Tag: Sarah Walker

Little Ones Theatre Presents MERCILESS GODS

Walk into the darkness

By Leeor Adar

Little Ones Theatre manages to make me laugh at the grotesque and alluring once again in Merciless Gods. Whether it’s the description of a hardened criminal unpicking thorns from the tongue of a paedophile or the pungent growth spurt of a teenage boy, beautiful and ugly words cohabit so eloquently at the end of Don Giovannoni’s pen, the result of which is imagined onto the stage with feverish intensity by director Stephen Nicolazzo.

Merciless Gods' Charles Purcell - photo credit Sarah Walker .jpg

The scene is set early on as a gathering of hip university-educated 20-somethings pop pills and dive into their samosas before descending into the truly “bad” things they’ve done. A competition of sorts of the varying evils they’ve seen or committed. Merciless Gods is at its core a series of monologues and performances that capture Australia’s foreign identity and the universal identity of being human, even if it’s grotesque and sadistic. There is enormous vulnerability too in this production, as it lays itself bare to hard truths.

Eugyeene Teh’s costume and set design is a perfect mix of minimalist drama. We have red curtains and a catwalk of sorts for a stage to let the intense performances unfold before us. Intense is honestly an understatement, and I found myself really affected and mesmerised by the actors.

Peter Paltos delivered a monologue that really defined the night for me. As the criminal who commits an unforgivable crime in line with the rest of the merciless gods of the night, Paltos manages to describe with such lush expression the pity he experiences, and the violence of his actions. I am certain the audience had their eyes fixed on his sweat, spit and grit with wonder. Another notable series of performances by the mercurial Jennifer Vuletic really heightened the calibre of this production. Vuletic could inhabit the pious tragic figure of a woman speaking broken English and then swoop on stage in naked cruel glory wearing nothing but royal red robes to tear apart her feminist daughter (Brigid Gallacher).

Despite its darkness, there is a great deal of humour in Merciless Gods. Gallacher’s comic timing sent the audience into frequent bouts of laughter, even when she beautifully and breathlessly gazed upon her teenage son with love and disgust. Of course the humour delivered really emerges from Giovannoni’s writing which in its poetic and succinct quality captures what we think but cannot articulate.

Audiences with softer stomachs and a penchant for political correctness may feel queasy at some of the language, so heed this warning. Merciless Gods is unapologetic in its content and brutality and I find it utterly appealing for this reason.

Take time out of your every day and head to the Northcote Town Hall to catch Merciless Gods. The production runs until 5 August. Book your tickets here: http://www.littleonestheatre.com.au/merciless-gods/

Image by Sarah Walker


Don’t Look Away Presents FRANKENSTEIN

Snapshots of modern horror

By Owen James

Don’t Look Away’s modern-day production of Frankenstein presents the classic tale reinterpreted to face issues of tolerance, diversity, sanctuary and acceptance.

Frankenstein Image by Sarah Walker.jpg

The horror of this Frankenstein comes not from a fictional, gothic world, but from the mirror that this production holds to the horrors of contemporary Western society. We are asked to reflect on our own place in the world, as Frankenstein’s monster desperately tries to find its own.

The stripped-back script by Lally Katz (after Mary Shelly) presents us with every necessary moment for plot development, but no more. Within a tight 65 minutes, the familiar but gargantuan story is totally reinvented for a modern audience, and then thrown at us in a series of fast-paced vignettes of both drama and comedy, with the themes and characters given a welcome priority. Director Phil Rouse ensures these vignettes are seamlessly connected, finding the thematic flow between sharp bubbles of action and moments of heightened dramatic tension.

The choice of Chantelle Jamieson as The Creation is a compelling and powerful one, her gender and ethnicity intrinsically linked to the thematic content of both the play and the character. She presents a Creature not unlike a possible young woman of today – lost in a confusing world without guidance – and draws every bit of intertextuality out of the text possible, ensuring the audience is left both uncomfortable and amused. With mesmerising stage presence in every scene, it is unmistakably her journey we are following.

