have little to do with cool, and it appears The Lovers does contain all the requisite ingredients that make it a crowd-pleaser.

Intensely romantic, and silly on more than a few occasions, songs in The Lovers are unquestionably, and thoroughly catchy. Reminiscent, and some might say heavily derivative, of chart toppers from the last twenty years, it can be said that the frothiness of Murphy’s writing, is the perfect companion for Shakespeare’s light-hearted classic. Murphy’s own musical arrangements, along with musical direction by Andrew Worboys, ensures a score that keeps us exhilarated for the entire 2-hour duration, The heady experience is further enhanced by extraordinarily well-executed sound engineering, with Todd Hawken credited as Head of Audio.

Director Shaun Rennie demonstrates great attention to detail, through his delivery of technical brilliance and exceptional polish,  for the staging. Rennie’s work is thoroughly energetic, with an uncanny ability to have his audience roused at will. Marg Horwell’s colourful and intentionally cluttered set design, is a visual manifestation of the chaotic exuberance that is characteristic of The Lovers. Her costumes too are captivatingly vibrant, although not always flattering on the cast. Lights by Trent Suidgeest are dynamic and exciting, a relentless manipulation of tones, intensities and configurations, that really take advantage of this collision between pop and Shakespeare.

The only one stealing the show however, is performer Natalie Abbott who delivers the most endearing Helena imaginable, with an impeccable quality of singing that beautifully incorporates a stirring soul style, with the crispness demanded of the Broadway format. Also very charming is Jerrod Smith, who brings unexpected believability to the role of Lysander. Oberon is played by Stellar Perry who stands out with her confident musicality, and a physical stillness that proves an appealing contrast against the rest. Monique Sallé is a gregarious Puck, Blake Appelqvist brings precision to his Demetrius, and Hermia is performed by Brittanie Shipway who injects much needed grit into the romantic heroine. The team shows itself to be well-rehearsed and innovative, with a compelling chemistry that makes tolerable, Shakespeare’s ridiculous love story.

There may be little that is worldly that constitutes the essence of The Lovers, but there is certainly no shortage of sophistication, in how the show has been put together. It is meaningful though, that our attention is brought to the subject of love, frivolous as it may seem, through the lens of young romance. At a time when our troubles are taking us to the end of tethers, it is perhaps necessary to be reminded that love alone, is capable of moving mountains.

www.bellshakespeare.com.au

Review: Chalkface (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Sep 15 – Oct 29, 2022
Playwright: Angela Betzien
Director: Jessica Arthur
Cast: Ezra Juanta, Catherine McClements, Michelle Ny, Nathan O’Keefe, Susan Prior, Stephanie Somerville
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review
Pat has been teaching for far too long, at West Vale Primary, a government school severely deprived of resources. Everything seems to be falling apart, not least of all its teaching staff. Pat’s palpable cynicism stands in stark contrast, against newcomer Anna, who turns up first day of term, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, to join the decidedly jaded team. In Angela Betzien’s Chalkface, we look at the public education system, and the people who do all the heavy lifting to keep it running.

Betzien’s keen observations are presented with cutting humour, for a work that delivers many laughs, based on our own refusal to do better for so many teachers and children. It is satisfying satire that inspires debates on our values, especially as they relate to resource allocation, thereby interrogating our priorities as a nation. Direction by Jessica Arthur leans on the writing’s acerbic qualities, for a production that appeals with its gentle irreverence. The comedy manifests in a style of theatricality that is unquestionably bold and mischievous, but the show is ultimately, and unsurprisingly, highly respectful of the teaching profession.

Chalkface features six characters, all of whom are made endearing by Arthur’s thoughtful approach to the depiction of humanity, in the midst of a lot of amusing hullabaloo. Actor Catherine McClements is wonderfully entertaining as the astringent Pat, turning middle-aged grumpiness into something altogether more playful and charming. Her portrayal of the burnt out civil servant drives home a salient point, about our failure to take care of those, who do some of our most important and hard work. Stephanie Somerville does an admirable job, of preventing the idealistic young woman from ever becoming nauseating, with an understated sassiness and confidence, that makes Anna a persuasive presence.

