Review: Where Angels Fear To Tread

Written by E. M. Forster, adapted for the stage by Elizabeth Hart
Director: Jim Searle, Assistant Director: Maria Micallef
Guild Theatre, Rockdale
9-31st August

When asked if he thought Princess Diana had changed the Royals, Tony Blair replied that she had taught the Brits a new way to be British. Once characterised by their sense of duty, decorum, and reserve; their People’s Princess wore her heart on her sleeve. The outpouring of grief over her death marked a change in the way Brits saw themselves: they could now be a passionate people, no longer timid about showing it.

The British stiff upper lip - Mrs Herriton (Yolanda Remueira) and her obedient son, Phillip (Tye Byrnes). Photo Credit: Craig O'Regan

The British stiff upper lip – Mrs Herriton (Yolanda Remueira) and her obedient son, Phillip (Tye Byrnes). Photo Credit: Craig O’Regan

In 1906, Edwardian England, Diana would not be born for another 55 years. The national identity, in the view of E. M. Forster, was in need of an emotional awakening from its stultifying adherence to keeping up appearances with proper, protestant reserve. In his Where Angel’s Fear to Tread, he tells the story of a well-to-do British family who are thrown into a lather not when widowed daughter-in-law, Lilia, dies, but when her daughter, Irma Herriton (Kassandra Micallef) realises that the family has kept from her, knowledge of a baby brother.

Lilia had committed the mortifying sin of loving and marrying a Catholic, Italian native. She was encouraged to elope by her friend Caroline (Jessica Wake) who now tells the family that she intends to go to Italy and bring the baby back. She wrongly surmises that the father, Gino (Douglas Spafford) could not care for it. Mrs Herriton (Yolanda Regueira) the babe’s grandmother is provoked into having the babe fetched to England not to lose face with society. Daughter Harriet (Lani Crooks) staunchly believes that the babe cannot be deprived of a proper English upbringing. She is fanatical on the point. Son, Phillip Herriton (Tye Byrnes) is sent with Harriet to accomplish the task.

Mrs Herriton (Yolanda Regueira) answers Irma's (Kassandra Micallef) questions regarding her brother, as Irma (Lani Crooks) watches. Photo credit: Craig O'Regan

Mrs Herriton (Yolanda Regueira) answers Irma’s (Kassandra Micallef) questions regarding her brother, as Irma (Lani Crooks) watches. Photo credit: Craig O’Regan

The British psyche, obsessed with being correct, has put Phillip into limbo. He may have an opinion, he may make astute observations but he’s impotent. He is afraid to be himself. In Italy, when faced with the passionate, forthright nature of the babe’s father, he gathers courage to act according to his conscience and to break the bonds that his mother and living a proper British like have on him.

Caroline Abbott (Jessica Wake) expounding her explains to Mrs Herriton and her son Phillip. Photo Credit: Craig O'Regan

Caroline Abbott (Jessica Wake) expounding her explains to Mrs Herriton and her son Phillip. Photo Credit: Craig O’Regan

What happens to the babe is the impetus for the emotional awakening that Forster calls for in 1906, but that Britain would eventually experience with the life of Princess Diana.
The Guild Theatre’s is an Edwardian period piece, a tragi-comedy of manners where droll wit rewards the attentive ear.

Jim Searle’s set is sumptuous – three different locales defined on the one playing area with the aid of a staircase and raised platform. The interiors of an English sitting room and Italian hotel are gorgeously recreated.

Caroline (Jessica Wake), Harriet (lani Crooks) and Phillip (Tye Byrnes) at the Hotel Stella d'Italia, Monteriano, Italy. Photo Credit: Craig O'Regan

Caroline (Jessica Wake), Harriet (lani Crooks) and Phillip (Tye Byrnes) at the Hotel Stella d’Italia, Monteriano, Italy. Photo Credit: Craig O’Regan

The costumes are beautiful. Each actor is decked out with historical authenticity. Jessica Wake particularly looks like she walked out of an Edwardian postcard and carries herself with aplomb.

Irrepressible Caroline (Jessica Wake) comes face-to-face with the ebullient father, Gino, (Douglas Spafford). Photo Credit: Craig O'Regan

Irrepressible Caroline (Jessica Wake) comes face-to-face with the ebullient father, Gino, (Douglas Spafford). Photo Credit: Craig O’Regan

There are many strong performances by the cast. Lani Crooks’, prim Harriet delights with her naïve belief in British supremacy. She encapsulates Harriet’s energy and passion with the plasticity of her facial expressions. Tye Byrnes’ Phillip is suitably droll. Douglas Spafford bubbles with Italian passion and exuberance. Tragi-comedy can be difficult to pull off, but the interactions between these four mains rolls. Special mention of child actress Kassandra Micallef who carried her role well.

For Bookings ph: 9520 7364 or bookings@guildtheatre.com.au

First published in the online St George and Sutherland Shire Leader, 16th August, 2019.

