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Category Archives: Canberra 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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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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Talk

I was more than impressed by the set when I entered the Playhouse for tonight’s performance of Talk. Two levels and three separate spaces fill the stage, and I anticipate a masterpiece, judging by this work of art.

By halfway through, I’m disappointed.

Jonathan Biggins’ script deals with heady themes that are particularly pertinent in the current climate. News cycles, declining newspaper sales, irresponsible journalism and public broadcasters all come under scrutiny. And the resulting cacophony is as vague and impenetrable as the world it attempts to critique.

The complex set, while impressive, doesn’t help matters. It is broken, really, into three ‘panes’, which don’t interact with each other. Granted, the story takes place in three separate spheres that barely intersect, but the end result is a disjointed plot, and that’s something I don’t really find endearing.

Biggins’ naturalistic and humorous dialogue, even when it was delivered so well by the talented cast, doesn’t quite overcome the disjointed nature of the piece, and although I was engrossed enough to want to know what happens, I’m not sure I really cared that much about any of the characters.

Talk is a valiant attempt to critique this point in our history, and the journalistic forces that are shaping it, but it falls a long way short of a masterpiece.

 
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Posted by on Friday, 2 June 2017 in Canberra Theatre Centre, The Playhouse, Theatre

 

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The Addams Family

addamsI laughed along heartily at The Addams Family, mainly because the cast worked so well to engage their audience. If only the musical itself was a little more innovative, this would be a brilliant show.

There was a palpable shift a little way into this opening night. It felt to me like nerves were very raw at first, but within twenty minutes or so, that was gone, and the receptive audience had warmed them up. Tim Stiles, in the role of Uncle Fester, seemed to be at centre stage when they clicked into gear, but the whole cast rallied beautifully as an ensemble and it was a beautiful thing to see this shift.

I loved the sharp attitude Lainie Hart brought to Morticia, and Gordon Nicholson delivered plenty of laughs as a trapped Gomez (I am impressed that he balanced the script’s stereotypes with some more subtle characterisation). In all, the cast and orchestra delivered a receptive audience with a truly engaging night of entertainment, despite working with a second-rate script.

I felt slightly uncomfortable about the paradox of a Spanish-American family who’d apparently migrated in the eighteenth century but still had a a Spanish accent and identified themselves as immigrants two hundred years later. Writing in 2009, I think Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice could have attempted to be more respectful, but it probably didn’t occur to anyone involved to consider the imperialism inherent in classifying anyone who isn’t an Anglo American as an immigrant. And it’s hardly a central element of the plot.

Regardless of the unfortunate stereotyping, the story and the values it espouses remain strong, and this, after all, is a light, fluffy musical comedy that trades on the reputation of a classic sitcom rather than the competence or cultural awareness of the writers for its success. It’s not an exploration of metaphysical significance or even a reimagining of a classic, but a vaguely-reasonable attempt to capitalise on nostalgia and turn a profit. It’s fun, and this cast enjoyed themselves enough to take the opening night crowd on a bit of a romp.

Perhaps these characters don’t ring completely true to the TV show I grew up with, but do we really expect them to? In the fifty years since The Addams Family ceased filming, our culture has shifted dramatically. Certain values have held fast, and this musical makes a valiant effort to be relevant… I’m just not convinced that remaking classics just for the nostalgia value is a worthwhile pursuit. Profitable, perhaps: but hardly insightful. And as much as I appreciate the odd bit of fluff, these times call for insight. And the book just doesn’t deliver however much the cast attempts to redeem it.

 
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Posted by on Friday, 3 March 2017 in Canberra Theatre, The Q, Theatre

 

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The Normal Heart

the-normal-heartAs the audience applauded outrageously, drawing the cast out for a well-earned third bow, I wondered whether it would be more appropriate, in this instance, for the cast to stand on stage as we all observed silence in honour of those who’d paid the ultimate price for their love. But of course, that would hardly work, given how deeply entrenched our social norms are.

And that, largely, is the point of Larry Kramer‘s play, very aptly titled The Normal Heart.

