Tag Archives: Erica Brennan

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.


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.

Photography (c) Sylvi Soe

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.

Photography (c) Sylvi Soe

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.

Photography (c) Sylvi Soe

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.

Photography (c) Sylvi Soe

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: ‘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.




Review: Dating the World – part of the Sydney Fringe Festival

by Erica Brennan

Dating The World – part of the Sydney Fringe.

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I had heard whispers of good things about ‘Dating the World’ for awhile now and I was not disappointed. As I sat for the second time is as many weeks at the New Theatre I gazed upon a mostly bare stage with some cleverly hidden (and some not so, thank you theatre black curtains) objects and waited. Soon Stevl Shefn arrives with a battered suitcase, looking charmingly battered himself and greets us unintelligible language. He chatters away in a convincing manner hoping to get some kind of information out of us. A smile on his face and a nervous click to his voice, he tries again and again to explain what he wants. Finally his translator, Fatima, in full body burqa and just as fluent in Stevl’s language as ours, arrives. The two have a brief flurry of conversation and then she stands demurely to one side explaining that she will translate everything Stevl says.

Stevl has set himself up to give a lecture on love, but it is anything but. He starts to tell stories of what I think are failed love affairs all translated fluently by Fatima, but none of them seem to climax properly. Instead Stevl deviates further and further, distracted by his own delight, until you as an audience member you realise the deviations are the story and it ends. The performing duo of Steve Sheehan and Emma Beech were exceptionally skilled walking the line between understatement and character acting beautifully. You could never quite relax into the situation or become truly absorbed in the story. The effect was an electrifying tension.

As a piece of comedy ‘Dating the World’ is twisty and turny, it doesn’t give anything away. I found myself searching for meaning in every new story, each side tale and deviation. I was trying to decide what words were important, which anecdote was the one at which I supposed to be going ‘ah ha!’ I was waiting for a reveal of some kind, like learning the significance of why Fatmia in a burqua. About halfway through I blushed at my own pompous presumption that there had to be a definite reason for it.

It sounds like a frustrating experience but it was actually just the opposite. I was leaning forward the whole time with a bemused smile on my face and a soft chuckle in my throat. Fatima and her burqua were only small considerations, like many of my other attempts to make meaning, and I quickly found myself letting go and just enjoying this theatrical offering. Now after some time has passed I began to wonder if the crowning jewel of the piece was in acknowledging that people are weird. That we want to connect with others and so we struggle through our weirdness to do this, through dating, friendship, performance, etc. Then perhaps it is our obsession with meaning making that stops us from actually just sitting and allowing that connection to happen without explanation.

Or maybe ‘Dating the World’ was just a truly beautiful deviation from traditional three beat rhythms of performance. It reminded me of British stand up comedian Bill Bailey, a bit less melancholic, but a fine example of the imagination going gently wild. Go catch it if you can.

Review: Storm in a D Cup – part of the Sydney Fringe Festival

by Erica Brennan

Amelia Ryan is a Storm In a D Cup

A one woman show, all-singing, all-standup; a warm and fuzzy story of being comfortable with the storms and uncertainties of life performed to an adoring crowd at the Supper Lounge in Oxford St.

Amelia Ryan announces on her Sydney Fringe page that she is the winner the Sydney Fringe SpringBoard Mentorship (http://2012.sydneyfringe.com/springboard) and boy is it easy to see why! It’s wonderfully tight show and was playing to an appreciative full house. The show as a whole was not really my cup of tea (cup of D?) but the crowd at The Oxford Hotel’s Supper Room was positively loving it. Calling out, erupting into applause at the end of each reworked song (some favourites by Rodger and Hammerstein, Tim Minchin, 4 Non Blonds) and some friendly cat calling.

Amelia humorously, and with many a musical number, relays to us her rather tragic/comedic life as an actor figuring out love, life and how to be at peace with that fickle mistress that is the theatre. Now this subject matter gets my hackles up quite easily. Maybe because it’s too close to the bone for me but also because I rebel against the idea of thinking that being an actor or artist is something you can fail at. I don’t like thinking of it as a career, like if I fail I won’t do it anymore. Despite personal baggage I might be bringing to the performance I found the stories funny, a little bit gross and pitched perfectly to the Oxford St crowd. In one number she even formed an impromptu band with three audience members in a rendition of ‘Cell Block Tango’. I cannot fault the piece at all – only perhaps finding a venue that had a more open view of the performance for more of the audience.

I have seen quite a few Sydney fringe shows this year and am absolutely delighted that the number of highly skilled performers taking matters into their own hands to create shows that really let them shine. It makes for very enthusiastic performances and puts skill and dedication centre stage, making me very proud to be a theatre junkie.

As for Amelia, well, as a performer, storyteller and singer she is one hell of a storm. She may harbour desires to spirit herself away to Broadway but if we can persuade her to stick around with Storm In a D Cup a bit longer, I am sure will continue to delight audiences across Aus.

