Review: Mortel (KXT on Broadway)

Venue: KXT on Broadway (Ultimo NSW), Apr 25 – 29, 2023
Director: Steven Ljubović
Cast: Phoebe Atkinson, Gemma Burwell, Abbey Dimech, Giani Leon, Meg Hyeronimus, Levi Kenway, Aiden Morris, Bella Ridgway, Shannon Thomas
Images by Abraham de Souza

Theatre review
Nine beings emerge from their cocoons, flesh and bone perfectly formed, all muscles ready to fire. Mortel is a work of physical theatre that takes from dance traditions, from experimental art and from performance training, manifesting in a presentation that ranges from the obscure to the obvious, from beautiful to awkward.

Directed by Steven Ljubović, Mortel has a tendency to feel derivative, in a style that is perhaps too demanding of an artist’s capacity for originality. Whether drawing from something more distinct like Bob  Fosse’s “Rich Man’s Frug” or other elements that simply feel instinctively familiar, the staging never delivers much that is truly inventive. It is however, a show that is often captivating, with an evocative and sensual sound design by Kieran Camejo that provides a basis for our emotions to engage. Lights by Clare Sheridan are gently rendered, to best support, and flatter, the dynamic activity taking place.

Performers are dressed exquisitely by Ljubović, in shades and shapes that nod to contemporary pop culture and to the world of fashion. The cast of nine is incredibly cohesive, perfectly well-rehearsed and indefatigably focused, on what they mean to achieve as individuals and as a singular pulsatory organism. The work may not require extraordinary athleticism or technical proficiency, but their demonstration of strength and precision, along with their boundless dedication, is a joy to behold.

There is nothing that quite parallels the enthusiasm for living a good life that emerges, from the unremitting meditations on the nature and inevitability of death.

Review: Metropolis (Hayes Theatre)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), Apr 21 – May 20, 2023
Book and Lyrics: Julia Robertson (based on the novel by Thea von Harbou)
Music: Zara Stanton
Director: Julia Robertson
Cast: Thomas Campbell, Tom Dawson, Sam Harmon, Selin Idris, Dominic Lui, Amanda McGregor, Tomas Parrish, AJ Pate, Joshua Robson, Anusha Thomas, Shannen Alyce Quan, Jim Williams
Images by Grant Leslie

Theatre review

Thea von Harbou’s 1925 novel Metropolis, emerged as a response to the Second Industrial Revolution, when it had become clear that modernity was likely to involve catastrophic consequences, that the powers that be, could very well ignore. In von Harbou’s story, business magnate Joh Fredersen’s ambitions knows no bounds. His efforts to exploit new technologies for unprecedented material gains, turns him blind to the devastating human and environmental costs, resulting from these twentieth century ways of organising labour. There may be a naivete associated with Metropolis, but a century on, it is clear that von Harbou’s early concerns, criticized for being overly simplistic, have now become completely substantiated, and sadly commonplace.

This musical adaptation, with book and lyrics by Julia Robertson and music by Zara Staunton, certainly preserves the uncomplicated tone of the original book (and the famous Fritz Lang film of 1927). Its songs are highly enjoyable, with unpredictable orchestrations by Staunton that evoke meaningful contrasts between notions of the natural versus the synthetic. The plot however, is rarely compelling or convincing in a show, directed by Robertson, that is perhaps excessively stylised, ironically unable to convey sufficient humanity, for its audience to invest meaningfully into any of its characters, or its moral intentions.

There are however, many instances of visual splendour, on a set by Nick Fry whose rendering of classic art deco schemes, delivers satisfying imagery commensurate with expectations derived from the cultural landmark that is Lang’s film. Fry’s work on a human-size puppet that depicts a dystopic robot, is especially impressive. Ryan McDonald’s lighting design too is pleasing to the eye, although it can seem too pre-occupied with the manufacturing of beauty, leaving some spatial configurations to look somewhat deficient. Ella Butler’s costumes depict well, the decay of modernity, but some attempts at portraying decadence, are less than adequate.

