Showing posts with label Play in Sydney. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Play in Sydney. Show all posts

Friday, 27 June 2014

The Mercy Seat - Review

Reviewed by Ben Oxley

The quality is strained

The Mercy Seat by Neil LaBute

Gentle Banana People in conjunction with Sydney Independent Theatre Company
Old Fitzroy Theatre
Credit: Sydney Independent Theatre Company

Rebecca Martin
Credits include – The Shape of Things, autobahn, Punk Rock, Dogs Barking (pantsguys productions), Havana Harlem (Sydney Fringe), After the End (Tap Gallery), Cock (NIDA).
As a director: autobahn, The Knowledge (pantsguys productions). As Assistant Director - Lord of the Flies (New Theatre)

Rebecca graduated from Actors Centre Australia in 2010 and has a BA from UNSW and an ATCL in Speech and Drama from Trinity College London. Rebecca teaches for NIDA and is currently studying a Masters of Teaching at Melbourne Uni

Patrick Magee
Patrick is a comedian, author and actor. His credits include Tempest/Lear (Verge Theatre), Richard III (Genesian Theatre), Brideshead Revisited (RGP Productions) and MOJO (Belvoir). 

On one hand there's a disaster, on the other the possibility of a new life. Or is there? 

In reality, it is a sexual battle played out in confinement. We know the lovers are going to split, as there is little to keep the relationship alive. Competing for the same position at work, Abby becomes Ben's boss, and so the illicit relationship begins on a conference trip. 

Two postmodern people struggling with overwhelming guilt and self-loathing tear strips off each other's fragile egos. The moral recognition of their sins is very brave, but could they go as far as turning from this affair?

We don't empathise with Ben at first, as his shallow self interest is pale against Abby's overbearing angst and tempestuous bitching. It's possible he has had a sudden windfall due to the events of 9/11. But no, there is a personal reason for his plan to escape, or 'run' as Abby says. 

It has been his wife trying to reach him on his mobile phone, despite his knowledge of what he has done. But the play ratchets up to the climax. 

Abby lays her cards on the table to say she will sacrifice her position and life for Ben. Will he do this one thing for her: call his wife and children and explain he is not coming back?

Ben picks up the phone, and calls. What happens next is a bombshell more devastating than the World Trade buildings crashing down. 

Rebecca Martin is a powerful presence, using her voice and body skillfully to portray the dysfunctional 40 something career climber. Patrick Magee makes Ben a credible loser, particularly in the growing tension of being forced to decide between his family and his mistress. 

Not easy watching, but worth the fine performances from these two actors.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Winter - Review

Reviewed by Erica Enriquez
Venue: Old 505 Theatre – 505, 342 Elizabeth Street, Surry Hills. Runs until 22nd June 2014, 8pm Wed-Sat, 7pm Sun.  Tickets are $28/$18, bookings essential.  Doors open 1/2 hour prior to performance start time
Playwright: Jon Fosse
Director: Jonathan Wald
Actors: Susie Lindeman, Berynn Schwerdt

Theatre review
It’s amazing what can be said with very little dialogue, and even more intriguing what can be conveyed with the little dialogue presented. In Winter, writer Jon Fosse shows the audience the tragic, desperate, sometimes timid but always tense relationship between a man and a woman who shouldn’t have come together at all.

If you’re a fan of Fosse’s work, this one won’t disappoint – it’s perfectly in keeping with this Norwegian playwright’s stylized, almost bare-bones portrayal of two people in the midst of a clandestine affair (although, aren’t all affairs clandestine in the beginning, until it becomes just like any other relationship needing maintenance?).

When relationships are interpreted in film or theatre, the characters speak of their feelings for each other, whether good or bad, in often flowery, rambling prose, as if words cannot contain the depth of their emotions. In Winter, that same scrambling-for-the-right-way-to-say-it type discussion is pulled off with dialogue you almost imagine saying yourself in that situation – stilted, confused and sometimes anxious, as if every sentence uttered is fraught with fear of saying the wrong thing. Fosse’s script felt as if it was written like song lyrics, in that they were delivered like verse and chorus. Under Jonathan Wald’s direction, Susie Lindeman and Berynn Schwerdt as the despairing couple pulled it off well.

