Tag: Christian Heath

REVIEW: Mockingbird Theatre Presents BLUE/ORANGE

Profound theatre – and prodigious talent

By Bradley Storer

After a stunning debut with their acclaimed production of The Laramie Project, Mockingbird Theatre Company continues their winning streak with a smaller-scaled but equally impressive showing of Joe Penhall’s Blue/Orange. This three-person play provides fantastic opportunities for the skilled actors of the company in its complex exploration of themes of mental illness, racism, colonialism and culture.


The plot is focused on the diagnosis and treatment of a young African man under two psychiatrists with opposing approaches to mental illness. Kane Felsinger as the institutionalized Christopher is phenomenal, dispatching the play’s fierce Mamet-like dialogue with ferocity while never letting us forget the real emotional pain underneath his at times off-putting persona. Christopher, diagnosed continually as sitting somewhere in ‘the borders between psychotic and neurotic’, draws both his doctors and the audience through the blurry boundaries between delusion, deception and uncertainty.

Richard Edge as Robert, the older and more pragmatic psychiatrist, embodies a man who is characterized mainly by his own mediocrity alongside surprising vitality. This man, who at first attempts to downplay and normalize Christopher’s disorder before endeavouring to exploit it as fodder for his own academic gain, seems like that archetypal charismatic and slightly sociopathic career-climber we encounter in every kind of field, instantly recognizable and creepily personable. Christian Heath as Bruce, Christopher’s younger and more compassionate psychiatrist, provides a strong moral and emotional centre to the story which anchors events amongst flurries of academic debate and cultural abstraction.

The three actors are all equally brilliant, and director Chris Baldock has done a fantastic job of choreographing them into shifting patterns of empathy and aggression which make them simultaneously sympathetic and antagonistic. Even as the two doctors aim to heal Christopher his mental illness becomes simply another instrument in their battle, echoing the marginalization and exploitation of ethnic and social minorities in patriarchal Western culture which continues even today.

A wonderful and thrilling night of contemporary theatre meditating on grand macrocosmic themes, but with the aid of magnificently talented actors never leaves behind the confusion and painful reality of everyday life.

Dates: Thur 28 Feb – Sat 2 March 8pm, Sun 3 March 5pm, Tue 5 March – Sat 9 March 8pm, Sat 9 March at 2pm

Venue: Broken Mirror Studios, 2c Staley St, Brunswick

Tickets: Bookings available here


A superb piece of theatre

By Bradley Storer

In Mockingbird Theatre’s debut production, the company has chosen an ambitious undertaking in staging The Laramie Project, the panoramic examination of the shockwaves caused by the murder of a young gay university student, Matthew Shepherd, in 1998. This portrait of a divided and terrified community’s reaction to a horrible crime seems eerily relevant now in the wake of the recent Jill Meagher murder.

In a sparse set containing only a collection of stage lights and eight chairs, the gifted men and women of the Mockingbird ensemble take on the roles of the various inhabitants of the Wyoming city of Laramie, as well as the members of the Tectonic Theatre Project who originally created the play, swapping characters at a moment’s notice as viewpoints and opinions weave in and out of the main narrative.

All of the text of the play is drawn from interviews conducted with the actual Laramie residents from the time of Shepherd’s murder, and the jaw-dropping ways in which the play unfolds in dramatic and unexpected twists truly makes the case for life being stranger than fiction.

In the first act, it felt as though two of the male ensemble (Scott Middleton and Christian Heath) were overloaded with different characters, and unfortunately were not always able to differentiate them enough to make them all worthwhile, while the other male members were left underutilized.

The women fared much better in terms of overall skill, with special mention to Maggie Chretien and Debra Low for creating great physical characterizations and generating palpable emotion in their performances.

Having said this, this is a fantastic production of a monumental play – the emotional atmosphere was electrifying and the simplicity of the set ensured that the audience was being undistractedly confronted by the reality of what was being said to us. The great power of Laramie comes from the kaleidoscopic collage of lives and personalities which emerge in every second of the play: the cast generating magnificent contrasts and contradictions.

The standout performance came from Tamara Donnellan, who imbued every character she presented with such life and vivacity that they all seemed entirely real even when they were initially unlikable – the most powerful sequence of the entire performance came when Donnellan, as the officer who was called to the scene of Matthew’s attack, describes with a heart-breaking mixture of sorrow, horror and confusion the state of Matthew’s blood-stained body in an almost Christ-like tableau. Joined by the other members of the ensemble in a symphony of sadness, it becomes all too clear that Matthew was not the only victim of the horrific crime, but all of Laramie as well.

A magnificently touching and powerful show, and a magnificent debut for the fledgling company which promises a tremendous future in store for them.

The Loft, Chapel off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel Street, Prahran
Oct 26th – Nov 11th 2012, Tues – Sat 8pm, Sunday 6pm, Sat 27th Oct & 3rd November 1pm
Bookings: 0382907000 or http://www.chapeloffchapel.com.au
Price: $39 Full / $34 Conc & Groups 10+

Review: ALL THAT I EVER WILL BE by Alan Ball

Dark and clever script demands strong performances

By Ross Larkin

Alan Ball has established himself as a leading American screenwriter, with award winning credits including Six Feet Under and American Beauty. His knack for confronting and exploring the human condition with dark humour and striking realism seems unparalleled. For many, witnessing his work on stage will be a new experience.

All That I Will Ever Be, although five years old, is a lesser-known play by Ball, and while this particular season has returned due to popular demand, it has seldom been performed state-side or in Australia.

As one might expect from Ball, the play focuses on complex relationships – with sexuality, identity and fidelity largely driving the action. Direction and performance, therefore, are intrinsically key in the success of a story whose foundation relies heavily on the perils and quirks of the human condition.

Ball’s characters are multi-faceted, three-dimensional though somehow accessible – hence his universal appeal.  Yet, in the wrong hands, his work runs the risk of losing that combination of raw yet subtle Ball mystique, falling into average, forgettable territory. Taking on the task of directing such challenging material is not a decision that can be made lightly.

All That I Will Ever Be certainly could have fallen into less capable hands than that of director Robert Chuter who thankfully avoided sappy melodrama with which a less-experienced director may have been tempted. His simplistic set and focus on character were safe though wise choices – unfortunately let down, however, by an ensemble of varying capabilities.

In a play heavily driven by performance, there were thankfully no weak links, but with material of this nature, acceptable simply isn’t strong enough. Christian Heath was one of few who convincingly portrayed inner struggle and occasional outward despair with subtlety, depth and balance to engage and evoke the necessary empathy. Yet as Heath got the stakes rising, enticing the audience into Ball’s world as intended – others would swiftly push viewers back to observer status.

Had the calibre of performers all matched Heath’s, Chuter and Fly-On-The-Wall Theatre could have had a very different result on his hands. The kind that Alan Ball’s work calls for.

Wednesday – Saturday @ 8.00pm
Sunday @ 6.30pm
Full $29 / Conc $23

12 Little Chapel Street, Prahran, 3181

BOOKINGS 03 8290 7000