Joshua Robson plays Fredersen, and along with Shannen Alyce Quan in the role of Maria, offer some of the stronger singing, in a cast memorable for its unwavering earnestness. Tom Dawson brings stage presence to Fredersen’s honourable son Freder, but it is Thomas Campbell as the mad scientist Rotwang who is memorable with a sense of authenticity, albeit in an extravagantly fantastical realm.

Freder repeatedly urges for his father to do better, but it is hard to tell anyone to moderate their behaviour, when they see no incentive to do so; for some people, the idea of “a greater good” simply never resonates. It makes sense therefore, to resort to the language of power, that they evidently believe in above all else. This then requires that the disenfranchised find cohesion and consensus, for the only way for the huddled masses to be able to participate in the discourse of power, is for us to coalesce, in hopes of forming something threatening enough, that will force a change. When our disparities are this severe, we need to wake to the fact that any amelioration, will only come from our steely insistence, and never from the kindness of those whose hearts are determined not to be found. |

Review: Tick, Tick… Boom! (Sydney Lyric Theatre)

Venue: Sydney Lyric Theatre (Sydney NSW), Apr 20 – 26, 2023
Book: Jonathan Larson
Lyrics: Jonathan Larson
Music: Jonathan Larson
Director: Tyran Parke
Cast: Sheridan Adams, Finn Alexander, Hamish Johnston, Elenoa Rokobaro, Hugh Sheridan
Images by Jeff Busby

Theatre review

Jon’s thirtieth birthday is fast approaching, and his anxiety is on overdrive. An artist living and working in New York, his career has yet to take off, even though everyone seems to heap praise on his song writing. Tick, Tick… Boom! is a semi-autobiographical work by Jonathan Larson, first performed in 1990, just six years before his untimely death, at the very young age of 35. Larson’s greatest success finally came with the musical Rent, but he never saw the warm reception of opening night, having passed away just the day before its first preview.

Tick, Tick… Boom! was never conceived for large venues. This staging, directed by Tyran Parke, is based on an adaptation by David Auburn that expanded the work from Larson’s original solo format, and its current iteration in a 2,000 seater auditorium, demonstrates unfavourably the intimate nature of the musical. The drama never grips, and the songs rarely soar. We feel energies dissipating long before they reach us, from a stage that often looks too subdued, and too far away.

Christina Smith’s scenic design encloses the action on the centre third of the proscenium, which helps to concentrate focus, but which also restricts movement, in a way that makes the show look monotonous. Lights by Matt Scott, although adept at providing appropriate illumination, does not deliver much more than its essential functions. Musical direction by Kohan van Sambeeck, while able to imbue some intensity to the plot, is let down by sound engineering that keeps the band distant, and much of their efforts withdrawn and contained within the stage area.

Leading man Hugh Sheridan, while not lacking in verve, has a voice that is excessively raspy and strained, unable to allow his audience to connect with the songs, and therefore losing the essence and soul of his character Jon. Performer Elenoa Rokobaro is the saving grace of the production, confident and delightful in all of her roles, especially memorable in her showstopping tune, “Come to Your Senses”, taking the opportunity very late in the piece, to remind us of the magic, that theatre is capable of.

Artists do not create work in vacuums. It is fundamental to any art practice, that communication between creator and audience is a matter of consideration, but there always comes a point where one can care too much. Jon cares too much, about what people think, not only in relation to his work as a writer of songs and musicals, but also as a man struggling in a contemporary epoch, defined by envy and competition. It is a shame that we have manufactured a world, in which few artists are able to be content simply with the joy of creation, where most are made to involve themselves with an endless barrage of peripheral interferences, that fuel professional jealousy and gratuitous aspiration. Jon is good at what he loves, but it is a real shame that everywhere he seeks affirmation, seems to make him think, that he is not enough.

