Tag: Nick Simpson-Deeks

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

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Melbourne Premiere of THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG

Raucous and riotous hilarity guaranteed

By Myron My

Before The Murder at Haversham Manor begins, the newly-elected president of Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society, Chris Bean (Nick Simpson-Deeks), appears on stage to welcome the audience. Bean is also the director of the play and assures us that this will be the most impressive performance ever put on by this thespian group. However, when this 1920’s themed whodunnit is a play within a play called The Play That Goes Wrong, well…it’s fair to say that nothing goes according to plan, but the show must go on. And so it does, with many laughs along the way.

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While The Murder at Haversham Manor plays out like an Agatha Christie-style plot, The Play That Goes Wrong reveals what happens on the Drama Society stage’s as the actors contend with missing items, breaking props, forgotten lines and unconscious colleagues. While comparisons to the classic Noises Off are undeniable, there is still a freshness to the performance with the fun and laughs remaining constant, even if there are a handful of times when jokes become slightly repetitive or are milked too much.

The entire cast embrace their characters, who in turn embrace their characters, and ultimately deliver near-perfect comedy timing. They are more than up to the challenge when it comes to meeting the physical demands of the production with high energy and dedication, while under the brilliant eye of Australian cast director Sean Turner. Darcy Brown (who plays Max Bennett who in turn plays Cecil Haversham and Arthur the Gardener), is particularly joyful to watch, especially when he’s giving his charades-like performance as he speaks his lines. Brooke Satchwell as Sandra, plays the grieving fiancée Florence Colleymoore – as does Tammy Weller, who also plays the stage manager Annie Twilloil. Both are energetic with Satchwell (or is that Sandra) playing the intentional melodramatics of Florence perfectly and Tammy as Twilloil’s transformation from shy stage manager to determined and ferocious actor is a joy to watch. If all this isn’t confusing enough, then you’re already ahead of the pack!

I initially attempted to hear every word that was being said, but with the riotous laughter that filled the Comedy Theatre, it was not always possible. Fortunately, it’s not simply the story that matters here. While Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields have written a fun and surprisingly intelligent double narrative (for what we are watching), it is the visual aesthetics of Nigel Hook‘s impressive set design brimming with surprises and “danger” at every turn that reels you in.

While there is not much good that can be said about The Murder at Haversham Manor, it’s a completely different story for The Play That Goes Wrong. It’s a stylishly comic production that exists simply for laughs, and nothing but laughs; and from beginning to end – especially in the uproarious second act – there are plenty to be had. While everything that can go wrong goes wrong in the play within the play, this production itself itself hits all the right marks.

Venue: The Comedy Theatre, 240 Exhibition Street, Melbourne
Season:
In Melbourne until 26 March, before an Australian-wide tour
Tickets:
From $99.90
Bookings: The Play That Goes Wrong

REVIEW: Watch This Presents COMPANY

Stunning performances in superb production

By Adam Tonking

Stephen Sondheim can be tricky. His shows seem to be full of pitfalls to trap the unwary theatre company into poor choices, and Company is no exception. With no linear narrative, just a series of vignettes centred on marriage and relationships in New York and his usual densely layered music and finely wrought lyrics, there are a myriad of ways for this show to go off the rails. Fortunately, the cast and creative team behind Watch This’ Company are more than up to the challenge.
Company Photo Credit Jodie Hutchinson

The cast are sublime. The protagonist Robert is a difficult role to play; a mostly passive observer to the five married couples in his friendship circle, he still needs to build a rapport with the audience so they care when he stops for a moment of self-reflection. Nick Simpson-Deeks was perfect, engaged in every scene as the fulcrum around which the action takes place, charming and affable with a stunning voice: there could not have been a better choice for the dramatic lynchpin that carries the whole show.

But there were many beautiful performances from the rest of the cast also. Mark Dickinson as David in an early scene where he reveals a controlling side was absolutely chilling, Johanna Allen as Jenny brought a delightful schadenfreude and glorious voice to “Getting Married Today”, and Sally Bourne brought poignantly to life the difficult song “The Little Things You Do Together” as Joanne (a role which in another performer’s hands could have seemed like a mere mean drunk there simply to throw in the acerbic asides). These were a few of my favourite moments, but the whole cast were spectacular.

In fact, the creative team have likewise done a spectacular job. The choreography by Michael Ralph was inventive and finely detailed; in a show that doesn’t require big dance numbers, his choreography was clever and beautifully executed. Costume design by Zoe Rouse carefully managed a balance between current fashion and the 1970s era in which the show is set, while also cleverly colour-coding the married couples to help the audience manage visually the relationships between the characters.

One glaring problem with this production is the choice of venue. Unfortunately for a portion of the audience, the action was obstructed from view by poles or railings, which is a shame because the direction and staging was flawless. A sparse and economical set by Eugyeene Teh was transformed under the direction of Kat Henry into the multitude of locations required, and Henry’s tight direction kept the momentum going through the quietest of scenes. The creative team also made the brave choice to have the performers work without microphones, with mixed results. There is something so much more engaging and compelling, particularly in an intimate show like Company, to hear the performers under the musical direction of Lucy O’Brien without the filter of amplification, and in many moments in this production it was magnificent. Until the performer turns away from you and you’ve missed what they’re saying. Again, I confess I blame the choice of venue.