The ‘normality’ of the love portrayed is juxtaposed against the initial onset of the AIDS epidemic in the United States, where cultural norms prevented an expedient or even a compassionate response to research and prevention. The play portrays an increasing fear, and an increasing urgency to find a way to stop the as-yet unnamed disease, pitting allies against each other in their fight to arrest the disease’s spread.

The play broadly centres on the efforts of Ned Weeks, a character based on the writer himself, to spur both the gay community and governments to action. After failing to gain traction with the media, he manages to get a group together to establish an organisation aimed at building awareness of and fighting the growing epidemic. He is also spurred by Doctor Emma Brookner, a character based on Doctor Linda Laubenstein, a pioneering researcher into the epidemic. Weeks finds himself pushed in one direction by Brookner, and held back by his organisation, who seek to use more diplomacy than Weeks thinks appropriate.

The resulting conflict drives the play forward, and would present Weeks in a very ineffectual light, were it not for the love story that underlies his trajectory. While seeking media attention, Weeks instead elicits the attention of Felix Turner, and they develop a rather conventional (or as the title suggests, normal) affection, that grounds Weeks, and is, perhaps, the only thing that truly humanises the character. Inasmuch as The Normal Heart veers precariously close to being a mere polemic, Felix is most certainly the play’s salvation.

Will Huang honoured the role of Felix with a brilliant performance. His decline is measured, and his self-pity deeply empathic. I found myself often wishing the more polemic of scenes would zip by a little faster so Felix would come back. But then, in perhaps the most polemic scene, Michael Sparks delivers one of the most moving and convincing monologues I have ever heard, in the character of Mickey Marcus. This moment presented presents Weeks with his most articulate and encyclopædic challenge, and he is silenced. It is a truly remarkable monologue, if Weeks really is based on the author: moving and tragic, and so highly critical of its own writer that it stands out as distinctly un-American in its candour.

Indeed, the second act is awash with noteworthy speeches that cover the range of positions the characters took in response to the epidemic. Jordan Best brilliantly and emotively portrays the frustration of the medical fraternity. Christopher Zuber (as Bruce Niles) puts Weeks in his place without ever writing him off. And Jarrad West’s Weeks, increasingly frustrated and ineffective in his purpose, demonstrates the centrality of the heart, the element that shows this play to be something other than a mere documentation of a sad and sorry moment in human history.

This is a tragedy of Sophoclean proportions, and it is a story Karen Vickery should take immense pride in having directed.

So as this brilliant cast took their bows, I applauded along with the rest of the audience, and began to process the remarkable piece of theatre I’d just witnessed. The irony of being unable to honour both the performance and the story was not lost on me, and though the deep tragedy of the story had cut me to the core, I nonetheless felt it was entirely appropriate for the cast to be honoured as they were.

Still, it would be nice, just once, to forego the applause at the end of as tragedy such as this. To instead stand and honour the dead with a cast that has done them such an honour in presenting their story, would be a cathartic experience I suspect.

 

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Educating Rita

educating-ritaAs far as modernisations of classical mythology go, Educating Rita is a valiant effort. It has the pathos of Ovid’s tale, the wit of Shaw’s, and it’s nicely focused on the essential characters, so it almost works as a parable. To date, though, I’ve not seen a production that quite lives up to the ideal I suspect Willy Russell hoped for.

Maybe it was the timing. Written in 1980, Educating Rita sits at the very tail end of Britain’s kitchen sink era, where the profound was muted by reality.

Well, that’s certainly what HIT Productions have here. Though some of the books are clearly painted on the walls, we are in all other senses transported to a rather ordinary office in a rather ordinary institution, in a rather ordinary part of the British Isles, and presented with an extremely ordinary professor of literature. A rather ordinary woman walks through the door, and is gradually transformed into an extraordinary one, while the professor proceeds down a path of self-loathing that apparently leads to Australia.

While I might not be especially enamoured of Russell’s treatment of Ovid’s ancient myth, I nonetheless find it interesting, and it is made moreso in this instance by two brilliantly-talented actors. Colin Moody leaves no room to doubt Frank’s sad reality, and Francesca Bianchi is likewise entirely convincing as Rita. Their see-saw-like transitions through the play are presented with verisimilitude and they build into a brilliantly balanced crescendo.

