Thursday, 30 August 2012

The Splinter

a great show

Powerful and disturbing , this is a gripping , most unusual production.
A new play by Hilary Bell, it tells the story of every parent’s nightmare. Their daughter, Laura, 5 years old, was abducted 9 months ago .She has now been safely returned but is traumatised and will not speak.
At five, does she remember her favourite toys, particular favoured words and rituals ? or not ? Is it in fact really Laura or is she a changeling ?Erik and Helen Thomson as the Father and Mother give very strong, intense performances .  
The play in parts has an eerie , dreamlike nightmarish feeling. All is tense , jittery , a fractured relationship jumping at shadows and a curtain blowing in the wind.
The marriage is disintegrating , both parents blaming themselves for Laura’s disappearance. Both hesitate to question if Laura is the ‘real’ Laura or not .Is she ? Both strive to accept her re – appearance and love her as much as possible. There is a sinister, dark /bad side of the ‘fairytale’ element in this play emphasised by the reading of ‘Snow White’ passages among other things. The fairytale angle is also developed in the hair brushing scene for example and the language the Father uses at times.
There is marvellous use of exquisite Laura puppets , manipulated Bunraku like by   who at certain points also become Laura – again for example in the  hairbrushing scene and the breastfeeding .  They also help create the eerie atmosphere throughout.
The powerful ending is haunting and undecided leading to much discussion. ( Note -  if you are in the first few rows towards the end of the show you are drowned in dry ice ). What really happens when the Father takes Laura for a walk just before they plan to leave ? is it the real Laura?
Fine performances  in this excellent production of this chilling , gripping new Hilary Bell play.
Running  time – an intense 70 mins ( approx) no interval   
  The Splinter by Hilary Bell
 STC Wharf 1
10 August – 15 Sept 2012 
Director  Sarah Goodes
Puppetry and Movement Director  Alice Osborne
Designer Renee Mulder
Lighting Designer  Damien Cooper
Composer Emily Maguire
Sound Design Steve Francis
Julia Ohannessian
Erik Thomson
  Helen Thomson
Kate Worsley

The Spear Carrier at the Ensemble Theatre

Great fun
here's my review for arts hub

Welcome to the Huffington Players touring production of Hamlet. Our hero, Nathan Turner (Jamie Oxenbould) is a minor cast member; a lowly courtier, spear carrier, Ophelia’s attendant and one of the players, with few lines. While he shifts chairs, guards exits and dutifully mutters in the background we are privy to his wandering, sarcastic thoughts on the glaring faults and inadequacies of his co-stars and his sadly lacklustre career. Turner is a star in the making, an excellent actor who would be fantastic in the lead role. So why is he relegated to being a spear carrier while the rest of the cast perform? Why doesn’t the beauteous Veronica van Clamp (Jessica Sullivan – an angelic vision in white), who plays Ophelia, notice him or know his name? And how can he impress the casting agent in the audience? This witty, insightful production is perfect for anyone who’s ever played minor roles. It features sarcastic in-jokes which will delight anyone in the theatre industry, and simultaneously educates the general public about the boredom of long runs (this is the 118th performance of the Huffington’s Hamlet) and the challenges of staying awake on stage. As Turner, Oxenbould – resplendent in elegant red and black doublet and hose – is fabulous, and has a whale of a time. He has great comic timing, and performs well in some of the play’s more delightful sequences (e.g. the movie sequence where he imagines himself as the hero), while giving us a running commentary on the play’s progression and certain on-stage embarrassments (e.g. anachronisms like his watch, or his mobile ringing mid performance). There is also much fun to be had when Turner’s character becomes involved with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and a great scene of ‘WWSD’ (what would Shakespeare do?) when Turner imagines himself as the Bard, writing a naughty sonnet. The production’s theatrical tour de force, however, is Oxenbould’s magnificent and energetic enactment of the final scene of Hamlet (duel and all!) in which he plays all the parts with assorted different voices. Hilarious, much fun and excellently acted. Bravo! A year and a reconstructed knee after the original season of this play was scheduled, Oxenbould defies the convention that ‘there are no small parts , only small actors’. This is a wonderful telling of ‘the story of a small man in a small part in a medium size production of a very big play’. Rating: 4 stars out of 5 The Spear Carrier
By Jamie Oxenbould
Director: Mark Kilmurry
Assistant Director: Anna Crawford
Designer: Marisa Dale-Johnson
Lighting Design: Tegan Lee
Composer and Sound Designer: Daryl Wallis
Choreographer: Shondelle Pratt
Cast: Jamie Oxenbould and Jessica Sullivan
Running time: 75 mins (approx), no interval Ensemble Theatre, Kirribilli
August 9 – September 1

Simon Callow on Dickens at the Sydney Opera House

 A marvellous evening
here's my blurb for Sydney Arts Guide

For one night only lucky Sydney siders were privileged to hear distinguished actor Simon Callow deliver a captivating monologue on Charles Dickens.

