2015, the verdict


Event(s) of the Year
Camille O’Sullivan: Changeling – Sydney Festival
The Tempest Bell Shakespeare
Orfeo ed Euridice – Spectrum Now

Honourable Mention
All About Medea – Montague Basement
Of Mice and Men Sport for Jove
Love and Information STC & Malthouse
Man of La Mancha Squabbalogic
A View from the Bridge – Young Vic [NT Live]

Dishonourable Mention
Tabac RougeSydney Festival
Five Properties of Chainmale – Arts Radar & Griffin Independent
The Rocky Horror Show – Richard O’Brien
She Only Barks at Night – Living Room Theatre
Jumpy – STC/MTC

Best (New) Play
Battle of Waterloo, Kylie Coolwell
Extinction, Hannie Rayson

The Most Pertinent Award
ASYLUM – Apocalypse Theatre Company

The ‘Proud Overdaring’ Award
Masquerade – Griffin Theatre Company, STCSA, & Sydney Festival
Edward II – Sport for Jove

The Tempest (dir. John Bell)
Hamlet (dir. Saro Lusty-Cavallari)
Love’s Labour’s Lost (dir. Damien Ryan)

The Playlist: 2015 at the theatre

As with previous years, ‘The Playlist’ is a musical summary of the year’s theatre-going. The rule is (mostly) simple: find a piece of music that encapsulates either the production or my response to it (or both, as the case often is). The only catch is I cannot re-use a piece from a previous year, even if it is the same text.
Thus, here is The Playlist for 2015.


We are left darkling: STC’s King Lear

Alongside Hamlet, King Lear is one of the megaliths of the Western dramatic canon, regarded by Percy Bysshe Shelley as “the most perfect specimen of the dramatic art existing in the world.” Often cited as being sublime and universal, it is also extremely nihilistic, a bleak portrait of despair, a Bacon-like scream into the abyss. Known for his acute observations of humanity and generosity in directing, Neil Armfield’s work embraces the epic and intimate all at once, and so it was with great expectations and an almost-equal dose of trepidation that I entered his production of King Lear for Sydney Theatre Company. The only trouble is, it isn’t really that compelling at all.


There’s the point: Montague Basement’s Hamlet

Hamlet – the play, the character; the phenomenon – needs no introduction. In Sydney this year alone, we have been offered at least four productions in one form or another, and this is the third I have seen. In many respects, Montague Basement’s production is the strongest – and certainly the boldest – but it could be bolder, more daring; more Hamletian.


Kip Williams and the poetic gesture

I first encountered Kip Williams’ work in 2013, with his production of Romeo and Juliet for the Sydney Theatre Company. From the opening moments with the Montague boys swinging on the chandelier, to Mercutio’s mustard-coloured velvet suit, the revolving mansion, a tangibly dangerous knife-fight, snatches of Alt-J and Max Richter in the soundtrack, and the devastating conclusion of empty white beds in a black void, I was struck by the poetic imagery and exuberance with which it exploded onto the Drama Theatre stage.
I’ve since had the pleasure to see the rest of Williams’ work for the STC. From the stark isolation of his Macbeth, to the aching Chekhovian lyricism of Children of the Sun, the luscious haunting of Suddenly Last Summer, and the frenetic kaleidoscope of Love and Information, Williams’ body of work is nothing short of remarkable. Following my recent chat with fellow STC Resident Director Sarah Goodes, I sat down with Kip Williams for an engrossing and lengthy discussion about the nature of scale, the poetics of space, the enormous challenges of wrestling Love and Information to the stage, and the promise of STC’s 2016 season.


Neither a woman nor a man: STC’s Orlando

Often cited as the world’s longest love-letter, Virginia Woolf’s novel Orlando is a fictional biography of Orlando, an Elizabethan youth who wins the favour of Queen Elizabeth I, and through good fortune and a dash of incredulity, lives across centuries, barely ageing a day in the process; following a sex-change in Constantinople, she (“for there can be no doubt about her sex”) returns to England a woman, only to find the deck of cards is stacked against her time and again, until Woolf’s novel finishes in “the present age” (i.e. 1928), when Orlando is well over three-hundred years old (yet looks little more than thirty six). Adapted for the stage by Sarah Ruhl, Sydney Theatre Company’s production of Orlando is directed by Sarah Goodes, and although full of colour and energy, it is perhaps hampered somewhat by a text which contains perhaps too much of Woolf’s own text and not enough of the playwright’s own dramaturgical landscaping to make it a truly effective piece of theatre.


Sarah Goodes and the leap of faith

When John Doyle’s play Vere (Faith) was announced as part of Sydney Theatre Company’s 2013 season, I leapt at the chance to become acquainted with director Sarah Goodes’ work. I had heard positive reviews from her previous productions at STC – Anthony Neilson’s Edward Gant's Amazing Feats of Loneliness in 2011, and Hilary Bell’s The Splinter in 2012 – so although I had been unable to see both those productions, I knew of her work’s reputation as being generous-spirited, inquisitive, and compassionate pieces of theatre.
Since 2013, I’ve had the pleasure to see four of her productions, with a fifth – Orlando – about to open. Following the end of Battle of Waterloo’s run, I sat down with Goodes for a discussion about her work as an independent theatre-maker and as a Resident Director at STC, the importance of new work, the role of a director, and the seriousness of playing.


