Tag: Christina O’Neill

Red Stitch Presents THE RIVER

Deceptively simple fable runs deep

By Myron My

A Man, a Woman, a cabin and a lot of fish. This is the set up for Red Stitch’s latest production and the Australian premiere of Jez Butterworth’s The River. The story is quite straightforward, with The Man bringing The Woman to his cabin to go fishing, but the performances and technical aspects present allow for a deeper understanding of what it means to be loved and to be deceived.

The River.jpg

It’s been over a year since I saw Dion Mills in another fantastic Red Stitch production, Wet House, and with The River, Mills again shows his powerful ability not only to get inside his characters’ heads but to be able to so with apparent ease. Apart from his skill in masterfully gutting a fish, Mills’ The Man is a fine balance of masculinity, fragility and mystery and his naturalistic portrayal of him makes this character seem all the more tragic.

Ngaire Dawn Fair as The Woman is the perfect counterpart to this Man, adding a level of energy and liveliness to their relationship. Her discovery of the deceit is quietly heartbreaking as it plays out with subtlety and nuance. The Other Woman however (played  by Christina O’Neill), lacked the depth of these characters and, perhaps also by necessity, was missing the chemistry that Mills and Fair shared on stage.

John Kachoyan‘s elegant direction adds to the unease and melancholy of The River. While the entire story is set within the confines of the cabin, you can’t help but feel that the world outside is slowly drowning these people. There’s a sense of timelessness in the movements: nothing feels rushed or frenetic inside the cabin, and the only real moment of drama occurs while out by the river – although we only hear about this. The previously mentioned scene with The Man preparing the fish for dinner speaks volumes to the confidence that both Kachoyan and Mills have in keeping the audience transfixed over such simple stage action for such a period of time, and in ultimately making this one of the most memorable moments of the show.

My only gripe with an otherwise absorbing story is the lack of payoff I experienced, come the end of The River. Even with Christopher De Groot‘s compelling music and sound design and Clare Springett‘s adroit lighting adding highly emotional layers to Butterworth’s script, I left feeling dissatisfied, like something had been missed. I needed more to happen in this narrative: to feel something that would then linger deep inside me as I left the theatre, to be affected by what had happened to these people. The strong efforts of all involved in this production still make this production well worth seeing, but unfortunately for me, it’s in the play’s close that The River seems to get bogged down.

Venue: Red Stitch Actors Theatre, 2 Chapel St, St. Kilda.
Season: Until 28 May | Wed- Sat 8:00pm, Sat 3:00pm, Sun 6:30pm
Tickets: $45 Full | $28-35 Conc
Bookings: Red Stitch Actors Theatre

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REVIEW: The Production Company’s SHOWBOAT

Difficult classic musical beautifully re-staged for modern audiences

By Narelle Wood

Off the back of Guys and Dolls, The Production Company have put together another brilliant production, this time bringing to the stage Show Boat, directed by Roger Hodgman.

Mostly set in the Deep South during the late 1800’s, the story follows the characters of the Show Boat over the best part of 30 years. The show mostly centres on the cautionary love story of Captain Andy’s daughter Magnolia (Alinta Chidzey) and the no-good-river-gambler Gaylord Ravenol (Gareth Keegan).

Showboat - Alinta Chidzey and Gareth Keegan

But the show is about more than just the clichéd moral tale for good girls who meet bad boys and fall in love at first sight. The setting also allows for exploration of race relationships, the changing nature of entertainment (especially with the advent of new technology) and, perhaps most poignantly, the idea that no matter how much things might change, things also stay very much the same.

Chidzey and Keegan were tremendous in their roles as Magnolia and Gaylord, although Chidzey’s wig did seem a little too blonde for her darker features. Philip Gould was charming as Captain Andy, who, along with Ellie May (Nicole Melloy) and Frank (Glenn Hill) brings much needed light-heartedness to temper the darker side of the show. Judith Roberts provided some straight-laced humour as Parthy, and the exceptionally strong cast is rounded off with Christina O’Neill as Julie, Heru Pinkasova as Queenie and Eddie Muliaumaseali’i as Joe. While the performances of all the cast members including the ensemble were brilliant, Muliaumaseali’i’s performance of Ol’ Man River gave me chills, and it can only be described as sublime.

My expectations of any show from The Production Company is extremely high and I never walk away disappointed. Once again the costuming was great, from the 1800’s dresses complete with bustles to the asymmetrical raised hemlines of the 1920’s. Hodgman cleverly addressed the need to have a boat on stage through some stunning use of digital imagery. And given that I overheard a number of people singing on the way out of the theatre, I’d say that the orchestra did a pretty good job too.

