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Category Archives: Theatre

The Judas Kiss

In the light of the civil rights movements of the last five decades, the various ways to interpret the facts of Oscar Wilde’s life seem almost kaleidoscopic. Even in the two decades since David Hare wrote The Judas Kiss, our perspectives on queer rights have moved so dramatically that material of this age frequently jars current sensibilities. Perhaps because of its subject matter, but probably more because of Hare’s focus on the people he was writing about, the play doesn’t suffer from any such awkwardness.

The first act is encountered in a single scene in which Wilde has the opportunity to flee England and escape arrest for gross indecency. Those who hold influence over him try to persuade him in different directions before it is too late, and the wordy dialogue presents a number of reasons for him to stay or to go. Whether Wilde allowed the police to arrest him in a misguided belief that he would never be incarcerated, or in a rather premature expression of gay pride, his courageous foolhardiness shines through brilliantly.

And it is this courageous foolhardiness that I find most inspiring about the Oscar Wilde presented in this production.

David Hare’s heavily verbose script is lightened by inspired direction from Karina Hudson (with the support of Alexandra Pelvin). Despite the weight of words Hare burdens the actors with, each of the three central characters shine through with a life and vivacity that is rare with such a piece.

What is perhaps most surprising is to see the conflicts that currently play out within the queer community about how we engage with the societies we live in, playing out in a story twelve decades old. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

For me at least, this was a deeply moving production of a carefully constructed play. It honours Wilde’s memory while also recognising his humanity, and you can’t ask for more than that.

 

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Oedipus Scmoedipus

Blood, as Stoppard’s tragedian says, is compulsory.

The auditorium at the Playhouse goes dark for a moment before the curtain shoots into the fly tower and two women wearing white are flooded with blinding white light in front of a white backdrop and a white stage. The audience gasps as their eyes react to the onslaught and giggle a little while they wait for something to happen…

The rest of this post is published on Australian Stage.

 
 

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Much Ado About Nothing

Canberra’s sunsets are a little short for Shakespeare, but the timing was pretty damn near perfect for Shakespeare by the Lakes’ debut tonight.

A bright and committed team of enthusiasts have brought back Canberra’s outdoor performances of Shakespeare, and they should be commended for the way in which they galvanised the community and pulled together such a great performance.

The costumes are reminiscent of Kenneth Branagh’s 1993 film, and Izaac Beach’s Claudio is, astonishingly, even more cloying than Robert Sean Leonard’s from that same film. Lexi Sekuless is the standout, I feel: one of the most beautifully balanced Beatrices I’ve ever encountered, and she’s matched brilliantly by Duncan Driver’s Benedick.

I especially appreciate the way in which the space is used. In front of Tuggeranong Town Park’s rather sad little stage, the performers engage the audience with direct address, entering the performance space through the audience and even extending in amongst the picnic rugs at times. It’s an authentic and relatable way to treat the bard we so often revere but rarely embrace.

I did have some sympathy for the poor sound technicians: the wind picked up in the afternoon and the performers’ mics told us all about it. It was at times difficult to hear the voices, especially when, to minimise the problem, the operators turned the mics off and back on as required, frequently suffering a lag in reconnection.

It is a big decision in this context whether to amplify or not. The use of microphones, even when there’s no need to compensate for wind, kills a lot of expression, and it is difficult to recover. But in an outdoor space like this, amplification is sadly necessary. It doesn’t help that the ACT Government, despite investing substantially in outdoor performance venues, couldn’t even be bothered applying the technology perfected by the Greeks 2,500 years ago. A simple amphitheatre would eliminate the need for soul-crushing PA systems, but we’re stuck with flat auditoria like a people who have no access to the wisdom of ancient civilisations! /rant

Despite this difficulty, a talented cast certainly made the most of the the deftly-trimmed script, and gave an appreciative audience a show worthy of the investment made by the show’s sponsors. I hope to be enjoying Shakespeare by the Lakes for many years to come.

 

 
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Posted by on Wednesday, 14 February 2018 in Canberra Theatre, Shakespeare by the Lakes, Theatre

 

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Michael and Phillip are Getting Married in the Morning

Much of the publicity for Michael and Phillip are Getting Married in the Morning points to the December 2017 changes to the Marriage Act, which occurred between the writing of the play and its staging. Obviously the script was updated to reflect the changes, so I don’t think there really was a need to point them out. The publicity also bills it as a celebration of love, and although it does live up to this, there did seem to be some disagreement between the writer (who seems to have written a comedy) and the director (who seems to have directed a melodrama).

I don’t know how much it has diverted from the original plot, but the play centres on two men who are getting married in the near future (the title did leave me a little confused about the time line). Like all good romantic comedies, this central objective faces three major catastrophes: the interference of Michael’s best friend, the scheming of a pregnant bride-to-be who wants to marry Phillip instead and the re-appearance of Michael’s estranged and remorseful father.

The plot works. It chugs along nicely from one problem to another, emulating the best farces. The characters are relatable, even some of the minor ones, and they deliver pathos along with their humour. However, the direction has left the script without the energy it needed to get lift off. The delivery was slow, the comic timing almost always lagged and the business of moving from one setting to another brought any energy that was built thudding back down onto the stage floor.