Reflections on ‘The Promised Woman’

Thiasos Parikia (Modern Greek Theatre)

Performances at Mytilinean House

26th May, 2019

Migrant communities in Australia may easily be lumped into groups under a “language-other-than-English-spoken-at-home” label. A convenient tag, but oh, so perforated with pitfalls when that tag is picked up for targeted marketing or used to make predictions in the behaviour of the whole. Once a community has been established for several generations and keeps accepting new-comers, different enclaves of perspectives coagulate into their own pride of otherness, while swathes of children from earlier established families assimilate. What’s left is less a homogenous group and more a fractal of divergent needs, opinions, politics and concerns.

Longstanding migrant communities are more like fractals than centralised entities.
Photo by Pictoscribe on Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

For a playwright to address an issue with a long established migrant community s/he faces a problem in who s/he’s targeting? Who will the play resonate with and how will his/her voice be interpreted by the director and then accepted by the audience? Will the message be fresh and pertinent or hackneyed, passé, boring? This is the case with all new plays but when you target a community, you want your dart on board and close to the bull’s eye.

Thiasos Parikea program and the anthology from Currency Modern Drama in which the play is published

Theodore Patrikareas’ classic play, The Promised Woman, may appear to be an obvious choice for a revival but does his intent in the 1960s still have relevance today? Then, as now, there was a wave of people coming to Australia from Greece in the face of economic hardships. Australian society and Greek-Australian culture has moved on since then: can his play still speak to the migrant as it did then? And for those who lived the inconceivable norm his story depicts, how does his advice fare with hindsight?

'Throw Away the Harmonica, Pepino', the original guise of Patrikareas play

Two Greek publications of Plays by Patrikareas

The Promised Woman renders the lives of migrant men who came out here and worked hard but didn’t make the kind of money needed to return to their homeland soon enough. Wanting family life and companionship they wrote home. From Greece, women were sent who were often judged to have been left behind in the marriage stakes. A photo of their much younger, in some cases unrecognizable selves, were sent to men in Australia who sponsored and paid for their move here, such as in the botched match making of Antigone and Telly.

1963 cast list

The original cast from the first production in 1963 lists a few names that would become mainstays of the Greek theatre scene in Sydney.

Telly lives in a boarding house in inner city Newtown, where his story and that of his peers unfolds. When Antigone arrives he rejects her off hand. Although still within the limits of childbearing age, he judges her too old. He has lost face with all those around him to whom he has shown the photo of a beautiful young woman. Antigone decides to stay in Australia, find a job and pay Telly back. She shows her mettle and kind spiritedness to the other boarders. When another suiter, Manolis, with a proven work ethic, ability to save and respectful appreciation of her, asks for her, she shies off.
This play was written in the 1960’s when the feminist movement had one of the most powerful messages to proclaim – women’s liberation. The play ends abruptly with this message resounding, however, the arc of the story seems incomplete. Manolis, the respectful suitor, is a loose end that women who came after those bra-burning legends of the 60s and 70s may have accepted, seeing in him the possibilities of a balanced relationship. Women with hindsight can see in the message the sacrifice of family over a career and guaranteed independence.

Images and cast list

Images from the first production and the first English language production from the Currency Modern Drama: Plays of the 60s series – More well known names in the Sydney scene.

Director Thanasi Macrigiorgou, of Melbourne’s, Modern Greek Theatre (Thiasos Parikia) tries to mitigate the problematic ending while staying true to the original feminist message by adding an entr’acte. Here we see an aged Antigone silently remembering her ordeal with the aid of film reels and we are shown that at some point she must have started a family (and presumably married) for her grandchildren surround her playing their musical instruments.

Macrigiorgou believes in the relevance of the play and its power to speak to: the migrant who lived those untamed years; their children and grandchildren, who should come to empathise with their parent’s plight; and finally, recent Greek arrivals who he believes will find much in common with characters and their situation. But will they?

Watching this play was like looking into a sentimentalised past. What! What’s so sentimental about hardship? When it was written it would be applauded by an audience who could empathise. Today, the older generation, distanced by the travails that they have experienced afterwards, watch with a sense of nostalgia for a past they wear as a badge of honour. They endured. It made them. And they are no longer there battling. The community it depicts is no longer a supportive haven of shared experience. The community is no longer a guaranteed refuge in time of need. The recent migrant from Greece may face difficulty in finding a job, a spouse, and feel isolated, but the recent migrant won’t have the comfort of common experience with the Greek community here. We are a fractal, splintering off with different concerns, sometimes insular, sometimes fraught, but often oblivious to the need of the new migrant. Like the Australian community at large, we don’t have time and can’t necessarily relate.

Of course, somethings don’t change. There is always hardship. There is always migration. And where there exists patriarchal, agrarian societies there persists the idea that marriage can be brokered and arranged over distances, and women will be uprooted and sent to relative isolation in foreign countries as brides. The Promised Woman may speak more today to new migrant women from emerging migrant communities e.g., Bangladeshi, who are experiencing similar upheavals.

