Wednesday, 16 April 2014

After Easter - Review


After Easter
Reviewed by Ben Oxley

credit: Factory Space Theatre Company

After Easter
Written by prize winning playwright Anne Devlin
Directed by Roz Riley

(12th April to 3rd May, 2014)

Greta is protesting. Meanwhile, her husband is cheating. And her family thinks she’s just a little bit crazy.

Perhaps they’re right. After all, she is having visions, despite being an atheist. But they aren’t much better off. One sister is married, unhappily. The other won’t marry at all. Their brother is married to his art. Their cousin is married to God. And Dad’s dead, but he still has a lot to say.

A journey to the heart of an unravelling family – with a little fishing and shootin’ along the way.

Directed by Roz Riley
at the Star of the Sea Theatre, Manly
Fri & Sat 7.30 evenings, and Sun 3pm matinees, 12-13 April, 25-27 April & 2-3 May
Tickets $35/$28 from or 94391906

Cast: Mitchell Cox, Ciaran Daly, Eilannin Dhu, Imogen French, Laura Gailbraith, William Jordan, Celia Kelly, Karoline Rose O’Sullivan and Ros Richards.

This is the first play of Factory Space’s 2014 season, which will span three productions. This is the 14th year of professional productions for the Factory Space Theatre Company – and the fifth as resident company at Star of the Sea. And a fine theatre it is too.

The general vision is often both comic and dark. The vision is also a feminist view of women asserting themselves over men. Note to self: why are there so many Irish men at the pub?

Throughout, the visions come to Greta, sometimes disturbing the action, sometimes not. The Flynn family tears itself apart by the time the children grow up. The parents lived a lie, staying together out of commitment rather than passion.

Consequently, the sisters have a negative vision of their family’s way of life. The mother, Rose, beat some of the children. Rose’s life is a struggle but motherhood empowers her and because she is conventional and hard-working she feels her life is successful. Greta's mental stress, a suicide bid and breakdown are due to her childhood and marriage disenchantment.

The performances are strong, focussed and riding the emotional wave of the drama. Karoline Rose O'Sullivan maintains an innocent charm as Greta, creating sibling tension with Aoife, played by Celia Kelly and the bossy Helen (Eilannin Dhu).

Sister Bethany struggles to deal with Greta's visionary gift, proving an unhelpful guide to spiritual understanding. Manus (Ciaran Daly), the young fiddler and Ros Flynn (Ros Richards) give us the remaining family, at pains to reconcile to the impending loss of Michael, their father.

The play is optimistic in the sense that it is a search for identity by the main character Greta and her sisters. Eventually Greta’s search for security, love and the understanding of her own identity overcome the pain.

The final scene shows Greta returned to serenity and blissful motherhood as she tells her baby a fairytale. This affirms the good in her life; the mystery is restored.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Possessions - Review

Review originally posted at
Venue: King Street Theatre (Newtown NSW), Mar 27 – Apr 5, 2014
Playwrights: Jane Bergeron, Carrie Ann Quinn
Directorial Support: Luke Mullins, Anna Kamarali
Actors: Jane Bergeron, Carrie Ann Quinn, Frances Attard, Morgan Davis, Shane Waddell, Samantha Stewart

Theatre review
Possessions is about the aristocratic Mancini sisters, Hortense and Marie, from 17th century Italy. The script is based on their memoirs, published in an era where female memoirs were a revolutionary concept. There is a distinct appeal in featuring unusual historical figures, especially ones who had broken moulds and lived extraordinary lives, but it can be a challenging task finding a way to relate past stories of nobility to our modern times.

Often, comedy is the key to telling courtly tales. Absurdities abound and it is natural to respond with incredulity and humour. Those lives are so thoroughly alien to what we experience today, that laughter is the most direct reaction. The production is consciously directed towards finding comic elements in the Mancinis stories, and significant effort is put into creating a Black Adder type tone to the proceedings, but the performers’ skills seem to lie in areas other than comedy, such as melodrama and musical theatre. Fortunately, both Jane Bergeron and Carrie Ann Quinn both have opportunities to showcase these skills in the concluding scenes, even if they do appear too late.

