Tag: Tony Llewellyn-Jones

Opera Australia and John Frost Present MY FAIR LADY

Lush, lovely and loyal revival

By Bradley Storer

Rapturous strings and a painted scrim of the Thames welcomed the audience into the world of Edwardian-era London on the Melbourne opening night at My Fair Lady. This production under the direction of the original Eliza Doolittle, Dame Julie Andrews herself, hums with vitality, and with sets and costumes modelled on the original Broadway production (by Oliver Smith and Cecil Beaton respectively) one can feel the wonder the show must have provoked in the audience of yesterday, the Ascot Gavotte a particular moment of sheer visual loveliness.

My Fair Lady Photo by Jeff Busby.jpg

Anna O’Byrne is perfectly cast as Eliza. Her silvery soprano handled the score with ease, deploying Eliza’s feistiness and vulnerability in equal measure, and winning the audience’s heart in all her iconic numbers – but especially in the giddy and rapturous ‘I Could Have Danced All Night’. Her standing ovation at the end of the night was well-earned.

Charles Edwards manages to find the heart and humanity in the often reprehensible Henry Higgins, but doesn’t shy away from his acid tongue or biting wit in ‘Why Can’t The English?’ and ‘Hymn to Him’, managing to adroitly combine the ‘talk-singing’ style of the originator Rex Harrison with moments of understated lyrical voice to create a more individualised interpretation.

As Higgins’ closest confidante, Colonel Pickering, Tony Llewellyn-Jones is charmingly hilarious in the duo’s back and forth and in his own small moments onstage. Robyn Nevin as Mrs Higgins steals the show effortlessly with just a few lines, subtly suggesting where Henry has inherited his quick wit and turn of phrase from.

The scene-stealing role of Alfred P. Doolittle is here played by Reg Livermore, who places his own stamp upon the part and nails the cheeky paean to laziness ‘With a Little Bit of Luck’. As the lovesick Freddy, Mark Vincent has a lush and easy vocal tone, delivering a lovely ‘On the Street Where You Live’. The ensemble are fantastic throughout, bringing superb energy and vivacity to their characters and shining in Christopher Gattelli‘s choreography for ‘I’m Getting Married in the Morning’.

There has been critical discussion over whether certain elements and the ending of the musical should have been changed for this new production, and indeed on opening night there were moments where the blatant misogyny of Higgins drew audible gasps from the audience – since this has been staged as a recreation of the original 1956 production, I felt that trying to sanitise the darker undertones of the show that are more apparent to society today would be dishonest. It is doubtful the work can ever be described as ‘feminist’, since the musical seems to be more actually focused on Higgins’ journey than Eliza’s and concerns itself more with the effects of the class system rather than gender, but by refusing to soften the sheer awfulness of Higgins’ character it can be argued the production maintains a measure of integrity, even as it is slightly baffling why the newly self-empowered Eliza would choose to return to him.

Overall, a charming and beautiful revisitation of a classic sure to delight any audience!

Dates: May 16th – July 27th (Melbourne)

Times: WednesdaySaturday 7:30pm, Tuesday 1pm, Wednesday 1pm, Sunday 3pm

Venue: Regent Theatre, 191 Collins St, Melbourne

Bookings: Ticketmaster.com.au or the venue box office

Image by Jeff Busby

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REVIEW: Return Season of NORTH BY NORTHWEST

Seeking the adventure again

By Caitlin McGrane

The reimagined Hitchcock classic North by Northwest gets an excellent presentation at the Melbourne Arts Centre after its fantastically successful run in 2015.

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For those who don’t know, the story is that of Roger O. Thornhill (Matt Day), Madison Avenue advertising executive mistaken for the mysterious George Kaplan in The Plaza Hotel in New York; thus setting in motion a chain of events that takes Thornhill to the United Nations, Chicago, and Mount Rushmore. His partner in crime is Eve Kendall (Amber McMahon), an enigmatic femme fatale with whom Thornhill forms an instant connection on a train.

Writer Carolyn Burns and director Simon Phillips really have done a terrific job of bringing the classic film to the stage; Burns has successfully managed to tread the very fragile line between appreciating and replicating the original, especially given it is such a well-loved text. Hitchcock’s contemporality is appropriately heightened through clever direction from Phillips, so some of the uncomfortable and backwards politics of the 1950s can be seen through a modern lens.

