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.

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Review: Trojan Women

Trojan Women by Euripides

Hellenic Art Theatre

Director: Stavros Economidis

Euripides was a complex fellow. He wrote tragedies for the stage that garnered him a lot of negative criticism but also public acclaim. He revelled in women’s concerns, writing some of the strongest women in theatre history, however, he was accused of being a woman hater. Was he? He certainly parades a few outraged, noble heroines in this production but what of his fascination for the femme fatale? Admire them he did, but he couldn’t quite trust them or the beguiling power of their sexuality. In The Trojan Women he also takes on controversial subjects like the futility of war, raising the mirror to his own community’s faults, painting them the villains. Consequently, he is considered a very modern playwright. 2500 years later we still relate to his messages.

Hellenic Art Theatre is presenting this Ancient Greek tragedy in Greek with English surtitles at their theatre space in the Addison Road Community Centre as part of the Greek Festival of Sydney. Directed by Stavros Economidis, this production has all of the elements that you would expect from Ancient Greek Theatre: monologues; masks; an ever-present chorus and drama, drama, drama.

Publicity Poster for Trojan Women by Euripides

The Trojan Women looks at the devastation of war. Through the experiences of one family – the family singled out by the Greeks to receive the harshest treatment because they are the first family of Troy – Queen Hecuba, the princesses Polyxena, Cassandra and Andromache, Euripides highlights the plights of the losers, the prisoners, the enforced exiles. Hellenic Art Theatre invites its audience to relate to the women as refugees and boat people. Unlike the refugees of our day, they are not leaving their homeland to start again but as captives of the killers of husband, father and son.

Mimika Valaris plays Ekave (Hecuba), Queen of Troy – the human embodiment of devastation, rage, loss, grief and helplessness with the chorus of Trojan Women in the background

Mimika Valaris as Hecuba, is Troy – its queen, its first mother, grandmother, shepherdess and widow. She carries the audience with her as she embodies the loss of home, community, family and order. She is Euripides first wailing woman, manifesting the pain, fear, uncertainty, and rage of all of the women of her city. And her women – the women of Troy are the masked ladies of the chorus. They are the commentary on the events unfolding and the emotional thermometer. If this is your first Ancient Greek play the chorus will impress you in the interplay between the individual members and the group and the stylised use of space. The chorus remains the voice of the individual subsumed into the collective voice of a united community suffering together.

Astyanax and the Chorus
Astyanax (Deon Gama) and the Chorus


Talthybius (Nick Tsioukanis), the Greek’s messenger provides the book end of each monologue but he is also the one who moves along the action. Special mention must be made of child actor, Deon Gama who performed his silent role with maturity and focus beyond his years.

Talthybius (Nick Tsioukanis) the Messenger delivers the fate of the boy-prince Astyanax (Deon Gama) to his mother, Andromache (Evelyn Tsavalas)

Visually, it is an impressive production. The thrust stage with its apron seating closely approximates an ancient amphitheatre. The costumes glitter and contrast with the walls and fallen blocks of the city. The monologues are physicalized with big gestures helping to convey meaning to a non-Greek speaking audience.



Menelaus (Polyzois Patelis), the jilted husband of Beautiful Helen aka Helen of Troy (Gaelle Emvalomelos)


You can see this production, with its easily accessible English surtitles each weekend until the 7th April. With Greek Theatre not performed outside a University setting very often, it’s a good opportunity to see the work of one of the greatest Classical tragedians. Tickets can be booked online http://www.hellenicarttheatre.com.au/


This blog post first appeared on the St George and Sutherland Shire Leader website on March 20, 2019.

All Done – Off to Jupiter

img_3538A taste of my fiction… Ghosting Europa is a little sci-fi, a little science-fantasy, a little metaphysical and wholly made up.  After offering instalments throughout December the full story in a straightforward reading format is now offered in full under the above tab, Ghosting Europa.

I hope you like it. If you do, I’d be thrilled if you shared.

A wonderful 2019, to you all.

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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

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.

Review: Tales of Hoffmann

Rockdale Opera Company

August 18-26, 2018, Rockdale Town Hall

Musical Director: Luke Spicer

Director: David Brennan

Looking for a good night out? Boo! Did I scare you? No? How ’bout…”OPERA!!!!” Scared now? What about, “Ernest Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann!” Yes? Edgar Allan Poe, better? No? Hoffmann is scarier – his stories have been operatically realised by the great romantic composer, Jacques Offenbach.

Okay, “OPERA! HOFFMANN! OFFENBACH!” Now you’ve got to be scared!

