Tag Archives: New Theatre

Consensual

21 Mar

This show is about sex.

Tix available here

New-Theatre-Consensual-photo-by-Bob-Seary

Photo by Bob Seary

No, seriously, it is about sex. Yucky sex; not the joyful type, the type that’s like spring and sunshine and sausages (as in ‘democracy sausages’- the ones that make you feel we’re all in this together.)

No, it’s about icky sex; the type whose mythology is that sex is wild and dangerous and so, so, so ‘rock and roll’ (in the sense that it’s shallow, repetitive and, on the rare occasions when it is actually good, over far too quickly. Just like the participants.)

Consensual is set in a school environment. The students are obsessed with sex. One boy seeks…..something, and finds it (oh so briefly) with a staff member.

The play throws up issues like these (or, at least, I felt I was thrown up on):

What exactly is consent?

Should there be an age of consent?

What harm is done when the current laws are broken?

In what situations might these laws be broken?

Is our society simply too sexualized?

First performed in London in 2015, Evan Placey’s play is sharply written, at times funny and at times moving, and guaranteed to lead to lengthy conversation in the bar afterwards.

Director Johann Walraven’s production is top quality. The cast are eminently watchable, making challenging characters come alive. Paul Whiddon, as the boy, gives a fascinating performance, provocatively balancing anger, manipulation and vulnerability. Lauren Richardson as the staff member gives a similarly riveting portrait, presenting a woman whose naivety plays hide and seek with her duplicity.

For me, one of the most engrossing aspects of the play is the second act.  It’s a neat dramatist’s trick, but due to the ‘no spoiler rule’, I can only tease and titillate. I’ll say this much: the second act is an extraordinary commitment to what I’ll call (no doubt unhelpfully) platonic naturalism – the belief that theatre can present what is hidden but what is real.  This can happen, the dramatist says, even though what I am presenting is fiction.  Of course, Placey is not the only writer to play this card (it’s part of our grand tradition) but because of the issues at hand, it’s particularly intriguing.

Paul Gilchrist

 

Consensual by Evan Placey

at New Theatre ti 15 April

Tix and info here

 

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The Little Dog Laughed

17 Feb

The Little Dog Laughed, by Douglas Carter Beane, was first performed in the US in 2006.

It’s a satire on the entertainment business, and hence – by virtue of the economic imperative – on wider society as well. It’s an attack on the inability to accept a world view beyond the hegemonically heterosexual.

I have little time for satires that target only those who are absent.  I feel a real satire, one with teeth, has to take on its audience. One might think that an American play with a showbiz focus might not pass my stringent test. However, when you play to an audience of responsible citizens of a country that has yet to grant marriage equality, you pass with flying colours.

Excluding its thematic concerns, Beane’s play is in the grand tradition of American mainstream comedy. It’s close kin to sitcom. It even has entirely random throwaway one-liners (such as “Talking to you is like sewing a button on cottage cheese”) which evoke the style of some of the most popular Broadway comedies of the 50’s and 60’s.

tldl-11

Photo by Bob Seary

Alice Livingstone’s production is great fun and her cast plays the humour beautifully. Sarah Aubrey as the cynical agent is terrific. Brett Rogers and Charles Upton play the two lovers with real charm. Madeline Beukers creates a lovable, laughable, lost soul.

This is a play that values giggles over depth, but it’s not a thought-free zone. Mitchell (Rogers) is uncertain about his sexuality, uncertain whether he wishes to own what he feels. “Homosexual is an adjective,” he tells himself.

Coming Out is one of the great tension points in our society. And I don’t mean simply that it’s a difficult thing to do. Coming Out implies integrity. The problem is, that in a post-modern world, we’re sometimes uncertain whether integrity is a virtue after all. Perhaps it’s just an oversimplification, an attempt to label the ineffable. Diane (Aubrey) gives an almost convincing argument about the meaninglessness of integrity. “You want my word? That’s like asking a whore for her cherry!”

Perhaps the way to grow through both the beauty and challenge of identity politics is this:

Label yourself as you wish, label others as they wish, and remember that all labels are like buttons sewn on cottage cheese.

Paul Gilchrist

 

The Little Dog Laughed by Douglas Carter Beane

New Theatre til March 4

Info and tix here.

 

Summer Rain

29 Nov

I should hate this production.

Not because of the performances, which are extraordinary. This cast is all class.

Not because of the direction: Trent Kidd’s debut is wonderful. In everything, from tone to tableau, he has created a beautiful piece of theatre.

Not because of the choreography: it’s delightful. (And also the work of Kidd.) I’d come back just for “Watch The Puddles”, performed by Catty Hamilton and Nat Jobe.

Not because of the music by Terence Clarke: Tim Cuniffe’s band is marvelous, and the singing gorgeous.

Not because of the set and costume: Mason Browne’s design is magnificent, and intriguingly versatile – at times evoking a Drysdale rural streetscape, and at others, the main bar of a country pub.

sr-8s

Photo by Chris Lundie 

No, I should hate this production because of the script.

