Review: The Mousetrap (Theatre Royal Sydney)

Venue: Theatre Royal Sydney (Sydney NSW), 8 – 30 Oct, 2023
Writer: Agatha Christie
Director: Robyn Nevin
Cast: Laurence Boxhall, Gerry Connolly, Tom Conroy, Charlotte Friels, Adam Murphy, Anna O’Byrne, Alex Rathgeber, Geraldine Turner
Images by Brian Geach

Theatre review
Since opening in 1952, Agatha Christie’s classic whodunnit The Mousetrap has been entertaining audiences in London, as the now famously known longest-running show of the West End. In a guesthouse named Monkswell Manor, a resident gets murdered, and we try to solve the mystery. Christie’s stories can be easily dismissed as generic or repetitive, “seen one, seen them all” but her immense popularity has never waned, proving there is a certain magic to her work.

Directed by Robyn Nevin, this is a new but faithful rendering of the 70 year-old play, in the definitive style of an Agatha Christie show. Traditional and completely predictable, but nonetheless entertaining, The Mousetrap delivers everything adored by legions of Christie fans. There is mystery, gentle thrills , characteristic humour, and old world elegance (thanks to Isabelle Hudson’s production design and Trudy Dalgleish’s lights). One could hardly care if the concluding revelation, turns out to be no surprise at all.

It is a lively cast that takes the stage, with actors fully embracing the jaunty old English tone of performance. Anna O’Byrne is highly convincing as owner of the house Mollie Ralston, perfectly mimicking the voice and physicality of leading women from that bygone era. Laurence Boxhall leaves a remarkable impression as Christopher Wren; very funny and very charming, with one of the more inventive approaches for material that is arguably outdated. Also compelling is Tom Conroy as Detective Sergeant Trotter, who brings great precision and a much needed sense of variation to the role.

Where The Mousetrap is unable to provide a refreshing experience, it delivers a level of polish and professionalism, that shines a light, on the dedication and competency of our artists. The writer might be the star, but there is no denying all the unsung heroes who keep her name eternally in lights.

www.themousetrap.com.au

Review: An American In Paris (Theatre Royal Sydney)

Venue: Theatre Royal Sydney (Sydney NSW), 29 Apr – 12 Jun, 2022
Book: Craig Lucas (inspired by the Motion Picture)
Music & Lyrics: George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin
Director: Christopher Wheeldon
Cast: Leanne Cope, Robbie Fairchild, Jonathan Hickey, Ashleigh Rubenach, Sam Ward, David Whitney, Anne Wood
Images by Darren Thomas

Theatre review
Jerry is a World War II veteran, experiencing art and love in a foreign land, a few short years after arms have been laid down. More than ever before, freedom seems a phenomenon not to be taken for granted. The stage musical An American in Paris is based on the legendary 1951 Vincente Minnelli film of the same name, known for its visual splendour and inventive use of music by the Gershwin brothers. This adaptation, although replete with nostalgia, is tailored for a more contemporary sensibility. Beautifully positioned between past and present, it connects us with the genius of a bygone era, delivering divine inspiration to a generation at risk of losing artistic treasures that had been gifted decades before.

Gene Kelly’s original choreography is transposed to perfection by Christopher Wheeldon, whose re-creation of mid-century modern ballet proves to be nothing short of sublime. Spellbindingly performed by a cast that is at once whimsical yet disciplined, the audience is impressed and dumbfounded, capable only to gawk and lose ourselves in the theatrical magic being presented. Robbie Fairchild and Leanne Cope are the leads, individually swoonsome but as a pair, their extraordinary synchronicity is flabbergasting, in a series of breathtaking pas de deux that are simply unforgettable.

Gershwin’s iconic score is given wonderful revitalisation by Rob Fisher, who provides for the production a taut rendition of familiar evergreen melodies. Musical direction by Vanessa Scammell is dynamic and spirited, interpreted by a fastidious orchestra that moves us to spaces rarefied and hopelessly romantic. Visual design aspects are somewhat restrained, and not particularly lavish, but sonic dimensions of An American in Paris induce a sense of grandeur that insists on our luxuriation.

