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.