Tag: Arts Centre Playhouse

Victorian Opera presents BANQUET OF SECRETS

Melodramatic Moments

By Margaret Wieringa

We all have them – those friends from our past that we see rarely, perhaps catch up with once in a while for a drunken dinner and then go our separate ways. Now, there’s an opera about them! This group of four uni friends meet yearly for a meal at one of their old uni haunts, but this year there is a challenge – each must tell a secret from their past, something no-one else knows.

Victorian Opera 2016 - Banquet of Secrets © Jeff Busby (6)

This show took me across the spectrum of enjoyment – parts of it I severely disliked and others I thoroughly enjoyed. What a challenge! I liked the concept; a group of friends forced to really reach deep and reveal their darkness. But I struggled to really buy it. Whether it was that they went very deep very quickly, or perhaps it was that after the big reveals, there was only a tiny acknowledgement that the other characters had a response before they seemed to be acting like everything was just dandy. It didn’t feel… honest. I know opera is over the top and the concept of huge revelations allowed for some melodrama, but the whole concept begged honest responses, not fleeting moments of truth.

The music was beautifulPaul Grabowski and the Banquet of Secrets band were onstage and their subtle presence was a contrast to the ever-changing images that played on a huge screen above the dinner table. The screen was another thing I both enjoyed and disliked – it worked well for images of the mouth-watering food (don’t miss the magnificently absurd menu in the program) – yet some of the other images that crossed it were twee and annoying.

Despite my criticism of the character responses earlier, I felt that the cast generally worked very well. I felt that the characters were quite insufferable with their self-aware mocking and clichéd comments, but I felt they were quite relatable. For me, while it was a strong ensemble performance, Antoinette Halloran outshone as Mia. Her powerful voice captured the strength and confidence of the character, yet was easily able to bring the audience on the emotional journey of Mia as she relieved the past, and reflected on the consequence of her actions. And the comic turn of Michael Carman as the waiter cannot be ignored – thanks to librettist Steve Vizard for throwing a wink to the great clowning characters of the past.

If you like opera, and you want to see something a bit different, go. But make sure you’ve eaten first – you don’t want your stomach rumbling heard over the music!

Where: Arts Centre Playhouse

When: March 1-5, 7:30pm (1pm matinee on Saturday)

Tickets: $40 – $120, depending on seating.

Bookings: https://www.artscentremelbourne.com.au/whats-on/opera/banquet-of-secrets or call 1300 822 849

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REVIEW: MTC Presents NORTH BY NORTHWEST

MTC’s masterly salute to the master of suspense

By Rachel Holkner

How will they do the scene on Mount Rushmore? This has to be the question at the front of the mind of any audience member familiar with Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film North By Northwest. In this world premiere production by the Melbourne Theatre Company the film is adapted for the stage by Carolyn Burns in ingenious and highly entertaining ways.

North by Northwest

The story follow the trials of Roger Thornhill, a New York advertising man mistaken for a spy. Following leads and leading chases across several states on trains and planes, through hotels and auction house, Thornhill gradually uncovers a larger plot with higher stakes than a simple case of mistaken identity. High-paced action scenes are interspersed with romantic interludes, all peppered with witty dialogue. One of North By Northwest‘s main attractions: it doesn’t take itself too seriously.

More of a straight reenactment rather than a reimagining, director Simon Phillips‘ stage adaption sometimes holds a bit too tightly to the film. A few (very few) moments do not translate well, and might be a bit odd to anyone not familiar with Hitchcock’s work. Several characters are straight impersonations of the film’s actors, and this was to the play’s detriment. Occasionally it felt as though the actors did not have full ownership of their parts.

The cast of twelve do a spectacular job in taking on the work of a cast of thousands. With the aid of amazing costuming, wigs and headgear by costume designer Esther Marie Hayes it was easy to forget that the woman dining in the train had minutes ago been in a stand-up argument as Thornhill’s mother. Matt Day is excellent as Roger Thornhill, as was Amber McMahon as Eve Kendall, the femme fatale. Many other familiar names bring their strength to the production including Nicholas Bell, Tony Llewellyn-Jones, Deidre Rubenstein and Matt Hetherington. The entire cast deserves high praise for their faultless and energetic work.

