Friday, 15 December 2017

Friday Five: Recent Theatre Excursions

And here are another five shows I have seen and enjoyed, to various extents.

David Pearson as Sweeney Todd
  1. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street produced by Dramatic Productions at Gunghalin College Theatre - The staging of this show is problematic, as the pivotal scenes (such as the action in the barber's shop and the hellish production detail of the pie-shop) are shunted too far up-stage to receive the full attention they deserve. As is often the case with amateur musicals, director Richard Block has largely jettisoned acting ability in favour of singing voices. David Pearson as the titular barber has strong presence and a commanding voice, but doesn't bring sufficient contrast to his performance, striking the same sneering pose throughout. Kate O'Sullivan in an understudy role as Mrs Lovett has better acting chops than most, although she struggles a bit with the higher register. Demi Smith is the complete opposite bringing a piercing clarity to her singing that is noticeably absent from her dialogue; Lachlan Agett as Antony Hope does neither, and Max Gambale's Judge Turpin does a fine job of bring the sleaze and cynicsm. While some of the set pieces (No Place Like London; Pirelli's Miracle ElixirGod, That's Good!By the Sea) are entertaining, they are incongruous with the tone of the whole, and generally filling the stage with chorus members doing a number does this show a disservice. It should contrast the demonic with the divine, but instead comes across as dull and dismal.
  2. The Merchant of Venice produced by Bell Shakespeare at The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre - My problem with Bell Shakespeare is that they often re-interpret the bard's plays to fit their own sensibilities by re-arranging the words and forcing modern meanings into the text. Admittedly The Merchant of Venice is a tricky play with its tones of antisemitism, but the ending is generally one of couplings, suggesting a more tolerant and understanding future, not one of heart-rending guilt. When Jessica says 'I am much ashamed', it is in Act II and refers to her dislike of being seen in male clothing by her lover. Bell Shakespeare moves these lines to the end of the play as she rocks back and forth and pretend they reveal her feelings about the treatment of her father, Shylock. This may work for schools (and the slick production values and strong acting styles will certainly please teens used to one-dimensional characters and plots) but is insulting to the intelligence of anyone who appreciates the intrigues and subtleties of Shakespeare.
  3. Boys Will Be Boys produced by The Street at The Street - Caroline Stacey directs this hard-hitting boardroom drama in which all the men are played by women in sharp suits and cutting dialogue. The world of financial politics is clinical and unforgiving with no room for compassion, and everyone has a price. The stark set of mirrors and neon reflects the emptiness of the characters' souls, but there is also nowhere to hide. This is a problem for some of the weaker actors who are simply not strong enough to wield the crushing testosterone wrecking balls indicated by the text. Pippa Grandison stands out as Astrid, the woman with the most at stake who strikes the hardest deals and dares reveal a softer side only in song.
  4. Love/ Chamberlain produced by Moral Panic and Ainslie and Gorman Arts Centres at Ralph Wilson Theatre, Gorman Arts Centre - Playwright Bridget Mackey imagines that Courtney Love and Lindy Chamerlain might have a lot in common. Despite coming from contrasting backgrounds with seemingly disparate outlooks, they were both pilloried by the media for not responding to grief and trauma the way women are expected to react. In her play directed by Cathy Hunt, Love (Emma Macmannus) and Chamberlain (Heidi Silberman) meet several times in several contexts as they jump back and forth in time across the Federal Highway; strewn with the paper detritus of old news. They are aided and abetted by the versatile barb barnett in a dozen different and well-developed roles, but even as the Oracle (dispensing advice from a cardboard booth like Lucy in Peanuts) she doesn't have all the answers. It's great to see new work by local theatre artists, especially when it is as thought-provoking as this.
  5. Australia Day produced by Canberra Repertory at Theatre 3 - What is the purpose and relevance of the national celebration? Jonathan Biggins opens this can of worms in his satire set in a fictional country town. Lofty ideals clash with political expediency, torrential rain and an outbreak of food-poisoning. Anyone who has ever sat through tedious committee meetings will appreciate the contrasting personalities and sensitivities encompassed in the preparations conducted in a scout hall, which is freezing in the winter and boiling in the summer. The set is basic, and so is the acting and the direction by Cate Clelland, but this is not necessarily a criticism, as the script is allowed to take centre-stage where it belongs without distracting interpretations or excessive 'input'.

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