Ezra Juanta and Susan Prior deliver a couple of madcap performances, as Steve and Denise respectively, both with exaggerated eccentricities that enrichen and enliven the storytelling. Similarly outlandish are Michelle Ny and Nathan O’Keefe, who play the slightly villainous members of administrative staff Cheryl and Douglas, bringing unyielding flamboyancy to a relentlessly exuberant presentation.

Ailsa Paterson’s set and costume designs offer appropriately comedic renderings of that scrappy world, with an unmistakable sense of disintegration, for the staff room and for the people who occupy it. Lights by Mark Shelton, and music by Jessica Dunn are utilised most vivaciously between scene changes, taking the opportunity to further uplift our spirits.

It goes without saying, that we should always strive to do better for our children. It is incredible however, to witness the extent to which some are willing to sacrifice, in the belief of doing what is right for future generations. There is nothing at all controversial, in saying that our teachers are the bedrock of society, but to suggest that those who contribute the most within our education system, should receive commensurate remuneration, seems to be eternally contentious.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au | www.statetheatrecompany.com.au

Review: The Comedy Of Errors (Bell Shakespeare)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Aug 17 – Sep 17, 2022
Playwright: William Shakespeare
Director: Janine Watson
Cast: Joseph ‘Wunujaka’ Althouse, Julia Billington, Giema Contini, Skyler Ellis, Felix Jozeps, Alex King, Leilani Loau, Ella Prince, Lauren Richardson, Maitland Schnaars
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
In Shakespeare’s The Comedy Of Errors, two sets of twins cause mayhem in the Greek city of Ephesus, through a series of events involving mixed identities and wild premises. It may be a relic of a play, but centuries on, it still provides an opportunity for theatre makers to present something frolicsome and mirthful, for audiences of any description. In the right hands, it may even demonstrate the changes that have occurred in our cultures over this half a millennium, for it is through adaptations and interpretations, that we may observe our evolution, reflected in the artistic choices being made today.

On this occasion, director Janine Watson applies a correspondingly frivolous 1970s disco aesthetic to the staging, but it is the queering of characters and relationships in the story, that forms a constant reminder, that we are indeed living in the twenty-first century. There is an unmistakeable vigour to Watson’s work, with a love for the immediacy of the live format, that truly shines. 

The cast is given plentiful space to wreak havoc, and their mischievousness is resolutely centre stage. Skyler Ellis and Felix Jozeps are the twins named Antipholus, both performers energetic, passionate and effortlessly charismatic. The two servants named Dromio, also twins, are played by Julia Billington and Ella Prince, both inventive and captivating, who turn their parts resoundingly non-binary, for a show memorable for its subtext of gender dismantlement. Giema Contini and Joseph ‘Wunujaka’ Althouse are flamboyant siblings Adriana and Luciano, eliciting some of the biggest laughs with a wonderful camp approach to their humour.

Hugh O’Connor’s set and costume designs are pop infused, colourful manifestations of a lurid fantasy world, in which common sense takes a back seat. Along with lights by Kelsey Lee, this production of The Comedy Of Errors is relentlessly vibrant, in a way that proves visually satisfying. Music and sound by Pru Montin too are not particularly subtle, prominently featuring hits from the disco era that remain gloriously euphoric.

Beneath all the rambunctious activity, lies a central guiding principle of authenticity. The production’s theme is declared with great pride in neon, “Find Yourself”, which must certainly refer to the discovery of one’s purest identity. Even if Shakespeare represents the diametric opposition to one’s own values, it can never be discounted that it is sometimes the very notion of an antithesis, that helps one uncover the truth.

www.bellshakespeare.com.au

Review: Blithe Spirit (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Mar 21 – May 14, 2022
Playwright: Noël Coward
Director: Paige Rattray
Cast: Courtney Act, Matt Day, Nancy Denis, Bessie Holland, Tracy Mann, Megan Wilding, Brigid Zengeni
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review
Ruth and Charles are a wealthy couple who have run out of earthly pleasures to occupy themselves with, and are now toying with paranormal phenomena, for shits and giggles. What was originally meant to be the Condomines’ moment of disingenuous flirtation with the netherworld however, turns into a living nightmare when Charles’ ex-wife Elvira returns from the dead to haunt the household. Noël Coward’s 1941 comedy Blithe Spirit is a bit of harmless nostalgic English fun, the usual appeal of which resides almost entirely with its writer’s extraordinary wit.

