Theatre

Reviewed by 
Frank Barnes

(From left) Robert Menzies, Sarah Peirse and Harry Greenwood portray a family with issues to confront in Fury - Photo by Ingvar Kenne

Blak
Bangarra Dance Theatre
Artistic Director Stephen Page
Drama Theatre Sydney Opera House 

Blak is a great title for this wonderful show which demonstrates the distance this important company has travelled. The production is presented in three parts each exploring aspects of Indigenous culture today.

The first part, “Scar” is performed by the seven men in the company. It was conceived and directed by Daniel Riley McKinley, who also choreographed the piece with the male dancers. Daniel has been a dancer with the company since 2007 and he performs here. I have no doubt that this closeness helped with the development of the piece. It opens in the present with the young men in a sort of gang. They are all dressed in hoodies and seem to fall apart as modern society takes them in individual directions, not all of them good. I was reminded of the film Once Were Warriors. The men find their security and support as they come back together as a group and society, and here they go back to traditional dancing.

Similar ideas are investigated in “Yearning”, which is performed by the seven women dancers. The concept and direction is by Stephen Page, who also choreographed the piece with the female dancers. It is very different in form to the men’s “Scar” and looks at the different phases of the lives of women. Birth, loss and language are aspects of lives made hard by suicide, domestic violence and removal of language.

The third part, “Keepers” was conceived and directed by Stephen Page and Daniel Riley McKinley, who both choreographed the piece with the full company of dancers. It celebrates the elders, those who came before, and helps celebrate the traditions and keep alive the culture.

The production is supported by brilliant music from David Page and the collaboration with Paul Mac takes it to another level. This is the highest level of performance from this important company. It needs to be supported and you will see much more than you might have thought.

 

 


 

Fury
Written by Joanna Murray-Smith
Directed by Andrew Upton
Sydney Theatre Company Wharf 

At last we are getting to see some of Ms Murray-Smith’s plays. There have been a few, but for some reason we generally could only see them in Melbourne or Broadway. What is so enjoyable about her plays is they are very funny, crafty and intelligent and Fury is no exception.

It is a story told with a series of scenes between the players. Rebecca (Geraldine Hakewill) is a student interviewing lecturer in neuroscience Alice (Sarah Peirse), who is about to receive a major award. Her husband Patrick (Robert Menzies) is a well-reviewed novelist and all seems happy in their family and with their son Joe (Harry Greenwood), who attends an exclusive private school. The opening scenes are very funny and lull us into a false sense of security.

It all turns on its head after Joe’s teacher (Tahki Saul) tells Alice and Patrick that Joe has put graffiti on a mosque. He did it with a school friend who is at the school on a sports scholarship. This leads to some wonderful scenes between the friend’s working class parents (Claire Jones and Yure Covich) and Alice and Patrick, who naturally believe their son was led on by the working class boy. They cannot believe Joe could possibly be the instigator. However, Alice’s past is exposed and things start to unravel. We learn that we cannot undo the past.

I loved the play, which is very well directed by Andrew Upton. My only problem was that the key plot point about Alice’s past is unbelievable in Australia. Until that moment, it was an intelligent and funny play. The performances were good, particularly from Peirse and Greenwood in his first outing since graduating from NIDA. Let’s hope we get to see more of this clever playwright’s work.

 

 

 


Jesus Christ Superstar

Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics by Tim Rice
Directed by Laurence Connor
Sydney Entertainment Centre

Superstar is one of those shows: everyone of a certain age has a memory of it. For me it was the first thing to happen after Hair. Like Tommy, it was written as a concept album. It was presented as a rock opera and we rushed to buy and play the 12 inch LP on high rotation on our stereos. It was released in 1970 and the first stage production was on Broadway in 1971.

In Australia, it was first staged as part of the Adelaide Arts Festival with a full production opening in Sydney in May 1972. It was exciting, I booked as soon as I could. It was to star Jon English as Judas and Michelle Fawdon as Mary, who gets to sing the hit song “I Don’t Know How to Love Him”. We were promised a new, exciting and revolutionary design by Brian Thompson, and it was directed by Jim Sharman from the famous boxing tent family, and produced by the now very famous Harry M. Miller with costumes designed by Rex Cramphorne. With Patrick Flynn as musical director and Keith Bain as dance director, the future of Sydney and Australian theatre was there in this one production.

The show was a smash hit, I suspect for two main reasons. It satisfied most Christians, but also we atheists as it treated Christ as a man. It also placed the story in the political context of upheaval. This new production, which has just toured here as an arena production, places the time as now and in London during the recent riots. To a large degree this works very well. The use of the enormous screen to project the action and other images works a treat. The set is great, but naturally it is the performances that matter most.

The reason I really went to see this was for Tim Minchin playing Judas, the character at the centre of the show. He did not disappoint. I have seen many productions, with John Farnham and Jon Stevens, a Gale Edwards production in England, and a few years ago the very first production in Madrid. It was terrible. It totally missed the point and took at least 30 minutes for Christ to die... or it seemed that way — well, Spain is a Catholic country. But Minchin is a shrewd and clever performer.

He is fully in control. His hanging scene is a masterstroke in staging. With Mel C as Mary, Ben Forster as Jesus, and Jon Stevens as Pontius Pilate, it is Andrew O’Keefe who nearly steals the show in a brilliant and funny turn as Herod. It is done as a send up of quiz shows — “Prove to me that you’re no fool, walk across my swimming pool”.

Apart from being occasionally too loud, this was a glorious production of a milestone play in theatre history. Glad I went to see it.

Frank Barnes is retired and is looking forward to seeing The Maids at the Sydney Theatre. Mostly he recommends Angels In America at Belvoir... one of the best shows of past century.