Tag: Melbourne Theatre Company

MTC Presents NOISES OFF

Superb production of an hilarious classic

By Myron My

It’s been 34 years since playwright Michael Frayn penned his farcical comedy Noises Off and I have patiently waited decades to see this production on the stage. As part of its 2017 season, Melbourne Theatre Company has fulfilled my wish and the production does not disappoint with this wild and witty play-within-a-play.

Noises Off.jpg

While this is a fast-paced farce, one of the strengths of Frayn’s script is that we are still provided with time to get to know the characters and understand the relationships between them all. Once these are established, the laughs begin to build until the absurd and ridiculous circumstances the cast get themselves into hit peak hilarity. The second act where we are privy to the goings on behind the scenes offers the most entertaining moments of the show, as the actors struggle to separate the drama of their personal lives with the drama happening on stage.

The hugely talented ensemble of this production deliver superb performances and there is an energetic chemistry between them all. Ray Chong Nee as the pompous Gary has brilliant timing and literally throws himself into his character. As one of the more “straight” characters, Nicki Wendt as Belinda still captures our attention in all her scenes. Louise Siversen as Dotty is sensational and fully embraces the wackiness of both characters she plays.

Meanwhile, Libby Munro as Brooke is delightful to watch as the actor who will not go off script no matter what, as is Hugh Parker as the sensitive but consummate thespian Freddie. Steven Tandy as Selsdon is great comedy relief as he exasperates the cast with his tendency for drinking on the job.

Simon Burke as Lloyd the director of sex farce Nothing On – the play-within-a-play – finds a serenity and calm in the character who yet simultaneously speaks through gritted teeth to his frustratingly inept cast. James Saunders and Emily Goddard as stage managers Tim and Poppy bring some hilarious moments as they try to keep everything on track despite the mishaps along the way.

Sam Strong’s attentive and considerate direction in the real world ensures that despite all the relationships being portrayed (in Noises Off and Nothing On), we never feel overwhelmed or confused by what we are seeing. While there are moments that seem to stretch themselves for laughs, such as the axe-fight scene and watching each actor constantly sneak across backstage to avoid being spotted by the audience, he manages to keep those laughs consistent and plentiful.

Set designer Richard Roberts has done a truly marvelous job in creating the two-storey interior of the Brents’ house as well as the backstage area. The detailing in both, particularly the backstage area, is well thought-out and the rotating stage is highly impressive and used effectively.

While Nothing On is an absolute shambles of a show (but one I would still like to see), Noises Off is a slick production of the (in)famous play with a cast and creative team that has clearly put in much effort and thought into its creation. Melbourne Theatre Company presents a guaranteed crowd-pleaser with this, and rightfully so.

Venue: Arts Centre Melbourne, 100 St Kilda Road, Melbourne, 3004 
Season: Until 12 August | Mon – Tues 6.30pm, Wed 1pm, Wed-Fri 8pm, Sat 4pm and 8.30pm 
Tickets: $39 – 99
Bookings: Melbourne Theatre Company

Image by Stephen Henry

MTC Presents STRAIGHT WHITE MEN

Four blokes and one family Christmas

By Myron My

Upon entering Fairfax Studio at the Arts Centre Melbourne, you can’t help but notice Candy Bowers as the Stagehand-in-Charge sitting up in her booth, playing some hip hop music, including Khia’s racy “My Neck, My Back”. As the music plays, she regularly glances over the audience while flicking through a newspaper, the back page emblazoned with “Black Lives Matter”. Considering we are about to see Young Jean Lee’s Straight White Men, a play about a family of the four eponymous men getting together for Christmas celebrations, the ruthless satire is punching us in the face, especially as she makes her way down to the stage and introduces us to the make-believe world.

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The “brotherly” chemistry between Hamish Michael, Luke Ryan and Gareth Reeves, as siblings Drew, Jake and Matt respectively, is undeniable. Their scenes together have a believable authenticity and you do feel like they have known each other for their entire lives. Michael in particular is a highlight as the youngest sibling, trying to help his family while trying not to be seen as the baby of said family. Ryan also impresses with his alpha-male banker who would prefer that the status quo under which he is comfortably living is not ruffled. Reeves as the oldest sibling offers an accomplished performance as a white man struggling to find his place in society and to not be seen as living off his privilege. Despite the other characters being louder and more animated than Reeves’, he manages to have a quiet but strong presence on stage. John Gaden as patriarch Ed, brings a nurturing and fragile depth to the man who only wants the best for his children.