Our place: 7-ON’s We Are the Ghosts of the Future

We’re all familiar with digital content being present with us wherever we go, of being able to lose ourselves to the point of oblivion in a hand-held screen as real life happens around us, but the possibilities of immersive theatre are still relatively untapped in Australia. Sitting somewhere between art installation, theatre, and real-life do-it-yourself adventure storytelling, immersive theatre can be created on as large or as intimate a scale as the space and resources allow, with the intention that no two experiences are identical. British theatre company Punchdrunk are game-changing pioneers in this scene, and their work is nothing short of phenomenal, bringing “cinematic [levels] of detail” to large-scale installations in often unexpected locations.
Part of this year’s Village Bizarre festival in The Rocks, 7-ON’s We Are the Ghosts of the Future is a home-grown piece of immersive theatre set in The Rocks in 1935, on the day of Charles Kingsford-Smith’s disappearance. Whilst roaming around the Rocks Discovery Museum, the audience is given relative autonomy to wander in and out of rooms, building the (a?) world from the fragments and scenes we glimpse, the people we meet. Particularly memorable and powerful are the cross-dressing policeman, the abortionist (or ‘kind gentleman,’ to use the period’s euphemism), and the artist and the idiot savant (or ‘holy fool’). Street urchin children run throughout the building, trying to steal hats or delivering letters, and they are kind of like a ball of red string which connects each of the characters in this labyrinth.


Lies, Lies and Propaganda’s Roadkill Confidential

Having previously tackled Greek myths and self-devised theatre, Lies, Lies and Propaganda (LLP) have decided to tackle a completely scripted piece for their latest production, but I’m not sure it is the right vehicle to showcase their strengths, as individuals and as theatre-making collective. Sheila Callaghan’s Roadkill Confidential is the story of Trevor, a successful artist with a penchant for roadkill victims, whose latest work becomes a matter of national importance and the subject of a top-secret investigation when citizens start dying. While Callaghan’s play purports to ask the question ‘can art truly be dangerous, or is it only true when it is,’ it ultimately doesn’t quite reach the searing heights it sets out to investigate, and leaves us feeling left on the shoulder of the road one too many times.


Mexican waves: Belvoir & STCSA’s Mortido

Angela Betzien’s reputation as a writer of darkly furious plays which are as much social commentaries as they are impassioned calls to action makes her new play, Mortido, a welcome jolt of adrenaline in the tail-end of a year of theatre. Exploding upon Belvoir’s corner-stage after a critically successful season in Adelaide, Mortido is equal parts crime drama, revenge tragedy, morality play, and familial drama all in one thrilling evening.
Co-commissioned by Belvoir and Playwriting Australia, and presented here in a coproduction between Belvoir and State Theatre Company of South Australia, Mortido begins with a Mexican fable about death, life, and rebirth, and ricochets between past and the present, dreams and reality, across multiple countries and continents, while hunting down its elusive target. Amongst it all, its beating heart is the story of Jimmy, a small-time dealer in Sydney’s west, his medium-big-time distributor brother-in-law Monte, and their various run-ins with police detective Grubbe. Connecting all of them is cocaine, and an article from the Sydney Morning Herald in 2011 that inspired Betzien to ultimately write this play.


Thrill-seeking: Griffin Theatre Company’s A Rabbit for Kim Jong-Il

In the promotional blurb, Kit Brookman’s new play – A Rabbit for Kim Jong-Il – is described as “a cunning comic thriller spanning two continents,” as being “crammed with secret agents, espionage, [and] double-crossings,” and as being “a pointed parable about betrayal and forgiveness, greed and regret.” The only trouble is, it’s not quite any of those things, least of all a thriller.


To know, to know: Genesian Theatre’s Three Sisters

This review was written for artsHub.

First performed in 1901, Chekhov’s Three Sisters is a play about love, the question (and delusion) of love, and the notion of happiness and/or contentedness. Perhaps not as bleak as Ivanov, or as elegantly poignant as The Seagull, Three Sisters is still undeniably Chekhovian in its depiction of a group of people caught up in their foibles and their lives, with much philosophising and talk of fate and the future that lies ahead of them. The three Pozorov sisters – Olga, Masha, and Irina – are stuck in a provincial town hundreds of miles from Moscow, and one day dream of returning to their beloved city; fate, however, has other ideas, and life overtakes them, further anchoring them to the small town. In one sense, it is a comedy in the Chekhovian sense, but at the same time it is very much a drama. This production at the Genesian Theatre is undeniably a comedy, but not as Chekhov ever intended it.


Modern Prometheus: SUDS & Verge Festival’s Manic Pixie Dream World

Perhaps it’s an indication of our shift in socio-cultural thinking, that a lot of the narrative tropes we take for granted in popular culture are being turned on their head and examined in the theatre, on film, in books and comics and other mediums. Like All About Medea recently, SUDSManic Pixie Dream World (henceforth MPDW) draws on the manic-pixie-dream-girl trope and problematises it like it deserves, making recent filmic forays such as Ruby Sparks look rather mild and clumsy by comparison.  


Proud overdaring: Sport for Jove’s Edward II

Written in 1592, Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II is a spectacular exploration of what happens when passion and politics mix, when desires and allegiances are compromised, and what happens when you are forced to choose one over the other. While Marlowe’s Edward pursues his desires over good government and lawfulness, his play has perhaps been eclipsed by another Elizabethan play about a transgressive king faced with a similar choice. That is not to denigrate Marlowe’s play which is strong by itself but, like Edward II, Sport for Jove’s production suffers from following its passion for accessibility and contemporaneity rather than its foundations in solid dramatic traditions.


