Sunday, February 18, 2018

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING

Photography by Emily Hanna www.eshphotography.com.au



Shakespeare by the Lakes. Directed by Duncan Driver and Lexi Sekuless. Tuggeranong Town Park on February 14 and 15, Glebe Park in Civic on February 16, QEII Park in Queanbeyan on February 17. 6.30pm.

Out door theatre can be a fraught business. In 1961 as a teenage Gertrude on the steps of the War Memorial in Sydney I found myself lunging for a mike on a stand every time I had a line. Things weren’t much better in 1980 at Leeds University doing Eurydice in an outdoor Antigone, although I think the courtyard acoustics meant we could do without mikes. (And the skinheads who haunted the dress rehearsal…)

From what I saw down at Tuggeranong technology has come a long way and except for the occasional pop and crackle the unobtrusive head mikes so long used by musical theatre supported the performance in a positive way in an flat outdoor venue that shows how much has been forgotten about ancient Greek theatre acoustics. (Go to Epidaurus and sit up the back while the guide talks quietly down on the performance area…) 

Shakespeare by the Lakes largely got the measure of the problems, and came up with a genially intelligent version of Much Ado About Nothing. A largish audience sat on the grass or on chairs at the back and was happy to have their space invaded by the odd cast member. especially since such invasions were gentle and unforced and very much part of the play.

Directors Lexi Sekuless and Duncan Driver headed the cast as Beatrice and Benedict making the most of the duo’s avoidance of what everyone else could see about their relationship. The Watch needed more of a sense of being a group and Helen McFarlane’s Dogberry could have used some toning down so that the full humour of the malapropisms came through. But she made a most enjoyably villainous Don John.

Hero can be played as a bit of a Muriel and Jo Richards went down this path with some energy. It’s always a wonder why she finally marries a man like Claudio  Izaac Beach) who is so ready to jump to the wrong conclusion. Beach conveyed an alarming youthful immaturity. But the play does not linger on their relationship.

Support from the rest of the cast was relaxed and focussed, with the play’s songs and some music for ambience gently done by musician Sunny Amoreena and her band and the whole thing finished up quite rightly with a jig. And if the Thursday night Tuggeranong crowd is anything to go by there’s a real appetite for more such events.


Alanna Maclean

MAMMA MIA - Capitol Theatre, Sydney




Alicia Gardiner - Natalie O'Donnell - Jayde Westaby
in
"MAMMA MIA !"

Photo: James D Morgan

Music and Lyrics by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus
Book by Catherine Johnson
Directed by Gary Young
Choreographed by Tom Hodgson
Musical Direction by Michael Azzopardi

Capitol Theatre, Sydney until 6th May 2018

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

Australia has a love affair with the music of ABBA. We just can’t get enough of it. The stage productions of “Muriel’s Wedding”, “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”, and of course “Mamma Mia!” all feature largely the same songs from these composers. Audiences, largely motivated by memories of how these songs reflect key moments in their own lives, flock to hear these songs again and again.  However, the magic of “Mamma Mia” is the wit with which the familiar songs have been interpolated into the sentimental and curiously contemporary storyline focussing on a young woman’s curiosity about the father she has never met, which motivates her to invite three possible candidates to her wedding and has the audience chuckling with delight as they recognise the cues heralding which song best suits the situation.

Director, Gary Young is perfectly aware of this, and even though his fresh, new staging of the show is at its best when the stage is given over to Tom Hodgson’s energetic choreography, he also keeps the storyline moving along neatly with a series of well-staged intimate vignettes.

Hodgson’s tightly drilled choreography provides the energetic young cast with plenty of opportunity to bust out their best party moves, and it doesn’t really matter that many of the lyrics are obscured by the clever musical arrangements. Most of the audience know these lyrics by heart anyway. But having reviewed this production in the smaller Canberra Theatre, watching it from the dress circle of the much larger Capitol Theatre, it was noticeable that on opening night much of the spoken dialogue was difficult to hear because the sound levels dipped between the songs and dialogue. No such trouble hearing the overture and entr’acte though. Both were played at ear-splitting level guaranteed to rupture a few hearing aids.