The set and costume design is another impressive feat by Eugyeene Teh. While this is a little more conservative than what I’ve previously seen in his work (and this is due to the script itself), he captures the mood perfectly and once again is able to make the environment just as much of a character in the story as the four men on stage. Along with Lisa Mibus‘ intelligent lighting and David Heinrich‘s sleek sound design, all the elements come together seamlessly for Straight White Men.

While I enjoyed the show, especially the stellar performances from the cast, I feel Lee’s script ultimately lacked a deeper exploration of what these men are actually arguing about and the privilege they have, to really leave a mark. There are some extremely funny scenes and some that capture realistic sibling relationships, but the overall story seems to become preoccupied with this humour at the expense of the more powerful issues. It is clear Lee knows what she wants to say but possibly not how she wants to say it.

Straight White Men is an enjoyable performance, but this play ends up more a family Christmas dramedy than an intended piece of satire that will have people – mainly straight white men – questioning their privilege and perceiving how lucky they are.

Venue: Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne, 100 St Kilda Road, Melbourne, 3004
Season: Until 18 June | Mon – Tues 6.30pm, Wed 1pm, Wed-Fri 8pm, Sat 4pm and 8.30pm
Tickets: $39 – 77
Bookings: MTC

REVIEW: MTC Presents LUNGS

Quite breathtaking

By Michael Olsen

Take a deep breath and plunge into the Australian premiere of Lungs this season at Melbourne Theatre Company. Written by award-winning British playwright Duncan Macmillan this 90 minute two-hander (without interval) charts the life, death and (re)birth of a modern relationship. Funny and real by turns, and quite touching in the end, it charts what happens when we start to question our lives and our effect on the planet.

Lungs.jpg

The play opens in an IKEA store, as the unnamed man gingerly suggests to his unnamed partner that they have a baby. Well, the floodgates of anxiety, doubt and interminable analysis are opened (she’s doing a Ph.D, we don’t know in what) and we bear intimate witness to their attempts to make sense of themselves and their relationship, all starting from the effect one baby would have on the planet. (I forget how many trees they would have to plant to mitigate their offspring’s carbon footprint.) We are made to feel like a fly on the wall of these characters’ lives as they search for meaning and answers where perhaps only faith of a kind will see us through.

Kate Atkinson (of Wentworth and Sea Change fame) and Bert LaBonté (Mountaintop among many others) deliver powerhouse performances in this single almost unbroken dialogue that carries us through the ups and downs of this couple’s relationship. Whilst we might not get the answers to all the problems they face, it’s this very questioning that helps propel the play forward. Director Clare Watson‘s direction is slick and sophisticated, always keeping the myriad changes in time and place clear and immediate. Whilst Andrew Bailey‘s set design (an IKEA kitchen that imperceptibly rotates a full 360º and lets gravity slowly toss the kitchen’s chair, books and cutlery like a tumble drier) conveys the idea of the couple’s life going topsy-turvy as they explore the intricacies of their relationship, it’s also a mite distracting, but really a minor criticism in an overall production that grabs you right from the start and doesn’t let up.

Lungs was something Macmillan wrote as “a challenge and a gift for actors.” In presenting the problems and challenges of its characters, it’s also a gift for the audience. Showing until 19 March at the Arts Centre Melbourne, Fairfax Studio.

http://www.mtc.com.au/plays-and-tickets/season-2016/lungs/

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: MTC Presents DEATH AND THE MAIDEN

In the hands of the leading lady

By Bradley Storer

The opening image of Melbourne Theatre Company‘s highly anticipated production of Death and the Maiden, the intensely political and unsettlingly violent work of Ariel Dorfman, is striking and instantly ratchets the tension to maximum level – a lone woman in a darkened room, stirred to action by the sound of an approaching car, creeps through the darkness and conceals herself in the corner, the revolving stage giving an eerie flipbook-like effect as the woman slowly reveals a gun. In this single image the blurred boundaries between the domestic, civilisation and the dark savage underbelly of human nature which Dorman sets out to explore is already laid out for the audience.

