Tag Archives: Theatre

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.

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Next to Normal, ANU Arts Centre*

9 Jul

I attended Next to Normal by Phoenix Players at the ANU Arts Centre as a guest

It’s a normal day in the Goodman household and it’s starting before dawn.

Diana Goodman (Janelle McMenamin) can’t sleep so she’s awake when her cheeky teenage son Gabe (Will Huang) arrives home well past curfew; she distracts ‘boring’ husband Dan (Grant Pegg) – woken by their voices – with the promise of sex; and she offers pathetic comfort to studies-stricken overachieving daughter Natalie (Kaitlin Nihill). As the sun rises and the day officially starts, Diana begins making sandwiches for her family but it’s obsessive and repetitive and obsessive and repetitive and obsessive and repetitive until she finds herself on the kitchen floor, still making the sandwiches. The family collectively recoils before Dan organises a trip to the psychopharmacologist (Joel Hutchings). Diana is bipolar depressive with delusional episodes, and so it has been for 16 years.

It’s been a normal day in the Goodman household.

And while this is how we’ve been introduced to Di’s feelings about her family, soon it’s revealed how her family is feeling and behaving. Daughter Natalie craves attention from her mother yet finds no sympathy for her and feels that Dan has equally abandoned her; she finds warmth in stoner music student Henry (Daniel Steer). Gabe is the golden child who supports his mother’s choices and desires to feel something; to not have her life dulled by medicine. Dan is depressed and tired; Dan knows he controls as much as he can without controlling anything important.

And the catch? (Potential spoiler so this is in white text – highlight over if you really want to read it.) One of these characters isn’t alive.

Next to Normal is powerful, relatable theatre. With a rock – and occasionally comedic – score there’s real risk that it could descend into the absurd or glib. It never does.

This is a musical that’s about competition for presence. Gabe and Natalie compete, unequally, to be noticed; to have their presence acknowledged. Dan seeks validation without ever asking for it. His desire for his presence to anchor Diana is palpable, yet it occurs, achingly, just once when she is in a particularly vulnerable position; he simply doesn’t have the strength of presence to help her. Doctors Fine and Madden use every trick in the book to help make Diana fulfill her presence – to make her present in the here and now, to not drag the past with her. And it’s about what can happen – to anyone, any demographic, any background – when someone is no longer present in our lives.

Each actor is genuinely strong in their roles but Pegg and McMenamin – Dan and Diana Goodman – is the duo that matters and they convince me. Together, the ensemble is musically extraordinary – the last song is perfect – but individually inconsistent. Consistently excellent Will Huang (High Fidelity) seems to be exercising restraint until his final songs in Act II which are powerful and aggressive. Grant Pegg (great in last year’s production of Evita) and Kaitlin Nihill (this year’s Beauty and the Beast) are strong throughout, while I would have liked to hear some stronger voices from Joel Hutchings and Daniel Steer who each appear to be solid but quiet.

Most perplexing of all is McMenamin. While her acting is utterly brilliant and she is a superb casting choice, I dismiss her musical voice early as weak, before being thrown (in a very good way) by powerful ballads – and so this rollercoaster continues throughout the night. I genuinely believe she is excellent – and I hear every few songs just how good she is – but I just don’t hear it throughout and it’s distracting.

For the dark themes it delicately explores, this isn’t a musical that preaches but one that is matter-of-fact throughout. Supporting this is a bare-bones set, which seems purposely designed for the skilled actors to help jumpstart what the scene calls for – a simple, slightly raised platform is easily Natalie’s bedroom in one scene and a pulsing nightclub in the next.

It’s 20 minutes too long – like West Side Story, all the action and the best songs are in Act I (that’s where the similarities end, I promise) – so I recommend a glass of wine in intermission.

But I’m nitpicking, of course. This is one of the best pieces of theatre I’ve experienced in at least 18 months. Sure, it’s Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning, and that helps. But it’s the fact that – yet again – a local company has pulled off theatre like this with such aplomb that makes it unmissable.

Date: Friday, 8 July 2016

Where: ANU Arts Centre, Union Court

When: On until Saturday 23 July

Cost: An adult ticket is $35; see here for full price details 

Worthwhile factor: Highly worthwhile

Grease, The Q

31 Jul

Grease – the classic 70s broadway hit and film – arrived in Queanbeyan on Wednesday night, bringing clever costume designs, the well-known songs and the blatant sexism.

Say what?

I’ve had a long, fraught relationship with the musical as I’ve revisited it over the years. On the one hand, I love it. The songs are (mostly) fantastic. The music is great. The cast and costumes are great. The choreography is great. And, from a young age, the message was apparent that Sandy was actually pretty annoying and just was too hard on Danny; she was so much more likeable when she just relaxed, took up smoking, and made her voice a breathy one (and I couldn’t wait for that end of school party once I finished year 12, either). In my pre-teens it occurred to me that a whole lot of the behaviour between the characters in the movie was actually incredibly cringeworthy, or – more accurately – cruel. In my early teens (okay I’ve seen it heaps of times) a whole lot more sexual references finally clicked for me and, in the middle of singing along to songs, I found myself largely horrified about the messages being promoted.

The horror and the discomfort hasn’t changed. And Grease hasn’t changed, either – it’s still hugely popular and a theatrical feast which is exactly why I was drawn back to it. So, while I could write weeks of blog posts analysing the politically incorrect, sexist and otherwise questionable messages, this is a review blog and thus: here’s the review.

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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.

Coming up in Canberra #5 + a giveaway!

15 Sep

Helloooooo, spring! My favourite season. I feel like I spend all winter waiting for spring to arrive, and while a) we haven’t hit the spring equinox quite yet and b) there have been some cold mornings, the glorious days so far have me convinced that we may – may – have even completely missed false spring (please, please).

These next few glorious months call for another Coming up in Canberra. You can read my previous recommendations for the year: #1, #2, #3 and #4.

But first – what did I enjoy of what I recommended last time?

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The Government Inspector, Canberra Theatre Centre*

29 May

* I attended this production as a guest of Canberra Theatre Centre.

The Government Inspector is a famous Russian play. This production, by Belvoir Street Theatre, is The Government Inspector. This production is also not The Government Inspector. Confused? Read on.

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Schnitz and Giggles at the Hellenic Club

20 Dec

Schnitz and Giggles is a concept devised by members of Impro ACT (impro being short for improvisation), held at the Hellenic Club on Monday nights from 6.30pm over these past few months.

The name pretty much explains it all: come for a meal, and for your trouble, you’ll get a few hours of improvised theatre (and that part’s for free!).

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