Review: New Balance (Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Apr 19 – 23, 2023
Creators: Christopher Bryant, Emma Palackic
Cast: Christopher Bryant
Images by Robert Catto

Theatre review
In the one-person show New Balance, Christopher Bryant declares himself queer and disabled, wearing those labels like one would badges of honour, when returning from fighting for causes of immense consequence. In polite society, those labels of identification are of course discouraged from prominent enunciation, because the cis-white-straight-ableist hegemony would always prefer to deny, that their prejudices are in fact fundamental, to how each of our lives is structured. They want us to subscribe to the convenient notion that all people are the same, in order that so many of the injustices they steadfastly establish and perpetuate, are allowed to operate in stealth.

Their gaslighting, and our cultural delusion, is addressed by New Balance, a brilliantly engrossing 60-minute show created by Bryant and Emma Palackic, to firmly renounce that collective refusal to acknowledge the gremlins in our system, put in place to privilege the few, but that are perversely upheld by the masses. The show asserts otherness from a location that is both queer and disabled, two conceptions of experiences that seem at face value, to be distinct and separate, but through the articulation of a performer who inhabits both identities simultaneously, it becomes clear that the politics of otherness, only ever functions one way. The narrative of routine ostracism, and of persistent exclusion, is powerfully represented by Bryant’s unvarnished performance style, devoid of pretension and of formalist technique, existing only in the space of theatre, to speak intimately and persuasively from human to human.

Bryant and Palackic’s text, which includes first-person contributions from Jamila Main, Rebekah Robertson, Anthony Severino and Jacqueline Tooley, is a deeply evocative expression of life on the outside. Video projections by Justin Gardam, along with sound recordings of confessional voices, offer meaningful enhancement to all the sensitive divulgements, that are surprising yet familiar, in their honest encapsulation of a diverse humanity. Lighting design by Chris Milburn add sensuality to proceedings, to make us feel a certain palpable corporeality, that keeps these thoughts being so staunchly shared on stage, to link resolutely to our own bodies.

New Balance seeks to dismantle that which has long been instituted as pristine, and reconstitutes that which is deemed immaculate, to refute the many exclusionary tendencies of how we organise our lives. It reminds us fervently, that much as we experience challenges differently, our humanity can only ever be uniformly perfect.

Review: Julia (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Mar 31 – May 20, 2023
Playwright: Joanna Murray-Smith
Director: Sarah Goodes
Cast: Jessica Bentley, Justine Clarke
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review
We know that Julia Gillard, our 27th Prime Minister, is made of some truly formidable stuff, simply for being the first woman to attain that coveted position. In Joanna Murray-Smith’s play simply named Julia, evidence of all her incredible grit and gumption, is consolidated into a 90-minute piece, telling a story not only of Gillard’s virtues, but also of the immense culture of sexism and misogyny, so fundamentally entrenched in Australian life. Holding office from 2010 to 2013, Gillard’s experiences as the most high-profile woman on these lands, meant that she had to navigate some of the worst abuse ever witnessed in the public sphere, at a time even more hostile to female leaders than today,  before the prior to the 2016 watershed #MeToo movement.

Murray-Smith’s writing is undeniably powerful, valuable both as documentation of a deeply significant moment of our history, and as a feminist work that proves enormously inspiring. Julia can at times feel excessively deferential, and can be charged with having minimised Gillard’s weaknesses and faults (in particular, her handling of issues pertaining to asylum seekers and to marriage equality), but its theatricality, structured around the celebration of a genuinely consequential personality, is one of rare exaltation.

The show is directed by Sarah Goodes, whose judicious sensitivity ensures that we see beyond the personal achievements of a remarkable woman, to consider the wider meanings of Gillard’s prominence. Goodes makes us think about the contexts of the ex-PM’s relentless mistreatment, along with the trails she had blazed, so that Julia becomes more than a tribute to one. 

Set design by Renée Mulder features mirrored surfaces that remind us of the infinitely far-reaching effects of Gillard’s accomplishments. Lights by Alexander Berlage are gently rendered to keep unwavering focus on the protagonist. Video projections by Susie Henderson offer elegant augmentation, to the simple imagery being presented. Music and sound by Steve Francis, enhance the gravitas being explored, in the feminist themes that are so intrinsic to how we understand the story of Julia.