The performance by Thiasos Parikia was well received. The housekeeper, the counterpart of the comic maid role that figures in so many 20th Century Greek situation comedies, was carried off with show-stopping finesse by Marianthi Makariou. Faye Iliopoulou’s Antigone was courageous and sympathetic. Spiros Drosos’ Telly (the prospective groom) was so believable that he was booed at the curtain call.

The audience was an appreciative animal and curious to follow. They booed, they cheered, they reminisced. When Antigone waxed on about her intent and independence, she was applauded by the audience – the female portion, that is.

 Having been well received in Melbourne over several months, the Sydney run was short but enthusiastically received. Celebrating 30 years, Thiasos Parikia, continues to delight its audiences. All the best to them!

To Thine Own Self Be True

Managing Carmen by David Williamson

The Guild Theatre

Walz St, Rockdale

17th May-8 June, 2019

AFL Player Brent (Russell Godwin) is being counselled by psychologist and voice coach, Jessica (Donna Randall).AFL Player Brent (Russell Godwin) is being counselled by psychologist and voice coach, Jessica (Donna Randall).
AFL Player Brent (Russell Godwin) is being counselled by psychologist and voice coach, Jessica (Donna Randall).

How can we ever be happy if we are not true to ourselves? True to who we want to be, who we enjoy being and who we would relax into self-fulfilment with? If we had the adulation of an adoring public, over-arching success in our dream career and enormous wealth, would cynicism, aloofness and a disconnect with those around us dog us? Famous footballer, Brent’s, problem is compounded by his fame. He is an incredibly talented AFL player who is acclaimed for his prowess on the field and admired for the glamorous life he is reported to have. No one suspects that he nurses an incongruous peccadillo, that once exposed, could threaten his career.

The Guild Theatre tells us that David Williamson wrote the Managing Carmen, ‘as a protest about the lives of AFL players and the game itself and as a plea for the tolerance of diversity.’ Williamson’s enormous talent brings to bear such hefty social issues with a light touch: we are too overtaken with laughter to realise we are being taught with a modern-day parable. He incites personal courage to live beyond others’ expectations calling for bravery to be who we are, and appeals to our society to accept the difference in others that we may not understand.

AFL Player Brent (Russell Godwin) is being counselled by psychologist and voice coach, Jessica (Donna Randall).
AFL Player Brent (Russell Godwin) is being counselled by psychologist and voice coach, Jessica (Donna Randall).

Russell Godwin brings a sensitivity to Brent whose private persona is both vulnerable and aloof. His transformation in the hands of psychologist Jessica (Donna Randall) is organic and believable, however, the burgeoning relationship between the two is a little downplayed. Brent is the money making prop of his agent, Rohan, played with oozing smarm by David Hines, and the target of maligning sports journalist, Max (Chad Smith), who actively searches for shears to cut down this tall poppy. The strong supporting cast is rounded out with Clara (Caitlin Gleeson), Brent’s opportunistic girlfriend.

Muckraking sports journalist, Max (Chad Smith) needling Brent's agent, Rohan (David Hines).
Muckraking sports journalist, Max (Chad Smith) needling Brent’s agent, Rohan (David Hines).

The Guild Theatre’s is an ambitious production with the integration of filmed shorts and live theatre. It makes effective use of multimedia techniques to create the sense of excitement that comes with celebrity and also to build the larger than life public persona that is suffocating AFL star, Brent. By swaying focus between the large screen and stage performers, a sense of the two lives Brent lives is highlighted but also how he is ever watched and scrutinised.

James Searle’s set maintains a nebulous space with token furnishings and on-point lighting to carry the flow of this play of short scenes and quick changes. Director Chris Searle has stitched together a lot of quick and pithy segments with seamless ease. She also makes good use of sight gags with her able cast.

Rohan (David Hines), treated to the clubbing antics of Brent's girlfriend Clara (Caitlin Gleeson) and her free-spirited intimate, Carmen (Russell Godwin).
Rohan (David Hines), treated to the clubbing antics of Brent’s girlfriend Clara (Caitlin Gleeson) and her free-spirited intimate, Carmen (Russell Godwin).

The Guild Theatre’s Managing Carmen is a big show, with big laughs and a big message, now showing at 8 June 2019. For bookings call 02 9520 7364 or online: www.guildtheatre.com.au

Images courtesy of The Guild Theatre, Rockdale

Review first published for The St George Leader

Mom’s Gift -Theatre Review


Mom’s Gift by Phil Olsen

The Sutherland Theatre Company

Sutherland Memorial School of the Arts, East Parade Sutherland

1st March – 10th March

Dir: Colleen Boyle

Mom’s Gift, to the Sutherland Shire is a comedy filled with wisecracks, witty one liners and running jokes that send up local erks and perks with esoteric Shire knowledge. The Sutherland Theatre Company have taken a very funny script and cleverly adapted it to reflect the local community with running jokes and local references adding that extra touch.