If you didn’t see Guys and Dolls then Show Boat is an absolute must; the production value is priceless, the performances flawless, and, once again, Muliaumaseali’i’s rendition of “Ol’ Man River” is something not to be missed.

Venue: State Theatre, Arts Centre, Melbourne
Season: 21st to 23rd July 7.30pm, 20th August 1pm, 23rd August 2pm and 24th August 3pm.
Tickets: Full $48-$119 | Conc $24-$105
Bookings: http://artscentremelbourne.com.au/whats-on

REVIEW: Victorian Opera’s INTO THE WOODS

Stunning cast in superb production

By Adam Tonking

Into The Woods is admittedly one of my favourite musicals. With the movie adaptation due out at the end of the year, now is the perfect opportunity to see Stephen Sondheim’s masterful exploration of fairy tales in all its original glory, and fortunately, Victorian Opera have staged an immensely enjoyable production of this wonderful show.

Victorian Opera 2014 - Into the Woods © Jeff Busby

The amazing cast deftly handle all of Sondheim’s tricky score and dense lyrics. Truly impressive, in that even at its most tongue-twisting, not a single syllable was lost on the audience, allowing us to enjoy every witty line and every beautifully crafted lyric. Sondheim writes wonderful characters for women, the three main ones in Into The Woods being The Baker’s Wife, The Witch, and Cinderella , and the three actresses in these roles were more than up to the task.

Christina O’Neill was perfect as The Baker’s Wife, never missing a single moment in the character’s development, bringing energy to some of the weaker spoken scenes, and providing blessed relief in the challenging, exposition-heavy second act with her stunning rendition of “Moments In The Woods.” Queenie van de Zandt was in usual glorious form as The Witch, bringing an engaging pragmatism to the role’s more obvious malice, allowing a clearer understanding of the character. Her skilled handling of The Witch’s rap was awe-inspiring, but she was truly breathtaking in my favourite song “Last Midnight.” Lucy Maunder as Cinderella was spectacular, and her duets with O’Neill were some of the most touching of the night. Among the men, particular praise should go to John Diedrich as the Mysterious Man for bringing one of the weakest characters and a terribly awkward part to life.

Clearly I cannot lavish enough praise on Victorian Opera’s Into The Woods. This is simply a magnificent production of a gorgeous show. Don’t miss your chance to see it. It’s playing from now until Saturday 26 July at the Arts Centre in Melbourne. Book tickets at www.victorianopera.com.au or by calling 1300 182 183.

REVIEW: Red Stitch Presents BELLEVILLE

Compelling theatre

By Narelle Wood

Belleville by Amy Herzog is a challenging play in that it explores a dysfunctional relationship in a witty, yet brutally honest and often harrowing, way.

Paul Ashcroft and Christina O'Neill in BELLEVILLE Photo Credit Jodie Hutchinson

The story follows a couple of days in the life of Zack (Paul Ashcroft) and Abby (Christina O’Neill), an American couple living and working in France. Apart from language and obvious cultural differences, Abby is still grieving her mother’s death and experiencing homesickness, while Zack is doing what ever he can to make ends meet and Abby happy. Pestered by his landlord Alioune (Renaud Momtbrun) and his wife Amina (Tariro Mavondo) for overdue rent, Zack finds himself more and more desperate to put his life and relationship back on track.

O’Neill and Ashcroft work perfectly together as they negotiate the emotional turmoil of their characters: from deep passion, to exasperation, tenderness, desperation, to outright hatred, these two actors depict it all with a disturbing realism that makes the play both riveting and difficult to watch. O’Neill’s portrayal of Abby is just as complex as her character’s slow mental decline and Ashcroft similarly presents Zack as a multidimensional character who is just as ingratiating as he is completely unappealing.

The Parisian apartment where the play is set is small, but director Denny Lawrence makes maximum use of the available space both on and off stage, with the bedroom and bathroom providing really clever opportunities for costume changes and storyline segues. The use of props, including their placement and movement to different areas of the stage, is very cleverly choreographed. However, what perhaps is the most impressive thing about Lawrence’s direction is the way he has dealt with and enabled the actors to deal with demanding themes and situations.

Although Belleville has some funny moments, it is not a play for escapism or one that will leave you feeling warm and fuzzy. Red Stitch’s latest production expertly provides a dose of relationship realism and is a resolute must-see if you like plays that are expertly staged with a quality script and excellent acting.

