Tag: Joanna Murray-Smith

Melbourne Fringe 2016: BOMBSHELLS

Impressive performances of women on the verge

By Margaret Wieringa

Down a few side streets in Brunswick in an art space called Wick Studios, ROARE Productions are staging the classic Australian play Bombshells by Joanna Murray-Smith for this year’s Melbourne Fringe Festival. The work is a series of six monologues from women pushed to the edge, and Kaarin Fairfax has directed this group of six young performers to find interesting and different interpretations of the collection of characters

Bombshells.jpg

The show starts strongly with Ruby Swann playing Meryl Louise Davenport, the young mum struggling through the constant, frenetic monologue, judging herself and comparing herself to everyone around her. It’s such a bittersweet, tragic and yet very hilarious piece and Swann balanced the humour and pathos beautifully – in a magnificent white jumpsuit, and literally at the end of her rope.

Next, Ruby Duncan was Tiggy Entwhistle, a recently separated woman who is discussing how succulents changed her life. Duncan’s performance was extremely still and monotonic throughout, which was both a strength and a weakness- it gave the writing a far deeper sense of pain, but at times, missed the humour. Certainly, it was a strong performance from Duncan in an unexpected interpretation of the piece.

The first act finished on Anjelica Angwin’s school talent performance as Mary O’Donnell. We’ve all known these young, extremely self-confident teens who are ready to take on the world of the stage. Perhaps we may have even been her… Angwin captured the arrogance and outrage of the teen performer beautifully. And her dance number was delightful.

Returning from interval we meet Theresa McTerry, portrayed by Emily Riley. Starting on stage dancing in her underwear and drinking champagne, we watch Riley go through a wide variety of emotions as she ends up in a magnificently large wedding dress marrying Ted. As the character became more and more overwhelmed by the day, Riley’s performance became bigger and louder and funnier and more tragic, as needed.

Angie Glavas played Winsome Webster, the button-down widow who has seemingly settled into a pattern that will last the rest of her life. It’s always difficult to have actors play characters so distant in age from themselves, and while it was impossible to ignore that I was watching a young performer, she had a weight to her voice, a pacing and a pitch that conveyed an older character. Glavas was able to do real credit to the humour of the writing with her performance – giving a sense of upright respectability with the occasional naughty wink.

The show ends with a showstopper – travelling Vegas-style singer Zoe Struthers played by Olivia Ramsay. I found this monologue felt somewhat out of place, as all previous five are relatively normal, everyday characters but Struthers is extreme – and Ramsay played it to absolute extreme, with smeared make-up and cartoon-like facial expressions. Possibly some of the potential tragedy of this character may have been lost through the melodrama of the performance, but it also was hindered by some technical issues. Unfortunately during the performance there were several technical cues missed which did slow the flow somewhat, but I am sure that they will be sorted as the season progresses.

There are a lot of choices at Fringe time, but if you are interested in checking out the work of some raw young talent, get yourself to Wick Studios for Bombshells.

Bombshells is playing in Studio A at Wick Studios, 23-25 Leslie St, Brunswick

Monday-Sunday at 7:30 and Sat-Sun Matinees 1:30 September 22-27

Tickets are available through melbournefringe.com.au

Preview $20, Full $25, Conc. $25 Cheap Tuesday $15

REVIEW: Bernadette Robinson in PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE

Gripping, glamorous, and remarkably funny

By Narelle Wood

When I read the release for this, it sounded to me like The West Wing crossed with a musical, which would be awesome. But what the collaboration of playwright Joanna Murray-Smith, director Simon Phillips and actor Bernadette Robinson accomplished in Pennsylvania Avenue was something far better than I could have ever imagined – and my expectations were pretty high.

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Set in the Blue Room of the White House, famously directed by Jackie Kennedy, Harper Clare Clements (Robinson) takes us through her 40-year journey working in the entertainment department. This fictitious character, Harper, laments her personal narrative, interspersed with stories of musical greats whose performances are as much entrenched in the history of the White House as the ‘great’ men who held office. The tails begin with Marilyn Monroe and the Kennedy era and meanders all the way through to the Clintons and Aretha Franklin, all the while Clements describing her part in the musical as well as the political history.

