Category: Theatre

Review: David Suchet: Poirot and More – A Retrospective

Mystery-solving legend shares his life

By Owen James

We all love a good story – and David Suchet has plenty to tell, and knows just how to tell them. Revered for his twenty-four year stint playing Agatha Christie’s quirky sleuth Hercule Poirot, he admits that fortunate casting has graced him with a plethora of appetising roles in theatre, TV and film since, and given him a platform to share his passion for and wisdom of theatre and art to audiences such as ourselves.

Jane Hutcheon is his interviewer, the duo obviously following a carefully planned script and set of questions, but still sharing warm chemistry and a sense of friendship. Suchet is at ease in Hutcheon’s conversation, and their light-hearted banter makes these two and a half hours fly by. Hutcheon has genuine interest in every story Suchet has to tell, and clearly admires his enthusiasm for the arts and his distinguished career.

Suchet discusses how he found his way into the world of theatre and performing from an early age, and the influence his upbringing has had on his life. As he reminisces on early days at drama school and some of his first roles, the respect he has for his profession shines through every anecdote, and his healthy, positive outlook on life is catching. Those there to hear about days of Poirot straight from the horse’s mouth will not be disappointed – Suchet executes his due diligence in fan service with amusing stories from the set, and detailed explanations of how his most recognisable character traits came to be.

We are treated in the second act to short performances from Suchet – monologues and excerpts from classic texts. He also runs a fascinating Shakespeare masterclass in this latter half, exploring, at length, the command Shakespeare had over language and the direction contained within his carefully chosen words for those deciphering it. This is a mesmerising insight into an actor’s approach to dissecting text, and will be eagerly lapped up by any budding or established theatre-makers in the crowd.

David Suchet is a gift to the performing arts, and I could listen to his stories for hours. He returns to Melbourne for just one more evening on Thursday 13th Feb following other performances across Australia. A must-see for fans of Poirot or theatre-makers keen to hear his many pearls of wisdom.

Tickets: https://www.artscentremelbourne.com.au/whats-on/2020/talks-and-ideas/david-suchet

Photography courtesy of Arts Centre Melbourne.

Review: Much Ado About Nothing

Traversing the pitfalls of love, deceit and pride 

By Rebecca Waese 

Shakespeare was celebrated joyfully last night in a Sevenfold Theatre Company production of Much Ado About Nothing in an inner-city backyard in Kingsville, Melbourne. First-time director Mitchell Wills led his youthful cast, hailing from Federation University, in an Australian-inspired Much Ado About Nothing that included well-crafted references to Melbourne suburbs and the Australian Open Tennis. It was a happy, accessible production with some moments of deep feeling and bawdy humour. For Shakespeare fans and, perhaps, VCE English students who are studying this play, this production of Much Ado offers an engaging way to experience the comedic adventures and misadventures of two couples, Hero and Claudio, and Beatrice and Benedick, who traverse the pitfalls of love, deceit, pride, and Don John’s cunning plots against Hero’s honour.

With some cuts to the original Shakespeare to condense the play to two hours, Wills includes modern references to make the story resonant with his audience, with messages arriving by iPhone and Don John vaping on top of the doghouse. There were many enjoyable interactions with the audience where audience members were winked at, called a drunkard or asked to record the notes from the trial led by a very funny and capable Watch duo, played by Fae O’Toole and Tess Walsh.

Other highlights include the strong performance of Benedick, played by Jesse Calvert, in his transformation from sharp-tongued bachelor to the love-struck, poetry-writing wooer of Beatrice, played by Petea Stark.  Benedick’s spying behind the laundry and Beatrice’s squeezing through the doggie door contributed enjoyable moments of physical comedy and a clever use of the backyard and surrounding space.

There were a few questionable interpretive choices involving the sheer likability of Claudio, (Tom Costigan) who might benefit from emphasizing the darker aspects of his fickle nature, and interest in appearances and in Hero’s inheritance as suggested in the subtext of the play. The level of campiness of Leonato, played by Joshua Strachan, was a little out of place at times and I believe Leonato’s strongest moments were in his more dramatic and grounded rejection of Hero. Perhaps Don John, the evil plotting villain, ought to remain estranged in the final dance and not mingle in the celebration with the revellers?

While rocking up to someone’s backyard for the evening involves some level of trepidation, the audience was given a warm welcome from Leonato, and invited to an intimate setting with paper lanterns, strings of lights and laundry hung artfully in hues of red, pink and blue. Costumes were coordinated and appealing and music added a convivial feeling to the relaxed night. While the level of professional experience of the ensemble is new and the company is in its debut season in the Melbourne theatre scene, there is certainly a place for this pleasurable outdoor Shakespearean production and its promising ensemble. 

Playing until the 26th January. Tickets available here

Review: The Campaign

One fraction of Australia’s shameful legacy

By Owen James

The 80’s and 90’s were tumultuous times for the LGBTQI community worldwide, as social movements fighting for equality came to a head for many Western countries. The Campaign focuses on the activism efforts of the Tasmanian Gay Law Reform Group to extinguish the particularly nocuous laws prevalent in Tasmania – criminalising gay sexual activity between consenting adults with a potential sentence of 21 years imprisonment (much higher than the prison term for rape or armed robbery).

