Tag: Ian Rooney

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

REVIEW: Barry Lowe’s THE DEATH OF PETER PAN

Boyish bildungsroman and lingering love story

By Myron My

Barry Lowe’s The Death of Peter Pan is a tragic and beautiful story of growing up and becoming a man. Set during the 1920’s, it follows the life of Michael Llewelyn-Davies – the adopted (and favourite) son of Peter Pan author, James Barrie – and his chance encounter with fellow student Rupert Buxton.

Death of Peter Pan Photo credit - MarcOpitz

Kieran McShane and Jordan Armstrong do a flawless job as the two protagonists, Michael and Rupert respectively. Rupert’s arrogance and brashness is a perfect contrast to Michael’s ambivalence and fear of what is happening, and this dynamic ultimately leads to a first kiss, first love and first heartbreak for Michael. There are some strong relationship-defining moments on stage, including the scene at the Parisian whorehouse and Michael’s swimming lesson. The affection and tenderness between the characters has a heartfelt authenticity, and this is mainly due to the talents of these two performers.

The two are supported by a more-than-capable ensemble cast including Sean Paisley Collins as Roger Senhouse, Michael’s flirtatious college friend. Collins is superb in his role: not overdone and revealing a serious and sensitive side that (when it does come to the surface) leaves quite an impact. Similarly, Ian Rooney’s J.M. Barrie is impressive as he plays out the nuances of a man still trying to live in his own Peter Pan moment.

Robert Chuter returns to the Chapel to direct The Death of Peter Pan and his focus on and image of this production is breathtaking. He has put together a very fine cast and crew, including costume designer Elissa Hullah and hair and make-up artist Rebecca Vaughan whose efforts warrant particular mention. The show does use blackouts between scenes and although I am not generally a fan of these visual interruptions, the haunting musical score by Andrew Bishop was able to keep us utterly absorbed in the moment.

The Death of Peter Pan is Australian theatre at its unrivaled best. It’s always a joy to be enveloped by a production that has brought everything so seamlessly together and its effects will still be felt long after having seen it.

Venue: Chapel Off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel St, Prahran

Season: Until 2 June | Wed-Sat 8:00pm, Sun 6:30pm

Tickets: $30 Full | $28 Conc

Bookings: www.chapeloffchapel.com.au or 8290 7000

Review: OBSERVE THE SONS OF ULSTER MARCHING TOWARDS THE SOMME

A brave war effort in theatre

By Anastasia Russell-Head

This new Melbourne production of Frank McGuinness’ iconic play Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme visually transports us to another place and time.

From the moment we entered the theatre space at the Brunswick Mechanics’ Institute and were confronted with a mist-shrouded cross-shaped catwalk-style stage, the somber palette and earthy textures of World War I set the mood very effectively.

Telling the story of eight young Northern Irish soldiers who are thrown together by circumstance, and who must navigate their own fears and prejudices, this play is compelling in its subject-matter but yet left me strangely unsatisfied. There were some fine performances from the ensemble cast, who bravely took up the challenge of the Irish accents, and Dan Walls is to be commended for his portrayal of the subversive Kenneth Pyper. Nicholas Brien also showed depth and sensitivity as the young blacksmith David Craig.

The play itself is a little heavy-handed – as The Guardian’s Michael Billington writes, McGuinness puts an “excessive emphasis on an apparent Ulster death-wish”. The shortcomings in the script, coupled with perhaps some lack of subtlety in direction, prevented this story from fulfilling its potential to be truly moving. Lighter comedic moments really hit the mark, however, evoking genuine laughs from the audience, and providing a bitter-sweet counterpoint to the main plot.

Visually and spatially this production is quite successful. Having the audience in the round gives visual depth and interesting angles from which to view the action, and I enjoyed the surprising moments of intimacy which this offered. This stage layout is of course much more challenging for sight lines and lighting – a challenge that was generally met very well.

Hoy Polloy has taken the challenge of a tough ensemble play – a work not without its flaws – and has produced a solid production supported by an excellent cast of young actors. If you want to see the next generation of leading men strut their stuff, this is the show to see.

Featuring: Nicholas Brien, Angus Brown, Karl Cottee, Kevin Dee, Mathew Gelsumini, Tosh Greenslade, David Passmore, Ian Rooney & Dan Walls

Season runs until 13 August, 8pm Tue to Sat

Mechanics Institute Performing Arts Centre (cnr Sydney & Glenlyon Rd, Brunswick)

$30 /$24/$20 Tue

Bookings www.trybooking.com

 Enquiries 9005 6734