The danger of nostalgia is its inherent denial of negative aspects, in our wilful idealisation of the past. Longing for a history that never really existed, undermines the progress that time has achieved. When we say that things used to be better, we imply a rejection of improvements that have been made, and that continue to be made. The fact is, so much of what he have today, is better than how they used to be. In stolen moments however, lingering briefly in fantasies of a different world, is a respite all humans require.

www.americaninparis.com.au

Review: Girl From The North Country (Theatre Royal Sydney)

Venue: Theatre Royal Sydney (Sydney NSW), 6 Jan – 27 Feb, 2022
Book: Conor McPherson
Music & Lyrics: Bob Dylan
Director: Conor McPherson
Cast: Tony Black, Peter Carroll, Tony Cogin, Laurence Coy, Terence Crawford, Helen Dallimore, Blake Erickson, Callum Francis, Elizabeth Hay, Peter Kowitz, Lisa McCune, Samantha Morley, Zahra Newman, Christina O’Neill, Grant Piro, James Smith, Greg Stone, Chemon Theys, Liam Wigney
Images by Daniel Boud

Theatre review
Characters of Girl from the North Country weave in and out of a Minnesota house, in 1934 when the Great Depression was in full force. Their stories are written by Conor McPherson, whose flair for sentimental nostalgia is put to good use, in this musical set to the songs of Bob Dylan. A kind of specific Americanness, found in its themes as well as in its style, might make the show feel somewhat distant to Australian sensibilities, but a transcendent beauty so present in all its creative considerations, almost bridges that cultural gap.

Although not always engaging, the work is certainly transportative. Directed by McPherson, Girl from the North Country takes us to another time and place, with a level of elegance rarely seen on our musical theatre stages. Mark Henderson’s lighting design, in collaboration with Rae Smith’s sets and costumes, offer up lush vistas that meld so wonderfully with musical director Andrew Ross’ reworking of Dylan’s songs. Lucy Hind’s sensitive choreography too is memorable, in a production that feels so confident yet remarkably understated.

The languid aesthetic is brought to manifestation by an endearing cast, including Peter Carroll, Lisa McCune and Zahra Newman, who deliver captivating personalities, in a show that is otherwise fairly resistant of our need to identify with its people and situations. Sublime singing from the likes of Callum Francis, Elizabeth Hay and Christina O’Neill pull us in, so that we can regard the heart and soul of these artistic renderings, at close proximation.

There are many moments of theatrical magic in Girl from the North Country, but there are also many instances where it leaves us unexpectedly cold. It includes an abundance of exquisite elements that amount to something best described as mellow. One would not be surprised to discover that the songs connect more than the stories do, in a work that stands most importantly, as a tribute to the legend that is Bob Dylan.

www.northcountry.com.au

Review: Jagged Little Pill (Theatre Royal Sydney)

Venue: Theatre Royal Sydney (Sydney NSW), 2 – 19 Dec, 2021
Book: Diablo Cody
Music: Glen Ballard, Alanis Morissette
Lyrics: Alanis Morissette
Director: Diane Paulus
Cast: Natalie Bassingthwaighte, Tim Draxl, Emily Nkomo, Liam Head, Maggie Mckenna, Grace Miell, Aydan, Josh Gates, Imani Williams, Caleb Jago-ward, Mon Vergara, Baylie Carson, Georgina Hopson, Noah Mullins, Trevor Santos, Isabella Roberts, Marie Ikonomou, Bella Choundary, Jerome Javier, Romy Vuksan
Images by Daniel Boud

Theatre review
The story takes place in upper-middle class suburbia, where Mary Jane, a classic Connecticut housewife hiding a secret drug problem, invests extraordinary energy into making everything at home appear perfect, to all and sundry. A reckoning is forced into being however, when her teenage children’s upheavals precipitate an embrace of the ugly truth. Adopted daughter Frankie is Black and coming of age, and has lost all patience for her community’s pretentiousness, and son Nick is embroiled in a case of sexual assault, that leads us to discover the depths of Mary Jane’s personal struggles.

The book for Jagged Little Pill by Diablo Cody is carefully considered, and admirable in its commitment to incorporating social issues that are of immense concern today. It represents a strong attempt at pushing forward the musical theatre format, in order that entertainment could be combined, with something altogether more substantial in the way we tell stories, in this age of cultural reinvention. The dominant presence of political activists in the show, complete with slogans on placards, is not only a sign of the times, but a real manifestation of the spirit and intention, of this very 21st century musical.

Featuring songs from the seminal 1995 Alanis Morissette rock album of the same name, the show however is not always completely engaging. The flow from dialogue to song is often less than seamless, and choreography of dance sequences feel awkwardly dated, even if we are conscious of the source material’s age. Fortunately, direction by Diane Paulus (implemented by Resident Director Leah Howard) is full of heart, and although not completely finessed, Jagged Little Pill succeeds in making its art say something deeply meaningful, and very probably, enduringly memorable.

