Tag: Jennifer Sarah Dean

Melbourne Shakespeare Company Presents MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING

Blithe, beguiling and fantastically fun

By Leeor Adar

Delivering yet another flamboyant jewel to the Shakespearean scene this summer, Melbourne Shakespeare Company (MSC) returns with Much Ado About Nothing.

Much Ado About Nothing

MSC manages to hook its audiences with its flair for performing some of the great comedies of Bill Shakespeare in a way that is totally enjoyable and easily accessible by audiences of today. So much of the work comes together due to its excellent direction from Jennifer Sarah Dean and her talented crew and ensemble cast.

The start of summer in Melbourne delivered some intense rainfall, and set in the beautiful rose garden of the St Kilda Botanic Gardens, the cast of Much Ado played on. We were thankfully housed under a marquee, but the cast’s professionalism through the occasional lashings of rain was commendable. With white frocks and florals a-plenty, the production was clearly set for warm days and balmy evenings. The use of the rose garden was artful for this production, and the creative use of space in the usual MSC style, was exceptional.

Much Ado is one of the more popular Shakespearean comedies, where the arrows and slings between leads Beatrice and Benedick, make for some enjoyable viewing. If you can get past the cruelty of Claudio’s treatment of Hero, it makes for a charmingly feather-light play.

Leading as Beatrice, Annabelle Tudor embodied the character’s classic snarky attitude and emotional range with humorous flair and passion. Tudor makes an excellent Beatrice, and her understanding of physical comedy (like much of the cast) is quality. As Beatrice’s counterpart Benedick, Fabio Motta gives a charming and delightfully warm performance, which is unusual for the Benedicks of productions past who often resort to snideness and arrogance to portray the character. The pair are supported by a fantastic cast, who perform in lively synchronicity with one another. Madeleine Mason made for a sweet Hero, the cool hippy vibe of the Friar played by Hunter Perske added another dimension to this enjoyable production, and everyone equally jumped in for solid performances and fun. May Jasper and Jonathan Peck were a satisfyingly slapstick pair as Dogberry and Verges, and Khisraw Jones-Shukoor was the definition of disco-sleaze as Don Pedro.

The musical element of this MSC performance was not the strongest, even where it definitely added to the comedy. Musical director Ben Adams, who directed an astonishingly fun and talented a cappella group in The Comedy of Errors in March this year, couldn’t quite get the performers to hit that mark this time with the evident exceptions of the delightful Nicola Bowman (Margaret) and Motta. The enthusiasm was there, but the quality of the musical talent did not match the excellent quality of the acting on this occasion.

A real highlight is Rhiannon Irving’s imaginative costume design, which once again adds a great deal to the delight of the performance. The choice of elegant white was utterly appropriate for the outdoor setting in summer, special mention must be made of the fascinating fascinators fashioned from CD’s, cassette tapes, and heat-affected records, and the consideration that went into Don Pedro’s flashing headgear was noted and greatly appreciated.

Despite the rain I really enjoyed myself, and have no doubt MSC’s future productions will continue to deliver.

You can catch MSC’s Much Ado About Nothing in the beautiful rose garden every weekend of December leading up to Christmas, 2pm and 7pm. For tickets visit: https://www.eventbrite.com.au/e/much-ado-about-nothing-by-melbourne-shakespeare-company-tickets-39610284427

Image by Burke Photography

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Australian Premiere of THE HAUNTING

Chilling visions of Dickens

By Owen James

A haunted, secluded mansion plagued by visitations from spectres and spirits is no new story, but remains irresistible to the creative mind. In The Haunting, writer/adaptor Hugh Janes has taken five short stories from the supernatural-obsessed Charles Dickens, and refashioned them into this two-handed drama-horror. This library of Dickens’ tales is aptly set inside a library, with the young book dealer David Filde cataloguing the books of Lord Gray, as a series of strange and unexplained events haunt the unsettled pair.

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As we enter the deceptively intimate Athenaeum, we are met with the beautiful set designed by John Kerr. There are dusty, cobwebbed never-ending shelves of the desolate and abandoned library, and a nightmarish tree beyond the window, eerily bare of leaves. This evocative, thematically overbearing Gothic mansion, like the play itself, conceals secrets in every nook and cranny, with intricate design and not a detail overlooked by Kerr.

With a sudden stab of sound and a dramatic dropping descent of lights, we are instantly transported to this haunted Victorian world crafted by director Jennifer Sarah Dean, where nothing and no-one can be trusted. We are hypnotically drawn slowly into the sceptical minds of our two characters, and lured into a false sense of security – the perfect victims for chills and jump-scares a plenty. While the first few of these were received with small bouts of laughter, the audience’s bemused titillation descended into audible gasps. Kyle Evans’ eerie sound design played perhaps the biggest part in this. Almost a whole other character, the sound effects and soundscape are perfectly effective and always precisely timed – but could afford to be louder. The walls of the haunted Athenaeum could shake and rattle a little more.

