Posts Tagged ‘murder

26
Mar
12

sweeney todd

Josh Rowe (Sweeney Todd)

Sweeney Todd

Ignatians Musical Society

Schonell Theatre

22nd March – 13th April

Ignatians sure know how to put on a show. And boy oh boy have they picked a doozy this time! Hugh Wheeler and Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, inspired by Christopher Bond’s 1973 play of the classic story (Bond was the first to show Todd as a man who had been wronged by the law and not motivated entirely by greed), is certainly not the easiest of musical productions. In fact, it could be considered one of the most challenging, with its complex orchestrations, multi-layered ensemble work and dark, difficult story to sell to contemporary audiences with ever-decreasing attention spans, accustomed to being sitcom-spoon-fed.

Director and Musical Director, John Peek, has accomplished something special with this Sweeney Todd. A strong, bold ensemble, filled to overflowing with top-notch part-singers and character actors, a brave creative team, an orchestra fit for a recording studio (led by Conductor, Edgar Chan) and a cast of leading players who include a couple of Brisbane’s best.

Opera singer, Josh Rowe, despite his Russell Crow demeanor (or maybe because of it. Russell Crowe was to have originally starred in the film and was to have been directed by Sam Mendes. Personally, I’m okay with Johnny Depp and Tim Burton having scored the gig), was a little underwhelming on Saturday night (the third performance of the run). Rowe may have the title role but this is Miranda Selwood’s show. Their relationship becomes more interesting and Rowe’s reactions and expressions become more animated in Act 2, by which time I felt he’d really settled into his boots (I don’t mean vocally – the outstanding vocals were there from the outset, exemplified in the sinister song, My Friends, sung to his razor (singular, yes), glinting in the light – I mean that he must have gone out and got his Sweeney shoes on at interval, only fully exploring the range of the character later. I should make mention of Pretty Women; sung with Judge Turpin (Chris Kellett), it used the right mix from both men, of devious and delighted and By The Sea, performed with Selwood (she is an absolute scream in this number; hers is a fearless performance) is made that much more hilarious by Rowe’s facial expressions and in this well-loved song, although he remains seated, we see his ability as an actor start to come through, in addition to the stand-and-deliver-singer we’ve seen thus far). It’s Selwood who is simply superb, as the bustling, busybody, bonny cook of The Worst Pies in London, Mrs Lovett. She is feisty, cheeky, fast, furious and vocally, absolutely glorious. She clearly relishes the role and why not? It’s a plum one and it seems she was born to play it. I’m sure Selwood must have taken a leaf out of Helena Bonham Carter’s book and practiced her baking whilst practicing her singing, in order to perfect the syncopation in her songs, which are surely the most difficult of the show.

James Gauci is also perfectly cast, as the young, romantic lead. He’s a good-looking lad who can hold a note and tell a tale…oh, who am I kidding? He’s just gorgeous and he sings to sweep the ladies off their feet! Please somebody get him in front of Frosty already! His Johanna, Jordana Peek, is suitably lovely – a picture of innocence – though I found her a little pitchy and breathy in the song that should seal the deal for this character, Green Finch and Linnet Bird. She made up for it in the duet with Gauci, Kiss Me, and also, in the Reprise of Kiss Me (the Quartet), demonstrating the confidence we expected to see from the start and a much more polished performance, finally winning me over. Toby (Ben Hickey) is a tough-nut sweetheart and does a truly beautiful job of the often over-sung Not While I’m Around. We expect this to be a poignant moment (it’s the beauty before the full extent of the horror) between Toby and Mrs Lovett and we’re not disappointed. Pirelli (Andrew Scheiwe), whose accents are spot on and Lucy Barker (Sarah Jensen), who manages to make us laugh as well as make our hearts break in the very same instant, get the other honorable mentions, giving us wonderful, multi-faceted characters.

