Category Archives: Reviews

Review: Dusty at the Zenith Theatre

By Shelley Frame

I had heard a lot of good reports about previous Chatswood Musical Society productions, and Dusty well and truly lived up to my expectations.

Originally written in Australia by John-Michael Howson, David Mitchell and Melvyn Morrow, it is a relatively new musical having only been performed for the first time in 2006. I had only limited knowledge of the plot and was happy to learn quite a bit. This musical is based on the life of Dusty Springfield, The White Queen of Soul. Her songs have inadvertently become woven through our entire subconscious. She is up there with Elvis and the Beatles, we all know the words of the songs, and each have individual memories attached to them, but I had no idea how many of the songs that I had first come across in movies were actually her creation. And without spoilers, I really had no idea that she lived such an amazing life.

Linda Hale debuts with CMS as Dusty , and right from her first song ‘I Only Want to Be with You’ right through to her last, more than 32 in all, her voice stays strong and never falters. With such strength, it was quite amazing to hear it partnered so beautifully with Gabriella Glenn as Mary. Neither over powered the other and both were quite distinct. Gabriella Glenn as the innocent and young Mary was a perfect casting; her presence on stage was that of a child but never lacking, she wandered through the entire musical, for most of it as the alter ego within Dusty.

The energy of the entire cast was quite exhausting for me in the audience. Miriam Ramsey as Reno, proves this, she first entered and bounced and danced her way down the stairs to end in a very intimate duet with Dusty, more than just myself was envious of the way she could move so gracefully and confidently across a stage, and all in heels!

Katherine Wall as Peg and Raymand Cullen as Rodney are at times a comedy relief for what could easily have been a far too intense script that wouldn’t have matched the pop of the music.

Musical Director Davis Lang and Assistant Musical Director Hayden Barltrop, could not be faulted. The band that was partly hidden behind props and backdrops performed unobtrusively and seamlessly, I still have no idea how many of them were back there. This may not seem terribly complementary, but having seen many musical performances overwhelmed by overzealous musicians, it was a relief to be able to appreciate the music, the vocals and the acting as separate parts and how they layered together so well. My only criticism would have to be that Hayden Barltrop’s cameo of Pet Shop Boys lead singer Neil Tennant was far too short and left me wanting to see him perform more. But that’s for another CMS production!

Dusty is being performed at The Zenith Theatre Chatswood

Friday 2nd November 8:00pm
Saturday 3rd November 2:00pm & 8:00pm
Sunday 4th November 5:00pm
Wednesday 7th November 8:00pm
Thursday 8th November 8:00pm
Friday 9th November 8:00pm
Saturday 10th November 2:00pm & 8:00pm

Book Online or call 02 9777 7547

Ticket Prices
Adult $35

Concessions/Students $30

Child Under 16 $25


Production Team
Fiona Kelly – Director / Co-Choreographer
David Lang – Musical Director
Andrew del Popolo – Co-Choreographer
James Wallis – Assistant Director
Hayden Barltrop – Assistant Musical Director/Repititeur
Laura-Beth Wood – Production Manager

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Review: ‘Prime:Orderly’

By Erica Brennan

Prime: Orderly – Riverside Theatre’s, Parramatta

Prime: Orderly is a new dance work in two halves. It is the culmination and distillation of chorographer Dean Walsh two year fellowship researches into sub-scapes and human-animal movement studies. A subtle and rich new chorographic language that draws on Walshes 23 years experience as a dancer and transcends this virtuosity by applying a humours touch to its subject matter. Prime: Orderly is an experience to be immersed in, not a story to be followed or observe and draw conclusions from. It flicks between moments of pedestrian conversations to deep, raw, primal gestures, and effortlessly back again. Creating a movement score I have never seen in a dance work before. A brave and inspiring piece of performance.