Performer Natalie Bassingthwaighte does an excellent job of presenting Mary Jane’s vulnerability, beautifully detailing all her character’s flaws, whilst keeping us firmly on her side. It is a charm offensive of the most convincing kind. Her family is portrayed by Tim Draxl, Liam Head and Emily Nkomo, who offer nuance to challenging relationships, that all can surely identify with. Singing for Morissette’s rock tunes however, are more powerfully delivered by Aydan, Maggie McKenna and Grace Miell, who play Frankie’s friends and lovers from school. Their ability to bridge the considerable gap between rock and Broadway styles of singing, are the crucial ingredient for some of Jagged Little Pill‘s more transcendent moments.

It all ends too neatly and too easily, of course. A big musical, it seems, can only ever accommodate “happily ever after”. The lasting imagery from the show involves young people demanding change, and it is that insistence on something better, that extends beyond the convenient conclusion, an ongoing discussion about our future. We think about the conventions that govern parameters in art, and how every production bears the responsibility of invention and improvement. We think about the way we talk to one another, and how we must learn to reach better resolutions, even if it means having to grapple with humility. Jagged Little Pill is about a youthful spirit, and all the potential we can unleash when the idealism of our young, is given a chance. The show is not quite a call to arms, but the awareness it raises about a need for revolution, is hard to deny.

www.jaggedmusical.com

Review: Ghost (Theatre Royal)

ghostVenue: Theatre Royal (Sydney NSW), Mar 18 – May 14, 2016
Book & Lyrics: Bruce Joel Rubin
Music & Lyrics: Glen Ballard, Dave Stewart
Director: Matthew Warchus
Cast: Wendy Mae Brown, Ross Chisari, David Denis, Rob Mills, Jemma Rix, David Roberts, Lydia Warr, Evette Marie White
Image by Jeff Busby

Theatre review
The 1990 film Ghost is remembered for its fantastical melodrama involving spirits, murderers, a psychic, and a pair of lovers with a penchant for ceramics. The 2011 musical version retains the very eventful narrative of its original, as well as an extravagant sentimentality that has become closely associated with Ghost. It is undoubtedly a cheesy operation, but no one on stage or in the audience pretends that it is anything otherwise. Its characters are two-dimensional, all singing formulaic showtunes, and the chorus makes sure that the very last row of nosebleeds would notice their every move, even though choreography is already terribly obvious.

There is no room for subtlety here, and the production calls for a certain amount of toughness on the part of its audience in order to stomach its garish approach on all fronts. It is paint by numbers Broadway style, but those predictable blueprints are established for a reason. Ghost provides entertainment, escape and amusement. It gives us moments where we suspend disbelief and reach for the most naive parts of our minds to indulge in all its saccharine wonder, as we gasp at its melange of levitating bodies, disappearing apparitions and actors walking through doors. We might find our intelligence insulted at certain points, but we are accepting of it, as evidenced by box office takings the world over for productions of this nature.

Accolades for Whoopi Goldberg’s film performance as the outlandish Oda Mae, including an Oscar, demonstrate our appetite for the brash and gaudy. The role is performed here by Wendy Mae Brown who does a close proximation of the very memorable hustler-turned-psychic. The delightful character is played by a spirited actor with an impressive voice who relishes every punchline and their accompanying laughter. The leads are much more subdued in tone. Rob Mills and Jemma Rix are excellent performers assigned big songs but nothing much else. Their singing is often spectacular, and both are easy on the eye, which makes them perfectly cast.

It is hard to be enthusiastic after the fact, when a show gives you everything that you had seen many times before, but there is no doubt that we find ourselves powerless and captivated by its tried and tested moments of musical theatre. Ghost provides a familiarity that many wish to revisit time and time again. It reduces us to a childlike stupor, and many would pay good money for that fleeting pleasure. It may not be a special work of art, but in comparison to everyday life, this is magic through and through.

www.ghostthemusical.com.au

5 Questions with Christy Sullivan and Stephen Mahy

Christy Sullivan

Christy Sullivan

Stephen Mahy: Hey Stephen Schwartz is coming to town, want to have a sing with him?
Christy Sullivan: Yes, please!