Lindeman’s character will resonate with many, particularly women. She is at once vulnerable, yet coy and a little quirky at times, and she’s fascinating to watch. Opening scenes show her as an almost coquettish vixen type, but as the play moves along (there’s only an hour of it, so it moves along nicely) you see another side of her character, one that demands not only affection but also respect.

By the same token, Schwerdt’s character is the one you think you know and recognize, but just like Lindeman’s character, he is also the party in the affair who needs attention too. They play off each other perfectly, one minute Lindeman is demanding, “I’m your woman!” to which Schwerdt responds with an infuriating, “Yes”, and just when you think you have decided on a side to stick by, Schwerdt is trying to find a reason for this whole mess, “I waited for you!”

Minimal set design and indeed the cast of two really bring out the struggle of these two characters trying to discuss what they are, and who they are to each other. Sometimes it takes away the white noise that plays in the brain when thrashing out relationship matters, and other times it is just white noise, highlighting the bewilderment that comes with relationships. Winter looks at how we communicate within our relationships, regardless of who’s giving it validity, or even how we meet and come to be in certain people’s lives. It’s about coming in from the cold, stripping off your bulky coat and laying all out on the table (or hotel bed).

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Event For A Stage - Review

Review originally posted at
Venue: Carriageworks (Eveleigh NSW), May 1 – 4, 2014
Artist: Tacita Dean
Actor: Stephen Dillane

Theatre review
English visual artist Tacita Dean’s Event For A Stage is her first work in the “live theatre” medium. Unsurprisingly, the piece is not concerned with theatrical conventions, and it certainly places no interest on the fabrication of a narrative. The rectangular stage is surrounded by audiences on all 4 sides, and Dean, the artist sits front row with us, in a darkened corner. A big chalk circle is drawn on the stage, with two people operating a video camera within the circle, and another two people outside of it. A microphone is suspended from the fly bars into the middle of the circle. For the duration of the 45-minute work, the actor Stephen Dillane walks around the stage, usually following the chalk line, but uses regular disruptions to the circular stroll to create a sense of action or to emphasise certain points in his monologue.

Over the course of the performance, Dillane walks up to Dean and obtains, with visible resentment, sheets of theatre and performance theory, which he reads aloud, effectively using them as scripts. The writing is insightful and fascinating, and Dillane’s interpretation of them is thoroughly compelling. In addition to Dean’s sheets of paper, Dillane also gives us coherent and interesting accounts of conversations he has had with the artist, or about events and people from his personal life. Further, he reads sections from a slim novel he keeps in his pocket, and performs extracts from Shakespeare’s The Tempest. The work however, is not about stories. Its main crux deals with the nature of theatre and performance, the sociology of spaces in a theatrical venue, and the relational dynamics between artists and audiences.

There are layers upon layers of ideas that are touched upon in this deconstruction of performative spaces. Things get complex, but Dillane’s supreme ability to connect, keeps us from confusion or perplexity. One of the main themes discussed relates to contrivances that arise from the convergence of creators and spectators. The presence of video cameras helps illustrate the point, while simultaneously adding to the multiplicity of the artist’s concepts in its obvious extension into other televised or filmic media. Dillane also talks about the danger that sits below the surface of theatrical artifices, and his close proximity from us is a constant threat to our presumption of security, with the cameras amplifying the stakes at hand.

Event For A Stage approaches theatre with concepts and conventions from the visual art world, in a collision of forms that is fresh and exciting. It seeks not to emulate familiar precedents, but like all great works of theatre, it enthrals, intrigues and informs, even if its subject matter (its self) is a little haughty.

Lies, Love And Hitler - Review

Review originally posted at
Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Apr 15 – May 3, 2014
Playwright: Elizabeth Avery Scott
Director: Rochelle Whyte
Actors: James Scott, Doug Chapman, Ylaria Rogers
Image by Katy Green Loughrey

Theatre review
Romance and art are not usually complementary; theirs is a fraught relationship. Art conventions are concerned with all that is deep in the human experience, and romance pursues something that is often inane and fleeting. Elizabeth Avery Scott’s script however, manages to place romance in its centre, and through themes of ethics, politics, history and religion, tells a story that is engaging and intelligent.