That said, I would dearly love to see this exact production again, preferably in a different venue, or at least in a better seat. This is Sondheim, after all, and Watch This have presented a brilliant production of Company. My suggestion is, see it, but make sure you choose your seating carefully. Actually – see it anyway. Because even from my seat next to the band where I couldn’t see half of the stage, I still loved it.

Watch This presents Company by Stephen Sondheim and George Furth is on at fortyfivedownstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, from September 16 till October 4. Tickets available at www.fortyfivedownstairs.com or by calling 03 9662 9966.

REVIEW: Theatre Works Presents PACIFIC OVERTURES

Sondheim, samurai, and scintillating theatre

By Bradley Storer

Out of nowhere a figure dashed onstage, the lights suddenly cutting out accompanied by a sudden strike of the drum. The lights slowly return to reveal a painted emblem emblazoned on the floor of the stage, the ensō – the Buddhist circle which expresses the moment of creativity uninhibited by the conscious mind. Into this symbolic void enters the ensemble of Pacific Overtures, clad entirely in white, taking their places around the ensō and beginning their first song: a choral ode to the cyclical serenity of feudal Japan, undisturbed by the outside world.

PACIFIC OVERTURES Photo Credit Jodie Hutchinson

Pacific Overtures, one of Stephen Sondheim’s more modest and lesser-known masterpieces, is an imaginative exploration of the moment in history when Japan was first forced into contact with Western civilization. Sondheim’s score, a minimalistic collection derived from the structures and principles of Asian music, is a distant cousin to the operatic scope of his work before and after, but is nevertheless a theatrical tour de force.

The cast are so strong both dramatically and vocally that it is extremely difficult to pick an outstanding performance. As a whole they perfectly capture the stylized but intensely emotionally and characterful style of kabuki theatre, and in their individual solos they all unveil beautiful and powerful voices – in the ensemble numbers they blend together in wondrous harmony. The closest would be Adrian Li Donni as Kayama, the samurai whose meteoric rise to power and subsequent corruption strings the plot together both narratively and emotionally. Donni’s open and expressive face (along with a golden singing voice) flawlessly captures the innocence and good nature of this warrior catapulted into diplomatic office.

Director Alister Smith, along with choreographer Michael Ralph, have done an exemplary job of building the striking dramatic images that make up this epic tale. A terror-stricken mob of villagers gathering as they spot the oncoming American armada, a hilarious pageant of prostitutes preparing to welcome American sailors, a traditional Kabuki dance exploding into a demented vaudevillian cake-walk danced by a demonic Uncle Sam. In a quieter moment, the song ‘Poems’ spins together the heart-meltingly lyrical tenors of Donni and Nick Simpson-Deeks into a sequence of heart-ravishing loveliness.

This production of Pacific Overtures is a seamless meeting of dramatic intensity, musical beauty and compelling story performed by a highly skilled company of actors and handled by an endlessly inventive creative team!

Venue: Theatreworks, 14 Acland St, St Kilda

Date: 19 Feb 2014 – 09 Mar 2014

Time: Tue to Sat 7.30pm, Sun 5pm

Preview: Wed 19 Feb 7.30pm & Thu 20 Feb 2pm

Price: $39 / $35 8+ / $29 conc

Bookings: Online at www.theatreworks.org.au or phone 03 9534 338803 9534 338803 9534 338803 9534 3388

Review: ASSASSINS at fortyfivedownstairs

Musicals can be deadly…

By Bradley Storer

‘Everybody’s got the right to their dreams!’ With these deceivingly sunny words we are drawn into the grim world of Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins, a dark twisted carnival in which the murderers of history exist in a fantastical purgatory.

Assassins

The sinister message of the show is that these are the natural by-product of the American Dream – the malevolent reflections of the frustrated search for happiness, looking for fulfilment in the only way left.

Mark Dickinson as John Wilkes Booth brings a sonorous baritone and combination of Southern and Satanic charm to the role, quietly commanding every scene he enters.  Nadine Garner is pitch perfect as Sarah Jane Moore, one of the two ladies who attempted to kill Gerald Ford, and her scenes with Sonya Suares as Lynette Fromme are a comic delight. The rest of the cast deliver solid, if not outstanding, performances. Nick Simpson-Deeks as the strolling Balladeer unleashes a strong mellifluous tenor in his songs, but lacks the charisma that a character embodying the American Dream, in my opinion, should have – whether this is accidental or a directorial decision to demonstrate the hollowness of this concept is open to debate.  Simpson-Deeks does a far better job as the dual role of Lee Harvey Oswald, which makes it disappointing this character only has the chance to appear in one scene.

Director Tyran Parke is to be commended for his direction of the show, and his vision shines through strongly in the assassins’ individual songs and scenes – but in the big group scenes which bookend the show I felt the staging was static and a little awkward, in particular the scene in which the assassins en masse turn against the Balladeer lacked the menace and danger of mob mentality that I was looking for. I felt this was a problem with the production overall – although Parke and the cast do a fantastic job of humanising the characters and mining the comedic potential of the material, it feels as though ultimately it lacks the edge necessary to make the show truly exciting.

DATES: 10 – 21 April 2013

VENUE: Fortyfivedownstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne

TIMES:    Tuesday to Saturday 7.30pm, Sunday 5pm, Wednesday matinee 1.30pm

ADMISSION: Gala opening night $49, Full $39, Concession $29, Group 8+ $35, Preview $25

BOOKING: 03 9662 9966, www.fortyfivedownstairs.com