James Gauci (Anthony) and Ben Hickey (Toby)

James Gauci (Anthony), Jordana Peek (Johanna) and Chris Kellet (Judge Turpin)

It’s a highly technical show and there are massive demands placed on the set. This design (Shane Rodwell) is intricate in terms of its levels but there is something at odds here and I feel sure it’s the massive, mechanical revolve trying to upstage everybody. So much emphasis has been placed on the working set that we are lucky to have had such strong performances, avoiding anyone paling into insignificance. I love a revolve as much as anybody but it must serve the purpose and I felt that this one – it was clunky and slow – was out of step with the pace of the show. The Chair, however, is another matter altogether; the mechanism is brilliant and the effect is truly chilling and strangely comical, as things tend to be when they are mildly discomforting… I don’t want to give away all of the effects but if you’ve ever seen a squib sliced, you’ll appreciate that somebody in makeup has done their fair share of research into the fine art of throat slitting. You will squirm, just as you should. The tale is, after all, ghastly.

Dark, gothic lighting – not too much and not too little – casting shadows and drawing our eyes towards the most minimal action is just right. Andrew ‘Panda’ Haden has done well to achieve such an evocative and intimate lighting design within the large-scale Schonell Theatre. Gutter colours dominate the structures and the costumes, all trash and no treasure, except for Pirelli’s carnival suit (but he’s not around for long), Johanna’s pretty blue frock and Mrs Lovettt’s sassy petticoat of delicious pink under, which we catch glimpses of, just as we see the brighter shades of each character from time to time – but only for a moment.

The staging of the prologue seems unnecessary, an anti-climatic opening; a solitary figure (a dishevelled man) crossing the apron of the stage to pull a rope, in the action of ringing a bell and at the same time, opening the curtain onto a scene of madness – the streets of London. A bold directorial choice, it was probably not ideal. Far more effective would be the first sounds of Sondheim’s strangely seductive score and the curtain opening upon the ensemble standing, imploring us (really very At the End of the Day and there’s no doubt it works), to “Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd”…

Another unusual moment, wasted; we missed, “At last, my right arm is complete again!” It’s the definitive Demon Barber character line and it was thrown to the wings, dismissed during an exit, rather than used to achieve the climax of the Prologue. Whether by actor or director, I thought this an odd choice.

"At last, my right arm is complete again!" Johnny Depp in Tim Burton's film.

I cannot stress enough how good this company is in terms of their ensemble singing. Like any company, they have their “stars”, though none seem aligned or affiliated with this or another company, we see them everywhere, and Ignatians always work really hard on producing an exceptional ensemble, as we saw (heard) in RENT and as we see (and hear) in Sweeney Todd. I’m always in awe of a good choir master/MD (our local Oriana Choir is off on their European tour soon, led by the extremely capable and super confident Daniel Calder) and if you’ve ever considered joining a terrific no-pressure-no-audition choir, Ignatians provides another Brisbane option. Check the website for details.

As far as Brisbane theatre goes, there is a huge amount on at the moment and this production must be one of the hot ticket items. On Saturday night, I noticed UQ uni life was alive and well (clearly, it was pizza and red wine night) and a horde of younger audience members filled the Schonell theatre foyer at least 20 minutes before the Box Office opened. These are some keen kids! How wonderful that the theatre rather than the cinema is where they choose to spend some of their money! I would not recommend taking children to see this show. I would wonder at its appeal for those to whom Sondheim’s score is largely unknown and at the same time, I would encourage all and sundry to go see Peek’s Sweeney Todd and support Ignatians’ mammoth effort and their solid commitment to the growth of the Brisbane musical theatre scene. Really, you’d be silly to miss this production – there’s too much to like about it!

25
Mar
12

the laramie project

The Laramie Project

Centenary Theatre Group

Nash Theatre

10th  – 31st March 2012

Reviewed by Meredith McLean


The irony of this production of The Laramie Project being held in a church hall made me chuckle quietly to myself. An irony you will understand if you see the play. It was a short-lived stint of laughter though. Knowing The Laramie Project from my days of my nose in a book I was well aware that despite there being funny characters this is not a comedy. I wouldn’t be surprised if you left the Nash Theatre feeling heavy hearted too.

