Tag: Watch This

Watch This Presents MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG

Fine performances in a challenging musical

By Bradley Storer

Merrily We Roll Along, currently being presented by Watch This at the MTC, is one of Stephen Sondheim’s most beloved scores but was regarded in its original Broadway incarnation as a critical and commercial flop. Part of this is due to the challenging structure of the show, moving backwards in time to unravel the complexities of the characters depicted, but also since we begin with the central character at his most morally corrupt it can be hard to generate sympathy for him.

WatchThis Productions

As this character, Franklin Shephard, Lyall Brooks faces an uphill battle trying to make him sympathetic. He acts and sings the part very well, but feels stronger as the older Frank more than the younger one. Nelson Gardner is charmingly nerdy and goofy as Charley, bringing wonderful physical comedy to the role. Completing the central trio in the role of Mary is Nicole Melloy, and she is so brilliantly funny and heart-breakingly transparent in every moment that it feels like the role could have been written for her – watching her in the part makes a compelling case that the show’s central journey is actually Mary’s instead of Frank’s.

Sophie Weiss as Beth ably handles the show’s biggest ballad, ‘Not A Day Goes By’, and her character’s transition from a haunted and heart-broken woman to the sunny naivety of youth. As the famous Broadway star Gussie, Cristina D’Agostino nails her big dance number but doesn’t manage to find the humanity under the glamourous façade, directed to play the character so over the top that it comes off a caricature. The ensemble, playing a wide variety of characters across the twenty-year time lapse, are marvellous with too many standout moments to recount here, and their united voices as they sing ‘Our Time’ are a truly beautiful conclusion to the evening.

Sara Grenfell’s direction and staging feels slightly confused which is a problem with a show such as this where there is already a complex structure, and the minimalistic set (consisting mainly of a large staircase and a set of curtains) tends to blur the scenes together. Cameron Thomas does a wonderful job as the sole musician in this production, and while it is lovely to hear the voices of the cast and ensemble unamplified in the space, the score loses much of its potential power when played only on the piano.

While not entirely successful on all fronts, the collection of strong performances and Sondheim’s magnificent score make this new production of Merrily a worthwhile visit.

Venue: The Lawler Studio, Melbourne Theatre Company, 140 Southbank Boulevard, Melbourne VIC

Dates: 29th June – 15th July

Times: Tues – Sat 7:30pm

Prices: $39 – $49

Bookings: 8688 0800, MTC tickets online

Image by Jodie Hutchinson 

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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.