Category Archives: Reviews

Review: Short and Sweet, week 2

By Erica Brennan

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Week two of Short and Sweet at King Street theatre was a mostly enjoyable evening with a variety of theatrical offerings. I really do find it difficult to review these short plays because despite my personal taste or critique I can see that a lot of heart and bravery goes into each piece. But we persevere…
First up was ‘Disposable’ written by Jodi Cramond and directed by Rachel Chant. I was very impressed with the play’s opening moments and its use of silence as we watched a man convince himself to jump off his milk create ledge. As his argument unfolded for suicide he became engaged in a verbal sparring match with two bystanders. Delightfully surreal plot points and simple staging were ‘Disposables’ strong points but the characterisation was a bit too showy to do the script enough justice. Lines were being overplayed where restraint may have been more endearing to its arguments.

Next was ‘A Burning Ambition’ by Cerise de Galder; A fictionalised take on the story Joan of Arc. It focuses on a moment where Joan informs her childhood friends of her mission from god. I thought the subject matter was absolutely fascinating and the script made some bold choices to blend archaic and modern terms. With maybe a little more workshopping it could be a striking combination of language but a reliance on gags and out of place comedy left me confused as an audience member. Lovely engaging performances from Gabriella Florek with her stage mates only a step or two behind.

Third in the line-up was the thriller-movie-esque ‘Bus Trip’ by Kathry Yuen. A monologue delivered with confidence and charm by Michela Carattni and strongly staged by Alison Albany. A woman rides the bus the first time. She is excited by her freedom before her life is ended so quickly that she doesn’t even realise it’s her lifeless body the other passengers are running from. I enjoyed the drama of it and its ‘Sixth Sense’ twist of plot which I never saw coming.

Next we had ‘The gospel According to Bowser’ an absurd piece where the family pet dog Bowser explains the creation of his gospel – his owners at the top and the pound as purgatory. It was a very funny piece and incredibly detailed in its performance. The cat (Kim-Cuong Do) and dog Bowser (Chris Miller) are hilariously convincing and committed in their portrayal of the household pets. Your heart breaks a little bit when cat, Pussums ,introduces the idea of the universe as a random place and shakes Bowsers world to the core. A clever little piece in every way.

The final piece on offer before interval was ‘Diet Dilemma’ a humours look at the ‘new age’ fear and control issues associated with what we consume. Director Jacque Vickers does a great job of bringing out the comedy in the piece. The Actors, however, looked far too aware of themselves, almost breaking into laughter a few times but also obviously enjoying themselves which is always a pleasure to watch.

First up after interval was the rather serious ‘Shockhold Syndrome’ written and directed by Sandy Maestro. This exploration of victim’s attachment to their abuser was written smartly and with excellent use of repetition and subtle shifts of language. I was quickly drawn into the complexity of the two women’s situations and curious as to how it could unfold. I found the performances quite strong and was happy to sit and listen for quite some time only wishing the awkward staging had supported the text better.

Next was ‘Snapped’ by Sally Davies. A satisfying round of storytelling even if the premise of broken relationships due to a falsified photograph was somewhat ordinary. It was an easy piece to watch, very engaging because of the many direct address to the audience. I found the characterisation somewhat laid back and wondered how the story would have benefited with more energy from the performers.

Number 8 on our list was ‘Waiting’ by Kylie Rackham and directed beautifully by Heidi Lupprian. Mrs O’donnell befriends a young man named Mark who loves music but lacks almost everything else in life. A unique story of friendship and guilt. An ambitious story for ten minutes with the charters meeting building a relationship, losing Mark to a car accident and finally Mrs O’donnle provides a heartbreaking affirmation that it was not her fault. Quite an arc, but performed commendably by actors Sandra Cample and Challito Browne.

Second to last was ‘2 count’ by Jodi Cramond. A Short and Sweet Dubbo winner staged aptly by Lisa Eismen. I thought it was a very human enquiry into one man’s struggle with OCD. At times I felt the character was being portrayed as ‘crazy’ when the text cried out for more normalisation of his behaviours. Performer Nick Dale at time is truly charming. Some startling philosophical revelations come from a man who believes ‘to count is to know’ and expresses the fear of having a story but no purpose which left me hanging on his every word. I was impressed with the use of repetition to drive dramatic points home. A wonderful inclusion in the festival.

And lastly we had ‘Rick and Rod’ by A. Patrick Nilan. A comical duologue between two penises. I really was hoping to make it through a Short and Sweet season without a penis play but as far as they go this was quite good. The costumes where phenomenal and detailed and quite confronting. It was very cleaver and beautiful characterisations from Patrivk Nilan and Alastair Buchanan. Their performance as the confused and friendly male organs should be commended.