Uplifted: Black Swan’s The Red Balloon

Released in 1956, Albert Lamorisse’s film The Red Balloon is a near-wordless story of a boy and an almost-sentient balloon in post-war Paris. It’s a beautiful film, whimsical and charming to boot, but rewatching it now, there’s a curious emptiness in the film which makes it even more poignant. This production, adapted by Hilary Bell from Lamorisse’s film (not the subsequent slightly over-sentimental book he fashioned from it) and designed by India Mehta, takes note of this emptiness and creates a poignant piece of theatre which never feels forced or indulgent.

Quollity: Black Swan’s Extinction

It’s an interesting coincidence that there are two plays currently playing on national mainstages that deal quite substantially with the idea of extinction. Malthouse’s They Saw A Thylacine, and Black Swan’s Extinction talk around and about the issue, not just examining its ramifications, but also about the role we humans play in the process, the way we can prevent mass extinctions through changing the way we behave and act. Hannie Rayson’s Extinction adds another layer to the mix, in examining the idea of ‘clean’ and ‘dirty’ money – money that comes from ethically-grey sources, in this case, a coal-mining company. It’s a bold move for Black Swan to produce this play, as their major sponsor is mining giant Rio Tinto, and the play’s very existence further examines this idea simply by being programmed, staged, and written about.


Out of the dark: Malthouse & HUMAN ANIMAL EXCHANGE’s They Saw A Thylacine

In September 1936, the last thylacine (or Tasmanian Tiger) died in Hobart’s Beaumaris Zoo, due to exposure, cold, and lack of care or concern by the superintendant. My grandparents remember seeing that thylacine – a female, called Benjamin – and for years I was fascinated by this bizarre creature with its dog-like gait, dark stripes, straight tail, and eerily large yawn, and more than a little frightened of the grainy black-and-white footage that would be rolled out every time someone mentioned extinction or cloning (this was the early 2000s, when the Australian Museum – headed by Dr Michael Archer – was attempting, however foolishly, to clone the creature). HUMAN ANIMAL EXCHANGE’s They Saw A Thylacine – presented by Malthouse Theatre – is a simple story about two women whose paths crossed with this animal in the 1930s, and despite the simplicity and elegance of its staging, it is powerful and quite moving.

Cosmic particles: MTC’s The Boy at the Edge of Everything

Finegan Kruckemeyer has the unique ability to capture a childlike sense of wonder and storytelling, yet unlike so much theatre for young people he is never patronising, but simply asks ‘would you like to hear a story?’ and away we go. Following Kate Gaul’s production of The Violent Outburst That Drew Me to You at Griffin Theatre last year, I set about trying to track down as many of Kruckemeyer’s plays as I could; when Melbourne Theatre Company announced The Boy at the Edge of Everything as part of their 2015 season, I knew I had to see it. But sometimes great expectations can be their own worst enemy.


All is lost without a kayak: Belvoir’s Ivanov

Written in 1887, Ivanov is perhaps Chekhov’s thorniest play – even to Chekhov himself – and he rewrote it a year later, while a third version appeared in print before his death in 1904. From the very beginning of its life, audiences couldn’t make up their minds about Ivanov – the play as much as the character – and whether they sympathised with him or not. This was something of a dilemma for Chekhov, and he subsequently reworked it, perhaps never being fully satisfied with it. Astonishingly, this production at Belvoir is its first Australian mainstage production under the direction of Eamon Flack, and it is a strange play, but it is also something of an antidote – a way to close one door and open another.


My heart going boom boom boom: Montague Basement’s All About Medea

Following on from their incredibly strong debut with Procne & Tereus at last year’s fringe festival, independent theatre-makers Montague Basement have again turned their attentions to Greek mythology, and embarked upon a new retelling of the story of Jason and Medea. Using the genre of the romantic comedy to explore the story in a new light, Montague Basement have not only given us a thrilling new play, but have subverted the age-old trope of the manic pixie dream girl (MPDG) in giving us All About Medea.


Iphigenuous: Stories Like These & Griffin Independent’s Minus One Sister

Off the top of my head, this is the fifth retelling of the myth of Orestes (and/or Elektra; they were siblings after all) that I have seen in the past couple of years. There is nothing necessarily wrong with that, except that I am still confused as to the finer points of what actually happens in the myth, traditionally-speaking. Some of the retellings, like Kit Brookman’s Small and Tired chose to set their action decades after the events, while others, like Elektra/Orestes earlier this year thrust us right into the thick of it.
Winner of the 2013 Patrick White Playwrights’ Award, Anna Barnes’ Minus One Sister is based off of Sophocles’ version of the story, and unfolds in a fractured whirlwind of naturalistic dialogue scenes and chorus scenes. The story of a family – three sisters, their younger brother, and their parents – as much as the unspeakable crimes the parents commit, and the siblings’ need for retribution, Minus One Sister is a furious and fast-paced play, but I wonder if its swirl of words actually detracts from telling its stories.


Melita Rowston’s 6 Degrees of Ned Kelly

Accompanied by grainy film footage, comedian Melita Rowston bursts onto the stage wearing the all-too-familiar metal helmet, waving two toy pistols. Her t-shirt reads ‘Such is life.’ Over the next sixty minutes, Rowston not only illustrates, but gently teases and, ultimately, illuminates the poignant and more-often-than-not bizarre world of Kelly-lore in this light-hearted look at the legend of Ned Kelly.


