Tag: Lyall Brooks

Watch This Presents MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG

Fine performances in a challenging musical

By Bradley Storer

Merrily We Roll Along, currently being presented by Watch This at the MTC, is one of Stephen Sondheim’s most beloved scores but was regarded in its original Broadway incarnation as a critical and commercial flop. Part of this is due to the challenging structure of the show, moving backwards in time to unravel the complexities of the characters depicted, but also since we begin with the central character at his most morally corrupt it can be hard to generate sympathy for him.

WatchThis Productions

As this character, Franklin Shephard, Lyall Brooks faces an uphill battle trying to make him sympathetic. He acts and sings the part very well, but feels stronger as the older Frank more than the younger one. Nelson Gardner is charmingly nerdy and goofy as Charley, bringing wonderful physical comedy to the role. Completing the central trio in the role of Mary is Nicole Melloy, and she is so brilliantly funny and heart-breakingly transparent in every moment that it feels like the role could have been written for her – watching her in the part makes a compelling case that the show’s central journey is actually Mary’s instead of Frank’s.

Sophie Weiss as Beth ably handles the show’s biggest ballad, ‘Not A Day Goes By’, and her character’s transition from a haunted and heart-broken woman to the sunny naivety of youth. As the famous Broadway star Gussie, Cristina D’Agostino nails her big dance number but doesn’t manage to find the humanity under the glamourous façade, directed to play the character so over the top that it comes off a caricature. The ensemble, playing a wide variety of characters across the twenty-year time lapse, are marvellous with too many standout moments to recount here, and their united voices as they sing ‘Our Time’ are a truly beautiful conclusion to the evening.

Sara Grenfell’s direction and staging feels slightly confused which is a problem with a show such as this where there is already a complex structure, and the minimalistic set (consisting mainly of a large staircase and a set of curtains) tends to blur the scenes together. Cameron Thomas does a wonderful job as the sole musician in this production, and while it is lovely to hear the voices of the cast and ensemble unamplified in the space, the score loses much of its potential power when played only on the piano.

While not entirely successful on all fronts, the collection of strong performances and Sondheim’s magnificent score make this new production of Merrily a worthwhile visit.

Venue: The Lawler Studio, Melbourne Theatre Company, 140 Southbank Boulevard, Melbourne VIC

Dates: 29th June – 15th July

Times: Tues – Sat 7:30pm

Prices: $39 – $49

Bookings: 8688 0800, MTC tickets online

Image by Jodie Hutchinson 

Advertisements

REVIEW: Return Season of NORTH BY NORTHWEST

Seeking the adventure again

By Caitlin McGrane

The reimagined Hitchcock classic North by Northwest gets an excellent presentation at the Melbourne Arts Centre after its fantastically successful run in 2015.

North by Northwest 2.jpg

For those who don’t know, the story is that of Roger O. Thornhill (Matt Day), Madison Avenue advertising executive mistaken for the mysterious George Kaplan in The Plaza Hotel in New York; thus setting in motion a chain of events that takes Thornhill to the United Nations, Chicago, and Mount Rushmore. His partner in crime is Eve Kendall (Amber McMahon), an enigmatic femme fatale with whom Thornhill forms an instant connection on a train.

Writer Carolyn Burns and director Simon Phillips really have done a terrific job of bringing the classic film to the stage; Burns has successfully managed to tread the very fragile line between appreciating and replicating the original, especially given it is such a well-loved text. Hitchcock’s contemporality is appropriately heightened through clever direction from Phillips, so some of the uncomfortable and backwards politics of the 1950s can be seen through a modern lens.

The ensemble cast, comprised of Nicholas Bell, Ian Bliss, Lyall Brooks, Leon Cain, Sheridan Harbridge, Matt Hetherington, Tony Llewellyn-Jones, Gina Riley, Lucas Stibbard and Lachlan Woods are all clearly having a ball. Harbridge, Llewellyn Jones and Riley all delivered standout performances, providing just the right number of nods and winks to the audience and some truly excellent accents. It would perhaps have been nice to see more chemistry between the two leads, and it sometimes felt to me like McMahon’s Eve was not as self-assured as her silver screen counterpart. But these minor critiques did not hamper my enjoyment of their respective performances.

