Posts Tagged ‘ensemble theatre

12
Apr
17

I Am My Own Wife

I Am My Own Wife

Oriel Productions

Brisbane Powerhouse Visy Theatre

April 4 – 8 2017

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

I can only begin to imagine what it must have been like during the Third Reich. The Nazis, and then the Communists? It seems to me, you’re an impossibility. You shouldn’t even exist.

Doug Wright, I Am My Own Wife

I Am My Own Wife is the most incredible theatrical experience; an intimate and secretive (like, a secret society downstairs underground back room Weimar Cabaret performance…oh, wait), and one of our more memorable evenings at the theatre; it’s one that I’ll treasure not only for its extraordinary story, but more so, for its captivating star performer.

Ben Gerrard saw the Tony Award winning production starring Jefferson Mays, which toured Australia in 2006 and “never in a million years would’ve imagined” that he would one day attempt to do the same, playing more than 30 roles in two acts over 90 minutes, to tell the true story of Berlin’s famous transvestite, Charlotte von Mahlsdorf.

Pulitzer Prize winner, Doug Wright – he also wrote Quills, Grey Gardens and the stage adaptation of Disney’s The Little Mermaid – joined Charlotte in Berlin for a series of interviews over several years, in which she shared her survival stories and precious collection of antiquities, satisfyingly represented in this production by tiny wooden boxes, all of different sizes, hidden intrinsically within the surface of a quaint three-legged table. Against a wall of yellowed official documents, the stories spill forth, in a precise German accent and with a slightly mischievous sense of humour, which makes us wonder how much of any story is actually the truth. Gerrard is so completely convincing as this enigmatic character that I feel as if this is who I would expect to meet after the show. But we know the real Charlotte died of a heart attack in her eclectic downstairs museum, aged 74, in 2002. She had survived the Nazi and Communist regimes, collecting clocks and phonographs and gramophone records (“re-cords”), and other items of interest, and had been involved in the black market before she operated as an informant. She established an underground bar in her basement for Berlin’s LGBT+ community – the last Weimar Cabaret of the the gay 1890s – and dressed as a woman in sensible all-black-everything.

Caroline Camino’s simple, sombre design, Hugh Hamilton’s moody, poor man’s lighting and Nate Edmondson’s evocative soundscape wholly support Gerrard’s multiple voices whilst remaining true to the main character’s obsessions with precious things. Perhaps Charlotte’s love of objects more than people stemmed from the fact that there were very few upon whom she could rely. But then we discover that she betrays a friend and colleague, Alfred, and we understand that her loyalties do indeed lie at home, where she doesn’t need anyone. Proudly and defiantly, she offers the utterance that became the play’s title, “I am my own wife”.

A tender scene depicts the day of enlightenment for he-who-would-be-she, Lothar Berfelde, when the support of a cross-dressing aunt manifests in her wry observation, having caught him wearing one of her frocks, which she’d long since discarded in favour of men’s pants, that “nature got it wrong”. She gives him a copy of Magnus Hirschfeld’s Die Transvestiten, which becomes Charlotte’s bible for her newly self-determined life. It’s a beautiful story in itself, a quiet nod to our instinctual nature, our desire to connect with others – or not – and our need to be seen. This is just one of many moments, so sensitively, meticulously crafted by talented Director, Shaun Rennie, in which Gerrard captures our hearts and our imagination.

Having seen Mark Kilmurry’s production of David Williamson’s Odd Man Out (twice!), I was delighted to see Rennie have the opportunity this year to be a “fly on the wall” at Ensemble, under Kilmurry’s expert eye.

My favourite space here, the intimate Visy Theatre in the stripped-back Brisbane Powerhouse is ideal, allowing us to feel as if we’re there in the dingy room with Wright and his subject, peering curiously over his shoulder as he chats with her. The stories – the bits and pieces of them – are incredible, almost beyond belief, as tales of oppression and horror are to those of us lucky enough to avoid similar life experience.

And then came the wall. And for us here in Eastern Berlin, it was finished, gay life. The bars, closed. Personal advertisements in the newspaper, cancelled. No place to meet but the tramway stations and the public toilets?

So I thought to give homosexual women and men community in this house. Yes. It was a museum for all people, but I thought, “Why not for homosexuals?”… And there was over the bar an attic. When a boy or girl met a man, and wanted to go upstairs, they could. Two men, two girls, a boy and a girl? it did not matter….