Now silver-haired, in mellifluous voice , Callow was casually yet elegantly dressed in a grey suit and had the audience spellbound . Like Dickens, Callow is both actor and author. As an actor Callow has performed in (amongst other things) ‘A Room With A View’ ‘Shakespeare In Love’, ’Howard’s End’ and ’Four Weddings and a Funeral’. On stage, to mention just one production, he was the original Mozart in Peter Shaffer’s ‘Amadeus’. He is also a prolific author producing thirteen books thus far.  

In a gripping ,mesmerizing monologue we learn of Callow’s relationship with Dickens - from the age of seven, attending a performance of ‘A Christmas Carol’ – and eventually playing Scrooge and other characters in various productions- through to now, both as reader and actor. The story of his life threatening performance, with a dramatic fall whilst playing Mr Fezziwig in 1973, was a highlight. He has also for example played Mr Micawber in a BBC production.

Callow’s love and enthusiasm for Dickens is glowingly evident throughout. We are reminded that Dickens wrote in instalments and against the clock and also wrote detective and ghost stories amongst  other things.

We are given a potted biography of Dickens , from his early idyllic childhood, his appalling eighteen months in a blacking factory , through to his eventually learning shorthand and becoming a clerk. Then the sudden meteoric overnight rise to fame with the publishing of the Pickwick Papers in 1836 and how things exploded from there.

Of crucial importance is Dicken’s love and understanding of his readers, the general public and his ability to write to and for them. Also mentioned is Dicken’s various campaigns for social justice. This is combined with Dickens’s lifelong passion for the theatre, his work as an actor and the ‘public readings’ of his writings.

Also mentioned is his disastrous marriage to Catherine and his scandalous affair(at the time hotly denied ) with young actress Ellen Ternan . His tours of America  are discussed ( and how his attitude  towards America changed) and also the rock star like adulation his public readings developed.  Queen Victoria herself was a big fan).

Drawing his speech to a close we learn about Dickens’ strained health and the very sad stroke and coma leading to his death . A delightful finish was provided as Callow (who has played Dickens in ‘Doctor Who’ )quoted from the 2006 Christmas episode. A sparkling, delightful Victorian feast .

Callow’s  latest book is ‘Charles Dickens and the Great Theatre of the World ‘ : his earlier work was ‘Charles Dickens : A Victorian Celebration ‘  and he has just been a keynote speaker at the Melbourne Writers Festival .         The running time was approximately 90 minutes.

Simon Callow performed at the Sydney Opera House for one night only 26 August 2012.

© Lynne Lancaster

27th August, 2012

Tags: Sydney Theatre Reviews- SIMON CALLOW at the Sydney Opera House, Sydney Arts Guide, Lynne Lancaster 


A fabulous movie starring  Christopher Plummer
Here's my Sydney Arts Guide reveiw

Christopher Plummer as John ( Jack) Barrymore is magnificent . This was filmed last year at the Elgin Theatre in Toronto , at the  end of a sell out stage season. The stage show was originally seen in 1997 and garnered many awards and this is a recreation of this role now recorded on film.

It’s set in 1942, three months after Pearl harbour and we see Barrymore in a (fictional)  attempt to revive his career . He has hired the aging yet still beautiful and dusty ‘Majestic’ theatre for one night for several reasons – mostly, to run through his lines as Richard 111, with the help of a mostly unseen prompter ( Frank, as played by John Plumptis) and also as a venue to impress backers and gather support for his revival .

The play has off colour jokes, quips, monologues, anecdotes about Barrymore’s family ( his brother Lionel, sister Ethel ) and his tortured relationship with his father Maurice , as well as his love for his grandmother . His relationship as a ladies man is alluded to and we learn about his four wives and the pain of the various divorces, plus other scandals as reported in the press.

Plummer gives a glorious, luminous performance as Barrymore ,one of the stage’s and Hollywood’s most famous and tragic figures. The ageing, sozzled ,formerly dashing matinee idol struggles to make sense of his life before ‘the man in the bright nightgown comes’.

Plummer gives a charismatic , magnetic performance .At one point he is in full Olivier-like Richard 111 regalia, wig, false nose etc and in Richard’s armour he is like a scurrying insect. This is contrasted with the severely classical plainness of his elegantly refined ‘Hamlet’. The ‘what a piece of work is man’ speech is superbly, lyrically done.

Black and white film is used for memories,fading in and out of the colour used for the ‘present’. There is much use of cruel closeup and we see how time and drink has ravaged Barrymore’s elegant looks. Plummer’s voice as Barrymore is superb - he has an incredible range and he has great fun doing take offs of various people and accents .  

Barrymore and his prompter Frank  have a caring yet at times  rocky relationship The play is a major vehicle for Plummer  to show off as Barrymore yet like Holmes and Watson Barrymore needs someone to ‘feed off’ .

The ‘behind the scenes’ shorts are a fascinating extra , with input interwoven from the director, designers ,producer etc and glowing tributes about Plummer from three of his leading ladies .              