It would be extraordinarily remiss of me not to mention the exceptional creative work from the backstage team. Nick Schlieper’s lighting and set design were joyously clever and funny, Ian McDonald’s composition and sound design catapulted me back in time to my first screening of North by Northwest, while Josh and Jess Burns’ innovative and hilarious use of video really stole the show. I shall never see Mount Rushmore the same way ever again.

To have a bad time watching North by Northwest would be an extremely difficult thing, and while this may seem like damning with faint praise I really would be surprised if anyone came out of seeing this production feeling anything but contented. Sometimes what I need is a big sugary treat from the theatre, and North by Northwest delivered deliciously comforting familiarity in spades. This is the second time I’ve seen the production, and it is the combination of joy, self-awareness and fun that makes this such a pleasure to watch.

North by Northwest is now showing at The State Theatre at the Arts Centre until 13 February 2016. More information and tickets from: https://www.artscentremelbourne.com.au/whats-on/theatre-drama/north-by-northwest-2016

REVIEW: Melbourne Premiere of SEXERCISE THE MUSICAL

Working out the kinks

By Myron My

Who ever said that sex and exercise have to be mutually exclusive? This is definitely not the case with the new musical comedy directed by Sara Grenfell and presented by Aleksandar Vass and Malcolm C. Cooke, Sexercise, where we follow a married couple’s journey to rediscovering the fun and sexy times in their relationship.

Sexercise the Musical

The strength and success of Sexercise lies very much with its talented group of actors. Despite two solid hours of acting, singing and dancing, the small cast all manage to keep their energy levels up and the further we progress with the story the more this dynamism is visible. Clearly there is much fun to be had on stage, with the audience and with each other.

Nicole Melloy and Lyall Brooks are both extremely likeable as married couple Sam and Joe. They could easily have been pigeonholed as the annoying nagging wife and the insensitive, ignorant husband but they are able to expose a vulnerability to their characters that is natural and subtle whilst still bringing on the laughs and delivering the jokes.

The rest of the cast consisting of Fem Belling, Cameron MacDonald, Kristin Holland and Lulu McClatchy display their ability to support the protagonists but also command the stage when required. It almost reached the point where I wanted to learn more about these people than Sam and Joe: what exactly is going on in Andy’s marriage and who is this woman that has broken Tania’s heart? Writer Derek Rowe does well to feed the audience just enough information that we eagerly await the return to the stage of these characters.

While there may be some funny and touching moments in Sexercise, there are scenes that are too long and seem to drag to their conclusion and others that apparently don’t even need to be included. At a running time of over two hours, I felt some editing is required to allow the story to stay snappy and constantly moving forward at a pace that allows our attention to not falter.

While the musical numbers, also by Rowe, are on the whole enjoyable, there are some that seemed unnatural and awkward but due to the talent of the performers, were still fun to watch. Sexercise’s musical highlights )directed by Trevor Jones and choreographed by Dana Jolly) included ‘Mates For Life’, ‘Are We Done Yet’ and ‘36 not 23’ but by far my favourite song of the evening would be MacDonald and McClatchy singing ‘It Might Be Different This Time’, a wonderful number which could have been the signature song for every characters’ journey in this production.

Sexercise is more than just a story of 30-somethings wanting to have sex. It is cheeky, it is fun and it is naughty but it’s also about a group of individuals trying to connect with someone else. By cutting down the running time and undertaking some rewriting, this new musical has the potential both to make that theme more meaningful and create greater enjoyment for the audience. Nonetheless, this production of Sexercise is still worth seeing for the stellar effort by the excellent cast.

Venue: Alex Theatre St Kilda, 135 Fitzroy St, St Kilda
Season: Until 15 March | Tues-Sat 8.00pm, Wed 1pm, Sat 2pm, Sun 3pm
Tickets: From $50.87
Bookings:  http://sexercisethemusical.com

REVIEW: Lulu McClatchy is SUPERGIRLY

Sassy celebrity satire

By Myron My

I first saw Lulu McClatchy and Lyall Brooks on stage together last year in Neil LaBute’s play Fat Pig, and their chemistry back then was obvious. Now in Supergirly they are given more freedom to experiment and play and the outcome is even better than I could have anticipated: McClatchy and Brooks nail it.

McClatchy portrays our slightly (or extremely) delusional eponymous starlet who has relegated herself to staying indoors and reminiscing about her celebrity life, including her relationship with ex-boyfriend Robbie Williams. She has hired manservant Bradley Cooper (but not really Bradley Cooper) played by Brooks, who (for reasons of his own) humours and entertains Supergirly by dressing up as a number of celebrity visitors to her house. Brooks is clearly having a ball with the characters, including Bradley, and creates some highly memorable moments in his impersonations and dance routines.

