Tag: Chris Baldock

REVIEW: Sly Rat Theatre Presents FOREIGN BODIES

Erotic, evocative and engrossing

By Amy Planner

Foreign Bodies is the newest production from Sly Rat Theatre Company, director Chris Baldock, and playwright Andy Harmsen. This seductive yet confronting look into the lives of two mismatched people tells tales of allure, disdain, political turmoil and self-discovery.

Foreign Bodies

The mood is set as you snuggle into your Indian cushion on the floor around the small intimate stage. Dim lighting, Hindi imagery and exotically draped fabric surround you and the stage. There is nowhere to hide in this theatre: the actors are within touching distance and the room is intensified.

Andy Harmsen’s script is concise, intriguing and psychologically charged, dealing with severe issues with a graceful intelligence and authentic fearlessness. There are a few elements of the story that seem to only be present to validate other unnecessary components, which detracted only slightly as the candid snapshot into the hidden truth of the sex trade overshadows any minor faults. The political circumstance was a little unclear, but under the direction of Chris Baldock, the force with which the play builds to its climax is so incredibly powerful and almost unnervingly real.

Hamsen also deserves props for sound design, which creates a true atmospheric representation of Mumbai and the hustle-bustle of the culture, which translates powerfully into the intensity of the story as realised on stage.

Sly Rat co-artistic director Alan Chambers features as the bumbling journalist, alongside the sultry stylings of Marika Marosszeky. In the unforgiving and exposing space, the performers make no excuses as their emotional journey radiates through the audience. The pair are to be commended for their willingness to be so vulnerable on the stage.

Marosszeky bares her all, both emotionally and physically, giving everyone a intensely honest look into a totally dishonest world. Chambers felt a little unsteady in the beginning, but really held no punches when he settled in to the role. The duo prove themselves to be refreshingly genuine and superbly gifted.

Victoria Haslam and the cast use costume and makeup techniques that bring real depth to the characters and the setting. The sheer sweatiness of Chambers’ character in the opening was unbelievably convincing.

Foreign Bodies is funny, confronting and altogether engrossing for the audience. This production promises to challenge your boundaries and bounce off your curiosity – it truly does.

Venue: The Owl and Cat Theatre, 34 Swan Street, Richmond

Season: 23 October – 31 October

Bookings: http://www.trybooking.com/155361

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REVIEW: Mockingbird Theatre’s QUILLS

Delving into the darkness

By Ross Larkin

Quills might be Mockingbird Theatre’s most ambitious production to date. It’s their eighth show in two years and the first to be staged at North Melbourne’s Meat Market Pavilion.

Quills is about the Marquis de Sade’s last days and the discovery that even while incarcerated he has been writing 1200 page tomes depicting all things pornographic, sadistic and vile. The Marquis is stripped of his quills and paper in order to be silenced, yet finds other clever and twisted ways to maintain his mind’s workings until eventually he is stripped of everything else from limb to head.

Quills

Written by Doug Wright, the play sits somewhere between witty, unsettling, grotesque, political and shameful. Its success lies in the suggestion that the Marquis’ censors are the real criminals: far more insane and twisted than the Marquis himself. It’s a big bite for even the longest standing companies to chew, with its three-hour duration, non-stop dialogue and heavy array of social issues, and although the usually savvy Mockingbird Theatre and director Chris Baldock succeed on some levels, the production sadly falls short on others.

While the Meat Market Pavilion is a genius choice for the old lunatic asylum with its stark, wide-open spaces and shadowy corners perfectly lit to reflect such an environment, the scenes (with seating organised in traverse) are spread too far apart, making some dialogue difficult to hear and some scenes difficult to see with full impact.

The supporting cast of asylum inmates create some great atmosphere despite being distracting at times: however, it is for the main players to bear the bigger issues. Adam Ward’s performance as Dr Royer-Collard is so theatrically heightened as to be better suited to a caricature pantomime or circus ringmaster, whereupon every second line is shouted ad nauseam. Fortunately Andrea McCannon as Renee Pelagie and Dylan Watson as Abbe de Coulmier keep things grounded with their fine and believable portrayals.

It is Adrian Carr, however, who plays the Marquis, with the greatest weight on his shoulders. It’s a brave role for anyone to attempt: a daring, witty, controversial sexual deviant and naked for half the show. Throughout Act One, Carr comes across as more irritating than sinister with no signs of much-needed light and dark shading, yet by Act Two he proves he has a handle on the complex and multifaceted character of the Marquis, and delivers some chilling moments indeed.

As usual, the quality Mockingbird stamp can be seen overall in Quills: it’s just a shame that the questionable areas were significantly felt.