Mention a good night out and most people won’t immediately think of the Opera. It’s that thing that happens in that funny looking building on the Harbour. It’s performed in a foreign language. It’s expensive. Everyone speaks with an apple in their mouth and they’re just the audience. And the sound is…different – sonorous singing complementing a rich instrumental accompaniment – not the usual demonstrative rapping or tuneful skipping out of lyrics meant to be bopped to. It’s decidedly not pedestrian and not easily accessible.

Olympia (Camilla Wright) and Spalanzani (Michael Handy), image courtesy Heymish PR

Olympia (Camilla Wright) and Spalanzani (Michael Handy), image courtesy Oscar Smith

But what if it was? What if it were in English and each act opened with a dramatic introduction setting the scene about to be sung? What if it was offered in suburban Rockdale, with plenty of free-parking and easy public transport? What if Musical Director, Luke Spicer, presented a superb orchestra to uplift highly trained and talented singers? What if the Director brought with him the experience of years as a principal at Opera Australia as David Brennan has? What if the core of the Rockdale Town Hall resonated with the song of disparate lyrical organs expressing their joy in concert with each other, in concert with Offenbach?

It would be a shame to miss it.

The Rockdale Opera Company’s, Tales of Hoffmann, offers all of this. If you haven’t experienced opera before, this production is all too easy. An act by act synopsis is offered in the programme and just enough time and ample lighting to comfortably read it in the scene changes. Adjusting your ear to the style of singing may take a few moments – like accustoming yourself to Shakespearean English –  but it’s worth it.

Benjamin Oxley as Hoffmann, image courtesy Heymish PR

Benjamin Oxley as Hoffmann, image courtesy Oscar Smith

The poet, Hoffmann, walked away from his creative muse to pursue love with disastrous and macabre results. Three of his exploits detail his bizarre infatuations: with a life-size, battery-operated doll; a Venetian enchantress who steals his reflection and hopes to steal his soul; and the lovely Antonia who loves him but risks her health when she shares his music with him.

Benjamin Oxley’s Hoffman is sympathetic and real. The warmth of his voice and the sureness of his pace and actualization endear us to his plight. Camilla Wright mesmerises with her realisation of the doll, Olympia. Her robotic movements and painted smile fool few beside the lovelorn Hoffman. There is much to admire in her delivery, she enchants with her acting and musical humour.

Nicklausse (Barbara Jin) watches over Hoffman (Benjamin Oxley). Image courtesy Heymish PR

Nicklausse (Barbara Jin) watches over Hoffman (Benjamin Oxley). Image courtesy Oscar Smith

Barbara Jin, portrays Nicklausse, a student who the Muse has charged with looking out for Hoffmann. She physicalises her character’s emotions roundly, communicating her state of mind emphatically without hamming. Ray Dubber, a company veteran, delights as the near-deaf servant, Franz. He has a larrikin’s face for comedy and is a delight to watch, a delight to listen to.

Franz (Ray Dubber), image courtesy Heymish PR

Franz (Ray Dubber), image courtesy Oscar Smith

Opera poses many challenges for its performers: they must sing the right notes; carry the tune at volume; and bring across their particular character. In a couple of instances towards the end of the second half, the strength of the full orchestra posed a challenge for the performers. But the feelings were there.

This opera was unfinished by Offenbach at his death. We are told that the act in Venice was left the least developed. Dramatic tension within this act could perhaps have been better utilised with a bigger delivery of the dastardly Dapertutto, the purveyor of reflections and souls – perhaps from costuming or make-up? Perhaps the blocking of his movement and interactions?

The costumes are evocative of the early 20th Century and aid in setting the production. The set itself is stripped back and striking – a lit backcloth and black silhouettes creating the Tavern and Venice effectively.

All in all, the Rockdale Opera Company’s, Tales of Hoffmann is a good night out, even for the uninitiated. Very enjoyable.

Tickets can be booked online. Phone bookings: 02 8197 1796

Hurry, the run closes August 26!

 

Review: I’ll be Back Before Midnight

The Guild Theatre, Rockdale
Director: Jennifer Gilchrist

This was first published in the St George and Sutherland Shire Leader, online edition.

The coals are lit, the broth is brewing, the Guild Theatre cauldron is fed a dash of Beetlejuice, a flower from the attic and a sprinkle of Sherlock Holmes to offer up Peter Colley’s international smash, I’ll be Back Before Midnight. This black comedy, sans satire, is seasoned with a little drama, plenty of plot twists and a revelry in horror movie tropes.