Supergirly

The set design adds so much to the atmosphere of Supergirly: it’s reminiscent in equal parts of a bordello with its huge red curtains and ostentatious sofa, and of “Grey Gardens”, the home of famous eccentric mother/daughter pair Big Edie and Little Edie (from whom Supergirly herself seems to draw some inspiration).

McClatchy belts out her own interpretations of well-known songs by Katie Perry, One Direction, The Pussycat Dolls and the Spice Girls to name a few. She particularly lets rip with her Lady Gaga tunes where her mannerisms and facial expressions are beyond brilliant, but the highlights of the evening were still her Pet Shop Boys and Doris Day numbers.

At just over two hours long, I feel there was a need to cut some songs as the old adage of too much of a good thing does ring true here. Credit to McClatchy and Brooks though, their energy does not wane at all and each song they perform is treated like it’s the first of the evening.

Supergirly is an extremely fun show and no-one is safe when two seasoned performers like McClatchy and Brooks let loose their sparkling satire on the cult of celebrity and its followers. Even the audience gets a talking-to, but it’s all done in such a fun way that you end up really wanting to join the party on stage.

Venue: Chapel Off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel St, Prahran
Season: Until 8 June | Tues-Sat 8:00pm, Sat-Sun 4pm
Tickets: $39 Full | $30 Conc
Bookings: www.chapeloffchapel.com.au or 8290 7000

REVIEW: Neil LaBute’s FAT PIG

Large laughs from excellent leads

By Myron My

Everyone tells you it’s what on the inside that counts and what they are looking for in a partner is someone with a great personality. But is that what we really want?

Fat Pig

Lab Kelpie’s production of Neil LaBute’s play Fat Pig explores this question through character Tom (Lyall Brooks) who falls for Helen (Lulu McClatchy), a fantastic woman – who just happens to be fat.

Brooks and McClatchy are a delight to watch. They spark off one another well and their scenes together bring a lot of laughs. I feel Brooks’ portrayal of the fumbling Tom and his struggle between doing what he wants and dealing with the pressure of what is expected of him highly believable. McClatchy is infectious on stage and it’s a shame that the majority of her character’s scenes are self-deprecating and we don’t have the chance to see Helen really stand up for herself. Patrick Harvey‘s incredibly annoying Carter is played to perfection but I found the character of Jeannie (Cassandra Magrath) was rather too exaggerated.

LaBute’s script has some sharp dialogue and there are hilarious moments created with the line between humour and crass toed well. However, I feel it could have gone further in exploring our obsession with weight (and appearance in general). There’s a scene where Carter suggests “maybe you should turn on the TV someday” but this observation is not developed at all. Perhaps it’s because Fat Pig was originally written almost ten years ago and now feels dated in regards to attitudes or ideas on this topic. Furthermore, the events leading up to the conclusion do not justify or warrant the ending and even negate the earlier actions of the characters.

I was confused by the images on the projector between scenes changes and was not sure what they represented. I’m also not a fan of blackouts: I always find them distracting and on this evening’s performance, with each blackout the audience used it as an opportunity to talk amongst themselves, which I found incredibly frustrating.

Nonetheless, Fat Pig is an enjoyable play with a funny script and some strong performances, but I feel the story itself gets compromised through the very message it is trying to convey.

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

Season: Until 20 October | Tues-Sat 8:00pm, Sun 6:00pm, Sat 4:00pm

Tickets: $37.50 Full | $30 Conc

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

REVIEW: Patricia Cornelius’ SAVAGES

Seething, unsettling – and superb

By Scarlett Harris

This may make for a boring review of Patricia Cornelius’ Savages at fortyfive downstairs as I really couldn’t fault it. The acting, writing, lighting, sound and blocking were flawless, not to mention the grave subject matter that left the audience truly affected.

Savages Photo Credit Sarah Walker

Savages centres around four late-thirty-something/early-forty-something men on the boys’ trip of a lifetime aboard a cruise. George, Runt, Rabbit and Craze discuss their failed relationships, unfulfilling jobs, fragmented childhoods and for those with kids, their struggles raising them. There’s a lot that’s implied but not outright said: Runt was beaten by his father; George is seeing Craze’s ex-wife; not to mention the ambiguous and utterly frightening ending.