However, the show-stealing performance, that which received the most spontaneous applause, laughs and gasps from the audience was the staging. An incredibly creative use of a massive rear-projection screen used with live-action miniatures brings the language of film right onto the stage. Complete with an opening credit sequence nod to the kinetic typography of Saul Bass (titles designer of many of Hitchcock’s films), no opportunity was lost to draw the audience into the play and into the manipulative world of 1950s America.

The audience shared in the glee of the cast as they interacted at frequent intervals with items key to the setting, whether writing notes, pouring drinks or driving tiny cars, these actions were projected to provide close-ups, midshots and moving backgrounds key to keeping the production as close to Hitchcock’s vision as possible. The iconic cropduster scene is gobsmackingly good, keeping us simultaneously on the edge of our seats and in fits of laughter.

I cannot know how much someone not familiar with the film would enjoy this production, however lines which I was merely nodding to as I recognised them, were getting genuine laughs from the audience which would indicate that there is enough clarity and freshness here for all. MTC’s North By Northwest is an amazing achievement. Hilarious, tense and dramatic at all the right moments. You won’t regret seeing this one, it’s sensational.

And as for Mount Rushmore? Well I can’t tell you. You simply wouldn’t believe me.

Venue: Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne
Season: Until 20 June 2015
Tickets: $51-$124
Bookings: http://www.artscentremelbourne.com.au

REVIEW: One Man, Two Guvnors with MTC

Comedy chaos from a slapstick script

By Ross Larkin

If you’re a lover of farce or pantomime – you are, no doubt, in for a treat with One Man, Two Guvnors.

Owain Arthur (Francis Henshall) in One Man, Two Guvnors at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. Photo credit Johan Persson

Based on Goldoni’s 1746 work, The Servant of Two Masters, Richard Bean’s version smacks of slapstick, and then some. Played out with such frantic urgency from the get go, it’s necessary at times to sit back and take a breather from the hysteria.

Owain Arthur plays Francis, a rolypoly Welshman caught in a cat-and-mouse-frenzy between a woman disguised as her dead gangster brother (Rosie Wyatt) and a small-time crook (Leon Williams), along with additional obstacles (namely the crook’s daughter played by Kellie Shirley, and the gangster’s fiancé performed by Edward Bennett).

The energy and commitment of the actors is constant and remarkable. Arthur, in particular, is frankly genius in such a farcical role. Boisterous physical comedy, spontaneous jokes and audience interaction come naturally to the accomplished actor, as does his ability to improvise when things steer off course.

The supporting cast do well to compliment Arthur, considering how seemingly easy it might be to fall into the shadow of such a showman, and at times, offer a few unique laughs themselves.

One’s overall enjoyment of this production, however, largely depends on one’s appreciation for the acquired genre of farce.

Even if completely lost in the madness, the theatrical language and manic, farcical physicality can often instruct an audience when to laugh, regardless of true comical value.

Clowns and caricatures may delight some as they pick on unsuspecting patrons in the first row, or ask the audience for answers. “Could this be happening? What to do? What to do?” is an example of the degree to which One Man, Two Guvnors trips into pantomime territory.

However, traditional theatre goers may be bored to tears with the protagonist asking the audience for a sandwich repeatedly, or the hillbilly musical interludes, which, although polished and noteworthy, overstay their welcome.

Sadly, Bean’s script is low on witty dialogue, and relies very heavily on physical comedy and engaging performances, which, thankfully, have both been recruited in this British National Theatre tour.

Be warned, though, if melodramatic malarkey and audience participation are not your cup of tea: in spite of their success in those areas, there is little else left to offer.

One Man, Two Guvnors by Richard Bean is playing now at Melbourne’s Arts Centre Playhouse until June 22, 2013. Tickets available at http://www.mtc.com.au or by calling the Box Office on 03 8688 0800.