Actor Justine Clarke is electric as our national hero, exceedingly precise with her delivery of every line, and resolutely present, in every moment of her compelling embodiment of this much-loved character. Vigorously poignant, yet dazzlingly splendid with her humour, Clarke’s is a faultless performance on technical levels, but more importantly, a marvellously enchanting creation, that reminds us of what it means to lead with morality and integrity.

Jessica Bentley plays a subsidiary role, as a person of few words, but nonetheless omnipresent as a woman of lower status, to whom Gillard’s efforts are dedicated, and without whom Gillard was unable to rise. This incorporation of a secondary personality,  one performed by a person of colour reveals quite importantly, an awareness around issues of racism in representations of Gillard’s legacy. Narratives of this nature frequently fall into traps of “white feminism”, and whilst this theatrical device is clearly well intentioned, there is a persistent discomfort in witnessing Bentley occupying various positions of silent servitude, all through the production.

It was certainly a momentous occasion when Gillard demonstrated that women too, are capable of ascending to the very pinnacle of positions. Whether or not it was a revolutionary event, is however debatable. If we concede that Gillard was an exception to the rule, we admit that little has changed, in the systems that we allow to run the world. On the other hand, to say that Gillard has not left behind permanent improvements, is manifestly inaccurate. Relying on any singular effort to change the world, is naïve and absurd. Heroes are gratifying as objects of admiration, but their greater purpose is to spur bigger numbers into action, when they have shown without ambiguity, what can be done when we believe in the good of our species. |

Review: Fences (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Wharf 1 Sydney Theatre Company (Walsh Bay NSW), Mar 25 – May 6, 2023
Playwright: August Wilson
Director: Shari Sebbens
Cast: Bert LaBonté, Markus Hamilton, Damon Manns, Molly Moriarty, Zahra Newman, Dorian Nkono, Darius Williams
Images by Daniel Boud

Theatre review

In 1950s Pittsburgh USA, Troy and Rose try their level best at making a life for themselves and their children. Harsh conditions as evidenced most concretely in discriminatory Jim Crow laws of the time however, means that the couple’s dreams were always going to be dashed, no matter their effort. August Wilson’s Fences deals with the effects of racial subjugation, from the microcosmic perspective of a single family unit, and its inevitable disintegration. As with all great tragedies, we find ourselves rooting for characters, but also simultaneously anticipating their demise. In Fences, we understand that it is not the playwright’s manipulations that prevent the Maxsons from thriving, but the very realities of racism and its accompanying systemic reverberations, that have kept generations of African-Americans from fulfilling their greatest potential.

Powerfully directed by Shari Sebbens, the production speaks pointedly on both the intimate and the broader social contexts, of the Maxson family’s story. The drama works poignantly whether one is concerned with the personal aspects of Fences, or the implications on community, of a far-reaching story like this. Sebbens’ work feels beautifully organic, yet its intricacies are honed with great detail, resulting in a meticulously rendered presentation that always sings naturally and connects profoundly.

Set design by Jeremy Allen transports us somewhere thoroughly believable. Even though the Maxsons’ front yard from 70 years ago only exists in our imagination, what our eyes encounter is something that seems replete with verisimilitude, as are Allen’s costumes, similarly accurate in their depictions of Black life in mid-century Pennsylvania. Verity Hampson’s lights are conservatively, but thoughtfully, calibrated to engender an intense sentimentality, for a play that requires of us, emotional as well as intellectual investment. Sensual and soulful music by Brendon Boney draws from American Blues traditions, so that our sensibilities remain firmly in that historic time and place, one comprising the complex embroilment of bittersweet nostalgia and despicable oppression.

Actor Bert LaBonté delivers sensationally as Troy, with unremitting authenticity and disarming passion. He is heartbreaking yet reprehensible, sympathetic yet frustrating, in his noble portrayals of emasculation and righteous indignation. Zahra Newman brings great vigour to her interpretation of Rose, allowing the feminine half of the Fences story to make an almost comparable impact. Highly engaging is Darius Williams as son Cory, impressively nuanced and exquisitely tender, in a devastating narrative of circular histories. Markus Hamilton too, has us captivated as the mirthful Bono, with perfect timing and an extraordinary presence. Other cast members are Damon Manns, Molly Moriarty and Dorian Nkono, each one more charming than the other, in a show full of persuasive and likeable personalities.