Scott’s structure for Love, Lies And Hitler discusses the nature of ethics, and unpacks perennial questions that we face in every ethical dilemma. A parallel is drawn across time and space, between a university lecturer’s love affair with a student, and a German theologian’s involvement in the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. The stakes are different, but our thought processes are intriguingly similar when determining right from wrong.

With topics like capital punishment, sexual harassment and Nazism put in focus, the play’s solemnity is inescapable. Director Rochelle Whyte handles the play’s dark sides with sensitivity and reverence, and her skill in introducing seamlessly, the apparition of Dietrich Bonhoeffer from 1945, into scenes at a university in modern day Australia is commendable. Less effective are her interpretation of the script’s moments of levity. These are frequently hurried through, and jokes are neglected, resulting in a show that feels heavier than necessary.

Ylaria Rogers plays Hannah and Hermione, displaying great efficiency and simplicity with both characters. Rogers places emphasis on moving the plot along swiftly, and telling her parts of the story clearly, but her portrayals would benefit from greater complexity and presence. James Scott is a very dynamic Paul Langley. His charisma quickly connects him with the audience, and we enjoy the tenacity in his performance, which is confident and thoroughly considered. There is however, a deliberateness to his style that can at times make his character seem less than authentic. Bonhoeffer is played by Doug Chapman, who has a subtle and naturalist approach that contrasts strongly with the other actors, and consequently, and ironically, helps him leave the greatest impression. Chapman provides a healthy counterbalance to the production with his restraint, which is also a quality that keeps us engrossed.

Stories about genocidal persecution and Hitler never dry up. They also never fail to fascinate. Love, Lies And Hitler is a show that entertains and enlightens. We think about our individual ethical boundaries and moral structures, while it seduces us with love stories past and present, and a surprising brand of romance that does not patronise.

Monday, 5 May 2014

Cruise Control - Review

Transatlantic trauma

Cruise Control
by David Williamson
Ensemble Theatre
reviewed by Ben Oxley

credit: Ensemble Theatre

Cruise Control brings together seasoned stalwarts, eccentric characters and a zinging script. Chloe Dallimore purrs as the love-lost Imogen, aside Michelle Doake as Fiona, the respectable, cuckolded editor. No confrontations between rivals, but Kate Fitzpatrick brings breezy class to Silky.

Peter Phelps' straight-shooting Darren shocks neurotic Sol (Henry Szeps) and challenges David's son, Felix Williamson's lecherous, loathable Richard with typical 'Aussie abroad' bluntness.

Williamson's own onboard dining disaster comes to The Ensemble at a time when holiday cruising in the post 9-11 era is the socially acceptable choice. Like the jokes, "there was a Englishman, an American Jew and an Australian", the humour wears thin as the real drama emerges, and we genuinely connect with the pathos of the piece.

What works well is the timing of so many of the lines. "You're more of a reptile thesaurus" quips Silky to Richard, pinpointing the aggressive predator with vocabulary to burn. Fine dining, like the delivery allows the audience to savour the lines. We love to hate Richard, and experience the rancour and disdain of this
loathsome Lothario.

Genuine tenderness emerges from the brief encounter of Sol and Fiona, as she gently coaches his novel aspirations. Dentistry and drama is not an obvious connection, nor is surfware and syndication with Darren, but all tension leads to how they treat Richard's flagrant indiscretions.

Like the champagne, we have a near-perfect cast to lead us onboard (and off), with marital struggles, cavorting and cajoling in the best Williamson way. The lovely foil of Kenneth Moraleda as Charlie to the haughty Richard, the crass Darren and suffering Sol make the week that was plausible.

Williamson the playwright doubles as director, and achieves slick pace, as if the ship's staff had changed the sheets and cleaned the glasses. Marissa Dale-Johnson's design matches the style with a glamorous backdrop of luxury liner, a dinner table featured, with cabin and deck relief.

Lighting from Ross Graham spotted the curious conversations, and we have a Muzak-style soundtrack the like of which we could expect onboard. For the large outlay, and the Titanic proportions perhaps we should have Andre Rieu and Tchaikovsky.

