Tag: Clare Springett

Red Stitch Presents RULES FOR LIVING

Uproariously funny

By Caitlin McGrane

As the audience walked into the theatre on the opening night of Red Stitch’s new production Rules for Living, I was feeling slightly apprehensive. There’s something about the idea of a play about families at Christmas that can make even the most hardy feel slightly uneasy, like it all the potential to go horrifically, horribly wrong. And, indeed, it does; but I have honestly never laughed so much at a piece of theatre in all my life.

Rules for Living.jpg

The script for Rules for Living is sharp in a way that sometimes beggars belief – the cast and crew are so tight, they have their finger held so firmly on the pulse of playwright Sam Holcroft’s wonderful script that at times I thought they might be ad-libbing. The story is of a British family at Christmas: they’re dysfunctional in a recognisably empathetic way, oozing with pathos, and steering pretty well clear of the ‘wacky family does Christmas’ tropes we’ve all seen 8000 times before.

There’s brothers Matthew, (the always wonderful Rory Kelly) a charming/horrific liar and Adam (Mark Dickinson) who’s almost pathologically unable or unwilling to show weakness. Then there’s their mother the neurotic pill-popping matriarch, Edith (Caroline Lee), and Adam’s deeply tragic alcoholic wife Sheena (Jessica Clarke); but for my money the standout performer was Jem Nicholas as Matthew’s actress-cum-comedienne girlfriend, Carrie. Nicholas carries so many of the scenes, she’s truly the life and soul of the ensemble; there are times when I longed for her to return to the stage so I could see what this magnificent incarnation of the ‘Essex girl’ would do next. Ella Newton has a minor role as Adam and Sheena’s daughter Emma, and Ian Rooney makes an appearance as Matthew and Adam’s wheelchair-bound father Francis, an utterly detestable man who leers over women, and shouts ‘fuck off’ at his wife Edith; confused he may be, but without sense he is not.

The behaviour of all three men on stage gets to the very heart of what I loved so much about this play – the women. All the characters all abide by ‘rules’ for how they live their lives but the women have to constantly put up with so much deplorable behaviour from their partners that it’s no wonder they retreat into alcohol, drugs, and playing the clown. The male characters in this play are deeply funny, but they’re also awful, recognisably awful in a way that’s almost frighteningly realistic. The women on the other hand are by no means flawless, sometimes almost cruel, but it seemed to me they’d been conditioned into it, their actions a way of coping with the men in their lives.

Director Kim Farrant has done a magnificent job with this work, and the play hangs together like a carefully-placed bauble on a Christmas tree – balancing just the right amounts of humour and tragedy across the two acts. The only thing I think that could have really improved it was a reduction in length – the 2.5 hour running time was probably too much, and there were scenes that could have been cut down slightly just to keep the pace up.

Sets and costumes (Sophie Woodward) worked wonderfully: almost too well, as there were moments when it was like being at my nan’s for Christmas; lighting (Clare Springett) and sound design (Daniel Nixon) really enhanced the play’s mood, and created just the right slightly tense atmosphere round the kitchen table.

Overall I don’t think I could speak highly enough of this production, it is another Red Stitch triumph where a clear, clever, well-constructed script together with a strong, dynamic cast brings so much joy, good cheer and a huge dose of fun. Go and see this play.

Rules for Living is now on at Red Stitch until 16 April as a part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. For more information and tickets visit: http://redstitch.net/gallery/rules-for-living

Image by Teresa Noble

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

REVIEW: Red Stitch Presents THE RITUAL SLAUGHTER OF GORGE MASTROMAS

The evils of success

By Caitlin McGrane

The opening of this interesting postmodern production is explicit in its scene setting: the five members of the ensemble cast explain the circumstances of Gorge Mastromas’ conception, birth and childhood. It is immediately apparent that this will be a performance that will both show and tell its protagonist’s story. Written by Dennis Kelly, the Australian premier of The Ritual Slaughter of Gorge Mastromas is well executed by director Mark Wilson; the staging is highly stylistic and minimalist – sleek, sharp lines frame the performance space and projectors are gainfully employed to immerse the audience in Wilson’s vision.

The Ritual Slaughter of Gorge Mastromas

Initially Gorge, excellently played by Richard Cawthorne, is unassuming and almost unbearably feckless. Then, after a particularly tense business deal, Gorge’s temperament changes; he becomes convinced that the only way to succeed is to live by three rules, all of which revolve around lying. The rest of the play unfurls while Gorge’s morals crumble and dissolve as he manipulates his way to personal and financial success.

The rest of the cast beautifully bring to life this darkly comic morality tale; Jordan Fraser-Trumble, Olga Makeeva and Dion Mills inject so much humour into the narration that the exposition rarely feels unnecessary or laborious. However, there are certainly moments where the play drags, particularly in the second act. The first travels at such a cracking pace that it was surprising over an hour had passed since we first entered the theatre; but this was sadly not repeated in the second act. This lack of continuity was distracting, yet the performance was saved by the strength of the script, and the combination of lighting (Clare Springett), sound and video design (Robert D Jordan). Red Stitch’s small performance space has been well utilised by stage manager Melissa Place.

There are some very, very dark themes in this play: scenes of suicide and child abuse, scenes with blood and implied violence. Never gratuitous, it wasn’t until the end of some scenes that I noticed my hands had formed tight fists. And that’s how I felt when I left the theatre, like I had been hit by a well-placed, well-timed punch to the gut.

The Ritual Slaughter of Gorge Mastromas is showing at Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre until 7 March 2015. Tickets are $20-$39 available here: http://redstitch.net/bookings/.

Photo credit: Jodie Hutchinson

REVIEW: Red Stitch Presents JUMPERS FOR GOALPOSTS

An utter delight

By Caitlin McGrane

It’s not often one sees a play (or a film, or a TV show) where a straight white man is considered tokenistic: Jumpers for Goalposts gives us that and so much more. Director Tom Healey expertly presents Tom Wells’ sharp, sensitive and uproariously funny script. It tells the story of a five-a-side gay, lesbian and transgender football tournament in Hull as one team, the Barely Athletic, attempt to win/come second/come third/have a team at all.

The team consists of Beardy (Ray Chong Nee), Viv (Kate Cole), Danny (Johnathan Peck), Luke (Rory Kelly) and Joe (Paul Denny). The development and story arc of each character is equal parts witty and poignant. Each performer steps up to and meets the mark with buckets of humour, despite the heaviness of the themes.

2014 Jumpers for goalposts It’s extraordinarily rare that HIV, death and sexuality can be dealt with so clearly without anyone really uttering any of those words. In addition, the diversity on stage is a marked change from the endless parade of straight white male narratives to which we are all so accustomed; Beardy got all the best lines and Joe was almost relegated to the sidelines (puns intended).

The set and costumes designed by Jacob Battista were fantastic – the locker room in which the entire play takes place really belonged on a dodgy estate in England’s northeast. Lighting designed by Clare Springett strategically washed out the stage and gave the performers the sickly fluorescent sheen of a team worn out. Healey’s directorial vision and the efforts of stage manager Rebekah Gibbs are definitely something to write home about as the whole show (some slightly dodgy pronunciation aside) hung together flawlessly . This is a thoroughly enjoyable and truly romantic production: I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Jumpers for Goalposts is now showing at the Red Stitch Actors Theatre on Chapel St in St Kilda until 20 December. Tickets available at: http://redstitch.net/gallery/jumpers-for-goalposts/.