Death and the Maiden

Set in an unnamed country, inspired by post-fascist Chile but potentially any country emerging from under tyranny, Death and the Maiden examines the slow recovery from politically-sanctioned atrocity and horror on both the personal and national level through the lens of differing characters. The trio presented include a victim of the former fascist regime and its unspeakable methods, Paulina (Susie Porter), her husband Gerardo (Steve Mouzakis), the lawyer who is now part of the government committee dedicated to uncovering the atrocities of the former regime, and Roberto (Eugene Gilfedder), a doctor whose unexpected incurrence into the lives of Paulina and Gerardo sets off the whirlwind of terror and violence which engulfs the rest of the play.

Unfortunately, only in the performance of Porter does the extent of Dorfman’s bleak vision truly come to fruition. She morphs from an uncertain and flighty creature, beset by unknown fears, into a facade of iron-hard determination and self-righteous fury that maintains the central ambiguity of Paulina’s character: whether she is a victim of horrific trauma and gruesome torture that has driven her to insanity, or a woman empowered to throw off the chains of victimhood and become an terrible avenging angel against her former tormentors.

Mouzakis and Gilfedder do not fare as well, their earlier scenes which communicate the bulk of the work’s political background sapping all of the tension and drive from the performance. They improve as the play goes on but sadly lose momentum whenever Porter leaves the stage. Nick Schlieper‘s revolving set does much to symbolically comment on the cyclical nature of violence and victimhood, but slowly loses its impact as the play goes on – its use in Gerardo’s final monologue leaves the last mystery of the play more confusing than intended.

Perhaps this production of Death and the Maiden is not the definitive one, but the performance of Porter is to be commended for its bravery, delving into the darkest and rawest areas of the human psyche that Dorfman is preoccupied with, bringing out the violence and cruelty that Is suggested to lurk within us all.

Venue: The Sumner, Southbank Theatre, 140 Southbank Boulevard, Southbank
Dates: 18 July – 22 August, 2015
Price: $36 – $109
Bookings: At the venue, www.mtc.com.au, 03 86880800

Review: THE JOY OF TEXT by Robert Reid

School controversy cleverly examined

By Myron My

Written by Robert Reid, The Joy of Text receives a second life at La Mama Theatre after premiering with Melbourne Theatre Company last year.

The Joy of Text

Set in a high school, RePlay’s production deals with the politics and concerns faced by teachers and students on a daily basis – and some issues that do not occur so often…

We are witness to some very wordy and intense monologues and discussions about what happens when the line of student/teacher relationship is crossed; who is the victim and why – or is there even a victim? Would two years make the world of difference?

The cast here could not be faulted. There was amazing energy between them and a connectedness with the characters they played. Colin Craig does have the added pressure of carrying the play with his portrayal of central character 17-year-old student Danny, but does an amazing job of showing a perfect balance between Danny’s vulnerability, intelligence and bratty behavior.

Another notable mention would be Elizabeth Thomson‘s impressive work as the long-suffering English teacher Diane who wants to introduce a controversial text to the syllabus about a student’s relationship with a teacher. Kasia Kaczmarek (Ami) and Jason Kavanagh (Steve) also give strong, authentic performances in their respective roles.

The inclusion of a projection on the stage showing more to an environment was a brilliant idea by director Peita Collard: mixing the acting in the projection into the acting on stage was played out perfectly.

For example, Diane telling a student on screen to pick up the rubbish on the floor interrupts a conversation that Ami and she are having on the stage. The student does so but as soon as Diane turns her back to her, the student just throws it back on the ground and returns to her friends. This production thus does an incredible job of mixing multimedia to expand and augment the story.

The Joy of Text explores an education system where there is still a lot of grey areas about serious ethical dilemmas, resulting in panic and metaphorical lynching when these issues occur in our schools.

This is a very smart and insightful production with moments of comedy the cast do a wonderful job playing about with, and leaves a strong impression that will have you thinking about and discussing the play and its themes long after you’ve walked out of the theatre.

Venue: La Mama Courthouse, 349 Drummond St, Carlton

Season: Until 24 March | Wed, Sun 6.30pm | Thu, Fri, Sat 7.30pm

Tickets: $25 Full | $15 Concession

Bookings: http://lamama.com.au