I swear: Griffin & Malthouse’s Ugly Mugs

There is nowhere to hide on the stage of Griffin’s Stables theatre, just as there is nowhere to really hide in the two banks of seats on either side of the diamond-stage. Like hands holding a shard of glass or a jewel, we are drawn into the story and world of the play whether we like it or not and you cannot help but be moved by it. Here, the stage is stripped back to its barest elements – bare black walls, rough asphalt floor – and is offset by a white plastic chair, nothing more or less, save for a metal trolley. It is brutal and unflinching, just like the play itself, and doesn’t apologise.

Brief candles: Bell Shakespeare’s Macbeth

…out went the candle, and we were left darkling.
King Lear, I.4.197

Macbeth is without doubt one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays, not to mention one of the shortest; it is also his most claustrophobic and (literally) darkest. Yet despite its immense popularity, there is a robustness to it that withstands this very proliferation – no matter how many cuts or omissions are made to it, the inherent thrilling downward spiral of it still stands intact, as Macbeth drags everyone down with him, fighting all the while. Presented here by Bell Shakespeare for a schools audience, this Macbeth is characterised by a bleakness and minimalism, a blasted heath signifying nothing, and is as malleable and as changeable as Macbeth’s moods and visions. Emerging out of the darkness of the bare stage, Shakespeare’s words bounce out at you in a tale “full of sound and fury.”


Miracles don’t happen everyday: Sport for Jove’s A Doll’s House

Ibsen’s work is going through a bit of a renaissance in Australia at the moment. To be more accurate, specifically A Doll’s House. Presented here by Sport for Jove at the Seymour Centre’s Reginald theatre, A Doll’s House will also be seen at La Boite in Brisbane in September (in a new version by Lally Katz), as well as in Nora, a ‘sequel’ of sorts, at Belvoir in August, written by Kit Brookman & Anne-Louise Sarks.
In Sport for Jove’s production, director Adam Cook has stressed the period setting and location of Ibsen’s text as being crucial to the play’s success and impact. “We read or watch this play and think, well, here is a recognisable character, a recognisable woman… There’s a richer dialogue to be had with our own times if you set the play in its original period, prompting us to wonder if we really treat each other any differently today, have we evolved in our thinking at all?” It’s an important question, though (unfortunately) I don’t think Cook’s production comes close to answering it.


What is love?: STC's The Effect

What is love? People have struggled for centuries – no, millennia – trying to articulate an answer to this fundamental question without too much clarity one way or another. When you’re in love, it’s the most beautiful feeling of sharing yourself with another person; when you’re not in love it’s cruel and bitter and ugly. It’s something so deep it’s unreachable and unavoidable; something so intricate, yet so easily manipulated and crippled; the most blissful, merciless torture ever experienced by anyone on this earth; that’s what love is. And yet, apart from all of these emotional descriptions, love is a chemical process in our bodies and brains, a chemical which stimulates and colours our senses, moods, actions, bodily processes and decisions. In Lucy Prebble’s latest play The Effect, produced here by Sydney Theatre Company with Queensland Theatre Company, the clinical and physical reactions to love are examined amidst a drug trial for a new antidepressant, as real emotions and biophysical responses collide with chemically-induced stimulants.
Prebble’s play unfolds across a span of about six weeks, from the first day of the trial to sometime in the near future following its apparent conclusion. We first meet a two young people in their late twenties – Connie is a psychology student, while Tristan is a charismatic young man who has participated in a number of drug trials previously. Observing them are Dr Lorna James, a clinical psychiatrist, and Toby, her superior, but they too have a history; soon, the four of them are embroiled in a clash of ethics and perceptions, and it’s clear that nothing in life, as in love, is ever truly objective.


Punked: Lies, Lies and Propaganda's Phaedra

In the Tap Gallery’s intimate Downstairs theatre, a table stands, laid for a banquet. A man sits at the table, hungrily stuffing his face with food, a headless deer lies in front of him, and four figures stand around the space statues. This is Euripides’ Phaedra, as told by Lies, Lies and Propaganda (henceforth LLP), one of Sydney’s newest independent theatre companies.
Phaedra is the story of a woman (Phaedra) who falls in love with her stepson Hippolytus, and the effect it has on the family and the way the gods intervene and clean up after the tragedy. Like all Greek tragedies, Phaedra is grandiose, epic, full-blooded and, well, tragic. In the hands of LLP’s artistic director Michael Dean, Euripides’ play becomes an examination of erotic shame, sacrifice, passion and synth-pop.


When dogs cry: Dudley St. Productions’ Lobby Hero

This review was written for Concrete Playground.