This piece of verbatim theatre plays out like a gripping documentary, keeping us riveted throughout as its two-decade historical journey is condensed into a neat and expeditious ninety minutes. Detailed direction by Peter Blackburn succeeds in bringing the many layers of Campion Decent’s text to realistic but theatricalised life, highlighting the joy in each small victory along the way. Blackburn makes the most of the small studio space at Gasworks, utilising intricate lighting and use of simple but effective props and set pieces to keep us engaged and connected to the story throughout. Occasional musical moments act as effective punctuation and give the storytelling a boost at crucial moments.

Emotionally-charged performances from the cast of five ground the theatricalisation of these terrifying events that took place. Their collective depictions of their dozens of real-world counterparts are often highly realistic, creating many moving and rightfully upsetting moments. This focused and balanced ensemble are lead by a sensitive and natural performance from Patrick Livesey as Rodney Croome, who remains brave and loyal across the decades. He is one to watch. The four other extremely strong performances come from Claire Sara, Ally Fowler, Ben Stuart, and Ben Noble (who has the most fun as various politicians and left-wing extremist caricatures).

Don’t miss this compelling and fascinating history lesson of our country’s shameful recent draconian past (arguably in part also a disturbing reflection on the recent campaign for marriage equality), with a heartwarming triumph above adversity that hits close to home.

This important entry for Midsumma runs until 1st February at Gasworks.
Tickets: https://www.midsumma.org.au/whats-on/events/the-campaign/

Image courtesy of Gasworks

 

 

Review: This Bitter Earth

A triumph display of different voices singing the same tune.

By Sebastian Purcell

This Bitter Earth looks to provide an inside running track on the lives of six 20 somethings through powerful stories and interactions. This Bitter Earth is thoughtful; touching on themes of loneliness, lust, love, unrequited love, complicated relationships and friendship, exploring what it means to be gay in this modern world.

Writer Chris Edwards presents a smart, dark, sexy, sometimes rambling and neurotic show, yet it’s importantly grounded in heart-felt, self-discovery moments. There is a litany of pop references from Meryl Streep’s performance in The Deer Hunter to the iconic soundtrack of Titanic, My Heart Will Go On, allowing multiple generations to relate.

A simplistic, yet elegant lighting design by Phoebe Pilcher comes alive in the club and hostel scenes and works wonderfully with Grace Deacon’s sparse set design allowing the direction of Riley Spardaro to shine. Spardaro’s and Deacon’s staging and blocking combination creates an intimacy which allows the cast to deliver fresh, razor sharp and authentic performances.

Michael Cameron, Elle Mickel, Matthew Predny, Ariadne Scouros, Sasha Simon and Alexander Stylianou deliver engaging and believable performances and project clearly without amplification to a packed house. The dramatic to vulgar, to savage to poignant, are interjected sparingly with deadpan humour delivering the core message – that we are the sum of all our parts and not just our sexuality.

Most impressive is the final scene, a repeat from the opening monologue, but delivered collectively by the entire cast. This gives the effect of the many voices being internalised and at the same time that there will always be someone else who has had a similar experience to share.

This is a terrific opening act for Theatre Works in its 40th year. A must see for any LGBTIQ + or ally.

Appropriate for mature audiences, alcohol, sex, and drug references.

This Bitter Earth, part of Melbourne’s Midsumma Festival.  January 19 to February 02 at the Theatre Works, St Kilda. Tickets available theatreworks.org.au

Photography by Matthew Predny

Review: Songs For Nobodies

One woman becomes ten

By Owen James

Bernadette Robinson is a star, and Songs For Nobodies is the perfect vehicle for her endless talent to be showcased in. Originally commissioned and directed by Simon Phillips ten years ago, this one-woman masterpiece allows Robinson to become Judy Garland, Patsy Cline, Billie Holiday, Edith Piaf and Maria Callas in succession, alongside five women who meet these stars in unlikely and often amusingly implausible situations.

She has the audience in the palm of her hand from the very beginning, and we are enthralled with every breath and spellbinding note. Robinson effortlessly switches between her impressive array of accents, dialects and musical styles as she crosses continents and classes, each new voice painting a portrait of a lost artist we feel could be genuinely standing before us. (And it’s the closest we’ll get!) Robinson performs from the heart, her loving recreations mesmerising and enchanting for their truthful purity. We are left astonished with delicate transitions between soprano torch songs, country classics, and smoky blues standards.

The whole experience is very calming and peaceful, a combination of the warm wave of nostalgia intrinsic to the material, and the feeling that we are always safe in Robinson’s expert hands. Sound and lighting designers have embraced this tranquillity, and enhanced every moment with simple but very effective use of soundscapes and flawless lighting states.

The text is written by acclaimed playwright Joanna Murray-Smith, and is imbued with research and passion at every turn. Clear and polished pictures are painted of both the famous artists and the ordinary women recounting their encounters in every monologue, and every carefully selected song is masterfully integrated with the text, creating a tonally consistent flow throughout the entire ninety minute runtime. The show is undoubtedly curated for an audience acquainted with the references, but will still be enjoyed by anyone unfamiliar with these famous artists, thanks to Murray-Smith’s witty and timeless writing.

