Frank Barnes

Xanadu The Musical

Book by Douglas Carter Beane
Music and Lyrics by Jeff Lynne and John Farrar
Matthew Management and Hayes Theatre Company
Hayes Theatre

I am pleased to say that the Hayes has continued to deliver high-quality productions of musicals unlikely to be produced by the big management companies. Xanadu is a lovely, camp send-up of the movie and so the leading “lady”, Kira, is an Aussie based on Olivia Newton John.

The show opens as a mural of characters from Greek mythology painted on the wall at Venice Beach come to life. The story is very, very silly — as was the movie — involving attempts to reopen a roller disco venue and the gods not being happy about Klio (Kira) falling in love with a mortal.

The performances (as has become standard at the Hayes) are uniformly great and the costumes, set, lighting and music are top-notch. The songs in this flimsy show are wonderful and yet again Hayes shows us it really is the little theatre that could.

Hay Fever

Written by Noel Coward
Directed by Imara Savage
Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House
Sydney Theatre Company

At the end of this show, my companion and I turned to each other and asked “Why?”. Noel Coward was a famous writer of drawing room comedy in the early heady days of last century. His plays were subversive and this one is no different.

One weekend, the Bliss family discover that each of them has invited a guest for the weekend unbeknown to the others. The guests arrive and for some reason each goes off with someone other than the one who invited them. In the end, the guests leave without the family even noticing as the members are so self-absorbed.

It is hard to analyse why this production did not work. It certainly wasn’t the fault of the cast. This was a collective of some of our best, working on a set that exemplified the bohemian lifestyle of the family down to a bath that worked as a key design function of the living room.

I suspect the problem was the director’s decision to slow the dialogue to emphasise the “Englishness” of the characters. It made the show seem like an antique that needed to remain in the attic. It was a rare misstep by director Imara Savage and the STC.


Sachin Joab, Paula Arundell, Sophie Ross and Glenn and Glenn Hazeldine in Disgraced. Photo: Prudence Upton

Written by Ayad Akhtar
Directed by Sarah Goodes
Wharf 1
Sydney Theatre Company

I was really looking forward to this play. It was great to see the STC show something that was more diverse than the usual Caucasian fare.

The play is set in the very middle-class home of the very rich Amir (Sachin Joab) and his non-Muslim artist wife, Emily (Geraldine Hakewell filling in for Sophie Ross). He is moving away from his religion while she is looking more into it. They are visited by his nephew, Abe (Shiv Palekar), at the instigation of Emily but the visit leads to a widening schism between the uncle and nephew.

At a dinner party with Emily’s Jewish agent, Isaac (Glenn Hazeldine), and his acerbic African American wife, Jory (Paula Arundell), the evening plays out with discussions on religion and other differences but is ruined by the exposition of an affair between two of the characters. While this was the catalyst for the final direction of the play I found it to be a very unsatisfying cliché. I also found the end to be unsatisfying.

The play at least provoked discussion, which was good as I also saw this on that very wet weekend and somehow dodged getting drenched despite catching six buses. It might have been that there was a need for an understudy but even though I thought she was very good the change could have thrown the cast off-balance.

Finally, on the Belvoir stage was Hannah Gadsby and her show Dogmatic. It was wonderful. Clever and seemingly totally relaxed, and extremely funny and observant.

And now, I am off to indulge in four weeks of theatre in London. I’ve already booked three shows. There will be a side-trip to Ireland. In preparation, I went to see the National Theatre Live film of Hangmen by Martin McDonagh (In Bruges). As you would expect from a Royal Court production it was clever, very black and very funny.

Frank Barnes is retired