Through the choreography, we see the impact that competition among mates can have: comparing scars, running races, the exhilaration of brawling. Savages explores themes of modern masculinity, fatherhood, love, sex and violence, tapping into notions of pack mentality, the phenomenon of “nice guys”, domestic and intimate partner abuse and drug-facilitated date rape.

Said intimations of date rape occur in the cruise nightclub, which is created with only the use of thumping bass and strobe lights by sound engineer Kelly Ryall and lighting technician Andy Turner, respectively, evoking the breathless, menacing machismo that the club experience can so often be.

The acting by Lyall Brooks (George), Luke Elliot (Runt), James O’Connell (Rabbit) and Mark Tregonning (Craze) was exceptional, and the juxtapositioning of the redeeming qualities of “nice guys” – loving their mothers, kids, women in general – with the misogynistic underbelly these characters possess is a truly haunting representation of modern manhood that, for some men, isn’t necessarily inaccurate.

The use of the slanted, exposed floorboards to construct the stage really conjures not only the cruise ship (not to mention the continued use of water metaphors – drowning, rebirth) but the hierarchy of mateship, with Runt on the bottom and (arguably) Craze at the helm.

One thing I did find a bit disconcerting at first was the “highly rhythmic, poetic” dialogue, and the only actor whose portrayal I couldn’t 100% connect with was O’Connell’s, but I put that down to nerves, perhaps.

At once a funny, sad, pitiful, scary and altogether realistic portrayal of modern masculinity – and the inherent “savage” misogyny that sometimes goes with it – in all its glory.

* contains some nudity and disturbing content, and employs the use of strobe lights.

Savages is on at fortyfive downstairs until 8th September Tuesday to Friday at 7:30pm, Saturdays at 5pm and 8pm and Sundays at 5pm. Tickets $45 full, $37.50 concession.

http://www.fortyfivedownstairs.com/events/savages-written-by-patricia-cornelius-directed-by-susie-dee/

REVIEW: Red Stitch Presents PENELOPE

Epic poetry and poolside murder

By Myron My

Penelope by Irish playwright Enda Walsh and directed by Alister Smith shows four men seeking to receive the love of Penelope in the absence of her warrior husband, Odysseus. Through hope, fear, anger and passion, will any of them win her love?

Penelope

Upon entering the theatre for this production, we watch a young man scrubbing blood from inside an empty swimming pool. Well, empty from water for it is teeming with deck chairs, books, alcohol and the disturbing red stains. In fact, the pool resembles a beach party for hoarders gone wrong. Taking center stage is a large barbeque with an ominous message for the four men of Penelope.

After this fascinating opening, the story unwinds at a perfect pace: fast enough to keep you interested but slow enough to not reveal everything at once. The mystery of the blood in the pool and the events that led up to that are ever so carefully unveiled through the taut script which works well in keeping the audience intrigued.

In contrast, costume design left little to the imagination, with all four men dressed in swimming trunks – yet each one seemed to convey a strong sense of who this character was. The brutish self-appointed leader, Quinn (Lyall Brooks) was dressed in red speedos – and you really can’t get any more alpha-male than that.

The last act however seemed to lose itself a bit. Despite the audience enjoying it, the “love in 6 acts” scene didn’t seem to have a place in the story. It relied on slapstick humour and not the sharply written dialogue and well thought-out character-driven scenes earlier, but this issue is to do with the play itself and its reworking of Homer’s classic tale rather than the direction or performances.

As this year’s Graduate Ensemble Actor for Red Stitch, Matthew Whitty as Burns certainly does show promise, however the more overtly experienced and skillful actors (Brooks, James Wardlaw and Dion Mills) in Penelope do manage to outshine him, and the impact of the final scene is therefore not as strong as it could be. It is a particularly exceptional performance by Mills as the flamboyant Dunne. His later monologue is compelling to watch as guards are let down and we see the real, vulnerable side to his character.

With strong intelligent direction by Smith, Penelope will have you pondering the moral and emotional questions it raises a good while after the show is over.

Venue: Theatreworks, 14 Acland St, St Kilda

Season: Until 13 April | 8:00pm, Sun 6:30pm

Tickets: $37 Full | $27 Conc

Bookings: 9534 3388 or http://www.theatreworks.org.au