Dinner And A Show

A Piece of Theatre Review with some Good Wine.

Hei(di) Expectations: Review of New Theatre’s The Heidi Chronicles


I find myself returning to the New Theatre (in Newtown) due to its habitual staging of interesting, dare I say important, plays. Wendy Wasserstein’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play The Heidi Chronicles, about a sensitive woman’s efforts to find meaning in her life, is no different. Yet having watched this piece, I also find myself wondering whether Wasserstein manages to do what she sets out to.

The Heidi Chronicles follows Heidi Holland throughout the decades, from high school to middle age (1964 – 1989), charting the changing role of women (primarily through feminist sub-strands) in parallel. The play begins at the story’s temporal endpoint (1989) where Heidi is an accomplished art historian lecturing a group of students about forgotten yet important female painters from previous centuries. From here we flash back, then forward again, tracing Heidi and her friends through a dozen or so scenes, exploring love, sex, politics, careers and society’s idiosyncrasies towards women.

When it premiered in 1988, Wasserstein was hailed as a pioneer feminist playwright, who gave a voice to the disappointments that accomplished, well-educated women were reluctant to air. Unfortunately for us, this lingering melancholy about our place in the world remains all too relevant. To this end, the piece finds great pertinence in being honest about the movement. Whilst Feminism is unquestionably the most important thing to happen in the 20th century (after all, it’s half the human race!), the piece acknowledges the movement’s continued struggle to elevate (and embrace) varied individual experience, where instead, Feminism casts a feeble net around the idea of the collective. It is here that Heidi finds form and wit.

Nevertheless, the piece falters in presenting Heidi the person. Whilst it certainly lunges towards a wholesome portrayal, it refuses the jump at its conclusion. Heidi feels like a partial shadow, one we think we know (and could know) if it weren’t for the wall flower mentality written into the character. Undoubtedly, this is an issue with the writing. The play ‘sort of’ manages to juggle the two strands, right up until Heidi’s alumni speech (wonderfully performed by Lauren Dillon), but tapers off, rather sharply, leaving an unsatisfactory and slightly contrived ending. Perhaps if Wasserstein had let us see Heidi discover, through her changing relationships, the type of person (and feminist) she wanted to be, we may have been left satisfied, even inspired, by her individual experience (you do you).

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Despite these concerns, director Alice Livingstone (and set designer David Marshall-Martin) present a confident, colourful production which utilizes the small space creatively and appropriately. Taking inspiration from last year’s Broadway revival, Livingstone projects background news slides and photographs onto the white walls, faithfully aiding the audience as to the decade and its corresponding concerns (Nixon, Kennedy’s Assassination, Civil Rights Movements, the Iranian Embassy siege, Reagan – just to name a few). The soundtrack is Wasserstein’s domain however, with a collection of script-specified pop songs that feature female artists from the time: Betty Everett, Janis Joplin, Fleetwood Mac and the fabulous Stevie Nicks. The design combinations work, and with some flashy retro costume design from Famke Visser, we are easily transported from decade to decade.

Livingstone also draws some good performances from her cast, where the only blanket criticism would be that the intellectual riffs occasionally got the better of them. Lauren Dillon presents a thoughtful Heidi, though at times appears to blend into the scenery. Nevertheless, Dillon impressively reconciles Heidi’s introversion with her quiet confidence, an essential, if not key, component to the character. Darren Sabadina shines as Heidi’s best friend Peter Patrone. He is quick, sarcastic, loyal and camp as a row of tents. Sabadina hit all the right emotional peaks (especially during his ‘coming out’ scene), but had a tendency to garble dialogue – the more lengthy punchlines in particular. Matthew Charleston worked well as Scoop Rosenbaum, a charming playboy that never quite gets away.  One wishes however, that Charleston was just that bit more charming, enough to offset his arrogance. This might improve the conceit that Heidi continues to stick around (though perhaps his moments of sincerity did the trick). Caroline Levien makes a good fist of Susan Johnston, Heidi’s gal pal through the ages, and really comes into her own during Susan’s 80s powerhouse phase – superficial and never really present in conversation.

Of the supporting cast, Sarah Aubrey is by far the standout. Her chameleon-like ability to switch between Fran the militant lesbian feminist, April Lambert the spurious TV presenter, and a variety of other bit parts was impressive and seamless. Amelia Robertson-Cuninghame was particularly watchable as Jill, the apprehensive mother of four and Lisa Friedlander a ‘secure six’ and children’s books illustrator from the Deep South, whom Scoop eventually marries (despite being in love with Heidi, a ‘ten’). She penetrates the hesitation with which some women approach feminism, as it is unknown, and often less secure. Both Olivia O’Flynn and Benjamin Winckle round out the cast with their sound performances in the other varied roles (particularly O’Flynn as Debbie Friedlander, Lisa’s more successful though impressionable sister).