Regardless of the flaws I see in the script, this is certainly an excellent production of it. It shows a strong commitment to character development on the part of director, Denny Lawrence.

In my wild, erratic fancy, I imagine a production of Educating Rita staged as Greek tragedy, with Frank as a rather sodden Plato, and Rita his Aristotle. The set an olive grove or agora, and among the poets they discuss, Ovid, just for the irony. But can I be bothered? Probably not. I don’t think this tale, as Russell has portrayed it, quite does justice to Ovid’s Pygmalion the way Shaw did. And so, maybe I’ll leave that idea for one of Russell’s true believers.

 
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Posted by on Wednesday, 26 October 2016 in Canberra Theatre, The Q, Theatre

 

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Death and the Maiden

death-and-the-maidenI’ve heard of Death and the Maiden for many years, but I had never seen it, so it was fitting that my first exposure to it occurred at the ANU Drama Lab, where I enjoyed so many lectures as an undergraduate (and a member of NUTS). I really had no idea what I was missing: what a thrilling little psychodrama it turned out to be!

Though it is set in the aftermath of Augusto Pinochet’s removal as president of Chile, it deals with universal themes of forgiveness and the pursuit of justice. Dorfman’s script is astutely sparse, leaving a lot of room for creatives to work these themes through.

And Sammy Moynihan has taken on that challenge admirably.

This production is suitably spartan, with white walls allowing for characters to play in the shadows throughout, a perfect symbol for their shadowy dealings and the uncertainty of their histories. In this era of dodgy dealings and questionable political machinations throughout the Anglosphere, this play is eerily relevant, and mildly disturbing.

Daniel Greiss gives a stand-out performance as Roberto in this production. He manages to elicit pathos without quite nailing down his innocence (or otherwise) for the audience. Georgia-Cate Westcott’s Paulina is suitably unstable and unnerving, and Regis Hiljekamp, as her husband Gerardo, meets her unbalanced mind with unnerving appropriateness and an increasing imbalance of his own.

While the timing was off for lighting changes and occasionally for dialogue, the cast maintained an air of uncertainty, aided impeccably by a spectacular string quartet directed by Enrica Wong. Actually, even if it weren’t for Dorfman’s script and some lovely performances, this production would be worth the effort just to hear the quartet.

This is an impressive production for NUTS, and I’m glad I got to see it.

 

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The Greek Project: Antigone

antigone 1It’s with some discomfort that I admit, despite reading it at uni quite some time ago, I never followed the story of Antigone. I have, I think, nodded my way through many conversations, wishing I knew what people were talking about (and I apologise, dear reader, if you’ve been the speaker and interpreted my nodding as comprehension rather than a timid shame). The truth is, apart from some vague awareness that Antigone is the centre of a great tragedy and that she epitomised the Ancient Greek ideal of womanly virtue, I never managed to follow the plot.

Until now.

Canberra Youth Theatre’s production is an engaging and moving piece of theatre that liberates the story and presents it in a manner that is accessible and clear to a twenty-first century audience. It also gives me the impression of being truly believable as a 2,500 year-old play from our antipodes. That in itself is an impressive paradox.

Kitty Malam, in the role of Antigone, is technically solid and anchors the action brilliantly. I would have appreciated, given how much the Thebans honoured her, stronger engagement with the audience. Richard Cotta’s Creon, on the other hand, was brilliantly balanced: truly arrogant and inaccessible one moment, he nonetheless elicited true moments of sympathy, having had his own pride back him into a corner. This was a theme that resonated particularly well this week in this city, as we’ve watched our prime minister severely humbled in circumstances that should have been within his control.

Between these two contenders for our sympathy, the remaining cast engage brilliantly. The decision to present as much of the story physically (eschewing the Ancients’ love of just saying many words while standing still, much like the aforementioned prime minister) was the right one: it liberates the story from the weight of words it was originally created with. Given the collaborative nature of the project, the production truly shows this to be an accomplished cast. Their performance skills do much to affirm the quality of actors coming from Canberra Youth Theatre’s brilliant program. None moreso, perhaps, than Isha Menon, who strikes just the right chord as the paternally-authoritative Tiresias.