Although a little dwarfed in the Capitol Theatre, Linda Bewick’s versatile setting still looks as pretty as a picture, and Suzy Strout’s colourful costumes are perfect for a Greek island holiday. Gavan Swift has taken advantage of the bigger theatre to re-jig his lighting design to now include a spectacular rock-concert-style light show to begin the second act.

The playing of the comedy has now broadened with actors “being funny” rather than being funny as a result of the situations. Moves that previously looked like responses to the moment now look like direction. However none of this seemed to worry the Sydney opening night audience who were there for the music.


Stephen Mahy (Sky) and Sarah Morrison (Sophie)

Photo: Peter Brew Bevan

The attractive cast give it their all. Sarah Morrison and Stephen May  charm as the young prospective newly-weds, Sophie and Sky,  and Natalie O’Donnell, who played Sophie in the original Australian production of “Mamma Mia”, is now Sophie’s stressed-out mother-of-the-bride, Donna, who has her best moment in the dramatic eleven o’clock number, “The Winner Takes It All”.

Alicia Gardiner and Jayde Westaby play Donna’s best friends, Rosie and Tanya, with Westaby practically running away with the show as the glamourous cougar who takes on the cheeky Pepper (Sam Hooper) in the marvellously staged number, “Does Your Mother Know”. Ian Stenlake, Phillip Lowe and Josef Ber are a handsome trio of prospective fathers, each with a fine singing voice, and sufficient charisma to keep you wondering which really is Sophie’s errant dad.  
Sam Hooper (Pepper)  and Jade Westaby (Tanya) 
perform
"Does Your Mother Know ?"

Photo: James D. Morgan
 

But in the end it doesn’t really matter because the show ends with irresistible mega-mix guaranteed to have you dancing in the aisles and humming ABBA songs for the next week.

 This review also appears in Australian Arts Review   www.artsreview.com.au

HAPPY END




Review by © Jane Freebury

There are probably plenty of exceptions to the adage that happy endings belong in fairy tales, so it may not be fair to pin it all on the stories we tell our young kids. Lots of characters do get their just desserts, or worse, in fairy tales. Just think of the work of the Brothers Grimm.

Fairly or unfairly, the movies have long worn a reputation for stories with a happily-ever-after ending long since the practice stopped being stock in trade, and filmmakers have left the last act of their stories fashionably open, or with the next sequel in mind. Reputations do, however, have a habit of sticking…

Since Hidden, The Piano Teacher and Funny Games, we definitely have not expected a happy ending in anything directed by the filmmaker, Michael Haneke, the scion of misanthropic cinema. An Austrian with a reputation for bleak, uncompromising, brilliant films, he knows this, we get it, and he plays up to it. On this occasion his film is, however, also surprisingly wickedly funny.

For his latest film, the Cannes Palme d’Or and Oscar winner gives us the Laurent family, who live in Calais. They run a thriving business in construction that was established by the patriarch, Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant). They are wealthy and unremarkable.

On the face of it, Georges and his two adult children, Anne (Isabelle Huppert) and Thomas, a doctor (Mathieu Kassovitz), are pillars of society in the city by the sea. Underneath the surfaces, however, there are murky, disturbing things going on. So it’s business as usual for Haneke.

Anne’s son Pierre (Franz Rogowski) has an inconvenient drinking problem and isn’t doing a competent job at work in the family business either. The ageing patriarch Georges is developing dementia and confides in his granddaughter that he wants to die.

He had better watch out because Eve, the film’s main character, cheered on by elements she has found online, appears to be developing the characteristics of a psychopath.

A critique of social media from Haneke is timely, and consistent with the position he has taken in his films on recording devices, film and television, and mass media generally.

His view that audiences watch the screen uncritically, seems rather dated now that unpicking film texts for what they really say is common practice.

Eve has just entered the family home after her mother, Thomas’ first wife, suffered an overdose. On the brink of adolescence, she is at a tender age, but has already joined the shock troops of the Internet. She talks into her mobile about her mother in ways that give you the creeps, and then observes the effects of antidepressants on her pet hamster. It is a stunning, chilling performance from young Fantine Harduin.