Quills is playing now from August 5 – 15 at 8pm and Sunday August 10 at 5pm at the Meat Market Pavilion, 5 Blackwood street, North Melbourne. Tickets at http://www.mockingbirdtheatre.com.au/

REVIEW: Mockingbird Theatre Presents THE JUDAS KISS

Bravado and betrayal in the fall of Oscar Wilde

By Ross Larkin

The Judas Kiss

It can be difficult to associate one of the world’s most iconic, hilarious comic writers with tragedy and betrayal, and as such, a play about Oscar Wilde’s life behind his witty penmanship is confronting, and a harsh reminder of how brutally he was treated.

The Judas Kiss, written by David Hare, has been staged by Melbourne’s own Mockingbird Theatre, and directed by company member Jason Cavanagh. The play examines the hours leading up to Wilde’s arrest for partaking in consensual sex with another man, followed by post-prison life in a filthy, run-down apartment in Naples with former lover, Lord Alfred ‘Bosie’ Douglas. The before-and-after contrast surrounding Wilde’s two-year sentence is stark as the audience are made privy to the life and mind which was drained from him for supposed crimes and the consequences thereafter.

The initial scenes of The Judas Kiss are driven and ‘bolshie’, as Wilde’s comrades argue about whether he should flee to the continent or not, while Wilde, after feigning indifference, finally admits he lacks the will to try. As these quieter moments set in, the script becomes more engaging and the ensemble cast begin to showcase just how rock-solid they are.

The challenging, changeable role of Wilde is played to perfection by Chris Baldock, who simply nails the part, capturing beautifully the witty and charming bravado of the man prior to his arrest, and the pained, tortured soul thereafter. Oliver Coleman as Wilde’s literary executor and long-standing friend Robert Ross is equally impressive, cleverly demonstrating presence and commitment with an understated fury.

Nigel Langley as Bosie and the supporting cast are all worthy of mention in Mockingbird’s version, which director Cavanagh has succeeded in reimagining with simplistic charm and poignancy. The lighting in particular is beautifully designed by Rob Sowinski and made powerful use of.

The Judas Kiss is another fine example of why Mockingbird Theatre continues to fire along with the big guns, and save for the excessive duration of the final scene, this production is one of Melbourne’s not-to-be missed theatrical experiences.

The Judas Kiss is playing now at TheatreWorks, Acland Street, St Kilda until March 22, Tuesday to Friday at 8pm, and Saturday 2pm and 8pm plus Sunday March 16 at 5pm.

Bookings at www.theatreworks.org.au or (03) 9534 3388(03) 9534 3388(03) 9534 3388(03) 9534 3388.

REVIEW: Mockingbird Theatre Presents THE TEMPEREMENTALS

Unmissable Midsumma fare

By Ross Larkin

“Before Stonewall, a braver bunch of us stood up to the plate… before there even was a plate”.

The Temperamentals is a curious little piece based on true events. Written by Jon Marans in 2009, it made a significant impression off-Broadway, and has maintained a cult following and critical respect since. Local favourite Mockingbird Theatre provides the perfect team to re-imagine this important story as an inclusion in the 2014 Midsumma Festival and a Melbourne premiere.

The Temperementals

The Temperamentals is set in the USA in the 1950’s, when homosexuals were forced to lead secret lives of façade and repression in a society of bigotry. However, five young men dared to reveal their truths and confront the world around them, by founding the first gay rights organisation called the Mattachine Society. The group is accelerated into ambition when its member, Dale Jannings (Sebastian Bertoli) is arrested by an undercover cop in a public toilet.

Bertoli is exceptional as the unassuming Jannings, with the ability to maintain striking presence and poignant subtlety at once. In fact, director Chris Baldock’s casting overall is outstanding. The small ensemble of five, most of who play a variety of characters, exhibit genuine versatility and chemistry with highly accomplished direction.

Tim Constantine in particular, who plays Austrian fashion icon Rudi Gernreich, engages charisma, shame, passion and hurt with an understated three-dimensional beauty that allures audience members during his journey. Angelo De Cata, as Mattachine Society protagonist Harry Hay, is also a solid centrepiece, embodying a brave but pained man with excellent conviction, while supporters Angus Cameron and Jai Luke add a kick of colour and humour to the otherwise intense circumstances.

The Temperamentals is a slow-burner, with more telling than doing, and may not grab you until you’ve truly fallen for its beloved characters. However, it’s most certainly worth holding tight for, because fall you will – in another highly praiseworthy example of Chris Baldock and Mockingbird’s ability to stage some of the most noteworthy theatre in town.

