Review: Black Hands Dead Section (Sydney University Dramatic Society)

sudsVenue: PACT Centre for Emerging Artists (Erskineville NSW), Aug 3 – 13, 2016
Playwright: Van Badham
Director: Zach Beavon-Collin
Cast: Adrien Stark, Alice Birbara, Amelia McNamara, Anna Rowe, Anna Williamson, Bianca Farmakis, Cameron Hutt, Charlie Meller, Elliott Falzon, Eloi Herlemann, Emma Throssell, Hal Fowkes, Hannah Craft, Helena Parker, Henry Hulme, Isabella Moore, Jimmy Pucci, John Kenedey, Joshua Powell, Julian Hollis, Laura McInnes, Louisa Thurn, Maddie Houlbrook-Walk, Nick Jackman, Nell Cohen, Oliver Ayres, Patrick Sunderland, Victoria Boult, William Hendricks
Image by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
West Germany’s Baader-Meinhof Group were a far-left militant group in the early 1970’s, that had orchestrated acts of terror, including bombings and assassinations, in its efforts to instigate social and political change. In Black Hands Dead Section, playwright Van Badham provides a history lesson on the gang, looking at past events through a contemporary lens, mindful that terrorism is the hottest of today’s issues. No society thinks of itself as aggressors; in Australia, terrorists are foreign and we are its innocent victims. The simple but dishonest dichotomy frees our conscience, so we can continue with life as we know it, without having to understand the complexities of how we are responsible for our own woes.

Characters in the play begin as perfectly reasonable Western middle-class individuals, passionate about what they believe to be right, and although sometimes radical with their ideas, these personalities are familiar ones that we relate to readily. We want the same things of life, and our world views coincide. Gradually however, their actions become increasingly reprehensible, and we struggle to find the line at which us had become them. It is this ambiguity that is missing from public discourse about “religious extremists”. Dehumanising the enemy makes things convenient, but the lack of transparency and truth in how we talk about perceived threats, compounds our fears and prevents us from solving problems.

This student production features 29 enthusiastic actors, some more talented than others. The unevenness in ability certainly makes for challenging viewing, and although nuances and details are sorely lacking in their interpretations, they make their point loud and clear. Acts I and II feature an inordinately large number of characters and scene changes, which would test even the most accomplished directors and designers, so it comes as no surprise that this simple staging often leaves us confused with its every who, what, where and why. Thankfully, Act III turns uncomplicated and is more successfully rendered, eventually leading us to a cogent conclusion.

There are no easy answers in any war, because all life must be valued equally. If we believe that those in opposition must be annihilated, then no one is safe, and human nature is nothing but a perpetual death wish. We have to find the root of every evil before we can genuinely be rid of them, but this is not how we do politics (never have and probably never will), and when we look at the past, the truth is unquestionably full of doom and gloom. War has always been, but so has the longing for peace, and we cannot give up the desire for something better as it is that very desire that defines humanity. Characters in Black Hands Dead Section wishe for a better future, but it is their refusal to include every adversary in their vision of the ideal, that keeps them fettered.

Review: Between Two Waves (Sydney University Dramatic Society)

suds1Venue: Cellar Theatre, University of Sydney (Camperdown NSW), Mar 4 – 7, 2015
Director: Jack Ballhausen
Playwright: Ian Meadows
Cast: Charlie Falkner, Geneva Gilmour, Kendra Murphy, Dominic Scarf
Image by Julia Robertson

Theatre review
Metropolitan lives are filled with anxiety. Our societies are competitive, and everything seems to manifest in the form of a race. Careers, relationships, politics and deeply personal issues like health and procreation, are all informed by notions of ideals, and a need to live up to expectations, of others and from our selves. Ian Meadows’ Between Two Waves is a thoughtful script that touches on many contemporary concerns like mental health and climate change, as well as intimate themes of family and death. Language is used beautifully to express deep emotions and a perspective of the world that seems idiosyncratic but has a surprisingly ubiquitous resonance. Its characters are well crafted, each with a distinct charm, but their narratives are overly detailed, and the plot can at times feel repetitive and slow.