Troy is fixated on his shattered hopes of becoming a professional baseball player of great renown. It is true that no person’s life can be guaranteed happiness ever after, based on the reversal of a singular precedent circumstance. It is also true however, that if racism is not the annihilating force pervasive in so many of our lives, Troy would have achieved not only his heart’s desire, but also a significantly improved existence overall, for himself and for his loved ones. Like Troy, many of us are conditioned to think more about personal failures, than to figure out ways to dismantle those harmful systems, within which all have to operate. Despondency is understandable, but those energies can be turned outwards, negative as they may be, to forge new paths that could bend the arc of history.

Review: Cherry Smoke (KXT on Broadway)

Venue: KXT on Broadway (Ultimo NSW), Mar 24 – Apr 8, 2023
Playwright: James McManus
Charlie Vaux
Cast: Alice Birbara, Fraser Crane, Tom Dawson, Meg Hyeronimus
Images by Abraham de Souza

Theatre review
The story takes place somewhere in a godforsaken redneck part of the United States, where girls kiss delinquents and dream of birthing babies, and boys fight each other to prove their manhood. As we see in James McManus’ Cherry Smoke, there is not much one can aspire to, when caught in a cycle of poverty. Even the imagination is restricted, and people can only follow in the footsteps of parents, whose lives have proven completely unworthy of replication.

Directed by Charlie Vaux, the pessimistic story is given a surprising tenderness, with perhaps a deficiency in portrayals of brutality and grittiness, that makes the experience feel insufficiently poignant. Lights by Jasmin Borsovszky are commensurately soft in approach, visually appealing but overly romantic with its renderings of despondency. Soham Apte’s set design offers simple solutions to help facilitate entrances and exits with minimal friction. Sounds by Johnny Yang are a highlight,  working marvellously to alter atmosphere, and to manufacture moments of dramatic tension.

Actor Meg Hyeronimus plays the love-struck Cherry, as a sassy yet stern young woman,  whilst the object of her desire Fish is performed by Tom Dawson, who depicts the boxer with imprudence and a devastating recklessness. Both demonstrate good focus, along with attention to detail, for a challenging piece about a space that seems so far removed, from most of our present realities. Alice Birbara and Fraser Crane, too are diligent with their parts as Bug and Duffy respectively, bringing intensity to the production at key junctures.

The veracity of socio-economic problems being explored in Cherry Smoke, is beyond doubt. Evidence of people falling through the cracks is extensive, should we choose to pay attention. It is meaningless to say that we want these problems to go away, unless we can admit that it is a matter of wealth redistribution that needs to take place, and that some simply have to give up their power and riches, in order that many more can be released from their torment. The disadvantaged should also find ways to divert violence away from themselves, and exert that force instead, on those who are more deserving of pressure and disruption.

Review: Artslab: Body Of Work (Shopfront Arts Co-op)

Venue: 107 (Redfern NSW), Mar 22 – Apr 2, 2023
Images by Clare Hawley

Playwright/Director/Cast: Flynn Mapplebeck

Under The Influence
Playwrights: Ana Fenner, Amelia Gilday
Director: Amelia Gilday
Cast: Ana Fenner

Playwrights: Lu Bradshaw, Mina Bradshaw
Mina Bradshaw
Cast: Michael Ho, Jessica Melchert, Bailey Tanks, Sophie Florence Ward

Theatre review

In Quadrants, grownup single child Flynn Mapplebeck recounts his days in lockdown, and connects those experiences with other memories of loneliness. It is a work of great idiosyncrasy, with Mapplebeck’s easy charm sustaining our attention effortlessly through the  duration. A slideshow features prominently in the humorous presentation, along with exhilarating music, both adding substantively to the richness of Mapplebeck’s whimsical show. Quadrants communicates with a distinct blitheness, but speaks volumes between the lines, about the state of our social disconnectedness.