Many scenes hit hard, and you are guaranteed to hear a murmur of all-too-knowing outrage from female audience members, where in one scene, the men constantly speak over and for Heidi, only then to turn around and tell her that she should have talked more. Thankfully, she corrects them. Ultimately, The Heidi Chronicles still feels like it has something to say, and sends a message that regardless of their chosen path, women have a right to expect more from the world. That alone is enough to keep staging it (though we must continue to work through its ‘looser’ threads).

The Heidi Chronicles is playing at the New Theatre from 7 June to 9 July (Thursday – Sunday). For more information and tickets please visit http://newtheatre.org.au/season-2016/the-heidi-chronicles/.

Old School: Review of Return Fire Productions’ Senior Moments


One may not be able to recognise the Glen Street Theatre in its present state of upgrade, but this hideaway theatre in Belrose is currently housing Senior Moments, a comedy revue for the octogenarian. As a young up and go getter, I was keen to see what the fuss was all about. And it did not disappoint.

Return Fire Productions treats us to a 90 minute tennis-balls-on-the-walker romp that places us all firmly in the firing line with the wonderful senior cast’s views about ‘kids these days’, and ‘why the world has gone wrong’ locked and loaded, and their shaky fingers on the trigger. It takes the form of a classic comedy revue, which means minimal props, little costume and a whole lot of sketches. It harks back to simpler times (Beyond the Fringe anyone?) and reminds us of how satisfying a revue can be. The majority of scripts were well conceived with good, clear punch lines, though on occasion writers Angus Fitzsimons and Kevin Brumpton made sketches a few lines too long. The only sketch that fell slightly by the way side was “The Finders”, though it appeared to be a late addition and as such, was under rehearsed (the performers were still on script). Of course, the overwhelming majority of the show was hilarious, with a particularly good set of voice over sketches. The key to all revue comedy is well researched and well referenced material, which we got in spades (the cure to polio is “to walk it off”, apparently).

The entire cast did a top notch job, with particular stand out performances from Penny Cook and John Derum – their comic timing was consistently excellent. Benita Collings is always a tiny bundle of joy, and is especially endearing during her Play School take-off. Some great moments were also produced by the silvery Lex Marinos and old timer Russell Newman. The token ‘young performers’, Nicola Parry and Christian Barratt-Hill brought stability and flavour to the show, with the ancient and quirky pianist Geoff Harvey assisting during song parodies.

If the show were to receive any criticism, it would be that the performers suffered from opening night nerves (perhaps due to a short rehearsal period?). With this in mind, it would be a great privilege to see the show on closing night. Senior Moments bills itself as a ‘deliciously funny and fresh collection of comic senior moments, sketches and songs performed by a seriously funny cast who are old enough to know better’ – and it delivers the goods. Light-hearted, fun and a little bit naughty, audiences young and old will enjoy this show, and I urge everyone to get tickets if they can.

Senior Moments is playing at the Glen Street Theatre from May 26 to May 29. For more information and tickets please visit http://www.seniormomentsshow.com.au/.


Killing Queen: Review of Lyric Theatre’s We Will Rock You


This year, the Lyric Theatre plays host to the glittery, revamped musical We Will Rock You, a story which chronicles the recovery of rock’n’roll in a far and distant future. The musical is said to be by Queen and Ben Elton, though this really translates to Queen songs (only slightly adapted by Brian May) with the play book written by Ben Elton. Unfortunately, its draw card is also its biggest failing.

We Will Rock You chronicles the struggle of a group of Bohemians to restore freedom of expression in a futuristic world now run by GlobalSoft (a multinational corporation). In this dystopia, everything is digital, and nothing is real. Instruments and song writers are forbidden, and rock music is largely forgotten. Our protagonist is Galileo Figaro, a boy who dreams up song lyrics. He meets and befriends Scaramouche – a sarcastic, cynical, purple haired ‘chick’ and together, they attempt to escape the iron fist of the Killer Queen and her second in command, Khashoggi. In doing so, they run into the Bohemians, headed up by Buddy (Holly and the Crickets), Oz(zy Osborne) and Brit(tney Spears) – names adopted from old poster fragments. The group is captured and tortured, left brainwashed and empty, and so begins Galileo Figaro’s quest to save the Bohemians, and fulfil his destiny to return rock’n’roll to the world.

Certainly, the idea sounds manoeuvrable yet the result is far less satisfying. This is largely due to a weak (read lazy) script. With a writer such as Ben Elton at the helm, one would assume that the book is sharp, biting and satirical. Instead, the script is littered with increasingly predictable song title word plays, and the dialogue is merely used as a vehicle to introduce Queen’s music. In other words, songs guide the story, rather than the story guiding the songs. As a result, we are left with superficial thematic relevance instead of meaningful interaction between characters. To be sure, the script has its’ moments (“they think I’m a lesbian because I don’t wear pastels”), but the final product feels unfinished, much like the ending.