I'll be back by Midnightcouch

Lani Crooks as Jan Stapleton and Robert Mason as George Willowby, photo courtesy of the Guild Theatre

Jan Sanderson (Lani Crooks) is a neurotic wife who has just been discharged from mental care after a nervous breakdown. In spite of her anxiety, her husband, mild mannered archaeologist, Greg (George Gleeson), takes her to the country. It’s Jan’s hope that they will reinvigorate their marriage. Laura (Natalija Karna) arrives with a mind to renew her relationship with her brother as well. George (Robert Mason) is the hands-on landlord/caretaker with an incorrigible black sense of humour, an easy yarn and a wicked laugh, who checks in on them from time to time.

Jan and sister-in-law, Laura (Natalija Karna)

Jan and sister-in-law, Laura (Natalija Karna), photo courtesy the Guild Theatre

What begins, somewhat, as a psychological drama soon develops into a thriller as we question where the action is really taking place – in reality or in Jan’s head? Is her sister-in-law really playing with her mind? What’s really going on between the siblings? Natalija Karna’s Laura is needy and conniving. George Gleeson cruises along evenly as a likable Greg, until… da, dah, daaaah – no spoilers. Robert Mason embodies the rustic farmer with country charm from the top of his head to the tips of his toes. He has a lot of fun with George and so do we.

Archaeologist, Greg Sanderson (George Gleeson) and his landlord, George Willowby (Robert Mason), photo courtesy The Guild Theatre

Archaeologist, Greg Sanderson (George Gleeson) and his landlord, George Willowby (Robert Mason), photo courtesy The Guild Theatre

Painted in sepia, Bill Ayers’ and Jim Farrow’s set design is deceptively ordinary. This 80’s living room comes alive with clever sound effects and various lighting techniques that complement each other to offer the kind of haunted house you’d experience watching an old movie. The house extends past the stage with exits in the usual places but each closed door or drawn curtain holds expectations as the house and performance gradually comes alive with suspense and sinister purpose.

The sound effects pervade the house spreading unease. Mundane noises, aptly timed and curtly delivered, are incorporated to help put you on the edge of your seat, and unexpected exits and entrances to jolt you out of them. The central sliding doors become a focus of suspense in the second act as Lani Crooks hits her stride when the canard woven around Jan begins to fray.

If you like haunted houses, old horror movies and plot twists you’ll enjoy, I’ll be Back Before Midnight. It’s playing at the Guild Theatre, Walz St, Rockdale throughout August, closing on September 1. Tickets can be booked on ph: 9521 6358 or online http://www.guildtheatre.com.au/2018-season/ill-be-back-before-midnight/

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Review: Snoopy!!! The Musical

This review appears in the St George and Sutherland Shire Leader.

MMS_SNOOPY_NathanFarrow_LouisVinciguerra_LexiHutchinson

Snoopy, The Musical opened at the Sutherland Memorial School of the Arts, June 15. Starring Nathan Farrow as Snoopy, Louis Vinciguerra as Charlie Brown and Lexi Hutchinson as Lucy

Peanuts! Get your peanuts! Peanuts and Hot Dogs, er, Hot Dog, er – make that Cool Beagle, the coolest beagle, Snoopy!!! Miranda Musical Society are reaching out to Peanuts fans with their latest musical. The Sunday comic strip comes to life with larger than life performances from its all-singing, all-dancing cast.

It’s been awhile since the beloved gang have featured in weekly print. And long gone are the years where a major holiday didn’t go unmarked by a Snoopy movie on TV . Remember the Great Pumpkin and the Easter Beagle? It didn’t matter your age, it seemed that there was always something to engage every member of the family. But that was a while ago. How does Snoopy!!! stack up today?

Leaving aside preconceptions and treating the plot – or more correctly series of comic strip stories – as that of a loosely strung together overview of the lives of a group of primary school kids, what do we have?

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Paul Tuohy as the blanket carrying, thumb sucking peanut, Linus.

Portrayed by a cast too young to have been inundated with Snoopy comics, cartoons and plush toys, the talented cast do an admirable job. If something of nuance is lacking it’s made up for in vitality and energy. The pace of the show skips along. There is never a quiet moment yet Louis Vinciguerra’s poignant portrayal of Charlie Brown comes across through all the clamber of the Peanut’s troupe’s emotions. If Charlie Brown’s losing to Snoopy and  his life situations has been taken for granted for generations, it isn’t in this production.

