Tag: The Comedy Theatre

George Orwell’s 1984 at The Comedy Theatre

Big Brother lives

By Bradley Storer

In their adaptation of George Orwell’s classic cautionary tale of totalitarianism 1984, co-adaptors and directors Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan (with Australian associate director Corey McMahon) throw us instantly into questions of what is real, opening on what first appears to be the protagonist Winston Smith opening a forbidden blank writing book while the opening narration of Orwell’s text is read overhead before we are tossed into several alternative scenarios – are we watching instead an English bookclub examining the diary of Winston Smith and excavating its ambiguities? Is our ‘Winston’ merely a mentally feeble individual who has confused the book with his own identity? Frequent and craftily staged blackouts and scene changes do little to definitively answer these questions, and they drag us deep into the dark heart of Orwell’s story.

1984_Tom Conroy 3_c Shane Reid.jpg

Chloe Lamford’s intricate and layered set combines the cramped space of both an office and a typical flat as the actors pile onstage and off through various entrances, evolves handily into a movie screen for the more confined scenes in Winston and Julia’s romantic hideaway, and deconstructs completely and seamlessly into the blank, sterile holdings cell of the sinister Ministry of Love. The softer, more intimate moments are the highlights of the production, becoming cinematic closeups projected high above the stage which allow us to fully take in the characters’ mental anguish and budding romance in ways that might not otherwise have landed in this brisk, 100 minute adaptation. This becomes handily reversed in later scenes where the set is opened up into huge, harsh spaces that rub the audience’s nose in the brutality of this imagined world – Icke and Macmillan do not shy away from depicting this bloody violence onstage with gruesome detail, and on the night there were audible gasps from the audience at some of the things they saw.

Tom Conroy is incredibly compelling as Smith, the symbolic ‘everyman’ whose quiet rebellion against Big Brother is the focus of the narrative, delineating every step of Winston’s journey with precision and nuance, taking the character’s neuroticism and anxiety and making him intensely magnetic, a bundle of repressed passion and rage. Ursula Mills as Julia, the fellow party member who allies with Winston, takes her character on a huge journey – appropriately dark and mysterious to begin, morphing into a sharply seductive and cynical figure before softening into a hopeful and romantic counterpart to Winston’s bleak but optimistic intellect. As the ambiguous Inner Party aristocrat O’Brien, Terence Crawford brings a booming resonant voice and a paternal authority that is wielded to maximum effect (both benevolent and terrifying).

The ending here is layered with another level of ambiguity and horror in addition to Orwell’s original irony, and it would be a shame to spoil it here – rather, get in and see this thrilling and chilling tale given new life in this wonderful adaptation.

Venue: The Comedy Theatre, 240 Exhibition St, Melbourne VIC 3000

Dates: 31st May – 10th June

Times: Tues 6:30pm, Wednesday – Saturday 7:30pm, Thursday 11am, Saturday 2pm

Bookings: ticketmaster.com.au or at the venue

Image by Shane Reid


 Leave the kids at home…

By Bradley Storer

This year Trevor Ashley brings his naughty and controversial adults-only pantomime Little Orphan Trashley to town as part of the Melbourne Cabaret Festival. The show, an unofficial rip off of the musical Annie, is the sort of light-hearted family show that you would never bring your kids to.

Rhonda Burchmore as Miss Trannigan, the alcoholic and lascivious matron of the orphanage, effortlessly steals every scene she appears in, boozing, crooning and flashing her fabulous legs to great campy effect. Her songs are overall the best in the show, and an act two duet with Ashley is quite probably the best one of the night. Rhys Bobridge in the role of little Fannie’s pet dog (whose name is unprintable here) combines sex appeal – wait until you see his outfit! – with a cuddliness and comic timing that make his every moment onstage gleefully naughty. His first entrance had the audience in hysterics for what seemed like a full minute!

Little Orphan Trashley

Gary Sweet gets big laughs as a pajama-clad Prologue introducing us to the story, but as Daddy Warhorse a lot of his lines fall flat. He lacks the singing ability to bring off his musical number in Act One but does a better job in selling a delightfully dirty number in Act Two.

The problem is that the writing and the story are simply not engaging enough to hold the audience’s interest for the length of the show. The best parts (usually involving Burchmore or Bobridge) usually have absolutely nothing to do with the plot, so when Ashley and Sweet step forward to get the story moving again it feels like the laughs cease – in particular, an attempt to integrate recent controversy about child pornography in art into the story comes across as quite creepy (and not in the good way!). The jokes came hard and fast throughout, and there are many up-to-date references (including to Rudd’s recent disposal of Julia Gillard) which is a credit to the creative team in their efforts to keep the script fresh and relevant. However, even with this the success rate is still only fifty-fifty for the entire night, with a few precise zingers as exceptions, despite the commitment of the cast to the material.