There’s no rush to get past the uncomfortable details, including a gruesome self-confessed murder (yeah, but did you do it?), but instead, the moments are precisely measured and the mood is mostly constrained. Even in the opening moments, we get a sense of mastery and secrecy, and immense trust when Gerrard enters the dimly lit space to find his light centrestage, and sweeps his eyes over his audience, making eye contact with many of us from just a couple of metres away before he disappears into the darkness again… Something unspoken has happened, a deal has been wordlessly sealed.

Gerrard is a beautifully poised and accomplished actor who knows every trick in the book and still comes across as genuine and whole-hearted, able to make a pact with the audience early, and establish that rare and magical, unbreakable personal connection until the end. Later, Gerrard communicates on the same intimate level; open, curious, completely trusting. The quietest, strongest presence in a foyer full of excited, delighted and completely satisfied opening night chatter.

Who would have imagined that while the wonderful Elise McCann was with Matilda the Musicalwinning a Helpmann Award for her work on stages around the country as Miss Honey, she was simultaneously making this humble little show happen, and having the most profound impact on a whole different sector of the community. If Oriel Group’s I Am My Own Wife comes anywhere near you, you simply must see it.

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24
Mar
17

Odd Man Out

Odd Man Out

Noosa Long Weekend

In Association With Ensemble Theatre

The J Theatre, Noosa

March 23 – 25 2017

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

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David Williamson’s Odd Man Out sold out in Sydney over an eight-week season. Secure in the knowledge that it would be another smash hit for Williamson and Ensemble Theatre, Noosa Long Weekend invited the company to bring the production to The J for an exclusive pre-festival fundraising weekend (4 performances only), launching the rebrand of the festival only weeks prior.

Noosa Long Weekend Festival is now Noosa Alive! presenting an exciting program of world class events over 10 days in July.

Williamson’s success is unparalleled in this country. His work not only reflects the many aspects of our individual lives and the broader societal values to which we subscribe but also, it brings to light the little details of our relationships, our connections with other humans. Always funny, always touching, always extremely intelligent, examining all the things we think we should be getting right and all the things we know are not right with the world, Williamson is a master of making misfortune a gift. We see his characters expand and grow in the advent of disaster rather than be defeated by life’s difficulties.

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While Anna Gardiner’s design (lit by Christopher Page) is contemporary and suitably symbolic, at times it feels almost too sterile, which is perhaps the point: it suits every scene and our focus remains on the performers. Alistair Wallace’s soundscape adds an interesting dimension, most effectively incorporated into the second act to up the pace and underpin the absurd comedy act required of Ryan in each new social situation. 

When a production is mediocre we don’t take much away from it (except perhaps a thought that we’ll not see that company again for a while, just while they work themselves out!). But when the actors excel in bringing a terrific, insightful script to life, we experience a degree of what the characters on stage are going through. This shared empathy is part of what makes live theatre so special, so vital, and how it’s possible to invest so much emotionally in what’s essentially a cute little love story. In the case of Odd Man Out, the story is much larger, and we feel more deeply than we expected to for Ryan, a high-functioning autistic physicist, and for Alice, a physiotherapist with a ticking biological clock; we quickly became complicit in her attempts to change Ryan, in a frustrating journey through life and love.

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In creating Alice, Lisa Gormley has discovered something beautifully gentle and natural, and building on it gradually, layer by layer, she develops incredible strength and purpose so that we understand completely by the end of the play, her unfailing love for Ryan and her determination to support him, in spite of the challenges he continuously throws at her. We see her undergoing the kind of transformation that can only come from a place of whole-hearted love and unwavering kindness. This role might be wasted on anyone else but Gormley gives Alice the necessary warmth and depth, and good natured sense of humour to enable us to believe in her crazy pursuit of happily ever after with a guy who seems incapable of understanding her needs, or communicating his own.

