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Monday 25 November 2013


I enjoy my adventures to the Old 505’s community space. Not only does life invade your senses upon entering an area clearly occupied with the seedy realism of local residents but I also love the notion of supporting, developing and exploring the experimental works that take place up there on the fifth floor.

Sean O’Riordan’s most recent play (as writer, director and actor), ‘Apples and Pears’ was what took me to the Old 505 last Friday night. O’Riordan’s play captures a mix of Joe Orton, Edward Bond and a smattering of Harold Pinter to create a quasi-absurdist piece that revolves around Max (Geoff Sirmai), spurned lover now aged and looking to reconcile his criminal past with those who he had imprisoned, Judy (Deborah Jones) and Les (Sean O’Riordan) and their daughter Kristen (Eleanor Ryan).

The impressive set that fills the space is the first sign you’re seeing something invested in this text. Andrea Espinoza’s design makes us feel the first twinkling of Pinter is this crowded, decrepit flat that resembles a man who has hoarded his life away since the 1960’s. Its lack of colour, of personality and of life itself perfectly encapsulates Max. It is only the chess set and framed picture that suggest any kind of activity or connection to the world he has forfeited.  Tony Youlden’s lights make us feel like this is a one bulb, dimly lit, dank and dirty flat and so before any character sets foot on the stage, we have already started crafting a narrative.

Sirmai’s opening monologue as Max contains lots of lovely potential but the premise of setting the wheels in motion of his liberation or castration and the signposting of his relationship with the 'queen' is not there yet. Max has been waiting and planning this moment for decades and for me the dialogue feels indulgent and forced more than serving the character and probably needs another draft to aid both functions effectively. I think part of the issue is that the opening monologue doesn’t quite tread the boards of absurdism (yet) nor realism so it’s slightly out of place and feels contrived so early in the piece. This didn’t stop me enjoying the show and it’s not an issue of commitment. This never faulted at any time during the two hour performance.

Also slightly strange was O’Riordan’s delivery of dialogue staring out into the audience. Without using direct eye contact with those he was trying to oppress, Les felt less than real and the threat of his power is as damp as the flat he's standing in. The physical moments of pulling teeth or playing with the hammer were terrific but I wish he looked at the other characters more than the glassy eyed expressions out to us.

The other thing not quite there yet are the ‘tilts’- those moments where the action or information suddenly shifts to reveal a twist or turn in events. O’Riordan’s script might be missing one more tilt, especially for the female characters and this might help reconcile why Judy would want to save Max, which felt undeveloped and unexplored. It seems to me she’s ready for independence and not looking to embark on throwing herself into another relationship with a man who essentially abandoned her so many years ago. Judy, especially with the powerful performance of Deborah Jones, is a manipulative dominatrix. I would have liked to have seen this followed through in the final tilts of ‘Apple and Pears’. It means that the ending doesn’t deliver the lovely finish it could but it still leaves us mostly satisfied. But I’m not a dramaturge (some would argue not even a reviewer) and so this is my opinion based on my reading of the play in production. Confession- it may partly be affected by the fairy floss martini I had before the show and my reputation as a one-pot screamer.

But it’s all positive from there. This show has one amazing thing to recommend it. Deborah Jones. She steals the show in delivery of dialogue, accent, energy, tactics and expression. In fact, the story really hits its strides when she enters the space, especially when Les (O’Riordan) enters and allows Judy to play with the dimensions of character. It’s a cast of experienced and talented performers. This play was an entertaining night out and one of the strongest original works staged in the Old 505 I’ve seen so far.

It may seem like I’ve cast more than a critical eye over this work but it’s given out of love. There is a lot to commend this play and I think its outing at the Old 505 will be the first of its many public incarnations. No doubt O’Riordan will keep refining this play until it’s exactly where it needs to be and then it’s going to be an enormous vehicle for all in it and will have a deserved decent run in bigger mainstream venues.

It is thoroughly refreshing, like a potent fairy floss martini, to see local talent in all its forms on the Sydney stage and hoorah for providing a solid base in writing and performing as offered in ‘Apples and Pears’. I tips me glass to you all. 

Monday 18 November 2013


I thought for sure that a musical based on a Stephen King novel could not be serious. I’d even told friends I was going to see a parody of King’s ‘Carrie’, written by Lawrence D Cohen and music by Michael Gore and Dean Pitchford and playing at the Reginald Theatre, Seymour Centre. I may have sold it on that premise to my theatre companion when I saw it on Friday night because how can you represent a girl with telekinesis, the religious zealot that is Carrie’s mother, a group of vicious school bullies and an unfortunate incident at prom in song and dance? Surely can’t be done.

