Tag: Gary Abrahams

A Dirty Pretty Theatre and Critical Stages Productions Presents THERESE RAQUIN

A dark tale revealed

By Leeor Adar

The audience’s lust for work exposing the underbelly of human desire and vengeance never ceases, and gothic masterpieces always manage to spook and lure audiences centuries after their first public entrance. A great practitioner of literary naturalism, Émile Zola’s Thérèse Raquin finds itself dealt a supernatural twist in the hands of director and adaptor Gary Abrahams for theatre company A Dirty Pretty Theatre. Abrahams has not disposed of the elegance of late 1800s Paris, as his set designer Jacob Battista and costume designer Chloe Greaves journey back in time with him.

Therese Raquin

Thérèse Raquin follows the tragedy of a small family moving to Paris for a new start to invigorate the sickly Camille (Andre Jewson). Trapped under the weight of wifely servitude is the beautiful Thérèse (Jessica Clarke), oscillating between wistful gazing and the swift practiced movements of someone wanting to shatter her proverbial glass cage. The delightful little family is threatened by vagabond artist, Laurent (James O’Connell), whose presence gleefully brutalises the now excitable Camille and stirs up the most carnal of longings in Thérèse – both of whom are desperately seeking something that helps them forget themselves. The lust overcoming the characters climaxes in a brutal killing: cue the total disintegration of the survivors’ sense of sanity in a manner that Shakespeare himself would admire.

In this production, projection was a difficulty for some of the actors, particularly Clarke whose voice strained into hoarseness, but this could be due to the total submersion into a desperate Thérèse. Clarke’s performance certainly conveyed the desperation of her character potently, and O’Connell’s Laurent was suitably dangerous. Overall, the performances throughout were strong: notably Suzanne as played by Emily Milledge had the captivating ability to take us far away from the gloom of the room in her girlish rants about a phantom lover. Keeping the pace of the production was the composition and music of Christopher De Groot, whose score injected a sense of melancholy to the production.

Tragically, some very dramatic moments were thrown askew on the night I attended by the curtain falling upon a poorly-placed table and a flower crown that was swept about underneath the gowns of the actresses. The audience’s occasional laughter was perhaps a welcome distraction from the gloom of the tale before us – but at times, in Zola’s land of naturalism, such misadventures cannot be helped.

Abrahams’ production ultimately aimed for high drama, but unfortunately came across as pure melodrama with too many distractions. I admittedly enjoyed the gothic horror elements that snuck up on us, but feel these could easily have been dispensed with for the subtlety Zola’s text warranted.

This gothic drama was performed at the beautiful National Theatre in St Kilda from 31 May – 1 June.

Image by Sarah Walker

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Paul Capsis in RESIDENT ALIEN

Superb sojourn in the life of a legend

By Joana Simmons

“If I have any talent at all, it is not for doing but for being.”

Resident Alien, presented by Cameron Lukey, is a thought-provoking look at English writer and raconteur Quentin Crisp. The seasoned and critically-acclaimed Paul Capsis embodies this textured effeminate character and has the audience swept up as he recounts stories and moments from his fascinating life.

Resident Alien Photo Credit Sarah Walker.jpg

Quentin Crisp was a self-described flamboyant homosexual.  He’s a man who defied convention by criticising Gay liberation and Diana, Princess of Wales. At a time when homosexuality was illegal, Crisp remained true to himself and expressed himself by dying his long hair lavender, wearing nail polish, and dressing in an often androgynous style. Despite the ridicule and violence often directed toward him, Crisp carried on, meeting hostility with wit. When he tried to join the army with the outbreak of World War he was rejected by the medical board, who determined that he was suffering from sexual perversion.  Instead, Crisp remained in London and entertained the American GIs, whose friendliness inculcated a love for Americans and he moved to Manhattan in 1981, when he was 72 years old. Crisp continued to tour, write, and lecture; including instructions on how to live life with style and the importance of manners.

The play by Tim Fountain picks up in Quentin’s dusty single-room Manhattan apartment, littered with books and dirty plates, where Crisp speaks to the audience as he prepares to be visited by Mr Brown and Mr Black.  His monologue moves naturally and conversationally through a plethora of opinions and anecdotes, from the mundane to the ones that strike a chord in your heart and get your brain spinning. Paul Capsis is outstanding in this role. Each single look and mannerism is captivating and his skillful delivery of the wordy and lengthy script is astonishing.

Director Gary Abrahams has helped construct a theatre piece that gives you more than something to sink your teeth into- it’s a piece of theatre that needs to sink in. To be able to stage one man’s story and views and have it make us reflect on our own whilst still being entertaining is true craftsmanship. Romaine Harper’s costume and set design gives immediate depth and background to this interesting person as the Fortyfivedownstairs performance space is transformed into Crisp’s apartment, cleverly lit by lighting designer Rob Sowinski and all accompanied by Daniel Nixon’s sound design.  You can tell the production is high-calibre and many hours have been spent on tying everything into one professional and glamorous bow.

Sometimes we go to the theatre to laugh, sometimes we go to cry, sometimes we go to forget about our own lives and live in a different world for a moment in time. Resident Alien gives us all these things. It’s remarkable, it’s memorable and it’s still got me reflecting now. If you go to the theatre and you enjoyed yourself, that’s great. If you go to the theatre and it makes you question yourself, that’s art.  Congratulations to all the creatives involved for producing such a high-class production.