I was hooked from the first moment I walked in. Perhaps empathising a little too much with the poor alien like creature that greeted us centre stage as we entered. It was a puppet, part human, part hammer head shark, strung up by large fish hooks, ready for an experiment or a tourist photograph. Adding to the uncomfortableness and feeling of being trapped is a hooded sweat-suited figure watching you as you try and sneak past to take your seat. These opening Moments of Prime: Orderly thrust you headfirst into a charged exciting space. You certainly don’t skink dreamily into a world. No. You are dropped in and rendered somewhat speechless by its cruel beauty and detail. ‘Am I an intruder?’ I asked myself. ‘Oh no that hooded thug is going to do something aweful to the puppet and terrify me!’ I think and I cross my arms in front of myself protectively. Yet I can’t take my eyes of the scene before me and my curiosity is rewarded.

All aspects of this production from lights and sound , to performers and the design, work seamlessly together to keep you inside the piece at all time. You are never quite sure of where you are inside it but it certainly never lets you miss a beat or step outside and wonder about your shopping list for tomorrow. The opening moments are bizarre, sci-fi bizarre! With fish hooks being cut off the our shark specimen and our hooded figure stripping off to reveal a faceless, featureless blue uni-tarded man underneath. This blue man (Dean Walsh) stops his suspicious wanderings occasionally and treats us to a clownish lecture on his first shark sighing while surfing. The images given to us are thrust against each other odlly and the images themselves are foreign. However as a whole Prime: Ordley is completely recognisable and contemporary in its invocation of fear and suspicion. The first half finishes with a guest speaker who is somehow associated with the subject matter of marine life. Tonight it is Dr Anthony Granville Marnie biologist and shark specialist who speaks about his relationship to these magnificent creatures.

The second half pushes further into the pedestrian and everydayness of movement and our relationship to the ocean and yet goes deeper. A piece structured over the unfolding of a 1 hour scuba dive as an audience member you get lost in the incredible effort and importance of breathing. Balloons are blown up and lead the performers around the space. They leap and roll and judder into animal movements before walking and talking in conversationally about their latest dive. The performers breathe and breathe and breathe, taking it far too seriously before surprising us all and booming into microphone the infamous ‘Luke. I am your father.’ The audience laugh in relief and we enjoy watching them pull apart the coral shaped set, scrunch it up and throw it into a net with little skill (they kept missing – which was great). Then we stopped laughing when suddenly struck by the fact that this could be our oceans, our coral our marine life we are destroying so carelessly.

A powerful, visceral experience by a truly skilled and informed practitioner. I’m still thinking about it, still excited by it. Keep an eye on Dean Walsh and get to his work. You won’t be sorry.

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Review: short and sweet in Broken Hill

By Heidi Hendry

The Short+Sweet Theatre aim to develop and showcase excellence using the ten minute theatre form. Sponsored by West Darling Arts and in association with the Broken Hill Repertory Society Inc, the Short + Sweet Theatre expanded this year to include Broken Hill, NSW.

Locals were encouraged to be involved with writing, directing, producing, acting, stage management, lighting and sound.

5 ten minute plays were performed at Theatre 44 on Wills St on Friday 26th, Saturday 27th and Sunday 28th October.

Daydream Believer, written by Deb Hunt and directed by Marilyn Harris was set underground in the Daydream Mine. Set both above and below ground, the play made excellent use of the 2 sides of the stage to create the effect of distance. I was a bit distracted by the helmet shadow over the eyes of the three actors, but found the Tour Guide(?) warm and believable. Anthony & Cathy/Cookie interacted well as the arguing couple.

You Must Be One Since You Said It, written and directed by Leah Maj, wasa story of schoolyard bullying. The technique of having Leah (Ella Fobister) standing in the middle of the stage with the bullies walking behind throwing out their lines at her, while she fumed, was an excellent technique. I would have liked to see Ella further forward on the stage, and there was one interaction where she turned her back on the audience, which could have been choreographed differently, but I liked her emotional strength, and her fury was palpable. Eric (Ryan Baker) did not have many lines but I felt he was quite believable.