Barrymore, directed by Erik Canuel (also the screenwriter), from the play by William Luce, and starring Christopher Plummer and John Plumpis,  screened at selected cinemas on the weekend  of the 26th and 27th August, 2012.

© Lynne Lancaster

27th August, 2012

Tags: Sydney Movie Reviews- BARRYMORE, Erik Canuel, Christopher Plummer, John Plumpis, Sydney Arts Guide, Lynne Lancaster.

Sydney Theatre Company Face to Face

This was a marvllous performance
here's my thoughts for artshub
Based on the Swedish film of the same name, this new stage adaptation by STC Artistic Director Andrew Upton and director Simon Stone brilliantly updates Ingmar Bergman’s acclaimed psychological drama to the present day. Kerry Fox is Jenny, a well-travelled woman who on the surface pretty much has it all – a successful career, an apparently happy marriage (to a fellow psychiatrist), and a delightful daughter. But as the play begins, we learn that recently she has been suffering vivid, terrifying dreams (or are they dreams?). After a horrific rape there are convulsions in her world as she has to face the fact that while she spends her life analysing other people’s minds and trying to help them, she can’t confront and banish her own hidden demons. In this complex, multi-layered production we see Jenny’s mental state disintegrate; gripped by hallucinations and delirium, she must make a psychological journey inwards, into an intensely claustrophobic yet epic ‘space’ in order to heal herself. Can she survive? Upon its original release in 1976, Bergman’s film was regarded as a groundbreaking, subtle and precise examination of a woman undergoing a major crisis. Upton and Stone’s adaptation keeps the psychological textures of the original movie but fashions a very different work. It is a chilling, Surrealist blurring of illusion and reality that attempts to uncover the masks we all wear, even in our most private moments. The language can be quite strong in this STC adaptation, but also acerbic and witty. The staging is mostly simple and stark, especially in the first half, with just a chair or a lamp or similar to indicate the scene, and Stone’s direction ensures a fluid, cinematic production with elegantly choreographed and efficient scene changes. Is Jenny, as some people claim, unable to love? Over the course of the play we learn about Jenny’s childhood abuse, her claustrophobia, and her guilt over a cousin’s death. She is haunted by a vision of her grandmother’s face so distorted by anger she can barely recognise it, and does not want to become unrecognizable herself; rather, she wants to be real. Damaged and disturbed herself, can she now fruitfully help others? Or, as is claimed by some, does she vicariously enjoy their suffering? She is a doctor but stubbornly refuses to admit she is sick. As Jenny, Kerry Fox gives a magnificent performance, and her performance of the suicide monologue is particularly brilliant. There is fine acting from the rest of the ensemble too. Wendy Hughes as the sarcastic, unloving Aunt is excellent. John Gaden as the uncle is superb – dwelling on childhood memories of Jenny, but worried about losing his mind. We mostly see him in pyjamas trying to fix a broken clock – trying to stop time, or turn time back? Jenny’s rather uncaring, aloof husband Wenkel (who is also her doctor in her delirium), a bearded smoker with glasses, is authoritatively played by Humphrey Bowen. Jessica Nash as Jenny’s daughter, Anna, gradually and reluctantly comes to understand her mother a little better, learning some of her secrets. Can their relationship be mended? Jenny’s handsome lover, Tomas, stalwart and supportive, is marvellously played by Mitchell Butel. Jenny’s patient, Maria, who opens the show, skittering across the stage in a chair, and who defiantly challenges Jenny’s morals and professionalism, was excellently played by Anna Martin. As is said in the play, we are all victims of a desperate need for meaning. Disturbing, powerful and hypnotic, this is a shattering, gripping performance that searingly examines the human psyche. Rating: 4 stars out of 5 Face to Face
Based on the film by Ingmar Bergman
Adapted for the stage by Andrew Upton and Simon Stone
Director: Simon Stone
Lighting Designer: Nick Schlieper
Costume Designer: Alice Babidge
Composer/Sound Designer: Stefan Gregory
Assistant Designer: David Fleischer
Lighting Associate: Chris Twyman
Voice Consultant: Charmian Gradwell
Dramaturg: Tom Wright
Cast: Humphrey Bower, Mitchell Butel, Kerry Fox, John Gaden, Wendy Hughes, Anna Martin, Jessica Nash, Queenie van de Zant and Dylan Young Running Time: One hour 50 mins (approx) no interval Sydney Theatre Company at Sydney Theatre
August 7 – September 8