Peter Evans: bringing period back to Shakespeare

In October 2011, following two enormously strong productions for Bell Shakespeare – John Bell’s exuberant Much Ado About Nothing, and Michael Gow’s theatrically-encyclopaedic Faustus – Peter Evans’ production of Julius Caesar arrived in Sydney at the end of a four-month national tour. Intelligent, concise, and subtly condensed for a cast of ten, Evans’ Caesar was a rare example of a production which eloquently captured the contemporary mood (and political climate) in a raw, poetic and theatrical way. Robust, haunting, and profoundly gripping, it made me sit up and take notice of Evans’ work, and remains one of the cornerstone productions in my theatrical fascination with Shakespeare.
Peter Evans is Bell Shakespeare’s co-artistic director, and is about to take the reins of the company once John Bell concludes work on The Tempest. I sat down with Evans at the end of July for a discussion about playing the classics, his career as a director, the challenges facing a specialist company like Bell Shakespeare in Australia’s theatrical climate, his fascination with Meyerhold’s system of biomechanics, and what might lie ahead from 2016.


The show must go on: Belvoir & Sisters Grimm’s La Traviata

Billed as “part opera, part protest, part drag show,” Sisters Grimm’s La Traviata – co-produced with Belvoir, and playing in Belvoir’s Downstairs theatre – is a curious mash-up of Verdi’s opera (which was recently playing in Sydney), protest against the recent cuts to arts funding, and awkwardly gratuitous breaking of the fourth wall. Unlike Sisters Grimm’s other shows – Summertime in the Garden of Eden in particular – their customary verve for “queer DIY drag-theatre” does not quite shine here, and I’m not sure if this production is as powerful yet as it could be, as it is intended to be.


Such stuff as dreams are made on: Bell Shakespeare’s The Tempest

Written in 1612, The Tempest was Shakespeare’s last solo-authored play, and has been read (perhaps inaccurately) as a valediction to the theatre. This TempestJohn Bell’s twenty-fifth anniversary production for Bell Shakespeare, and his last as artistic director – could also be read as a valediction to the theatre as much as to the company that bears his name, but that would be to do this production a disservice. Here, on Bell’s island – on the set, as much as in an imaginary space – I am certain magic was worked, and this is a colourful, poignant, and fitting way to sign off from his company.


The seven ages of John Bell

This is a slightly edited version of an article written for the Australian Writers’ Guild’s Storyline magazine, published in August 2015 in Volume 35.

For thousands of young people across Australia each year, Bell Shakespeare’s Actors At Work programme brings the plays of William Shakespeare alive in an accessible and vibrant way. A core part of Bell Shakespeare’s learning programme since the company’s first season in 1990, Actors At Work travels the country with little more than the Bard’s words and their imaginations, and provides many students with their first experience of Shakespeare and/or live theatre.
Like many of these students, John Bell’s first introduction to Shakespeare came when he was at school. “I had a fantastic English teacher at that time who taught Shakespeare, and took us off to see the Shakespeare movies, and any live theatre that came to town, so I’d already got hooked on language and Shakespeare, poetry, some novels of course… we did about six Shakespeare plays in my high school years – two a year in great detail, so we got through it very thoroughly – and then I got interested in performing.”


Love will tear us apart, again: STC’s The Present

This review appeared in an edited form on artsHub.

Chekhov’s reputation as a writer rests upon the legacy of his four major plays (The Seagull, Uncle Vanya, Three Sisters, and The Cherry Orchard) and his short stories. Generally dismissed as juvenilia or the work of an amateur writer, his earlier plays – and particularly the play we generally call Platonov – should not be so easily dismissed. While sources and critics disagree as to its exact creation, the consensus is it was written when he was just eighteen, and finished a few years later as a student in Moscow, and was originally intended for a notable actress, in the hope she would stage it for her benefit performance. Sources cannot agree on what happened next, but a (the?) manuscript was discovered in 1914 (or 1920, depending on who you believe), and it has only been since the 1950s that the play has found a wider popular and critical audience, and it has been restored to its rightful place in Chekhov’s oeuvre.


Murder ballads: Griffin Theatre Company’s The Bleeding Tree

The statistics are staggering on average, one woman is killed every week as a result of intimate partner violence; one in three women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence perpetrated by someone known to them; one in four children are exposed to domestic violence, which is a recognised form of child abuse; while two-thirds of domestic homicides are committed by an intimate partner. These are not figures but people, lives which are affected and often cut short by violence and/or abuse.Angus Cerini’s new play The Bleeding Tree – winner of the 2014 Griffin Award – takes to this world with gusto and gives us a harrowing and darkly-funny play in which women don’t die, but rather get their own back at the man who has been such a violent presence in their lives.
Produced by Griffin Theatre Company, Cerini’s play unfolds upon Renée Mulder’s steeply raked and pleated stage, and his words cascade and hurtle around the little theatre, a potent and heady rush of adrenaline and relief in chiaroscuro (courtesy of lighting designer Verity Hampson). But before a word of Cerini’s script is spoken, we are thrust headfirst into the world of the play – of a mother and her two daughters – by a swirling cresecendoing soundstorm (Steve Toulmin) that shakes the theatre and our seats with unease and trepidation. It’s a powerful mix, and in the hands of director Lee Lewis, the three women – Paula Arundell as the mother, and Shari Sebbens and Airlie Dodds as the daughters – never put a foot wrong on Mulder’s steep set.


Young at heart: Belvoir’s Seventeen

We’ve seen it before – actors playing children and/or characters much younger than themselves – in plays like David Holman’s The Small Poppies, and more recently in Matthew Whittet’s School Dance and Girl, Asleep. In fact, a lot of Whittet’s work draws on this conceit, something he readily acknowledges in his writer’s note in this show’s program. But in Seventeen, it feels like it has gone one step too far, that the joke has been over-extended and stretched out to fill ninety-minutes’ worth of theatre.


