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.