Ana Fenner and Amelia Gilday explore in Under the Influence, the frustrations of a woman as she embarks on the journey of gender transition. Fenner is sole performer of the piece, working intimately with live and recorded video projections that represent effectively, the entanglements of self identification with our culture of pervasive digital imagery. A memorable segment involving physical endurance, reveals both Fenner’s dedication and despair, in a work that looks to be an autobiographical expression of a transgender experience in the current epoch.

Lu and Mina Bradshaw take us to the absurd world of wellness, in their hilarious farce Zest, set in an expensive retreat, where individuals unravel over several weeks, in hopes of attaining some imagined condition of enlightenment. Directed by Mina Bradshaw, Zest delivers genuine hilarity, and big belly laughs, through its scathing parodies of ignorant devotees and their desperation, as they are put through the wringer, of commodified torment. An excellent cast of four, Michael Ho, Jessica Melchert, Bailey Tanks and Sophie Florence Ward, depict with mock earnestness and biting sarcasm, the comical but brutal deterioration taking place at the glorified camp. We watch well-meaning people act in stupid ways, gleefully snickering from our position of sanctimony, but also aware of the very fine lines that separate us from them.

There is a commonality between the three presentations, that relate to the very real human feeling of inadequacy. It seems that deeply entrenched in Australian life, is our constant submission to this interminable sentiment of feeling not enough. There is something in our history of European colonialism, and in the forms of patriarchy and capitalism that have taken hold subsequently, that require of us, this ubiquitous need to always prove ourselves to be better, that what we have and who we are, is always deficient.

It is a mechanism of subjugation, so that we permit others to forever have dominance over us, so that sovereignty over our lives is never to be claimed by the self. It should not be radical or anarchic to love oneself unconditionally, but it seems that thinking that there is nothing wrong with the self, and that all the faults are with systems one has no choice but to operate under, is the most revolutionary of all the paths to mindful transformation.

Review: Into The Woods (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Mar 18 – Apr 23, 2023
Book: James Lapine
Music and Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim
Director: Eamon Flack
Cast: Marty Alix, Stefanie Caccamo, Peter Carroll, Tamsin Carroll, Andrew Coshan, Lena Cruz, Tim Draxl, Esther Hannaford, Shubshri Kandiah, Mo Lovegrove, Anne-Maree McDonald, Justin Smith
Images by Christopher Hayles

Theatre review

Truth always finds its way into the stories we tell, although the degree with which it is incorporated, varies wildly. Some truths are hard to bear, so we have them varnished and camouflaged. Other truths are easier understood, when disguised as something adjacent to stone cold facts. There is a danger however, that the human mind can sometimes do all it can, to evade truths that are too bitter, so we spare ourselves the cruelty, and fabricate nonsense for delusory alternatives that might be more tolerable, thereby circumventing any action that could help improve matters.

James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim’s Into The Woods takes aim at the ways in which we explain the world to our children, urging us to consider how much protection to offer them, and how much real understanding we want them to have. By extension, it compels each of us to examine our own capacities to handle the rougher aspects of existence, and questions the veracity with which we navigate the more consequential challenges that inevitably arise.

Exuberant direction by Eamon Flack, along with a sense of indefatigable urgency that sets the pace, makes for a show that has us riveted and amused. A stellar cast brings not only great skill and talent, but also an inspiring sincerity, that draws us deep into the nuances, both sensorial and intellectual, of Lapine and Sondheim’s masterpiece.

Orchestrations by Guy Simpson reduces accompaniment to a couple of pianos, with mixed results. An inviting intimacy is achieved for the production, but the music can on occasion be insufficiently rousing. Fortunately, sound design by David Bergman supplements our need for greater drama, in moments where a more rhapsodic level of emotion is required.

Set design by Michael Hankin is fairly minimal in approach, with an abundance of gleaming black surfaces that deliver timeless visual sophistication. Costumes by Micka Agosta do not veer very far away from the vivid essences of characters as prescribed in the text, but several surprising and extravagant interpretations, leave a remarkable impression. Damien  Cooper’s lights are in constant motion, meticulously and imaginatively illuminating the action, to create endlessly sumptuous imagery, whilst facilitating all the meaningful storytelling.