The titular Victor himself is presented through an incredibly physical performance by Michael McStay. This Victor is not an arrogant scientist but a man as lost and confused as his own creation. Although presenting levels of both eye-opening physicality and balanced subtlety, McStay’s dramatic side could not always match his natural affinity for comedy.

Their performances are joined with beautifully timed assistance from Martin Quinn as the onstage assistant. Some of the best comedic moments came from the presence of Quinn’s movement or assistance onstage, and I would almost love to have seen more from this quirky addition.

The bold and inventive sound design by Neil McLean creates the perfect atmosphere, and also adds to the comedy of the piece with the synthetic texture of pulsing 80’s beats. Lighting by Richard Whitehouse is evocative and resourceful, matched by sets and costumes by Martelle Hunt, which are simple but incredibly effective.

When exposed and stripped back, the themes and characters of Frankenstein are hauntingly relevant to modern issues prevalent worldwide. The uncompromising sharp wit of Don’t Look Away’s tight production ensures these themes will continue to turn around in your mind long after you leave the theatre. Ultimately we are faced with a question of acceptance, and a challenge to embrace the ignored.

Frankenstein runs at TheatreWorks in St Kilda until July 29, tickets through theatreworks.org.au

Image by Sarah Walker

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




By Joanna Simmons

Lyric Opera presents the first in its’ trio for the 2017 season, and Camille Saint Saens’ The Japanese Princess is a wonderful choice of work. Having never been performed in Australia; this one-act comic opera is accessible and excellent. The story is simple so the main feature is the music; played beautifully by the Lyric Chamber orchestra and sung by the experienced cast of three. It’s a treat for the ears, and with dialogue in English and subtitles for all the French Songs it defies any old notions that opera is dusty fat ladies warbling in foreign tongues for hours.

The Japanese Princess.jpg

We follow the story of Kornelis, an art student who becomes infatuated with all things Japanese, and much to his fiancée (and cousin in the libretto) Lena’s dismay, becomes obsessed with the portrait of a mysterious Japanese Princess, Ming (not a Japanese name.) Ming makes Lena question herself, her relationship and Kornelis’ sanity. The voluptuous orchestra ornately guides the story with a nod to the orient with songs with colourful language and robust emotions.

Lena, played by Kimberly Coleman (and alternated with Kate Macfarlane) was naturalistic and strong.  She plays up the comedy where needed and connects with the other players and the music. Robert Macfarlane as Cornelius’s (alternated with Hew Wagner) dulcet tenor tones were right on the money. I wish his acting was as strong, as there were a lot of comedic moments that could have been more detailed with facial expression and timing, and other moments that felt forced. Arisa Yura as Ming, is subtlely woven into the story and is captivating to watch. She dances skillfully with a fan, her delicate hands well placed; yet then does some turns and steps that break character and genre, which feels disjointed alongside the music and set.

The intricate set designed by Christina Logan Bell that feels like the inside of a Japanese fan or tea house, complete with tatami mats, is beautiful and memorable. It, combined with the well-plotted lighting by Lucy Birkinshaw, transports us to this wonderous other world. Lucy Wilkins’ costume design fits well with the set and the era, adding colour and beauty with Ming’s kimono, and a neutral- everyday feel to Cornelius and Lena. Director Miki Oikawa has tastefully bought this production out to be one that is accessible in our modern day, in partnership with artistic director and conductor Pat Miller, whose passion and knowledge is evident, and should be highly commended.

The part I loved the most about this show was the beginning, where Miller turned around from facing the orchestra and invited us to ensure that our phones weren’t going to disturb the performance, but encouraged us to use them, to share with people what we are doing, and push opera to become something that is spoken about, shared, liked, snapchatted, hashtagged and all. In our world of watching videos for 30 seconds before getting distracted, it can be difficult to produce theatre to challenge our palates whilst tickling them too. This show is engaging and enchanting, simple and satisfying for the ears and eyes.