There are a number of instances where an actor plays herself and interacts with a Mancini sister across time and space. These moments suggest the feminist theme, but they are fleeting. We do sense in the play’s undercurrent, the creators’ interest in the evolution of women’s statuses, but they miss the opportunity to explore and expound things further. The production needs a certain aggression. The Mancinis’ story develops to a point where the women are forced by circumstance to show courage and conviction. In order to progress, they found a belligerence to push their lives forward, and that seems to be the lesson we have to learn from many who have left their mark.

Twelfth Night, Or What You Will - Review

Review originally posted at
Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Mar 27 – Apr 12, 2014
Playwright: William Shakespeare
Director: Damien Ryan
Actors: Abigail Austin, Anthony Gooley, Bernadette Ryan, Christopher Stalley, Christopher Tomkinson, Damien Strouthos, Edmund Lembke-Hogan, Eloise Winestock, Francesca Savige, George Banders, James Lugton, Megan Drury, Michael Pigott, Robin Goldsworthy, Sam Haft, Teresa Jakovich, Terry Karabelas, Tyran Parke
Image by Seiya Taguchi

Theatre review
There are many ways to stage a Shakespearean play, and the discussion on the different approaches that artists take, is also a discussion on the nature of theatre. Sport For Jove’s production of Twelfth Night is about spectacle and entertainment. It is about skills and techniques from different theatrical disciplines collaborating for a live event that fascinates the senses and amuses the mind. This cast and crew are immersed in a wonderland of freedom, where the best of their talents are drawn out by a spirit of wild playfulness inspired by Shakespeare’s writing, resulting in a work overflowing with conviviality and colour.

There are no deep meanings and big messages in this story, in fact it is very silly. Director Damien Ryan takes the opportunity to remove himself from conventional emphasis on moralistic learnings, politics and intellectualism, and gives us a show that challenges the limits of artistic creativity and the use of the imagination. He seeks to impress not with what is being said, but how things can be said. It is about performance, and presentation. In other words, it is about exploring theatre in the ways it is distinct from other art forms and other media, using theatre to work in a way that nothing else can emulate.

Actor Robin Goldsworthy as Malvolio is quite frankly, faultless. Here is an actor with a very big hat full of comic devices, and he pulls everything out of it for a performance that tickles every funny bone in every conceivable way. Goldsworthy gives a simple character the most complex of treatments that surprises and outsmarts us at every turn. He works hard to regale us, and we are simply and thoroughly enthralled. The range and conviction he displays in this role, along with his extraordinary energy and timing, are breathtaking. This is a Malvolio not to be missed.

A Moment On The Lips - Review

Review originally posted at
Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Mar 4 – 22, 2014
Playwright: Jonathan Gavin
Director: Mackenzie Steele
Actors: Beth Aubrey, Sarah Aubrey, Claudia Barrie, Lucy Goleby, Sonya Kerr, Ainslie McGlynn, Sabryna Te’o
Image by Katy Green Loughrey

Theatre review
A Moment On The Lips is a play about the relationships between seven women in Sydney. Entangled as spouses, lovers, friends and sisters, they navigate a multitude of complex discordances, all of which are familiar and reflective of our personal lives. Jonathan Gavin’s script interweaves issues from personal and social spaces, with themes like ethnic and sexuality discrimination, converging with family and professional lives.

It is a tricky work to direct. The play seems to be about “first world problems”, so while we relate to the emotions being portrayed, there is a lack of gravity that makes the characters’ circumstances seem somewhat trivial. Mackenzie Steele succeeds in extracting passionate performances from his cast, and some of the tearful and emotional moments are excellent viewing, but the action always seems a little detached. The scenes are short, resulting in a fast-paced show that is entertaining and thoroughly engaging, but this also presents a challenge for creating depth in scenarios and personalities, making empathy difficult to establish.

Sabryna Te’o’s naturalistic portrayal as Bridget is a stand out in the cast. Her performance is a reactive one, which allows her to connect well with the other women. The importance of an actor who emphasises listening over speaking is demonstrated well here. The quality of understated authenticity Te’o brings to her role is refreshing. Ainslie McGlynn is a very funny actor. Her comic ability is truly excellent, giving a jolt of excitement whenever she appears to light up the stage as Anne. Her interpretation of mental illness is well handled. MGlynn loves to entertain, but takes care to give her character a sense of dignity through her multiple break downs. Lucy Goleby as Rowena is memorable in a scene where she confronts her homophobic sister. It is the single most powerful moment in the show, and a real visceral treat.