With the passage of time, it is unsurprising that Coward’s work, now almost 80 years old, might have waned in its ability to tickle. Fortunately, the transcendental magic of theatre is ageless, and under the directorship of Paige Rattray, we find a renewed appreciation of the old play, and even though her contemporary production may not share very much in common, in terms of methodology, with the original creation, there is no denying that rapturous laughter was always the central intention.

It is a tremendously successful rendition, that relies upon Rattray’s uncanny ability to parody not only what Coward found worthy of satire, but also to lampoon old English sensibilities, such as those of Coward’s own, that represent so much of what many Australians today wish to establish distance from. Blithe Spirit has always made fun of the bourgeoisie, but now it is additionally useful in aiding in the ridicule of our colonial history.

Indeed it is that familiar English pomp that forms the basis of Rattray’s sarcastic and camp humour. Production design by David Fleischer involves conspicuous display of white money and class, for a sardonic rendering of the Condomines’ home and attire that look every bit the epitome of rich people nonsense. Sound design by Clemence Williams memorably adds to the cheekiness of attitude, as does Damien Cooper’s lighting design, which is additionally called upon to enhance the show’s cartoonish moments of supernaturality.

Performer Courtney Act brings excellent presence to the phantasmal role of Elvira, although a lack of nuance and depth in interpretation, tends to result in a regretful vapidity for the prominent part. Charles is played by Matt Day, admirably sure-footed and detailed with his contributions. The housemaid Edith is made larger than life by Megan Wilding’s creativity, the nature of which is undeniably inventive and mischievous. The wonderfully robust Brigid Zengeni portrays the clairvoyant Madame Arcati, as simultaneously kooky yet dignified. Nancy Denis and Tracy Mann are whimsical as family friends the Bradmans, both bringing considerable charm to the staging.

All theatre productions are collaborative efforts, but rare instances do occur, where a single star on the stage shines so bright, everything else can only settle for being mere witness to that magnificence. Playing Ruth, is actor Bessie Holland, who delivers nothing short of a masterclass, in a performance that exceeds even the greatest of expectations. It is a fearless embodiment of a great love for live comedy, replete with faultless instincts and exhaustively considered manoeuvres. Not only does Holland offer us crystal clarity with regards character and story, she has an ability to connect with her audience as though through a direct link to our viscera, so that an impossible joy is emitted, with every aural and visual punchline she precisely, and spiritedly, executes. It is a marvel that such talent is real, and an even greater miracle that we can attest to its existence in this very lifetime, with our own eyes.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au

Review: A Chorus Line (Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Feb 13 – Mar 11, 2022
Music: Marvin Hamlish
Lyrics: Edward Kleban
Book: Nicholas Dante, James Kirkwood
Director: Amy Campbell
Cast: Max Bimbi, Molly Bugeja, Angelique Cassimatis, Ross Chisari, Nadia Coote, Tim Dashwood, Lachlan Dearing, Mackenzie Dunn, Maikolo Fekitoa, Adam Jon Fiorentino, Natalie Foti, Ashley Goh, Mariah Gonzalez, Brady Kitchingham, Madeleine Mackenzie, Rechelle Mansour, Natasha Marconi, Rubin Matters, Ryan Ophel, Tony Oxybel, Ethan Ritchie, Suzanne Steele, Harry Targett, Angelina Thomson
Images by Robert Catto

Theatre review
Originally conceived in 1975 by Michael Bennett, the legendary musical A Chorus Line involves an ensemble cast of nineteen, several unforgettable songs, and dance sequences that have become an indelible part of our collective cultural memory. It is the simple story about Broadway director Zach at a casting call, auditioning a throng of dancers, for eight places in his new show. A Chorus Line is a tribute to the innumerable artists who have dedicated their lives to a passion, that never yields commensurate rewards. The show is an opportunity for talents to show their wares, with each member of cast provided individual moments of glory, as well as working in groups for some of the most exciting and complicated choreography in the musical format.

Director and choreographer Amy Campbell’s ambitious revival, is a breath-taking experience. Even though the lacklustre book remains tedious, it is always an unequivocal joy when the performers are in motion. Campbell’s love for the art of performance, and for those who do it, is palpable. Her show is faithful to the look and feel of 1970s New York, complete with slinky modern jazz flourishes that transport us back to a time of decadent glamour. Each second of dance is complex, detailed and powerful, a real sumptuous feast for the eyes.