Transfigured night: SUDS’ A Midsummer Night’s Dream

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of Shakespeare’s perennial masterpieces – an effervescent concoction of magic, darkness, dreams, comedy, and love, it is the first Shakespeare play I studied at school, the first one I loved wholeheartedly, and certainly one of the best introductions to the Bard’s work, and a play for all ages. Presented here by SUDS (Sydney University’s Dramatic Society) in the Seymour Centre’s York theatre, this ‘Dream’ has been given a slight reworking - inspired by a queer reading of the play - which opens up new spaces within the four-hundred-year-old play and proves it can still be a fresh experience, even if this is not your first encounter with the play.


Play by the rules: STC & Malthouse’s Love and Information

Caryl Churchill’s plays are renowned for their intellectual rigour and their political preoccupations, as much as for pushing the boundaries of what theatre can be, what it can do. In Love and Information, Churchill turns her attention to not just one idea or issue, but rather Life, in all its complexities and intricacies, and examines the concepts of space, rhythm, time, language, connections, relationships, and identity, as both fixed and fluid notions. Presented here by the Sydney Theatre Company and Melbourne’s Malthouse Theatre, Love and Information ripples with an unbridled wit, compassion, and a sense of precision which is truly mind-boggling.


The outsiders: Sport for Jove’s Of Mice and Men

Published in 1937, John Steinbeck’s novella Of Mice and Men tells the story of two displaced itinerant workers, looking for work in Depression-era California. Based on his own experiences in the 1920s, Steinbeck’s book is a haunting and non-judgemental view of the world, something which ripples through a lot of his work from the 1930s and 40s. In an adaptation written by Steinbeck himself, Sport for Jove’s production – currently playing in the Seymour Centre’s Reginald theatre – is tight, elegant, mesmerising and atmospheric, richly evocative of the hardship of the era.


A bard thing: Genesian Theatre’s The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)

This review was originally written for artsHub.

Back in 2002, my parents took twelve-year-old me to see The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) at the Glen Street Theatre. It was my first introduction to Shakespeare and while I might not have understood every joke or (palpable) hit at the Bard, I enjoyed it immensely and try to see each subsequent production of it, to remind myself of the joy in getting so caught up in something it changes the way you think. This production, at the Genesian Theatre in Sydney’s CBD, is the fifth production I’ve seen of this play, and it is every bit as silly and as enjoyable as it was thirteen years ago; as it has always been.


A sure bet: Apocalypse Theatre Company & Griffin Independent’s The Dapto Chaser

First produced in 2011 by Merrigong Theatre Company, Mary Rachel Brown’s The Dapto Chaser is a wart-and-all love-letter to greyhound racing, and sinks its teeth into the dog-racing culture with gusto. Produced by Apocalypse Theatre Company and Griffin Independent, The Dapto Chaser is ninety minutes of acutely-observed writing and performances, wrapped up in the story of a family stuck in the vicious cycle of gambling as everything goes to, well, the dogs.
Many years ago, I read Markus Zusak’s series of books about two brothers who live near Central and spend a chunk of their time around the Wentworth Park dog track. Like Brown’s family – the Sinclair’s – the Wolfe brothers are fighting against their circumstances, each other, and end up winning in a way that only they and people like them can. The Dapto Chaser centres around a dog called ‘Boy Named Sue’, his owner Cess, Cess’ brother Jimmy who works at the Dapto race track, their father Errol, and the dog club manager Arnold Denny, and the dog-eat-dog struggle they find themselves locked into seemingly forever. Where The Dapto Chaser succeeds with flying colours, is in its language, its depiction of this family on the lower edge of society; in its evocation of the colourful and larger than life characters you find trackside.


Chaos theory: Belvoir’s Mother Courage and Her Children

Two particular things happened at the beginning of this year: I sat down with director Eamon Flack for a discussion about his work, process, and intentions as incoming artistic director of Belvoir; and I saw a Korean pansori production of Brecht’s Mother CourageUkchuk-ga – at the Sydney Festival. Without wanting to jinx Flack’s production so early on in the year, I believed Ukchuk-ga to be one of those transcendent productions where you leave the theatre exhilarated, an emotional wreck because of its story, stagecraft, and the simplicity of its craft. And I still firmly believe that. Enter, then, Flack’s production of Mother Courage and Her Children for Belvoir. In January, as in his notes in the program, he talked about his desire to bring a taste of the global sense of chaos to Sydney in 2015, and trying to figure out how to do that in a theatrical way. And while he does this to an extent, this Mother Courage feels strangely empty, as though something is missing from it, and I still don’t know what it is, several weeks and two viewings later.


Clever Girl: Squabbalogic’s Triassic Parq

In an expertly-timed coincidence, Squabbalogic’s second show for 2015 is the Australian premiere of the 2010 Off-Broadway musical-comedy parody Triassic Parq. Inspired by Steven Spielberg’s beloved 1993 film, Triassic Parq takes the idea of the dinosaurs running amok in Jurassic Park and tries to work out why. Directed by Jay James-Moody, and staged in the Seymour Centre’s Reginald theatre, we are given front-row seats to roaring, dancing, sex-changing, scientifically-inquisitive dinosaurs. Dinosaurs that sing and dance. Oh yes.