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Review: Short and Sweet – Week 1

By Erica Brennan

Short and sweet is a 10 min play festival running for over 10 years in Sydney and more recently in India and New Zealand. I think it has been an excellent choice to keep the number of entrants at ‘top 80’ instead of ‘110’ like the last time I saw it. The standard was markedly improved all round, and it was also a real treat to see the Mumbai winners of Short a Sweet perform ‘Cine-ma’; definitely a highlight of the evening.

I battled public transport and unfortunately missed the first show on Saturday night but the snappy dialogue, live sound effects and audience giggle boded well for ‘Checkout’ by Pete Malilici (Director Writter) and I am sorry I did not get to witness it.

"Checkout" 
Photography (c) Sylvi Soe

“Checkout”
Photography (c) Sylvi Soe

Second on the list was ‘Emergency Exit Aisle’ Written by Will North and Directed by Karen Bayly. A recently estranged couple are stuck on an awkward flight home and suffer life altering turbulence. I found the writing pretty obvious with the emotional changes coming too fast in the characters even for a light-hearted piece of comedy. Simple effective staging and attention to detail by the three performers (Nick Barkl, Nic Verhoeven and Florence Kermet) were its strengths.

Emergency Exit Aisle
Photography (c) Sylvi Soe

Emergency Exit Aisle
Photography (c) Sylvi Soe

Next up was ‘Deceit’ written and directed by Uma Kali. It wasn’t mentioned anywhere in the program notes but the story line is a more modern take on a Roald Dhal story. Its modernisation of including a lesbian coupling and contemporising of Dahls fur coat gift to a stunning jewel necklace was welcome. However I felt that the dialogue was once again more concerned with setting up the final gag than any compelling story telling.

'Deceit'
Photography (c) Sylvi Soe

‘Deceit’
Photography (c) Sylvi Soe

Fourth in the line up was ‘Handyman’ written by Kerry Bowden and Directed by Stephen Wallace. Emily Kivilcin performs a funny monologue of a young woman who discovers her Bunning’s Warehouse lover is stooping his clients with ease and clarity. The staging is dynamic and uncluttered. The only off moment was the bloody climax, I felt the overly comic portrayal of a man having his throat torn into with a saw was at odds with the rather gory speech. I would have loved to have seen the character turn very dark and not gloss over it as if murder was nothing to her.

'Handyman'
Photography (c) Sylvi Soe

‘Handyman’
Photography (c) Sylvi Soe

Next was piece was ‘Clean Break’ by Tom Jensen and directed by Jacque Vickers. It shows us the final exciting moments before a wedding shattered by the groom calling it off. His reasons, while in theory are sound, ring strikingly untrue because of the pontificating dialogue. The grooms proclamation ‘there is no god’ and ‘we are all specks’ are delivered in such a way that I was left very unconvinced that this man had ever really thought about any so terrifying. In an awkward final moment of comedy the bride leaves devastated and the groom reveals his true reason for calling off the wedding. A burning passion for the mother of the bride.

'Clean Break'
Photography (c) Sylvi Soe

‘Clean Break’
Photography (c) Sylvi Soe

The final piece before interval was Short and Sweet Mubia winner but ‘Cine-ma’ (Best line: Not YOUR-ma not my MA) A physical and aural delight the actors Ajay Ayyappan, Pooja Balu and Venkatesh Harinathan flung us into young Indian girls dilemma of being consumed by the cinema. Directed and Written by Mathivanan Rajendran, I wanted the piece to continue on it also but managed to stand beautifully as a 10 minute play. It’s storytelling and emotional dynamism absolutely suburb and entrancing.

'My Name is Cinema'
Photography (c) Sylvi Soe

‘My Name is Cinema’
Photography (c) Sylvi Soe

'My Name is Cine-Ma'
Photography (c) Sylvi Soe

‘My Name is Cine-Ma’
Photography (c) Sylvi Soe

After interval we were introduced to ‘The Fox and the Hunter’ written by Simon Godfrey and directed by James Heartly. A fox and a hunter meet to discuss an end to their long rivalry but really the hunter just begs the fox to let him kill him. An easy script to listen to but clumsily staged. Key moments lost in confusing blocking and no tension for the comedic gages to be pulled off. Kudos for the costume and set design very well taken care off for a 10 min piece.

