Who’s afraid of Yasmina Reza?: Twisted Tree Theatre’s God of Carnage

Yasmina Reza’s 2006 play, God of Carnage, has been performed to critical and popular acclaim around the world, and is now produced by independent company Twisted Tree Theatre at the Tap Gallery’s Downstairs theatre.
The story of two families who arrange a meeting to discuss the appropriate action required after one child attacked the other with a stick in the park, God of Carnage – appropriately – descends into a chaotic and increasingly childish evening of name-calling, taunts, accusations, drinking and vomit. Described recently in The Age as being “like a simpler incarnation of Christos Tsiolkas’ The Slap, [the] chief joy of the play is the way it slides into an Edward Albee-style marital free-for-all, as the adults begin to act worse than the children who brought them together.” Like Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Tsiolkas’ The Slap, there is something positively delicious and bordering on schadenfraude about watching two couples tear each other to pieces as they try to come to an agreement.

The return of The King: Don’t Look Away’s The Legend of King O’Malley

The ‘legend’ of King O’Malley is as colourful as the man himself, and a cursory look over his Wikipedia entry will only confirm this. Born in the United States (or Canada) in 1854, O’Malley was educated in New York City, founded a church in Texas, and contracted tuberculosis before sailing to Queensland in 1888. Once recovered from his illness, he walked the 2100 kilometres to Adelaide, and eventually became a member of the first parliament of a newly-federated Australia, voted against the introduction of conscription in World War I, was instrumental in the creation of Canberra and the Commonwealth Bank and, when he died aged 99 in 1953, he was the last surviving member of the first parliament.
In 1970, Michael Boddy and Bob Ellis wrote – or perhaps devised – The Legend of King O’Malley under the direction of John Bell for NIDA. A burlesquing Faustian story, full of pantomime, vaudeville, revivalist preaching, Australian politics and music-hall turns, O’Malley is a rambunctious beast that refuses to sit still, rampages about the stage with its uncontainable verve and showmanship. A kind of predecessor to Casey Bennetto’s hit musical Keating!, O’Malley is here produced by Melbourne company Don’t Look Away at the Seymour Centre’s Reginald theatre, and is a sharp, irreverent and timely examination of the larger than life characters we seem to attract in Australian politics.


Cyranose: STC’s Cyrano de Bergerac

His is the nose that launched a thousand quips. A famous literary swashbuckler in the same league as Dumas’ musketeers, Cyrano de Bergerac was, incredibly, a real writer and philosopher in France in the early seventeenth century. Imbued with the famous proboscis and a life much embellished beyond reality, Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac is a romantic swashbuckler like no other. With an uncanny gift for words – his pen, they say, is as mighty as his sword – he is both heroic and hopeless in the face of love, and his story is one of love – lost, won, and unrequited, and is as humane as his nose is larger than life.
While Rostand’s play was written in 1897, the Sydney Theatre Company’s production uses Andrew Upton’s adaptation from 1999 in an updated version, and is set in Cyrano’s own mid-seventeenth century world with much flair and panache. It is the story of Cyrano, a man who is blessed with an unfortunately large nose, and who is in love with Roxane. Roxane is in love with Christian. Christian is in love with Roxane but cannot express it anywhere near as adequately as he’d like. Cyrano agrees to help him and, well, I’ll leave the rest up to you. But as lofty and as word-drunk as the play – as Cyrano – is, there is still a sparseness, an disconnection between the period flummery in the costumes and the occasionally spare mise-en-scène (designed by Alice Babidge with Renée Mulder), and Upton’s adaptation.