Lyric Opera’s The Japanese Princess played at Chapel Off Chapel, 11-18 March, 2017

Image by Sarah Walker


Poppy Seed Festival Presents LADYCAKE

Inventive, outrageous, and entertaining

By Myron My

When you hear the quote, “Let them eat cake”, you can’t help but think of Marie Antoinette. Interestingly enough, there is no official account of the lady ever having said this, and most facts point to it being almost impossible for the phrase to have been coined by her. Performed as part of the Poppy Seed Festival, LadyCake looks at the life of Marie Antoinette through the eyes of three of her handmaidens and how there is much uncertainty on what is fact and what is fiction when it comes to the last Queen of France.


The three performers, Candace Miles, Madelaine Nunn and Anna Rodway – who also created the story – seem to relish playing the three handmaidens, and to be having real fun in messing with history in such a macabre and ostentatious way. While set in the 18th century, the script includes references to modern innovations – such as the internet – darkly reminding us that despite the centuries, the roles women play in society have not changed that much. This is further highlighted in the scenes where they each play Marie’s disapproving mother Maria Theresa, and the general population who slowly began to turn against the Queen.

Anastasia Poppenburg creates an opulent world in a highly simplistic style with bright pink and green fabrics on display, and luscious trees and plants lining the garden where the handmaidens spend their time gossiping. The eventual downfall of the Queen is signified in a bold and devastating manner and the ensuing final moments of LadyCake shows how idle gossip easily becomes confused with fact while also showing the ludicrous expectations that women have to face in a patriarchal society, both then and now.

Furthermore, Lucy Wilkin‘s garish costumes of large pink froufrou dresses and big blonde poufs perfectly encapsulate the absurd demands these women are meant to adhere to, not only in their service to their Queen, but to society in general.

Three Birds Theatre have come a long way since their 2015 Fringe Festival show, Three Birds One Cock, which looked at the female characters of Alfred Hitchcock’s films. While LadyCake could do with some tightening of the script with scenes that played out too long or just felt unnecessary, there is huge potential for this innovative company to generate a strong reputation for itself and its unique brand of theatre.

Venue: Trades Hall, 54 Victoria St, Carlton
Season: until 27 November | Tues – Sat 8pm, Sun 4pm
Tickets: $35 Full | $25 Concession
Bookings: Poppy Seed Festival

Image by Sarah Walker


Poppy Seed Festival Presents BLESSED

Dark and dusty divinity

By Myron My

The Poppy Seed Festival returns to Melbourne for its second year, opening with Fleur Kilpatrick’s Blessed , a modern retelling of angel Gabriel’s visit to Mary informing her that she is to be the mother of Jesus presented by Attic Erratic. While her previous work, The City They Burned, successfully re-imagined the story of Lot and the fall of Sodom into contemporary times, in this production there is perhaps too much effort in pushing the religious undertones, whereupon I feel the authenticity of what Kilpatrick is attempting to create gets blurred.


The story follows Maggie and Grey (Olivia Monticciolo and Matt Hickey), who after years of no contact are reunited in Grey’s grimy and shabby home. These are people who are from the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum and living in community housing, who are struggling to make ends meet with low-paying jobs.

While the idea of these two characters being involved with The Annunciation is an interesting exploration of the above issues facing many today, the story never quite gets to making as much as an impact or statement as it should; and for me, if this is a love story, then Hickey and Monticciolo are also unsuccessful in finding it in their characters. While effort has clearly gone into developing Grey and Maggie, the relationship between them doesn’t seem to resonate convincingly on stage and the journey to get to the finale seemed to stagnate at times. Even some adroit direction by Danny Delahunty failed to ignite a spark in the performances or keep the momentum building.

The set design by Luc Favre is a highlight however, and clearly depicts the squalid environment in which Grey and Maggie find themselves in. The unkempt bedroom and the rubbish and clothes strewn across the room are a great visual extension of where Grey has found himself in life.

Kilpatrick may have a deeper message to impart with Blessed in terms of class, love and equality, but unfortunately this production feels as messy as Grey’s bedroom.