Direction of the work by Jack Ballhausen is elegant, with an uncanny ability to portray authenticity in every scene. His vision is a quiet one, and although the story unfolds with enough clarity, its pace needs a more dynamic and concise approach for an already lengthy text. Performances are strong, especially Charlie Falkner who plays Daniel with poignancy, focus and excellent conviction. His confident, yet relaxed, presence keeps us connected and engaged, and coupled with a powerful and magnetic voice, the young actor’s work is both refreshing and engrossing. Kendra Murphy and Geneva Gilmour provide solid performances in support parts, giving the production a much needed variation in tone with the divergent styles they bring to the stage. Along with Dominic Scarf, all players create genial personalities, with an enthused commitment that is quite memorable. Also noteworthy is Maddie Houlbrook-Walk’s lighting design, which helps to create contrast between sequences, and for giving dimension to a blank space presented without set pieces.

The challenges Daniel faces in Between Two Waves are as complex and manifold as many in the audience have experienced in real life. The production bears a certain accuracy in its depiction of a person’s troubled times, but its gentleness betrays the brutality of our memories. The universe is capable of serving up cruel blows to our time on earth, and sharing our pain at the theatre can be cathartic, but only if there is no holding back.

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

5 Questions with Clemence Williams

IMG_4465What is your favourite swear word?
I’m not sure if it’s a swear word, but I use “jerk” a whole lot. Especially self-referentially.

What are you wearing?
A Brooklyn Nets singlet under floral overalls, grey Uniqlo hoodie and my vintage leather jacket, topped with a stripey woollen beanie and bottomed with low cut, tan riding boots. Too much?

What is love?
Baby don’t hurt me. Don’t hurt me no more.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
I had the good fortune of seeing the Sydney University Arts Revue. It was excellently written, beautifully performed and was a night to remember. 5/5 stars.

Is your new show going to be any good?
I don’t know if I want to classify my work as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. I like to make pieces that can be talked about. I think that theatre should last far beyond the four walls and the few hours that the actors and audience share space. It is the lingering thoughts and conversations that I aim to generate in my work.

Clemence Williams is directing The Chairs, part of Sydney Fringe 2014.
Show dates: 22 – 26 Sep, 2014
Show venue: 5 Eliza – The Annex

Review: The Bitterness Of Pomegranates (Sydney University Dramatic Society)

sudsVenue: University of Sydney Studio B (Camperdown NSW), Aug 13 – 23, 2014
Director: Julia Clark
Playwright: Julia Clark
Cast: Brendan Colnan, India Cordony, Gabby Florek, Sarah Graham, Max Melzer, Diana Reid, Dominic Scarf

Theatre review
Relationships at home are invariably complex. We tell stories from personal experience, not only because we know them well, but also because of the need for a process of articulation that assists with making sense of the people and issues surrounding us. The Bitterness Of Pomegranates by Julia Clark feels like a disclosure of personal confidences involving characters from the writer’s inner sanctum. Their foibles and circumstances might not be familiar to all, but what connects is the intimacy of family dynamics that most audiences would easily understand.

The highlight of Clark’s script is its element of intrigue, but the play does not manage to keep a sharp focus. It contains several themes and concerns that are not explored at much depth, leaving an impression that mundanity is its greatest interest. The work is structured well, but most scenes feel too delicate, resulting in a show that looks a lot like daily life, without enough theatricality on offer. Fortunately the show manages to keep us engaged, with interesting characters and entertaining relationships that we want to learn more about.

Gabby Florek’s performance as Margaret is surprisingly polished. She brings an authentic presence to the character that helps us believe the world being depicted on stage. Florek is a compelling actor, with a gentle tenacity that helps give the production some gravity. The women in the play lack fire. They all seem dejected, but none display passion or anger. Their lives are not wonderful and they should be louder in their displeasure with the cards they are dealt. We understand that society has the potential to suppress its individuals, but we long to see examples of great women, in life and in theatre, break free of their shackles, preferably with deafening drama.

Review: Three Sisters (Sydney University Dramatic Society)

sudsVenue: University of Sydney Studio B (Camperdown NSW), Jul 30 – Aug 9, 2014
Director: Saro Lusty-Cavallari
Playwright: Anton Chekhov (translated by Laurence Senelick)
Cast: Alex Magowan, Chenier Moore, Henriette Tkalec, Honey Abbott, Maree Raad, Zach Beavon-Collin, Victoria Zerbst, Adam Waldman, Brendan Colnan, Ruby Brown, Christian Byers, Meg McLellan, Georgia Coverdale

Theatre review
It is hard to imagine a life without hopes and dreams. The nature of being human has so much to do with our expectations of tomorrow. Most of us think of our days on earth as a linear string of hours, and much as we are bound to the here and now, it is often the moments that follow, that propels us. Chekhov’s Three Sisters is about a dissatisfaction with the present, and the longing for a different time and place.