Ashley himself does not shine with the glowing stage presence of a star, but seems like a low-key supporting character in the plot – which is hard to understand given he has more stage time, dialogue and songs than anyone in the cast. There was no moment in the show where I felt Ashley was given a chance to show off his full power and range as singer or performer, which was disappointing as in previous works he has been fantastic!

Venue: The Comedy Theatre, 240 Exhibition Street, Melbourne

Date: Thurs 4 to Sun 7 July then continuing on after the Festival until Sunday 14 July

Price: A Reserve $75, B Reserve $60

Time: Tue 7:00pm, Wed – Fri 8:00pm, Sat 6.30pm & 9.30pm, Sun 5:00pm

Bookings: www.ticketmaster.com.au , (03) 9299 9800, at the venue

REVIEW: Angela Lansbury and James Earl Jones are DRIVING MISS DAISY

Don’t miss the ride of two lifetimes

By Kim Edwards

To call a theatre event a once-in-lifetime experience is so often a cliché – but when seeing two golden stars of stage and screen of rare talent and rich careers, both now in their 80s, both in Melbourne, and sharing the stage together at the Comedy Theatre in Alfred Uhry‘s award-winning play, there is no other fitting phrase. Driving Miss Daisy received a standing ovation for opening night, and will no doubt enjoy packed houses for the rest of its Australian tour this year.

Angela Lansbury & James Earl Jones in DRIVING MISS DAISY (c) Jeff Busby

The story is endlessly appealing: a crotchety old Jewish lady (Angela Lansbury) is forced into accepting the services of black chauffeur Hoke (James Earl Jones) by her long-suffering son Boolie (Boyd Gaines), and the unlikely friendship that develops transcends class, race, creed and years. Lansbury was deliciously eccentric and briskly comedic as Daisy: if her portrayal was not quite as acerbic and biting as was needed to heighten the tension and contrast between the characters, her quiet pathos as the years passed was intensely moving and wonderful to see. Jones, reprising his Broadway role, is exceptional: his unexpected warmth and charm, the transformation of that famous booming and cultured voice into the delightful cadences of Hoke, and his beautifully underplayed comic timing made for a delicately crafted performance. Tony award-winner Gaines is a strong tether between the two leads, and his committed interpretation of Boolie is highly theatrical but appealing.

Director David Esbjornson has created a swift and smooth production that runs for ninety minutes without interval, and the deceptively simple set and staging is clearly designed to maintain focus on the famous cast. Sadly, this sleekness and streamlining is at the expense of moments of stillness or audience reflection: the episodic nature of the play means the story must roll briskly between the gentle, elderly pace of the characters’ interaction, but the poignant close of scenes (as when Daisy weeps) were whirled along without pause, which lessened their impact.

This production of Driving Miss Daisy was made for its audience, and if the sparks that fly when Darth Vader meets Mrs Lovatt are a little subdued, and the social commentary a little milder than the play warrants, it does not detract from the fact the fans are provided with everything else they could want: a ripe, heart-warming, engaging performance from two magnificent lead actors we are utterly privileged to see performing live on stage in Melbourne.

Driving Miss Daisy is playing until May 12 at the Comedy Theatre. Booking details are available here.

Review: WIL ANDERSON is Wilarious

Melbourne Comedy Festival fare at its finest

By Myron My

The first thing I noticed when Wil Anderson came on stage to perform his 2012 Melbourne International Comedy Festival show Wilarious, were the missing presence of thongs.

I have seen Wil perform five times and each time he has never worn proper shoes. I felt this was going to be a very different show with him standing in front of a room full of people – except for the two empty seats front row center  (their loss) – wearing shoes!

The beauty of Wil is that much of what he says has probably happened to many people, but it’s stuff that hardly anyone is willing to admit in a public forum. Put your hand up if you would happily (ok, maybe not happily) admit that “someone once fell asleep as I was going down on them”. Didn’t think so. But Wil does. And despite the subject matter, he doesn’t allow it get into crass territory, a trap into which so many others fall into.

Much of Wilarious does however draw on current issues and social commentary. There a perfect blend of seriousness and humour in what Wil has to say: from gay marriage rights to teaching kids that life isn’t always fair and not having them believe everyone comes up a winner all the time. There is truthfulness and reality to what Wil is saying and with his unique blend of story-telling and humour, and it makes for some poignant moments too – followed by fits of laughter.

Wil tells us that his mantra in life is that if you hear something negative, turn it into a positive. Sadly, it cannot be done in this circumstance as Wil is in top form delivering the right amount of laughs with the right amount of thinking and intellect. Wilarious met and exceeded expectations, reminding me why Wil Anderson is still considered as one of the best Australian stand-up comedians today.

The Comedy Theatre
Cnr Exhibition & Lonsdale Sts, Melbourne
28 March – 15 April
29 Mar-15 Apr Tue-Sat 8.45pm
Sun 6.15pm
Full Sat $40
Full Wed-Fri & Sun $36
Concession $30 (N/A Fri & Sat)
Bookings: http://www.comedyfestival.com.au/