Pet sounds: Belvoir’s The Dog / The Cat

The old adage goes that you should never work with animals, children, or firearms. But in Belvoir’s latest production – a double bill of one-act romantic comedies – the animals take to the stage with gusto, and the result is a charming, effervescent, and hilarious take on pet-ownership (or co-ownership, as the case may be). The Dog / The Cat are two new plays by Brendan Cowell and Lally Katz respectively. Staged in Belvoir’s Downstairs theatre, there is a humble honesty in these two short pieces – both no more than forty-five minutes – and it is quite possibly one of the most entertaining and genuinely funny evenings I’ve had at Belvoir in recent months.


Get Hitched: MTC's North by Northwest

Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest is one of those films which dwells in the collective cultural consciousness as a series of memorable images or sequences – the crop-duster chase, the Mount Rushmore finale. Described as “the Hitchcock picture to end all Hitchcock pictures,” the film has now become a stage production under the guidance of Simon Phillips for the Melbourne Theatre Company. And it is every bit as thrilling and audacious as you would expect.
Adapted by Carolyn Burns from the screenplay by Ernest Lehman, MTC’s North by Northwest remains almost entirely faithful to the film. But whereas in other productions this could be seen as a disservice, whereby it slavishly seeks to replicate its filmic predecessor, here Burns, Phillips, the cast and crew all approach their task with relish and glee, and the results, while serious, never take themselves too seriously, giving us a magical new version of Hitchcock and Lehman’s thrilling tale of mistaken identity.

Fame drain: MTC's Birdland

Simon Stephens’ work is characterised by a sharp ear for dialogue, for his crisp lines – succinct and almost entirely without padding  as much as by his finely-wrought characters and scenarios, which often teeter on the edge of an abyss of their own making. His plays are scintillating, haunting, and sometimes terrifying, but never dull. While his recent play Birdland is certainly emblematic of his work, there seems to be a rather large vacuum or personality-hole at its centre, which stops it from being truly engaging.


Magill’s last tape: Siren Theatre Co’s Misterman

First staged in 1999, Enda Walsh’s Misterman is a tour-de-force monologue which twists and turns, before punching us in the gut. Directed by Kate Gaul at the Old Fitz theatre, it is a harrowing and entertaining play about one man’s crusade to bring God to the townfolk of Inishfree.
The play – or monologue, if you prefer – is the story of Thomas Magill, played with relish by Thomas Campbell. Magill is an unstable man in his mid-thirties and, like in Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape, much of the interactions between characters in Walsh’s play come from banks of reel-to-reel tape recorders scattered around the set. With echoes of Beckett, Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood, and James Joyce’s Ulysses – in that it is one man’s journey through a town over the course of what could be a day – Walsh’s (very) blackly comic play builds to a terrifying conclusion.


Waterloo now: STC’s Battle of Waterloo

A new play is always an exciting occasion, a debut play even more so. Kylie Coolwell’s Battle of Waterloo is a contemporary study of life in the James Cook tower in Waterloo’s housing commission estate. Begun in 2012 as part of Playwriting Australia’s Redfern Playwriting Salon, Coolwell’s play depicts the life of a family over the course of a week, in all its bloodsweatandtears, and shows just how important – how beautiful – the sense of community is in one of these residential towers.
Produced by Sydney Theatre Company in their Wharf 1 theatre, the space is filled with Renée Mulder’s ingenious set. Reminiscent of Bob Crowley’s set for the recent revival of David Hare’s Skylight, it manages to convey an intimate interior and towering exterior all at once, and seems to be a physical evocation of a line from C.S. Lewis – “there is an extraordinary charm in other people’s domesticities. Every lighted house, seen from the road, is magical: every pram or lawn-mower in someone else’s garden: all smells or stirs of cookery from the windows of alien kitchens.” While we see Cassie and her family in their little flat, marked out on a series of low platforms with walls and doors – complete with balcony – around them, we see the little strip of grass down below, the neighbours on their balconies smoking or breathing in the night air, little pockets of light in the dark theatre, and it is beautiful.


All that glitters is not gold: Sport for Jove’s The Merchant of Venice

The Merchant of Venice is a famously thorny play. Usually called a comedy, it has a dark side to it which cannot be ignored. While it does encompass many scenes of focused around the idea of love or marriage as is wont in a Shakespearean comedy (comedies, after all, end with marriage), Antonio the titular merchant is accosted by Shylock, a money-lender, because he defaulted on the loan of 3,000 ducats and is thus required to pay the bond – the infamous pound of flesh.


Barking mad: Living Room Theatre’s She Only Barks at Night

This review appeared in an edited form on artsHub.

The old adage goes that you should never work with children, animals, or firearms. In Living Room Theatre’s (henceforth LRT) new performance installation, children and animals play a central role in evoking the world of hysteria. Presented in association with the Sydney Environment Institute and Sydney University’s Macleay Museum and Veterinary Science faculty, LRT’s She Only Barks at Night is an eerie and unsettling evening, though perhaps not always as its creators intended.


The corroboration: Griffin Theatre Company’s The House on the Lake

Originally commissioned by Black Swan State Theatre Company and first produced in 2014, Aidan Fennessy’s The House on the Lake is a crisp combination of whodunit mystery and psychological thriller. A taut two-hander, the play unfolds in a series of loops, and sees David – a lawyer suffering from anterograde amnesia – trying to remember where he is and what has happened to him. As the play evolves and hurtles towards its thrilling conclusion, Fennessy drip-feeds us details, deliberately misdirecting us only to throw another clue into play before the scene is out.