The ensemble cast, comprised of Nicholas Bell, Ian Bliss, Lyall Brooks, Leon Cain, Sheridan Harbridge, Matt Hetherington, Tony Llewellyn-Jones, Gina Riley, Lucas Stibbard and Lachlan Woods are all clearly having a ball. Harbridge, Llewellyn Jones and Riley all delivered standout performances, providing just the right number of nods and winks to the audience and some truly excellent accents. It would perhaps have been nice to see more chemistry between the two leads, and it sometimes felt to me like McMahon’s Eve was not as self-assured as her silver screen counterpart. But these minor critiques did not hamper my enjoyment of their respective performances.

It would be extraordinarily remiss of me not to mention the exceptional creative work from the backstage team. Nick Schlieper’s lighting and set design were joyously clever and funny, Ian McDonald’s composition and sound design catapulted me back in time to my first screening of North by Northwest, while Josh and Jess Burns’ innovative and hilarious use of video really stole the show. I shall never see Mount Rushmore the same way ever again.

To have a bad time watching North by Northwest would be an extremely difficult thing, and while this may seem like damning with faint praise I really would be surprised if anyone came out of seeing this production feeling anything but contented. Sometimes what I need is a big sugary treat from the theatre, and North by Northwest delivered deliciously comforting familiarity in spades. This is the second time I’ve seen the production, and it is the combination of joy, self-awareness and fun that makes this such a pleasure to watch.

North by Northwest is now showing at The State Theatre at the Arts Centre until 13 February 2016. More information and tickets from: https://www.artscentremelbourne.com.au/whats-on/theatre-drama/north-by-northwest-2016

REVIEW: MTC Presents NORTH BY NORTHWEST

MTC’s masterly salute to the master of suspense

By Rachel Holkner

How will they do the scene on Mount Rushmore? This has to be the question at the front of the mind of any audience member familiar with Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film North By Northwest. In this world premiere production by the Melbourne Theatre Company the film is adapted for the stage by Carolyn Burns in ingenious and highly entertaining ways.

North by Northwest

The story follow the trials of Roger Thornhill, a New York advertising man mistaken for a spy. Following leads and leading chases across several states on trains and planes, through hotels and auction house, Thornhill gradually uncovers a larger plot with higher stakes than a simple case of mistaken identity. High-paced action scenes are interspersed with romantic interludes, all peppered with witty dialogue. One of North By Northwest‘s main attractions: it doesn’t take itself too seriously.

More of a straight reenactment rather than a reimagining, director Simon Phillips‘ stage adaption sometimes holds a bit too tightly to the film. A few (very few) moments do not translate well, and might be a bit odd to anyone not familiar with Hitchcock’s work. Several characters are straight impersonations of the film’s actors, and this was to the play’s detriment. Occasionally it felt as though the actors did not have full ownership of their parts.

The cast of twelve do a spectacular job in taking on the work of a cast of thousands. With the aid of amazing costuming, wigs and headgear by costume designer Esther Marie Hayes it was easy to forget that the woman dining in the train had minutes ago been in a stand-up argument as Thornhill’s mother. Matt Day is excellent as Roger Thornhill, as was Amber McMahon as Eve Kendall, the femme fatale. Many other familiar names bring their strength to the production including Nicholas Bell, Tony Llewellyn-Jones, Deidre Rubenstein and Matt Hetherington. The entire cast deserves high praise for their faultless and energetic work.

However, the show-stealing performance, that which received the most spontaneous applause, laughs and gasps from the audience was the staging. An incredibly creative use of a massive rear-projection screen used with live-action miniatures brings the language of film right onto the stage. Complete with an opening credit sequence nod to the kinetic typography of Saul Bass (titles designer of many of Hitchcock’s films), no opportunity was lost to draw the audience into the play and into the manipulative world of 1950s America.

The audience shared in the glee of the cast as they interacted at frequent intervals with items key to the setting, whether writing notes, pouring drinks or driving tiny cars, these actions were projected to provide close-ups, midshots and moving backgrounds key to keeping the production as close to Hitchcock’s vision as possible. The iconic cropduster scene is gobsmackingly good, keeping us simultaneously on the edge of our seats and in fits of laughter.

I cannot know how much someone not familiar with the film would enjoy this production, however lines which I was merely nodding to as I recognised them, were getting genuine laughs from the audience which would indicate that there is enough clarity and freshness here for all. MTC’s North By Northwest is an amazing achievement. Hilarious, tense and dramatic at all the right moments. You won’t regret seeing this one, it’s sensational.

And as for Mount Rushmore? Well I can’t tell you. You simply wouldn’t believe me.

Venue: Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne
Season: Until 20 June 2015
Tickets: $51-$124
Bookings: http://www.artscentremelbourne.com.au