Of particular interest is the stylistic choice made by costume designer Tim Goodchild, where the main costume theme is punk with an English twist. Yet anyone who is anyone would know that the punk movement of the early 1970s (particularly the music that derived that fashion sense) formed as a direct reaction to the music of bands such as Queen and the brand of rock that was emerging throughout the 1970s. This was due to the view that rock had become decadent and indulgent, moving away from its true, simplistic working class roots. Whilst artistic license is always encouraged, it feels like a mismatch on this particular occasion. Finally, one cannot overlook the fact that the script runs a thread of heteronormative masculinity. This is disappointing since Freddie was so very clearly smashing such moulds. It is also disappointing that the female lead overwhelmingly serves as a plot device, and only very superficially serves a feminist smack down, which is seemingly crafted out of writer’s panic, having realised their overuse of the male hero cliché.

So to the cast: Gareth Keegan plays Galileo, our Freddie Mercury reincarnation. Based on the performance however, this description is a stretch. Keegan certainly has potential, but one could not look past the glaring ‘pitchiness’ that precipitated opening night. It is unfortunate that his ‘dramatic’ performance also lacked substance, as it made for a thoroughly underwhelming lead. Erin Clare was far more satisfying as Scaramouche, delivering all her lines with sass drowned in dry London ‘gravel’. To be fair, Clare had more to work with (dialogue wise), yet her vocal performance was also superior to her co-star. Clare was elegant and soulful in her rendition of “Find Me Somebody to Love”, something she maintained the entire evening.

The supporting cast was less of a mixed bag, save for Brian Mannix who essentially played Brian Mannix à la Buddy, though this still made for some great comedic moments. Of note was Casey Donovan who, as a musical theatre amateur, made a killing as the Killer Queen. Donovan gave us camp, confident and powerful, which made for a deliciously futuristic ‘Ursula’ style performance. Her singing capabilities were certainly solid, though the sound mix did not cater for her weaker lower register. On opening night, Donovan did also overuse her throat in an attempt to achieve vocal growl; if this was noticeably affecting her voice after one song, Donovan will almost certainly need to find a more sustainable way of achieving this sound. Despite this however, Donovan simply triumphed. On the other end of the scale, Simon Russell (as Khashoggi, Killer Queen’s minion) stood out as being the most experienced board-treader. He performed his evil henchman duties with theatricality, and sung with aplomb.


A definite performance highlight came from Thern Reynolds as Brit and Jaz Flowers as Oz, the front-runner rebel bohemians. Looking like something out of Housos, Reynolds and Flowers were both comically adept, but also capable of moments of pause and clarity (see Flowers’ solo performance of “No One but You” which would challenge even Christina Aguilera). To put it simply, both performers were the breath of fresh air We Will Rock You had to have.

Ben Elton serves as director this time around, and whilst the production appears to have suitable bounce, one gets the feeling that a little more direction could have been applied to the leads. Of note, the band, led by musical director David Skelton, was flawless – authentic rockers, one might say, judging by the Metallica and Iron Maiden t-shirts. Arlene Phillips and Siobhan Ginty choreographed suitably, though perhaps a little repetitively. To this end, the ensemble was largely satisfactory, though timing (read tightness) became an issue.

Audiences may still enjoy this musical, purely for the novelty of seeing Queen songs being performed. Nevertheless, it is a mammoth task to create a musical with music that was never written for this purpose. Many would agree that perhaps it is a task best left in the ideas box. Certainly, there are good things about this show, but overwhelmingly it feels lazy, and leaves one cringing at the rather limp attempt of putting on a musical about rock. If rock is to be honoured sincerely, then the piece needs to be revamped in a way that acknowledges the genre for what it was. The greatest irony is that Freddie Mercury and Queen is most certainly musical theatre’s rock and roll (even the name says so). With this knowledge however, perhaps it would have been better to craft a show about the music makers, and let musical theatre do what it does best, and leave the rock to people who actually understand it.

We Will Rock You is playing at the Sydney Lyric Theatre from April 20 to June 26, 2016. For more information and tickets please visit http://wewillrockyou.com.au/.

Written by S.A and R.E.

Life, Love and a Bookshop: Review of Depot Theatre’s Through a Beaded Lash


As the year draws to a close, The Depot Theatre brings us a new work by Robert Allan, ‘Through a Beaded Lash’. It bills itself as a new Australian play that bears witness to a time of love, loss and communityAs ever with these types of works, the challenge lies within its ability to bring something fresh and relevant to the stage.

Through a Beaded Lash presents the story of two old friends (Adam and Zoe) who, after 25 years of partnership, are finally seeing their bookshop in Oxford St coming to a close. As they pack their wares, they stumble upon pieces of nostalgia, which prompts the exploration of their long gone youth, and the challenges Adam faced (and faces) as a gay man in the 1980s. For those old enough to remember, the 1980s saw the rise of the AIDS epidemic, with strong community and media backlash. Such a time defined and shaped the lives of many homosexual men and women, with many friends and loved ones succumbing to an AIDS related illness.

