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Saturday, 28 June 2014


David Mamet is a genius, a master of language and theatre. It seems you can’t deviate far from his original intent with such remarkable writing and such a simple premise. But there are, undoubtedly, things that can improve his script and others that can hinder it. Over all the Sydney Theatre School’s production of this classic was fairly standard, but it didn’t elevate the text and allow the audience to engage with the content in a way that was moving or monumental by any means.

Oleanna is a play that explores gender politics and education, sexual harassment and the exploitation of power. The play’s strength lies in its controversy, in its ability to subvert our expectations and furthermore, our understanding of the education system.

The two-person play, featuring a professor, John, (Jerome Pride) and a student, Carol (Grace O’Connell), observes the interesting power struggle between the pair and invites the audience to reflect on our relationships with each other.

Unfortunately, despite the strength of these two performers individually, the pairing didn’t feel right. Speech patterns and idiosyncrasies made their performances unusually similar, and then further rehearsed mannerisms seemed overused.

There were some issues with timing, with one of them missing a beat, interrupting late, or having to wait for the phone to ring once they ran out of scripted lines. The lighting was an issue too: the houselights on for the duration of the performance detracted from the intimacy of the play and the space. Such a technique is only really valuable when used in interactive theatre or in a verbatim setting. Wanting to be Brechtian doesn't always deliver the political message you want if the techniques you use stop its audience engaging in the play. In this context, it wasn’t necessary – a more traditional approach would have sufficed. Also, scene changes were too long (despite the cover up of some upbeat jazz music), and some very immature blocking by director, Jerome Pride (note: played role of John), didn’t do the performance any favours. 

As the play progressed they did find a comfort in their delivery.  Naturally, the play does become more intense and to their credit, they kept up with the pace of Mamet’s writing, which I feel they struggled with in the opening scenes. And true, it was opening night, so perhaps things will settle with time, but at this stage it is just isn’t tight enough. A little more confidence, conviction and careful consideration of characters – keeping them strong and separate – will do this performance wonders.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

HAYES THEATRE'S 'O.C.DIVA' dissected by Rhiona

Obsessive and slightly neurotic, Hilary Cole plays upon her quirks and idiosyncrasies in this lighthearted one woman show about trying to make it in the musical theatre world. Cole reflects on both societal obsessions such as technology and her own addictions, featuring Rubik’s cubes and counting in multiples of five. Throughout the one-hour show, she dazzles the audience with old school cabaret charm interjected with moments of pure comedy gold.

Cole uses the familiar constructs of cabaret to present an interesting and innovative show.  She is self-deprecating and self-aware, but one only wishes she would’ve pushed these aspects of the performance to their extreme. But Cole, undoubtedly, has a strong voice, well suited to musical theatre and cabaret, and her impersonation of Bernadette Peters was right on point. 

Her satirical approach to the industry is refreshing, as is her ability to put playful spins on well-known songs. The show’s repertoire is diverse and well suited to Cole’s musical style – furthermore, they are always a relevant keystone for each new scene, each new step of her journey.

The show does peter out a little toward the end when Cole takes a turn for the deeply personal, speaking about her current relationship. It is a wonderful insight and a necessary sidestep, but I was left wanting her to conclude with a little more sass. Although an interesting feature, the romance and the sentimentality can seem too saccharine at times. The balance is lost and you can only hope the strength she opens with will resurface.

Still, Cole’s performance exposes a vulnerability as she opens up to the audience about her flaws, which she is able to forget through her music. Although still very young, Cole captivated the audience with her confidence and conviction, but perhaps a total fearlessness will develop with time. It is early days for the young performer but there is no doubt that she will go on to do great things.

Monday, 9 June 2014


We begin with a young woman, Felicity (Ainslie McGlynn), writhing out of bed from beneath a stranger’s arms after a drunken night. Flustered and flailing about in the unfamiliar apartment, she frantically searches for her clothes and the exit, but is unable to leave once her lover wakes up. Zamir (Terry Karabelas) – who married Felicity during their drunken evening together – is charming at times, cheesy at others but mostly is threatening and aggressive. It is this quality that thwarts Felicity’s obvious solution of an annulment and fast-tracks the inevitable introduction to her parents.  

