Posts Tagged ‘NIDA

18
Nov
16

Tartuffe

Tartuffe

Queensland Theatre & Black Swan Theatre Company

QPAC Playhouse

November 12 – December 4 2016

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

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Queensland Theatre’s final production for the year is a co-pro with WA’s Black Swan Theatre Company, and Director Kate Cherry’s last for the company before she takes up the reins at NIDA. This delightfully fresh reimagining of Moliere’s Tartuffe has Black Swan stamped all over it, largely due to its clean, white, luxe, functional design by Richard Roberts. I love it. The orange accents not so much. Still, we could be in Sydney, or Noosa; it’s elegant, understated and stylishly lit (David Murray). The full revolve allows for seamless transitions and all the anticipated hiding-and-overhearing shenanigans of traditional farce, because as Roberts notes, a set designed for the best actors and directors should be “Like an adventure playground that allows kids to play imaginatively”. This is evident from the outset, with a raucous party appearing to be taking place. The music evolves as the set revolves (and the characters regress, misbehaving in all the best ways while the father is away), from an unsurprising baroque lilt to a surprisingly upbeat, very contemporary shake & stir style orchestration. And suddenly it dawns on us that this is simply the good, fun, wealthy life without apparent consequences, which we all (still) want to be living! And so the tone is set for a riotous take on this French classic.

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A wonderfully funny scene has the maid, Dorine (Emily Weir) and the bride-to-be, Mariane (Tessa Lind), on the second floor balcony in a frenzied discussion about her limited options as the daughter of the house. The hysterical young girl, having been promised by her father to the titular character, a conceited con man, performs a little miracle of props mastery, both impressive and hilarious, taking urgent drags on a cigarette, chugging desperately from a champagne bottle and inhaling necessarily, her Ventolin, though not necessarily in that order. This is a fabulous scene Cherry has stitched up for Lind because Moliere gives her little else to do in the role except fawn over her lover, Valere (James Sweeney, the smartly dressed playboy/pool boy/Noosa Main Beach boy of the story, and somehow looking not a little unlike Rob Mills here. Not a bad thing…), and protest loudly to her father, Orgon (an infuriatingly upright Steven Turner in a perfectly pitched performance), re the match he’s made for her with the awful Tartuffe in his awful wig.

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Tartuffe (Darren Gilshenan) is the easily recognisable, much lauded, and laughable spiritual guru, ghastly in every sense, sleazy and sneaky and suddenly the master of the house through his devious machinations and double standards. Orgon, incredulously, falls for his every word and allows him to have his way…almost. A short, rather silly but successful scene, in which Orgon’s wife (Alison van Reeken) is as sexy as Tartuffe is shallow, slimy and simpering, has Orgon hiding under a table at her insistence, until he deems the monster has gone far enough in the seduction of his wife to convince the poor, stupid man – FINALLY – that everything the family has told him is true, catching Tartuffe with his pants down.

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Jenny Davis delivers an accomplished performance as the intolerant matriarch, Madame Pernelle, and Alex Williams takes the opportunity to claim the spotlight on more than one occasion as Damis (offering our second actors’ lesson for the evening in dealing with difficult props, as he rescues a runaway green apple and then has to use it until the scene’s end without creating further distraction. Hugh Parker, one of our faves, is a gallant-arrogant Cleante, perfectly balancing the scrutiny, wit and wisdom of this character with an appropriately unapologetic air of superiority. There’s a hint of Bottom the Weaver, as he instructs his players and whether a conscious choice or not, it works to endear us to him. The fans tend to feel endeared already towards him and we can look forward to seeing more from Parker in QT’s 2017 season.

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But it’s the new QUT Fine Arts grad, Emily Weir, who neatly and boldly steals the show. Her comedy is so bold and witty, and precise, and for one so new to the table, she plays every hand like a seasoned pro, such a pleasure to watch. So much of her character comes through her gesture and facial expression, as the other characters interact around her, unwittingly perhaps making her the centre of their actions. She employs her full vocal range and incorporates a fantastically funny and irritating Australian nasal twang, playing with the language to extract the vivid colour of the piece and placing it smack bang in contemporary Australian money-not-necessarily-indicating-style suburbia.

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Justin Fleming’s astute adaptation is the other star of the show, making the 17th Century text brand new again, retaining the original structure and adding without shame or apology, our favourite Australian colloquialisms. Fleming also delivers a more conclusive and satisfying end than the original, during which Parker shines again, in the fitting guise of a reporter for the ABC.

Kate Cherry’s cheeky, savvy, slick Tartuffe demonstrates the power of redressing the classics in a truly contemporary way, delivering timeless messages wrapped in timeless style.

22
Oct
15

Sunnytown

 

Sunnytown

La Boite Indie

La Boite Roundhouse Theatre

October 15 – 31 2015

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward 

 

“When a creature is exposed to violence, it will tend to adapt to that disturbance, so that when the violence ceases or the creature is allowed its freedom, the healthy instinct to flee is hugely diminished, and the creature stays put instead.”