The piece relies strongly on time shifts between Adam as a young man in the gay community and the present, where he and Zoe reminisce and resist the inevitable fork in the road. Whilst this is certainly a worthy theatrical device, the back and forth tends to distract the plot which the piece perhaps takes too long to establish anyway. What this reveals is a story that doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. Is it a story about being stuck in the past, or rather being unable to move forward, or is it a piece that wishes to explore the ravaging of the AIDS epidemic. Without such clarification, the play almost gives up on its characters’ journeys, though this is partially resolved in the final half hour (though perhaps too little too late).

1. Through a Beaded Lash (Leo Domigan

Nevertheless, the performances were largely commendable across the board. As Adam, Leo Domigan gave an effortlessly enjoyable yet measured portrayal, which tended to drive the piece throughout. Cherilyn Price played Zoe, his best friend and self confessed ‘fag hag’. Price took a while to find her footing, though her performance was largely pleasing. As Young Adam, Oliver Rynn was incredibly nuanced and is arguably the most watchable actor of the evening. Emily McGowan possessed a wonderful spark as the Young Zoe, providing balance to every scene she entered. Ryan Henry was highly comical as Brent, the flamboyant, somewhat precious Drag Queen, though at times, the character appeared to be from a different play (a fault of the writing). Finally, Roger Smith played the ageing caretaker Phil with great aplomb. His was a highly successful creation, on both the part of the writer and performer, as it played with, and challenged, stereotypical views of homosexuality.

Ultimately, director Julie Baz has produced a tight show, with some good performances, working especially well within the small walls of the Depot Theatre in Marrickville. Whilst the script may require further refinement, it is a solid effort from all involved.

Through a Beaded Lash is playing at the Depot Theatre until 12 December. For more information see: http://www.thedepottheatre.com/through-a-beaded-lash


Snow Globe Trotting: Review of Darlinghurst Theatre Company’s Good Works


Good Works (1994) by Nick Enright is an exploration of intergeneration pain, and works to unveil how the mistakes and decisions made by one generation will be perpetuated into the next.

Set across some sixty years, we begin in a Sydney gay bar with Tim who is instantly drawn to a rough patron who introduces himself as John. Tim though, is convinced that John is his childhood friend Shane. The two became separated after a violent incident involving a brother from their Catholic school. What follows is a series of short scenes that bounce around chronologically, beginning with their mothers as children, focusing on their childhood, early romances and the difficulties they faced as parents. Central to the play is an exploration of small town morality informed by religion. Characters either attempt to abide by these values or rebel, and although they’re always trying to do what they believe is best, it doesn’t always lead to happy outcomes.

The production has been blessed with a uniformly strong cast that is almost without fault – especially necessary with this intricately wrought, at times confusing, play. Both Anthony Gooley and Stephen Multari excelled in their respective roles as boyhood friends, Shane and Tim. Shifts from puberty to adulthood are often difficult to portray, but each player tackled theirs with aplomb. Multari was particularly effective at embodying Tim’s glowing, boyish innocence, whereas Gooley brought great menace to the broken adult Shane. Alongside them, Taylor Ferguson (of Belvoir’s Miss Julie fame) played the brazen Australian beauty Rita (mother to Shane). Ferguson is quietly captivating; intelligently, she hardens Rita with age, mapping all of life’s disappointments with every interaction. As Rita’s childhood friend Mary Margaret (mother to Tim), Lucy Goleby has arguably less to do. Nevertheless, she provides a steady contrast and tragically she captures what ‘a good second choice’ looks like. Toni Scanlan effectively delivers the slightly caricatured dank pretention of Mrs Donovan (Mary Margaret’s Mother) whilst enjoying the cute gimmick of the Irish Catholic nun, Mother John. Finally, Jamie Oxenbould goes from strength to strength playing several characters, including an elderly gay gentleman (Alan), the sadistic Brother Clement, the slimy pub owner Barry and the conservative Mr Donovan.

goodworks, darlinghurst theatre, photo by helen white

Good Works, Darlinghurst Theatre. Photo by Helen White.

Our set has been made to resemble the interior of a snow globe with several raised pillars, which creates a visual delight. The added vertical performance space gave time an almost physical dimension, as the text’s numerous and overlapping time-slips are designed to give us a sense of the parallel and interconnected nature of the story’s different threads. These time-slips, when combined with the added doubling of characters, created the looming threat of confusion setting in; but to his credit, director Iain Sinclair has deftly navigated this, and for the most part the audience is able to keep up. Having said that, this play demands effort from its audience; and once we work through the jagged chronology, untangle the doubled characters and move past the dazzling set, we may decide that all of this is covering up a rather familiar story that is largely without the payoff that Bovell’s similarly structured When the Rain Stops Falling delivers. Nevertheless, it is plainly evident that a great deal of intelligent design has gone into this production, and for that alone the cast and crew should be congratulated.