If you can spare two hours, spend it in the company of some of Australia's finest actors and don't let your emotions go overboard.

Friday, 2 May 2014

Machine - Review

Review originally posted at
Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Apr 16 – 20, 2014
Playwright: Melissa Lee Speyer
Director: Rachel Chant
Actors: Lucy Heffernan, David Jackson
Theatre review
Suicide often finds its way into art. It is the most direct contemplation on the value and meaning of life, when questioning “to be or not to be”. Melissa Lee Speyer’s Machine is a pessimistic appraisal of life, and a work that embodies great sensitivity and beauty in its melancholy.

Rachel Scane channels that sense of resignation into her set design.It is basic and cold, but elegantly executed. Together with lighting designer Benjamin Brockman’s work, the space is cleverly transformed into a purgatory of sorts, with a sense of ethereality and impending doom.

Machine‘s story of suicide features Lucy Heffernan as Christine, and David Jackson as her guardian angel. The structure of the play interestingly places focus on the angel who takes us through events in Christine’s life, and her subsequent decision to end it. He also gives the impression from early on, that she is safe in his hands, even in the midst of her depression. As a result, the stakes are never high in the show. The assurance he provides, detaches us from Christine’s predicament, and even though Heffernan’s performance is committed and strong, we do not connect with her suffering. We know that Christine is being watched over, regardless of how things may end. Jackson has conviction in his acting, but the lack of experience and confidence is evident. It is noteworthy however, that Jackson’s smaller subsidiary roles are performed well when he takes the form of Christine’s encounters.

The Angel seems to be the problem. If it is the intention of the artists to create a work that is emotionally involving, we need more access to Christine. Her pain is universal, but we need to feel closer for the drama to work. She has much to divulge, but her Angel shields too much for her, and from us. The girl needs to stand alone.

Dancing Naked In The Backyard - Review

Review originally posted at
Venue: TAP Gallery (Darlinghurst NSW), Apr 15 – 26, 2014
Playwright: C.J. Naylor
Director: Travis Kecek
Actors: Matt Hopkins, Zasu Towle, Estelle Healey, Alan Long, Sam Smith, Sascha Hall, Kara Stewart
Theatre review
Contentious issues in our daily lives can make for great theatre. Dancing Naked In The Backyard explores over-development in suburbia, and attempts to make an argument for population growth control in residential areas. A shady character Reland, spearheads the Sylvan Towers project that will see construction of six-storey apartment blocks on quiet Hinton Street. In opposition is the clean cut Derwent who makes it his mission to stop the project from being approved by local government.

The premise is simple, and the production is plain. The script and direction are straightforward in what they wish to say, but what results is a show that feels overly didactic, and the lack of complexity in their argument makes for scenes that feel repetitive. The themes being discussed are not uninteresting, but the characterisation of Derwent representing good and Reland bad, is too obviously unbalanced and consequently, unconvincing.

Derwent is played by Matt Hopkins who does his best at channelling his character’s conviction into his own performance. The material he works with is not always strong, but he is believable and charming in the role. Hopkins has great presence, and his eagerness in connecting with co-actors gives him a sense of polish, and conveys confidence. Estelle Healey is memorable as the highly idiosyncratic Nancy. At times funny, and at others awkward, she might not always hit her marks but she is definitely a magnetic personality that adds exuberance to the stage.

The play clearly has a point to make, but its one-sided approach can cause its audience to question the validity of the debate at hand. Lamenting the introduction of low rise apartments into an idyllic suburb is romantic, but our daily lives point to a realistic perspective that is not sufficiently represented in the work. Backyards with unobstructed views are very nice to have, and almost everyone dreams of owning one, but when that privilege runs out, and we seek to mourn its disappearance, it is important to first scrutinise the rights we claim to have over this piece of earth we inhabit.