It is probably with a considerable amount of delusion, that people decide to birth babies into existence. Parents imagine that they can shield their offspring from all manner of harm, and further, they fantasise about creating futures that are brighter and altogether lovelier, in which their children can flourish. It is in moments of passion perhaps, that people forget the unrelenting suffering, intermittent it may be for some, that underscores all our days on this plane. They then dream up fairy tales and enchanting fables, to manufacture sweeter, kinder and more tender realities, for ears that will only be delicate for a short amount of time, before they too have to wake up, to all that is nightmarish, in how we have to traverse this mortal experience.

Review: On A Clear Day You Can See Forever (Seymour Centre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Sydney NSW), Mar 17 – Apr 15, 2023
Book and Lyrics: Alan Jay Lerner (adaptation by Jay James-Moody)
Music: Burton Lane
Director: Jay James-Moody
Cast: Natalie Abbott, Blake Bowden, Lincoln Elliott, James Haxby, Jay James-Moody, Madeleine Jones, Billie Palin
Images by David Hooley

Theatre review

Daisy is put under hypnosis by Dr Bruckner, to explore a sort of regression therapy, in order that the origins of Daisy’s ESP abilities can be uncovered. Quite by accident, a past life emerges, and Bruckner promptly falls for the ghost of Melinda, who seems to reside in Daisy’s body. The trouble however, is in the liberties that the doctor takes with his patient’s body. Daisy remains unaware of Melinda’s existence, and is certainly oblivious to the physical intimacies being shared, whilst in a trance.

Alan Jay Lerner’s 1965 book and lyrics for the musical On a Clear Day You Can See Forever certainly would not fly in today’s climate, especially if Daisy was a woman. This current adaptation by Jay James-Moody, takes inspiration from the 2011 Broadway adaptation, and makes Daisy a man, presumably so that the quandary of gender imbalance in the original is eliminated. A case of sexual assault between men, along with professional impropriety, is however still at the centre of the piece, and it is arguable if the production addresses either adequately.

The show begins with wonderful charm, as we are introduced to the three main characters, all of whom are played by extremely likeable performers; James-Moody as Daisy, along with Blake Bowden as Bruckner and Madeleine Jones as Melinda, form quite the formidable team.  The supporting cast of Natalie Abbott, Lincoln Elliott, James Haxby and Billie Palin, too is an accomplished foursome, each with evident commitment to the cause.

As we get into the nitty-gritty of the story, a lethargy unfortunately develops, and a conspicuous lack of theatrical verve persists until the end of Act 1. Returning from interval, things take a swift turn, and a much more convivial experience takes hold, for a comedy that is although problematic, has the capacity to keep its audience engrossed.

Set design by Michael Hankin is creatively imagined, and beautifully realised by Bella Rose Saltearn, but awkward entrances and exits, reveal an oversight perhaps, of the show’s more practical requirements. Costumes, also by Hankin, establish strongly the personality types we encounter, but it is not entirely convincing that an English woman from 1923 is wearing trousers outside of the sporting field, or that Daisy would be wearing shorts, to embark on a vacation to Vancouver. Lights by James Wallis, operate delicately to offer visual enhancements for recurring supernatural elements, but several deficient blackouts, prove distracting for an otherwise pleasurable vista.

Natalya Aynsley’s orchestrations and arrangements are inexhaustibly elegant, fully utilising the score’s old Broadway sound to great nostalgic effect. Subtle sound design by Oliver Brighton delivers further auditory magic, with thoughtful adjustments that help us place the narrative in oscillating realms, moving us between past and present, real and metaphysical.

Not only has Dr Bruckner recently lost his wife, he is now dealing with the complications of having amorous feelings for another dead woman, as well as being newly enamoured with a real human male. All this vulnerability could make Brucker an empathetic character,  but he should not be regarded as anything other than the villain of the piece. It is unforgivable behaviour, even if disguised by some of the most romantic music, and plenty of sweet nothings, one can hear.