'The Fox and the Hunter'
Photography (c) Sylvi Soe

‘The Fox and the Hunter’
Photography (c) Sylvi Soe

Next was ‘G’, created and performed by Miranda Drake on what I believe is a subject close to her heart; her G cup breasts. My hackles also rose when the story veered towards the idea that a woman’s real virtue is as a mother, however she should be applauded for her bravery and there were moments of real humour in the piece but a lack of solid storytelling and clarity in progression made it a bit hard to watch. I hope Miranda Drake keeps working and perfecting her craft, and that we see more work from her in the future.

'G'
Photography (c) Sylvi Soe

‘G’
Photography (c) Sylvi Soe

3rd last for the evening was ‘I Know, I Know’ by Grant J Venables a script which had incredible potential as a piece of Absurdist theatre with its long streams of cliché teenage angst and one character only ever saying ‘I know, I know.’ The staging was awkward, giving context to a piece that didn’t need it, while never being clear about the characters relationship. One may have been referred to as ‘Dad’ the whole time but I was left very confused as to where and who these people were.

'I know, I know'
Photography (c) Sylvi Soe

‘I know, I know’
Photography (c) Sylvi Soe

Next came ‘Team Building Activity’ written and directed by Phillip Gallop. A stellar cast in David B Fowler, Roslyn Hicks, Hannah Forsyth and Phillip himself, the group hitting all the right comedic notes and taking us on a bizarre corporate team building exercise ride with ease. I was particularly charmed by Hanna Forsyth when she put on a blind fold and had to do the rest of the piece without sight. It was very sweet for some reason.

'Team Building Activity'
Photography (c) Sylvi Soe

‘Team Building Activity’
Photography (c) Sylvi Soe

Finally was ‘Do Not Disturb’ written and directed by Robert Sharpe. Another excellent 10 minute comedy where an uptight retirement home worker FINAALLY has a naughty- good-time with a 90 plus year-old resident. The cast again stellar, they underplayed the comedy brilliantly and I would love to see this team take ‘Do Not Disturb’ (or similar) and turn it into a pilot for TV. It has excellent potential.

'Do Not Disturb'
Photography (c) Sylvi Soe

‘Do Not Disturb’
Photography (c) Sylvi Soe

All in all an enjoyable evening and now I eagerly await week 2 of Short and Sweet.

The full program of works for Short+Sweet Theatre Sydney 2013 is at www.shortandsweet.org/sydney
Tickets are $33/$28 conc (Wild Cards $30/27) . Bookings www.shortandsweet.org/sydney or 0423 082 015

Review: Into the Mirror, at King St Theatre

Into the mirror at King St Theatre

By Erica Brennan

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Into the mirror is a two act play that draws its story from the halting attempts to build and maintain intimate relationships by Tyler who is in the final stage of transition from her former female identity, Sally.

The story line is fast paced and jam packed with relationship triangles and beautiful quirky characters. With enough interwoven narrative arcs to make it seem like it could fill its own tv series.

Writer Shelly Wall has a solid grasp of her subjects and subject matter, and the staging is simple, direct and effective; not a beat missed. The only thing letting it down was odd scene changes where stage hands were brought into perform simple set changes. It felt like the creative team hadn’t quite factored them into the flow of the show. Although as mentioned before, the production overall gave me the feel of a TV series and I actually had a good time pretending that the black outs were add breaks, adding to the episodic feel of the play.

The casting was great, all working together at an equally high level, and all seemed finely tuned to their characters. A lot of care and love resulting in a captivating performance.

In fact all round a lot of love and care and good sense. I was lucky enough to see the show with the person who inspired the story and sensing their overwhelming response to the show made me feel very privileged to have come on the night I did.

Catch Into the Mirror if you love human centred drama and want to see a group of actors working at their best.

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Review: The Venetian Twins, presented by New Theatre.

Aussie larrikin meets Carnevale in New Theatre’s The Venetian Twins

by Tiffany Hoy

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An Australian musical based on an 18th century Goldoni classic? I really didn’t know what to expect, but The Venetian Twins is a playful comedy full of mistaken identity, jealous lovers, plenty of slapstick and even a nipple twist (or two).

Identical twins, Tonino and Zanetto, have been separated since birth and are as different as can be – one a Venetian gentleman, the other a country bogan. When each rock up at the same town (somewhere between Verona and Goondiwindi), to meet their respective girlfriends, chaos ensues.

Wine is turned into VB, bananas appear from some surprising places, and commedia is interrupted by good old Aussie slang.