For me, it’s the archetypal example of a certain school of theatre: one that values nostalgia, sentimentality and simplicity.

Set in rural Australia in 1945, but written in 1983, it harks back, ever back, to something we imagine we have lost, but we’ve probably just imagined. And, in telling the story of a family of travelling performers who shake up a small country town, it’s dreadfully self serving in its vision of theatre. And the characterization? Everyone has passions but no one has thoughts. (The feelings are laconically expressed, of course. The playwright was certainly a master of the Aussie vernacular.)

As I said, I should hate it.

But Nick Enright knew what he was doing. Like The Tempest, the work of the mature Shakespeare, Summer Rain is a deeply humane gift, a tale of wonder and of reconciliation. They’re great dramatic themes, some would say the greatest. The play is an invitation to open our eyes to joy. And I say Whacko to that.

Paul Gilchrist

 

Summer Rain 

Book and lyrics by Nick Enright, Music and arrangements by Terence Clarke

at New Theatre til 17 December

tix and info here

Dinkum Assorted

1 Dec

Another play dominated entirely by female actors. It’s disgusting. All those millennia of oppression – for nothing!

Set in a country biscuit factory during WW2, the fifteen strong all-female cast provides a fun and thought-provoking night out.

Dinkum Assorted is part of that genre that treats war as though it were a natural disaster. And if you’re far enough down the pecking order, I guess it is. These women have to make the best of a difficult situation. And they do, with both fight and laughter.

There are some terrific performances: Colleen Cook as the down-to-earth forewoman; Debra Bryan as the maligned and misunderstood outsider; Bodelle de Ronde as the struggling young mother; Sonya Kerr as the sophisticate facing tough choices; and Amanda Laing and Hannah Raven as the effervescent youngsters dreaming of another world.

Dinkum-10

Photo by Bob Seary

It’s sort of a musical with all the songs at one end. The closing numbers have huge energy and Laing and Raven’s tap dance is brilliant. The costuming of these numbers, by Kiara Mullooly, is delightfully and gloriously over the top.

Some people might find the book a little dissatisfying; there’s so much in it that some parts can feel a little sparse, but Aronson and director Sahn Millington get the tone right. This is a story of Big History catching up with little people. Sure it’s a tribute to determination, but the play’s also a paean to innocence.

Kerr’s Joan says ‘Don’t make me something I’m not’. De Ronde’s Millie replies ‘It’s what people always do.’

Perhaps in the past we were innocent. It’s a myth we tell. It’s what we always do. I wonder why.

Veronica Kaye

Dinkum Assorted  Book, lyrics & music by Linda Aronson

at New Theatre til 19 Dec

tix and info here

The School for Scandal

5 May

Changing sexual mores might lead us to think the concept of Reputation is old fashioned.

But, of course, it’s still going strong. Reputation, and its evil twin Scandal, have just moved on to aspects of Life other than what’s done between consenting adults.

In our fluid, supposedly-classless society, the disputed territory labeled Reputation now centres on our professional life. You only have to listen in a theatre foyer to sense the pleasure derived from destroying the good name of others.

Director David Burrowes’ take on Sheridan’s classic School for Scandal is a terrifically fun night of theatre.

The performances are brilliant. Sheridan is one of our greatest wits, and Burrowes allows that to shine. This is a night pleasing to the ear – and to the eye; Burrowes has assembled a cast of virtuoso physicality.

Eleanor Stankiewicz gives a tremendous performance as the gleefully manipulative Lady Sneerwell. She’s languid, confident and self assured. Jacob Warner as the conniving Joseph Surface is a delight to watch. As his plans unravel and his desperation mounts, even the smallest piece of furniture seems to get in his way. Sasha Dyer as Maria, despite being Sheridan’s designated ‘good girl’, gives a superb turn as the drunken teenager attempting to hide her intoxication. Her catching of a ‘dropped’ vase is worth the admission price alone. Marty O’Neill’s Sir Peter Teazle has made the mistake of marrying a woman thirty years his junior, and the physical dynamics between him and his wife, played by Madeleine Withington, are a master class in odd couple tensions and frustrations. Emma Harvie, as a servant girl, gives a brilliant comic portrayal of mechanical obsequiousness, layered ever so gently with a pathos that suggests a vast hidden emotional life.

(pic by Matthias  Engesser)

(pic by Matthias Engesser)

And the entire cast allows the very clever dialogue to crackle. Richard Cotter is marvelous as Sir Oliver Surface, negotiating his many disguises with joyous ease. Samantha Ward, as Ms Candour, is blithely verbose, delighting in the destruction of people’s reputations under the guise of friendly honesty. And Rhys Keir as Charles Surface, the supposed profligate, is charisma at its most agreeable.

Production designer Isabella Andronos gives us a simple white box, a chic minimalist aesthetic and costumes that are modern and very sexy. It’s beautifully done. It’s very easy on the eye, and it’s the perfect uncluttered space for the very talented cast to do their magic.

Sheridan’s play is satirical, and it only takes a little serious self-reflection to realise it’s still relevant. Why do we take such satisfaction in bringing others down?

