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.

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.

5 Questions with Ian Ferrington

ianferringtonWhat is your favourite swear word?
Fuck is the purest, but dick is the funniest. Given the 1950s setting of our show, we’ve tried to do as much with ‘darn’ as possible.

What are you wearing?
The bottom half of a black suit and a white t-shirt.

What is love?
Finding something you can give everything to.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
Just came back from Belvoir’s The Government Inspector. Four stars, very fresh and entertaining.

Is your new show going to be any good?
Fuck yes. Sorry, darn right.


Ian Ferrington is director and co-writer of an original musical, The Detective’s Handbook for Sydney University Dramatic Society.
Show dates: 30 Apr – 10 May, 2014
Show venue: Studio B, University of Sydney

5 Questions with Olga Solar

olgasolarWhat is your favourite swear word?
Poop. It’s short, straight to the point AND it’s a palindrome. What more could you want in a swear word?

What are you wearing?
My warm bright orange tigger pyjamas that my Mum got me, They won me a “best pyjama award” in High School.

What is love?
Sharing the last tim tam in the packet.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
Sport For Jove’s All’s Well That Ends Well. Great multi-purpose set, awesome lighting, super actors. 4.5/5 big gold stars!

Is your new show going to be any good?
It’s going to be the bees knees, come see what all our hard work has paid off to be!

Olga Solar is co-writer of an original musical, The Detective’s Handbook for Sydney University Dramatic Society.
Show dates: 30 Apr – 10 May, 2014
Show venue: Studio B, University of Sydney

Review: Six Characters In Search Of An Author (Sydney University Dramatic Society)

sixcharactersVenue: University of Sydney Studio B (Camperdown NSW), Mar 26 – 29, 2014
Director: Saro Lusty-Cavallari
Playwright: Luigi Pirandello, adapted by Saro Lusty-Cavallari
Actors: Laura Barandregt, Sam Brewer, Jacinta Gregory, Joshua Free, Zerrin Craig-Adams, Lucinda Vitek, Stella Ktenas, Tansy Gardam, Nick Welsh, Alexander Richmond, Melissa McShane, Geneva Gilmour, Alex Magowan, Meg McLellan

Theatre review
Luigi Pirandello’s original was first created almost a century ago. It explores philosophical concepts of identity, and the nature of the theatrical arts. Saro Lusty-Cavallari’s update of Six Characters In Search Of An Author for the Sydney University Dramatic Society demonstrates that the central mechanics of Pirandello’s work contains fundamental truisms that retain their resonance, in spite of time’s passage and the gimmicky structure of the play.

Lusty-Cavallari’s brave decision in staging this text pays off. It is obviously a challenging proposition, and there are several sections in the first act that lack clarity, but he has created something fascinating and strangely engaging. Big questions about self-identity are presented with complexity and intrigue. We think about the meaning of personalities, how they are formed, and their elasticity. It is always a pleasure examining existentialist open-ended questions, and Lusty-Cavallari clearly has a flair in dealing with them in a delicate manner.

The director’s elegant use of space shows a good aesthetic eye, and his management of actors is also accomplished. The cast is a strong one, with Sam Brewer’s performance as The Father giving the show an excellent sense of confidence and finesse. Brewer’s love for words shines through, and our attention is firmly held by it. He is not the most agile of artistes, but the physical vocabulary he does have is perfectly suited to the task on hand. Laura Barandregt plays the role of the Assistant Director, and gives the show a necessary lightness that the audience is unquestionably grateful for. Her conviction for the stage is obvious, but the casualness of her demeanour can be distracting at times. Zerrin Craig-Adams is an effervescent character, with energy that brings a lot of life to the stage. She is an ambitious actor, and will no doubt develop her techniques to greater refinement in time.

To tackle challenging art is noble. It is a hallmark of civilisation when people take on things that seem too difficult and uncertain. Six Characters In Search Of An Author is about asking questions, and trusting that providing answers is only secondary if at all relevant. This show might not always make sense but it is tautly composed. It is colourful and entertaining, even as its intellectualism seeps out of every pore.