The Laurent family drama plays out against real-life events in Calais, which is, of course, the last stop before the tunnel to England. There is a large encampment there known as ‘the jungle’, a way-station for refugees from Africa and the Middle East. While not foregrounding this situation, writer-director Haneke has deftly inserted the plight of refugees into the narrative tapestry.

French cinema has a long and venerable tradition of shocking the bourgeoisie that Austrian writer-director has gleefully and energetically signed up to. The family event that concludes the film truly is a gem. It takes place at an elegant restaurant beside a sparkling sea, with a palette uniformly white, beige and pale blue—until unexpected guests arrive. This also provides cover for the elderly guest of honour to leave.

This is a clever, dark satire but what has endeared me to  Michael Haneke's latest film most is the black humour.

If it is, as they say, that the only thing that improves with age is one’s sense of humour, then at 75 years Haneke must be at his peak.

Rated M, 1 hour 47 minutes

4 Stars

Also published at Jane's blog, and broadcast on ArtSound FM 92.7
……




MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING

Shakespeare by the Lakes. Directed by Duncan Driver and Lexi Sekuless. Tuggeranong Town Park on February 14 and 15, Glebe Park in Civic on February 16, QEII Park in Queanbeyan on February 17. 6.30pm.

Out door theatre can be a fraught business. In 1961 as a teenage Gertrude on the steps of the War Memorial in Sydney I found myself lunging for a mike on a stand every time I had a line. Things weren’t much better in 1980 at Leeds University doing Eurydice in an outdoor Antigone, although I think the courtyard acoustics meant we could do without mikes. (And the skinheads who haunted the dress rehearsal…)

From what I saw down at Tuggeranong technology has come a long way and except for the occasional pop and crackle the unobtrusive head mikes so long used by musical theatre supported the performance in a positive way in an flat outdoor venue that shows how much has been forgotten about ancient Greek theatre acoustics. (Go to Epidaurus and sit up the back while the guide talks quietly down on the performance area…)
 
Shakespeare by the Lakes largely got the measure of the problems, and came up with a genially intelligent version of Much Ado About Nothing. A largish audience sat on the grass or on chairs at the back and was happy to have their space invaded by the odd cast member. especially since such invasions were gentle and unforced and very much part of the play.

Directors Lexi Sekuless and Duncan Driver headed the cast as Beatrice and Benedict making the most of the duo’s avoidance of what everyone else could see about their relationship. The Watch needed more of a sense of being a group and Helen McFarlane’s Dogberry could have used some toning down so that the full humour of the malapropisms came through. But she made a most enjoyably villainous Don John.

Hero can be played as a bit of a Muriel and Jo Richards went down this path with some energy. It’s always a wonder why she finally marries a man like Claudio  Izaac Beach) who is so ready to jump to the wrong conclusion. Beach conveyed an alarming youthful immaturity. But the play does not linger on their relationship.

Support from the rest of the cast was relaxed and focussed, with the play’s songs and some music for ambience gently done by musician Sunny Amoreena and her band and the whole thing finished up quite rightly with a jig. And if the Thursday night Tuggeranong crowd is anything to go by there’s a real appetite for more such events.


Alanna Maclean

Saturday, February 17, 2018

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING


Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare. 

Directed by Lexi Sekuless. Co-directed by Lexi Sekuless and Duncan Driver. Shakespeare by the Lakes. Glebe Park. Lakespeare Company Friday January 16. 2018

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins





On a balmy summer’s afternoon and under a clear blue sky, ingenious entrepreneur Taimus Werner- Gibbings and his collaborators in an exciting initiative brought the Bard to Glebe Park in a blaze of brilliance. The idea of providing a free open air performance of Shakespeare’s comedy Much Ado About Nothing to the Canberra community is brilliant. The picturesque setting within the tree lined grounds of Glebe Park is brilliant. And the festive experience of being immersed in a lively, utterly captivating and exuberantly playful production of Shakespeare’s battle of wits and devious machinations offers a brilliant introduction to a visionary dream in homage to Joseph Papp’s enduring Shakespeare in the Park at New York’s iconic Central Park. 

Almost two thousand people flocked to the park to revel in the free entertainment, relax on the grass, picnic with friends or enjoy the offerings of the food and wine stalls. Singer Sunny Amoreena and her band entertain as a warm up act before Leonato (Jerry Hearn) enters to announce the arrival of the soldiers returning from war and a hush falls across the expectant crowd.