Indefiniteness*: ATYP, MopHead & Catnip Productions’ Platonov

After Shakespeare’s, Anton Chekhov’s plays are perhaps the most human. Literary critic James Woods believes Chekhov’s characters “act like free consciousness, not as owned literary characters, [that they] forget to be Chekhov’s characters,” such is the way the playwright allows them simply to be. Both Shakespeare and Chekhov, as playwright David Hare writes, “respected the absolute complexity of life [and] never allowed their creations to be used for any other purpose than being themselves.” Not only a humanist, Chekhov was also a political writer, as socially and specifically pointed as Tolstoy, Gorky, Shakespeare. But while everyone celebrates Chekhov’s mastery in his four most well-known works – the plays The Seagull, Uncle Vanya, The Three Sisters, and The Cherry Orchard – his short stories are also exceptional, as are his rougher earlier plays, Platonov and Ivanov.
The story of a group of young idealists with the whole world ahead of them, Platonov – like so much of Chekhov, as in life – is about love, relationships, the people who get under our skin, and the extraordinary lengths we go to rid ourselves of feeling too much. Specifically, it is about Platonov, a provincial schoolteacher, “who faces up to the implications of being irresistibly attractive to four different women.” Presented here by MopHead and Catnip Productions in conjunction with ATYP Selects, this Platonov is bursting with passion, sexual energy and desperation, and in Anthony Skuse’s adaptation it explodes across the ATYP Studio stage in a riot of colour, emotion and drinking.


No fairytale: Belvoir’s Cinderella

Matthew Whittet’s previous works have included School Dance and Fugitive (two thirds of the Windmill Trilogy). In each case, Whittet takes a well-known story and tweaks and incorporates it into a larger work which interrogates the original as well as making it resonate for a contemporary audience. While School Dance was an extended homage to Eighties high-school dramas, Fugitive was a critique of the Robin Hood legend (complete with Stormtroopers), and both plays were engaging and clever pieces of theatre, both from a script perspective as well as being accomplished and sometimes remarkable examples of stagecraft. Whittet’s imagination is no doubt a very fertile place, capable of grand statements as well as more intimate, smaller-scale pieces such as Old Man – a tender portrait of fathers, sons, relationships and loss – which played at Belvoir’s Downstairs theatre in 2012.
Belvoir’s Cinderella, then, is very much in the same mould as the Windmill trilogy, despite not being a part of it. It is, however, a peculiar play. Created from an original concept by Anthea Williams (Belvoir’s Literary Manager, who also directs this production), it feels as though it is only tangentially related to the story of Cinderella, and as though it is still halfway through its dramaturgical fruition. As a play, Cinderella seeks to use the time-worn fairytale as the basis for a piece which examines psychological strength, determination, grief, and the transcendent power of transformation. Unfortunately for Whittet and Williams, this ‘fairytale for adults’ doesn’t really delve into the deep wellspring of its myriad sources as much as it could, nor does it really progress dynamically from the first two scenes where we meet Ashley, Ash and (briefly) Richard, and the whole crazy train of the night’s events are set in motion. Nor is it terribly ‘adult’ at all.


The Christmas spirit: Belvoir’s A Christmas Carol

Each year the signs of Christmas seem to be visible earlier and earlier. With forty-two days until the day actually arrives, Belvoir’s A Christmas Carol is one of the more human and beautiful evocations of this time of year, and its magic creeps up on you unawares, like the sleep that steals upon you as a child sitting up in bed determined to see Father Christmas. Directed by Resident Director Anne-Louise Sarks, a self-confessed Christmas tragic, this Christmas Carol – drawn from the Dickens novel – is imbued with that Belvoirian brand of stage magic which previously infused Peter Pan and The Book of Everything.


Murder, she wrote: STC’s Switzerland

This review appeared in an edited form on artsHub.

A sharp triangular fragment of a room – a lounge room, a roaring fire, a couch, armchair. To one side, a desk stuffed with papers and a typewriter. A spiral staircase winding through the ceiling; a book-lined room off the side. This is the world of author Patricia Highsmith as envisaged in Sydney Theatre Company’s production of Switzerland, a new play by Joanna Murray-Smith originally commissioned by Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles. Here, on a set purportedly based on Highsmith’s home in Switzerland, it is always dark outside, while inside all manner of murderous deeds are concocted alongside plots for future novels. Featuring many nods to her body of work, as well as drawing upon the rich connotations and associations of the genre and period itself, Switzerland sees Highsmith – the author of the Tom Ripley novels as well as Strangers on a Train and The Two Faces of January – becoming the subject of an enthralling two-hander stage-thriller set late in her life.