Tag: National Theatre

Groaning Dam Productions Presents NED: A NEW AUSTRALIAN MUSICAL IN CONCERT

Musically stunning

By Bradley Storer

It had been a wonderful week for Australian music theatre, with a limited and critically acclaimed season of Jon English’s Paris and then a Melbourne remounting of the new original musical Ned after a successful Bendigo premiere just over two years ago. It seems inevitable that the two will be compared, but it can be safely said that both make a brilliant case for the vitality and necessity of new Australian musical theatre works.

Ned The Musical.jpg

Ned tells the story of the famous (or infamous, depending on your viewpoint) bushranger from childhood to his death by hanging, and the book by Anna Lyon and Marc McIntyre firmly takes the view of Kelly as a good, honourable man driven to extremes by injustice and government  corruption. The opening choral number sets up the evening as an interrogation of the legend and the ambiguous figure at its centre.

Nelson Gardner brings a loveable larrikin-quality and charisma to the central role, making it easy to sympathize with him and the hardships we witness him first suffer and then rebel against. The first act grounds us in the reality of living in nineteenth-century Australia, and we’re allowed to witness the close and loving bonds between family and friends that will soon be stretched and torn apart.

As in Paris, we are treated to a veritable feast of young Australian talent amongst the cast of Ned. Robert Tripolino, Brent Trotter and Connor Crawford are fantastic as the trio of friends who along with Ned are drawn into conflict with the law, and their voices meld beautifully in the lyrical “White Dove”. Alana Trater and Hannah Frederickson are wonderfully girlish and infectious in their playful chemistry before bleak events force them into maturity, Trater in particularly growing in gravitas before unleashing the shattering “No Way Back” in the family’s darkest hour.

Nick Simpson-Deeks as the meek police officer Fitzpatrick, whose initial kind nature tips over into bitterness and violence, is adorably awkward and well-meaning and manages the character’s slide into darkness with palpable pathos. Anchoring the entire cast (and quite possibly the whole show) is Penny Larkins as Ellen, the matriarch of the Kelly family – grounding the character with determined optimism and joy, Larkins traverses the biggest arc of the show as Ellen watches one by one her family taken to prison, ending up there herself to protect her children and comforting her son in his last moments. When Ellen is pressured by the police in the second act to give up the location of Ned’s gang, Larkins unsheathes the steel hidden beneath the surface in the defiant “My Son”, almost bringing their audience to their feet mid-show roaring with applause.

Adam Lyon’s score is dazzling throughout, managing to find its own uniquely Australian identity in its sound, and under the masterful hand of musical director and conductor Kellie Dickerson every moment of music was truly epic.

The only criticism that could be levelled would be at the book – while the show’s dedication to exploring and individuating all the central characters is wonderful, it comes at the cost of losing focus on Ned as the centre of the piece. Oddly, Ned himself only has two solo numbers throughout the entire show, and while the optimistic and yearning “Hope of Australia” is a brilliant song at the beginning of Ned’s journey there is sadly not much besides dialogue with other characters to define the later stages of his trajectory. Director Gary Young did a stellar job of staging this piece in a concert setting, but on the night the second act of Ned felt slightly weaker than the first. This was quite possibly because of the long stretches of dialogue that would play more strongly in a fully-staged production, but in a concert tended to drag down momentum.

These small criticisms aside, Ned more than proved itself worthy of national attention and development, and we can only hope this piece receives the funding and further opportunities to grow it deserves – with time, Ned could be THE great Australian musical.

Venue: National Theatre, St Kilda

Time: 7:30pm

Date: Monday 17th July

Image by Marty Williams

A Dirty Pretty Theatre and Critical Stages Productions Presents THERESE RAQUIN

A dark tale revealed

By Leeor Adar

The audience’s lust for work exposing the underbelly of human desire and vengeance never ceases, and gothic masterpieces always manage to spook and lure audiences centuries after their first public entrance. A great practitioner of literary naturalism, Émile Zola’s Thérèse Raquin finds itself dealt a supernatural twist in the hands of director and adaptor Gary Abrahams for theatre company A Dirty Pretty Theatre. Abrahams has not disposed of the elegance of late 1800s Paris, as his set designer Jacob Battista and costume designer Chloe Greaves journey back in time with him.

Therese Raquin

Thérèse Raquin follows the tragedy of a small family moving to Paris for a new start to invigorate the sickly Camille (Andre Jewson). Trapped under the weight of wifely servitude is the beautiful Thérèse (Jessica Clarke), oscillating between wistful gazing and the swift practiced movements of someone wanting to shatter her proverbial glass cage. The delightful little family is threatened by vagabond artist, Laurent (James O’Connell), whose presence gleefully brutalises the now excitable Camille and stirs up the most carnal of longings in Thérèse – both of whom are desperately seeking something that helps them forget themselves. The lust overcoming the characters climaxes in a brutal killing: cue the total disintegration of the survivors’ sense of sanity in a manner that Shakespeare himself would admire.

In this production, projection was a difficulty for some of the actors, particularly Clarke whose voice strained into hoarseness, but this could be due to the total submersion into a desperate Thérèse. Clarke’s performance certainly conveyed the desperation of her character potently, and O’Connell’s Laurent was suitably dangerous. Overall, the performances throughout were strong: notably Suzanne as played by Emily Milledge had the captivating ability to take us far away from the gloom of the room in her girlish rants about a phantom lover. Keeping the pace of the production was the composition and music of Christopher De Groot, whose score injected a sense of melancholy to the production.