Good Works is playing with the Darlinghurst Theatre Company at the Eternity Theatre until the 29th of November. For more information see:

The Real Stoppard: Review of New Theatre’s The Real Thing


New Theatre brings to stage Tom Stoppard’s exploration of the authentic and the fake in The Real Thing (1982). It also turns out to be somewhat autobiographical, which only adds an additional layer to the game he plays with us.

Henry is a middle-aged playwright who starts out having an affair with an actress, Annie, before the two eventually get married. He likes to think of himself as an intellectual and is determined to present as such. Sad truth, though, is that Henry is a lot better at talking about life and love in the high-brow abstract than he is at experiencing or genuinely expressing these emotions. This is reflected both in his writing and in his approach to relationships. There is some drama along the way, particularly focused around an incarcerated soldier, Brodie, whom Annie is working to have freed. We are also introduced, again and again, to other imitations and illusions, be it in art or politics. Ultimately though, the play is really about Henry learning to see the world from a different perspective, enabling him to move from being a bit of a phony to being the genuine article.

The Real Thing is infused with Stoppard’s trademark wit, which he even draws some satirical attention to, and of course there is an insightful speech or two about cricket bats, literature and carnal knowledge. For the most part director, Alice Livingstone, has put together a fairly faithful restaging of the play. The scene changes and lighting cues could have been a little snappier, but the all-around solid cast more than made up for it.

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Like it or not, the Henry character carries the show. An intellectualizing snob, who thinks Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders is the best thing since Bach, Henry talks the talk but never walks the walk when it comes to comprehending the true nature of love and relationships. For him, the phrase ‘the course of true love never did run smooth’ is particularly apt. It is a difficult yet rewarding task for Christopher Tomkinson who strikes just the right balance between flashy academic wit (just enough to be desirable) and pathetically needy. His partner in crime, Annie, played by the petite Ainslie McGlynn, is, by contrast, effortlessly alluring and passionate about life in all its mud and glory. In a nut shell, McGlynn must sell infidelity to the audience – and surprisingly, she more than manages. She is raw and emotional, craving real connection in a now flat marriage, and we see how, little by little, the heart may (even unintentionally) wander.

As Henry’s first wife Charlotte, the fabulous Emily Weare is highly watchable, possessing a naturally momentous energy that keeps throughout. Playing their quietly rebellious daughter, Debbie, Charlotte Hazzard finds great clarity in a sea of ideas and ideals. Peter Eyer, as Annie’s wet sock first husband Max, is warm and unassuming, whilst packing a real farcical punch as his ‘play-within-a-play’ snooty character. Despite the occasional accent wobble, Benjamin Winckle provided a much needed contrast as the earthy young actor Billy, doubling as the boofhead Scottish prisoner Brodie. Both the actor and the Billy character breathe fresh air into the somewhat stuffy middle-aged pairings, and reminded us of just how easy it is to fall for charisma and authentic connection.

Although The Real Thing is almost universally seen as one of the centerpieces of Stoppard’s career, its plodding first act will always be a detraction; nevertheless, there is great enjoyment to be derived in this production from a cast that can hardly be faulted. Once again the New Theatre delivers the goods.

The Real Thing is playing at the New Theatre until the 7th of November. For more information see: http://newtheatre.org.au/the-real-thing/

Duties and Lies: Review of Sport for Jove’s Edward II


Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II (1592) is one of the earliest examples of a historical drama indicative of the style that Shakespeare would later make famous. Sport for Jove has taken this play, originally set during the fourteenth century and brought it to a time reminiscent of the late 1920/30s.

Edward II chronicles the reign and tragic fall of King Edward II of England. Upon taking the throne, Edward orders the return of the formerly exiled Gaveston. Although the original text left the manner of their relationship veiled, today most productions choose to highlight its supposed homosexual nature; director, Terry Karabelas has kept with this tradition. Gaveston is disliked by Edward’s parliament of lords and barons, and Queen Isabella is jealous of the affections she has been robbed of. They see Gaveston as distracting the King; they claim he has been liberal with the nation’s treasury and as a result war has broken out. Although during the fourteenth century the Church fiercely condemned homosexuality, this doesn’t appear to be the source of the lord’s antagonism towards Gaveston. Rather, it is his influence over the King’s personal life. Indeed, Marlowe complicates the theme, for while it may be possible to see the play as portraying the destruction of those who transgress moral order, compared to his conniving councilors who plot to remove Gaveston once and for all, Edward appears as the innocent party.


Edward II actually becomes an interesting exploration of the conflict between the desire to follow one’s heart and the duties that one owes to the nation. Throughout the play Edward is tormented by this. The tragedy comes from Edward’s mistaken belief that the power he holds as king will allow him the free reign to follow his heart, even against the will of his council. He comes to learn though, as indeed do those who plotted to overthrow him, that a person is only able to hold power as long as others choose to recognize that power. In the light of recent political upheaval it is a lesson we should all do well to remember. Bob Carr was at opening night; maybe Tony Abbott should come along, Mortimer’s final words as he is led to execution may provide him with some balm:

‘Base Fortune, now I see, that in thy wheel there is a point, to which when men aspire, they tumble headlong down: that point I touch’d, and, seeing there was no place to mount up higher, why shall I grieve at my declining fall?’

