Tag: Richard Roberts

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.

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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

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REVIEW: FIDDLER ON THE ROOF

L’Chaim!

By Narelle Wood

Directed by Roger Hodgman and original choreography reproduced by Dana Jolly, Melbourne’s new production of Fiddler on the Roof is a powerhouse production to kick off the 2016 theatre season.

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Written in 1960’s the drama-filled musical, heralded as the first of its kind, has stood the test of time as its themes of tradition, family, love and displacement are just as relevant today. Set in a small village, Anatevka, Russia, the milkman Tevye (Anthony Warlow) is struggling to provide a comfortable life for his family. This includes his five strong-willed daughters, who Tevye hopes to marry off to suitable men that will provide some of the comforts he can not afford. With tensions brewing and the world changing around them, Tevye finds the traditions of his people being challenged by more than just his intelligent and independent daughters’ ideas on love.

The cast is full of some of Australia’s best stars of the stage. Warlow is joined by Sigrid Thornton (Golde), Lior (Motel), Nicki Wendt (Yente) and Mark Mitchell (Lazar Wolf); the latter’s transformation is so superb that I didn’t know it was Mitchell until I read the program. Warlow is also almost unrecognizable as Tevye, embodying all the warmth and humour of the character, yet Warlow’s presence is betrayed by his unmistakably rich voice.

While Warlow is clearly the star of the show for both his talent and the iconic role, the rest of the cast are just as masterful. The onstage relationship between Warlow and Thornton is endearing and Wendt’s portrayal of the matchmaker is as every bit hilarious as the character is nosey. There are several other exceptional performances in this production. Teagan Wouters (Tzeitel), Monica Swayne (Hodel) and Jessica Vickers (Chava) are all impressive as Tevye’s eldest daughters revealing exceptionally strong vocals.

There were so many moments where I found myself astonished by the talent on stage: Warlow’s rendition of “If I Were a Rich Man” and the ensemble dancers during “To Life” and “Wedding Dance”, for example. However one of the truly standout aspects of this production was the set design by Richard Roberts. Simple and understated but such a clever design concept that allows for such seemingly easy transitions between houses and into the town square.

To be honest, I would have been happy if the performance finished after Act 1 as Fiddler on the Roof had already exceeded all of my expectations; the fact that Act 2 extended this prodigious experience was a delightful bonus. This production of Fiddler on the Roof has certainly set the performance standard for 2016 and it will be a difficult task for others to match.

Venue: Princess Theatre, Spring St, Melbourne
Season: Until 27th Feb, Tues –Sat 7.30pm, Matinees Wed 1pm, Sat 2pm & Sun 3pm
Tickets: From $79.90
Bookings: http://www.ticketmaster.com.au

Image by Jeff Busby

Review: MTC’s Australia Day

A valiant attempt to grapple comically with a complex topic

By Kim Edwards

Jonathan Biggins‘ new play sets out to explore an event that has noticeably increased in patriotic popularity in recent years while remaining fraught with issues about our sense of cultural identity.

Australia Day revolves around the comedic shenanigans and personal squabbles of a small country town committee organising festivities for January 26. Amidst the minor chaos from the months leading up to the big day itself, the committee members attempt to express contrary opinions on what being Australian might mean, and what the day should or should not be celebrating…

I wanted very much to like this play. Although described as satirical, the comedy comes across  more as farce: broad, obvious humour, self-aware characters cracking jokes, and the occasional slapstick moment. The opening night audience was particularly delighted with the regular topical jokes on politics and pop culture, although the laconic and understated delivery so beloved of Australian comedy was missing here in favour of a highly theatrical and rather forced style.

This performance decision was somewhat at odds with the wonderfully detailed and delightfully quotidian sets by Richard Roberts capturing so perfectly the servicable colour schemes, generic plastic furniture and mismatched detritus of a local school hall and  event marquee. In this space the characters were emphatically larger than life, and this lack of naturalism became a problem when the script wanted to address more serious concerns.

A hard-working cast wrestled valiantly with this, and with some extraordinary character revelations: Geoff Morrell and Alison Whyte gave polished performances as rival politicians, Peter Kowitz endeavoured to balance ocker comic relief with offensively cheerful racist, and Valerie Bader and Kaeng Chan soon settled into their more staid and thus more loveable  characters comfortably.

David James gave a strong appealing performance as hapless Robert, but at a climatic moment in the play it would have been wonderful to see this character rise above the recurring emotional outbursts and support an earlier claim ‘being ordinary’ was admirable instead of being forced into the melodrama.

Strangely, although script and characters feel like they are working very hard, and there is an earnest effort to temper the comedy with serious issues, all potentially poignant moments or ideas in Australia Day are actually stalemated. Meaningful questions or contentious debates about race, gender, identity, politics, parenting and social interaction are constantly sidetracked with comic interruptions or clunky deus-ex-machina plot developments, and the finale deliberately pours cold water on any potential answers or options arising from the issues raised.

Australia Day is pleasurably fun and enjoys the support of a dedicated cast and crew, and perhaps the relentless irresolution is meant to highlight ongoing concerns about our national identity, but in teetering between light-hearted laughs and high melodrama, there is still disappointment this evocatively-named play never quite manages to say anything important or memorable about us as Australians.

Venue: Arts Centre Melbourne, Playhouse
Dates: 21 April to 26 May 2012
Booking: MTC Theatre Box Office 03 8688 0800 or mtc.com.au; Arts Centre 1300 182 183 or artscentremelbourne.com.au