Nick Enright and Terence Clarke’s libretto provides plenty of opportunities for laughs, and with director Mackenzie Steele at the healm, New Theatre’s production does not miss a trick.
The action is driven by mistaken identity and the machinations of would-be suitors – with some very funny songs throughout, sending up various musical styles.

White faces, stock characters and the odd Plague Doctor mask pay homage to commedia dell’arte traditions, on a set that recalls a travelling show with hessian sackcloth and a diamond-patterned drop. Low lights are used to great effect, as are giant picture frames and burnished mirrors, whisked about the stage for quick reveals and clever scene-setting. Set designer Sean Minahan and costume designer Alice Morgan have created a striking world in which the actors run riot.

And do they ever!

The cast as a whole are a very talented, well-oiled team, as you’d expect from the New Theatre, with impressive professional credits to everyone’s name. The script gives a lot of room to romp, and there’s no holding them back from the farce.

Jay James-Moody does admirable double duty as both twins, Tonino and Zanetto, with playful renditions of each character (he had me thinking there were two different actors till interval – der!).
In slinks Pancrazio, the villain of the piece, played by Dean Vince. Tall, bald and with a painted white face, Vince’s Pancrazio is a marvellous sort of diabolical cabaret Lord Voldemort – well worth seeing! Vince had the audience gleefully hissing back in his number, Hiss the Villain, with sly banter and slick dance moves.

Marisa Berzins as Beatrice, Tonino’s empassioned lover, steals the show with her fabulous soprano voice and hilarious scenes involving wind machines and rose petals that brought the house down.
Arlecchino and sassy Columbina (Zac Jardine and Debra Bryan) are a mischievous pair, Stephan Anderson makes a suave Florindo, with designs of his own, and Andy Johnston as the dandy Lelio keeps Rosina (Meagan Caratti) on her toes. And The Judge (Peter Flett) is not so holier-than-thou as he pretends…

The band does an impressive job of swapping between various musical styles – cabaret, operetta, Aussie folk song – and their moments of interaction with the cast are a highlight.
All in all, it’s a great night of fun – go see it! And get a seat down the front, as the venue lacks a little in mic support, and you won’t want to miss a single hilarious moment.

The Venetian Twins is showing at the New Theatre in Newtown, 13 November – 15 December. Click here for tickets and theatre information.

Review: The Cranston Cup FInal

by Emily Elise

Theatre Sports, Enmore Theatre 24th November 2012.

Improvisation is a scary beast. To face it, one might have great triumph and be heralded as the improv- slayer, on the other hand the beast could devour you whole in front of a packed theatre. This is why I love going to watch the best of the best battle it out.

I had butterflies for what I was about to witness. I wanted it to be amazing, I wanted to watch and celebrate success and I hoped that I was not about to witness embarrassing failure… now I want everyone to breathe a sigh of relief. The Cranston Cup Final at the Enmore Theatre on Saturday night will probably be responsible for a few more smile wrinkles in my old age.

Choosing the theatre sport games they wished to play such as an ‘epic’ scene, a poetry rollercoaster or just “a scene with canned goods” , each team was also given another stimulus ranging from an exotic location to free reign with an audience member’s text messages. The audience was taken on a journey through an alphabetic gondola ride, the ‘best day ever’, a Catholic confession and quite a few man snogs, whilst scores from five judges accumulated to decide the winner. Big congratulations to the winners of the Cranston Cup ‘Mother Father’, but with only a couple of points between the rest, all the players deserved the rumbling applause they received throughout the whole show.

If you have never seen theatre sports and don’t know what I am going on about, check out http://www.improaustralia.com.au which has all the upcoming shows and workshops etc. I cannot recommend getting out to one of their shows more. Bring your friends, your Mum, your neighbour, your Partner or anyone! You’re guaranteed a laugh a minute (at least).

Review: Sidekicks

By Erica Brennan

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Sidekicks is a very funny new Australian funny play by Stephen Vagg executed with finesse by Emily Rose Brennan and Dan Illic. The opening moments has the audience addressed directly with a very romantic marriage proposal by CB (Illic). She is pretending to be Hunter (Male Romantic Lead) explaining why Robin (Female Romanic Lead) can’t possibly fly off to marry that jerk when he –Hunter- is still in love with her. Enter Mac, our self proclaimed sidekick, who quickly puts a damper on CB’s grand gesture by explaining that as they are both sidekicks according to predetermined rules of being a sidekick they cant interfere in their romantic leads lives- at least in THAT way. Mac is Hunter’s side kick, CB is Robins. CB refuses to accept this and we are then taken back to the beginning of the story. What followed was a delightful and heartfelt hour of excellent theatrical work all round.