Sunday, 26 August 2012


Hetre's what I thought about this show for Artshub at Parramatta

Some will regard this new work by the De Quincey Company as powerful, hypnotic and entrancing; others will view it as too long and deadly boring. (There was considerable restlessness at the matinee I attended, but some were riveted.) Being a fan of the De Quincey Company, I am somewhat in the middle. Presented by FORM Dance Projects as part of the Dance Bites season at Parramatta, Framed is performed in a very confined space – the cast are indeed ‘framed’, by a set consisting of a silver-grey picture frame. The latest in De Quincey’s ‘Embrace’ series, and featuring extraordinary control and precision from the performers, it is more an experimental movement piece than a dance work as such. It begins in blackout with ominous knocking – almost like the traditional three raps before the start of a performance at the Comedie Francais. In the specially commissioned score by Michael Toisuta, percussive rhythms are cyclically established, building from a solitary sound until in some sections it sounds like tumultuous rain or fast Flamenco beats, but with an Indian time count. Eventually all recedes back to the single note, and then silence. In the tiny space of the silver frame, De Quincey and Hunt explore the paradoxes of relationships through miniscule yet emotionally intense changes. De Quincey wears a red leather jacket; Hunt is beautiful in a faux leopard skin top. They are linked for the entire performance. Sometimes they are back to back, at other times they slide right down to the bottom of the frame. One moment they stare challengingly at the audience, questioning us, the next they stare at something just beyond our line of vision. The audience’s gaze is concentrated within the frame .There is no ‘dancing’ per se, we only see the top half of the body. Facial expressions, therefore, are crucial. Heads are lovingly rested on shoulders, and a warm kiss on the cheek is rewarded by a luminous smile. There are flickers of mischievous fun contrasted with deep sadness. Maori nose greeting is developed into a fiery, wordless argument with distorted face and jaw and extended tongue. Hunt sometimes poses regally and beautifully, like a movie star having her portrait painted. For one startling moment De Quincey’s hand stretches outside the frame – drawing us, the audience, in further? Butoh/Bodyweather-like shifting of a hand or arm, or a change in the position of the head, is most important, and conveys volumes. An intriguing work that challenges our perception of ‘dance’ and ‘theatre’. Rating: 3 ½ stars out of 5 Framed
De Quincey Co
Direction and Concept: Tess de Quincey
Performers: Tess de Quincey & Victoria Hunt
Set Design: Russell Emerson & Steve Howarth/Erth
Lighting Design: Emma Lockhart-Wilson
Sound Design: Michael Toisuta
Produced in partnership with Arts Radar
Running time: 40 mins (approx) no interval Parramatta Riverside Theatres
August 8 – 11

Monday, 6 August 2012

Fools Island

Once upon a time, there was a clown, who accidentally crash landed on a lonely desert island ...
For its target audience,high school students,this is magnificent fun. It is part of the STC’s education programme. Darren Gilshenan is in magnificent form as the twins,one good, one ‘not so good’ ( read very bad , as in some of the Shakespeare comedies).
Gilshenan is amazingly flexible and rubbery, his face and body incredibly expressive tools. About one third of the show is without language, or examining the development of language .Gilshenan indulged in some lewd,rude mime and innuendo that the audience loved.
 For those who might be affected ,be aware that this show uses strobe lighting.There is also great fun with a sequence harking back to the melodrama of old movies,with our hero rescuing our ‘heroine’ tied to train tracks and so on in a sequence that turns violent.Much fun is had by Ertler as percussionist/foley person hidden at the back of the set providing a very atmospheric sound track .  
Shakespeare scholars and theatre addicts will have great fun picking the various quotes from ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream ‘, ‘Othello’, ‘King Lear ‘,’Hamlet’ and others as we follow our hero as he explores his very small island with a single palm tree and a ‘rock’ ( that has multiple roles as a whoopee cushion  and other assorted items). There are fart jokes and other smutty humour,eating jokes and other naughty jokes connecting with the audience of a certain age,who will love the section where he tries to eat himself he is so hungry.
 There’s also a blotto drunk sequence and we see the tree crudely turned in to a vulgar representation of a beautiful woman .The show turn dark actually when we see our hero mourn his lost love and there is some very fine acting by Gilshenan.
The ‘recognition scene’ is very well done with great comic timing. I must also mention the Kabuki like use of red ribbon for blood at a certain point.
The difference between the two characters is signified by a small case with a letter, knife and string of pearls for the ‘bad’ twin and also a slightly different hat angle .    
An excellent performance by Gilshenan,but it depends if you are into the ‘Mechanicals’ side of Shakespeare’s plays.
Running time – an hour 15 ( approx) no interval
Bu Darren Gilshenan and Chris Harris
STC Wharf 2   30 July- 17 August 2012
A Sydney Theatre Company/ Tamarama Rock Surfers production
Director   Jo Turner
Performer Darren Gilshenan
Composer/Performer Rose Turtle Ertler
Designer  Jasmine Christie
Lighting Design Matt Cox

Thursday, 2 August 2012


A most unusual production at the Reg at the Seymour Centre
Here's what I said for Sydney Arts Guide

Challenging, quirky and exciting this is a visually stunning, sometimes breathtaking work. It is the first in this year’s Reginald season and the last in Sue Healey’s ‘Curiosities’ series. It explores the curious complexities of the human form, aiming to challenge our preconceived notions of The Body in all its various shapes and forms.

Healey has gathered a very eclectic cast of fascinating artists, from the very tiny to the extremely tall, from emotionally radical and distant to ultra flexible. There is an acerbic, dry, witty voice over that introduces and establishes the characters.