But what is truly impressive is the depth of expression these young people have developed in presenting this story in modern Canberra. They have not merely been led by someone older and wiser to portray Sophocles’ characters, but have explored them with the curiosity and drive that most young Canberrans reserve exclusively for hunting Pokémon. Canberra Youth Theatre has done the hard yards, and no longer will I nod pretentiously: thanks to this production, my nods about Antigone will either be deeply meaningful or superficially polite, but nevermore pretentious.

 
 

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The Glass Menagerie

the glass menagerieIt’s truly inspiring when a design just breathes new life into an old script. Michael Hankin’s design for this production has as much to do with its success as the brilliant performers who embody Tennessee Williams’ dark and soulful characters.

Like Shakespeare did so many times, Williams has landed on some truly universal human themes. No matter how far removed from the American south we might be, we recognise the mother whose concern for her children and whose disappointment in her own life leads her to place unreasonable pressure on her son and fail to recognise when her daughter is overwhelmed. We recognise the futility of an existence that provides just enough comfort to persist with, but doesn’t offer enough hope to spur us to action.

Pamela Rabe’s portrayal of Amanda Wingfield, the faded southern belle, is energetic and ugly. She truly manages to balance portraying the caring mother with the desperately incompetent. This balance is in turn critical for Luke Mullins’ deeply moving portrayal of the hapless Tom.

Even at the point when Tom drags his mother to the floor and confronts her with her ugliness, it’s hard to criticise him. He bears her histrionics with patience until he no longer can, and we can only watch as their fate unfolds. All of these characters are worthy of both compassion and criticism. Victims of circumstance, their pursuit of their dreams is as valiant as it is futile.

This futility is beautifully presented by a truly exceptional cast, and demonstrated by the use of a set that isolates the action into an apartment that sits on the stage like a rigid box, then lets us inside with the use of cameras and screens, presenting images unmistakably reminiscent of Hollywood’s golden age. The melodrama, ironically undermined by drawing the audience’s attention to film techniques, holds a grain of truth that justifies the emotive excesses of the dialogue.

Perhaps it is simply the case that Laura’s life, spent obsessing over her long-gone father’s records and her collection of glass animals, is the most complete of them all, the interruptions of her family merely pointless intrusions on the only thing that brings her peace.

 

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They’ve Already Won

theyve-already-won-belvoir-harriet-gillies-pierce-wilcoxI’m not sure what I’ve just seen, but I think I like it. I suspect, and I might just be a little dazed and confused, but it seems it was probably Facebook the Musical.

It’s certainly the closest thing I’ve ever seen to Facebook on a stage: a maze of garbled messages written in sentence fragments, political diatribes interspersed with soft porn and 39 Renaissance Babies Who Can’t Even. It’s the first time someone’s actually read a BuzzFeed post to me, and I kinda liked it. I’m no closer to knowing how to even, but I’ve certainly been convinced that we are all doomed by our inability to communicate.

The show is less play and more, well, I don’t know what it is. Five acts, apparently connected, featuring every kind of performance art from beatboxing to interpretive dance. Harriet and Pierce do everything themselves, it seems. The blackouts operated from a lighting desk on stage and a remote control, and the frequent use of a laptop and projector to remind us that we’re really focused on the internet’s true bottom feeders.

And dull moments? There were quite a few. Perhaps not as many as featured on the actual internet, but the odd creaking hinge could not have more potently reminded me of those moments when I find myself scrolling through masses of absolute rubbish on Facebook until I find myself wondering why I’m looking at something with yet another title like he churns butter in a suit, but when he clenches his buttocks… unbelievable! when there are far more interesting things to do.

I’ve certainly experienced more coherent shows. And more interesting shows. But I’m not at all ready to write this one off. Harriet and Pierce have a point. I’m just not sure what the point is.

Whatever the point is, the show is sure to get you thinking, and is an entertaining way to spend an hour.