Duo Cameron Daddo and Gig Clarke build the tension and suspense necessary to pull off this piece, and clearly enjoy working with each other. Watching their combined terror mount with each heightened descent into the nocturnal haunted world invites us to join their trepidation and jolting surprise, being as much the victims of this haunting as they are.

Daddo does a commendable job presenting the cautious and austere Lord Gray as a man perturbed by compromise and change. As Gray moves from certainty to fear, building to hysterics, his counterpart takes an almost mirrored approach. Clarke as the seemingly tentative yet curious David Filde is a delight to watch, delivering the character and his stories with perfectly executed stress and anxiety – perhaps symbolising Dickens’ own obsession with the supernatural world.

Tehya Nicholas provides a chilling visual performance as Mary, hitting her marks to execute the well-timed moments of shock and intensity. Her ghastly costume by Rhiannon Irving appears always briefly, but memorably. Jason Bovaird’s chilling lighting reveals every darkened corner and cavity at just the right moment, and aptly focuses our attention when and where required. The warm sunlight and misty Gothic nighttime invoke diurnal safety and tense claustrophobia respectively, creating the ideal sinister aesthetic for the piece.

The tension built by the strong first act is unfortunately hindered by a weaker second act and anticlimactic ending. The strong performances and technical elements do their best to keep up, but ultimately we are left questioning how to feel for these characters, and where or with whom our sympathy should lie. The Haunting is a visually evocative and beautifully atmospheric piece that provides a wonderful ride, where it’s best to enjoy the journey but perhaps not the destination.

The Haunting haunts the Athenaeum Theatre until July 1st. Tickets through Ticketek: https://premier.ticketek.com.au/shows/show.aspx?sh=HAUNTEDD17

Photography by Nicole Riseley

Melbourne Shakespeare Company Presents THE COMEDY OF ERRORS

Faultless farce

By Leeor Adar

Shakespeare is reimagined in this marvellously funny production of the Melbourne Shakespeare Company. No one left Brunswick’s Siteworks where the production was held without having cackled with joy.

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Shakespeare’s comedies are at times something to be endured with gritted smiles at out-dated jokes that haven’t been reined in for their times, but director Jennifer Sarah Dean and assistant director Paul Robertson have masterfully done justice to the work.

The production follows the usual case of mistaken identity of two long-lost twin brothers (Nathaniel Schneider and Jonathan Peck) and their forlorn father (Hunter Perske). Throw in two tumbling manservants (Nicola Bowman and Madeleine Stewart), sisters of differing temperament (Jaqueline Whiting and Lelda Kapsis), a courtesan (Annabelle Tudor), and a magician-esque doctor (Bridget Sweeney), and you have a comedy of seismic proportions.

I rarely get the chance to commend a production for all its elements, but The Comedy of Errors is perfection. The cast delivered with humour and panache in such synchronicity that their talent coupled with the direction of the performance provided an unprecedented professionalism (other companies should take note). Costuming by Rhiannon Irving was unique, colourful and striking. Each cast member donned a wig, which appeared to be put together by some seriously talented arts-and-craft person. A special mention must be made to the costuming of the a capella group (Andrew Isles, Ryan Smedley, Mitch Ralston and Patrick Hill), who sported brightly-coloured stripes and matching beards and lipstick. Irving’s creation was so imaginative and charming, the entrance of each character brought more marvels to admire.

Musical director Ben Adams concocted a mix of delightful old and new-school tunes for the a capella group to perform at opportune moments of the show. At times our quartet would enter from an unsuspecting part of the outdoor setting with a flourish and in unison, that would send the audience into fits of laughter. It was a modern touch that provided plenty of entertainment throughout the show. Further, the choice and use of Siteworks’ outdoor space from varying entrances, exits and positions made for an excellent and surprising use of space. The cast of characters had full use of the performance arena, and as an audience, we would shift our heads in wonder at all the happenings around us.

Overall, I am absolutely thrilled with the choices made in this production at every level. I would happily sit through the performance again and cart out every person I know in what would surely be a lively and enjoyable night.

The Comedy of Errors was performed March 25 – April 2, 2017. For upcoming productions, visit https://www.melbourneshakespeare.com/

Play Dead Theatre Presents TAPE

Close and claustrophobic thriller leaves nowhere to hide

By Amy Planner

Tape is a psychosomatic spectacle that pushes the boundaries of friendship and discovers there is always more than one truth when it comes to the past. Filled with about as much psychological drama as one hour can handle, Stephen Belber‘s one-act play throws you in the deep end and doesn’t apologise.

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Set in a cheap motel room in Michigan, Tape examines the dramatic reunion of three high-school friends as they cross paths and reminisce about the seemingly unfortunate past. Vince is the drug-pushing truth-seeker with a broken heart; Jon, the moral filmmaker with an ostensibly immoral history; and Amy, the high-powered attorney with no time for games – well, mostly. When these high-school chums are reunited, their memories of the past collide as they struggle with that ever-illusive truth.