We are reminded several times, that “it is the little things”. The play wants us to realise not just the importance of relationships but also the subtleties within them. The things we say to each other may seem fleeting, but the words that sit a moment on our lips have effects that last beyond any intention. The destruction that comes from thoughtlessness can often be unpredictably severe. Relationships are hard, but it only takes a little care to turn love into a thing of nourishment.

All’s Well That Ends Well - Review

Review originally posted at
Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Mar 27 – Apr 12, 2014
Playwright: William Shakespeare
Director: Damien Ryan
Actors: Christopher Stalley, Christopher Tomkinson, Damien Strouthos, Edmund Lembke-Hogan, Eloise Winestock, Francesca Savige, George Banders, James Lugton, Megan Drury, Michael Pigott, Robert Alexander, Robin Goldsworthy, Sam Haft, Sandra Eldridge, Teresa Jakovich
Image by Seiya Taguchi

Theatre review
Sport For Jove’s production of Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well is sleek and action-packed. Damien Ryan’s direction makes every effort to reach out to his audience to keep us mesmerised and entertained. Like a Hollywood film, everything is made to be seductive, but Ryan has the fortunate knack of giving things a sense of sophistication, including full frontal nudity and a completely insane love story.

One of the Bard’s “problem plays”, it is both a tragedy and a comedy. Ryan takes advantage of its “dramedy” quality and forms a creation full of texture and surprise, maneuvering around the text with a freedom that flaunts his artistic genius and courage. His interpretation is utterly contemporary, frequently fantastical and flamboyant, but never inappropriately so. Shakespeare’s outlandish writing meets its match in Ryan’s wildness. Acutely aware of the pleasure derived from visceral responses in the theatre, Ryan magnifies elements of eroticism, humour, tension and shock that are found in the original text, but also has the talent to keep the central story engaging and plot lines coherent. In other words, his direction leaves nothing more to want.

Shakespeare’s male characters are generally more interesting, and that is certainly the case here. The men in the cast have much more room to play, and their work dominates this stage. Edmund Lembke-Hogan is perfectly cast as Bertram. He has the good looks that make the ludicrous love story almost believable. His performance is spirited but precise, with commanding energy that fills the venue and a disciplined focus that keeps his character defined in spite of the often chaotic settings. Conversely, George Banders shines with the looseness in his acting style. Banders is a thoroughly funny and charming man whose character Parolles is easily the most liked of the show. He reads the audience well, and times his delivery impeccably to get us laughing at every opportunity. The production’s comedy makes its three hours feel a mere breath, and Banders is responsible for the best of it. The King of France is played by Robert Alexander who exemplifies charisma and experience. The meticulous detail in his portrayal turns a smaller role into a spellbinding one. His chemistry with co-actors is excellent but the gravity he brings on stage prevents him from ever being outshone.

Set, lighting and sound design are incredibly impressive. Ambitious in scale and scope, the creatives have outdone themselves with a show that is glorious in its look and feel. Its physical environment seems to be perpetually changing, and except for some mechanical noise issues, stage management is executed quite flawlessly. The versatility of Antoinette Barboutis’ set is a real marvel, but costume design is the one blemish in this grand visual experience.

The story is not an appealing one. A woman going to extremes for the love of a man who had shown her only disdain and humiliation is hardly a great idea for today’s stages, but Sport For Jove Theatre’s magical endeavour has transformed a 500 year-old script into a night of glorious theatre. Shakespeare was their starting point, but where they have ended up is a place beyond his wildest dreams.

The Rise and Fall of Little Voice - Review

The Rise and Fall of Little Voice
Lane Cove Theatre Company
O'Kelley Drama Theatre - St Ignatius College
Tambourine Bay Road, Riverview
Directed by Christine Firkin

Reviewed by Ben Oxley

credit: Lane Cove Theatre Company

Cast includes: Wendy Morton, Nick Bolton, Kevin Weir, Luke Reeves, Michelle Bellamy, Mark Reiss and Debbie Neilson as LV.