Played with panache and a keen observance of the conflict of human frailty and failing, Much Ado About Nothing is the perfect choice for a Shakespeare in the Park. At its core, the play is about the nature of love, loyalty, allegiance and the eternal struggle of good over evil. Above all, it is a thrilling story, crafted by the master of drama and in this production performed with all the gusto of passion and subtlety of human emotion. Shakespeare plays our sensibilities in the thrust and parry of wit and taunting jibes between Benedick (Duncan Driver) and Beatrice (Lexi Sekuless). Self-confessed villainy is joyfully played with vaudevillian evil incarnate by Helen McFarlane.  A momentary willing suspension of disbelief readily accepts an actress in the role of the scheming Don John. More easily we may accept McFarlane as she doubles as the bumbling, clowning constable Dogberry, whose fellow members of the watch uncover the treacherous deception of Don John’s money-grabbing offsider Borachio (John Lombard).

Although parts of the plot may at times appear a pastiche of Shakespeare’s more familiar plays, Shakespeare At The Lake perform Much Ado About Nothing with relish and intelligent appreciation  of plot, character and language. Theirs is masterly storytelling at its fun-filled best.

Shakespeare’s cheeky comedy of love concealed, love revealed, love defiled and love reconciled is deftly co-directed by Sekuless and Driver, injecting timely and clever bits of business to keep the action moving and audience engaged. Central to the drama is the war of wit and eventual capitulation to love by Benedick and Beatrice. Sekuless and Driver thrill and delight as the wit warring pair. Sekuless, aloof and spitting with sardonic retorts shifts to painful vulnerability at the cruel injustice of accusation against her cousin Hero (a beautifully sustained and moving performance by Jo Richards). Driver, bombastic and defiant against the point of Cupid’s arrow, falls ready victim to the trick played upon him by the Prince (Rob De Fries) and Hero’s lover Claudio (Izaac Beach). I can’t imagine a more perfect pair to play Shakespeare’s rivals in wit and confederates in this production of Much Ado.

“What fools these mortals be” Puck’s words in Midsummer Night’s Dream could well apply to Much Ado About Nothing’s collection of characters. Benedick and Beatrice fall ready victims to the tricks played upon them by their friends. All are readily duped by Don John’s wicked deceit to defame Hero’s reputation. Bumbling fools stumble on evident truths and in the true tradition of well-played comedy all’s well that ends well and love’s labour lost is cunningly regained. And so, with evil vanquished and love reconciled under the darkening, starry sky, the comedy ends in a happy dance.

From Glebe Park, this merry band of players move the following night to the banks of the Queanbeyan River for a final performance that took them from Tuggeranong to over the border. As I join the throng of delighted audience members, I remember Professor Stephen Prickett, who in the early Eighties had a vision for a replica Globe Theatre on the shore of Lake Burley Griffin. Sadly, his dream vanished into thin air. I can only hope that this remarkable venture will capture the imagination of Canberrans and their government and future audiences will again delight in a regular Summer of Shakespeare event.  



Thursday, February 15, 2018

THE MAGNOLIA TREE



Written and Directed by Michael Griffith
Presented by Path2Productions
Q Theatre, Queanbeyan to 17 February

Reviewed by Len Power 14 February 2018

Faced with a choice between placing an ageing, helpless parent in a nursing home or helping them to end their suffering, what would you do?

In ‘The Magnolia Tree’, three siblings meet at their mother’s home to decide her future.  Suffering with Alzheimer’s, their mother needs constant care.  The cost of expensive nursing home care will mean that none of the children will see any of the long hoped-for inheritance money that could turn their lives around.  The son, Jack, offers a seemingly undetectable plan of painless death as an alternative.

After hearing the discussion of the pros and cons of this family’s situation, the audience is given an opportunity to vote on a choice of action.  The play then concludes with the audience’s choice of the two possible endings.

What should have been a compelling drama was a disappointment.  The issues a family have to face in a situation like this are highlighted, but the dramatic effect is weakened as personal revelations about each of the characters in Michael Griffith’s script play like a TV soap opera.