Stephen Belber deserves such supremely high praise for his hauntingly real dialogue and uncanny knack for saying just enough. In a play that is so well-paced and fraught with such naturalistic dialogue, the actors were set a difficult task and they smashed it all the way down Errol Street.

Adam Hetherington held Jon to the stern and initially unwavering brutality that he deserved and then fell so far into the character that his eventual unravelling was strikingly lifelike. Michael Mack, producer and lead actor as Vince, was fantastically unsettling – that’s a good thing, I promise. He transitioned seamlessly from the witty-tongued best bud in to a hyper-anxious cokehead with a point to prove. As Amy, Hester Van Der Vyver was a understated comparison at first but grew in to a subtle, almost psychotic player in this emotionally destructive warzone.

This small cast reached in to the most deep-seated corners of their psyches and what came out of it was a truly enthralling performance with so much depth, it barely seemed like a play: rather, an eavesdrop on a vivid intimate conversation.

The only brief lapsing moment came during the fight scene; slightly clumsy wrestling  proved a little too lumbering for the intimate space. However, there was a well-timed hint of comedic relief with a sort of pillow fight in the middle. But the actors and director, Jennifer Sarah Dean, should still be commended on the literal hard-hitting moments that were far too real to not leave a mark.

On entering the intimate, converted hotel room, the set seemed a little dated; however, as the play indicated, the realisation of cheap urban accommodation meant it couldn’t have been more fitting or well put together by set designer Aline Brugel.

Tape’s heaving hour of dramatic warfare doesn’t spare a moment and will have you encapsulated in its intimate intensity for every second; it is a truly unique and powerful production with talent oozing from the walls.

SHOW DETAILS

Venue: The Court House Hotel, 86-90 Errol Street, North Melbourne

Season: April 27th – May 7th. Wed-Thurs 7.30pm, Fri-Sat 8.00pm

Tickets: $25 Adult, $22 Concession

Bookings: www.playdead.com.au

Melbourne Shakespeare Company’s A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM

Thoroughly won over

By Caitlin McGrane

A Midsummer Night’s Dream was the first Shakespeare play I studied at school, and thus while it holds a special place in my heart, certain scenes are forever etched into my memory. As the Melbourne Shakespeare Company’s production got underway, I was sceptical whether the blend of contemporary music and iambic pentameter were going to be a match. I needn’t have worried, as the performance rolled steadily onwards, and the actors became more comfortable in their roles, I felt completely at ease with the way the story was being told; the audience was in safe hands.

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For the uninitiated, the play entwines the stories of two groups; the Lovers: Hermia (Christina Forrest) and Lysander (Khrisraw Jones-Shukoor), Helena (Alisha Eddy) and Demetrius (Charlie Sturgeon); and the Players: Bottom (Johnathan Peck), Flute (John Reed), Quince (Ben Frank Adams), Snout (Ben Noel Adams), Snug (Nick Murphy) and Starvelling (Myles Tankle).

Hermia and Lysander are forbidden to wed, so flee Athens, hotly pursued by Helena and Demetrius. While fleeing they wander into a forest bewitched by faerie King Oberon (Steven Fleiner) and Queen Titania (Angela Lumicisi), with help from mischievous Puck (Paul Robertson). There’s magic potions, asses heads and lots of shouting about love as the magical beings play with the lives of the mere mortals, meanwhile the players are rehearsing the play Pyramus and Thisbe to perform at Theseus (Karl Sarsfield) and Hippolyta’s (Madi Lee) wedding. Confused yet? You should be.

As an ensemble the cast was great, I was initially wary of the players’ boisterous gallivanting and gadding about, but by the end of their first proper scene together I couldn’t wait for them to reappear. I was particular impressed by Johnathan Peck’s unique and profoundly physical take on Bottom as a sympathetic but emotionally fragile simpleton, and I need a GIF of him performing the death scene from Pyramus and Thisbe to play on a loop at my funeral; I laughed so much I cried and am still laughing thinking about it now. Christina Forrest’s Hermia was similarly energetic and gravity-defying, which helped prevent the inherently dialogue-heavy play from getting bogged down in its own trickery.

I enjoyed the silly playfulness that director Jennifer Sarah Dean has brought to the play, although moments of the Pyramus and Thisbe performance would benefit from tightening to avoid relying too heavily on slapstick. Designer Simon Bowland has done an excellent job with costumes and make-up (faeries looked suitably bedazzled), but it did look like Oberon had wandered out on stage in his dressing gown and slippers and didn’t quite match the majesty of Titania – if this was a deliberate move then I’m afraid it was lost on me. Save for a few moments where the play sagged towards the end after all the frenetic activity, it was thoroughly good fun.

Beautifully nestled in Testing Grounds just behind the Arts Centre, City Road and the Southbank apartments provided a peculiarly complementary backdrop for this contemporary adaptation of a true classic.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is playing at Testing Grounds twice each day on 26 and 27 March 2016. Tickets available from: http://www.testing-grounds.com.au/calendar?view=calendar&month=March-2016