Mom’s Gifts, her eternal presence, permeates the lives of those she has left behind, her widower and two daughters. Her death after a car accident has devastated her family and in particular, her daughter, Kat (Belinda Balhatchet), who was travelling at the time. Kat’s relationship with her father (Tony Girdler) and sister, Brittany (Holly Johnston) lacks any kind of understanding or commitment. She has never really tried to get to know them or understand their motives. After an incident with the police resulting from her struggle with anger management, she is ordered to spend time with her family. She arrives home to celebrate her father’s birthday. The ghost of her dead mother (Valerie McMullan) has also arrived. Mom is there to prove herself worthy of angel’s wings but she is unsure of whom or what she is supposed to heal. Unfortunately, only Kat can see or hear her.

This is a sentimental story that looks at the broken relationships that can occur in any family, including a nuclear one. It shows the judgements we make and how they can limit our understanding and the depth of our commitment to each other. It takes the enforced confinement of the birthday celebration to reveal each character’s motives and eventually to lead to their reconciliation. Don’t be surprised if you shed a tear.

Director, Colleen Boyle, makes a smart move in setting this American play locally. The message is universal and is deftly delivered in our local twang with local colour. The action unfolds over the course of a Shark’s game and references to Hooters and Port Hacking High give the impression that it was written for the Shire.

Tony Girdler delivers Dad with the assured reality of a seasoned performer. Belinda Balhatchet’s Kat is very likeable despite her determined outrage. Christiane Brawley’s Trish, as Dad’s new love interest, injects warmth and a grounded Australianess to the production. The cast is rounded out with Paul Byrne playing Kevin, Kat’s childhood love interest and Sandra Archer is colourful neighbour, Mrs Norquist.

Mom’s Gift may be an award winning 21st century American comedy but this production has a very Aussie, very Shire, slant.

Now playing at the Sutherland School of Performing Arts until March 10.

Bookings ph: 9150 7574 or visit http://www.thesutherlandtheatrecompany.com.au/page2.htm

Review published by the St George and Sutherland Shire Leader as Mom’s Gift is a Gift to the Shire.

Theatre Review: Daylight Saving

Daylight Saving by Nick Enright

The Guild Theatre Ltd, Rockdale

15 Feb – 9 Mar

Director: Lyn Lee

Daylight Saving. Saving what? Time? Summer? The sunset? A relationship? The 1980s? Rockdale’s Guild Theatre opens its 2019 season with a hilarious production of Nick Enright’s enduring comedy, Daylight Saving.

Since it premiered in 1989, Enright’s play has seen waves of production ebb and flow across the country. A slice of life, Enright’s acute observation of people and events are translated in a time capsule masquerading as a stage. From the tape deck, VCR and communal living room phone – remember that thing- through a focus on tennis, throwaway references to Colonel Raubuka, jokes on the names of then, exotic Japanese food, to the wide belts, boofy hair, wicker furniture and technicolour artwork, the 1980s are brought vividly to life by the script, the set and the costumes. We don’t laugh at the 80s, the text is too strong for that, the 80s render an entertaining, lightweight tale.

Tom (Tye Byrnes) and Felicity (Rosemary Ghazi) the challenged couple.

Tom (Tye Byrnes) and Felicity (Rosemary Ghazi) the challenged couple.

Under the capable direction of Lyn Lee, the characters are brought to life in heightened proportions that are recognisable and easy to sympathise with. Felicity, a successful restauranteur, is forced to examine her marriage after she is interviewed on TV and comes off unfavourably. Being questioned about fidelity particularly piques her. At the outset we are presented with a typical married couple, which is how Enright reaches out to touch his audience – this could be anyone’s marriage. Self-examination brings Felicity to the realization of how unfulfilled and neglected she is. With husband-Tom away, and her first lover, Josh, calling on her she allows temptation an opening. Unfortunately for Josh’s brazen attempt at seduction, he has to weather the sudden appearances of Felicity’s neighbour, mother, a famous tennis player and then Tom as well.

Tennis Pro (Brayden Palmer), Tom (Tye Byrnes), Reignited Love (Haki Pepo Olu Crisden) and Neighbour, Stephanie, (Susan Stapleton)

Tennis Pro (Brayden Palmer), Tom (Tye Byrnes), Reignited Love (Haki Pepo Olu Crisden) and Neighbour, Stephanie, (Susan Stapleton)

Rosemary Ghazi heads a well-cast ensemble. Her portrayal of Felicity bubbles with warmth, vulnerability, feistiness and humour. Tye Byrnes is suitably absorbed in his client’s career and by extension his own. Haki Pepo Olu Crisden exudes American confidence and charm while Susan Stapleton’s Stephanie is a recognisable member of many a female fraternity of friends. Newcomer Brayden Palmer shines in a sparkling cast as the immature, self-absorbed tennis prodigy while veteran, Deidre Campbell’s Bunty embodies the adorable, well meaning, clueless mother.

Josh the Lover (Haki Pepo Olu Crisden), The Mother, Bunty (Deirdre Campbell) and Felicity (Rosemary Ghazi).