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Williamson has said to me that Justin Stewart Cotta (Dream Homes’s memorable “Lion of Lebanon”) is one of our finest stage actors – high praise indeed; I’d seen the proof of it during our brief rehearsal period and limited run of that production, directed by the playwright, for Noosa Long Weekend Festival 2015 – and in Odd Man Out we see once again, Cotta’s knack for nailing a challenging character, bringing to this complex role a heartbreaking vulnerability that might remind you of Noah Taylor and/or Geoffrey Rush in Shine, and well-studied idiosyncrasies, which are likened in the play to Dustin Hoffman’s Raymond in Rainman. And in this moment, Williamson very succinctly makes a point about our lack of references in the mainstream, since the release of Rainman, to Autism Spectrum Disorder. In recent years we’ve seen a bit of a run on bipolar and depression and dementia in the movies, however; unlike sitting in a cinema and feeling somewhat removed from the situation, when we’re just metres away from the humans having to find a way to live with a mental illness or developmental condition in a world that doesn’t offer much assistance, we can’t help but feel for them, and wonder how, given the same set of circumstances, we might behave.

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Ryan is hyper-intelligent but emotionally stunted and socially anxious, and innocently offends everyone with whom he comes into contact, including Alice, his sharp wit and honest observations providing the play’s funniest and most uncomfortable moments. An awkward and highly entertaining scene involving good friends and wine (or is that friends and good wine?) puts the approach to the test with hilarious results. But without support from her parents or friends (that gorgeous Rachel Gordon as best friend Carla, let’s face it, is far more bitch than BFF), Alice has had to find a way to teach Ryan a new way to present himself to the world. The consequences are disastrous, giving us a mother of a monologue from Cotta, just in case we weren’t already convinced of his utter conviction in the role. These two bare their souls and connect with such genuine honesty and intimacy that we can’t help but be moved. A friend told me after the show that for him, in Ryan and Alice he saw his parents’ relationship, Autism included. And he could see he was the child, whom Ryan and Alice can’t quite agree to have…until we find ourselves at the neat, optimistic ending (there’s no spoiler there if you’re familiar with Williamson’s unashamedly, cleverly crowd-pleasing style). Look, there may have been a few tears shed.

Gordon, Gael Ballantyne, Bill Young, and Matt Minto beautifully flesh out the secondary characters, but this show rightly belongs to the effervescent Gormley, and to Cotta, in his most honest, detailed and nuanced work to date.

A Williamson play is always such a gift to actors and audiences, and this one, his best yet, so sensitively directed by Ensemble’s Artistic Director, Mark Kilmurry, offers greater insight than ever into the way humans behave and successfully – or not at all – relate to one another. 

19
Jun
13

Happiness

Happiness

The Noosa Long Weekend Festival

The J Theatre

18th & 19th June 2013

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

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Roland Makepeace (Mark Lee) knows what makes people happy. Why wouldn’t he? He’s an eminent professor of psychology who has devoted his life to scientifically investigating human well-being. But his theories are sorely tested when his wife Hanna (Anne Tenney) meets an old suitor Sam (Peter Kowitz) and his daughter Zelda (Erica Lovell) threatens to go right off the rails. This sharply observed comedy suggests that theory can sometimes fall well short of reality and that finding happiness is easier said than done.

 

It’s very funny – you’ll laugh and laugh – but you’ll also empathise with the characters. What I love is the irony of this professor of happiness surrounded by unhappiness when he’s done everything right. 
Only David can bring us this kind of irony.

DIRECTOR: SANDRA BATES

 

The Queensland Premiere of David Williamson’s new comedy, Happiness, happened without the playwright and his wife, Kristen in attendance, which was strange, making the night less of an occasion than it might have been with them there. It’s a pity that an overseas trip clashed with The Noosa Long Weekend Festival. It’s always such a pleasure to see them.

 

Happiness hasn’t been received well down south and that leads me to tell you that, unlike in previous years, the play has had its Australian premiere in Sydney, at Ensemble Theatre’s home in Kirribilli. That may not be widely known. “How lucky we are to be the first to see David’s work” was among several comments heard after the show. I didn’t correct the guy…

 

I guess I’m not a big fan of Ensemble Theatre, however; you know I’m a huge fan of David’s, and I usually enjoy his plays. And there it is. I love the writing of this one too – it’s sharp, funny, and typically Williamson, which you either love or you hate – it’s the treatment that baffles me. And by baffled I mean I don’t understand how Ensemble Theatre and Artistic Director Sandra Bates, can do exactly the same thing with great new material year after year.