Clement offers a unique and intriguing perspective of the power, privilege and unexpected perks of working adjacent to the Oval Office. And while Clement’s haunting past often acts as a conduit for the music, moments of political struggle and significance are also captured in dialogue and song: JFk’s assassination, the civil rights movement and the Vietnam war, to name but a few.

Anyone could be forgiven for thinking Harper Clare Clement and her exploits to be true. The story is so compelling and plausible: the historic events are portrayed so accurately and Clement’s tale seems an all-too-familiar one in an era that placed such little value on a woman’s voice. The movement of narrative from the ordinary, tragic, and joyous to the extraordinary would perhaps in other setting be unbelievable, but in The White House, anything seems possible. The plausibility is further facilitated by an array of still photographs that appear in the background, capturing and reinforcing the narrative as it moves along. But ultimately the believability factor must be contributed to the combination of Murray-Smith’s punchy writing, Phillip’s direction and Robinson’s embodiment of every character she plays. So accurate is Robinson’s mimicry in both voice and movement of the great musicians that after a Sarah Vaughan number the band broke into applause.

This production deserves every accolade it receives and more. Laugh-out-loud funny, charming and heartrending, Pennsylvania Avenue has all the ingredients for a killer political drama with a killer soundtrack to boot.

Venue: Playhouse, The Arts Centre, Melbourne
Season: Until 14th February, Tue – Thu 7.30pm, Fri – Sat 8pm, Wed & Sat 2pm, Sun 5pm
Tickets: From $65
Bookings: artscentremelbourne.com.au/whats-on/musicals/pennsylvania-avenue

REVIEW: Malthouse Theatre and BOMBSHELLS

90 minutes. Six women. One actress. No holding back.
By Bradley Storer
Joanna Murray-Smith’s Bombshells, now playing at the Malthouse Theatre, is a theatrical tour de force for the right actress. Six monologues about women of differing locations, ages and personalities, all strung together by the thematic concept of being ‘close to the edge’. Each one is a different set of challenges with the star never leaving the stage (and often barely stopping talking), demanding Herculean stamina and focus from the lead actress.
Bombshells
Luckily, actress Christen O’Leary is more than up to the task, tackling the role from the very beginning with gusto. The first character Meryl, a beleaguered housewife and mother of three, is a whirlwind of frenetic energy, beset by constant anxiety and the never-ending problems of a modern day mother. O’Leary never pauses for a moment, either physically or vocally, drawing both big laughs and eventually great sympathy from Meryl’s trials.
O’Leary individuates all six characters with fantastic vocal and physical choices, embodying each woman with complete authenticity, whether it be an elderly British cactus enthusiast, a boisterous bogan bride-to-be, or an attention-seeking Toorak schoolgirl. The reoccurring flash of a camera reiterates the ‘snapshot’ the audience is receiving of these women’s lives. The finest work is done with the character of Winsome, an ageing widow who ruminates on the philosophical and social implications of widowhood. This sensitive portrayal avoids simple caricature as it takes the audience on a journey both hilarious and touching, ending with an unexpected revelation that simultaneously shocks and leaves you with a smile on your face.
The one low point of the show is the character of Zoe, a Garland-esque diva whose tale of addiction, heartbreak and loss is told cabaret-style in both speech and song. Zoe’s story reads  like a weak parody of the common ‘celebrity breakdown’ narrative and lacking in fine individual detail or interesting twists, a surprise considering how well this occurs in every other part of the play. This is in no way the fault of O’Leary, whose performance remains as energetic and committed here as in the rest of the show, allowing her to show off an impressive set of pipes!
This one complaint aside, Bombshells is an enthralling piece of theatre, with each character a joy to spend time with and a disappointment to see finish.
Venue: Coopers Malthouse, Beckett Theatre, 113 Sturt St, Melbourne.
Dates: 23rd Sept – 28th Sept.
Time: TueSat 8pm, Sat 2pm, Sun 5pm
Tickets: $58, Senior $48, Conc $48, Group 6+ $48, Student $28
Bookings: www.malthousetheatre.com.au or at the venue.