Umm…wrong on all counts. Done and delivered by Squabbalogic under the direction of Jay James-Moody, musical direction of Mark Chamberlain, choreography of Shondelle Pratt and a very talented cast and crew. Well dip me in a bucket of pig’s blood and call it legitimate entertainment for that’s what ‘Carrie. The Musical’ is.

This show is as polished and professional as any big shot show I’ve ever seen. ‘Carrie. The Musical’ has integrity in its material and execution and under James-Moody’s directorial talent, this musical captures the essence and mood of King’s novel.

Sean Minahan’s set expresses the supernatural, destitute, abandoned world of this play and its social attitudes in the scaffolded ghost-like interiors. It’s also a lovely metaphor for Carrie and the world she inhabits- not quite formed, haunted by shadows of the past, repressed and painful and dying to become whole. Mikey Rice has created a series of impressive lighting effects- boxing in the spotlight and enhanced by Jessica James-Moody’s sound design, we get to jump between the present world of survivor Sue Snell (Adele Parkinson) and the events of the play as recounted in action and ensemble with a slick theatricality and tension.

I’ll admit, I did drift off during some of the songs but for the most part, the cast were terrific, especially lead actress Hilary Cole as Carrie. She was an exceptional performer in belief, vocals and movement. I never doubted her dilemma and the effect it was having on her. But this is a great ensemble piece and interactions such as innocent do-gooders and young lovers Snell (Parkinson) and Tommy Ross (Rob Johnson) or bitter bully Chris Hargensen’s (Prudence Holloway) song in homage to daddy; Carrie (Cole) and her mother Margaret’s (Margi de Ferranti) troubled and abusive relationship shown in Carrie’s imprisonment, or the comic byplay of Norma Watson’s (Monique Salle) plotting and teasing or teacher Lynn Gardiner's (Bridget Keating) attempt to help are just some of the highlights of this show.

I enjoyed it more than I thought I would and even if you’re no fan of Stephen King (I’m still getting therapy for ‘The Shining’), this show will convert you to the horror of King’s novels in the nicest form possible.

So skip the school formal and venture into the world of ‘Carrie. The Musical’ before something nasty happens. 

Friday 15 November 2013

STC’S ‘WAITING FOR GODOT’ dissected by me

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you would know that Samuel Beckett’s ‘Waiting for Godot’ is one of those seminal plays that redefined theatre in the twentieth century. It catapulted ‘Theatre of the Absurd’ into the mainstream and fuelled the global existentialist post-World War II dilemma. We are familiar with its themes of the endless stagnation and meaningless repetition of life; time as a subjective and painful oppressor; the intrinsic state of loneliness, even when we are with other people; and of course, the biggy, what is the objective truth in reference to faith?

Our two main characters, Vladimir (Hugo Weaving) and Estragon (Richard Roxburgh) are suffering from a crippling paralysis of action and even though they talk about breaking the cycle but they never do. Don't we all know that feeling? There is ‘nothing to be done’ but the same thing every day. In a nutshell, it doesn’t get much bleaker than this.

This is the third time I’ve seen this play (maybe only the second- it's one of those plays that feels like you've seen it more times than you have) and this will be the last (I hope). If I am to take the adage ‘to thine own self be true’, I love this play and I hate this play. I love it for its clever, ground-breaking ability to present a completely different, depressing world view through the power of its staging and style. I hate it because it’s painful to watch and it’s meant to be just that. It’s hard-going and it requires much of its audience to sit in the silence and repetition of the characters and by inference, reflect our inadequacy to act upon our intentions in a world without meaning.

Yet, there is brilliance in Beckett’s ability to comment on itself, on society, on the world and on religion. It can feel like eating those highly potent good-for-you vegetables that you don't want to eat and that take so long to chew in their textual-vitamin-rich-blandness that you'd rather choke to death than digest it.

I tell you this as a long prelude to explain why any production of this play would struggle to make me love the three hours of watching it. I appreciate it, of course, but you will still need to rub my back in the last hour as I suffer in the 'endless stagnation of my own existentialist crisis'.

Andrew Upton has given 'Waiting for Godot' a damn red hot go and previous director, Tamas Ascher, who had to pull out of the show, is not missed in this interpretation. Upton has earned his stripes and does great justice to Beckett's masterpiece. If you love this play, you won’t be disappointed. If you struggle with this play, you won’t be disappointed. If you hate this play, why on earth would you go and see it in the first place? It would be like getting teeth pulled. 