Godard A to Z: Lies, Lies and Propaganda’s Zeroville

Formed in 2014 alongside their first production Phaedra, Lies, Lies and Propaganda (henceforth LLP) is an independent theatre company which seeks to create theatre that is messy, colourful, and provocative. After infusing Euripides’ play with a post-punk aesthetic (think Vivienne Westwood being let loose in Versailles), director Michael Dean and his collaborators have turned their attention to creating a self-devised piece of theatre from the ground up. Taking inspiration from Jean-Luc Godard’s seminal 1965 film Alphaville, Dean and company have created Zeroville – a slick and accomplished sci-fi noir vision of the future playing as part of the Anywhere Festival; a world where feelings and self-expression have been eradicated and everything is controlled by an omniscient computerised being known as 001.


Small world, big dreams: Belvoir & La Boite’s Samson

Small towns don't feel small when you grow up there.  That comes later.  The world as you know it seems wide.  You feel close to it, the smells, the seasons, the secret places.  But slowly, imperceptibly, like childhood itself, that comfortable, familiar, reassuring world starts to slip away.
 – Noel Mengel, RPM

Julia-Rose Lewis’ assured first play Samson is a one of those coming-of-age stories which dot the landscape of the Australian psyche. Set in a small country town, the play follows the lives of Essie, Beth, Sid, and Rabbit, as they collide, love, fight, dream, and burn burn burn. Co-produced by Belvoir and Brisbane’s La Boite theatre, Samson arrives in Sydney after a two-week run in Brisbane fizzing with life, exploding in Belvoir’s Downstairs theatre with vitality and something akin to incandescence.


Wilde thing: Furies’ The Importance of Being Earnest

I can’t quite believe this is the first production of The Importance of Being Earnest that I’ve seen, even though I’ve read it several times. One of Oscar Wilde’s most popular and successful plays, ‘Earnest’ is one of those pieces of theatre which zips along by itself, and in this production directed by Chris McKay, it shines and is a delight from start to finish.


Goodbye, yellow brick road: Belvoir’s The Wizard of Oz

The story of L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz has found a place as one of the most famous and enduring stories in (children’s) literature; just as the celebrated MGM film with Judy Garland has become a staple of millions of people’s lives since 1939, the story has become synonymous with a journey of discovery and a quest for self-identity and -worth. At its heart are four displaced people who are in some way incomplete; the book (and film), then, becomes a chronicle of their quest for completeness, for self-change. It is also a space for dreaming and yearning, a place for the glorious flights of fancy of your imagination, a space for a certain amount of theatricality, illusion, and artifice. Based on the myth created by Baum’s book and perpetuated in all its Technicolor glory, Belvoir’s latest offering is Adena Jacobs’ reimagining of The Wizard of Oz. However: if you do happen to go down to Belvoir this May, it’s best to leave your expectations and love of the book and/or film at the door.


Out of the blue: Red Stitch’s Grounded

George Brant’s Grounded is an aggressive and provocative monologue. While you could almost call it a poem in many respects, or perhaps a poetic monologue, what you notice first is its language – its command of it, as much as the voice it is spoken by (or written for); and from the first moments, you are pushed back in your seat by the G-force of this play as it hurtles through the sky of the Seymour Centre’s Reginald theatre over the course of eighty tense minutes.
First produced in 2013, and presented here by Melbourne-based company Red Stitch Actors Theatre, this production of Grounded is riveting and mesmerising. While essentially the story of a fighter pilot in the US military who becomes pregnant and is reassigned to piloting drones, this is merely the set-up for Brant’s play. What Brant explores – and what the production, directed by Kirsten von Bibra, does so well – is show the psychological effects of this relocation on the pilot (she is never named), how hard it is for her to readjust to the mindset and pressures of remote-control drone operation.


Lest we forget: ATYP’s A Town Named War Boy

Presented by ATYP and the State Library of New South Wales, Ross Mueller’s A Town Named War Boy takes a collage-like approach to storytelling: rather than tell the story of one person, he has used fragments of diaries in the State Library’s collection to create an impression of the campaign, both in the trenches and the journey from Australia.
Ostensibly the story of four young men – Snow, Huddo, Tom, and John – it is Snow who Mueller’s impressions centre around, whose story we follow from a small country town in Victoria to the cliffs in Turkey and back again. Mueller’s writing, as in all his work, is muscular and vernacular; there is a robust command of the language which, when delivered by these four young actors, seems entirely natural and effortless. Mixing more contemporary speech patterns with those of a century ago, Mueller creates many haunting images and moments which are brought to life by director Fraser Corfield, designers Adrienn Lord (set and costume), Emma Lockhart-Wilson (lighting), Steve Francis (composer), Alistair Wallace (sound), and the cast.


Doing the time warp, again: Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Show

The Rocky Horror Show is a phenomenon bordering on a cult, which first sprang to life in 1973 in London, and the following year in Sydney. A mash-up of science-fiction and horror tropes, and gleefully set firmly within the tradition of the rock’n’roll musical, the Rocky Horror Show now rocks back into Sydney’s Lyric theatre in this 40th anniversary production. Despite the glitz and glamour with which it struts about the stage in its glittering stilettos, it feels tired, old, and more than a little bit more camp than it should be.


Slumdog millionaires: National Theatre’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers (NTLive)

Better known for his political plays, British playwright David Hare has turned to Katherine Boo’s account of life under a Mumbai flight path in Behind the Beautiful Forevers to create an epic piece of theatre, whose scale and integrity is clearly defined at the outset and maintained throughout. And while its story is compelling, it lacks the strong emotional pull which is so present in some of Hare’s other plays, the hook which would make us care more about the plight of these characters, these people.