Venue: Red Stitch Theatre, 2 Chapel St, St Kilda
Season: Until 31st May, Wed-Fri 8pm, Sat 4pm and 8pm, Sun 6.30pm
Tickets: Full $39| Conc $20
Bookings: http://redstitch.net/bookings/

REVIEW: Red Stitch Presents STRAIGHT

Finding the comedy in modern relationships

By Myron My

The title of Red Stitch’s latest production Straight comes with a double meaning. It plays on the notion of being stuffy and predictable but also brings up questions about intimacy and sexuality between a group of late-twenty-somethings.

Straight

D. C. Moore’s fun script is strong and I had only a few quibbles with it. For example, the opening scene between Lewis and Morgan (Ryan Gibson and Rosie Lockhart) feels quite contrived and grated on my patience with the “cute and adorable” relationship speak. Fortunately, this issue is rarely repeated. There are a few instances where the story seems to slow down with some hedging preventing any progression, but when the audience is generally two steps ahead of what is on stage, sometimes it’s best to just get on with it.

However, Moore does exceptionally well in keeping the story and characters honest and grounded. It’s a topic that could easily end up becoming full of badly-made sex and porn jokes but there is real heart evident in all facets and throughout the comedy of Straight. This is mainly through the scenes with Waldorf (Ben Prendergast) and Lewis but the final scene between Morgan and Lewis is quite heartbreaking and touching.

Guest actor with Red Stitch, Gibson is perfectly cast as Lewis and plays his nuances and anxieties well. Christina O’Neill is a delight to watch as Steph, Waldorf’s Amy Winehouse-esque one-night stand. I would have liked to see more of her but Moore knows the story he wants to tell and sacrifices have to be made. Rounding out the talented ensemble were Lockhart and Prendergast who both do well with their roles. The cast excels in their English accents and they all remain natural and consistent with them throughout.

I’m generally not a fan of blackouts between scenes but in Straight they work effectively in keeping us engaged with the show. In particular, the set change from cramped living room to swanky hotel room is a spot of genius and you do not even notice the the time it takes to make the transformation.

Straight is an enjoyable show with some great performances and a script with plenty of moments that will have you laughing out loud.

Venue: Red Stitch Actors Theatre, 2 Chapel St, St. Kilda.

Season: Until 28 September | Wed- Sat 8:00pm, Sat 4:00pm, Sun 6:30pm

Tickets: $37 Full | $20-27 Conc

Bookings: http://redstitch.net

REVIEW: Victorian Opera’s SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE

Simply – see this

By Bradley Storer

Victorian Opera undertakes a gargantuan challenge, both technically and artistically, with their production of Stephen Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George.

SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE

This Pulitzer Prize-winning exploration of the life of French artist Georges Seurat and his painting ‘A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of la Grand Jatte’, and the life of his fictional descendants, indelibly changed the landscape of the Broadway musical when it premiered in 1984, and the shadow of the original production is hard to escape. An opera company attempting to mount the musical presents even more challenges, given the fundamental differences between the art forms.

I can happily say that Victorian Opera has risen to the challenge and exceeded it spectacularly. The set design alone, inherently important to the meaning of the show, is astonishing. A simple bare scaffold  and a winding staircase unfolds into a continual array of surprising and delightful scenes – trees, buildings, sketches and pieces of George’s work fly in and out, all contained within a frame that resembles the outline of an artwork.

Alexander Lewis as the artist Georges Seurat brings a humanity, vulnerability and anguish to the role, as well as a flawless operatic tenor voice – for this reviewer, he lacked the fire and intensity at times needed to believe him as a visionary artist, but this is a small complaint. Christina O’Neill as his lover Dot overplayed her sensuality and sexuality at the beginning to a strident degree, but in the character’s more reflective moments she was perfection, and as this quality became more pronounced over the course of the show O’Neill created a strong and heart-breaking character who, more so than even George, is the soul of the show.

Nancye Hayes as George’s mother is hilariously understated and her Act One duet with Lewis ravishes with its delicate loveliness. The ensemble of Sunday, a mix of musical theatre and opera singers, are uniformly strong, all bringing hilarious and touching characterizations . The finale of Act One, the culmination of George’s work in assembling his masterpiece, is a glorious tribute to the power of art to create meaning in the human condition.

Having attended a panel discussion with the artistic team for Sunday, it is clear that this is a labour of love from an ensemble of artists that have enormous respect for the work and a singular vision for its creation. Here this union creates a magnificent production, a stunning and original artistic vision expertly executed and a triumph for all involved.

Venue: The Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne, 100 St Kilda Rd

Dates:    Sat 20 , Tue 23, Wed 24, Thur 25, Fri 26, Sat 27 July at 7.30pm and Wed 24, Sat 27 July at 1:00pm

Bookings: www.artscentremelbourne.com, Ph: 1300 182 183