The Laramie Project is a very unique piece of non-fiction made for stage. Moises Kaufman and his members of the Tectonic Theatre Project collaborated in the November of 1998 to bring us what is called verbatim theatre. Along the rural buck fenced landscapes of Wyoming nine members gathered in Laramie four weeks after the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard. A young 21 year old university student who was gay and punished for it gravely. More disturbingly two boys had committed the crime, the same age as Matthew. Just a couple of kids like him. The play, under Moises Kaufman’s terms, is never made up of traditional scenes. Only what Kaufman calls moments, snippets of interviews with real people. Their words, the true words, being reverberated on a stage whether it be far off in New York or here in Brisbane.

The immensity of dedication to a play like this isn’t trivial. Each of the eight cast members at the Nash Theatre had at least eight roles each, some many more. There are no stagehands in this production either. Each actor must change scenery, costume and attitude unseen in the shadows. Presenting himself or herself to the spotlight one by one as a changed person. The costumes as well as setting are of a minimalist nature. This enables the actors to depend solely on their craft to portray a different person each time. With the change of a hat or maybe a table moved slightly forward it is up to the cast to convince us of who they are. In their voice, their movement and their stage presence the audience puts all of its trust in them.

This production is political. It can be solemn. At times the people will make you laugh but then you’ll understand the vastness of truth, sadness and love held by these people for the town. Whether they are Matthew Shepard’s friends or Doc the kooky, local limo driver all of them embody a strange loss for Laramie. That’s why when seeing this production the cast hold your focus intensely. So dramatically that a distraction doesn’t just catch your eye. It breaks the gravity of your attention all together. The choice to use multimedia as a means to communicate a scene or emotion was not the right choice for this play. Understandably, the black screen depicting the title of each “moment” was effective. It gave a sense of time and place. However, the pictures of a bible while talking to a priest or a snowy street in Laramie while talking of the weather were unnecessary. Watching the stage I could tell these eight talented people could easily portray the setting and the emotion needed through their performance alone. The screen constantly changing to pictures found on the Internet kept dragging my attention away from them.

Each of the cast embraced the idea of taking on a menagerie of characters embodied in one person. But three men stood out for me. They made me momentarily forget they were still the same person, then like flicking a switch they’d change and I’d be excited to see who they had become next.

Aaron Bernard first caught my attention with the slow lilting observations of Doc the limousine driver. When he looked out to the crowd and said “The last thing on earth he saw was the sparkling lights.” sadness made me shift uncomfortably in my seat. Then the jumping, twitching flurry of words from Matt Galloway the bartender made me laugh and nod along with the rhythmic storytelling Aaron portrayed.

Daren King likewise blended in and out of a range of characters with ease. There’s a certainty in his movement and voice. His confidence to intentionally look lost is what made characters like the Unitarian minister, the doctor and even one of the perpetrators seem so real.

Tom Yaxley was possibly the luckiest to experience some of the most pivotal characters in this production. I couldn’t help but secretly giggle at his portrayal of the director and chief writer, Moises Kaufman. The accent and poise was like something taken out of an interview and that’s exactly what is intended of the actor. But my favourite of all the roles Yaxley takes on is Father Roger Schmit. It’s odd to think these characters are all people taken from factual interviews and yet a real person still feels like a plot device. His powerful words, real quotes from the catholic minister, hit home and Tom Yaxley delivered them rightly so.

Dan Lane took the helm as the director of this production. His involvement with the Nash Theatre over the last two years equates to his first time directing for this particular group. His mindset is clear when you watch the actors on stage. Above all it is an actor driven performance and his dedication to that goal is apparent in the play. In the final closing of the production that last image on the stage is an excellent summary. Not only of the play but also of Dan Lane’s capacity for the stage.

This production will not lie to you. It will never promise you something it can’t deliver. Everything said and done is a refraction of the truth that occurred fourteen years ago. If you like to search for the truth or just enjoy theatre that aims to express meaningfulness The Laramie Project at the Nash Theatre is a show you need to see.





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