Venue: fortyfivedownstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, CBD

Season:Until June 12 2016

Bookings: http://www.fortyfivedownstairs.com/wp2016/event/resident-alien/2016-05-25/

Image by Sarah Walker

REVIEW: MTC Presents BUYER AND CELLAR

Here’s what Barbra keeps in her basement…

By Caitlin McGrane

As the house lights dimmed inside the Fairfax Theatre at the Arts Centre, I leaned over to my mother and whispered, ‘I don’t know anything about Barbra Streisand.’ This remains true, but I am now certainly informed about her basement. As Alex (Ash Flanders) recounts his fictional employment in Barbra Streisand’s basement shopping mall it was thrilling to revel in the affection that playwright Jonathan Tolins clearly has for the superstar singer. The play was warm, heartfelt and gregarious in all the right ways.

Buyer and Cellar

The play opens with Ash giving a brief introduction to the audience about the book that inspired the play (My Passion for Design by Barbra Streisand) and about how Streisand built a shopping mall in the basement of her Malibu home. Ash then becomes Alex and tells the wickedly funny story of how he moved from Disneyland to Streisand, and how Alex’s relationship with his boyfriend Barry is affected by the new job. It’s a true one-man show, and Flanders did a spectacular job of moving seamlessly between the characters with their idiosyncratic accents and mannerisms. As I stated before, I don’t know anything about Barbra Streisand, but Flanders’ impression of her softly lilting voice and affected mannerisms were outrageously funny.

For the most part the play had me in stitches, however, there were several LA references that went completely over my head and it seemed, much of the rest of audience’s as well. This has nothing to do with the delivery, just that the play was written about a particular place with which a local audience is not necessarily familiar. The saturation of American culture certainly helped contextualise the jokes, but specific references to freeways were always going to go over most of our heads. (I would love to see if something similar could be written about Melbourne; maybe Geoffrey Rush has a Pirates of the Caribbean set up in his garage, I don’t know.)

There is clearly so much passion and fondness for Streisand in the script; director Gary Abrahams has ensured the barbs (pardon the pun) are handled just right – carefully toeing that difficult line between gently mocking and barbarous (I’m sorry I can’t stop). Adam Gardnir simply and effectively designed the sets and costumes; while Rachel Burke’s lighting design was beautiful. For a play about such a massively successful musician, there wasn’t much music, however The Sweats’ composition and sound design carefully adorned and enhanced the performance. Finally, Flanders’ numerous accents were so accurate, that it would be deeply remiss not to mention voice and dialogue coach Suzanne Heywood who has clearly done a marvellous job.

It can make me wary when it looks like the cast and crew of a production have had lots of fun assembling and crafting their work, but in this case it was really joyous to see. Buyer and Cellar demonstrates how reverence can work well alongside gentle teasing, especially if the butt of your jokes is a multimillionaire who really does have a shopping mall in her basement.

Buyer and Cellar is showing at the Fairfax Theatre at the Arts Centre until 12 December. Tickets from: http://www.mtc.com.au/plays-and-tickets/mainstage-2015/buyer-and-cellar/

REVIEW: Joshua Harmon’s BAD JEWS

Strong performances and serious laughs

By Myron My

Already a hit on Broadway and the West End, Joshua Harmon’s Bad Jews has crossed continents for its Australian premiere. The “bad Jews” here are three family members, siblings Jonah and Liam, and their cousin Diana (who prefers to be called by her Hebrew name Daphna) who have come together for the funeral of their grandfather. Over the course of the evening, their relationships, cultural identity, class and life are all explored, often with hilarious results.

Bad Jews Photo_Credit Jeff Busby

Daphna (Maria Angelico) is not concerned with any form of financial gain from her late grandfather, and all she requests from her cousins (Simon Corfield and Matt Whitty) is her grandfather’s “chai”, a gold ring that represents his soul and that he had since he was a child. While this “simple” request soon creates much tension for the three, it creates an equal amount of laughs for us.

Director Gary Abrahams’ exhaustive casting search has more than paid off with the actors he has chosen. Angelico is definitely a find as Daphna, who, despite playing a character that can be abrupt and hostile towards anyone “different”, still manages to show the vulnerability that is hiding under Daphna’s strong cultural and religious ideals. However, it is Corfield as the arrogant and self-entitled Liam who remains the star of Bad Jews. The antithesis of Daphna, he is not a follower of the faith and nor does he have the strong connection to family that his cousin does. Corfield does such a phenomenal job with his portrayal that I actually hated seeing his character on stage and really wished he would shut his mouth every time he spoke. Everything about Liam; the way he speaks, the way he stands, the way he moves, is all powerfully convincing as a privileged, upper-class white man.

Anna Burgess as Liam’s girlfriend, Melody, brings an innocence to the show and some brilliant comic relief, with one memorable scene in particular being a highlight of Bad Jews. It’s perhaps because of these three strong characters that Whitty’s Jonah unfortunately left little impression as scenes involving the character usually had him doing nothing more than standing around with an exasperated look on his face. I’ve seen Whitty perform before and he is assuredly a good actor but unfortunately the character needed to have a stronger presence if he was going to compete against the likes of Daphna, Liam and Melody.

Despite the one-act play taking place entirely in a studio apartment, Abrahams ensures that the pacing never drags or falters. His use of the space and a mixture of verbal as well as physical comedy ensures our attention is always on the stage.

Ultimately none of the characters are actually very nice people and we are left wondering who exactly is the “bad” Jew and who is the rightful heir to the “chai”. Even with a few ‘rants’ that went on for too long, Harmon’s script is a clever and well-observed character study on what makes us ‘us’, and with the talented group of actors on board, this is a production that makes for an enjoyable and entertaining night out.

Venue: Alex Theatre, 135 Fitzroy St, St Kilda
Season: Extended until 19 September | Tues-Sat 8.00pm, Sat 2pm, Sun 3pm
Tickets: Between $40 – $55
Bookings:  Alex Theatre

Image by Jeff Busby