Posts Tagged ‘tama matheson

24
Oct
15

The Odd Couple

 

The Odd Couple

Queensland Theatre Company

QPAC Playhouse

October 22 – November 8 2015

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward 

 

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Tama Matheson (Felix Ungar) and Jason Klarwein (Oscar Madison) ARE The Odd Couple.

 

The successful pairing of these two, after their hilarious antics in Design For Living (2013) make Neil Simon’s sharply penned, fast paced classic comedy the funnest and funniest night of the year.

 

With a superb supporting cast and an impressive inner city design straight out of Tribeca (Orlando Bloom might be a neighbour), Wesley Enoch’s final production for QTC in 2015 is all class.

 

High production values don’t always bring us closer to the action but Designer Christina Smith has considered every detail, inviting us in and making us feel completely at home within the walls and windows of Oscar Madison’s lofty New York City apartment…well, perhaps once it’s cleaned up. (A cityscape scrim works a treat to separate us from lightning quick scene changes). Lighting by Matt Scott (with assistant Daniel Anderson) and sound design by Tony Brumpton help to establish a New York state of mind in the stalls, while the dilemmas of living with anyone else but a cat are universally recognised. (Or say, a canary, although probably not both a cat and a canary at the same time in the same house as those with cats and canaries will attest. Actually, it was a Doberman)…

 

Anyway! Poor slovenly, beer swilling Oscar! His life is suddenly turned upside down by the overbearing presence of his new housemate, his smartly dressed and dangerously depressed, hypochondriac buddy Felix, a stickler for using coasters and ashtrays and doing the dishes before bedtime.

 

The set up is brilliant – the writing is light and lovely, old fashioned yet timeless in its innocence – and the opening scene involving a major disruption to the usual Friday night poker game with good friends is hilarious, establishing wonderful, genuinely interesting characters and firm friendships, delightful to follow. We want to see more of them, get to know them better.

 

Tim Dashwood (Roy), Steven Rooke (Speed), Colin Smith (Murray) and Bryan Probets (Vinnie) all shine, thanks to terrific choices that have clearly come from a playful rehearsal period, and the natural comic timing and well studied accents of the actors (Voice & Accent Consultant Melissa Agnew). This is beautiful ensemble work, showcasing briefly some of our favourite performers at the top of their game.

 

Jason Klarwein has never more fully embraced a role, perfectly channelling every lazy guy ever, all their dreadful habits and their appalling disregard, and truly appearing to live comfortably in the self-made mess, searching for the telephone beneath piles of discarded newspaper pages, leaping on and over the couch and upending ashtrays to make a point. In gorgeous, hilarious (entirely anticipated) juxtaposition, Tama Matheson brings to the role of Felix, as well as a cheeky little tribute to Bloom’s blue blanket, the OCD tendencies that are usually vaguely apparent from the outset of any relationship and which become more and more irritating over time. We could actually be watching any couple hard at work to keep their relationship going. THE STRUGGLE IS REAL.

 

Particularly enjoyable are the many moments of exquisitely executed reactions to the things we can all relate to, which are necessary to keep a household running reasonably smoothly but are dealt with in different ways by different folks. Despite the physical comedy not stretching quite as far as I’d expected it to (we never reach the point of furniture being overturned during a chase around the apartment for example, or a fully realised food fight following a bowl of spaghetti – sorry linguini – being flung across the pristine kitchen surfaces) there are nevertheless such well choreographed sequences (involving coasters and cushions and cloths and a ladle) that we end up with tears rolling down our cheeks by the end of each one. Some missed opportunities? Perhaps, but the show doesn’t suffer.

 

Here’s something I didn’t think I’d be able to tell you. So many moments in this production are in fact funnier than those in the much-loved film starring Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau (1968), which at times, strangely, feels almost laborious when I look back at it now. It sounds like sacrilege to say so until you experience QTC’s cracking production. Each set up is beautifully crafted by Enoch and expertly manipulated by the actors. Their timing throughout is flawless and the punchlines, delivered deadpan, are all dead on. It’s a shame the English girls from upstairs (Amy Ingram and Lauren Jackson) appear to have been directed to take things a little too far over the top, presenting highly animated stereotypes rather than just the lovely silly fillies they are, which prevents these two talented performers from fitting as neatly into this production as they otherwise might.

 

Now. There’s some question again in the foyers and online over the role and responsibilities of reviewers, so often confused with publicists it seems. I’m not sure why this is because I don’t believe the ticket purchasing public is stupid (and nor are the creative teams that work so hard to stage and promote the shows). As theatregoers we can tell the difference between an informed review and a pull quote on a glossy poster, and we pay attention to the opinions of those we respect, which should imply some regard for a writer’s knowledge and experience within theatre making and commentating. (Sometimes the two worlds align nicely, and a pull quote used in the publicity leads to a well informed, well written review! Hooray!). No one needs to be pandered to and an honest response is far more useful than a shiny, simple write up that treats a production and it’s producers as if they are part of a new reality television series or a presidential campaign.

 

I don’t give star ratings and I don’t give a rave review unless a production as a complete package blows my mind. I consider my writing to have gone through many stages but the voice remains the same. I hope I’m getting closer to consistently sharing a reasonable response to a production for all its merit, and considering what hasn’t worked quite as well as it might have done, mostly as part of continuing the discussions in this country around the creation and programming of new work and also, for posterity. And also, because I love reflecting on the way creative people can’t help but tell us their stories.