There is fine ensemble work from the entire cast , including a big ‘showbizzy’ number , some Graeme Murphy like groupings,  and some choreographed ‘sign singing’ . Everyone gets solos as well. Two highlights particularly stand out , the first being an extraordinary duet for Kiruna Stamell and James Berlyn . Berlyn is shirtless in black high heels .He solemnly partners Stamell , who does a tremendous tap dance in glitzy red shoes. He is used as her partner, looming over her and protecting her, while she performs her exuberant dance and high kicks. He is also in part a ‘barre’ for support. The contrast  between them is amazing yet there is obvious rapport.

This is further developed in a later pas de deux – a hot tango where Stamell is on stilts. There they have great fun and the choreography includes a ‘ bullfight’  as well as a series of balletic arabesques and attitudes in  another examination of gender, height and body build differences. Yet they seem at the same time very well matched. Another highlight was the incredible solo for Benjamin Hancock .It is in some ways a mix of yoga and gymnastics but is also rippling , sculptural and fluid , demanding a very flexible back , a long extended ‘line’ and amazing reach.

Berlyn as ‘Alan’ also has a cabaret style number “ No One is There’  , singing while most of the cast fold in/out/through the stool  he is sitting on. At the end he himself gets stuck and twisted in the stool – a metaphor for our minds? Our bodies?

There are hints of Narelle Benjamin’s previous work (especially  ‘ No Body’ ) in her small fleeting solos. She also has a couple of fabulous en/folding pas de deux with Hancock , in superb partnership.    

The ‘twins’ (Nalina Wait and Rachelle Hickson , one in green, one in pink , harking back to Healey’s ‘Alma and Ena’ that you can watch in the foyer) are excellent. Their unison work is possibly reminiscent of sections of Matthew Bourne’s ‘ work. Each also had at least one featured solo – Wait in green as Natasha has a sort of 1930’s Ashton-like solo to piano (wonderfully played by Pat H.Wilson , in fabulously glitzy diamante shoes  , who also plays the accordion and acts as minder).  

Another delightfully spooky section was the ‘ghosts’ in the fireplace. At first menacing arms, this then develops into a visually fascinating quartet for two pairs of legs , with extremely defined, sculpted muscles and flirty, pre hensile toes. – of the men . Very effective.  

While the idea and use of the textured curtain was great (linking in with Brecht’s ‘alienation’? ) I found the constant use of it rolling back /being moved a bit distracting. Overall a most exciting performance but I found it a touch too long and fragmented. Some sections dragged on too long and other bits I wanted to see more of were curtailed too soon. It is a somewhat jumbled performance that needs cutting , tightening and editing a fraction , but it is astonishing and sometimes whimsically delightful.

VARIANT, with a running time of an hour, opened at the Reginald Theatre, Seymour Centre on Thursday 26th July and is playing until Saturday 4th August, 2012.

© Lynne Lancaster

29th July, 2012

Tags: Sydney Dance Reviews: VARIANT, Reginald Theatre Seymour Centre, Sue Healey, Benjamin Hancock, Nalina Wait, Kiruna Stamell, James Berlyn, Narelle Benjamin, Rachelle Hickson, James Brown.