Kenneth Lonergan’s Lobby Hero, playing at the Tap Gallery’s intimate upstairs theatre, is a sprawling play about ethics, romance, family and ‘doing the right thing’. If you saw another of Lonergan’s plays, This Is Our Youth, at the Opera House two years ago with Michael Cera and Keiran Culkin, then you’d know that you’re in safe hands, as this production proves.
Lonergan’s play follows a security guard, Jeff, over the course of four consecutive evenings as he works the graveyard shift. His supervisor, William, visits from time to time, struck with a moral dilemma about his brother. Two police officers – Bill and Dawn – enter the lobby where Jeff works, bringing another twist or two to Jeff’s moral quandary.


Our town: New Theatre’s Book of Days

Set on a blank stage with a tree in the centre, New Theatre’s production of Lanford Wilson’s Book of Days could be forgiven for seeming, at first, to be rather empty. As Wilson’s play progresses and we come to know the small backwater town of Dublin, Missouri, we soon learn that it is anything but empty.
Wearing its influences on its sleeve, Book of Days was written in 2000, and owes much to Thornton Wilder’s seminal American play, Our Town, in tone and conceit. In Dublin, Missouri, where life revolves around the local cheese factory and the church, Ruth (book-keeper for the cheese factory) is chosen to play the lead role in Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan. But, like all small towns, there is something dark lurking beneath the surface and, after an unfortunate accident during a tornado, Ruth takes it upon herself to try and uncover the truth, as the worlds of the local community and the theatre combine.


Round dance: Enigma’s La Ronde

Written around 1900 and not performed publicly until 1920, Arthur Schnitzler’s La Ronde (or Der Reigen in the original German) is based around a simple theatrical conceit, whereby ten characters (five men, five women) come together in a series of sexually-charged scenes, with one person leaving the scene at the end and replaced by the next character, in the pattern AB, BC, CD… JA. Its title, literally translating to ‘the round’ recalls the musical pattern of a round where interlocking melodies are staggered over the top of each other at intervals. Presented here by independent company Enigma, La Ronde is a seductive and beguiling play which, under Steven Hopley’s direction, shines and crackles with a very real sexual frisson.
Hopley’s staging here amplifies Schnitzler’s structural conceit; by staging La Ronde ‘in the round’ on a raised circular dias (designed by Rachel Scane), Hopley creates an intimacy which could easily have been lost in a larger, more conventional theatre space. Sparsely furnished, Hopley’s cast furnish their scenes with a vitality and a believability which is perfectly suited to Schnitzler’s timeless text. Some references have been understandably updated, but the play remains largely intact and (surprisingly) relevant and applicable to a twenty-first century audience.


NSFC*: Darlinghurst Theatre Company’s Every Second

This review was written for Concrete Playground.

The Darlinghurst Theatre Company’s Eternity Playhouse, formerly the Burton Street Tabernacle, is the home to Vanessa Bates’ Every Second, a new play about infertility, IVF, families and wanting children. 
Set on a raised spiralling platform designed by Andy McDonell, the staging circles around the various topics, elliptically and directly, confronting them from various angles and various positions, with tensions rising and falling, ultimately rising to a crescendo-like tipping point between partners and Bates’ two couples.

Rough magic: Ensemble's Richard III

You know the opening, that famous declaration. It isn’t happening yesterday, it isn’t happening tomorrow. It is happening right here, right now, on the stage in front of us, in as close to real time as we can get. It is immediate, present, in your face; unavoidable; NOW!
A cousin to the Hamlet he directed for the Studio Company at Riverside Theatres in 2004 and for the Ensemble in 2006, Mark Kilmurry’s Richard III, playing at the Ensemble Theatre, is characterised by a sense of making do, of finding old odd ends and repurposing them to new means; of finding new life in the dark and old.

Hedda, garbled: Belvoir’s Hedda Gabler

The role of a reviewer, John McCallum has said (quoting Katherine Brisbane), is to articulate why a team of people have spent upwards of six months of their lives bringing this play (or this version of a play) to the stage, and communicate it to an audience. Additionally, the role of a reviewer is to comment on a production, on its strengths and weaknesses, to review a production in all its nuances. I write reviews because I find it the most effective way to record my thoughts about a production and because, as John McCallum so eloquently said in his Philip Parson’s speech in 2010, I’ve been “theatre-fucked” and I want to share the experience with others, encourage them to be “theatre-fucked” too. Favourable reviews are only written when a production deserves it (you can find a selection of them on this site) and they are always a challenge because you can’t say everything; your average review is the most common, but is no less easy or hard for being so – the bad things mustn’t outweigh the good, but the good things can soften the bad. Unfavourable reviews are perhaps the hardest to write because of the time investment that Brisbane-via-McCallum talked about, because I don’t believe that any production is ever truly ‘bad’.