Review: 100 Years of Lizards – part of the Sydney Fringe Festival

By Erica Brennan

100 Years of Lizards at King Street Theatre

Walking into the New Theatre I was transfixed by the beautifully crafted set. Jess Tran has created a design that is at once both sophisticated and childlike. The punctured holes and watery blue lighting on draped sheets suggested lizard skin and the inside of an attractively worn out field tent. It was simply stunning. I felt very grateful indeed for those first few hushed minutes as other patrons found their seats to just sink and admire the world I was about to. A world of ancient lizard overlords, lovesick rangers and Disney-esque villains – if Disney was okay with brutal animal consumption for the purposes of everlasting beauty.

I was aware that ‘100 Years of Lizards’ had been through a various developments and a season of work at the Adelaide Fringe festival, and it shows. Without a hint of clunkiness this show runs like a dream. A bizarre yet strangely alluring dream that will have you dance in your seat; no really, you dance like lizards. I’m not one for audience participation but I was sticking my tongue out and trotting from left to right on demand. The performers Kim Parrish, Alex Williams, Stephen Jones are unashamedly committed to the weird and wonderful world they have created with writer Patrick Lenton and move effortlessly between brilliant character acting and great sweeping electro songs. I’m still humming the theme music (thank you keyboard lizard Parick Weland-Smith for the live tunes) and chuckling over Lenton’s imaginatively false lizard facts.

All three performers are incredibly grounded in their craft and Director Ngaire O’Leary has brought each of their eclectic mix of skills to the forefront for one a crazy ride. Think a roller coaster between Monty Python style drama, belting musical numbers, solid character acting and seedy drag shows. It’s a sightly offbeat and wrong style of comedy, but its strong and very much an established style. This play is so indulgent, silly and there should be more work like it! It is a performance that showcases the excellent skill of its creators, is impossibly wacky and refuses to settle into a recognisable rhythm. It leaves you delightfully bewildered and I say bravo.

One thing that put a frown on my face was an alarming moment when a character’s throat was cut. Although no blood or gore it felt very real, very graphic and seemed entirely out of place it took me a few moments after to reconnect with the play.

But mostly a huge KUDOS to The Sexy Comedy collective. A mostly gentle, but often brutal poking fun at language and facts so effortless you could feel the faith and joy all involved took in the work.

Review: Zoe – part of the Sydney Fringe festival.

By Erica Brennan

The program notes of Zoe ask ‘how do you mourn someone who never existed? How do you stop’ I was immediately intrigued by the concept and extremely glad I’m so much of a nerd that I read the program notes obsessively before a show.

The story: Emma is going through a divorce and trying to cope with not only the breakdown of the marriage but the loss of her most desired future, a planned child whom they have already named Zoe. Almost by fate Emma meets an elusive and beautiful fire twirler on the beach who introduces herself as Zoe. Emma becomes obsessed with her fantasising that she is Zoe’s mum. Emma’s Mum Donna and her best friend Chris try and support her through her bizarre behaviour before becoming fed up. Emma follows her on face book goes to all her gigs tells people that she has become like a mum to the poor destitute girl. Finally she once again approaches Zoe and the fragile world she has created crashes down. Zoe is baffled by Emma’s familiarity and then demands she stop stalking before storming away. This dilemma of letting go of something that never existed was definitely the thing that carried the play for me. It is strong enquiry to build a play around and I thought the story had all the touch stones to be something really fantastic. I applauded writer/director Jean Gordon for her choice of material.

For a fringe show with all the restrictions created by venue sharing and short runs, it was a seamlessly put together production with some truly inspiring touches. The original Score by Michael Pearce was the right amount of ominous and whimsical. Not too overpowering for a subject that is very difficult to comprehend but transporting you to the driving melancholy that Emma must have been consumed by.

The cast seemed at ease with the writing and seemed very comfortable in this tricky situation. Jen Mealing as Donna, Emma’s mum was one of the stronger performers with other cast members finding moments to really shine. Zoe, played by professional fire twirler Hanna Donnelley, is mesmerising. Never leaving the stage and in an almost zen like fashion twirls glow poi throughout all the scenes. It gives one a beautiful awareness that there are some things that haunt us and may never actually come into being. A lovely metaphor for the subject of Emma’s mourning.

Elements of the script and the staging were a bit hit and miss, and I’d love to see a dramaturge attached to it because I really thought the story and idea were fascinating. At times dialogue was truly striking and other times a bit clunky and lacking subtext. I was also craving a few more adventurous directing decisions, growing fatigued at similar choices made throughout. However this was a very easy production to watch and I very much hope that Gordon keeps writing and creating work. Her interest and care for her subject and characters shines through in the production and I was quite enamoured with the gentle exuberance the cast seemed to emanate. Even though the season is finished keep an eye out for future work.

As a side note this was my first visit to the King Street Theatre since its name change (formerly Newtown Theatre) and new interior. It’s a beautifully welcoming place and it was great to see the foyer filled with happily chatting patrons. If the chance comes up to visit it dear Theatre Goers please do!