Snoopy!!! has a talented cast of singer-dancer-actors. Nathan Farrow as Snoopy oozes cool with his affected nonchalance. Alexis Hutchison as Lucy and Tamana Rita as Sally Brown are bounding bubbles of exuberance. Paul Tuohy’s lovable Linus engages the audience. Jess Punch lays out Peppermint Patty’s sensitivity and offers it to you as she looks you and Charlie Brown in the eye. But if there is anyone to fear who may steal the show, it has to be Blake Bennett as Woodstock. His portrayal is part clown, part mime, all joy.

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Jess punch as Peppermint Patty minus the iconic auburn hair and baseball cap

Filling the orchestra pit is an ensemble of percussionists, keyboards and guitars. This is a live show. Musical Director, Adam Foster and Choreographer, Madison Larsen have helped create a rich offering. Erin Macbeth’s costumes help distinguish the characters immediately, despite their head styling. Bob Peet’s set design is a mash-up of comic art, Charles Schulz’s iconic dog-house and those generic Playschool cubes. Comic images light up the backcloth and the whitewashed wings cleverly reset a scene with a new flood of bright colour in Loki McCorquordale’s complementing lighting design.

Will today’s kids like it? They may not recognise the characters. Punning, Snoopy in-jokes and 20th Century references may go over their heads. What will appeal to tweens and up is the song, dance and humour. Essentially what kids (and adults) need doesn’t change. What made Snoopy popular in the first place was the ability of the Peanuts gang to reach out with their stories. Tim Dennis’ production does this with panache.

Snoopy!!! is playing at the Sutherland Memorial School of Arts, just across the road from Sutherland train station and commuter carpark, until June 24. Tickets are available online

What’s in a good review?

When I was younger I’d get all excited about a new movie or show opening. I’d open the papers to look for the reviews with bated breath. I wanted the show to be well reviewed but I was anxious that I wouldn’t enjoy it if it was. I was aware of a gap between what the reviewers appreciated and what I did. If they liked it too much would it be hard work, you know, slow and atmospheric, or bizarre and inexplicable? Would a good review make me feel uncultured or ignorant if I didn’t get it? Conversely, if they didn’t like it and I did, I was made to feel the same way. What’s wrong with melodrama anyway?

Proedria, reserved seating for officials and priests

Ancient audience

 

After doing a few reviews more than usual this year, I’ve come to believe that a good reviewer needs to talk to the prospective audience of the show. Who are they? Will they like it? Is it appropriate to all members of a target group or family or non-targeted audience member?

Where and by who the production has been staged should influence how the performance is judged. An inner-city boutique theatre will have nuanced choices of material it stages and appeal to a particular market. Suburban, community theatre’s will select different stories with a wider appeal. Each offering should be judged on its own parameters.

If the performance is well-subsidized and offered by trained professionals then more can be expected from its production values. If the performers are drama students learning the ropes there is a different expectation – a greater responsibility is invested with the director.

The reviewer also needs to look towards the playwright. Has the director achieved the intensions of the story? Is the story relevant? If it’s a classic play, has the production touched its modern audience? Has it reached across time and given the audience an understanding of the past that resonates today?

The budget of the performance will dictate set, sound and costume design. How these challenges are met can influence the telling of the story. The decision to have a bare set because the actors, a pretty costume, a prop or two and a good script should stand on their own doesn’t always work. Really good actors, well practised in their craft can make this look easy, but it’s not. Sometimes borrowing lavish costumes that set a particular time or reality but restrict movement – so that they remain pristine – isn’t a good choice. A bare set highlights the oft asked question – what should I do with my hands? and where to stand without devolving into a tableau of talking heads.

The aim of the performance is to immerse the audience in the reality of the story. All of the elements of staging  – performers, the stage, set, costumes, props, sound design and lighting should support that reality.

The actor is crucial. Every performer no matter how big or small their role is, is crucial to creating and maintaining the theatrical illusion. How they all interact with each other – listen to each other before reacting or responding, reinforces the world of the play. If they get up from one side of the stage and walk to the other mid speech – what are they responding to? what is their motivation? Can we see what’s going on in their head? Do we as audience members feel their agitation? Or are we wondering what the actor forgot? A big pitfall, oft stated is putting on an accent or a disability. Nothing breaks the illusion than an accent that is dropped and picked up and dropped throughout the play. Maintaining an altered state over the course of a performance is really difficult.

As a reviewer it can be difficult knowing how far to delve into criticism. A play is a good one if its target audience enjoyed it. It’s a really good one if it realises the intent of the playwright as well. It’s a great one if it does this and ticks all of the production value boxes.

So what is a good review? Like a good play, a good review will talk to the play’s audience. One that can predict the enjoyment and/or edification of the target audience.