A Chorus Line

Here's my rave for Artshub about this stunning revival

Five , six, seven, eight ... Again!”
Perhaps the ultimate musical for and about theatre people, this revival of A Chorus Line was greeted with screams and cheers of delight by a glittering audience on its opening night. One of those iconic, life changing, theatre-shaping musicals, it was originally produced in New York in 1975, reproduced here by original cast member, Baayork Lee. Over the years, A Chorus Line has won numerous awards, including Tonys and Pulitzers. It introduced the theatrical term ‘triple threat’ (someone who can act, dance and sing). Bold, challenging, and thoughtful, with a huge cast, it examines the hopes and heartbreaks of Broadway auditions for a musical. ‘Seventeen dancers. Eight spots. One dream,’ as the blurb says. Who will be chosen? The set is basically a bare stage, wonderfully lit by Tharon Musser, with a mirror behind as for dance classes or rehearsal: simple and sparse, except for the glittering finale. The whole cast is magnificent and the audience lapped up their performances as if we were auditioning with them. There is nowhere to hide for the cast should they fudge a routine .We see the dancers in ballet, tap and jazz/showbiz numbers .Some sections of choreography are reminiscent of Fosse’s Chicago and Sweet Charity. There is both sensational synchronised ensemble dancing (‘One’), and some great solos (particularly Mike’s ‘I Can Do That’ and Cassie’s solo to ‘The Music and the Mirror’. Richie (Kurt Douglas) also has a hypnotically smooth and exceptional jazzy solo in ‘Gimme the Ball’). Various other showstopping sections include the exquisite, heartbreaking trio for Sheila, Bebe and Maggie, ‘At the Ballet’. Statuesque, world-weary Sheila (“Can the adults please smoke?”) was brilliantly played by Debora Krizak , with regal carriage and dry wit. There’s also great fun to be had with ‘Sing’ for husband and wife Al and Christine (who can’t – rather scatterbrained, she is tone deaf). Diana’s haunting ,darkly funny ‘Nothing’ solo was superbly performed by Karlee Misipeka. She also leads the poignant , spine-chilling ‘What I Did For Love’ towards the end. Paul’s revealing and intimate monologue was magnificently, delicately performed by Euan Doidge, and boy can he also dance divinely. Cassie’s major extended dance solo, ‘The Music and the Mirror’ is a showcase for Anita Louise Combe, and she makes the most of it with a dazzling performance. Her relationship with Zac (Josh Horner) causes great difficulties and we wonder if they can handle the situation. Zac can seem tyrannical at times, a disembodied voice, but is also a terrific dancer when leading the rehearsals for ‘One’. Then there’s the risqué solo for Val (Hayley Winch) who knows that talent alone doesn’t count with casting directors – plastic surgery and silicone can help (‘Dance: Ten. Looks: Three’). For some of the men there is also a questioning of their sexuality and ‘finding themselves’, particularly in ‘Hello, Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love’. This show for all theatre people at heart. It could run for years but has only an extremely limited season. Touted as ’A classic Broadway musical for a new generation’, it sure is. Book now. Rating: 4 ½ stars out of 5 A Chorus Line
Conceived, originally directed and choreographed by Michael Bennett
Book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante
Music: Marvin Hamlisch
Lyrics: Edward Kleban
Co-choreographed by Bob Avain
Original direction and choreography restaged by Baayork Lee
Associate director/choreographer: Michael Gorman
Resident director/choreographer: Siobhan Ginty
Musical director: Paul White
Assistant musical director: Stephen Gray Cast: Jakob Ambrose, Renee Armstrong, Rohan Browne, Gerard Carter, Will Centurion, Anita Louise Combe, Samantha Dodemaide, Euan Doidge, Kurt Douglas, Stephanie Grigg, Joel Benjamin Hewlett, Mitchell Hicks, Mark Hill, Josh Horner, Sian Johnson, Mitchell Mahony, Debora Krizak, Leah Lim, James Maxfield, Ashley McKenzie, Karlee Misipeka, Scott Morris, Meghan O’Shea, Elisha Chin, Monique Salle, Mark Strom, Amber Jean Thomas and Hayley Winch Running time: 2 hours 15 mins (approx) no interval The Capitol Theatre, Sydney
July 20 – August 11

Opera Australia's Aida

A marvellous production by Graeme Murphy
here's my thoughts for Sydney Arts Guide

Glittering and spectacular, full of love, power, passion, treachery and revenge, this is definitely Grand Opera and can lend itself to excess – which is perhaps why it is associated with arena and outdoor spectaculars, with masses of extras swelling the chorus. While this isn’t really an option for this revival of Graeme Murphy’s production for Opera Australia, it still has plenty of glorious singing and exciting visuals.

Set in ancient Egypt, AIDA premiered in Cairo in 1871. It tells the tangled love story of the eponymous Ethiopian princess, now an Egyptian slave, and her secret lover Radames, rising star in Pharaoh’s army, who is also loved by Princess Amneris, Pharaoh’s daughter.

Radames struggles to choose between his love for Aida and his allegiance to Egypt and Pharaoh . Further complicating this is that he does not return Amneris’ feelings.

From the beginning there is a dreamlike, ancient Egyptian fairytale feel about this show. This is a revival of Murphy’s production, first performed in 2008, and it still dazzles .

Roger Kirk’s sumptuous costumes are amazing. There is plenty of glittering gold, especially for Pharaoh , the priests and Amneris . The male chorus are generally in black, the female in white.

The Brothers Gruchy have created projections that enhance and add to the complexity of  the sparse set of large white two dimensional  shapes  ( for example  the pyramid for the main backdrop) .There is also cartoon like use of Egyptian friezes/designs, particularly in the triumphal parade in Act2 and the trees in Act 3.

Other Egyptian motifs used include hieroglyphs, papyrus, lotus flowers, boats, camels, columns with capitals, the ominous use of masked falcons and wings and a huge Udjat eye of Horus.

Sometimes symbolic elements (for example, the Great Sword of Egypt) are flown in from the flies. At certain points the Phillipe Genty like billowing floor cover is reminiscent of either water or a sandstorm.

Water is a repeated motif,- both in the water trough at the front of the set and in Murphy’s rippling choreography. Scene changes are also indicated by use of a travellator near the front of the set .While yes, it can be very effective at times when used sparingly – especially for the triumphal scene in Act 2  with the trumpeters  for example  - but overall its repeated use was annoying.

When used as part of the choreography, with the dancers able to strike marvellously sculptural tableaux, was great. But, as one of my colleagues said, it was less successful when used by the singers when surely the onstage drama suggested minimal movement in the blocking.

Musically the Opera and Ballet Orchestra was vibrant with dramatic flexibility under conductor Arvo Volmer and the singing was glorious.