The Temperamentals is playing now at The Brunswick Mechanics Institute Performing Arts Centre (corner of Glenlyon and Sydney Roads, Brunswick) as part of the 2014 Midsumma Festival.

Tue 21 Jan – Sat 25 Jan at 8pm
Sun 26 Jan at 5pm
Tue 28 Jan – Sat 1 Feb at 8pm

Bookings:http://www.trybooking.com/61975

REVIEW: Mockingbird Theatre Presents KISS OF THE SPIDERWOMAN

Raw and vibrant theatre

By Ross Larkin

Manuel Puig’s Kiss of the Spiderwoman is an iconic, unusual story of the relationship between two men in an Argentinean prison cell.

Angelo De Cata and Adam Ward in Kiss of the Spiderwoman

Incarcerated for vastly different crimes, the prisoners, whose similarities seem only to be their predicament, gradually discover they have more in common than anyone would likely foresee.

Compared to its film and musical cousins, the play is confined to one cramped location, two actors, and a hefty stream of dialogue.

Mockingbird Theatre’s version is staged in the most intimate of spaces, with the audience squeezed so tightly in front of the action that the experience teeters on awkward: fitting, for an exploration of two curiously unhinged men and the unlikely affection that surfaces amidst a rocky, emotional course.

Imprisoned for corrupting a minor, Molina (Angelo DeCata) is a flamboyant dreamer, obsessed with storytelling his favourite movie, often in denial of his situation. Molina is caged with Valentin (Adam Ward), a volatile political prisoner whose dysfunction is rife.

DeCato is faced with a particularly challenging role, having to walk the line between vicarious fantasy, and the stark reality of his circumstances. Although, at times, bordering on one note, DeCato largely succeeds in portraying a shakily optimistic, effeminate character. Meanwhile, Ward’s performance feels initially forced and unsubtle, playing anger quite liberally, when the impact and intrigue of the character would have benefited from more light and shade.

When the stakes are later raised, however, the connection between the men matures, and Ward offers a more nuanced, genuine portrayal, leaving the audience affected in all the right ways.

As usual, director Chris Baldock does justice to a richly powerful story with his tastefully simplistic trademark approach – concentrating more on the character-driven narrative, and less so on gimmickry. The colour-changing web was an interesting exception. Likewise, the stark light for the bulk of the play’s duration was a choice which may have prevented the audience being drawn deeper into a world where fantasy and reality co-exist. Thus, the enhanced lighting for the tenderly awkward sex scene provided a window to a theatrical mood which was otherwise perhaps a little too absent at times.

Kiss of the Spiderwoman has, in the past, been either loved or hated, though more so the former. Lovers of the earlier versions will without doubt not be disappointed, while those unfamiliar are urged to experience Mockingbird’s version, which is well worth the effort.

Kiss of the Spiderwoman is playing now until September 15 at The Owl and the Pussycat, Swan street, Richmond. Saturday September 7 at 2pm and 8pm, Sunday September 8 at 5pm, Tuesday-Saturday September 10-14 at 8pm, Sunday September 15 at 5pm.

Bookings: www.trybooking.com/40831 or bookings@mockingbirdtheatre.com.au

REVIEW: Mockingbird Theatre Presents EQUUS

Intensely moving

By Vikki Doig

A mere 40 years after it was written, Equus still packs a powerful punch. Originally penned in 1973, Peter Shaffer‘s play follows the case of Alan Strang, a 17 year-old boy who is taken into a mental health institution to be treated after his pathological religious fascination with horses causes him to commit an act of unspeakable violence. Shaffer was inspired to write the play after hearing a story about a boy blinding six horses, as a means of trying to make such an act comprehensible.

Equus - Scott Middleton

The format of the play is a kind of medical whodunit, with the audience acting as witnesses to the unfolding story and development of trust between the two main characters (which, my partner pointed out, was akin to breaking-in a horse). Equus is Mockingbird Theatre‘s current production, and upon entering director Chris Baldock’s eerie world, which is somewhere between a stable and a temple, I was immediately struck by the wonderful overall design, the image of the horseheads hanging on the wall like trophies and the strong, almost tribal, presence of the horse-chorus.

We meet Dr. Martin Dysart, portrayed by a wonderfully well-cast Jeremy Kewley, who expresses his frustration at his profession and questions his own purpose. After a bit of a shaky start to the show (I found myself willing him to slow down his dialogue) his commitment to the role was absolute. Scott Middleton portrayed a beautifully vulnerable and fragile Alan Strang – menacing at first, but more human as the play went on – and the growing relationship between these two characters was a real strength of the show.