Roxburgh is superb in his physicality and comic timing and ability. I had forgotten how masterful he is in regards to stage presence and he steals this show. Add in Weaving's strong performance, they are a powerhouse partnership and there is a dynamic energy and synergy between them. Philip Quast’s Pozzo, especially as oppressor, was also terrific and Luke Mullins, the only man to have had more work on stage this year than Toby Schmitz, is utterly transformed and transfixing. The cast bring it home. 

Zsolt Khell’s set design, originally conceived with Ascher, of browns and blacks in the rubble of this post-apocalyptic world that also pays homage to the run-down theatre of its time is another chance to comment on art and life as indistinguishable. Alice Babidge’s threadbare and worn costumes are as depressing as the play itself and Nick Schlieper’s lights never make us feel comfortable as the state makes day grind into hours before hitting night and disappearing back into day so quickly. It’s like my heart-rate lowers, life has ebbed into a painful chore and relief never comes. Add the underscore of the discordant sound design of Max Lyandvert and I am completely immersed in the misery of this world.

The play feels longer than it needs to be and we were all warned via email days before the show that the advertised 2 hours and 30 minutes was closer to 3 and honestly, I desperately needed it to end. I saw the first preview, which was already a polished and professional outing, and I imagine they will shave a bit of time off it throughout the season and if they don’t, go with it- that’s the spirit of the play after all. And as I stated earlier, this is my crisis in the crisis of the play’s crisis. It is not the production. It fulfils all you'd want from this play.

If you’ve never seen a production of ‘Waiting for Godot’, this is a strong, faithful and appropriate production. Roxburgh and Mullins are incredible but they are all substantial and talented in this cast. If this play can be enjoyed, this is the production to see. Then have a very stiff drink post-show and maybe a massage.

Monday 11 November 2013

‘SPOIL YOUR LOVE LIFE’ dissected by me

I saw Michelle Pastor perform her show, ‘Spoil Your Love Life’ on Saturday night at The Newsagency, Marrickville. It’s a tiny converted space opposite Enmore Park that allows a very small audience to fill a room. It's also aided by the kindergarten-size chairs for the audience and the narrow performing space.

Pastor has experimented with this show over the last few years. It had one incarnation at the Tamarama Rocksurfers Homebrew in 2011 and did a tour of the Adelaide Fringe in 2013. Essentially the show can be summarised as a married woman locking herself in the bathroom to escape the kids and the monotony of her marriage so she can fantasise about being swept off her feet by Hugh Jackman. Of course most of those scenarios then seem to involve a series of failed attempts to find happiness with him and with Pastor’s character falling down in the street, humiliated. For me, the idea of a fantasy seems to involve a happy ending, in every sense. What a pity that her fantasies seem to involve failure and rejection.

It’s quite a polished show and does have some nice moments. It pumps out a few show tunes, there’s some interaction with the musician and there’s an opportunity to dress her up in an audience-devised toilet paper dress and cotton wool confetti. The problem isn’t the skill of the performer, it is the tired old material.

The show raised a question that concerns me and it may seem strange after my most recent review on the feminist piece playing at the Ensemble, but why do so many women devise material around the pursuit of a man, marriage and subsequent lack of fulfilment? Is this our narrative? Is this our sole purpose in life? How many men engage in parallel stories? I can’t think of many solo-male shows that are primarily about finding the perfect girl, unless it’s tongue-in-cheek to highlight a hypocrisy and hyper-sexualised perception of the opposite sex and how unrealistic they are in finding what they’re looking for. Men seem to have stories about surviving addiction, beating the system, jumping obstacles, or about identity, growing up, avoiding growing up, etc but it is generally not about women. Women are not the focus of their narratives. No more will I sit in the audience, watching women do shows about men and their desperate need to find some sort of elusive happiness by securing the romantic notion of fulfilment through love.

Speak to a man and you’ll be lucky if he even tells you he’s got a family. To him it just doesn’t seem relevant. It's incidental and not a note-worthy achievement. I once did this series of intense personal acting classes with this guy where we spoke about the death of our parents, our deepest fears and hopes, etc and it was ages before it was revealed he was married with kids and only when a mutual friend told me. How does that not come up in conversation, I thought?  For men, marriage seems part of a story but it does not define them. Why can’t women embrace the same?