Clean Sweep, written and directed by Deb Hunt, was a clever and funny story of a principal and a janitor, but was really a story of power and where powere really lies. Clever stagecraft and positioning as well as excellent choice in cast produced a well delivered, very believable pas de deux. Anna Cannillas and Fred Peters can be proud of their performance.

The Artist in Residence written by Jason King, directed by Marilyn Harris, was my favourite. Excellent writing, well executed, humourous, and almost professional in its delivery. John Harris, as the Painter, engaged my attention from the moment the curtain opened. Marilyn Harris, as the First Buyer, conveyed a wry humour, and was clearly enjoying her role. The puns on the paint names produced a lot of laughter in the audience.

A Town On The Edge Of Sundown written and directed by Adelaide DeMain, used a completely different format to present a narrated story about Broken Hill. It definitely conveyed the essence of Broken Hill drawing in the various elements of life here. And a standout performance by AJ Bartley as Priscilla.

After the plays were done the awards were presented. Clean Sweep will be taken to Sydney to be showcased in the Short+Sweet Sydney festival, and each of the other 4 plays will be available for directing & performing in that same festival. Best Actor went to Fred Peters, Best Actress to Ella Fobister, Best Director to Marilyn Harris, and Best Play to Clean Sweep.

Overall, it was a lovely evening, and fantastic to see the talent that Broken Hill has to offer. I hope to see more of this calibre of work, and hope that the West Darling Arts will support more of this. I am eagerly looking forward to the next production.

Review: Savage in Limbo, by Workhorse Theatre Co.

By Emily Elise

Only familiar with John Patrick Stanley’s ‘Doubt’, ‘Savage in limbo’ was a completely new experience for me. Anyone need a monologue? Buy the script. A great piece for actors as each one has a chance in the spotlight.

Set in a lonely bar in the Bronx, 32 year old virgin Debise Savage makes her first friend in the local sexpot then proceeds to attempt to steal her boyfriend who has just professed he wants to date “ugly girls”. You know, just your usual Monday night! Other habitants of the bar include a barman who has a particular way with drinks and an alcoholic who once wanted to be a nun. As we move through the script each character has at least one juicy monologue unravelling a little more about them and forming new relationships constantly with the others in the bar.

32-year-old Denise Savage (Katherine Beck) bursts in with a heavy American accent and sets the tone for the rest of the piece. Zoe Trilsbach was a standout making me wonder what she was like in real life as she played Linda so convincingly. The only thing missing was some light and shade, which I feel could have come with some sharper direction. With most of the characters in heightened emotional states the whole time it took away from some of the character building small moments. It was, however, an overall well rehearsed production with talented actors who work together seamlessly.

Savage In Limbo is showing at the Tap Gallery until November 3rd. Click here for more info.

Review: Hotel Hibiscus, produced by Epicentre Theatre Company.

By Cameron Malcher

Before you read the rest of this review, click here and buy a ticket to one of the remaining shows of Hotel Hibiscus.

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Produced by Epicentre Theatre Co, ‘Hotel Hibiscus’ is a play that taps into the Australian theatre tradition of exploring uncomfortable and unspoken issues through storytelling. In style and presentation, it is an old school drama, as the characters, their motivations and secrets get peeled away layer by layer, creating a building tension as revelation after revelation reveal the turbulent intrigue bubbling away underneath a calm facade.

The story is a dramatisation of Australia’s involvement in the six-year ‘dirty war’ on Bougainville, fictionalised in the play as the island of Hibiscus. The story centres around Colonel Baulkham, an Australian diplomat responsible for overseeing the signing of a peace treaty between the local army and a group of rebel fighters.
The rebels are fighting both the army and the Mantis mining company that has been poisoning the land with their mining operations. Like Hibiscus Island, Mantis is a fictional representation of the very real Rio Tinto.