 
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Posted by on Tuesday, 16 February 2016 in Canberra Theatre, Gorman House, Theatre

 

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Short+Sweet Canberra 2015 Week 1

After missing a year, it has been a great feeling being involved in Short+Sweet again this year. The competition, as always, is eclectic.
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Photo 4-08-2015 4 15 53 pmI think one of the highlights this week has been The Adventures of Captain Midnight, in which Captain Midnight, a widower, describes his experience of moving to a retirement village and finding himself the centre of all the ladies’ attention. Don Smith as Captain Midnight strikes a very dignified presence with an air of David Attenborough examining the sex lives of the elderly.
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I’ve also been enjoying The Truth About Mum and Dad, yet another great piece by Greg Gould with some snappy one-liners and very relatable adult siblings who enjoy making a scene while learning that their parents may not be quite as prudish as they thought.
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Harriet Elvin’s Untitled was in good company with these offerings, too. What seems to be an art critic being harangued by a less appreciative gallery visitor turns out to be something far more amusing.
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I had the privilege of directing two very talented and committed performers in Robert Armstrong’s zippy little piece, The Interview from Hell. Alison Bigg and Oliver Durbidge took the production very seriously, and made the whole process very enjoyable. I also think the result was spectacular, but I’m biased!
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But the image that will stay with me after this year’s festival will certainly be that of Alison McGregor’s ‘Sparkles’, whose homage to love and chicken was simply gut-wrenching, especially the third time you see it! This one certainly deserved to take home People’s Choice!
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If this is the Top 20, there’s no way of predicting what will be in the Wildcards!
 

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The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)

complete worksThe expression on the faces of the three actors after their opening night performance said it all: they’d put their whole heart and soul into it!

And why wouldn’t they? The Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged), despite being abridged, is one of the most amusing responses to the Bard’s works ever penned. It has been entertaining both Shakespeare enthusiasts and the partners they drag along to the theatre for almost 30 years, and so far it has failed to age.

Covering all 37 of Shakespeare’s dramatic works in under two hours is no mean feat. Granted, they do cover 16 comedies all at once (because they’re all the same anyway), and they merely name a few rather than delving into them, but still, you can understand them experiencing some fatigue at the end of such a night. Truly, if any actor has earned the right to collapse at the end of a performance, it’s an actor in this hilarious show.

And this cast has certainly done it justice.

Ryan Pemberton introduces James Scott as the bumbling scholar, who in turn calls on Brendan Kelly, drawing him into the debacle. The pace begins rather more slowly than I think this piece calls for, but the three certainly picked it up. Perhaps not quite enough to hold the energy where it needs to be, but that will probably slot into place as the run continues and the cast get a better feel for audience reactions.

A great production that both needs and deserves a high quality audience!

 
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Posted by on Wednesday, 22 July 2015 in Canberra Theatre, Honest Puck, Theatre

 

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Scandalous Boy

scandalous boyScandalous Boy is a brave piece of work with the ostensible objective of realigning western perspectives on homosexual love. It makes its point very clearly, and possibly succeeds as a polemic, but largely fails to deliver the pathos I yearn for from the stage.

It is principally the true story of the love between the emperor Hadrian, and Antinous, his Greek eromenos, but it is framed in a twenty-first century setting with the statue of Antinous coming to life in modern Australia to tell his story. He wants to assert for us that he is not the “shameless and scandalous boy” Christian historians have claimed he was, and assert the appropriateness of his choices and actions in a pre-Christian Roman Empire. He punctuates this by comparing modern and ancient attitudes to public nudity, but kindly dons a pair of sequined hotpants to relieve our discomfort.

Yes, it’s one of those history plays. Set in ancient Rome, but using the language of modern Australia, replete with references to Hollywood’s Golden Age and punctuated with the homo-pop vocals of Kylie Minogue and the like. Had I realised it was one of those, I may well have opted for Supa‘s production of La Cage aux Folles for my Golden Drink Voucher expenditure this week, but that’s just the way the marble crumbles I guess. It nonetheless delivers a striking story that is valuable for a modern audience and finely pointed as a polemic for an Australian government struggling to follow its people’s leadership.

David Atfield’s script unfortunately doesn’t deliver the emotional punch necessary to make this story fully relatable. The dialogue feels forced and its distinctive modern vernacular doesn’t help as much as I think Atfield hoped it would.

But I think the greatest fault lies in the narration. It leaves no space whatsoever for subtext. Every thought, every motivation, every thing the characters don’t say, is described to us, rather than shown to us. There is simply no space for intuition, and this, mounted so firmly in an Australian context, makes the play feel just too preachy.