 

The text is totally current; it’s sharp, witty, funny, and overflowing with wonderful social commentary and close observations about life and love and complicated relationships. Sure, we’ve heard a lot of it before, but I love the way Williamson offers a fresh take on tired old gender and political issues. The characters are complex and yet we see one layer only of each. Except for Mark Lee, who plays Roland, and to a certain extent Anne Tenney, who plays his wife. The character seems to be written for him, such is his authenticity in the role. I would like to say the same of the rest of the cast but when I see these performances, I feel like shouting out “STOP ACTING! And Chill!”, which is something I find myself saying to student actors when I perceive them to be trying too hard.

 

Despite my misgivings, the opening night audience LOVED the new Williamson, as they always do. In fact, Stephen and I were sitting behind a party of people who were almost overcome with emotion, who gushed and would like to have seen it again today.

 

Tonight is the final performance by Ensemble Theatre of David Williamson’s Happiness as part of the Noosa Long Weekend program. If you love David’s work, you must see it somewhere, sometime.

 

12
Jun
13

Join Robyn Archer on an epic musical journey at the Noosa Long Weekend Festival

Robyn Archer stars in the Queensland premiere of her cabaret show

Que-Reste-t’il?

 

 

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This will be wonderful! I can’t wait to see this show with my mum – we are long-term Robyn Archer admirers – and THEN we’ll also go to afternoon tea with Robyn on Wednesday (I’ll tweet it!). Her show is an epic journey through two centuries of French song, including works from Aristide Bruant through to Jacques Brel, Brigitte Bardot and Michael Morley. WOW!

 

Sung and spoken by Robyn Archer, musical direction and piano by Michael Morley and accordion George Butrumlic.

 

Que-Reste-t’il?

 

Monday 17 June 7pm at The J

 

 

Bookings online noosalongweekend.com

 

 

BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE! THERE’S THE LOVELY AFTERNOON TEA!

 

 

Robyn Archer. Image by Heide Smith

Join Robyn Archer (and Mum and I!), for afternoon tea and a chat about Festivals in Australia, a topic Robyn is able to wax lyrical about, with a long list of Festival Director credits to her name.

 

Robyn Archer’s career took this turn accidentally, with an invitation while she was performing her show Le Chat Noir in Canberra to direct the festival, hosted by the national capital. She directed 1993, 1994 and 1995 editions and this began a remarkable string of Artistic Director positions at The Adelaide Festival of Arts (1998 and 2000), the Melbourne International Arts Festival (2002-2004).

 

She created Ten Days on the Island, an international arts festival for Tasmania, spent two years as Artistic Director of the European Capital of Culture, and advised on the start-up of Luminato in Toronto.

 

Helix Tree

Helix Tree by Bruce Ramus. Image by Angela Wylie.

In 2007 Archer created The Light In Winter for Federation Square in Melbourne, and in July 2009 was appointed Creative Director of the Centenary of Canberra 2013. She is in frequent demand as a speaker and public advocate of the arts all over the world.

 

 

 

 

In Conversation With Robyn Archer

Wednesday 19 June at RACV Resort

Bookings online noosalongweekend.com

 

HAPPINESS BY DAVID WILLIAMSON

 

ERICA LOVELL

Erica Lovell, appearing in David Williamson’s Happiness

Directed by Sandra Bates and featuring Adriano Cappelletta, Glenn Hazeldine, Peter Kowitz, Mark Lee, Erica Lovell & Anne Tenney of Sydney’s Ensemble Theatre, David Williamson’s Happiness will give you something to think about!

 

Roland Makepeace (Mark Lee) knows what makes people happy. Why wouldn’t he? He’s an eminent professor of psychology who has devoted his life to scientifically investigating human well-being. But his theories are sorely tested when his wife Hanna (Anne Tenney) meets an old suitor Sam (Peter Kowitz) and his daughter Zelda (Erica Lovell) threatens to go right off the rails.

 

A sharply observed comedy, just as we have come to expect from David, suggests that theory can sometimes fall well short of reality. And finding happiness is easier said than done.

 

Rather than previewing the play in Noosa during the Long Weekend as has happened in the past, Ensemble Theatre have already given it a run in their home town (to mixed reviews!). I’m looking forward to seeing it myself!