Cough - Review

Review originally posted at
Venue: 107 Projects (Redfern NSW), Apr 10 – 20, 2014
Playwright: Emily Calder
Director: James Dalton
Actors: Melissa Brownlow, Vanessa Cole, Tim Reuben, Tom Christophersen
Image by Lucy Parakhina

Theatre review
Cough is a work about children and parenting. Through its story, we find a palpable and critical investigation into our middle classes. Emily Calder’s vibrant script examines our beliefs, values, and behaviour by placing us in a child care centre, where toddlers are the currency for adult social interaction. We are presented three characters, each a familiar type, with ordinary foibles, all trying hard to be the best parent they could imagine. Complications arise when they move focus away from their individual familial relationships, and become embroiled as a collective of anxious parents, every one “infecting” their counterparts with imagined and paranoiac fears, like a cough that seems to emerge from nowhere, only to overwhelm the masses.

James Dalton’s direction is thoughtful and inventive. The story and its moral are kept central to the production, but an extravagant theatricality is built upon the script’s theme of childhood imagination and fantasy. The stage (designed by Becky-Dee Trevenen) is raised high above the ground even though we are seated close, making us crane up our necks, to watch everything happen like small children caught in the middle of an adult argument. Dalton’s talent at creating atmosphere gives the play a sense of wonderment that evokes not just of innocence, but also the concurrent terror that underlies childhood experiences. Lighting designer Benjamin Brockman and sound designer Tom Hogan both show great sensitivity and ingenuity, achieving fabulous effects with minimal facilities.

Actor Vanessa Cole plays the highly unlikable Isabella but wins us over with a dynamic performance that is varied in style, and astutely measured. She develops her character fascinatingly, from a painful parochial stereotype to a heightened state of dramatic derangement. Assisted by a versatile and powerful voice, Cole provides the clearest guide for our navigation through the plot and its ideas. Tom Christophersen is a very tall man playing a three-year-old. His character Frank is created with a brand of outlandish mimicry that is highly entertaining, but also menacing in its surrealism. He is the boy we try hard to forget, but who leaves a lasting impression. Frank is untrustworthy yet seductive, and appropriately, Christophersen captivates us while keeping us quite nervous in his presence.

Growth happens quickly, especially when we are not paying attention. We scuffle with silliness, over details that are inconsequential and petty, to over protect our loved ones, and to feed our egos. In the meantime, life had already happened, and opportunities are missed. The here and now exists, but we sometimes come to it a little late.

The Gigli Concert - Review

Review originally posted at
Venue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Apr 4 – May 4, 2014
Playwright: Tom Murphy
Director: John O’Hare
Actors: Patrick Dickson, Kim Lewis, Maeliosa Stafford
Image by Wendy McDougall

Theatre review
O’Punksky’s Theatre’s current production of The Gigli Concert at the Eternity Playhouse is the company’s fourth staging of the Tom Murphy work. Over the course of 16 years, their relationship with the play has developed into something remarkably complex and outstanding in its sophistication. This is a story about the madness that we encounter in our lives, its varying manifestations, and the degrees at which it rears its head. It is also about opera.

Expression through music is used in the production in a fascinating and original way. Director John O’Hare plays with the relationship between music and personal spirituality, and works with it as an instrument of salvation for the play’s characters, and in his staging, a mechanism for storytelling. O’Hare explores bravely, the effects of and experiential reactions to operatic music, almost as an antithesis of the spoken word. Psychoanalysis is a central theme in The Gigli Concert, but it experiments with a departure from incessant talking, and creates a space of meaning with music that reaches beyond everyday language.

O’Hare’s creation is multi-layered, and thick with ideas and intelligence. The show runs the risk of being too intellectually dense in parts, but it is a show that is careful to hold its connection with its audience. It goes on various imaginative flights of fancies, but O’Hare always intends on bringing us along. Along with his actors, he has created a show that is keen to challenge and also to entertain.

Maeliosa Stafford brings with him extraordinary presence, and a brilliant sense of theatricality. We almost expect him to break into arias at each appearance, with a fascinating and dominant energy, keeping us on the edge of our seats for what he wishes to unleash in every scene. His characterisation is consistently strong but also unpredictable, resulting in a portrayal that is full of colour and charm.