Saro Lusty-Cavallari’s direction finds beauty in the solemn and the bleak. He handles the optimism of Chekhov’s writing with youthful skepticism, and articulates it through a vision that is gentle and cool. Lusty-Cavallari enjoys conceptual expression, and the conflict between his fondness for abstraction and the writer’s realism creates interesting tensions. The narratives are not relayed with great clarity, but the manipulation of mood and atmosphere is successful. His cast is large, with thirteen young actors of varying abilities, but he features them well. There is no question that Lusty-Cavallari’s first production with professional performers will deliver impressive results; the amount of potential hastening to rupture is unmistakable.

Stronger performers of the group include Chenier Moore who plays a character more than twice his age. Moore’s connection with the script and with his cohorts feels genuine, which allows him to deliver the most engaging and polished characterisation in the production. Henriette Tkalec plays Irina with fascinating results. Tkalec is a young actor with excellent presence, and fierce conviction. Her focus gives energy to scenes, even when textual interpretations are slightly indistinct. There are several delightfully quirky characters in the production, but Adam Waldman’s is most memorable. The actor shows a real passion for the stage, and his enjoyment is infectious. The wide-eyed innocence of his portrayal is endearing, but Waldman’s work would benefit from an amplification of his character’s transformation as the plot develops.

The production is faithful to Chekhov’s artistic legacy. There are no great subversions or unnecessary deconstructions, but the manufacturing of realism is never easy. Training and skill is required of all collaborative elements in order for something that looks like daily life can become effective theatre. This production is not lacking in spirit and diligence, but its participants need more time, which they fortunately have in abundance.

5 Questions with Henriette Tkalec

Henriette SuzyWhat is your favourite swear word?
I say fuck more than I can poke a stick at so… Fuck is barely my favourite but I’ve spent so much time with the bastard by now that he may as well be. Like a dirty uncle who tells the best jokes but you wish didn’t come around quite so often. On second thought. I do love to say cunt once in a while. Or not so once in a while. It’s a feel good word.

What are you wearing?
A mink scarf and my pajamas. It’s cold god damn it.

What is love?
Respect. Knowing your own life could mean less than theirs. Not being able to get through the simplest of tasks without wishing they were there too.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
A 5 year old giving an impromptu stand up comedy/ acrobatic/ beauty pageant routine (hey, a show’s a show). It was pretty fucking good. I’ll give it a not so modest 4.

Is your new show going to be any good?
Well I always say – you’re only as good as your script. And Chekhov’s genuinely got his shit sorted, so hopefully by omission we will have ours. And there’s a great dynamic in the cast and that always translates on stage!

Henriette Tkalec is Appearing in Three Sisters with Sydney University Dramatic Society.
Show dates: 30 Jul – 9 Aug, 2014
Show venue: Studio B, University of Sydney

Review: Ghosts (Sydney University Dramatic Society)

suds1Venue: University of Sydney Studio B (Camperdown NSW), May 14 – 24, 2014
Director: Finn Davis
Playwright: Henrik Ibsen, adapted by Monisha Rudhran
Actors: Diana Reid, Sean Maroney, Myles Gutkin, Ella Parkes-Talbot, Joshua Free
Image by Matthew Webb

Theatre review
This work is an experimentation in naturalist acting. The actors have absorbed Henrik Ibsen’s script and they present on stage a performance that is best described as muted. It is a young team of artists, and their lack of experience is apparent. Their portrayals might work with a camera capturing close ups for the screen, but within the conventions of a live show, communication between stage and audience proves challenging. Plot details are often missed, and the narrative becomes unclear.

Atmospherics, however, are handled well by director Finn Davis. The bleakness being conveyed is severe, and tragically beautiful. Music and sound design by Josie Gibson and Jack Frerer is sensitive and innovative. Kryssa Karavolas’ set design steals the show with its transformation of the usually unimpressive Studio B into something almost majestic in its vision. The backdrop is a Georgia O’Keeffe inspired mural that sits perfectly in the two-storey high construction, and provides a visually stunning element to the show’s conclusion.

Ibsen’s work is about concepts that endure as long as humankind exists. Ghosts is concerned with taboos, morality and our social constructs. It discusses sex from a context that has thankfully evolved over time, but the strength of the master’s writing does not wane. It does however, require maturity and wisdom to help its words speak to audiences of our contemporary cultures. There will never be a time when Ibsen becomes irrelevant, and every production that comes along should be greeted with support and enthusiasm.