Josh the Lover (Haki Pepo Olu Crisden), The Mother, Bunty (Deirdre Campbell) and Felicity (Rosemary Ghazi).

An Aussie classic, Daylight Saving may be, but don’t expect a laid back, concentrated essay on manners flavoured with Australiana. More, a fast paced comedy with plenty of laughs delivering timeless and straight forward marital advice – don’t get so caught up in your work that you lose perspective on your relationship. It, in this case, she, needs care and attention, too.

Daylight Saving is a polished production that delivers a fun night out.

Walz St, Rockdale – turn right from the west side of Rockdale Station

Bookings 9521 6358

theguildtheatrerockdale@gmail.com

Review First Published on the St George and Sutherland Shire Leader website as Relationships Under the Spotlight in Classic Aussie Comedy, Daylight Saving

A Bunch of Amateurs – Review

A Bunch of Amateurs by Ian Hislop and Nick Newman

Arts Theatre Cronulla

6 Surf Rd, Cronulla

15th Feb – 27th March, 2019

Directed by Tom Richards

Nigel (Bill Ayers), Lauren (Jo Clark), Dorothy (Margareta Moir), Mary (Arianne Hough), Jefferson (Emmanuel Nicolaou), Denis (Ronny Couling), and Jessica (Louisa Panucci).

Nigel (Bill Ayers), Lauren (Jo Clark), Dorothy (Margareta Moir), Mary (Arianne Hough), Jefferson (Emmanuel Nicolaou), Denis (Ronny Couling), and Jessica (Louisa Panucci).

Amateur. Amateur! Hmpf! Who said amateur? Rather, a more amour of art, amour of theatre art. Arts Theatre Cronulla opens its 2019 season with a celebration of a bunch of lovers of theatre in Ian Hislop’s and Nick Newman’s satirical take on the trials of community theatre, A Bunch of Amateurs.

Dorothy (Margareta Moir) heads the Stratford Players, a small town troupe of actors from Stratford in Suffolk, as opposed to the other more famous Stratford in Warwickshire. Performing in a barn for its villagers, the group struggles to attract audiences and is financially dependent on the local brewery’s sponsorship. In a desperate attempt to turn things around Dorothy approaches a plethora of Hollywood celebrities to take the role of King Lear in their upcoming production. One agrees. He happens to be the aging action hero, Jefferson Steele (Emmanuel Nicolaou) who hopes to reinvigorate his flagging career with a run in a Royal Shakespeare Company production. Of course, the Stratford Players are no RSC.

Jefferson the Hollywood star (Emmanuel Nicolaou) and Dorothy the amateur theatre director (Margareta Moir)

Jefferson the Hollywood star (Emmanuel Nicolaou) and Dorothy the amateur theatre director (Margareta Moir)

The script is clever working on many levels. Steele has to overcome his ego not only to accept the role but to relearn his acting for the Shakespearean stage and when his daughter (Louisa Panucci) arrives, to repair his relationship with her as well. His emotional journey follows the arc of King Lear and gains for him the actor’s ultimate tool, empathy with his character. Unlike King Lear this show is very much a comedy.

Recognizable tropes of Hollywood celebrity – conceited, demanding and vacuous – capably portrayed by Nicolaou, go head to head with the homespun idealism and altruism of Dorothy and her troupe. The sincerity of Moir’s delivery captures our sympathies from the get go. We want her to win, but will the complications that arise from having a celebrity in their midst tear her little company apart?

Jefferson the Hollywood star (Emmanuel Nicolaou), Mary the star-struck hostess (Arianne Hough) and Dorothy the amateur theatre director (Magareta Moir)

Jefferson the Hollywood star (Emmanuel Nicolaou), Mary the star-struck hostess (Arianne Hough) and Dorothy the amateur theatre director (Magareta Moir)

The Stratford Players are made up of charming individuals vividly portrayed. Arianne Hough’s Mary steals the show with her over-enthused, gobsmacking adulation of Jefferson. Kudos to Jo Clark’s Lauren whose therapeutic overtures hold back nothing when eliciting laughs. The troupe is rounded out with Bill Ayer’s pompous, histrionic Nigel and the obliging plumber, Denis (Ronny Couling).

This charming production packs in the humour with its delivery, characterisation, running jokes and unabashed sight gags. Predictable? Yes, but oh, so funny. Director, Tom Richards, has left no opportunity to ring out a laugh.

You can join in the fun at Arts Theatre Cronulla – Season extended until 27th March.

www.artstheatrecronulla.com.au

Ph: 95232779

First published in the St George and Sutherland Shire Leader as, A no holds Bard comedy as Hollywood action hero meets King Lear

3. Community Theatre: The Turtle and The Empty Stage

Having a Set vs the Bare Stage

Capitol Theatre, Sydney
Capitol Theatre, Sydney

Putting up a stage show can be a costly operation. However, the time true motto – beg, borrow, steal, mightn’t be that necessary anymore. Who needs a set anyway? The emotion, the story, the talent will hold it together, will thrust a performance out of the darkness and into the hearts and minds of the audience. All of those extras are most needed by a performance that can’t stand on its own. Well, um…maybe not.

So, professional actors make it look easy. Who needs a prop – they can make a mime real. What to do with their hands when silence requires them to listen or swathes of text handled incorrectly deteriorates to clenched-handed newscasting? Professionals know the balance between not employing their limbs or looking like windmills in a storm. Where to stand and, whether and where to sit, slouch or recline when officious situations are required to bring about the power relationships within the drama or social status needs to be visually defined becomes a little more difficult.

For lovers of the craft who aren’t professional actors or professionally trained, not having something to define the setting, the social strictures or physical ones demanded by the text can be frustrating. Fancy costumes may look pretty but alone, they can’t describe the physical dynamic between characters. A couch, chair, column, raised floor, set of steps or rostrum, breaking up the space can help define status and setting.

Of course, if you are going to employ a set it has to be incorporated into the rehearsal process as early as possible – to best utilize it. The set doesn’t have to be meticulously realistic or overly dressed but practical. Sometimes it becomes a character of its own.

The set has a job to do that aids the performer in bringing off the page what the playwright has intended. It should support the performers so that they can fulfil their own potential. Today that potential may be limited, but in the future with greater stage time experience, that potential will grow.

This series of posts have been inspired by my more regular attendance at community theatres around the south of Sydney this year.

Other posts have been:

  1. Community Theatre: The Turtle and the Empty Stage –  Silence and Listening
  2. Community Theatre: The Turtle and the Empty Stage – Accents, Performing in a Second Language and Disabilities

1. Community Theatre: The Turtle and the Empty Stage

This year I’ve attended and reviewed a lot of community theatre. I love it. I love it that there is so much of it around Sydney. I love it that it brings people together to create theatre and to watch it. In our smart phone world, the physicality of live theatre is fresh and vital and compelling. Done well, it’s a wholly engaging form of storytelling that pulses before you.
It’s not always perfect and there are certain foibles that recur across different forms of community theatre and styles of presentation. I thought at this time of the year I’d reflect a little on them.

The Stage tells a Story – Creates a Theatrical Illusion
Key to creating good theatre is the aim to immerse the audience in the glamour – the make-believe illusion of its reality. All the actors onstage have to be engaged with this reality whether they have an action to convey or not or whether they are speaking or not. If a performer is on stage they must always remain in character.
It may sound obvious and automatic but it’s not.
Active Listening is Important
Active listening happens when a performer being spoken to listens and response with their entire being to a speaking actor or action onstage. If you don’t have a speaking part – how attentive is your character to what is being conveyed – can the audience see with your stance, posture, gestures how the information / action is affecting you? Are you conveying the importance of what the speaking performer is saying by your attentiveness?

Lonely hearts, Katherine (Peggy Leto) and John (Barry McMaster)

Lonely hearts, Katherine (Peggy Leto) and John (Barry McMaster) photo credit: Craig O’Regan

At the current production of Rockdale’s Guild Theatre’s Silent Night, Lonely Night I was thrilled by the performance of lead actress, Peggy Leto. Her character listened to monologue after monologue of text and was absolutely engaged by it – we saw it in the way her character was affected by what was being said in her gestures and facial expressions. When her character’s turn to audibly respond came, her words didn’t gush out like a newly released dam. In keeping with her character, her responses were measured and timely. When she spoke on the phone, the silences in the half imagined-dialogue had a natural duration – the audience could make out the exact responses of the invisible, inaudible other side of the phone line.

Being this comfortable on stage comes with the confidence of knowing lines early in the rehearsal process so that your character and her/his relationships with other characters can be shaped in rehearsals and continue to grow in performance.
Advice to actors – know your lines as early as possible in the rehearsal process – when you don’t it shows.

A mark of a good performance – the mark of a good cast – the mark of a confident director is the use of pace and silence. If your cast can maintain the illusion of the story when they are silent on stage, the stage can support great moments of dramatic tension that come with silence. A dramatic high or low has been reached – the playwright is making his/her big statement – then let it sink in. Don’t denigrate it by rushing over it. Silence has impact – so long as all on stage remain in character.

See Peggy Leto in Silent Night, Lonely Night at Rockdale’s Guild Theatre until 24th November 2018

Next – in 2. Community Theatre- The Turtle and the Empty Stage acting appendages – accents, disabilities and the empty stage

Can Romance Thrive over the Course of a Marriage?

Silent Night, Lonely Night by Robert Anderson

Director: Jim Searle

26 October – 24 November, 8pm

The Guild Theatre, Rockdale

Lonely hearts, Katherine (Peggy Leto) and John (Barry McMaster)

Lonely hearts, Katherine (Peggy Leto) and John (Barry McMaster) Photo Credit: Craig O’Regan

Can romance thrive through the course of a marriage? What happens when it takes a sabbatical? Does infidelity necessarily spring solely from wanton abandon?

