THEATRE

Reviewed by Frank Barnes

I sometimes surprise myself over the range of shows I see over a fairly limited period of time. Since my last review I have seen modern dance (Interplay), a Broadway superstar (Bernadette Peters), a farce (Voices Off), a children’s play (Pinocchio), a musical (The Drowsy Chaperone), an absurdist play (Perplex) and an experimental modern play (Fight Night).

Interplay

Sydney Dance Company
Sydney Theatre

One of the many great things about the Sydney Dance Company since Rafael Bonachela took over has been his use of other choreographers. In Interplay we get to see three very different Acts. The first, 2 in D Minor, choreographed by Bonachela himself, uses the music of Bach and Nick Wales, and while it is not the most interesting of the three it demonstrates the superb dancing of the company. Raw Models, choreographed by Jacopo Godani, was my favourite of the three. It was stark and exciting, with a score commissioned by Ulrich Mueller and Siegfried Roessert, with the all-important lighting and costumes by the choreographer. L’Chaim, choreographed by Gideon Obarzanek, was a brave and very funny exploration of the mind of the dancers, with an actor playing an audience member questioning them about what they are doing. Having talking dancers is usually a big mistake but this worked wonderfully.

Bernadette Peters In Concert

Kurt Sneddon

Bernadette Peters

Theatre Royal
Bernadette Peters is Broadway royalty. I had never previously had the opportunity to see her live as her visits to Broadway had never coincided with any of my visits. She has had some small success in film and television (currently on our screens in Smash), but it is Broadway where she is acknowledged as one of the greats. She is known as one of the best interpreters of Sondheim but she is way more than that. Mabel in Mack and Mabel, Annie Get Your Gun, Song and Dance and Gypsy are just some of her big shows.

In this show she takes the stage for close to two hours which is no mean feat for any performer who sings and interprets and holds the audience in the palm of her hand for that time. As well as Sondheim she does Lloyd Webber, Rogers and Hammerstein, Leonard Bernstein, Jerry Herman and Kander and Ebb to name just a few of the writers. Her rendition of “There is Nothing Like a Dame” as well as “Some Enchanted Evening” from South Pacific showed her range, drama and comedy timing. It was spectacular, with extraordinary musical support which included the percussionist Cubby from The Mickey Mouse Club. It was worth the wait.

Voices Off

Written by Michael Frayn
Directed by Jonathan Biggins
Sydney Theatre Company

This is a farce about a theatre company staging a production of Nothing On, opening on the night of the dress rehearsal and then proceeding to the staging of the play a month later and then the final performance after a regional tour of England. The wonderful ploy is that Act Two is played backstage so we see the play from that perspective. This is a love song to actors and theatre, and is screamingly funny. Its cast of characters have all appeared in various productions with which I have been involved: the over-the-hill actor, the drunk, the characters who fall in love and the useless director etc. A brilliant production of an old favourite from 1982 and directed with his usual brilliance by Biggins. Quite possibly my favourite production in a long time.

The Drowsy Chaperone

Music and Lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison
Book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar
Directed by Jay James-Moody

Squabbologic Independent Music Theatre
Hayes Theatre

I first saw this wonderful musical on Broadway where the central character, The Man in the Armchair, was played by one of the writers, Bob Martin. This production has the director playing that character and he is just brilliant. Geoffrey Rush recently played the character to rave reviews in Melbourne and is to play the role in the film. The premise is a delight. The man is sitting in his room with musical posters all around the walls and puts on a recording of this 1920s show. As he does so it comes to life and we then follow the show as it happens there in his flat. Characters enter through walls and the fridge. This is a clever and funny show with really great performances by the entire company and a standout performance by Jay James-Moody. Another triumph for the Hayes Theatre.

Perplex

Written by Marius Von Mayenburg
Directed by Sarah Giles

Sydney Theatre Company
Wharf 1

In my “hippie” period I grew to love theatre of the absurd. I think I thought it would make me more intellectual. I don’t care any more about the “why” because I am so glad I developed an appreciation of the style of theatre that brought us Ionesco, Beckett, Genet, Pinter, Havel, Albee, Stoppard and many more. We get to see some of these old plays every now and then such as Waiting for Godot but we rarely see a new play. This was a beauty with lots of humour, great performances and lots of intellectual challenge. I hope we get to see more but I doubt the audience numbers are there at the Sydney Theatre Company, which is a real pity.

Pinocchio

Based on the books of Carlo Collodi
Created by Rosemary Myers with Writer Julianne O’Brien
Windmill Theatre (SA) and Sydney Theatre Company

Drama Theatre Opera House

This was the only production with which I was disappointed. I had heard lots of great things and rave reviews so I had high expectations — but that is so for most of the shows I see. There were, certainly, elements of this production that were magical. The set and lighting were nothing short of inspirational. Generally the performances were terrific (with Paul Capsis eating the scenery on each appearance). While the story stuck to the original ideas it played for way too long and lost focus. Having said that, the full house of kids were spellbound and seemed to enjoy the show, and how wonderful it is to give our young people intelligent theatre.

Fight Night

Created by The Border Project and Ontroerend Goed
With text by Alexander Devriendt and The Original Cast
Directed by Alexander Devriendt

Sydney Theatre Company
Wharf 2

Wow, what a fun and interesting time was had by all at this surprising show! As you enter the theatre you are given an instrument that has some options on it. Yes, this was the ultimate audience participation experience but a good one. Initially we use our “gadget” to work out the demographic of the audience: gender, age, income. We are introduced to the cast and then asked to vote on who we like and don’t. As they are all fully covered and we can only guess their gender there is nothing much to go on but the audience speaks and makes sure who they like and dislike. No reason is given but we then proceed to get rid of certain members from the stage by our votes after we learn more about the characters, until we get to the final vote, when some audience members prefer not to participate any longer. It might sound strange but it was the ultimate theatrical exploration of democracy in action. Brilliant, challenging and very involving and funny. I had the pleasure of meeting the cast after the show and they told me how every show was totally different.

Frank Barnes is retired except when he joins The Gonski Antique Roadshow.