Review: The Detective’s Handbook (Sydney University Dramatic Society)

rsz_10344095_783993371619707_864135050788121539_oVenue: University of Sydney Studio B (Camperdown NSW), Apr 30 – May 10, 2014
Book and Lyrics: Ian Ferrington
Score: Olga Solar
Director: Ian Ferrington
Actors: Alessandro Tuniz, Matt Bartlett, Alexander Richmond, Natasha Vickery, Victoria Zerbst, Elliott Miller, Alice Birbara

Theatre review
The Detective’s Handbook is a new musical written by Ian Ferrington, with score provided by Olga Solar. It is a satirical take on film noir, bringing to mind, films like Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982) and Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988). It is persistently self-conscious, but it takes its parody seriously, placing as much focus on storytelling and its musical numbers, as it does on creating laughs.

Ferrington’s vision is ambitious and idiosyncratic. His work might not look original, but it bears a quirkiness that prevents it from feeling derivative. His writing is witty and charming, but his characters, although spirited, are too traditional. Ferrington’s direction is energetic, with an emphasis on rhythms, which keeps things buoyant and lively. There is however, a need for punchlines and plot twists to be cleaned up for clearer delivery. Olga Solar’s delightful music is beautifully woven into the narratives, and effectively provides characters with interest and complexion. There is a noticeable lack of melodies in most of the songs, with the team’s decision to adopt a “rap-infused 1950s showtune jazz” style. It is debatable whether that choice is a wise one, but the two most memorable numbers, “Too Much To Ask” and “Congratulations”, are both conventionally structured, hummable tunes.

Matt Bartlett has the strongest singing voice in the cast, and plays Detective Jimmy Hartman with great conviction, creating a character that stands out as the most believable of the group. The actor brings a warmth to his performance, and quickly establishes a good connection with the audience. Natasha Vickery plays her three characters with panache and levity. She embraces the show’s giddy style of comedy with good humour, and although required to play silly often, we remember her performance to be a polished one. Other players tend to have an oversimplified approach, with characterisations that do not develop far enough to sustain a show that’s considerably more substantial than a skit.

This is a musical with a lot of frivolity, but it also demonstrates impressive flair. Ferrington and Solar’s material contains great potential, with generous room for comedians to provide dynamic and creative interpretations. This production might be a little under-cooked with too many one trick ponies, but there is no doubt that if explored with greater depth, its future incarnation could well be The Big Noir Musical Hit.

Review: Attempts On Her Life (Sydney University Dramatic Society / Periscope Productions)

rsz_suds___periscope_present__attempts_on_her_lifeVenue: University of Sydney Studio B (Camperdown NSW), Apr 23 – 26, 2014
Directors: Clemence Williams, Benjamin Sheen
Playwright: Martin Crimp
Actors: Daniel Beratis, Bridget Haberecht, Felicia King, Brittany Lewis, Brendan McDougall, Steffan Rizzi, Julia Robertson, Jack Scott, Harriet Streeter, Leili Walker

Theatre review
The subject matter is brutal, intense and grim. Martin Crimp’s writing however, is not interested in conventional storytelling. He places emphasis instead on exploring theatrical structures that work with plots in unusual and challenging ways. Artist and audience are required to invent new approaches in order to relate to the text and its artistic form. Preconceived notions about the nature of theatre are brought to turmoil in the face of Crimp’s determined sense of nihilism.

Directors Clemence Williams and Benjamin Sheen do an excellent job of extracting a style of performance from their cast of ten that is cohesive and authentic. The harmony and assuredness of the ensemble gives the stage an energy that captivates, and their individual personalities contribute to a show that is layered and complex. Williams and Sheen do well to create variation between scenes, which keeps things unpredictable and nimbly paced. It is noteworthy that the team is comprised of two separate groups, SUDS in Sydney and Periscope in Melbourne, but there is not a hint of discernible disjunction onstage.

Actor Leili Walker stands out with strong presence and a sharp focus. There is a lack of self consciousness in her performance that conveys confidence beyond her years. Also memorable is Julia Robertson who engages with clear motivations that are always intensely genuine. It is remarkable that she is able to introduce psychological truth into a performance that is persistently characterised by an overt anti-naturalism.

Somewhere in Attempts On Her Life lies a tale that is disturbing and devastating. Its insistence on a wildly non-narrative mode of expression means that the play does not move us emotionally. We are forced to access instead, our mental capacities, where we are, hopefully, more likely to be inspired for social change and political action.