Archive | April, 2015

Deathtrap

24 Apr

“The play was so well crafted that even a gifted director couldn’t ruin it.”*

This is one of the many very funny lines in Ira Levin’s Deathtrap, a hugely self-referential almost-parody of the thriller genre.

It is an exceedingly well crafted play. And director Jo Turner doesn’t ruin it. (That’s not to imply he’s not gifted.) Turner allows the actors to explore and fill the big playful characterizations this script requires.

Andrew Mc Farlane plays Sidney, the once successful playwright, desperate to relive his glory days. But how far is he willing to go to make this happen?

It’s difficult to discuss this play without spoilers. Let me just say that the performances are wonderful and the production is engaging.

Photo by Helen White

                   Photo by Helen White

I called it an almost-parody. If it was a total parody, then I think spoilers would be no problem; we’d be there for the humour, not the plot. But Deathtrap has it a little both ways. It’s hilarious, but there’s also genuine intrigue.

I found this duality unappealing. But then I find the whole thriller genre rather manipulative. I feel, that for the sake of the thrill, thrillers devalue human life. And they portray human nature in a most disturbing manner. In ‘thriller world’, people seem to commit murders the way they change superannuation plans.

But, of course, Ira Levin is fully aware of these type of criticisms. He has great fun with them. And clearly the audience I was part of enjoyed the show immensely…. and, I suspect, went off into the night quietly glad that thrillers are fundamentally dishonest.

Veronica Kaye

*Apologies to Ira Levin if I have misquoted. In ‘thriller world’ that’s cause enough for murder.

Deathtrap by Ira Levin

Eternity Playhouse til 10 May

http://www.darlinghursttheatre.com/eternity-playhouse

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Orphans

24 Apr

Recently, as I passed my local RSL, I noticed posters for I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, the U2 Tribute Show, and Holding Back the Years, the Simply Red Tribute Show.

When I was younger, these sort of performers were called ‘cover bands’. I’m too uncool to know whether this term is still in fashion. However, I am cool enough not to be especially interested in this type of performance. I have no doubt the musicians in question are superb. In fact, they could well be better than the artists they are imitating. But still, there’s something less than satisfying about the form.

Few people seem to share my quibbles about what I call ‘cover theatre’. Whenever I see a local company produce a foreign play, or a play we have all seen before, I’m a little bemused. It feels like borrowed authority. Part of me wishes we could……I don’t know…… just transcend it.

Orphans is, of course, ‘cover theatre’. It’s also wonderfully done.

Photo by Rupert Reid

                   Photo by Rupert Reid

By Lyle Kessler, the play is set in Philadelphia’s underworld. (Why are artists attracted to stories about criminals? To quote the musical Chicago, is it because neither group ‘got enough love in their childhood’?)

Orphans is funny and thought-provoking. Director Anthony Gooley elicits from his cast terrific performances, deliberate hyperbolic, close kin to cartoon. It’s delightfully physical (which has its dangers; on the night I attended a crucial reveal came too early because a hidden prop suddenly popped into view.)

Treat and Philip (played by Andrew Henry and Aaron Glenane) are two adult orphans desperately in need of a father figure. Treat needs to learn moderation. Philip needs to learn to be brave. And so Harold arrives (played by Danny Adcock.) Harold might be a gangster, but he offers ‘encouragement’.

It’s an engaging production, with some powerful set pieces. Harold, who is also an orphan, speaks of the time he and the other orphans escaped the home where they were cruelly treated. They roamed the city, and then returned to the orphanage only when their hunger got the better of them. But “they had seen what they had to see.”

A play about parenting is a play about authority. We need it. And we need to transcend it.

Veronica Kaye

Orphans by Lyle Kessler

Old Fitz til 9 May

http://www.oldfitztheatre.com/

Haircuts

16 Apr

Recently a friend suggested to me that there were too many positive reviews being written in Sydney. I found this a curious statement.

If it’s true, one can only ask ‘Why?’

Here’s some possible explanations:

Perhaps reviewers are just writing irresponsibly in order to secure free tickets. (To shows they don’t like?)

Perhaps reviewers just enjoy status. (I’m reluctant to despair of human nature so easily.)

Perhaps the standard of theatre in Sydney is, in fact, improving. (In comparison to what?)

Perhaps the current crop of reviewers and my friend simply don’t share the same aesthetic values.

Let me expand a little on this idea.

I go to the theatre because I enjoy the art form. What I enjoy most is its fundamental duality. It puts into conflict multiple voices, yet these multiple voices are orchestrated by the one artist, the writer. (Of course, I’m talking about script based work, and I don’t want to undervalue the collaborative nature of theatre.)