Capital cabaret: STC’s Boys will be boys

Two years ago, Melissa Bubnic’s award-winning play Beached burst onto the Griffin theatre stage in a whirlwind of dreams, desires, and realities, and even though it was furiously entertaining it still made you pause for thought. Her latest play, Boys will be boys, has been produced by the Sydney Theatre Company, and like Beached, applies her trademark brand of theatrical blowtorch to the world of finance, brokers, and corporate manipulation. And it is quite a ride.


Blunt instruments: Arts Radar & Griffin Independent’s Five Properties of Chainmale

Nicholas Hope’s Five Properties of Chainmale is described as a “confronting, uncomfortable and comical” examination of “modern man [as he] grapples with his crumbling reflection.” Despite the clumsy title, you could be forgiven for expecting a provocative and thought-provoking piece of theatre. What we get instead is clumsy, rather blunt, and dramaturgically confused, and never quite works out what it is trying to say.


Young and restless: STC and MTC’s Jumpy

April de Angelis’ Jumpy is a strange play. At once about Hilary approaching fifty and the impending sense of a mid-life crisis that follows her around, it also follows Hilary’s relationship with her often-wayward fifteen-year-old daughter Tilly, and the accompanying dramas, struggles, and battles which seem to follow her around. Claimed to be “the funniest new play the West End has seen in ages” when it premiered in London in 2012, it comes across here as blunt, unsubtle, and coarse, and it makes for a rather long and tedious two-and-a-half hours of theatre.

Letters from the front: Ensemble’s The ANZAC Project

As the Western world bands together to commemorate the various centenaries of the First World War, there is any number of concerts, plays, books, films, television series and CDs to mark the occasion. To mark the centenary of the Gallipoli landing, the Ensemble theatre is staging The ANZAC Project, a double-bill of two new plays, which looks at the event and asks ‘what does it mean to us, now, here, today?’ Ensemble theatre is not alone in asking these questions, but perhaps we should all be taking a leaf out of these umpteen commemorations and asking ourselves ‘why is this military failure so celebrated?’
The ANZAC Project is comprised of two new plays – ‘Dear Mum and Dad’, by Geoffrey Atherden, in which a woman discovers a letter from her great-grandfather and learns of his experiences during World War I; and ‘Light Begins To Fade’, by Vanessa Bates, in which several stories intertwine, not least a group of television writers trying to find their way to tell the story of the Gallipoli landing, and the wider issues it opens up. While united in theme and idea, these plays work in very different ways and, ultimately, Bates’ is the more successful, the more theatrical.


STC's Endgame

Samuel Beckett is revered as an absurdist avant-garde writer and playwright whose works frequently break with the conventions of the time and forge new paths through the literary landscape. Perhaps most well-known for Waiting for Godot, his work offers a dismally bleak and darkly tragicomic outlook on life, but try as we might now to bring a freshness to these sixty-year-old plays, it feels like Beckett’s original relevance is now wearing thin and that these works are starting to show their age.
Premiered in 1957, Endgame famously stars Hamm (a man who is blind and cannot stand), his servant Clov (who is unable to sit), and his parents Nell and Nagg (who are both legless, and live in garbage bins). Bound as each of them are to their positions on stage, the play has a certain staticness to it, a caged-in-ness to it, whereby nobody can move, no one can leave, and the only way out is death. It is undeniably nihilistic in its view of the world, and it makes for gruelling viewing.


Eamon Flack and the bigness of spirit

Sometimes you encounter a piece of theatre which seems to shine with its own light, theatre which reaches out into the darkness of the auditorium and gently holds you, slips its fingers under your skin and doesn’t let go for a very long time afterwards. It was March 2012, and Rita Kalnejais’ Babyteeth was playing in Belvoir’s Upstairs theatre; billed as “a mad, gorgeous, bittersweet comedy about how good it is not to be dead yet,” it was filled with a warmth, a big-heartedness, and an almost-visible hum, and was – still is – one of the most beautiful new plays I’ve ever seen.
Babyteeth was directed by Eamon Flack, Belvoir’s Associate Director – New Projects. I don’t make a secret of being a strong admirer of his work as a director, in particular his work at Belvoir. Following his recent appointment as Belvoir’s new artistic director from 2016, I sat down with Flack at the beginning of the year for what became an in-depth discussion about the classics, dramatic and historical context, his intentions as incoming artistic director, and about the need for compassion.


Elektrafying: Belvoir’s Elektra / Orestes

In uncertain times, we often turn to myths and classic stories to help us make sense of what we are seeing in the world around us. Despite their age, the Greek tragedies still maintain their appeal, and perhaps more so than before, are currently experiencing a new breath of life in often radically-reimagined settings and versions. In the past year alone in Sydney, we have seen versions of Antigone, Phaedre, Oedipus Rex, with a version of the Oresteia still to come, no doubt among countless others. And while I’ve never really been a particular fan of the Greek plays, there is something in their cyclical nature, in the way they routinely invoke powers larger and more vengeful than anything we can imagine as humans that is intoxicating and affecting.
Enter Belvoir’s Elektra / Orestes, a kind of double-bill about two members of the house of Atreus, told with verve and boldness by Anne-Louise Sarks and Jada Alberts. Rather than a double-bill in the traditional theatrical sense – two plays in repertory, often playing back-to-back on one night – here we have the same story told from two different perspectives, literally from either side of a wall. In many ways – thematically, mythically – it is a companion to Kit Brookman’s Small and Tired from 2013: where that was first and foremost about people and relationships, Elektra / Orestes is about actions and consequences, and is a good old fashioned revenge tragedy.