Tag Archives: play

The Slip Lane, The Street Theatre*

28 Jul

I attended The Slip Lane as a guest of the Aspen Island Theatre Company.

It’s a rare occasion that I leave the theatre knowing less about the play I’ve just seen than before I walked in. But that’s the case with locally-based The Slip Lane by Julian Hobba.

Divorcee Matthew (Dene Kermond) lives in four-bedroom house Palmerston – yep, this play is set in Gungahlin. And Matthew has been mulling over a suggestion for a road improvement – a slip lane at Gundaroo Drive and Gungahlin Drive (Extension).

Matthew is so enthused with his suggestion, he heads to Access Canberra – the Service Centre in Gungahlin, no less – to wait to provide his suggestion which falls on deaf ears. While he waits, he meets Missy (Clare Moss) who lives near Percival Hill (a walk I’ve reviewed!) (I presume she’s in Crace). She’s there to complain about a creature she’s seen at night that has bulging red eyes and three heads (and she gets excellent service, with rangers continually visiting but finding nothing). Matthew is happy to come check out what’s going on and allay her concerns – and perhaps romance is on the cards, too.

Matthew ventures out into the nature park armed with Missy’s child’s toy sword. I’m convinced that this creature is going to turn out to be Chris the Sheep and I can continue to relate and enjoy what initially feels like a very Canberran play.

Alas, it’s not Chris the Sheep. It’s a demon and it really does have three heads and bulging red eyes.

Mind you – this all happens in the first 20 minutes of the 90 minute play. What follows next is the demon’s attempt for Gungahlin to secede, Hutt River Province-style; a campaign to make the slip lane reality; an approach to make Matthew a successful Senate candidate in what’s a nod to preference whisperer Glenn Druery; a murder; onesies; and garden gnomes crying blood.

The play swings from light humour to very dark themes; sincere moments to comedic violence. Sure, it’s absurdist – but it’s also overwhelming. The four actors fill the space and the themes, and on top of all their lines in the 90 minute, no-interval play, each delivers at least one solid soliloquy for reasons which I can’t quite grasp.

I’m really impressed with the use of digital backdrops to enhance each scene. Access Canberra really does look like Access Canberra; I can imagine the dripping blue light feature wall in any home built in the last 5 years; and Percival Hill is, I think, a grainy image of Percival Hill which makes it feel quite immersive. It, together with the clever use of lighting, helps centre a play which otherwise tries to do too much.

Date: Thursday, 28 July 2016

Cost: I attended as a guest; tickets are $32-38

Want more? Purchase tickets at thestreet.org.au. It’s on until Sunday evening.

Advertisements

Tuesdays With Morrie, The Q

5 Mar

There is no ‘point’ in loving; loving is the point.

Tuesdays with Morrie is the real-life story of sociology professor, Morrie Schwartz, in the final stages of his life as he learns how to die (and what that means to live) and imparts life lessons to an old student of his, Mitch Albom.

I first read Albom’s best-selling book – which became a movie, and then a theatre production – in the Easter school holidays of Year 11. It changed me, and I don’t say that lightly. I read it twice, quickly. I then vividly remember transcribing quotes from the book to a notepad and filling up page after page with inspiration. Whenever I’m asked to name a favourite book, Tuesdays with Morrie invariably makes the list (because, honestly, who can choose just one favourite book?). So, on Wednesday night, I take this longstanding relationship with the book to Queanbeyan’s theatre, The Q, to see it recreated on stage, starring locals Graham Robertson as Morrie and Dave Evans as Mitch.

Mitch’s friendship with Morrie begins at university in the 1970s, with Mitch soaking up Morrie’s wisdom – beginning by taking his lectures, to turning up at his office, to having lunch at the cafeteria (where eating plays second fiddle to animated conversation) – usually on Tuesdays. Morrie is the sort of person who quite literally dances to his own beat. But way leads onto way: Mitch graduates, and while he emphatically promises to keep in touch with Morrie, life steps in: profoundly affected by his young uncle’s death from pancreatic cancer, Mitch abandons ambitions as a jazz pianist and throws himself into the hustling world of sports journalism, living each day to the fullest, not missing a second (or so he thinks). Mitch spreads himself thin, trying to cover as much ground in life as possible, with little thought for his old professor.

Fast forward 16 years, and late one night Mitch is flicking through TV channels and spots Morrie on Ted Koppel’s Nightline. Morrie’s dying of ALS (remember the ice bucket challenge?) aka Lou Gehrig’s disease aka motor neuron disease. He’s agreed to share with a national television audience what dying is all about, in the hopes that people can learn something from it. (Bear in mind this is a true story – you can see these very episodes on YouTube.)

Mitch hops on a plane to pay his respects to Morrie, intending to visit once – a guilty obligation. But as soon as he arrives he’s captivated again like he was 16 years ago, and agrees to drop in every Tuesday. Morrie wants to treat these visits as lessons, and asks Mitch to be a diligent student; to prepare questions for Morrie to answer. In the lessons they cover life, death and love – the latter being the only rational act – as Morrie grows weaker, and Mitch fights off the pressures from his work.

I can appreciate it sounds a bit weird to endorse a play that’s essentially about someone dying – and Robertson portrays this in equal measures of punch and sensitivity – but Morrie’s death is in fact a vehicle for the real story: how to live. Like the book, the lessons are conveyed with fierce warmth, and here Robertson really shines. Despite being wheelchair-, La-Z-Boy- and bed-bound for most of the play, there’s no mistaking the very nature of Morrie – a testament to Robertson’s skill and respect for the role.