Haircuts 076

Take Haircuts, directed simply and beautifully by Lex Marinos and performed by a very skilled cast. Written by Con Nats, the show is built on a contrast between two different fathers (John Derum and Adam Hatzimanolis). Fascinating tensions arise. Old wisdom versus new business sense. Parents versus children. Words versus silence.

But these tensions, these multiple voices, build a cohesive universe, and in Nat’s universe, the essential aspect is that human relationships are fractious. The pain of this is intriguingly explored through humour. Broadly, this humour comes in two forms. It’s either gladiatorial, as characters trade insults. Or it’s based on gender or ethnic stereotypes, as characters try to come to terms with the ineffable mystery of the Other.  This vision of life – of a world of damaged human beings desperate to make connections – is what makes Nats an interesting and valuable voice on the Sydney theatre scene.

Veronica Kaye

Haircuts by Con Nats

The Greek Theatre til 26 April

http://www.trybooking.com/Booking/BookingEventSummary.aspx?eid=117988

http://conats.wix.com/haircuts

The Rocky Horror Show

15 Apr

With a production like this, if you write it up well, you get to see your words on the side of a bus.

The night is certainly a bit of fun; right down to the venue’s playfully ironic name. (The Lyric Theatre – where I heard about 30% of the words.)

I was in row U. In most other theatres I would have been in another theatre. (Row U is ‘Just a step to the left, and then 4000 steps to the ba-a-a-a-ack!’  Ok, I didn’t need to hear the lyrics. Many of us know them by heart.)

First produced in 1973, the question is ‘Does the show survive the test of time?’ (From where I was sitting, it struggled with the test of distance.)

Photo by Brian Geach

Photo by Brian Geach

I suspect the element of The Rocky Horror Show that’s a tribute to B grade horror and sci-fi films is lost on contemporary audiences. The show has become a cultural icon for other reasons.  It’s a paean to sensual pleasure, in all its diverse forms. It’s an adult pantomime. (The audience particularly appreciated Craig McLachlan’s constant breaking of the fourth wall.)

The show is the sort of silly mayhem that is our culture’s punishment for having at various times endorsed Puritan prudery and Victorian propriety.  (And, perhaps, it’s a mischievous reminder that we’re being too tardy on marriage equality.)

The show didn’t float my boat. (A phrase which Frank N Furter might repeat back at me, raising his eyebrows and pushing the double entendre, unnecessarily.)

But as Frankie says, when Janet is unimpressed with Rocky, “Well, I didn’t make him for you!”

Judging by the audience’s response last night, there were plenty of people it was made for.

Veronica Kaye

The Rocky Horror Show by Richard O’Brien

Sydney Lyric Theatre til 7th June

www.rockyhorror.com.au

Seeing Unseen

12 Apr

Here’s a list of the top ten plays currently on in Sydney (for the comfort, convenience and edification of the understandably cautious consumer):

Number 1:

I’m not actually going to give any such list.*

That would be to exacerbate the very problem Seeing Unseen addresses so well.

We’re in danger of becoming a society obsessed and dominated by pop consumer sociology.  Statistics supposedly collected to serve us instead come to control us.

Seeing Unseen is a beautiful production. Devised by the company and directed wonderfully by Gareth Boylan, it’s simple, powerful and magnificently performed.

Kerri Glasscock and Michael Pigott play a couple whose every move is watched. Michael Cullen plays the unidentified monitor. He is omnipresent. He records. He gives advice.

Want to know the top ten places for takeaway in your neighbourhood? Want to know the most popular flavour of pie? Want to know the best place for coffee?

Seeing Unseen

Choices are recorded, tabulated and then declared. The effect is dire. What began as freedom, hardens to habit, and finally solidifies into destiny.

It’s a petrifying feedback system.

So, want to know the top ten ways of relaxing? Various drugs make the list, and the monitor is more than happy to administer them. An alternative is animal clips on YouTube. Bed time stories for adults.

The result of all this coddling is the loss of the very realm that best represents our adult autonomy – morality. Kerri Glasscock’s character asks ‘Is this racist?’ She doesn’t want to be racist. Perhaps a survey told her racism was wrong, but she no longer has the ability to recognize it.

Refreshingly, the major target of this satire seems to be us. Sure, there are forces and institutions that will attempt to control our life choices, but Seeing Unseen acknowledges that this is often only possible with our collaboration.

Seeing Unseen is funny, visually stunning and delightfully challenging.

Veronica Kaye

Seeing Unseen by Gareth Boylan, Michael Cullen, Kerri Glasscock and Michael Pigott

Old 505 Theatre til 26 April

http://venue505.com/theatre

*Though, if I had to list my top ten animal clips, one mentioned in this show would certainly make it – Honey Badgers of the Kalahari. I’ve seen what those determined little maniacs can do to a cobra. I’m not taking any chances.