THEATRE

Frank Barnes

The beginning of the theatrical year has been very retro and my last few reviews have been part of that trend but so worthwhile and, as Peter Allen sang, “Everything Old is New Again”, I am not complaining because the plays have been worth revisiting, informing us of the present as much as of the past.

Little Shop of Horrors

Book and lyrics by Howard Ashman, music by Alan Menken
Directed by Dean Bryant
Hayes Theatre
Luckiest Productions and Tinderbox Productions

The Hayes Theatre opened two years ago with a smash hit production of Sweet Charity and it is the same creative team at work here. This show is a cult musical of a cult movie. Film producer-director Roger Corman was the master of schlock back in the day and he just put together Little Shop of Horrors with whatever he could find.

The idea that anyone would go to watch a movie about a man-eating plant was plain silly and unbelievable but it hit the zeitgeist and was also made into a successful musical comedy, then another successful movie and is now one of the most performed musicals in schools in America.

The story is set in Mushnik’s flower shop on Skid Row. After another day of no business Seymour, the geeky assistant, brings out his strange and seemingly ailing new plant, the origins of which he is unsure. Out of love he names it after the other assistant, Audrey, a sad, beaten girl who is in a relationship with a misogynistic and cruel bikie dentist.

The plant, Audrey 2, shows some strange eating habits but when it is put on display the shop becomes a great success. The story plays out as most horror stories do from there.

This is a fine cast and Tyler Coppin excels as Mr Mushnik. The reviews of this production have been mainly five-star. I enjoyed it but I would call it a four-star production of a three-star show.

If you want to see a good production of an ordinary show with lots of great ideas then this is the one to see and the Hayes Theatre is commended for continuing to bring us these shows. I think it will play much better when it moves around the country in bigger venues. Audrey 2 is a superb creation that grows just a little too big for the 120-seater Hayes.

The Blind Giant is Dancing

Zahra Newman and Dan Spielman in the Belvoir production of The Blind Giant is Dancing

By Stephen Sewell
Directed by Eamon Flack
Belvoir Upstairs

Stephen Sewell wrote his now-famous play when Neville Wran was premier of NSW, Joh Bjelke-Petersen premier of Queensland and the then left-wing ALP member for Sydney, Peter Baldwin, was severely bashed as part of a party factional battle.

As this was 30 years ago, one would like to think it is simply ancient history. It is anything but, and could well be happening now. It is the story of the ambitious and ideologically strong Allen Fitzgerald (Dan Spielman), son of working-class parents Doug (Russell Kiefel) and Eileen (Genevieve Lemon) and brother of Bruce (Andrew Henry).

Allen is married to Louise Kraus (Yael Stone), a Jewish feminist who works in a women’s shelter but is still dominated by her husband. Herein lies the story, as Allen is full of leftwing idealism but his ambition allows way too many things to corrupt him. The main side story is of ALP powerbroker Michael Wells (Geoff Morrell) doing sleazy deals with business baron Sir Leslie Harris as the Labor government will not help out his company.

While Allen succumbs to corruption in his bid for power his brother and family give a counter-position.Complexity is introduced via Ramon Gris (Ivan Donato), a union organiser from Chile reminding us of the brutal politics of Santiago.

The show is played out on an almost empty stage with just one design element, a giant see-through screen that sometimes carries information. The design is by Dale Ferguson, who also designed the dreadful but accurate costumes. Verity Hampson’s lighting helps take us to wherever the play needs us to be.

As much as I was excited about seeing this play again I was disappointed. It might have been an “off” performance but I found Dan Spielman totally underwhelming, which was particularly noticeable when the rest the cast was so good (Genevieve Lemon gives a delicious performance). Despite being overwritten it is still a very important play and could well be written again today with, sadly, the same basic story and players.

Arcadia

By Tom Stoppard
Directed by Richard Cottrell
Sydney Theatre Company
Drama Theatre Opera House

This is one of my favourite plays and this is the third production I’ve watched. I love Stoppard’s plays as they mess with your head, and as you watch and understand them you think of yourself as being very clever for doing so, which is great for self-esteem.

Travesties and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead are two of his other famous plays but he has also written for television and film, with Shakespeare in Love winning him an Oscar. My memories of Arcadia, before seeing this wonderful production, are of a very long table, Chaos theory and my love of Michelle Doake who played Thomasina in a previous production.

The play opens in Sidley Park in Derbyshire 200 years ago. Thomasina Coverley (Georgia Flood) is a precocious student of 13 years being tutored by 22-year-old Septimus Hodge (Ryan Corr) whose mind is more on his recent carnal encounter with the wife of Ezra Chater (Glenn Hazeldine) than on the mind of his young student who seems to be on the edge of discovering Chaos theory. Hovering around them in the household is Thomasina’s mother, Lady Croom, who seems to care more about their sexual future than about the brilliant mind of her daughter.

We move to the present, in the same room, in the same house, where Hannah Jarvis (Andrea Demetriades), a brilliant academic and writer, is researching the history of the occupants of the house from 200 years ago and is being pursued by the not-so-bright Bernard Nightingale (Josh McConville). They are using whatever they can find in evidence to show that Lord Byron was in that house.

This leads to the conceit: what are the connections between them all?

The play moves back and forth in time as we see discussions about sex, love, literature, science and life intertwine, but the reality as lived 200 years ago can be very different from what is interpreted from documents discovered all those years later.

As an audience we see what certain documents mean and how they got there, which is mostly very different from how they are interpreted later. The play really flies towards the end when the current house occupants dress in historic costumes and the characters from the past start occupying the same space.

A great set, costumes and performances of a great play are only spoiled very slightly for me by a poorly choreographed waltz that finishes the play. I love it when I have spent almost three hours in a theatre and smiled most of the time. And Josh McConville once again shows what a fine, diverse actor he is.

Hats Off! For Harmony

Oz Showbiz Cares, Equity Fights AIDS Inc
Seymour Centre

Now in its 19th year, this is by far my favourite Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras event. It is a magnificent gay and lesbian cabaret, with the artists donating their services for the evening. There is a 21-piece orchestra, six backing singers, the casts of Heathers and The Sound of Music, dancers, drag queens and brilliant performers galore.

Phil Scott gives a piano masterclass with variations on Bernstein’s “Somewhere” in the styles of Mozart, Chopin etc., Andy Dexterity performed a tribute to John Lennon and David Bowie, Queenie van de Zandt (currently wowing in So You Think You’ve Got Talent as Jan van de Stool), Casey Donovan, Ursula Yovich and, as they say in theatre, many, many more deliver performances from people at the top of their game. Then there was Trevor Ashley doing his Liza Minnelli act and, with Rhonda Burchmore, giving a lesson on how to work a crowd.

The show was very well hosted by Gillian Cosgriff and Tim Sharah with the best “Acknowledgement of Country” I have seen by Gumaroy Newman. One of the main organisers of this event is Jonathan Mill, a great friend of Federation and the gay and lesbian community. And like so much of the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras it is lovely to be in a Safe Place. Put it in your diary for next year.

Frank Barnes is retired but most definitely not retiring.