But it’s worth noting that The School For Scandal is a traditional comedy with a traditional happy ending and (surely this is not a spoiler), the Truth being ultimately revealed, each character gets what they deserve. I used the word traditional – because the play can hardly be the final word on Reputation. The childish satisfaction we find in Scandal is something we obviously must grow beyond, but perhaps even the concept of Reputation, with its inherent conservatism, can be transcended……

Veronica Kaye

The School for Scandal by Richard Brinsley Sheridan

at New Theatre til 30 May

http://newtheatre.org.au/

Book of Days

16 Jul

There’s a powerful set piece in the first act of Book of Days. I won’t spoil it, but suffice to say it deals with the way the announcement of a death is received. Beautifully staged and cleverly written, it perfectly presents the predominant theme of the play – hypocrisy.

Langford Wilson’s play is sort of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, but with murder. (It’s not an appropriation. It’s definitely a subversion.)

Both plays are set in small Midwest towns.

Photograph © Bob Seary

Photograph © Bob Seary

Ultimately, Our Town presents small town life through the lens of the eternal; its mocking of the parochial is gentle to the extreme, and the play firmly asserts the value of the everyday, and of every life.

Book of Days offers a vision far less comforting. There are some seriously bad people in this play – and they’re respected members of the community.

Some audience members might find the second act unusual, undecided about the way the play becomes somewhat smaller, folding down to a whodunit.

But I think that’s the play’s purpose. It’s part of the American culture wars. It’s saying ‘What’s wrong with our simple dream?’ And it finds guilty parties.

Elsie Edgerton-Till’s production is terrific and her use of the space is magical. The performances are sensational. Kate Fraser creates a brilliantly engaging Ruth Hoch, the salt of the earth no-nonsense truth teller. The conceit of this play is that Ruth is playing Joan of Arc in George Bernard Shaw’s play. And like Joan, Ruth fights both Church and State. I’d further draw the contrasts and comparisons between Ruth and Joan, but I’d be guilty of dreadful spoilers.

In this play, there are characters guilty of far worse: Kyle Walmsley gives a chilling portrait of the intelligent, urbane and frighteningly calculating Reverend Bobby Graves. Simon Davey creates a marvelous portrait of a manipulative snake of a politician.

And a final word on Georgia Hopkins set design: a beautifully space to play, clean and pure, punctuated by only a single tree. The Garden of Eden? The Tree of Knowledge? The Fall from Paradise?

Veronica Kaye

Book of Days by Lanford Wilson

til 9 August

http://newtheatre.org.au/

 

Why Torture is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them

10 Jun

Firstly, Why Torture is Wrong, and The People who Love Them is  ‘good’ theatre.

Now a digression:

A while back, standing in a crowded foyer, a friend of a friend shocked me by saying “Bad theatre is like being tortured”.

My heart went out to her.

I felt awful. I had thought she was just another complacent, comfortable, middle-class theatre goer.

But no. Perhaps, I thought, she’s a recovering victim of some deranged sociopath. Or, possibly, she’s an escaped dissident from a brutally repressive regime.

Or most likely, like myself, she was just another complacent comfortable middle class theatre goer who enjoyed indulging in absurdly hyperbolic language simply because her life of unparalleled privilege supplied her with everything she needed – except the occasional jolt of excitement to remind her she was alive.

This might be wild speculation, but I suspect sitting through an hour or so of less-than-engaging theatre bears very little resemblance to having electrodes attached to your genitals.

But if you choose to dumbly divide the entirety of existence into the simple categories of the good and the bad, with everything either on one side or the other of that enormous world-dominating watershed, then I guess torture and ‘bad’ theatre might sit on the same side, the very same side as suffering a terminal illness and having dandruff.

Digression over.

Photographs © Bob Seary

Photographs © Bob Seary

Why Torture is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them is a very funny and fabulously performed satire.

Director Melita Rowston does a fantastic job with Christopher Durang’s script. The performances are joyfully hyperbolic.

Terry Karabelas and Peter Astridge present perfectly pitched in-your-face alpha males.

The female characters are fascinating responses to the male absurdity. Ainslie McGlynn gives us a wonderfully flighty small ‘l’ liberal. Romy Bartz gives us Hildegarde, painfully and hilariously in love with a right wing lunatic. (What’s Sylvia Plath’s line about every woman adoring a fascist?*) And Luella is my comic favourite, played brilliantly by Alice Livingstone. Luella retreats from her domineering husband, and reality in general, through an obsession with theatre. (Yes, lets worry about theatre. There’s nothing else important going on in the world. Like torture.)

And while having terrific fun with these over-the-top characters, the final scene is thought-provoking, and an acknowledgement that satire is not the solution to the great world-dominating watershed between left and right.

It’s a brave move, laying down your greatest weapon, but it’s probably the way forward.

Veronica Kaye

* The line is “Every woman adores a Fascist”.

 

Why Torture is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them By Christopher Durang

at New Theatre til 28 June

http://newtheatre.org.au/