Sidekicks is a bare-bones theatre production. The only set pieces are a bench and a few whit screens for our performers to disappear behind while ‘time is passing’ or they are throwing on another characters wig. Each persona is played to its hilarious edge while still showing real moments of human vulnerability. Now bare bones it may have been but the performance wants for nothing with performers like… caring the audience along for the ride while clearly enjoying themselves. There genuine expression of the clownish pathtic had you falling in love with both of them again and again even when they behaved badly.

The script is easy to listen to but very intelligent and obviously well informed in all the factors that create a good romcom. Not just because Sidekicks’ story IS an excellent rom com story but it is intelligent and lithe enough to talk about itself as a rom com. It is both self referential and plays with the ‘fourth wall’ which I found surprising and quite charming. This is a fantastic achievement for the writer Stephen Vagg who is able to guide us through delicate emotional storytelling to hilarious slapstick awkwardness and back again without batting an eye. The sassy audience addresses, simple and effective directing and a cheeky sex scene, give this piece a wonderfully rounded feel. If you are a fan of romcoms, sitcoms or just coms in general go see this play!

I took my housemate who is an absolute sitcom fanatic. She is something of a connoisseur I would say. Now she thought it was one of the best pieces of theatre she had seen in a long time and was positively beaming as we crowed into the tiny lift to exit the 505 theatre. Can’t get a better recommendation than that. Get to it!

Sidekick Is showing at the Old 505. Click here for tickets and venue information.

Review: Great Expectations

By Erica Brennan

Great Expectations is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Charles Dickens.

This adaptation by Nick Ormerod and Declan Donnellan was Commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company in London and brought beautifully to life by Bakehouse Theatre.

A beautiful chorus piece where we follow young Pip through his rise to gentlemanhood from apprentice blacksmith and his chasing of cold hearted love Estelle. Bakehouse theatre have done a sterling job and I saw it with opening night jitters! I was quite confused for the first 10 minutes of the play, partly because I didn’t know the story (never read Dickens) partly because the cast member plays out the inner monologue of main character Pip in a tag team style. A line here a sentence there, a crossing of paths and back to the first speaker.

Never fear, director John Harrison doesn’t treat you like an idiot and eventually I got through it and was taken on a stimulating ride through dickens England.

The nostalgic charm of the era was captured beautifully by the design. All props and set pieces were tucked inside various suitcases. All one had to do was snap open the lock and viola a kitchen, a lawyer’s office, a bachelors pad was at our actors disposal.

The opening moments of suitcase play were particularly stunning -but I won’t give it away. GO SEE IT. My only wish was that these extraordinary design pieces were placed a bit more centre stage. I was right down the front and could only catch glimpse of the truly incredible feat it was to have crafted each one individually.

Ducking and weaving their way through this beautiful design was a cast of no less than 15 actors. What a fabulous and unfortunately rare thing to enjoy! 15 bodies all of them dressed in matching bracers white shirts and demure pants, marching all over the space, performing crowd scenes, getting into energetic fights and singing us beautiful songs!

Bakehouse has truly exhibited one of the strengths of independent theatre* in this production of Great Expectations: a large, dedicated, highly skilled cast. And this is one of the things that perhaps Bakehouse Theatre does extremely well. They are able to assemble large highly skilled and dedicated cast that synergise exceptionally well with the text and each other. I saw their Metamorphosis earlier this year at PACT and while unimpressed with the text I was absolutely mesmerised by the ensemble. I haven’t seen such well oiled casts of double digits outside of Acting school lately and Bakehouse sure are bringing it.

I really do hope that the company continues to grow and cultivate their ensemble, it is such a great strength of them as a producing body and collective of artists. If you are looking for a gently ambitious, joyful, crowded, burst of energy please go check out Great Expectations the production at its very least gave me access to a story I probably wasn’t going to read in its original form anytime soon and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. If you had always planned on getting better acquainted with Dickens then go treat yourself to a live performance of it. Great Expectations is still playing it’s an energising live experience and well worth the evening out!

* I say this is a strength of independent theatre because having worked with budgets it’s a thin stretch to try and pay so many actors on equity minimum and thus we see it less than I would like in a ‘professional’ realm. I think I am right in assuming that all involved would be on profit share or small honouree payments. Without money being the deciding factor they have committed to the production for a much more important reason (I won’t be presumptuous enough as to assume I know this reason) and bottom line I’m glad they do it. I wish these artists were all able to make a living from what they do but I really am humbled that they created this rare experience for me to watch.

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