It is difficult to imagine an artist more suited to their art than Bernadette Robinson in Songs For Nobodies. She is deserving of every piece of praise and acclaim that has come her way throughout the ten-year international performance history of this show – which includes a noteworthy nomination for an Olivier Award during its West End run. Living in the intimate Fairfax Studio at Arts Centre Melbourne until January 5th, this outing makes for the perfect pre-Christmas treat or post-Christmas wind-down. Not to be missed.

https://www.artscentremelbourne.com.au/whats-on/2019/musicals/songs-for-nobodies

Photography courtesy of The Arts Centre Melbourne

 

Review: Anna

A bizarre, yet perfectly plausible set of interlocking events

By Rachel Holkner

Fear, frustration and overwhelming sense of foreboding, the lack of control one feels in the face of endless, incomprehensible, nonsensical bureaucracy. These emotions are deftly conveyed and uncomfortably experienced throughout this one act play. Anna is a very timely piece, although firmly set during its own time and space of Bulgaria during the Cold War.

Both written and performed by Bagryana Popov, deftly using her childhood experiences and years of research into the totalitarian regime to develop a bizarre, yet perfectly plausible set of interlocking events.

The appearance of a large sum of money is the instigating event of the play, and the contradictory stories around its origin and the attempts to dispose of it rapidly open out to display a complex web – artfully appearing on stage by the end – of interested parties with conflicting motives. Anna herself moves frequently in and out of our sympathies as she naively attempts to deal with the bureaucracy but then displays contrary behaviours at home.

Anna tells fairy stories, and perhaps the whole play is a fabrication of her mind as she slowly unravels over the course of months while events both within and out of her control turn against her. But what if the events she discusses are imagined? Is Anna paranoid or am I?

The performance of Popov is hugely affecting. She carries the entire show with aplomb, moving nimbly between portrayals of very different characters. She sings, she utilises props, she takes us with her into the chill mood behind the Iron Curtain at this time. The use of space, lighting and the raw set design suit the performance and the tightly written, almost sparse script, perfectly.

The very slight, surreal nature of the production as a whole is particularly effective against the backdrop of world politics today. One leaves with an inkling of discomfort and almost dread that lingers uncomfortably, yet I can’t help scratching at it.

At La Mama Courthouse until 22 December

https://lamama.com.au/whats-on/winter-spring-2019/anna/

Photography by Ponch Hawkes

 

 

REVIEW: Punk Rock

Powderkegs in school uniform

By Owen James

Simon Stephens is one of my favourite contemporary playwrights, his works electrifying and always relevant. The raw, confronting story of Punk Rock tackles the escalating and debilitating final three months in the lives of seven teens in their last year of grammar school.

Stephens’ extremely realistic characters are taken to their most energetic and explosive extremes in this production by Patalog Theatre, with director Ruby Rees ensuring they are infused with equal measures of juvenile rebellion and adolescent uncertainty. Rees’ direction is powerful and pacy; the interval-less lengthy runtime passes in a flash, and the Breakfast Club-esque pressure cooker setting is used to its full advantage with intimate, imaginative staging. Rees has included punctuating frenzies of fantastical violence, sex and desire as scene transitions, which are for the most part effective at disrupting our comfort and expectation.

There is not a weak link to be found in this tight ensemble of eight, who all expertly commit to the violent, often terrifying world they are trapped inside. They are a joy to watch. Audience favourite Laurence Boxhall as timid Chadwick gives us many of the play’s most hilarious and crushing moments, and is perhaps the most successful of the group at combining the tropes of his character’s clichéd stereotype with authenticity. Ruby Duncan is a powerful presence as Cissy, fearlessly launching into many conflicting emotions with endless gusto and wavering stability.

Stephens has written a challenging, tormenting character in mutinous kingpin William, who Ben Walter brings to life with nuance and glimpses of delightfully unrestrained anarchy through every cautious powerplay. Walter’s William is as distressing as Stephens has written him to be, building to the play’s final crescendo with disturbing composure.

Annie Shapero is electric as deceptively simple Tanya, and Flynn Smeaton as Nicholas is the perfect blend of studious and smarmy. Karl Richmond brings depth to provocative maverick Bennet, suggesting deeper personal discomfort that may be prompting this genuinely intimidating bully to act out as he does. New student Lilly is our initial line-in to this world, portrayed by Zoe Hawkins with sass and a brazen disregard for conformity. Jessica Clarke’s brief stint as Dr Harvey in the final scene is strong and considered.

Patalog Theatre are leaping from strength to strength with every production. They are one of the most important companies to watch for us theatregoers who enjoy contemporary, boundary-pushing evenings of grit and dynamic gusto. Patalog and Punk Rock embody everything good theatre should be.

Don’t miss this gripping rendition of thunderous retribution, playing at fortyfivedownstairs until December 15. (Beware of blood splatter for those in the front row…)

https://www.fortyfivedownstairs.com/wp2016/event/punk-rock-by-simon-stephens/

Photography by Craig Fuller