What is it about performing that makes you do it?
That you get to be a perpetual child; always at play! And that you you are lucky enough, through doing that, to make people feel.

Where do you find peace when it’s all too much?
I find peace by the beach. Either standing on the rocky cliffs or down on the sand and in the water.

Cliché, but what’s the dream role?
My dream role is Eliza Dolittle. Either in Pygmalion or My Fair Lady (not this time though!) You get to be the street urchin who turns into a princess, best of both worlds. And I do love accents!

Stephen Schwartz offers you one of his shows to star in, what is it?
The Baker’s Wife.

Stephen Mahy

Stephen Mahy

Christy Sullivan: When was the moment you decided to make performing a career?
Stephen Mahy: I was 21 and performing an amateur version of Les Mis, selling mobile phones and weighed up what was better. Auditioned for the acting schools and went to WAAPA.

Why do you love to sing?
Singing makes me happy, scared, annoyed, frustrated, determined and dedicated. In the words of Eddie Murphy from Delirious, “all you got to do is sing” and the rest follows.

If you could only sing, play an instrument or act for the rest of your life, which would it be?
I would act for the rest of my life. It’s too much fun acting like someone else.

What’s your favourite Stephen Schwartz song to sing and why?
To date I have only ever sung “Wicked” but, I’m really looking forward to performing the song I am singing at the Theatre Royal.

Have you ever sung defying gravity?
The last few bars, every time!

Christy Sullivan and Stephen Mahy are singing at Stephen Schwartz: In Conversation With Leigh Sales .
Dates: 13 Feb, 2016
Venue: Theatre Royal

Review: Legends! (Gordon Frost / Theatre Royal)

781198-f461dc9e-0993-11e5-8dc7-b0c4f7af3b6c[1]Venue: Theatre Royal (Sydney NSW), Jun 18 – Jul 5, 2015
Playwright: James Kirkwood
Director: Christopher Renshaw
Cast: Maxwell Caulfield, David Denis, Leah Howard, Phillip Lowe, Hayley Mills, Juliet Mills

Theatre review
James Kirkwood’s 1987 comedy Legends! is about screen sirens wrestling with the fact that time can be unkind, and that parts of us are considered over-the-hill before we are ready to acknowledge their demise. The script is only 28 years old, but it feels more dated than the characters it portrays. Many of the jokes are tired, and its inclusion of African-Americans only as servants and strippers is clearly inappropriate for today’s milieu. All the personalities are simplistic, and although we recognise them on the level of stereotypes, they are not affecting beyond anything archaic and predictable.

Direction of the work by Christopher Renshaw does not seek to invent a new sense of humour in order to update the tone and feel of the text, but his show is nevertheless, tightly paced and energetic. The plot is relayed with clarity and enthusiasm, but its lack of wit is unable to be disguised. It must be noted though, that Justin Nardella’s achievements as designer on the production is remarkable, with set and costumes in particular, conveying a striking glamour that is quite captivating.

Performances by the show’s stars, Hayley and Juliet Mills, are polished and engaging. Their interpretation of dueling has-beens at the centre of the play is not wicked enough for the show to be much more than amusing, but we are impressed by the thoroughness of their professionalism in what is evidently a very well-rehearsed performance. The Mills sisters have gestures and voices that demonstrate their admirable stage expertise, and even though the story being told is not filled with passion, the duo’s dedication and enjoyment of their art are lovely to behold. Also exuberant are supporting actors Leah Howard and David Denis, who contribute significant luster to a very conventional production. Their impulsive and lively approach provides buoyancy to an otherwise contrived style of presentation.

Legends! is an old-fashioned comedy, which is not to say that it will not find an audience. It holds appeal for certain cultural segments, but is perhaps not a popular choice for the rest of us. What is it that makes people laugh is never a certainty, and the rules are never stable. Time and space, along with humour, are constantly in flux, and what was once hilarious can now be tedious. Sylvia and Leatrice might no longer be relevant to today’s movie-going public, but their voice should still persist, even just to tide with the sands of time in anticipation of trends and tastes to return.

www.legendstour.com.au

Suzy Goes See’s Best Of 2014

sgs-best2014

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

End

sgs-best2014a

Photography by Roderick Ng, Dec 2014

End

Best of 2018 | Best of 2017 | Best of 2016Best of 2015Best Of 2013

Review: Rupert (Stage Mogul / Theatre Royal)

rupertVenue: Theatre Royal (Sydney NSW), Nov 25 – Dec 20, 2014
Playwright: David Williamson
Director: Lee Lewis
Actors: James Cromwell, Jane Turner, Guy Edmonds, Scott Sheridan, Hai Ha Le, Bert LaBonte, John Leary, Jane Phegan, Ben Wood, Glenn Hazeldine, Danielle Cormack