Surprisingly, though, this doesn’t completely ruin the play. The characters retain some capacity for engagement and I really did care what happened to them, I just wanted to care more. I wanted to feel their pain rather than merely being aware of it.

Had Atfield followed the Golden Rule and shown us, rather than told us, I think perhaps this would be a very moving play that could, perhaps, just change a mind or two. As it is, it is simply affirming of the LGBTIQ polemic in an Australia that still discriminates between loves.

The character of the audience left no doubt in my mind that, on the night I went at least, Atfield was preaching to the choir (if you’ll pardon the Christian metaphor). The audience, well over 90% male, seemed to hurl itself outside at interval so they could all suck back a cancer stick; I have never seen The Street Theatre’s foyer so empty during interval with a full house! And on their return one of them was kind enough to call out “okay, quiet now” for us as the lights dimmed, because apparently none of us knew what that meant.

The unfortunate reality is that too much of the audience was probably attracted by the promise of the naked Ethan Gibson, and while they may be encouraged by this polemic to fight for the rights of the LGBTIQ community, I just think that the story deserves a more diverse audience than this is likely to attract.

Regardless of my misgivings, I am grateful to David Atfield, his cast and the creatives behind this brave production for staging it. Antinous’s story is one that should be told more often.

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What the critics are saying:

 
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Posted by on Friday, 21 November 2014 in Canberra Theatre, Street 1, The Street Theatre, Theatre

 

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Vale Naoné Carrel

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Naoné Carrel and Elaine Noon in Calendar Girls, along with that amazing smile

My Facebook feed is awash this morning with tributes to the very deserving Naoné Carrel. I didn’t have the pleasure of knowing her as well as most of these friends did, but hers has been one of the faces that I have associated most closely with great nights in foyers and great moments in auditoria.

I met Naoné when she was President of Canberra Rep, and I had turned up early to a meeting of the Network of Amateur Theatre Organisations feeling rather like a very small fish in a very big pond. Her face beamed as she welcomed me and suddenly I felt like the pond was much smaller.

I had seen her on stage, of course, much earlier than that. I first saw her last century in The Dresser. And also while I was an undergrad I recall being enthralled with her performance in Death of a Salesman at the ANU Arts Centre.

The theatre community here is the richer for having had not only a performer of her calibre, but also an individual whose smile would light up the room. She will be missed.

Naoné 2

Naoné Carrel and Raoul Craemer in a promo shot from To Silence

For the big picture, here’s a sampling of reviews of Naoné’s shows:

 

 
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Posted by on Friday, 7 March 2014 in Canberra Theatre

 

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The Fridge

fridge_covThe latest instalment from Made In Canberra, The Fridge is an amusing piece of work that manages to avoid the worst of predictability but doesn’t quite distinguish itself with dialogue that encourages the suspension of disbelief. With characters that all seem to say exactly what they mean all the time, there is not a lot of room for the cast to perform. The words take over, and even the best one liners fall flat.
The program and advertising makes reference to Monty Python repeatedly, and attempts to position the play as a continuation of this tradition. This may go some way to explaining the lack of subtext. Python was certainly capable of developing great characters with little or no subtext, but here it…
The rest of this post is published over on Australian Stage.
 

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The Book of Everything

book of everythingLet me just say this up front: there is nothing funny about domestic violence. However, if you don’t laugh all the way through this play, there’s something wrong with you! I would guess the only people not laughing would be abusers themselves, so maybe we should keep one eye on the auditorium during performances!

Canberra Repertory’s whimsical production of The Book of Everything is a magical piece of theatre that could transport someone of any age back to their childhood. The simple, very human joy of simply telling a story is not lost in the dark themes that emerge…

The rest of this post is published on Australian Stage.

 
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Posted by on Friday, 13 September 2013 in Canberra Repertory Society, Canberra Theatre, Theatre

 

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Short+Sweet Canberra 2013 (Week 2)

20130812 Short+Sweet 074asOkay, so it’s been a while since it ended, but I’m finally writing about Short+Sweet Week 2. Partly, this was because since the end of the festival I have been rather overwhelmed with family duties, but I also needed some time to lick my wounds.