JPW King is played by Patrick Dickson whose work is detailed and solid. There is a thoroughness that can only come from extensive study and deep understanding, and Dickson’s performance is infallible. When an actor is in complete control, we get swept away in his confidence, open to all that he wishes to share. There is also an air of whimsy to the leading man that keeps us endeared, and keeps the play effervescent in spite of its frequent darkness.

The Gigli Concert shows us two men and their individual madness. We see them dealing with issues from different perspectives, but the universality of their stories keeps us engaged, and we understand them through the knowledge of our selves, and through the prism of our own madnesses. We achieve a greater understanding of life, and of the nature of human navigation through this incredible and absurd landscape.

Wonderland - Review

Review originally posted at
Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Apr 8 – 12, 2014
Playwright: Alexandra Howard
Directors: Alexandra Howard, Kate Clark
Actors: Alexandra Howard, Samuel Doyle

Theatre review
Art should be created by anyone who has the desire to do so. Some would argue that the artistic process can sometimes be found in a vacuum, but performance, by definition, requires an audience, and this in turn implies that communication occurs, and the presence of that audience is often taken into consideration by the artist.

Wonderland is written, directed and performed by Alexandra Howard. It is a personal work by a very ambitious young woman about love and romance. She digs very deep for her creation, and there is a strong sense of catharsis about her expression, but its intensely introspective approach makes connection difficult. Howard is earnest, but she is also highly idiosyncratic. Without a greater effort to understand how her work is read, she often leaves us high and dry, and frankly quite uninterested in the show’s two characters or what they have to say.

Max is played by Samuel Doyle who shows surprising conviction and confidence. He works intelligently with the strengths and weaknesses of the script, and finds moments of drama to give the production some much needed variation in tone. There is no doubt that his potential is clearly on display, and would benefit from stronger direction and a more interesting story.

Memories of young love usually fades with time and maturity. It is easy to forget the range of emotions that comes only with youth, but they are represented in Wonderland. Sophistication and humour, however, are not often found in the young, and in the theatre, they are indispensable.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Construction of the Human Heart - Review

Reviewed by Nathan Finger
Construction of the Human Heart (2007) is Australian playwright Ross Mueller’s exploration of grief. It features two playwrights who are trying to write a play about two playwrights who are trying to write a play. This description probably already has a lot of people rolling their eyes – ‘yet another self-aware play about theatre, like we need that.’ Mueller’s play starts out looking like it is going to be another extended navel-gazing exercise. But then something different happens.

This isn’t a play about theatre, per se. Yes, it is self-aware, but it’s about something much more genuine: it is a study of the grieving process. Actors Michael Cullen and Cat Martin play two characters who are only ever referred to as Him and Her. The couple are a playwriting duo who have recently lost their only son, Tom, to some unspecified disease or accident. The play they are attempting to write is their way of coping. ‘I make up stories about him’, she says, stories where he is still alive and well. This is all they have, this is their coping mechanism. Together they relive and rehash the past, recreating the moments when they were happy and whole. It’s the only thing that keeps them going, but it cannot block out the pain of the present, nor adequately substitute the past.

As far as plot goes this is pretty much it. But the draw card for this production is the performances. Cullen and Martin have a real chemistry on stage. They both manage to capture that ever so slightly pretentious, faux-intellectual quality of the would-be, brilliant playwright. But behind this front they both allow the gut-wrenching grief they carry to slowly leak out, and we witness their struggle and gradual collapse. Indeed the two have been brought to breaking point and we get to see the conflict that arises between them brought on by the pain. They are obviously a couple that love each other dearly, but the loss of their son has placed a tremendous strain on their relationship, and even at the close of the play we cannot tell if they will be able to weather the tragedy. To see two actors allowing themselves to be totally vulnerable on stage is rare and moving treat.

Construction of the Human Heart may not be a play for everybody. Director Dino Dimitriadis offers up an empty stage, two chairs and pages of typed script, made to resemble the most basic of rehearsal spaces. The dialogue can be a little overly flowery in places. But there is a genuine and tragic story about what grief does and how people struggle to live with it to be told. There may not be a lot of plot, but this play more than stands up on the strength of its performances, which are well worth the trip in to see.

Construction of the Human Heart is playing at the Tap Gallery until the 3rd of May. For more information see: