Theatre Review: Ken Ludwig’s, The Game’s Afoot or ‘Holmes for The Holidays’

Arts Theatre Cronulla: 7th May – 12th June

Like mystery? Like Hollywood goofballs? A satire on genre? A sendup of preening thespians? Big comedy, big acting, big laughs? Then head down south to the Arts Theatre Cronulla.

Director, Tom Richards, Assistant Directors, Meili Bookluck and Caitlain Cowan, and the ensemble cast and crew of Arts Theatre Cronulla have delivered another polished, hilarious production with Ken Ludwig’s The Game’s Afoot.

Hilarious hijinks – The Seance scene, From left to right: SImon Bright (Luke Austin), Martha Gillette (Narelle Jaeger), Aggie Wheeler (Rachele Edson), Daria Chase (Margareta Moir) standing, William Gillette (Gary Clark), Felix Geisel (Michael Barlow) and Madge Geisel (Jayne O’Connell) – Photo: Port Hacking Camera Club

The play opens with the closing scene of a Sherlock Holmes murder mystery beautifully hammed out by a cast of actors portraying a cast of actors and thus heralding in the scale of the comedy. It’s physical, it’s big and entirely believable.  As the players playing players take their bows a gunman from the audience shoots the lead actor, William Gillette (Gary Clark). This instigates an invitation to his fellow actors and the theatre critic, Daria Chase, to his Connecticut Castle for a Christmas get together and his amateur sleuthing into the attempt on his life.

Set in 1936 the play sends up not only Sherlock Holmes but whodunits, séances, a delusional actor who dons his character’s profession in real life, stage actors, theatre critics and fandom. Set in America, a challenge is posed to maintain the US accent which is mostly met. Another challenge is in the delivery of Willam Gillette’s character. Here we have an Australian actor portraying an American actor with a fixation on a famous English character. Having referenced Sherlock Holmes in the title, the advertising and in the stage life of William Gillette, an expectation to see him parodied on stage isn’t quite met. Does it detract from the flow of the show or the laughs – in no way.

Co-conspirators perpetrating laughs – Felix Geisel (Michael Barlow) and William Gillette (Gary Clark). Photography: Port Hacking Camera Club

The show is a rolling farce delivered by a very capable ensemble cast. Where the script has been extended with mime and stage business it becomes hilarious – a real treat. Nudge-nudge, wink-wink takes on a whole other meaning in the eyes and shoulders of William (Gary Clark) and Felix (Michael Barlow). Their physical comedy is perfectly timed.

Inspector Goring (Arianne Hough) processing William Gillette’s (Gary Clark) mother’s (Narelle Jaeger) ‘evidence’. Photo: Port Hacking Camera Club

Among a talented and cohesive cast it’s hard to single out a particular performance, they all do so well. Narelle Jaeger as Martha Gillette has just the right amount of motherly immersion and sangfroid as a foil to her son’s desperation; there’s the plasticity of Arianne Hough’s facial features and her comic timing; the way Margareta Moir, as the despised critic Daria Chase, commands the stage with her presence and then diminishes to a human prop with the problem of her absent presence (no spoilers); Jayne O’Connell’s delivery of brassy American stage starlet Madge Geisel could set the era with her performance alone; and then there’s the séance – you’ll die laughing. The cast is rounded out with strong performances from Rachele Edson and Luke Austin.

The talented ensemble cast of Arts Theatre Cronulla’s production of the Game’s Afoot, from left to right: Narelle Jaeger, Gary Clark. On the sofa: Michael Barlow, Margareta Moir, Jayne O’Connell, and standing from left to right: Arianne Hough, Rachele Edson, Luke Austin and shooter/stagehand, Daniel Ison – Photography: Port Hacking Camera Club

Aiding the comedy is the clever set of James Bruce, Tom Richards and Neil Moulang. They have gone all out including a revolving room, a staircase and a scenic balcony extending upstage through a central door. It’s not just pretty but functional as the revolve’s capabilities are milked for comic effect.

Witty one-liners, clever banter, acerbic wit peppered through a funny, well-paced plot that’s extended with delightful stage business: the game’s afoot and running with plenty of laughs.

Tickets can be purchased online at www.artstheatrecronulla.com.au/thegamesafoot or over the phone after 10am 95232779

This review was first published in the Sydney Arts Guide on 13th May as:

THE GAME’S AFOOT (HOLMES FOR THE HOLIDAYS) : A FARCE FOR THE AGES

Don’t Dress for Dinner

By Marc Camoletti, adapted by Robin Hawdon

Cronulla Arts Theatre

14th February – 21 March, 2020

Most marriages bare at least the pretence of a HEA – a Happily Ever After – but not in Bernard and Jacqueline’s case. Their HEA is more like Hilariously Entangled Adultery in Cronulla Arts Theatre latest production, Don’t Dress for Dinner.

Playwright, Marc Camoletti, draws on tried and true tropes of farce with a convoluted storyline built on deception, cross purposes and mistaken identities to keep the marriage of Bernard and Jacqueline from foundering. This slick and pacey production boasts strong comedic performances and flawlessly delivered slapstick from its talented ensemble cast.

