I saw ‘Seminar’ about two weeks ago, on its opening night and, as life would have it, I have not had a moment since to write this review (I am constantly thankful that I have no deadline or that I don’t work for the Daily Telegraph…I mean, how would I fit in anti-Labor vitriol and bias into every review?)
Anyway, as I have a moment of breath right now, I’ll keep this short and sweet. ‘Seminar’ is good. Very good in fact. Written by Therese Rebeck and directed by Anna Crawford, it’s made me want to search out work from both of these practitioners in the future. If you’re looking for a really solid piece of realist theatre that’s also current, witty, well-acted and engaging, I think this is your play.
If I get technical first, Alisa Paterson’s set design is fabulous. The slick, expensive, neutral New York apartment contrasted to the grungy chaos of Leonard’s (William Zappa) loft as revealed at the end of the play takes us straight into the personalities and their elitist and aspiration worlds and completely typifies the rise and fall of our characters. The doors to the reveal were clunky so it felt like an old train leaving the station but what a minor criticism of a great moment.
Ross Graham also provides us with some lovely subtle lighting states and how I loved some of those costumes coordinated by Margaret Gill, especially those of our party girl social climber, Izzy (Michelle Lim Davidson).
But mostly I’d like to commend some superb acting (and by implication directing) from a top cast. Zappa is perfectly cast as editor Leonard. He terrifies me like walking over hot coals and yet, the temptation and desire to be affirmed from a man who will cut out your heart for breakfast, ram it down your throat and that you will beg him to do it, is too great, as each of our characters finds out. Even Zappa told me in the foyer that I look like a teacher and I can only presume that wasn't a compliment. But I still thanked him. Yep...he terrifies me... Whilst Felix Gentle and Matt Zeremes put in fine performances, it was the girls who struck me with their skill, belief and energy. Matilda Ridgway as Kate put in one of the best lead performances in a realist piece I’ve seen for some time and Davidson found the perfect balance in creating Izzy’s charm, ambition and ruthlessness. Crawford has tightly directed this comedy drama and what a pleasure it was to watch. I felt it probably needed ten minutes shaved off the end as the pace starts to slow and all the pieces of the play are neatly wrapped up but I’m not complaining. I’m just old and cynical.
Which leads me to my last point…enough Ensemble bashing people (yes- I’ve been guilty of it too). This year’s return to the Ensemble after a long hiatus has uncovered what a diverse theatrical experience the Ensemble offers and it is time to take them more seriously as a theatrical force than perhaps we have. They won’t always create magic but so far they’ve offered strong and varied theatre in the Sydney scene. The fact that Lee Jones as Frankenstein's Creature didn’t even crack a mention in the recent Helpmann Awards reminded me that we are a small pool that only selects and acknowledges its talent from an even smaller pool. It’s time to reassess quality based on more than who gets government funding.
May I suggest if you want a good night out at the theatre, ‘Seminar’ would be an excellent way to go.