Peter Rubie’s lights are at least as visually impressive. They enhance perfectly every scene that unfolds, sometimes quiet and subtle, sometimes flamboyantly bombastic, but always stylish and surprising. Whether accompanying bodies active or still, Rubie’s work is consistently imaginative, never settling for the obvious. The beauty he delivers is truly sublime. Christine Mutton’s costumes too, are noteworthy, in bringing both realism, and vibrant, balanced colour, to a staging that will be remembered for its unparalleled resplendence.

The pivotal role of Zach is played by Adam Jon Fiorentino, whose use of voice marvellously regulates atmosphere from start to finish. Angelique Cassimatis delivers the singularly most poignant anecdote, as Cassie, complete with jaw dropping intensity in her iconic number, “The Music and the Mirror”.  We fall for all of the cast, as they are foregrounded one at a time, but it is their work as a cohesive whole, that has us spellbound. Together, they are formidable.

Much has changed over these five decades, since the inception of A Chorus Line. For one, we are no longer tolerant of authority figures like Zach irresponsibly demanding their subordinates, to reveal secrets or to relive trauma, in the company of strangers. Women and men, in the arts especially, have started to reject the delineations between gender constructs, and in the process are learning to meld the false differences of us and them. The theatrical arts however, remain a pure vehicle for communities to congregate, to debate, and to share. Since time immemorial, we have formulated ways to listen to each other, to understand our neighbours, and to reach consensus, hard as it might be, because we always knew that on our own, we are doomed to fail. There are no queens and kings in A Chorus Line, only a united front that can weather anything, and keep the dreams alive.

www.darlinghursttheatre.com

Review: Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? (State Theatre Company South Australia)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Jan 13 – 23, 2022
Playwright: Edward Albee
Director: Margaret Harvey
Cast: Jimi Bani, Rashidi Edward, Juanita Navas-Nguyen, Susan Prior
Images by Yaya Stempler

Theatre review
Martha and George are always fighting. The perpetuality of their battles seems to point to a certain masochism that resides at the centre of their marriage, and we discover that perhaps their endless struggle for power, forms the very foundation of their life together. As viewers on the sidelines, we gladly ride that momentum of conflict, knowing that things simply will never get better for the couple, in Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Set in the world of academia, in the New England region of the USA, Albee’s discussions about power, pertain to a kind that is particularly white. Director Margaret Harvey’s decision to cast Black men in the roles of the duelling academics George and Nick, brings greater focus to the whiteness that is being interrogated. The futility of these two men trying to climb the social and professional ladders, within a system built upon the exclusion of people like them, are made mournfully clear by the darkness of their skin.

Although never lacking in energy, the production suffers from a shortage of precision, in the way Albee’s often rambling dialogue is presented. The writing’s abstract qualities has a tendency to become overly ambiguous on this stage, making the experience feel at times, somewhat hollow.

Ailsa Paterson’s set design is an elegant update that provides the story with a present day context, but a strangely domineering centrepiece that makes reference to the white practice of pilfering historical artefacts is, although well-meaning, an unnecessary distraction. Lights by Nigel Levings are effectively chilling, in the cold white box of Martha and George’s home. Sound design by Andrew Howard is sparse, but memorable for its use of drums to rouse tensions.

Actor Susan Prior is suitably nebulous as the heavily intoxicated Martha. Jimi Bani’s bouts of anger as George dials up the drama, but a characteristic cynicism seems to be missing. Nick is played by Rashidi Edward who brings great intensity, and his counterpart Honey is thankfully given some backbone by Juanita Navas-Nguyen.

Martha’s father never appears in the play, but he holds absolute power over the people that we meet. Just like the white patriarchy on this land, it is never the ones who benefit most that do the dirty work, but all the foot soldiers who fight amongst themselves, thinking they are advancing their personal ambitions, when in fact are only serving the purposes of those on top. We are given crumbs, that are designed to gaslight us into believing, that the rules of engagement are fair. That we persist with these rules, is as strange as Martha and George persisting with their marriage.

www.statetheatrecompany.com.au

Review: Bigger and Blacker (Sydney Opera House)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), May 19 – 22, 2021
Music and Lyrics: Steven Oliver
Director: Isaac Drandic
Cast: Steven Oliver
Images by Daniel Boud

Theatre review
For just over an hour, a gay Black man reigns supreme, in Steven Oliver’s cabaret outing Bigger and Blacker. Entirely live and intimate, Oliver performs self-written songs accumulated over the years, a greatest hits compilation that spans everything from love to politics, that take us from hilarity to devastation.