It is from this point on that the play descends into the absurd and the uncomfortable. We meet the parents: the daffy mother Luella with a keen interest in theatre, played beautifully by Alice Livingstone, and the extremist father Leonard (Peter Astridge). Leonard should be the most radical nationalist of all nationalists, but a slight weakness in Astridge’s delivery, nanoseconds behind in timing is all it was, took the character from deadly to dotty, from extremist to simply eccentric. Consequently, those around him struggled to maintain their ridiculous characters without seeming out of place. The balance was thrown and a play that attempts to highlight problems with hyper-masculinity and extremist nationalist views is suddenly characterized by higher estrogen levels than testosterone levels. Not once did I question Leonard’s “butterfly collection”, although in retrospect it’s a worry that I didn’t make the connection between the room’s real function (a place for guns and secret government discussions) and the clever cover up of an entomology room. The torture of butterflies for the sake of studies is just another clever link lost and wasted on me.

It is simply not palatable for an audience to process the satire of the violence, governments, gender roles and the nuclear family in a sitcom genre with a Looney Tunes commentary. 
The play’s main theme is clear – the danger of untested paranoia and the hyper-violence that pervades and is encouraged in our society. But to the play’s detriment, it is crowded by other worthy criticisms and gags that deviate from the theme. 

Furthermore, Director Melita Rowston’s link between Durang’s criticism of torture in the “war on terror” and the Abbott government’s treatment of asylum seekers in the program’s director’s notes is a worthy but tenuous one. The play is overtly American, to the point where the audience is only able to receive one in four of the jokes because of the lack of context. Although the play features some very clever writing and interesting internal associations, the audience is not privy to much of it because it has been overshadowed by too many ideas.

Perhaps it is Durang’s intention to overcrowd the play, to show how Felicity’s life, very much based on the traditional American girl, is filled with absurdity and farcicality and we see this as her world spins out of control until she is left with no option but to travel back in time to change the future. But this absurdity should be deeply rooted in the characters that surround Felicity. Otherwise we are left with a confusing conglomeration of characters and comedy that just sort of misses the mark.

And then there’s the ending. The violence concludes and the play takes a turn for the watered-down, featuring a meta-theatrical return to previous scenes in order to prevent a wildly illogical pre-emptive missile strike. This plot twist comes too late, past the point of confrontation and disturbance, past the point of preventing any real harm. Perhaps its ending has a deeper function- that the ability to change people is far more fantastical than the violence that proceeds it. A happy ending is a theatrical trick. Durang establishes this world of violence and irrationality and then by deviating from it in the final scenes, he ultimately leaves the audience desensitised and dissatisfied. It's like the ending of almost any sit-com (that this play tries to emulate). It slightly fizzles with disappointment because it had promised much more.

The play has good intentions, great moments and wonderful talent. It is cleverly written for the most part, and well performed too. But unfortunately, minor problems were more exposed in this play more so than they would have been in most others. These minor problems had a ripple effect that made it unstable and unsettled, unintentionally so.   

Friday, 6 June 2014

The Cafe Debris Company & Merrill Pye Productions present BEAUTY! GLAMOUR! FAME! at the Imperial Hotel, Erskineville

Strap yourself in for plenty of leopard print and pink in every design choice of Brent Thorpe’s ‘Beauty! Glamour! Fame!’ and plenty of blue in the material.

Whilst there are a few lapses in comic timing, the oldies enjoyed Thorpe, as character Brenda Trollope, and the old pop culture references (anyone else remember Flemings, Number 96 or Alvin Purple?) and his sassy attitude.

There are times his satire hits the mark, such as Deirdre Flick, talk-back caller and general conservative redneck and there are also times we find ourselves shifting uncomfortably in our plastic chairs as boundaries are pushed to their limits (Oedipus Complex, anyone?)

‘Beauty! Glamour! Fame!’ does have a touch of the vaudeville but it can feel passé in its humour, as if I’m watching the cutting edge camp humour of the 70’s, ala Benny Hill or Kenny Everett, except it’s 2014 and it feels a tad dated. But generally the grey-haired audience enjoyed a little bottom-exposing chase around the space, a little simulated sex on stage and as many minge references as possible. It wasn’t really my thing but then again, I was walking into a pub show with Thorpe in drag. Perspective, please.

Thorpe’s offsider, Zan Cross, had plenty of energy and served as a good sidekick to Thorpe and they played the contrast well.

Enter ‘Beauty! Glamour! Fame!’ at your peril and hopefully you’ll find its old-fashioned style and humour to your liking.