Interestingly, by placing the play in the early twentieth century, some parallel is drawn between Edward II and his distant relative Edward VIII. Both men were faced with the question of holding onto their kingdom or following their heart. Both chose their heart and lost a kingdom, but with very different results.

As is always the case with Sport for Jove, performances are strong. Julian Garner is a perfect fit for many of Shakespeare’s roles and other leading men of the age. His Edward II is therefore no exception. Garner possesses a royal quality, one which makes him appear effortlessly virtuous yet deeply flawed at the same time. This Edward wants nothing more than to love as he pleases; the conflict that follows is mapped beautifully by Garner – we feel his anguish though we question his methods. Acting alongside Garner is Georgia Adamson as Isabella, his French Queen, cast aside to make way for Gaveston. Adamson has always been an impressive performer, so to call Isabella a victim would be to offend the character and the actress; there is much more going on. Marlowe gives us vengeful and opportunistic; Adamson responds with a side of ambition and femme fatal. She and Garner are both performers who possess a great presence, individually and together. The same could be said of James Lugton as Mortimer, Edward’s fierce enemy. Lugton is a quiet professional. His performances are always subtle yet incredibly diverse. Here, the ‘bad guy’ suddenly becomes layered and vulnerable. Angela Bauer was also impressive as the Princess of Kent, the conflicted sister of Edward. A towering familial presence with every appearance, Bauer was raw, tender and loyal (mostly).


Now, Michael Whalley plays Gaveston, the ‘friend’ (read lover) of Edward II. Gaveston is an interesting character – he is somewhat of a mystery; we don’t always know what Edward sees in him. He seems bitter and defensive, hypersexual and boyish at times. As such, it is a difficult character to pull off, but Whalley canvases Gaveston perfectly. He is the boyfriend you really don’t want your daughter (or in this case, your son) to be dating, though they just can’t stay away. Of the supporting cast, Gabriel Fancourt was excellent as Prince Edward – the increasingly hardened nature with which the young Prince views the world was unnerving to behold. Barry French was dogmatic as the Bishop of Canterbury, lacing his performance with a tinge of cowardice. Belinda Hoare was aggressively resolute as Warwick whilst Richard Hilliar was stout as Lancaster. Edmund Lembke-Hogan presented a sharp Spencer, one of Edward’s loyal followers and Simon London (as Baldock, another loyal follower) was once again incredibly watchable – there is a soft quality about London that makes him so.

Sport for Jove has produced a powerful portrayal of a tormented and ultimately doomed king. Edward II is playing until the 17th of October. For more information see: http://www.sportforjove.com.au/theatre-play/edward-ii


Shaw Fire Hit: Review of STC’s Arms and the Man


Arms and the Man (1894) was one of Bernard Shaw’s early commercial successes, although today it is maybe less well known than some of his other pieces; but as the STC and director, Richard Cottrell, show, this is certainly not due to any deficiency. Raina is the daughter of a wealthy Bulgarian family and engaged to an equally wealthy and heroic soldier who has just won an important victory over the Serbian army. That night, a retreating Swiss officer in the Serbian army, Bluntschli, sneaks into her room to escape death. She agrees to hide him from capture and saves his life. Peace is soon declared and her fiancé returns home. When Bluntschli also turns up, the stage is set for farcical adventure.

Although everything is handled with a decidedly light touch, Shaw deals with a raft of subjects. Most central of which is Raina’s idealized and romantic notions of combat and life that come up against Bluntschli’s more pragmatic understanding of reality. In the late Victorian period romantic portrayals of war were common place, and to suggest that the man who led a cavalry charge was really a coward would have been quite the divergent claim. Shaw also handles issues of class structure and seamlessly interweaves ideas of courage and cowardice between both the civilian and military spheres.


Set design by Michael Scott-Mitchell also contributes to this reading. We are treated to a stunning white stage, with intricate lattice walls and trees that look as though they were cut from paper to resemble snowflakes. The effect gives the stage a fairy-tale feel, which feeds into the initial ideas of romanticism. It also creates a world that gives the actors leave to play up their roles, and in this Arms and the Man has been blessed with a cast that cannot be faulted.