So though neither of my plays got much attention, they were in some great company. Nothing really stood a chance of outstripping Last Drinks; Greg Gould’s catchy and trim script coupled with Margaret Allen’s taut direction and the impeccable timing of Caroline O’Brien and Jett Black were a force to be reckoned with.

Another very amusing piece was Good Cop Mad Cop, which I also enjoyed thoroughly. Paulene Turner’s clever script was performed energetically by Helen Way, Jonathan Garland, Paul Hutchison and Elizabeth Lamb.

Ruth Pieloor wrote and performed Vanity Insanity, with the support of Catherine Hagarty as director. Though very funny, this piece dealt beautifully with notions of self esteem and ageing, and I enjoyed it every time.

I never tired of seeing Paul Hutchison’s Bendigo Banjo Sails the Day, either. This piece could not be entered into the competition since a director had been unavailable and Kate Gaul, the Festival Director, salvaged it to ensure it was performed. We were all glad she did, as it was a great way to begin a great night of performances.

But the piece that truly moved me most was Written in Stone, written and directed by Evan Croker. This was one of the Wildcards that got through to the final, so not really a Week 2 play, but I found myself intrigued by it. The performances were great, the script is brilliant, and the play really deserved more recognition in the final than it got.

So that’s it for another year… though the Merimbula festival is less than a month away, and Melbourne follows soon after that and before you know it Sydney will be happening! And while all of that goes on, Crash Test Drama will surely keep us entertained! Many thanks to everyone for a great festival, and well done to all the winners!

 

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Short+Sweet Canberra 2013 (Week 1)

Brendan Kelly and Neil Parikh rehearsing for 'Abel C. Mann, Processed Offshore'Right before heading along to the Week 1 performance of Short+Sweet tonight, I squeezed in a short rehearsal with my cast for next week and snapped this great image. I had just picked up the bicorn from the post office, which had arrived from the UK just in time, and I was feeling great about how the play started coming together once the props started to give us some clarity of movement and intent.

Brendan Kelly (foreground of this image) had a curtain call, and I followed him to the Courtyard where I was lucky enough to snaffle a last minute ticket to the first week (I will be better prepared next week!).

I am always impressed by the format of Short+Sweet. The ten minute play is a great form, and the variety in any show is incredible. There was a broad range of styles in this year’s week 1, so I wasn’t disappointed, but there are always standouts.

Finnius Teppett from New Zealand was in attendance for this performance of his play, Reading Lamouche, and it was a novel little experience to see the irony between Brendan Kelly’s roles in Reading Lamouche and Abel C. Mann, Processed Offshore played out, but I was most impressed by the quality of humour in Tepputt’s buzzy little script, which was directed very nicely by Ryan Pemberton.

The ten minute form lends itself to comedy in a particularly natural way, probably because we’re largely used to seeing short stand up routines and sketch shows. I tend to lean towards comedy in my shorter plays (oh heck, I lean towards comedy anyway), but there is something courageous about attempting a fully-rounded character in a drama in such a short space of time. I was impressed by Margaret Allen’s script and performance in House of Cats, which was based on the blog and life experience of Nicole Lobry de Bruyn. The exposition in this piece exhibited a great balance between delivering basic necessary information and engaging the audience in the character’s existence.

And the night ended with one of those ‘plays we had to have’, in Here to Serve You. An unattended shoe in an airport sparks a security scare, and some unconventional sod decides to use common sense, upsetting the status quo, as it were. Yes, it was as predictable as you might guess, but snappy dialogue and nicely balanced performances made it one of the most enjoyable pieces of the night.

As usual though, the judges and the people disagreed with my assessment! Only Reading Lamouche got into the final next Saturday, with these other two noteworthy plays finishing here. And now the pressure is on. I have two plays in next week’s line up, and I’m nervous about both of them, but of course, looking forward to the energy and buzz leading up to Tuesday’s opening. Go to the Canberra Theatre Centre to book your tickets.

 

Correction: I have been put right by no fewer than three more observant individuals than myself! Here to Serve You did indeed make it through to the final, so the only one of the three that made a big impact on me that didn’t make it through was House of Cats. Hopefully House of Cats will get another run at later festivals in the Short+Sweet family!

 

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