Theatre review
Biographies of fascinating people appeal to our inquisitive nature. We want to know how people tick, to discover reason behind behaviour, and to uncover secrets of the rich and famous. Rupert Murdoch is one of the world’s most well-known business people, with a personal and professional history that is documented ubiquitously in the public domain. David Williamson’s script is a chronological rehash of Murdoch’s many milestones, but does not provide analysis or insight that might offer a fresh perspective of the prominent figure. The plot reads like a Wikipedia entry, with one key event after another, none of which is surprising and everything is predictable.

Director Lee Lewis does an admirable job of creating a dynamic and colourful show from the plain script. The show feels like a Broadway musical with bells and whistles in every scene taking focus away from the lack of story and drama. Lewis does her best to add excitement with well paced and energetic sequences, but at over two hours, our attention struggles to stay interested in the deficient narrative. The production is designed successfully, with composer Kelly Ryall and lighting designer Niklas Pajanti both adding flair and inventiveness to the proceedings, and Stephen Curtis’ set and audio-visual elements giving the large performance space focus, shape and texture. Murdoch’s tabloid format takes to the stage, giving us cosmetic lavishness, and distraction from the real issues.

There are two Ruperts in the show. James Cromwell is presented as Murdoch as he is today (complete with Twitter account) telling us his side of the story like a narrator to the piece. Cromwell’s energy is oddly placid, but the actor’s sturdy presence helps him portray the allure of power and wealth convincingly. Guy Edmonds is outstanding as Murdoch in the flashbacks. He is astute, charming and sprightly, with a clarity that engages his audience, and a vibrancy that entertains. Edmonds does all the heavy lifting in the show, and his talent is a real highlight. Jane Turner’s comic abilities deliver a memorable, absurdist version of Margaret Thatcher, and Glenn Hazeldine impresses with a range of characters showcasing his amazing skills at mimicry and farcical exuberance.

So much of Rupert is strong and accomplished, but all the accoutrements in the world will not create a great story with a script as dry as this. All the interesting questions one might ask Murdoch in a personal encounter are not addressed. We leave not learning anything new, not understanding the man behind the madness, and completely unsatisfied.

www.rupertonstage.com

Suzy Goes See’s Best Of 2013

Images from a few 2013 stand-outs: A Sign Of The Times, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, All My Sons, Hamlet, Empire: Terror On The High Seas, Hay Fever, Bodytorque.Technique, Waiting For Godot.

Images from a few 2013 stand-outs: A Sign Of The Times, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, All My Sons, Hamlet, Empire: Terror On The High Seas, Hay Fever, Bodytorque.Technique, Waiting For Godot.

This is a wrap up of special moments since the commencement of Suzy Goes See in April 2013. A personal selection from over 100 productions seen in Sydney. Thank you to artists, companies, publicists and punters who have supported Suzy Goes See in 2013. I cannot wait for more shenanigans with you in the new year!

Update: Click here for the Best Of 2014 list.

Suzy x

♥ Avant Garde Angels
The bravest and most creative experimental works in 2013.

♥ Quirky Questers
The most unusual and colourful characters to appear on our stages in 2013.

♥ Design Doyennes
Outstanding visual design in 2013. Fabulous lights, sets and costumes.

♥ Darlings Of Dance
Breathtaking brilliance in the dance space of 2013.

♥ Musical Marvels
Outstanding performers in cabaret and musicals in 2013.

♥ Second Fiddle Superstars
Scene-stealers of 2013 in supporting roles.

♥ Champs Of Comedy
The cleverest, sharpest, and funniest performances of 2013.

♥ Daredevils Of Drama
Bold and excellent acting in dramatic roles in 2013.

♥ Wise With Words
The most interesting and intelligent scripts of 2013.

♥ Directorial Dominance
The most impressive work in direction for 2013.

♥ Shows Of The Year
Nice coincidence to have different genres represented: drama, musical, dance, comedy and cabaret.

♥ Suzy’s Special Soft Spot
For an exceptional work I saw in Melbourne.

End

Best of 2018 | Best of 2017 | Best of 2016Best of 2015Best Of 2014