Reviewed by Frank Barnes

So many good productions since we last met, dear reader, that I will say something about them all but in no great detail. What is clear is that the future of musical theatre is well assured, with so many of our trained performers getting opportunities to shine in our smaller theatres like The Hayes Theatre and The Reginald at The Seymour Centre and with New Theatre attracting more semi-professionals.

Sondheim on Sondheim

Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Conceived and originally directed on Broadway by James Lapine
Directed by Jay James-Moody
Squabbalogic Independent Music Theatre
The Reginald Theatre

The opening song in Act 2 is titled “God”, and is the only song written especially for this show which is a show about Sondheim who many (including myself) consider the greatest writer of musical theatre.

His shows have rarely been big hits and his only charting song is “Send in The Clowns” from A Little Night Music. But among theatre loveys he is adored.

Sweeney Todd is regularly on the subscription seasons in opera companies, many forget he wrote the lyrics for West Side Story and Gypsy, and the film of Into the Woods with Meryl Streep and Johnny Depp opens at Christmas. I am told his music is really difficult to perform, as the song “God” tells us.

In this well-directed and staged production we have eight performers and eight musicians take us through some of the big songs and some of the not-so-good, linked by Sondheim himself on screen telling us about himself: he was almost raised by Oscar Hammerstein and his mother really did not want him.

After a wonderful overture with the company singing the excerpts we hear an early song written when he was still at school in 1946, “I'll Meet You at The Donut”.

From there we jump to 1962 passing over (for now) West Side Story and Gypsy to the difficulties in finding an opening number for A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. He points out that when the opening number was “Forget War” and then “Love is in the Air”, the show flopped but from the moment they started with “Comedy Tonight” the show became, and still is, a big hit.

We are then taken on a musical journey through songs from Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, Sweeney Todd, Merrily We Roll Along, Sunday in the Park with George, Into the Woods and Passion.

Some of the songs are group and each performance of these were outstanding and most of the individual performances worked well with just a couple of exceptions.

The backing from the small orchestra was initially scratchy but improved as it warmed up. The choreography was great. It is wonderful to see our small companies taking on such good shows and pulling them off.


Hugo Weaving as Macbeth. Photo: Brett Boardman

By William Shakespeare
Directed by Kip Williams
Sydney Theatre Company
Sydney Theatre

I gave a standing ovation to this wonderful production but there has been some criticism about the uncomfortable seats, the use of actors as doubles, Hugo Weaving for not listening, shortened text and much more. Nevertheless I was enthralled with the concept and the acting.

Weaving was magnificent as were the rest of the cast. I found the show clarified much of the complexities of the play. It was exciting to sit on the stage of the theatre and watch the play from a totally different perspective.


By Sue Smith
Directed by Geordie Brookman
Sydney Theatre Company
Wharf 1

We rarely get to see theatre that deals with issues as modern and complex as our relationship with another country, in this case, China. On the surface this two-hander is about the 25-year relationship of Dylan (Tim Walter) and the Chinese student he meets at university, Lian (Ursula Mills).

During that period both characters grow, and grow apart and reunite in strange ways. She becomes a mining magnate and he a Greens senator. They drift apart after Tiananmen Square and circumstances bring them back together.

Their relationship reflects the sometimes strained relationship of Australia and China which is captured beautifully by the production which is a co-production with the State Theatre Company of South Australia. It is an enjoyable and worthy addition to the list of important Australian plays.

Louder Than Words

Scattered Rhymes
Choreographed by Rafael Bonachela
Choreographed by Andonis Foniadakis
Sydney Dance Company
Sydney Theatre

I have been a fan of this company since it was started by Graeme Murphy and Janet Vernon. Since they left and the artistic direction was taken over by Rafael Bonachela the company has gone in a different direction. The dancers' technique was always good but now is close to perfect with the addition of training that gives them all amazing strength. This was needed for these two frenetic compositions.

The other thing Bonachela does is bring in guest choreographers, in this case the renowned Greek choreographer Andonis Foniadakis, and adding elements of music especially written by local composers, great costumes and lighting and set designs.

I am forever in awe of these performers with their strength, their skills and their beauty as they move in duets, quads, trios and full company movements.

Children of the Sun

By Maxim Gorky
In a new version by Andrew Upton
Directed by Kip Williams
Sydney Theatre Company
Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House

I believe Kip Williams is quickly showing himself as one of our finest directors. He certainly unravelled the density of Under Milkwood and Macbeth and here he has delivered my favourite production of the year.

Andrew Upton was commissioned to write an adaptation for The Royal National Theatre in London and it was it was a big success. He further adapted it for a smaller cast, and Williams has delivered a magnificent reading with the help of the creative crew of designer David Fleischer who has designed a reality with a revolve that works beautifully, assisted by the costumes of Renee Mulder, lighting by Damien Cooper and sound from Max Lyandvert.

The cast, which includes Helen Thomson, Valerie Bader, Justine Clarke, Jacqueline McKenzie and Toby Truslove are all magnificent as the middle-class family in Russia living their lives of self-indulgence and ignoring the reality of what is soon to confront them. While they are aware of cholera spreading through the peasants they ignore what else might be coming their way.

From the opening scene, where the revolving stage allows us to find out about each of the characters, to the fiery end we are treated to a production as fine as any.

Frank Barnes is retired and really looking forward to The Glass Menagerie, which he sees in a couple of weeks.