 

― Clarissa Pinkola EstésWomen Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype

 

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In experiencing this play I’m again reminded of Brecht, who famously stated, “Art is not a mirror held up to reality but a hammer with which to shape it.”

 

Sunnytown is a shiny new play with a dark core, written and directed by recent(ish) NIDA grads, Krystal Sweedman (Writer) and Heather Fairbairn (Director). It’s a worthy text brought to life in the first instance with the help of pozible, and now La Boite Indie. Originally penned under the tutelage of Stephen Sewell, Sunnytown is a challenging piece in terms of its content and style. It’s not my favourite play this year but it’s the first of four independent productions at La Boite and as lovers and makers of live theatre, not to mention lovers and makers of humanity, it gives us a lot to consider.

 

“Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach.”

 

What we think might be the simple preparations of a helicopter mother for her daughter’s thirteenth birthday party precludes a pre-Grimm moralistic fairytale complete with warnings, distractions, a dream world and dire consequences. It could even be considered pre-Hellenic. Demeter and Persephone, anyone?

 

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The Sunnytown of the title is a dubious place, imaginary, but not (but, yes, it is). It feels like a secret rave for the subconscious, in which there is mention of a basement (the darkest, deepest realm of our psyche) and strange interpretive dance and physical theatre inspired by the actual reactions to anaphylactic shock (yes, that’s the cake through-line), which don’t advance the story but instead seem superfluous to it, and distract us rather than focus our attentions on Dani, the birthday girl. The “basement” is never reached, by the way…

 

Sam has an interesting reading of this piece. I like it. It has merit. Here it is. *(Spoiler alert. Sort of)

 

What if Marg, the mother, is the only character on stage? Think about it.

 

“Though her soul requires seeing, the culture around her requires sightlessness. Though her soul wishes to speak its truth, she is pressured to be silent.”

 

The relationship with her husband reflects the relationship she had with her father, and the relationship with her daughter exists from the memories of her childhood and her own imaginary friend. It’s not what’s intended, clearly, but nevertheless…

 

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Caroline Dunphy brings to the archetypal mother role all the qualities one might expect to see in a work that quietly shouts themes of manipulative and abusive relationships, and our common coping mechanisms. A particularly lovely and relatable (and unsettling) moment occurs early, when she tries to give a jar to her husband for him to open when she struggles to do so herself. He raises his newspaper in front of his face and “misses” her gesture. She’s invisible. She has the appropriate concern for the child and a desire to be with the husband but with all of it there comes a distinct and deliberate…distance from everyone around her. She’s actually impenetrable, appearing to have a more reliable relationship with her bottle of rum, which she nurses, keeping out of the clutches of her husband, than with anybody in the immediate vicinity.

 

“When a woman is frozen of feeling, when she can no longer feel herself, when her blood, her passion, no longer reach the extremities of her psyche, when she is desperate; then a fantasy life is far more pleasurable than anything else she can set her sights upon. Her little match lights, because they have no wood to burn, instead burn up the psyche as though it were a big dry log. The psyche begins to play tricks on itself; it lives now in the fantasy fire of all yearning fulfilled. This kind of fantasizing is like a lie: If you tell it often enough, you begin to believe it.”

 
― Clarissa Pinkola EstésWomen Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype

 

Ron Kelly as Jim, the husband, is a lurking, violent, damaged soul and then just as suddenly he’s the splendidly daggy entertainment at the birthday party, absurdly twisting balloons and unashamedly cracking every dad joke in the book. The polarity is nicely presented. In both Kelly and Dunphy we see strong performances, alongside Olivia Hall-Smith (Dani) and Vanessa Krummenacher (Miranda) in a master and apprentice scenario. These two are young and fresh as daisies, with Krummenacher giving us the guts and frighteningly convincing Mean Girls-ness of a thirteen-year old BFF, and Hall-Smith offering girlish joy and that unique brand of “tween” despair and the silent retreat to somewhere other-worldly.

 

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Guy Webster’s sinister soundscape sets the mood and keeps us guessing (it’s really brilliant work), and Jason Glenwright’s lighting, with a string of party lights behind and a collection of golden paper lanterns above, in a gesture that is ever so slightly reminiscent of Rumour Has It, brings a surreal party atmosphere to a seemingly ordinary household in a “floating” white floored set designed by Catherine Steele.

 

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Fairbairn has thrown every trick in the book at this play, which might speak better if left to do so for itself. But look past the “glimmer” and you’ll see the essence of a story about hope, and coping as best we can, even if that means clinging to a bottle of rum more tightly than to a loved one for a little while.

 

“One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it.”

 

 

Production pics by Dylan Evans Photography

 

Quotes from Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ Women Who Run With the Wolves