In 1959 sex could cast a long shadow away from a dawning horizon and into the lingering night. Love, sex, marriage and fidelity were inextricably bound. Indulging sexually could set your life’s course because of the pervasive belief that sex belonged wholly in holy matrimony. Extra-marital liaisons were considered wanton at the very best. To partake outside the circumscription allowed social expectations to dictate the “what’s next” in your entire life’s path.

Robert Anderson’s play delves into the nature of romantic love, the consequences of sexual relations in a society scaffolded on Christian morality and contrasts these traditional notions with the uninhibited ability of the sexual act to be a source of comfort and communion with another person. In 2018, with our freedom to speak and explore, and the offering of life choices in pluralistic plethora, the play still holds a message. It explores the fragility of romantic love in a long term relationship and loneliness, in its absence.

Off to see a movie reel, Barry Mc Master (John) and Peggy Leto (Katherine)

John and Katherine, off to see a movie reel, Barry Mc Master and Peggy Leto, Photo Credit: Darren McDowell

It’s Christmas Eve. One of the loneliest nights of the year for many. Katherine (Peggy Leto) has come to visit her son in a small American town where he attends school. He is in the school infirmary and she must see him off to meet her husband in London. She won’t be joining them. She refuses her husband’s call. We aren’t told why.

Having already asked the newly-weds also staying in the hotel to join him that night, self-professed widower, John (Barry McMaster) loses no time in infiltrating Katherine’s solitude and dinner in her suite. An incurable romantic he regales her with the story of his great love for his wife and his loneliness, his pain. She listens. Her experience of marriage is contrasted with his, and so is her personality.

The play is delivered with humour, intellect and sensitivity. Barry McMaster’s gregarious portrayal of a middle-aged American man, confident in his ability to engage with people and unquestioning in his entitlement to do so, is vivid and convincing. His stories and his person fill the stage.

The Newly-Weds, Phillip (Russell Godwin) and Janet (Eloise Tanti)

The Newly-Weds, Phillip (Russell Godwin) and Janet (Eloise Tanti), Photo Credit: Craig O’Regan

Peggy Leto’s Katherine is John’s foil. Reserved and anxious, she gradually warms to John’s presence in her suite. Her delivery is subtle and restrained. Despite her American accent there’s a decidedly understated, Australian character about her delivery. She’s a joy to watch. Often silent for long stretches of John’s monologue Leto communicates with gesture and movement – silently acknowledging what she’s heard, urging him to continue with a nod or questioning his veracity with her eyes to comic effect. They are joined by a capable supporting cast.

Director, Jim Searle delivers a reflective night at the theatre with quite a few laughs thrown in. Silent Night, Lonely Night is just the play to ease you into the fast approaching Christmas season as you join John and Katherine in a small rural inn in New England.

Bookings can be made online at www.guildtheatre.com.au or (ph) 9521 6358.

Tearing Down the Fourth Wall

Pushing Up Daisies vs A Comedy of Errors

“O! I’m going to the theatre, Darling. The cinema is sooo plebeian. Mink or Chinchilla to guard against the cold?”

Nauseating!

“It’s a Brechtian interpretation. Perfect for my essay on comparative approaches to theatrical storytelling on the early 20th Century Stage.”

Alienating!

“Ohh, goody, there’s a hearing loop in the auditorium!”

Tragicomedy!

“Chookas, Sweetie. I’ll be in the fifth row, towards stage left.”

Familial, fidelity.

“How could he be cast over me?????”

No Comment.

The demountable Pop-Up Globe at the Entertainment Quarter, formerly Fox Studios, Sydney.

The demountable Pop-Up Globe at the Entertainment Quarter, formerly Fox Studios, Sydney.

 

Theatre audiences haven’t always fallen into such broad categories. Look around an auditorium and you will see a refined bunch of people with seemingly singular taste. But they’re a small umbrella group. Of course, I’m not referring to the big musicals that seem to break out and draw people in – crossing boundaries of wealth, sub-cultural fixations and education, and beyond the community of theatre practitioners who love and support the craft and each other.

Spending two to five times as much as the price of going to the footy to see a drama or an opera, can be an edifying, fulfilling experience but it won’t provoke the same audience response and loud catharsis that the footy can. Oops! Isn’t the theatre supposed to be cathartic? Hasn’t that old Greek word entered the English language to describe what goes on in your heart when theatre is at its best? When it lifts you, makes you see yourself and realise that you have changed or can change or that somehow life can be better?

Catharsis in the theatre is a very personal thing. It quietly slips down your cheek when no one is watching.  It wasn’t always the case. In Shakespeare’s day it was caterwauled at the performers, its heckling parleyed back and forth between the auditorium and the stage along with a barrage of soft tomatoes, and it could take to the streets in insurrection.

I don’t think you have to go so far back as Shakespeare to find audiences so engaged with performances – perhaps only back to just before the advent of television. When theatre was the only choice of dramatic storytelling for all.

In modern presentations of plays directors and their troupes try to instigate some of that interaction.