Bayne Bradshaw and Ryan Stewart, playing Michael and Phillip respectively, portrayed their characters well, and though they were rarely on stage together, they had a great chemistry that made me wish they’d played opposite each other for more of the play. Anna Reardon was likewise admirable as Michael’s friend Tally, and fought valiantly to attempt to resurrect the play’s energy, but it was to no avail. Even the talent I could see in Bethany Griffiths, whose role as the bride is one of the most amusing elements in the script, wasn’t enough to build the energy  needed to get the audience laughing.

Michael and Phillip are Getting Married in the Morning should be a romp. The script is, despite a few unnecessary scenes, essentially ready to have us all rolling in the aisles, but this production had me checking my watch and tapping to see if it had stopped. Tighter direction and better comic timing would have saved it.

 
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Posted by on Thursday, 18 January 2018 in Melbourne Theatre, Theatre

 

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Versions of Us

First show back in Canberra, and I’m impressed. In a performance that would be right at home as part of the Edinburgh Fringe (oh, how I miss Fringe!), Canberra Youth Theatre present a series of stories that evoke a sense of what it means to be one’s self in the way we relate to others.

The stories all centre on adolescents exploring the way they understand and present themselves. It’s an important theme in adolescence, but it is something we grapple with all through life, so the production has a broader appeal than I think was necessarily intended from reading the program. It is apparent from the quality of the end result that all contributors have put a lot into this production.

The one thing I’m less than impressed with is the use of snippets. This is a frequent result from group-devised theatre, as it allows a relatively purist way of including a large number of participants and a wide range of ideas without bending them. But I always find works that provide snippets of stories involving many characters less satisfying than plays with a contiguous plot arc and deeper characters.

In this instance, it is a relatively small gripe. The lighting and sound design does bring a range of experiences of the one theme together, and the play flows well from one plot to the next. It helps that these young people are natural performers experiencing the benefit of working with CYT’s excellent tutors. And it helps, too, that its theme and the plots chosen bear out a commitment to honesty.

The program says that the creators sought to avoid “the fake teen angst stereotype”, and they certainly achieved this. At every juncture, I found myself invested in the characters’ lives, and empathising with the angst they were expressing. The balance achieved to establish an angst that doesn’t feel forced is a worthy accomplishment, and the writer, director and performers should be proud of it.

Honestly, I’d have been grateful just to have an hour feeling like I’m back in Edinburgh’s dank, dark theatrical spaces; Canberra Youth Theatre delivered this and more.

 
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Posted by on Saturday, 14 October 2017 in Canberra Theatre, Canberra Youth Theatre, Theatre

 

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Royal Vauxhall

A little more theatrical than cabaret, but a little more cabaret than theatre, Royal Vauxhall straddles the divide exceptionally well, and presented beautifully in the pub it was named after.

Telling the story of the night in 1988 when Princess Diana went to a gay bar in drag with Freddie Mercury and Kenny Everett (no, I’d never heard of him either), Royal Vauxhall is named after the pub where it happened. Though the troupe


is touring the show, I was lucky enough to be in London while it was being performed at the very same Royal Vauxhall Tavern, which was rather a special moment.

Desmond O’Connor’s book is spot on for this kind of environment. Though it might be a little less interactive than most cabarets, it nonetheless allows for a real engagement with the audience that we rarely see in musical theatre. The music is loud and engaging, and there aren’t too many sappy moments to leave a pub audience bored.
And the material is just as well suited. The piece is truly hilarious and was well appreciated by the audience.

Sarah-Louise Young plays Diana, and she is charming and engaging throughout. Reuben R Kaye’s Freddie Mercury keeps the audience and the action on track, and is clearly a master of cabaret. And Stuart Saint is invariably relatable as Kenny Everett.

The show is set to tour the UK, but if they make it to Australia, I imagine there will be a receptive audience for them there too (wink, wink; nudge, nudge).

 
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Posted by on Thursday, 7 September 2017 in British Theatre, Theatre

 

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Outlaws to In-Laws

Having recently produced a show that attempted to draw a bow through LGBTIQ history, I am familiar with the difficulty of having to eschew particular bits of history to get a story across. Outlaws to In-Laws navigates this dilemma quite well, I think.

Spanning seven decades, Outlaws to In-Laws tells seven unrelated stories about gay men living their lives. The premise is simple: the changes in the way we live can’t really be broached by a single plot arc, so let’s have several plots!

And the result is remarkable. Each play digs deeply into the heart of sex or romance or both, providing a glimpse of the impact of the political sphere on the personal across seven decades of queer history.

For me, two stories really stood out, and the first was Mister Tuesday. Delivering a plate of cucumber sandwiches to his lover, who only comes on Tuesdays, a man attempts to deepen the relationship, and failing, turns to blackmail. Set in the 1960s, the ploy has a particular impact, and the performances of both Jack Bence and Elliot Balchin are compelling.

The second stand out was Reward, set in the 1970s. A young man perseveres in attempting to strike up a conversation with another at a bus stop, and a romance develops. Jack Bence is hilarious in this piece, and holds his composure remarkably. Michael Duke, likewise, is engaging and believeable, and the two do a brilliant job with Jonathan Kemp’s brilliantly composed script.

This is a timely production that neatly captures the heart of this moment in our history, this moment where we really care about our history because it seems to have brought us somewhere. As such, Outlaws to In-Laws is a quintessentially theatrical production that truly matters.

 
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Posted by on Tuesday, 5 September 2017 in British Theatre, King's Head Theatre, Theatre

 

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