The play itself is focused on the relationship between Morrie and Mitch, with only side references to the superficial life Mitch leads which is inconsistent with the teachings of Morrie. While there are occasional references to how much the time with Morrie changes Mitch, a fault of the adaptation is how little it draws on the key conversations, quotes and exchanges conveyed in the book which are instrumental in these changes in Mitch. Overlooking these exchanges means the emotional reaction of Mitch by Morrie’s bedside near the end loses its potency.

Evans and Robertson keep perfect pace with one another, particularly when they’re trading witty remarks. However, at times Evans shows restraint in his role as Mitch, serving more as a platform than a companion to ensure the character of Morrie receives the audience’s focus. This would be smart if Evans was paired with a weaker actor, but Robertson is never going to be outshone as Morrie. Evans evidently has the skill to really embrace Mitch – to make him bigger and more complicated – and should.

Given how immobile his co-star is, Evans does a wonderful job in filling the space, and making the stage feel like a working home. Some lighting to reflect the changing seasons, and many – many – more books would perfect the setting.

No matter the format, Tuesdays with Morrie is a remarkable story which needs to be told, and told again. This stage production does justice to the story’s warmth, spirit and heart. Bring tissues.

Date: 8pm-9.30pm, Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Where: The Q, Queanbeyan

Cost: $47 for non-subscribers (as a subscriber I paid $37)

Value for money: High

Worthwhile factor: Highly worthwhile

Want more? Buy tickets here. Read some of the beautiful quotes here.

High Fidelity, ANU Arts Centre*

8 Feb

* I attended the High Fidelity musical as a guest of Phoenix Players.

First there was the 1995 Nick Hornby book (set in London), then there was the 2000 movie starring John Cusack and Jack Black (set in Chicago), and then came the musical. Most importantly, the musical then came to Canberra, in the form of a production by local Canberra amateur theatrical company Phoenix Players.

High Fidelity is the story of a directionless record store owner Rob (Zach Raffan) and his girlfriend, Laura (Josie Dunham) – well, his ex-girlfriend, having just broken up with him. Rob’s been through all manner of painful break-ups, but this one really stings – especially when Josie shacks up with his former neighbour Ian (David Cannell). With some help from his friends and music (and rockstars themselves), and a healthy dose of reflection on his past break-ups, Rob starts to re-evaluate his life and determine if Laura could still be part of it.

While Rob grapples with his love-life, his two employees Dick (Will Huang, who starred in the excellent production of The Burning last year) and Barry (Max Gambale) – guys who he hired on a part-time basis but have been coming to the store every day for the past four years  – manage the maintenance of the store’s mediocrity by insulting most of its customers, as they pursue some love interests of their own.

I’m struck at first by the clever set design and use of light; little change is needed to easily flick from scene to scene as moveable walls rotate to turn one part of the record store to Rob’s small apartment, or a scene at a gym. The band-shirt costumes are great, and I find myself wondering where this collection has been pulled from.

The production lacks some of the 90s grunginess I’m expecting but it’s easy to overlook this thanks to some stand-out performances. Josie Dunham’s and Amy Dunham’s (Liz, Rob and Laura’s friend) voices are superb: every scene in which they sing is a thrill. Huang and Gambale provide comic relief (along with their own excellent voices), and support Raffan’s efforts. I’m particularly impressed with Gambale: the character is played by Jack Black in the film which is huge to live up to, but Gambale makes the role his own. The tricky part of the show being a musical, however, is that the score is only influenced by classic rock genres – and, to be fair, performed brilliantly, if not a little loudly – meaning the actual music you’d expect in a record store is missing. It’s this which made the film for me, and there’s a vacuum without it.

There’s a lack of chemistry between Josie Dunham and Raffan which is particularly distracting at the end. Rob’s relationship with music doesn’t feel fully spelt out, so the scenes with ‘stars’ including Neil Young lack context and I think could be done away with; they make a long second half feel it. Despite this, the show’s able to be energetic and fun while putting forth the story of really a rather morose character; this energy is borne from what feels like a real commitment to the production from the cast and production team. It’s a commendable show to make for an enjoyable Saturday night.

Date: Saturday, 7 February 2015

Cost: I attended as a guest of Phoenix Players

Where: ANU Arts Centre (near the refec – ish)

Want more? The show runs until 21 February. Tickets and more details can be found here.

Love Letters, The Q

23 May

I’ll admit it: I don’t know a lot about Queanbeyan, and – while it’s an unusual position to take – it’s for that reason I’ve got no real justification to bag it, or defend it. I do have to admit that Queanbeyan has some things that Canberra doesn’t have. Not always, but sometimes.

Some (a lot) of the performances at The Q – Queanbeyan’s Performing Arts Centre – fall into this category. Touring shows seem to often make it as far as Queanbeyan but skip Canberra; and I can see why some performances choose to just head to one of our two cities, not both (we’re rather close to one another, after all).

Love Letters – starring real life partners Huw Higginson (yes, you read right, that’s PC Garfield from The Bill!) and Hannah Waterman (Eastenders) – is a small production, and while Canberra has a number of smaller performance spaces of suitable size, The Q seems seems to suit it perfectly fine.

Continue reading

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Canberra Theatre

22 Mar

I like the Courtyard Studio at the Canberra Theatre: its seats are relatively comfortable, the tiering between rows is right so you can actually see, and there’s a real intimacy – perfect for many forms of theatre. It works just right for the local production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

Continue reading