As Aida, Latonia Moore is superb, singing with glorious, soaring warmth and colour .She is torn  between her love for Radames and her country and her solo arias are magnificent (especially ‘O Patria Mia’ for example) . Her duets with Amneris and Radames are extremely impressive as are her duets with her father.

Young general Radames is brilliantly sung by dashing, hulking Rosario La Spina .In glorious voice he has  Egypt (and the audience) cheering him on. His ‘Celeste Aida ‘, the musical testing point and soliloquy , was magnificent as was the final duet for him and Aida , ‘ O Terra Addio’. He was also excellent in the triumphal scenes in Act2 .

As Amneris , Milijian Nikolic is excellent – she can be vixen like and kittenish but is mostly a cold ,elegant regal Princess , seemingly  sneering with joy in her stunning burnt gold costume when offered to Radames in marriage in Act 2 yet sadly weeping with her ‘peace’ in the finale .

As Aida’s father Amonasro ,Warwick Fyfe is in fine form with his rumbling baritone. He is wild eyed and dreadlocked, concerned for his people who are now prisoners , stern and unflinching when he curses Aida if she won’t help in finding out military intelligence about the next Egyptian invasion in Act 3 .

As Pharaoh, Jud Arthur is magnificent every inch a golden, authoritative king. Ramfis the High Priest was brilliantly sung by tall, thin Paul Whelan who is a terrific basso.

Murphy’s choreography is stunning and possibly represents the Nile- mostly light, bubbling and fluid. If you know his work you can pick allusions to his ‘Scheherazade’. The upside down lifts are amazing. There are some fun, rippling bits in Act2 with some of Amneris’ handmaidens: a sultry, exotic ,shimmering  pas de deux to open Act 3 and very skillful handling of the GIANT crowd scenes with rippling ,pulsating , waving chorus particularly in Act 2 .

This was an excellent revival of this magnificent epic opera . The show ran 3 hours 20m minutes with 2 intervals.

AIDA, sung in Italian with English surtitles, is playing at the Opera Theatre, Sydney Opera House on various dates in rep from Tuesday July 17 to Saturday October 13, 2012.

© Lynne Lancaster

19th July, 2012

Tags: Sydney Opera Reviews- AIDA, Sydney Opera House, Graeme Murphy, Sydney Arts Guide, Lynne Lancaster

The Seafarer Darlinghurst Theatre

This was an excellent show that gave you shivers
Here's what I said for Sydney Arts Guide

This is the Australian premiere of this wonderful play by Conor McPherson in a tremendous production by O’Punskys and directed by Maeliosa Stafford. Inspired by an eighth century poem, and with references to McPherson’s THE WEIR and Beckett’s ENDGAME, it’s Christmas Eve on the coast north of Dublin. There is a dirty, very untidy , dank Irish basement that would ( if this was real life ) reek with half eaten soggy pizza, and overwhelm us with the smell of alcohol .There is a sad plastic Christmas tree and rather miserable decorations.

As the play begins, four old friends settle in for their traditional annual boozy ritual of camaraderie and long conversation with a game or two of poker. This year they are joined by a relative stranger collected along the way who brings a bottle of the finest malt whiskey and who has a seemingly bottomless pocket of cash. He’s made as welcome as any stranger can be on a freezing winter night .But – be warned – this stranger is the Prince of Darkness himself and he is playing for souls in fulfilment of bargains made long ago.

The play is full of dark Irish humour and the lilting rhythms of language (and plenty of strong language too). The five characters of THE SEAFARER are very sharply shaped and delineated.

The play has been described as, ‘a dark and enthralling Christmas fable of despair and redemption’. There are plenty of Christian (specifically Irish Catholic) analogies throughout.

As dirty, smelly Richard, a slovenly alcoholic recently blinded by a fall into a dumpster, Maeliosa Stafford is brilliant . Arrogant, he dominates his younger, soberer yet still drying out brother Sharky (Patrick  Dickson) .

Sharky, who now cares for Richard, a divorcee recently returned from his chauffeuring job, is in some ways an ‘Everyman’. We eventually learn that Lockhart met him years ago and engineered Sharky’s release from prison and has now come to claim what considers he is owed.  

Ruined layabout Ivan (Patrick Connolly) is an eager Irish leprechaun, whose background, and the disastrous consequences of his drinking, are also well known to Lockhart . Will Lockhart return as jokingly threatened on Good Friday and contact him?!

Nicky, a smarmy, greasy lad now keeping company with Sharky’s ex, is well played by John O’Hare.

William Zappa as Lockhart is magnificent. Cultivated and sophisticated, he is ( at least at first ) charming  and polite and very elegantly dressed. (is the red lining of his outer coat another hint of who he really is?!). His appearance, about half way through the play’s first half, completely changes the play. From then on the play becomes ominous, tense and gripping with a steely desperate battle for at least one man’s soul.