This production brims with precision and effortlessness across the board. Andrea Demetriades plays Raina, our Bulgarian heroine. Demetriades brings great spirit to the role. She is light, youthful and playful yet capable of sincerity when the moment calls for it. Mitchell Butel plays our Swiss dreamboat, Bluntschli, a professional paid-for-battle soldier attached to the Serbian army. As Raina’s restrained older suitor, Butel is handsome, tolerant and forever endearing. Both performances were perfectly pitched and their scenes together made love at first sight completely appropriate as a conceit. Raina’s fiancé and unexperienced soldier-general Saranoff, performed by the dashing Charlie Cousins, could only be described as the Bulgarian Johnny Bravo, but with a little more clown. Sporting hair as large as his ego, Cousins-as-Saranoff was delightful to watch, and laced the show with some wonderful gimmicks to great comedic effect. Despite the fact the Cousins’ time in television may have worked against him (since his presence could never quite match that of the stage actors), he managed the character with great aplomb. Skilful performances were also given by the booming Deborah Kennedy and the fluttering William Zappa as Raina’s parents. Olivia Rose was captivating as the dark beauty Louka, Raina’s servant. Her sex appeal and sharp tongue was undeniable, and made for a steamy sub-plot with Saranoff. Finally, Brandon Burke brought up the rear as man-servant Nicola, an unapologetic opportunist. His performance was full of colour and beans, nicely rounding out the ensemble, and the production as a whole.

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Costumes are often a hit or miss kind of venture, but here, Julie Lynch has outdone herself. Costumes are lavish and exotic, with lace and silk screen patterns, the colours appearing as vibrant as a peacock’s tail. The designs are of period, with wonderful trailing skirts and military boots, making for all the characters to appear as if they were dolls signifying the national dress.

George Orwell called Arms and the Man Shaw’s finest play, and it is difficult to disagree. It is a skillfully wrought story that deftly interweaves several important ideas without ever weighing the play’s comedy down. This is one not to be missed. Arms and the Man is playing with the Sydney Theatre Company until the 31st of October. For more information see:

Audience Makes the Difference: Review of Subtlenuance’s All the Difference


Sydney Fringe brings out the potential for the novel and experimental. In the intimate space of the Old505 theatre, Subtlenuance is marrying choose your own adventure with live performance. Upon entering you are given a green plate with a Y on one side an N on the other. At various points throughout the show the audience is invited to vote on what they think Felicity (Flik) should do and the audience’s choice changes the outcome of the story. It’s a cute idea, and with a running time of only 45 minutes the novelty doesn’t have time to wear off.

All the Difference is a one woman show with Kathryn Schuback playing Flik, our indecisive heroine. We instantly delight in Schuback who is a warm, genuine performer. Her greatest asset is the ease with which she connects to her audience, making them feel welcome every step of the journey. Schuback produces wonderfully sombre moments and finds great poise in others, though her comedic timing was not at its best. Certainly, Schuback can deliver a line, but a gimmick emerged where all punchlines were delivered at lightning speed. The repetitive, somewhat unimaginative construction of the joke material may have contributed to this, however. Overall, Schuback was enjoyable and did her best with a script that is slightly underdeveloped, though particularly demanding of this single performer. A small bout of nerves may have got the better of Schuback on opening night, though, to her credit, she recovered well. The show must go on.

Kathryn Schuback in All The Difference 2

We are told that the play is an examination of choice. In life we are bombarded with decisions, it can become paralyzing to the point that we sometimes make decisions by pretending we really had no choice in the matter. Dig much deeper and we start getting into the realms of determinism, free will and Satre’s bad faith. No doubt this subject is rich for exploration but All the Difference only just starts to scratch the surface. The plot is a little run of the mill – girl meets boy, should they move in together, should they have children, etc… For the most part the choices the audience is presented with will almost always meet with the same outcome; there were maybe two decisions that looked like they might have gone either way, but otherwise it looks like writer Paul Gilchrist has staked the deck a little to make sure the play goes where he wants it. But maybe that is supposed to highlight the illusion of choice for us. While we like to think we are in control of our lives, hard determinism would argue that we never really have a choice, and our lives will proceed in a predestined fashion as determined by previously established initial conditions. Theatre is no different. We come in to watch a story, and even though we don’t know how it’ll end the end is already there, we just haven’t gotten to it yet. Is All the Difference any different? While the piece certainly doesn’t give any real overt payoff or deeper examination of this theme, it certainly invites its audience to ask these questions.

All the Difference is playing at the Old505 as part of the Sydney Fringe Festival until the 26th of September. For more information see:


Updating the Present: Review of STC’s The Present


It’s becoming a bit of a sad tradition that we’re seeing a lot of main-stage plays be subtitled with, ‘by some-would-be-writer, after some-undisputed-master’, as if the works of Ibsen, Chekhov and Miller were pretty good starts, but really hadn’t quite reached their full potential. It’s either an indictment against Australian playwrights who don’t have the balls to write something of their own, or Australian audiences who are unwilling to see anything they haven’t already heard of. Possibly a bit of both.