A strictly limited season. Five performances only!
Thursday 10th April 7.30pm
Friday 11th April 7.30pm
Saturday 12th April 2.00pm
Saturday 12th April 7.30pm
Sunday 13th April 2.00pm

The Rise and Fall of Little Voice is a 1992 play written by English dramatist Jim Cartwright. Sam Mendes directed stars Jane Horrocks and Alison Steadman in the original run at the Royal National Theatre before transferring to the Aldwych Theatre in London's West End.

Horrocks went on to create the screen version, Little Voice, alongside Brenda Blethyn, Michael Caine, Ewan McGregor and Jim Broadbent.

Middle-aged alcoholic Mari Hoff falls for Ray Say (Nick Bolton), a struggling artists’ manager whose acts include dodgy acts and a couple of strippers. So when he hears Mari’s shy, reclusive daughter, Little Voice (LV), mimicking the classic divas from her father’s old vinyl collection in her bedroom, she is the answer to all his prayers. He realises he has discovered an undiscovered talent. She brilliantly brings to life the voices of Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe, Julie Andrews, Liza Minnelli and Lulu.

Wendy Morton as the acerbic, insecure Mari, is well cast and very funny – a “livewire” and queen of one-liners. Talking to the engineer fitting her new telephone she says: ‘‘Mari Hoff. Crappaty name, isn’t it? Me late husband Frank left it me. You can imagine my feelings on signing the marriage register... Mr and Mrs F Hoff”.

Michelle Bellamy is motherly as Mari’s “fat friend” Sadie. The pair celebrate Mari’s new relationship with Ray by bump-and-grinding to the Jackson 5 in the lounge. Knowing Sadie’s sweet tooth Mari tells her “make yourself a cup of sugar with tea in it” as a treat.

Fresh-faced Luke Reeves plays Billy the phone engineer, who romances Little Voice from an extended cherry picker outside her bedroom window. He is the one who loves her for what she is.

But it is talented impersonator Debbie Neilson as LV who steals the show with her big show-stopping numbers at Mr Boo’s club night. When she turns on the vocals for Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli, she has us back in the golden age of entertainment.

A tribute to artists that LV had loved and shared with her late father, it's the breakdown of a family that has lost touch with reality. A touching, amusing and nostalgic night at the theatre, especially if you love listening to classic divas like Edith Piaf, Billie Holliday and Shirley Bassey.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Stitching - Review

Review originally posted at
Venue: TAP Gallery (Darlinghurst NSW), Mar 26 – Apr 12, 2014
Playwright: Anthony Neilson
Director: Mark Westbrook
Music: Chelsea Reed
Actors: Lara Lightfoot, Wade Doolan

Theatre review
Stitching by Anthony Neilson is cleverly written. It includes many ingredients that makes for great theatre; entertainment, shock value, emotional depth, realistic characters, an unusual story, and a brilliantly structured timeline. Neilson’s script is irresistible, and it is to Little Spoon Theatre Co’s great credit that they have identified and imported it from the UK for the Sydney audience.

Mark Westbrook’s direction anchors the production in a space of grief. A heavy aching permeates, and the atmosphere he creates is dark and severe. It feels authentic, but the narrow range of moods can be a little fatiguing. The thoroughness at which he has excavated the text with his cast is impressive. Every word is charged with intention and imagery, keeping us completely enthralled for the entire duration. The use of music (composed and performed live by Chelsea Reed) lets us breathe and reflect between scenes. Reed’s work adds beauty and helps release the suppressed sentimentalities of the characters. Westbrook paces the show well and his handling of the unusual timeline is marvellous work, but misses an opportunity at the crucial climax to shock the audience as the script obviously intends. Opening night jitters perhaps?

Both actors are wonderful in this production. Lara Lightfoot’s moments of subtlety and verve are perfectly apportioned. She is a naturally exuberant performer, but knows how to work with restraint to create a palpable intensity that is unforced and captivating. Her Abby is a remarkably intriguing character who is also convincing and realistic. Wade Doolan’s delicate performance as Stuart is a thoughtful and touching one. The sense of loss he portrays is readily identifiable, and the generous complexity in his characterisation gives the play its humanity. The chemistry between both actors is superb. A rare level of trust exists that creates an environment allowing no stone to be unturned, and their extensive exploration as players in this work makes for extraordinarily rich theatre.