Tragically, some very dramatic moments were thrown askew on the night I attended by the curtain falling upon a poorly-placed table and a flower crown that was swept about underneath the gowns of the actresses. The audience’s occasional laughter was perhaps a welcome distraction from the gloom of the tale before us – but at times, in Zola’s land of naturalism, such misadventures cannot be helped.

Abrahams’ production ultimately aimed for high drama, but unfortunately came across as pure melodrama with too many distractions. I admittedly enjoyed the gothic horror elements that snuck up on us, but feel these could easily have been dispensed with for the subtlety Zola’s text warranted.

This gothic drama was performed at the beautiful National Theatre in St Kilda from 31 May – 1 June.

Image by Sarah Walker

MICF 2016: Lockwood Productions Presents I (HONESTLY) LOVE YOU

Loveable love story plays well for laughs

By Joana Simmons

“The naked truth is always better than the best-dressed lie.” – Ann Landers

Or is it? What if the naked truth is all you have? I (Honestly) Love You has played at Edinburgh Fringe and New York Fringe and is here to tickle the National Theatre stage and make audiences giggle and squirm with satisfaction with its not-so-conventional but oh-so-comedic tale of what happens when two people with a rare psychological condition that prohibits them from telling the truth fall madly in love.

I Honestly Love You.jpg

We are introduced to the story and told love can be “everything and nothing at the same time.” In front of a calendar backdrop with certain relationship milestones on particular dates the story ensues with sharp witty dialogue and some interesting audience interaction. If reality TV has taught us anything, it’s that it’s not necessarily what happens in reality that is exciting, but relationships- and a relationship built on complete honesty (“yes, your butt does look big in that” “I hate cricket”) is both heart-warming and hilarious.

The show has Melbourne actors Jimmy James Eaton and George Gayler in the lead roles and supported by Talei Howell- Price and Damon Lockwood– also playwright and director. Howell-Price and Lockwood do a stellar job of playing multiple supporting roles, sometimes within the same scene, which are exquisitely defined, physically and vocally. Easton’s comic timing and larger-than-life facial expressions make his eruptions of truth gut-busting and cringe-worthy in all the best ways, and Gayler gives an authentic and (obviously) honest portrayal of a woman who meets a guy she just wants to make it work with, and is an tasteful match to her onstage love.

This is the first show I’ve seen with so much thought and attention to detail put into the stage and costume design, and Cherie Hewson, the creator responsible, can’t go with out commendation. This clever, well-seasoned production will gently pluck your heart strings, question your morals and put the laugh in love. It’s great! (Honestly).

Venue: The National Theatre, St Kilda

Dates: 13 – 16 April 2016

Time: 7.30pm

Tickets: $25

Bookings: http://www.nationaltheatre.org.au

REVIEW: La Cage Aux Folles

A lavish revisit to a classic musical

By Dean Arcuri

I knew La Cage aux Folles as the show on which The Birdcage was based: a gay couple are shocked when their son announces his pending engagement into a politically traditional family, and a hilarious dinner party filled with mistaken identity, muffled flamboyance and an abundance of cross-dressing ensues. Quirky Productions’ latest approach to the famous musical at the National Theatre had a cast and production team that do not disappoint in presenting a fantastic show.

I particularly tip my hat to the production’s stunning costumes (Isaac Lumins), wigs (David Wisken), lighting (Brad Alcock) and set design that really transformed the space from Parisian streets and a Mediterranean home to the La Cage stage. The simple flamboyance succeeded in elevating the comedy without overshadowing the campness.  In particular, working with depth on the stage of the La Cage allowed the lighting and costumes to really augment the performances.

John O’May’s portrayal of George was a perfect juxtaposition to David Rogers-Smith’s Albin/Zaza, with both deserved the standing ovation they received.  O’May’s voice is hauntingly beautiful, and he played out the emotion in the character with a powerful calm, allowing me to understand, empathise and still be entertained with what is honestly a pretty insensitive plot device used to channel the story along.  Meanwhile Roger-Smith embraced every moment in the spotlight, while never letting us forget the man behind the makeup. His performance of the classic I Am What I Am that closes the first act was filled with raw passion and vocal power, leaving the hairs on the back of my neck to only subside sometime during Act Two.

Juggling camp comedy and emotional empathy is never easy, but both the leads portrayed the passion of their characters and their tender relationship with such strength that it carries their “straight man” son (Reece Budim) whose singing voice certainly counteracted his character’s two-dimensional paternal relationship. Unfortunately the variety of accents of the lower-tier leads distracted from their performances, really leaving these stronger characters to take centre stage.

Special mention must be made of  the ‘ladies’ or Les Cagelles, who really kept us entertained throughout with their energy, passion and ability to move. From the opening the show we soon saw there was more than meets the eye: not just because of what was “tucked away” but because even in visual uniformity their individual performances shone out. It’s a shame their scenes were drowned out by the orchestra leaving great character moments and punch lines by the wayside.  Still, their dance numbers had us transfixed, and applauding along with an abundance of energy and exuberance.

Minor issues aside, the entire musical was thoroughly entertaining, powerful and beautifully performed. If you missed this one, be sure to keep an eye out for Quirky Productions’ future shows.

La Cage aux Folles was performed at The National Theatre from March 16 – 24, 2012