This play shines a spotlight on the unpleasant underside of our society, and the often unacknowledged human cost of the ways that governments and corporations go about the business of securing resources to support our western lifestyle. It was written by Robert Cockburn who, as a journalist, reported on the ‘dirty war’ some 20 years ago, and who claims in the programme that this play has sat dormant for 15 years following an initial workshopping process. Cockburn offers no pretence about the political agenda of this play, pointing the finger at global silence and inaction over similar events in Syria, and the fact that the events that inspired this story have only recently been given the chance for a hearing of court under charges of genocide and war crimes. As such, each of the characters of this play has a distinct story to tell and represents a different player in the war.

As Colonel Christopher Baulkham, Dominic McDonald delivers another powerful performance, coming from his recent stint as Prospero in the Sydney Fringe’s Steampunk version of ‘The Tempest’, this time portraying the man who represents Australia’s less-than-honest interests in the war. Opposite him is Sopa Enri as Major Leon Ramara, the brutal leader of the local armed forces whose violent suppression of the rebels is spoken of with dread. In Enri’s hands, Major Ramara is a figure of menace and unpredictable violence. Caught between them is Sampson Makali, played by Mandela Mathia, the human face of the victims of the war, whose murder opens the show and is the mystery around which the story is built. Also of note is Dr. Patty Carmichael, played ably by Amanda Jermyn, who, in some ways, comes to represent our collective silence on these issues.

Don’t go to see this play expecting a perfectly polished production. It isn’t, and some aspects of the production require a pretty active suspension of disbelief.

Don’t go to see this play expecting to see flawless storytelling. While a powerful story told through believable characters, There is still some room for further workshopping and revision.

Don’t go to see this play expecting a night of passive entertainment. If you understand the story and the implications of the events on stage, you will likely leave the theatre feeling very confronted.

Do, however, go and see this play to see an original and powerful Australian work with a story and message that casts a questioning light not only on the specifics of the Bougainville war, but on the many issues of government, corporate and societal complicity in mass-violence that are very much a part of the world we live in today, and on the victims of that violence who too often go unnamed and unremembered.

Epicentre Theatre Company are to be congratulated for bringing this play to the stage for the first time, and I sincerely hope that this play has a long future ahead of it.

There are four shows of ‘Hotel Hibiscus’ remaining from 25 to 27 October, at the Zenith Theatre in Chatswood. Go and see it.

Review: Disney’s High School Musical by BTC

By Cameron Malcher

A tale of two worlds: Disney’s High School Musical by Blacktown Theatre Group

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Attending the opening night of Blacktown Theatre Company’s production of High School Musical was an experience that reminded me of why I love community theatre, and ultimately why this site exists. Every professional arts or entertainment industry needs community support to keep it afloat, and to help train the next generation of professionals coming through. Where would the NRL be without thousands of kids dedicating their weekends to club games? Where would professional theatre and entertainment be without community groups giving younger performers a chance to experience the highs and lows of live performance? BTC’s High School Musical is a production that reminded me of just how important community support is to a thriving arts industry.

The production had its hits and misses. Among the positive aspects of this show were some simple yet effective choreography, an impressive consistency of costumes and a fairly minimalist approach to set design that provided a springboard for the imagination without being overbearing.

The biggest highlight for me was the sight of an enthusiastic younger cast getting to test their mettle in the realm of community theatre. While Tyler Hoggard brought a great sense of quirky charisma to the male lead role of Troy Bolton, and Ebony Black showed her vocal talents as Gabriella Montez, among a broad spectrum of ability and talent on display in the supporting cast there were some stand out performers; Justin McCormick as Jack Scott and Bernadette Glynn as Kelsi Nielsen supplied fun comic support throughout the show, while Jasper Newstead as Ms Darbus incited roars of laughter from the crowd.

Seeing a group of teenagers and young adults on stage playing teenagers and young adults reminded me of just how often we see adult performers in their 30s and 40s playing younger roles, which usually guarantees a more polished performance, but raises the question of where and how younger people are expected to gain any significant performance experience in leading roles if companies like BTC don’t provide opportunities like this. Speaking to members of the company after the show I found out that this show had drawn in performers from a wider geographic area than they were used to, with only 4 out of 40 cast members having worked with the company before. This suggests that there is a body of young performers out there looking for such opportunities, and I think supporting productions like this one are a great way to help build up future performers.