Other characters joined and left the action seamlessly, creating a very immediate space in which the motivations of the young boy, his relationship with his parents (played exceptionally well and, at times, comically, by Soren Jensen and Amanda McKay) and his eventual violent contact with the horses could be played out and reflected upon. The horse chorus, all-seeing and all-knowing, mirrored Alan’s emotion in their every movement and maintained strength and focus from the minute the audience entered the space (it was a nice touch to bring them out last at the curtain call!). Particular mention should go to Maggie Chrétien, whose portrayal of the sassy Jill Mason was, although only having a small amount of stage time, one of the strongest performances of the night.

Chris Baldock has created a production faithful to Shaffer’s original script and clearly has great passion for the words and concepts explored in the text. However, having seen an extremely powerful contemporised interpretation of the play in the UK a few years back, I personally felt detached from this version which seemed to historicise the key themes of reason versus passion and rehabilitation versus medication rather than present them as significant and culturally relevant questions which still resonate with contemporary audiences. For this reason and for me, I felt that the production didn’t quite have the power and impact it could have and this was compounded by the questionable English accents from some of the cast.

Despite this, I certainly enjoyed the show and was left with a poignant comment from Dysart running through my head: “Passion can only be destroyed by doctors. It cannot be created”, for working with children in education and the arts always makes this play and its conflict between (seemingly) necessary medication and a natural capacity for passion and emotion profoundly affecting. Because once that passion is gone, can we ever really get it back?

VENUE: Mechanics Institute Performing Arts Centre, cnr Glenlyon & Sydney Rds, Brunswick

DATES: 3rd – 17th Aug

TIME: Tue 6th – Sat 10th 8pm, Wed 14th – Sat 17th 8pm

TICKETS: $30 Full/ $25 Con or Groups 10+/ $20 Tue 6th

BOOKINGS: www.trybooking.com/40833 or bookings@mockingbirdtheatre.com.au

REVIEW: Mockingbird Theatre’s HOW I LEARNED TO DRIVE

Steering audiences into daring but dark theatre

By Ross Larkin

Melbourne’s Mockingbird Theatre are fast building a reputation for tackling challenging, confronting and somewhat heavy-handed works – a risk for even the most iconic and established theatre companies to consider.

Drive - Jason Cavanagh and Sarah Reuben jpg 2

It would be reasonable to question whether such a choice were wise in a relatively young collaborative.

Incest, mental illness, homophobia, sex and violence have been the hot subject matters of late for Mockingbird; the mere suggestion of which would drive the less brave to contemplate a Wizard of Oz remake.

An astonishing relief, therefore, to not only feel comfortable Mockingbird can pull it off, but to know they can, and have, knocked it out of the park.

How I Learned to Drive, by American playwright Paula Vogel, is arguably the closest to the bone Mockingbird have ventured to conquer thus far. The 1998 Pulitzer Prize-winning script, examines perhaps the heaviest and most controversial of issues imaginable. Pedophilia.

Not a subject many of us care to discuss, let alone be subjected to head on in theatrical format. However, herein lies the success of the play. It delicately and subtly unpacks the story of a teenage girl, affectionately referred to as Lil’Bit, growing up in Maryland, during which time, her uncle Peck teaches her to drive.

Some of the most poignant moments of the play evolve from the insinuating language, as Uncle Peck warns her of the dangerous drivers on the road, and how to defend herself as a driver. Truth be told, the real monster is right beside her in the vehicle, grooming and brain-washing, to later take advantage of her in various calculated ways.

While her Aunty insists Lil’Bit “knows exactly what she is doing”, and cries about wanting “her husband back”, How I Learned to Drive becomes Lil’Bit’s struggle to defend herself against, not only her predator, but the scorning, victim-bashing tongues of the time.

Sarah Reuben is exceptional as Lil’Bit, portraying innocence and fear with a believability that moves and disturbs, while the equally engaging and nuanced performance by Jason Cavanagh as Peck, will send tingles down your spine.

Meanwhile, viewers battle between hatred and pity over such an unhinged, yet somehow frail character as Peck, who is, apparently oblivious to the horror of preying on the teenage girl he claims to love.

A remarkable supporting cast, and the usual firm direction from Chris Baldock, makes How I Learned to Drive another proud notch in the Mockingbird belt, and one certainly not to be missed.

How I Learned to Drive is playing now at the Mechanics Institute in Brunswick, Tuesdays to Saturdays 8pm from May 3 – 18, 2013. Bookings via Trybooking.com or bookings@mockingbirdtheatre.com.au