It’s also not helped by the static direction by the author.  For much of the play, the cast deliver their lines directly to the audience rather than to each other.  Maybe this was a deliberate choice by the director to increase audience involvement but it didn’t work.

The three cast members, Ezra Bix as Jack, Rohana Hayes as Deborah and Ruth Katerelos as Vicky, seemed ill at ease and under-rehearsed.  There were too many awkward line readings, emotions seemed to be forced and there was a lack of light and shade in delivery as well as a slow pace.

The ending of the play, following the opening night audience’s vote, proved to be anti-climactic.  Maybe the other ending has more going for it.

The idea behind Michael Griffith’s play is a good one but this current script and production don’t provide the emotional intensity and involvement that it should.

Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7’s ‘On Stage’ program on Mondays from 3.30pm and on ‘Artcetera’ from 9.00am on Saturdays.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

PHANTOM THREAD



Review by © Jane Freebury

High end fashion is not a place to expect to find the actor Daniel Day-Lewis. Over his long career he has fought on the American frontier alongside the Mohicans, he has led a vicious gang in 19th century New York and he has done ruthless business as an oil tycoon. Yet here he is, overseeing rippling lengths of silk and lace that are gathered into gowns for the rich and famous, a fastidious couturier.

The time is the 1950s, the place is London. Reynolds Woodcock (Day-Lewis) is the go-to designer of modish and extravagant gowns for high society customers. His tough-minded sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) is in charge of the business, and to some extent she also runs her brother’s love life. When it becomes apparent that his latest conquest is boring him, she asks whether it’s time to have the lady move on.

With a sister prepared to do the dirty work for him, that whiff of danger in the Day-Lewis screen persona is kept in check in this role. Though Woodcock has mastered the sneer, and he doesn’t hold back when the tranquility of his creative space is interrupted. Paul Thomas Anderson’s film is a portrait of creative genius, after all.
In the final reveal, Phantom Thread is a sly, darkly comic study of intimate relationships
The designer cannot abide the sounds his companion makes at breakfast, just buttering and munching her toast is enough to set his teeth on edge. Early morning is the best time for him to sketch out his ideas, so the racket – so subtly amplified by the sound department - is intolerable. In short, for all his suave charm, Woodcock can be a right pain in the butt.

An expose of the brittle character of genius is not new, and not so much the point here as the issue of control. Phantom Thread is about a new relationship that he embarks on, with Alma (Vicky Krieps) who is someone a bit different from the usual compliant and subservient woman, and someone whose character is not that easily read.

In the final reveal, Phantom Thread is a sly, darkly comic study of intimate relationships, the co-dependency and the give and take.

On a visit to the country, Reynolds is smitten by a willowy waitress at a local restaurant. He is more interested in Alma for her modelling potential than he is in her as a conquest. He likes certain qualities, the hint of a tummy and the small breasts. She will inspire him. She has the faintest accent – where is she from? – and she speaks her mind. Without exactly talking back, she refutes the control he tries to exercise over her, and maintains his interest.

As her appeal finally does begin to wane, Alma musters resources in the dark arts that we could have never guessed she had to fall back on and the film drifts into the murky territory of intrigue and betrayal in romantic relationships where the master Alfred Hitchcock loved to work. Just where was it Alma said she came from? The film deftly touches on 1950s’ xenophobia and its fear of the unknown, with its echoes today.

The film doesn’t falter at the strange and unexpected turn in events in its resolution, because Day-Lewis and Krieps are both so good at maintaining the fiction. No doubt, it's also due to writer-director Anderson, who directed Magnolia, There Will Be Blood (also with Day-Lewis), and The Master, keeping a firm hand on things.

There are some surprising moments of naturalism, in what looks like improvisation between the lead actors when the couple argue heatedly. Again, Day-Lewis and Krieps are so good they hold this risky new tonal register in check too.

Phantom Thread is an intriguing title for a film with one of the screen’s most successful and most elusive actors. Day-Lewis carries three Oscars under his belt. It is said it may be his last performance on the cinema screen, but I wouldn’t count on it.

Rated M, 2 hours 10 minutes
3.5 Stars

Jane's reviews are also broadcast on ArtSound FM 92.7