Where this production noticeably fell down was in the sound and lighting, which were the two aspects of the production contracted out to ‘professional’ companies. It is a common conundrum for community theatre groups that larger scale productions require more lighting and audio amplification and in the interests of protecting their expensive equipment, hire companies will usually insist on one of their technicians being on hand to handle/operate the equipment during the show. This can be a big expense to community companies, easily running into the thousands of dollars and representing half or more of the total production budget of a show (speaking from my own experience, not from any inside knowledge of BTC). But when performers are left in the dark by lighting cues that are frequently missed, or audio feeds are not being mixed to create a balanced sound (assuming that the singer’s microphones are even turned on in the first place!), it certainly casts a questioning light on the divide between concepts of ‘professional’ and ‘amateur’ in the theatre world. Things came together more effectively for the second act, and I expect they will continue to improve rapidly over the opening weekend, but it’s a real shame that the most amateur thing about the show I saw tonight was in the domain of the professional technicians involved.

Overall, this production is not only a fun staging of a well-known Disney property, but a great effort from BTC to support and develop younger performers in the Western Sydney area.

The show is running for one more week, with full details available at www.blacktowntheatreco.com.

Review: Blind Tasting – part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival

by Harriet Devlin

On the Limits of Language: Blind Tasting and a Life Without Labels

On a typical chilly Melbourne evening, I trundled down to North Melbourne’s Lithuanian Club (part of the Fringe Hub) to see Blind Tasting – sight unseen… I decided against reading up on the show or performers before attending, excited by the potential of experiencing something new without imposing a prior judgement of what I thought it could, would or should be.

With no expectations of what I was about to see, (which did seem in keeping with the themes of the show, in hindsight) I must admit I was ever-so-slightly perplexed when I saw an actor entering the stage blind-folded. Was she going to stay blindfolded for the entire performance? Was she going to start making awkward jokes about vision-impairment? Was she going to injure herself and have to cancel the entire season?! Thankfully, none of these scenarios eventuated and what followed (with the subsequent removal of the blindfold) was a punchy, whimsical tale of lovelorn Sophie executed exceptionally by actor Sylvia Keays.

Blind Tasting is a one-woman show which epitomises that Fringe Festival feeling; audience interaction, no-nonsense set-up, heartfelt and convincing acting, and a cracking script to boot. Blind Tasting is by turns a meditation on the meaning of life, a pondering on the labels that we impose on ourselves (and those that are given to us by others), and a stand-up comedy routine about sex, wine and cruise ships.

Produced by Sydney-based company, subtlenuance, Blind Tasting is a potent reminder of the importance of living life in the now. Superbly written by Paul Gilchrist, the piece is full of free associations and musings about relationships, personalities and the tyranny of judgement day. With energy, humour and dynamism, actor Sylvia Keays takes us on a journey which begins with her first experience of wine-selling, continues with her first experience of wine-tasting and ends with her first taste of the limitless potential of the present.

The natural sound-effects of the piece (the laughter of the audience, the trams on Errol Street outside and the pedestrian traffic of the Fringe Hub) seemed like “God’s choreography”, adding to the honesty and, at times, unavoidable present-ness of the piece. This simplicity was, however, undermined by occasional unnecessary technical elements which seemed clumsy and out of place in such a small intimate setting. The audience interaction was perhaps not as smooth as it could have been but it didn’t take long for Keays to reel us back into the wonder of wine and its lessons of ageing, complexity and satisfaction.

On the whole, my blind tasting of Blind Tasting, (although perhaps a little rough around the edges) proved fun, thought-provoking and insightful. Here’s to subtlenuance, to an absence of to-do lists, and to the presence of those special people in our lives – present and passed – who value us without judgement. Cheers!

28 September – 5 October 2012
Melbourne Fringe Hub
The Loft, Lithuanian Club
$20 (Adult) / $15 (Conc) / $10 (Tues)
www.melbournefringe.com.au / 03 9660 9666