Bernard (Gary Clark) is married to Jacqueline (Margareta Moir) but is having an affair with Suzanne (Rachele Edson); Robert (Michael Barlow), Bernard’s closest friend, is secretly having an affair with Jacqueline; Bernard presses Robert to fake a relationship with Suzanne so that he has a cover story while they all spend a social night together; Suzette (Meili Bookluck), the hired cook, is mistaken for Suzanne by Robert and is employed to pretend to be his lover; Suzanne, clueless as a cook, is manoeuvred into the kitchen as if she is the late arriving chef; and George (Robert Hill), Suzette’s jealous, strong-arm husband, won’t let any man stand if he suspects them of cheating with his wife.

While safe-keeping his marital bond Bernard tries desperately to throw suspicion from himself while orchestrating to somehow, somewhere in his house, keep his assignation with Suzanne. Jacqueline has a similar motive with the added complication of having to endure the threat of Suzette’s position with Robert. 

Do you follow? Don’t worry if you don’t, neither do the characters in this tangled web of deception. Every time they stop to make sense of it all another thread is spun.

Mistress (Rachele Edson) and Wife (Margreta Moir) give faux-mistress (Meili Bookluck) and lover (Michael Barlow) their comeuppance.
Mistress (Rachele Edson) and Wife (Margareta Moir) give faux-mistress (Meili Bookluck) and lover (Michael Barlow) their comeuppance.

In a production built on big comedic performances, Bookluck’s plucky Suzette steals the show. Edson’s sultry Suzanne is portrayed with intellect so this beautiful bombshell never deteriorates into caricature. Moir never disappoints – Jacqueline’s every thought is translated in the plasticity of her facial expressions. The verve in the energetic exchanges between Clark’s Bernard, Barlow’s Robert and Suzette carry the pace and the humour. Hill, a newcomer to ATC delivers George with just the right enthusiasm.

Director Tom Richards and Assistant Director, Arianne Hough offer a very entertaining night out at the theatre – the laughs are on a roll throughout. It’s a lot of fun. Highly recommended.

Don’t Dress For Dinner is playing at the Cronulla School of Arts, 6 Surf Road, Cronulla, until 21 March, 2020.

Book tickets online artstheatrecronulla.com.au or phone 9523 2779

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

Theatre Review: Coup de Grace

CDG_Jimmy_Boniface_Oscar_Adam_Grace_Hailey_1a

James Phipps (Jimmy), Bill Ayres (Boniface), William Jordan (Oscar), Indianna Dimmer (Hailey), Margareta Moir (Grace) and Luke Austin(Adam). Photo: Port Hacking Camera Club

Arts Theatre Cronulla, May 11 – June 16
Director: Tom Richards
Cast: Margareta Moir, James Phipps, Luke Austin, William Jordan, Indianna Dimmer and Bill Ayres

You can depend on Arts Theatre Cronulla to deliver a good night out. You can expect Tom Richard’s seasoned direction to bring a comedy off the page. And from internationally successful British playwright, Robin Hawdon, you can demand laughter. They have all delivered in the Australian premiere of Hawdon’s latest offering, Coup de Grace.

Coup de Grace is a comfortable situation comedy in the vein of 70’s produced British TV sitcoms. It’s not biting satire. It doesn’t set out to change the world, your morals or set you on a path to revolution. It’s a farce, a delightful farce. It’s comedy as the means and the end in itself.

Poor unsuspecting cat burglar, Jimmy, steals into the hotel room of movie star Grace Gervais (Margareta Moir). Her lifeless body lies partially covered on the sofa. Her lover, Adam, enters and mistakes Jimmy for her cuckolded husband. In Adam’s mind that makes him guilty. Jimmy tries to exonerate himself when her real husband, Oscar, walks in on them both. Oscar is quite happy to be misconstrued as her manager. Suddenly, Grace makes a miraculous recovery and then . . . proceeds to play along with her husband’s ruse. Sound chaotic? Set it at the Cannes Film Festival, add a stolen diamond necklace, Oscar’s ditsy, French secretary, gunshots, poison and a hotel manager who thinks he’s Hercule Poirot and you have a riotous night at the theatre.

With so much happening, so quickly, the story is set up in the first half with a hasty pace. Bill Ayers’ measured portrayal of the Hotel manager helps to ground the characters and anchor the plot. His comic timing is spot on. He spoofs Agatha Christie’s iconic detective’s accent, manner and pronunciation to hilarious effect. Margareta Moir’s portrayal of the histrionic diva fittingly fills the stage. Her investment in the improbable reality she projects on the other characters and their easy acceptance of it buoys the plot.

CDG_Act 2_Grace_2a

The Hollywood diva, Grace Gervais (Margareta Moir) the victim, victimising. Photo: Port Hacking Camera Club

 

Hawdon’s convoluted plot lines are all deceptions. Like an episode of Seinfeld, very little actually happens. The story is built on the perceptions and assumptions the characters make of each other. Accusations move the plot along. Grace thrives on drama both on and off the screen. She would live the life of the tabloids and holds them all in thrall as she works through her suspicions. Her husband knows it and plays along. The plot works because they all want to believe the illusion that keeps their secrets safe. The only ones that can see the truth are the audience and we laugh at the lot of them.
Hawdon’s latest play is sure to be another winner. His cleverly constructed plot weaves its magic without resort to crude language nor lewd staging. Word play and innuendo are peppered throughout a performance that raises chuckles and not eyebrows. It’s a show that the whole family will enjoy.

Coup de Grace is playing at the newly refurbished Arts Theatre Cronulla from 11th May – 16th June. Bookings ph: 9523 2779 www.artstheatrecronulla.com.au