Much of the presentation is concerned with being on the outside. Marginalised for both his racial and sexual identities, there is no wonder that Oliver is famously funny. Like many whose very existence poses a threat to the hegemony, being comical is a defence, a mode of self-preservation that becomes second nature. In Bigger and Blacker, the artist is characteristically flamboyant, but the underlying gravity of his raison d’etre is always apparent. Through the sensitive eye of director Isaac Drandic, we discover a duality of the persona, whimsical yet dark, and we respond accordingly, sometimes with joy, sometimes with sadness, but most often with a melancholic combination of both.

Oliver’s songs are cleverly written, all of them beautifully melodic and lyrically meaningful, made more poignant by the performer’s sincere introductions for every number. Accompanist Michael Griffiths is his spirited companion, whose inspired musical direction guides us through a multitude of stylistic genres, for a seriously engaging one-person variety extravaganza. From torch song to hip hop, Bigger and Blacker keeps itself fresh and surprising, not a single dull moment permitted.

Brady Watkins’ work on sound design transports us to a sensual world, distinctly lush and enchanting, and coupled with Chloe Ogilvie’s tender lighting, the audience finds itself effortlessly lulled into a temporary theatrical romance. Oliver is dressed by Kevin O’Brien, resplendent in a deep pink tuxedo jacket, determined to steal our hearts.

Identity labels are tiresome, for people who do not have to wrestle with oppression. Those of us who are systematically and habitually excluded, however, learn to embrace that which others have used to define us. What others try to shame us with, we grow to love, and we grow to understand the positively formative power, of everything that is meant to be inferior or contemptible. Oliver talks a lot about being a minority; he is Black, and he is gay, and as we come to realise, is therefore extraordinary.

www.sydneyoperahouse.com

Review: Rules For Living (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Nov 2 – Dec 19, 2020
Playwright: Sam Holcroft
Director: Susanna Dowling
Cast: Ella Jacob, Keegan Joyce, Amber McMahon, Hazem Shammas, Bruce Spence, Sonia Todd, Nikita Waldron
Images by Daniel Boud

Theatre review
It is Christmas lunch at Francis’ home in the affluent North Shore. He is a successful lawyer, and both his sons are desperately trying to follow in his footsteps, although their authentic passions lie clearly in other fields. A lot of Sam Holcroft’s Rules For Living talks about the conflict between who we are, and who we are expected to be. It is about the standards set by society, by family, friends and lovers, that have very little to do with what one needs for a satisfying existence, and everything to do with obedience, and for keeping up with the joneses. An examination of middle class mirage is plat du jour, as served up by this predictable comedy, giving us nothing edgy or indeed revelatory.

Actor Sonia Todd plays Edith, mother to the boys, especially effective when bringing emphasis to the irony of narcissistic anguish in people who have it all. Everything is too stressful in her perfect world, where not a hair is allowed to be out of place. Todd offers an accurate sense of bourgeois uptight-ness, that is valuable in our understanding of early twenty-first century Western civilisation, even though the noisy ensemble piece does ultimately prevent anything meaningful or profound to be properly conveyed.

Directed by Susanna Dowling, the show is consistently energetic, but bewilderingly unfunny. The performers work extraordinarily hard to entertain, but none seems to have located any significant humour in the piece, that they so laboriously bring to the stage. Their approaches range from realist to absurdist, all of which miss the mark, although it can often appear that there is little in the writing that is inherently amusing. Design aspects are elegant and polished, but conservatively rendered, for a production that looks, sounds and feels like the hundred Christmas comedies that have come before, always unthreatening, but banal at best.

As we try to survive a living hell comprised of Trumpism and COVID-19, telling stories about vicious family dynamics in 2020, proves to be an exercise that feels little more than a slightly quaint distraction from real life. What might have been important theatre in 2015, when Rules For Living had made its international premiere, now lacks pertinence in a vastly transformed world. There are much bigger fish to fry, and art needs to keep up.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au