The Sydney Theatre Company’s The Present, ‘By Andrew Upton, after Anton Chekhov’s Platonov (1878)’ is another member of this ever growing club. However – and it is a big ‘however’ – of all the plays out there this is possibly the best one to do it to. Written when Chekhov was just eighteen, the piece originally ran to five hours, with Chekhov himself never considering it complete. It was never staged in his own life-time, and when performed today usually appears as an abridged or edited version. Upton has condensed the story and updated the setting to Russia of the mid-1990s (yes, we remember, VHS was a thing). Having said that, the sensibilities of the characters within the piece are undeniably Australian, even setting aside the accents; Upton’s use of dialogue and even the mannerisms of the actors all place the aesthetics of the piece squarely in this country. At one point, a character even picks up a meat pie from the local servo. The occasional references to Russia jar at times as we’re reminded that this isn’t Oz, and one wonders how difficult it would have been to have found a comparable time in Australia’s history where the story would have worked. Thankfully, though, this is not a deal breaker.

Credit must be given where credit is due, though, because for its faults, The Present is an engaging piece of theatre. It may not sound much like Chekhov anymore, but for the most part the writing works; the comedy inserted into the text and accentuated by Director, John Crowley and his cast, turns what might have been a slog of three hours into something entertaining.


The play opens on the day before Anna’s 40th birthday. Gathered for the first time in years is a group of friends who are all connected through the friendships forged by their own parents many years ago. The relationships are complex, but Sergi, Nikolai and Mikhail are three sons born of the previous generation who spent their childhood together. They all started out with the potential to change the world, but following one compromise after another they have lapsed into a lack-lustered middle-age. They are surrounded by the stories of the glorious past, and listen to the plans that the youthful have for the future. But when you’re middle-aged you only have the present: whatever you were going to do, whatever you were going to be is what you now are; it’s only at 40 that people begin to fully realize this. Mikhail had big plans for his life, and even though he holds down a respectable job as a teacher and has a newborn child he feels unfulfilled. Enter the women. Mikhail is a bit of a babe magnet, and over the course of the play there are four who believe themselves to be in love with him. Each represents a different aspect of his life that he feels is lacking: Sasha, his wife, is warm and nurturing; Sophia is ambitious and wants to improve the world; Maria is young, sexy and vibrant; and Anna is the person who understands him. Mikhail’s frustrated life, his attempt to recapture a lost youth and potential in one of these women, and his inability to choose between them, makes up the drama of this piece.

Even with Upton’s stripped down and rebuilt version of the play, it’s hard to disguise some of the limitations in this early Chekhov. The four female love interests are a little pigeon-holed into their character-types and what they mean to Mikhail’s crisis than they are fully rounded characters. This is more so the case with Maria and Sasha, but all four suffer from this limitation to one degree or another. Likewise, the first two acts are a little over drawn and not as tightly wrought as the back end of the production. It is fascinating to note, though, that Chekhov, at eighteen, managed to write what is a detailed study of the mid-life crisis.

Cate and Richard

But let’s face facts, at the end of the day this is a little bit of a show piece of the STC. As such, there is no lack of star power in this production. Cate Blanchett takes on the role of Anna Petrovna, birthday girl and widow to a late General. Blanchett heads this production with A-list stamina, once again demonstrating the energy and skill required to successfully navigate theatrical marathons, such as this. Blanchett is always transfixing, though one laments the missed opportunity to see her tackle Chekhov’s heavier drama over Upton’s amusing but light comedy stylings. Richard Roxburgh is similarly magnanimous as tortured womanizer Mikhail Platonov. Roxburgh could make a shopping list seem interesting and natural in conversation. And it is this performance, one of great ease and ochre charm, that sees us once again delight in Roxburgh’s treading of the boards (though he leans perhaps a little on the character of Rake for guidance). Whilst all the other actors put in some good performances, both Roxburgh and Blanchett left them a little in the dust. Chris Ryan was sweetly naïve as the lovesick Sergei Pavlovich. His best moments occurred when he moved out of daft comedy bits and into wrenching desperation. Toby Schmitz was suitably jarring as the sarcastic and indecisive Nikolai Ivanovich, though one would like to see him do some further character work. Jacqueline McKenzie was surprisingly unrecognisable as the quiet though enthusiastic Sofya Yegorovna, wife to Sergei and an old lover of Mikhail. Hers was a wonderfully measured and subtly nuanced performance. Susan Prior was also excellent as the plain Sasha, doting wife to the often uninterested Mikhail. In the role of her father, Marshall Napier was barrelling and jovial; a joy to behold. Also worth a mention is Brandon McClelland as the Demitri, son to Porfiry, who struck a chord as the outspoken, sullen youth who challenges Mikhail’s antics.

The Present is a great opportunity to see a raft of Australia’s stage talent strut their stuff on stage. It would be unwise to go in expecting to see a Chekhov play, but nevertheless, this is an engaging and entertaining piece of theatre. Get tickets if you can.

The Present is playing with the Sydney Theatre Company until the 19th of September. For more information see: https://www.sydneytheatre.com.au/whats-on/productions/2015/the-present