Reviewed by Frank Barnes

Vere (Faith)

By John Doyle
Directed by Sarah Goodes
Sydney Theatre Company and State Theatre of South Australia
Drama Theatre Sydney Opera House

If, like me, you have been a fan of John Doyle as rampaging Roy Slaven and as a writer of great television you will be delighted his second play is now on at the Drama Theatre. He is proving to be one of our very best writers.

In this moving and funny play he tells the story of Vere (Paul Blackwell), a professor who has just been given the opportunity to travel, to be part of and to see The Higgs Boson experiment.

The play opens with his end of year lecture and when he returns to his staffroom he is informed that he has early onset Alzheimer’s.

In the first act we meet the faculty as they gather to wish him luck on his trip. Except for one colleague he tells toward the end of the act we know something they don’t which puts a very human veil over the proceedings.

But it is in the second act, set a few weeks later, that the play takes off. We are in the home of his children who are about to throw a dinner party and meet the parents of the girl to whom the son is engaged.

By now the dementia has taken hold and Vere is incontinent but still planning his trip. He is also prone to extremes in temperament, levels of understanding and memory.

The dinner party descends into sheer farce as the girls' parents are a minister of religion and his fundamentalist wife and Vere challenges them on their beliefs. This tests the already frazzled patience of the family who Vere is now confusing with his work colleagues.

I found this wonderful play highly enjoyable and also challenging as my mother had Alzheimer’s for 10 years before she died. But it is also a wonderful riff on many issues facing the world today and it is done in a very humane way.

I hope Doyle continues to write for the theatre as well as TV.

An Evening with Mandy Patinkin and Nathan Gunn

Presented by John Frost, Phil Barthols and Opera Australia
Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House

These days Mandy Patinkin is best known for his role of Saul Berenson in Homeland and before this as Jason Gideon in Criminal Minds.

His most famous role was in the wonderful film The Princess Bride as Indigo Montoya. But he won a Tony award for his lead role in Sunday in the Park with George and his performances in that are a privilege to see.

In this lovely laid back concert he performs with his accompanist Paul Ford, baritone of the day Nathan Gunn and Gunn’s pianist wife Julie Jordan Gunn.

Starting with “Sitting in the Bathtub”, it is two hours of musical theatre gold.

Gunn has a smooth beautiful voice and after some operatic treats he gives us “If I Love You” from Carousel and “If Ever I Should Leave You” and “C’est Moi” from Camelot. He joins with Patinkin in “White Christmas” which Patinkin sings in Yiddish.

They do a straight version of the arrogant songs of the two Princes from Into the Woods with Agony and while Gunn sings “Ragtime Cowboy Joe”, Mandy P shows us his comedic acting skills.

There are times when the show soars with Patinkin doing “Rock-a-Bye Your Baby” and “The Ballad of John Wilkes Booth”. He is extraordinary doing his version of “Bohemian Rhapsody”.

This was Broadway royalty and a delight.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

Book by Jeffrey Lane
Music and Lyrics by David Yazbeck
Directed By Roger Hodgman
Theatre Royal

This is the musical based on the film and is great, great fun.

It is funnier than the movie in no small way due to the performances by the scoundrels themselves led by Tony Sheldon as Lawrence Jameson aided and abetted by police officer Andre Thibault, played beautifully by John Wood.

They are interrupted in their conning games by new boy on the block Freddy Benson played brilliantly by Matt Hetherington. Joining them are Amy Lehpamer as Christine Colgate and Anne Wood as excessively rich Muriel Bubanks and Katrina Retallick as the show-stopping Jolene Oakes.

With a simple but effective set by Michael Hankin and the usual superb chorus of singers, dancers and actors this is a musical in the old style with lots of fun. It’s a pity people went to see Legally Blonde but not this.

The Cake Man

Action from an uneven production of Robert J Merritt's The Cake Man

Book by Robert J Merritt
Directed by Kyle J Morrison
Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company
Belvoir Downstairs

I first saw this important play in the 1970s and it was the direction of Brian Syron in the production by the newly formed National Black Theatre that mainly remains in my mind. Syron was to become a major force in Sydney theatre for some time.

Robert J Merritt was in Bathurst Gaol when he wrote it and it is appropriate for it to be presented now at Belvoir. It holds up well and it seems remarkable that it is 50 years since it was first seen.

It is the story of white patronage and Aboriginal difficulties in modern times. The struggle of Sweet William and his drinking, wife Ruby trying to keep the family going as outside influences interfere while they struggle to find food to eat. There is a wonderful humanity underlying this play.

It is a really important piece of theatre history and it is a bit disappointing that the performances are somewhat uneven.

George Shevtsov stands out as a priest and the mission inspector while Luke Carroll makes a feast of Sweet William. Stephen Curtis’ design is brilliant in its use of the small Belvoir Downstairs space.

Frank Barnes is retired and has only three more theatre productions to see this year...he thinks.