I’m generalising but the point is this: if women make men the focus of their stories in expressing that our ultimate quest or focus should be in securing a man, that’s sad. In the case of this show, if the focus is that even he can’t make you happy and clearly we can’t find happiness within ourselves, that’s worse. What frustrates me is this is the story we constantly tell. Where are the narratives about women overcoming adversity, about our successes, failures, achievements, impressions, etc that don’t involve trying to get married or make a man the focus of it? And by implication, what are we saying to our girls about what it means to be our sex and what power are we endowing to men if we are always telling them that they are the key to our happiness?

I do not want to sit through another one-woman show about singledom, marriage and misery. Instead let me see your show about your quest to be the first star ship captain, your pathetic record of ski injuries, fighting the local government development plan- anything but looking for love in all the wrong places.

To finish, ‘Spoil Your Love Life’ was perfectly adequate but maybe you can find or devise material that excites you and your audience and fills the house. After three years, if this material hasn’t done that for you yet, let it go. 

Friday 8 November 2013


Gina Gionfriddo’s play is deserving of its selection as a finalist for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for many reasons. Firstly, it’s tapped into a real currency of topic about feminism, violence, promiscuity and pornography. Secondly, it nails the existentialist dilemma for women of career or family. Thirdly, it explores the mother and child relationship and its own crisis of identity and finally, it explores loss and discovery- of love, of idealism and of our finite existence.

They say (well, I’ve been known to say) that good material will do most of the work for you and this is excellent material. I’ve just taken a fruitless search into trying to buy the script online so I can enjoy it all over again, highlight sections and start posting them on Facebook to annoy my friends. Lucky for director Sandra Bates that she chose well in ‘Rapture, Blister, Burn’ and generally cast it well and then shaped it so it could do its work.

It truly is a joy to watch a play that entertains as it informs. I’m certainly now more educated on feminist theory and the parallels of horror films to the women’s movement and the division of feminism in regards to pornography and even though the play is contrived into lessons to nut out all this theory, it cleverly weaves this into the developing and changing relationships of the women and man of the play. The theories of women at work versus women at home are a bit hackneyed and cliched but it does allow for the play to take us somewhere different in the second half that puts it all into perspective. 

There were a few times when I thought the play had enormous resonance for me in its dialogue and banter. I guess as an orphaned, childless, unmarried woman in her 40’s (otherwise known as a bitter barren old spinster) some of the lines in regards to “no-one will love you like your mother does” and “your life doesn’t begin until your mother dies” are freakishly close to the bone. What becomes apparent as the play progresses is that for many women, mentoring is the new motherhood and this perhaps best describes the relationship between childless protagonist Cathy Croll (Georgie Parker) and Avery Willard (Chloe Bayliss).

What is probably the least sympathetic role is that of Gwen Harper (Anne Tenney) and her husband Don (Glenn Hazeldine). Perhaps if I had kids, the portrayal of the homemaker as a desperate, jealous and controlling manipulator might have angered me. Instead I breathed a sigh of relief that it was not a reflection of me.

The production itself was a faithful rendition of the play. Graham Maclean’s New England styled home got the job done and Bates has played with proxemics in how close the actors got to the audience whilst still maintaining that fourth wall, which didn’t always help sightlines but did allow for interesting dynamics on stage.

But mostly, the cast managed to bring dimensions to these roles, driven by Georgie Parker and especially Chloe Bayliss, who not only got most of the good lines but delivered them with sass and perfect comic timing. It is the insights that her character Avery brings that allow us to identify with her as an audience because the more she learns and the more she sees, the more critical she is of that information and relationship, just as the writer wants us to be. In many ways, she becomes the most mature character on stage by the end of the play.

Diane Craig (Alice Croll) as Cathy’s mother had great moments on stage and the relationship between Craig and Parker was utterly convincing as mother and daughter. Hazeldine’s Don was a terrific portrayal of the middle-aged lost boy who not only fails to live up to his potential and by having a wife who is thoroughly disappointed in him, he doesn’t have to be disappointed in himself. He can be the poor, hard-done-by, nagged husband. He can be viewed as the victim and our sympathies then fall with him, which is a fascinating study of gender roles once again.

It was only Anne Tenney who I thought didn’t deliver as strongly as the others. I felt her journey never quite rung true on stage and her character was slightly over-played in expression, accent and timing and therefore came off as contrived.

However, I’d happily sit through this play again for the writing alone and for women everywhere, this should be mandatory viewing. Maybe take your men folk too and dive into a history of feminist theory and gender relationships discussion post-show if you can.