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Category Archives: Theatre

Romeo and Juliet by Curious Pheasant

Stumbling out of another theatre, again physically shaken by the performance I’ve just witnessed, I am awestruck by the ability of creatives to breathe new life into one of the oldest and most frequently redone stories in the canon. But this one was something extra special.

Plonked gently into lad culture, using the images of rugby to speed the story along, our gay pair of star-cross’d lovers shine brilliantly in this show. The cast is condensed to six, the dialogue is abridged but rarely altered: and yet the story rarely diverts significantly from the original.

Curious Pheasant’s Romeo and Juliet successfully stands up to an intellectual scrutiny without becoming a mere academic exercise. The emotion is raw and gutteral, the performances robust and delicately nuanced, and even this middle aged English teacher felt like he was watching the story for the first time, despite knowing essentially what was coming next.

And what it achieves is to show all love as equal. Humane folk care about Juliet and Romeo as much regardless of their gender, and it is specifically a toxic masculinity that gets in the way. Words that ring with familiarity are reinvigorated in this context: that rose, by any other name, really does smell as sweet.

And so, quietly I stepped out of the Bijou into the hustle and noise of Edinburgh’s festive streets, somewhat deafened to the hubbub and still lost in the tragedy. Hoping, maybe, that better days are coming.

 
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Posted by on Thursday, 15 August 2019 in Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Theatre

 

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Ripped

I have been impressed with quite a few performances so far this Fringe, but the most impressive skill an actor can possess is the ability to elicit a gut reaction to a scenario that is beyond the ken of most audients. And Alex Gwyther left me barely able to stand up and walk out of the theatre.

In Ripped, Gwyther portrays a male rape victim masking his trauma by taking action to fulfill a gender stereotype; a stereotype he struggles to define throughout. Gwyther also embodies the victim’s associates, and just keeping the plot clear is a challenge that he rises to with the deftest of hands.

On one level, I want to praise Gwyther’s technical prowess: he is skilled and professional in every way. But the technical skill he demonstrates, regardless of how worthy it is of praise, pales into insignificance against the creative choices he has made in developing the monologue.

This is a story that balances the need to energise and engage with an edifying glimpse into the morass of toxic masculinity. That is a remarkable achievement, and I cannot describe how impressed I am with Gwyther’s achievement.

At the end of this performance, I applauded with the rest of the audience, but I could barely move, and had to take a moment gathering my thoughts before I could leave. That is the mark of a stellar performance.

 
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Posted by on Wednesday, 14 August 2019 in British Theatre, Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Theatre

 

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Vulvarine

Vulvarine, wowing audiences at the Edinburgh Fringe

There is a subtle difference, I think, between efforts to bring about gender equality by political action, and efforts to shift or reinforce gender equality as a paradigm and a goal. The former was needed in the last few centuries, but the latter will be needed much longer.

Fat Rascal Theatre’s Vulvarine, currently wowing audiences at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, is one of the most enjoyable examples of musical theatre to stand up to the challenge of building the gender equality paradigm.

The story centres on Bryony Buckle, a nerdy office worker with a crush on another nerdy office worker and a cough. After accepting a new medication from a misogynistic doctor, she is struck by lightning and becomes a superhero. You can guess what this hero’s name becomes…

The greatest strength of this production is how effortlessly it engages the audience, with slapstick humour and a light-hearted, whimsical air it screams along at a cracking pace, with barely enough time for the audience to draw a breath between guffaws. And the deeply important messages it delivers come with a depth or pathos rare for any musical, let alone such a comic one.

Performances are exceptional. There are five performers, and I lost count of characters at some point, but although Allie Munroe is spectacularly perfect in her depiction of Bryony Buckle, each one is a consummate professional worthy of the highest praise Edinburgh can offer.

My one objection is that I thought I was the only playwright to ever use High Wycombe in a play!

I don’t know if many misogynists would be persuaded by this work, but it reinforces messages of gender equality in a light hearted and positive way, building the culture of gender equality as paradigm, rather than movement.

But most importantly, this is musical theatre at its finest: engaging, witty and pointed.

 
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Posted by on Tuesday, 13 August 2019 in British Theatre, Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Theatre

 

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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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