 

Tuesday 18  and Wednesday 19 June 7:30pm at The J Theatre

 

Wednesday 19 June 2pm at The J Theatre

 

Bookings online noosalongweekend.com

 

NOW HEAR THIS

A Radio National Storytelling Show

 

If you’re not at Happiness on Tuesday night, check out the fabulous story telling session at Noosa Arts Theatre, hosted by Richard Fidler and Melanie Tait, and featuring some very brave people sharing their stories to the theme “The First Time”. It’s like being around a campfire, only there’s a few more people listening.

 

Tuesday 18 June 6pm at Noosa Arts Theatre

 

Bookings online noosalongweekend.com

 

06
Sep
12

Rhinestone Rex and Miss Monica

Gardens Theatre

Rhinestone Rex and Miss Monica

Ensemble Theatre

Gardens Theatre

4th September to 6th September 2012

Reviewed by Meredith McLean

In no way does the small cast mean this is a small show. There are big personalities encapsulated in these small moments, and David Williamson is certainly not stingy with these hilarious moments. He has a flair for binary plots. Binary as in the old saying “opposites attract”. Whether or not it’s true it certainly takes effect in Rhinestone Rex and Miss Monica. The play even goes so far to have its characters, Gary and Monica, mock this age old saying in heated conversation.

You don’t need to be studying a music degree to enjoy this show. Gardens Theatre’s in-house stereos amp the tunes up regardless of whether you recognise them or not. In fact, it’s a bit of a brief music lesson from time to time with the witty banter of this misfit couple.

I find the best kind of romance is the unconventional kind. The kind of love you find in places you weren’t looking, or even better; the kind of love that comes and finds you. Chases you, no matter how many times you stamp your feet and refuse. “NO!” You might yell out. But love comes a-runnin’ anyway. That’s what it’s like between Gary and Monica. Despite everything Gary, as his radio persona Rhinestone Rex, says. No matter what Monica does, they end up in the same lounge room bickering away.

All the credit can’t go to David Williamson though. He may have penned the witty banter between the two but in this production it is Alexandra Fowler and Glenn Hazeldine who bring them to the stage. Glenn Hazeldine has already performed this role, opposite Georgie Parker, in the original Ensemble production in Sydney. The role fits him like the cowboy hat that sits perfectly on his head. Meanwhile, Alexandra Fowler I have already seen bring Williamson’s creations to life in other plays like Let The Sunshine.

My only grievance with this performance is the ending. I suppose a balance between the real and unreal is my biggest gripe. Maybe I’m too cynical but I felt this production could’ve been concluded ten minutes earlier. A particular scene just feels so apt in describing the human condition. When Monica and Gary’s hands almost touch just as the lights drop. Letting us witness the moments, the unfinished ones, that’s what really represents life for me. Something unfinished, unresolved and understated.

Wrapping things up in a perfect package is to me like telling a bedtime story. The prince finds the princess, the dragon is slain and they all live happily in the kingdom. But life, and especially love, is nothing of the sort. Monica’s dragons will still haunt her, or in the long run she will learn to live with them. Rhinestone Rex or truthfully Gary, the tradesman, will never be the ultimate prince, but he will be the man who cares. Their kingdom may not be glamourous but it will be theirs with all its imperfections. That’s how I like to think of it, but the conclusion to this production just doesn’t measure up to this ideal. But like I said, I’m a cynic who’s never quite satisfied.

Just like this review Rhinestone Rex and Miss Monica touches upon sad moments and humourous ones. The mockery between Gary and Monica is both punctual and surprising. Delivered perfectly by Hazeldine and Fowler the theatre is filled with laughter from everyone seated. Whether Monica is hitting Rex where it hurts or Rex is counteracting Monica with his cheekiness the serious and the jovial interact wonderfully. They feel well rounded, funny, but real.

Once again Australian theatre has stepped up to meet the demands. I found myself poised on the edge of my seat during the tension filled moments and flung back laughing during the comical. If you believe in love, if you believe in music or if you believe in something a little in between then Rhinestone Rex and Miss Monica is the show you can’t miss.

Rhinestone Rex and Miss Monica continues on to Nambour Civic Centre this Saturday 8th September at 7:30pm and then to venues across Australia. Check the tour schedule for details.

Rhinestone Rex and Miss Monica