Lockhart’s description of Hell as cold, trapped and lonely is superbly chilling. It is fascinating to learn that to Lockhart music is just ‘ugly noise’ – is this another subtle warning of his nature?!. He can at times be quite savage and threaten violence where necessary. It is also interesting to note that everyone else is always on a first name basis whilst he is is always the formal Mr Lockhart.

Sharky and Lockhart are McPherson’s voice to discuss philosophy and religion,- good and evil and whether anyone can amount to anything in life. The play is also a critique of how some men use alcohol to ‘ward off loneliness, blot out their sins and excuse their failures as husbands, friends, human beings...

There is also the metaphor for hidden failings and the symbolism in the fact that Richard is blind, Micky wears sunglasses and Ivan cannot find his glasses until the very end. The play is also structured so that the other characters rush off at times, leaving Lockhart alone with his intended victim.

This profound play asks lots of questions about life, death and morals .You will be tensely on the edge of your seat at certain points anxiously awaiting the outcome.

Do try and catch The Seafarer before it sails away from the Darlinghurst Theatre on Sunday 12th August, 2012.

© Lynne Lancaster

21 July, 2012

Tags: Sydney Theatre Reviews- THE SEAFARERS, Conor McPherson, Darlinghurst Theatre, O’Punskeys, Maeliosa Stafford, Patrick Dickson, Patrick Connolly, John O’Hare, William Zappa, Sydney Arts Guide, Lynne Lancaster, Wendy McDougall,


This was at the Concourse at Chatswood
here's my review for Artshub

Charming and old fashioned, Syncopation – a curious blend of comedy, drama, romance and ballroom dancing – features two excellent performances but just misses the mark. Long and creaky, with a sometimes racy script featuring humorous use of double entendres, the show doesn’t seem to know if it is a ‘straight’ drama with movement, a musical, or a dance show. Written by Allan Knee (Finding Neverland), Syncopation is set in New York City in 1913, in the dusty apartment of Henry Ribolow (Justin Stewart Cotta), a balding Jewish meatpacker and Polish migrant obsessed with becoming a famous ballroom dancer. Anna Bianchi (Emma Palmer), an Italian Catholic seamstress, answers Henry’s unusual ad in the local paper: ‘Give your life a lift. Wanted: a dance partner to dance for royalty’. From the moment she nervously summons up the courage to answer Henry’s advertisement, sparks fly. There is a rather stiff, almost disastrous first meeting, but the two begin a journey that will change their lives. Henry and Anna, who both at times act as narrator/commentator, attempt to bridge a cultural divide and (Anna especially) daringly flaunt social conventions in their attempts to build a brilliant professional dance partnership. Over the course of the show, Anna evolves from a shy, innocent, prim and proper young lady to a far more liberated and self-governed young woman. The various social dances of the time – foxtrot, tango, waltz etc – are incorporated into the production, as are some ballet steps and ‘character’ work, as well as more traditional musical-style choreography. We see how Anna and Henry start off formally, nervous, uncertain and far apart, yet ultimately their barriers come down and they are as one in a magnificent dance partnership. The outside world intrudes, partially because of Anna’s betrothal, but also because she becomes involved in protest marches as she gains self-confidence. We follow the ups and downs of their relationship, the various competitions they enter, and Henry’s mad publicity scheme for a ‘rescue’ performance on July 4 that rather falls flat... A lot depends on the show’s casting of Anna and Henry, and Cotta and Palmer are excellent in their roles. As Anna says of Cotta as Henry, he doesn’t really fit the conventional idea of a ‘dancer’ but he is in fact wonderful, full of smooth grace. He can also be explosively temperamental at times, and has great comic timing. As petite, feisty Anna, Palmer is terrific, and also a glorious mover. Both perform with precision, power and panache. Musically, we hear the infectious rhythms of Irving Berlin, Scot Joplin, George Gershwin and others, and songs such as ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy’ and the ‘Maple Leaf Rag’ as Anna and Henry rehearse or perform. Henry’s apartment, designed by Adrienne Chisolm, features vertical panelled wallpaper and a wind up gramophone. Her costume designs for Anna are at times ravishing – the white wedding dress is stunning and I loved the Ballets Russes influenced burnt orange dress for the finale. Mostly however Anna is very prim and proper, clad in a white blouse and dark blue or brown skirt. Henry in Act 1 is very untidy, rather dapper in Act 2. Syncopation, which is defined as ‘rhythm accented on the offbeat’, examines the possibility of people from different cultural backgrounds and upbringings flourishing together. Generally the somewhat older audience quite enjoyed it. There are two very impressive performances in a show that, while a fusion of different theatrical genres which challenges artform boundaries, is also quite traditional in form and structure. Rating: 3 ½ stars out of 5 Syncopation
By Allan Knee
Director: Stephen Lloyd Helper
Choreographer: Mark Hodge
Designer: Adrienne Chisolm
Lighting Designer: Luiz Pamphola
Sound Design: Darrin Verhagen
Associate Sound Designer: Ron Barlow
Cast: Justin Stewart Cotta and Emma Palmer
Running time: 2 hours 40 mins including one interval Concourse Chatswood
July 10 – 14