Shakespeare wrote the asides, as if they were improvised, to address his audience directly into his texts. At the Pop-Up Globe the performers run through the groundlings’ standing pit, and the stalls. They invite the audience to photograph them mid performance; they hurl fruit into the audience and lewd staging is used to raise laughs and lower everyone’s inhibitions. The twenty-first century audience smiles in appreciation of their nod to historical performance peccadillos and laugh too, but say nothing in response.

The Cast of Pushing Up Daisies aka Ta Radikia Anapoda (Hellenic Art Theatre)

The Cast of Pushing Up Daisies aka Ta Radikia Anapoda (Hellenic Art Theatre)

What would happen if the audience did respond? and as often as they were invited to and, when they weren’t invited.

Over the past week I have attended two very different productions. Both were comedies. The first was Shakespeare’s classic, A Comedy of Errors in the Pop-Up Globe and the other was Pushing Up Daisies or Τα Ραδικια Αναποδα, by the Hellenic Art Theatre. In the first production, the ensemble dared the audience to interact. In the second, they had to deal with it as a matter of course.

How to cook with no ingredients - feeding the hungry in Athens with the Chef (Nick Tsioukanis)

How to cook with no ingredients – feeding the hungry in Athens with the Chef (Nick Tsioukanis)

Τα Ραδικια Αναποδα, by Γιωρου Γαλιτη,  under the direction of Stavros Economidis satirises stereotypes found in modern day Athenian society. It does this by a series of monologues presented as eulogies to the newly departed. Each eulogy is honest rather than diplomatic and more revealing about the living than the dead. Among the different types we hear from is a thief, a bishop, a socialite, a politician, a surgeon and, poignantly, a chef (Nick Tsioukanis) who advises how to cook for life under the austerity measures imposed on Greece in the wake of the economic crisis.

The stage is bare, dressed with only two coffins, diagonally pointing into centre stage. Each monologue is delivered between these two coffins beginning with the personification of death himself.

The nature of monologues is to be addressed to the audience directly as much if not more than the stage environment. Conventionally, the audience sits up and listens closer. In this production the audience is alert and engaged from the get go. As Death enters and requests mobile phones be switched off, the pre-show chatter is diverted and acknowledges his request. Chatter isn’t entirely quelled and remarks fly on every entrance by a subsequent performer.

The Metropolitan (John Daviskas) eulogizing the assets of the holy departed.

The Metropolitan (John Daviskas) eulogizing the assets of the holy departed.

“Ah, here she is! It’s Evelyn.”

“Hmm, Stavros has lost weight.”

It’s clear there is a familiarity between the performers and their audience that has been accumulating over years of offering and attendance.

When each eulogy begins with an address to the deceased, someone has to voice the audience concerns that the latest performer has made a mistake. Clearly the dead man was named for someone else.

“Get it right, it’s so-and-so in that coffin.”

“No. It’s supposed to be a different person, now.”

As each monologue is given, audience members comment and add short anecdotes among themselves. It’s clear and loud that they can relate. Occasionally the performers were heckled within the context of the character that they were presenting.

Without even having to try, the fourth wall is down. Why did the Pop-Up Globe troupe have to put such an effort? Could it be that the answer lies with the audience?

The widow

The Widow (Evelyn Tsavales)

I’m apt to hypothesize that a lot has to do with the fact that the Hellenic Art Theatre have a relationship with their audience that spans many decades. There is a familiarity of faces across the fourth wall and also between the pews of the auditorium. They are not the disconnected group that attend the larger commercial theatres of the city. They share the migrant experience that binds them whether its mink on the shoulders or uni books in the backpack or personal connections to the company. There is security in this familiarity.  It’s something that I’m betting this audience shares with that of the audiences at the Globe in the age of Elizabeth and James. Then, there was the homogenous experience of being citizens of London who waited for the theatre for their drama where for decades HA Theatre’s audience waited for HA Theatre to be the sole provider of theirs.

A lot has to do with the comedy as well. When they offer Euripides’ tragedy, The Trojan Women later in the year, I can’t imagine that there’ll be heckling.

With such an abundance of audience banter – how do the performers deal with it?

The General

The General (Stavros Economidis)

It would take a seasoned performer with the resilience of a street performer or swift repartee of a stand-up comedian to take it all in stride and keep the momentum of the written text going. That’s how I imagine the King’s Men, Shakespeare’s company, to have been like. The exercise of the same members of the ensemble, play after play in front of a familiar audience would insite asides, heckling and banter that Shakespeare never recorded.

The cast of the Hellenic Art Theatre take it all in stride and offer a very enjoyable night at the theatre.

Pushing Up Daisies or Τα Ραδικια Αναποδα is playing at the Mantouridion Greek Theatre at the Addison Rd Community Complex in Marrickville until 30th September. English surtitles are projected throughout the performance. Bookings: www.hellenicarttheatre.com.au

The Pop-Up Globe is offering Shakespeare in Moore Park from this September and October.