Frank Barnes

The Dog/The Cat

By Brendon Cowell and Lally Katz
Directed by Ralph Myers
Belvoir Downstairs

After my attack on Belvoir in the previous issue it is only fair that I start with this wonderful double bill currently playing at its Downstairs Theatre. Two short plays with similar themes by two Australian writers gave me and the rest of the audience one of the best nights in the theatre in a long time. These are not ground-breaking plays but are great examples of what fun there is to be had while looking at society’s foibles.

The Dog tells the story of two friends, Marcus (Benedict Hardie) and Ben (Xavier Samuel), who are flatmates and share the responsibility of their dog. On their individual walks with the dog they each run into Miracle (Andrea Demetriades) also walking her dog that joins theirs in happy humping.

She is a lecturer at Sydney Uni and they both fall in love with her, causing their already frayed relationship to become even more fractured.

In the process, Cowell manages to send up the current trends of dog ownership and hipster troves such as Tinder (a dating site) and capoeira (I had no idea what this last was until now — exercise based on a Brazilian martial arts form, involving dance, acrobatics and music).

The Cat is the more whimsical of the two and deals with a marriage breakup. Alex and Albert (Demetriades and Hardie) have thought of everything bar the cat and have to deal with sharing the responsibility of care.

In the meantime they move in with new partners (also played by them) and the cat takes no time in making clear its feelings to both of these intruders.

As with The Dog this is a light-hearted almost-romcom with underlying issues. Being a work by Lally Katz it gives the impression of being very light and frothy but also deals with issues of relationship difficulties. The rap performed by Xavier Samuel at the end is a clever and delightful highlight.

Ralph Myers’ design is a tribute to the writers and the actors as the setting is simply the black box that is the Downstairs Theatre. There are few props and simple costume changes and no lighting tricks but a great soundtrack from Stefan Gregory. The performances by the three actors are perfect and it is always wonderful to see delightful Andrea Demetriades.

These two 40-minute plays with a clever link gave me and the audience the most fun in any theatre for a long time. The season has already been extended twice. It is running until August 9, so book quickly.

Battle of Waterloo

Written by Kylie Coolwell
Directed by Sarah Goodes
Sydney Theatre Company
Wharf 1

Guy Simon, Shari Sebbens and Luke Carroll in Battle of Waterloo by the Sydney Theatre Company

The Sydney Theatre Company does not have a great track record of delivering new Australian theatre, particularly Indigenous theatre. It is good that it has taken this new play from a first-time writer and put in all the resources needed to stage it.

The play is set in the James Cook and Joseph Banks Towers in Waterloo. Cassie (Shari Sebbens) lives in a unit with her Aunt Mavis (Roxanne McDonald) and her junkie sister Sissy (Shareena Clanton).

Since her boyfriend Ray (Luke Carroll) was put in prison three years ago, Cassie has turned her life around and has successfully undertaken a fashion and design course at TAFE and is preparing for her exhibition.

When Ray is released and brings conflict back into the family, falling back into his old ways; he takes some of the family with him. Cassie has been dealing with Sissy’s drug addiction and nephew Jack’s (James Slee) loneliness and lack of care but Ray’s return throws everything out of kilter and the family gets torn apart once more.

While appreciating this was a new play by a new writer I felt she was trying to tackle too much in one play. It was by far the best of the new Indigenous plays that have been shown in the last year but needed to be pruned and rethought; having said that, most of the audience loved it and it is great that STC has done this.

Triassic Parq is the newest production from Squabbologic Independent Music Theatre Company which is quickly establishing itself, along with Hayes Theatre, as the best indie companies producing musicals.

This was an off-Broadway show and is a send-up of Jurassic Park — 80 minutes of fun with a cast and production as good as you will see. It is terrific that we now are being given the opportunity to see shows that would usually never see the light of day in Australia. I am really looking forward to seeing Squabbologic’s production of Grey Gardens in November as I am of seeing Heathers at The Hayes in a few weeks’ time.

Finally, I want to mention the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Choir and its latest venture, Cheek to Cheek: A Ballroom Fantasia. This was a brave new venture by the choir, much more than a simple concert, with a number of performers and lots of ballroom dancers telling a story (like Strictly Ballroom) linked by songs sung wonderfully by the choir which has improved over the years to the high standard at which it now performs.

The silly story of straight dancers rebelling so they can dance with others of the same sex was simply an opportunity for the choir to sing some great songs but occasionally the story and dancers (who were great and I am proud to say some are my friends) got in the road of the singing.

No matter: it is always a pleasure to be in a safe space with other LGBTI people and watch our own people do what they do best.

Frank Barnes is retired and loves LGBTIQ safe spaces such as the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.

Dead Man Talking

Henry Lawson and Banjo Paterson
A two-man show in story, song and verse

Australia’s two favourite bards, Henry Lawson and A.B. “Banjo” Paterson, return to centre-stage when veteran actors Max Cullen and Warren Fahey perform their musical play Dead Men Talking at the Federation Auditorium in August.

The lively play finds Lawson and Paterson at the Leviticus Bar & Grill, Heaven’s Gate, where they yarn about old times. Slightly cantankerous yet grateful for their old friendship, they sing, recite and engage in banter about their literary legacies and infamous war of words in The Bulletin.

“Henry Lawson and Banjo Paterson left extraordinary legacies to Australia and they should never be forgotten,” Warren Fahey says.

“Lawson and Paterson emerged at a time when we needed masterful storytellers who would talk to us in our own language and at our own level. They both took the old bush stories and songs and gave them back to us in a colloquial literary catalogue that bridged the gap between bush and city.”

Max Cullen is one of Australia’s most celebrated actors while Warren Fahey, a regular on ABC radio and television, has received numerous honours and awards but prefers to say he is a graduate of the Dingo University.

Dead Men Talking will play at the Federation Auditorium at 8pm on August 13–15 with a 2pm matinee on Sunday, August 16. Members receive a 25 per cent discount on full-price tickets. Book here and enter the discount code TEACH264.