Venue: Malthouse Theatre, 113 Sturt Street, Southbank VIC 3006
Season: Until 20 November | Tues – Sat 8pm, Sun 4pm
Tickets: $38 Full | $28 Conc
Bookings: Malthouse Theatre

Image by Sarah Walker


Theatre Works Presents ANTI-HAMLET

Fierce, funny and fraught

By Leeor Adar

Satirising the current state of Australian politics with the heady and destructive tendencies of the Prince of Denmark lends for a wild, funny, and at times utterly confusing production. Just as I’ve grasped one metaphor and issue, Mark Wilson’s Anti-Hamlet shifts us onto the next, expecting its audience to intelligently manoeuvre themselves through the multi-layered political arc Wilson has created.


This is the third of Wilson’s Shakespearean adaptations after Unsex Me and Richard II. Wilson comments that these productions “inherit from Shakespeare”, and fill the gaps. On this occasion, Wilson engages with the Australian inability to confront its history. History is the underlying theme of Anti-Hamlet, but I am deeply sceptical as to how tenuously Hamlet itself connects to a country’s collective blindness.  I will say in Wilson’s defence, his ability to bring Shakespeare’s Hamlet into contemporary ‘realness’ and embellish its themes with references to the Australian political climate is impressive. That is no easy feat. Despite this tenuous connection, the key issues rage on. A young man, both sexually and politically impotent – afraid and trying to find meaning at a time when ‘democracy’ feels more like forcing kool-aid down your throat.

Wilson is wildly funny and painfully irritating as Hamlet. Wilson is accompanied by some theatre-heavyweights in Marco Chiappi’s Claudius, Natasha Herbert’s Gertrude, and Brian Lipson’s marvellous contribution as Sigmund Freud. These actors brilliantly dive into Wilson’s writing and bring to life the characters in an exciting and relevant way. Herbert’s Gertrude is an indulgent, lazy queen whose concern is with turning her gaze towards her possessions rather than noticing that her power is waning. Chiappi’s Claudius is the fabulous politician in the blue tie (a wink to our political leaders), desperate to become President of Australia’s new Republic. A new addition is the role of Freud, and it’s so apt that Freud should show up as the family psychiatrist to stir Hamlet et al. Freud, like Hamlet in this production, is a self-aware character that almost recognises that he is party to a play and merely a plot device. It works very well, and adds yet another intricate layer to this complex work.

Anti-Hamlet unpacks two issues astonishingly well. Firstly, there’s the spin-doctoring behind politics, which takes on a seductive and serpentine fervour in Charles Purcell’s energetic American marketer, Edward Bernays. Secondly, there is the idealism of those politically-minded young Australians who succumb to the political machine in a feeble attempt to create change in the world. Ophelia (Natascha Flowers) is the modern woman; she’s no limp-limbed belle of Shakespeare’s imaginings. A Rhodes Scholar and Oxford graduate, Ophelia comes brimming with ambition for a better nation, but is the futile pawn to a more experienced and cynical power under Claudius and his newly-minted henchman, Bernays. Wilson’s Hamlet serves as the alternative to Ophelia – a politically awakened youth with nothing but privilege and a blossoming conscience who thinks taking back ‘blackface’ to undermine racism is an acceptable and intelligent statement. Hamlet is politically impotent, and this funnels through into his sexuality, which he attempts to mask. This is a striking point of discussion for this production, because it single-handedly takes on issues that are utterly relevant in Australian politics today, but does so in a manner that humours and pinches those politically aware within its audience.

Anti-Hamlet is self-indulgent and utterly self-aware. If you’re a Shakespeare puritan, perhaps step away. However, if you’re interested in a play that engages with the politics of today in an original way, you may be convinced to come down to Theatre Works and indulge yourself… and Wilson.

Anti-Hamlet continues to run Thursday-Saturday 8pm, and Sunday 5pm until November 13 at Theatre Works in St Kilda. Afternoon session at 2pm Saturday. Book your tickets here: http://www.theatreworks.org.au/whatson/buyeventtickets/?id=278

Image by Sarah Walker