 

The Odd Couple is a stellar production starring an astutely cast ensemble of some of our most accomplished actors. The comedy is solid and the aesthetic spot on. If you miss this, you will have seen our state theatre company’s AD of five years come and go without enjoying his best work. Don’t do such a disservice to Wesley Enoch, or to yourself and your friends and family. This is a terrific show, to which you can take anyone and come away completely satisfied, happy to have shared in a little bit of lovely, light-hearted theatrical magic. It touches on real issues, reminds us to keep working hard to make real connections with other humans, and does it all in the most delightful, life affirming way. You’ll laugh until your cheeks ache…and then you’ll go home to recognise the familiarity and hilarity of a life lived with your own Oscar Madison or Felix Ungar! Good luck!

 

Use this link to book before October 31 to take advantage of a special offer from QPAC.

 

 

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24
Aug
15

The Pillowman

 

The Pillowman

Brisbane Powerhouse & Shock Therapy Productions

Brisbane Powerhouse Visy Theatre

August 19 – 29 2015

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

The first duty of a storyteller is to tell a story.

 

the pillowman_benwarren

 

Horror and hilarity in the interrogation room? OK!

 

EDIT: SPOILER ALERT! Sorry, I never do this, but it was brought to my attention that I’ve totally told you here what happens by the end of the play. Come back after you’ve found out for yourself! Trust me, there’s no question whether or not you should see the show. IT’S GOOD. BOOK HERE

 

Brisbane has seen The Pillowman before. In 2009 23rd Productions staged an apparently stellar production at Metro Arts with Michelle Miall in the director’s chair. Reading through the cast and creatives certainly gives the impression that this was a first rate show. In October we’ll see the ambitious UQ student group tackle Martin McDonagh’s macabre piece for the Australian Festival of Student Theatre at La Boite; theirs is a remount of a production staged earlier this year at the Schonell.

 

McDonagh’s witty, grisly comedies trigger all sorts of feelings, but none more so than discomfort, the extreme kind, which makes you squirm and shrink in your seat. The playwright’s dark characters remind us that humans are more capable than we think of committing horrific and appalling acts against their own kind.

 

In The Pillowman, a writer’s strange and shocking Brothers Grimm style stories provide the pretext for a series of real life crimes against children, each warped fable a precursor to violent murder, and each case more gruesome than the last; copycat crimes inspired by the sickening detail in Katurian’s tales.

 

It’s not the writer, Katurian, who’s committed the crimes though (or is it? Why even write about such miserable, disturbing stuff?! We have to hope the creative process has been cathartic!), but as we discover, it’s his brother, Michal, abused for several years by the parents to the point of brain damage. He’s beyond repair and reproach. We’re challenged to consider art, science, parenting, power, censorship and citizenship in one foul swoop.

 

Hot tip: stop by Bar Alto before the show and grab a drink. The first act is a 90-minute commitment!

 

thepillowman_tamamatheson

 

It’s a typically stark white set in the intimate confines of the Visy Theatre (Design Sam Foster & Luke Wrencher, Lighting Design Geoff Squires), the basement of an unknown government building in an unnamed totalitarian state, empty of implements and other distractions but containing all the conventions of an interrogation room – bright white light hanging above a table, a couple of chairs, a filing cabinet and a wastepaper basket. Silhouettes, masked actors, and then later a paper bag puppet all help to illustrate less pleasant moments of the past replayed in a simple narrative style, thanks largely to the love – seriously, she is all love – and vocal and physical finesse of Anna Straker (you might know her from her exceptional work with Dead Puppet Society). The voodoo doll paper puppet takes the pin and a real little person somewhere is dealt the pain.

 

A less competent director couldn’t integrate these additional elements so seamlessly into the storytelling but Foster creates a world in which reality and fantasy blur and become wickedly intoxicating…

 

Wait. How can we even have empathy for a child killer?!

 

Katurian K. Katurian reveals the horror of his brother’s childhood, and the complex decisiveness he feels in ending it. Think Betty Blue. And then think whether or not you’d do the same…in fact, how could you not? In this role Ben Warren wins our sympathy, and in the ultimate act of compassion brings to life “The Pillowman” of the title. As his brother, Michal, Tama Matheson earns both our compassion and revulsion. His carefully considered realisation of Michal is insightful, sympathetic and sinister. His facial contortions and frequent twitches demand physical precision, muscle memory and stamina, and his patience in the role means we sit uncomfortably in real time while he processes what is said to him and considers the situation, which is serious, but which might allow him the last little sleep he’s likely to get for a while. It’s the lightning-fast quips and oddities that make this character, and I can’t think of a more accomplished performer for this challenging role. His are the real heartache moments.

 

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As good cop/bad cop duo, Hayden Jones (Tupolski) and Sam Foster (Ariel) are black comedy gold. Their complete lack of compassion and careless retorts, insensitive jokes and quick tempered false starts are all hilarious and completely appropriate given the roles they are playing. The repartee is sharp, fast, well punctuated and precise. The Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of horror comedy, their physical and verbal brutality combined creates a frightening and intimidating double act. And despite ample warning about the way the play will end it comes as a shock. The surprise is genuine, not least because of the tight writing, but also because these guys get suspense and storytelling.

 

thepillowman_benwarren_blood

 

Of course by its nature black comedy incites the sort of laughter you don’t want to be caught out not trying to contain. We feel dreadful laughing but laugh we must, or cry and give up on humanity altogether (and our own tawdry attempts at life). “Naturally bleak but naturally funny”, says McDonagh of his work. Director, Sam Foster, says it’s a new absurd approach to theatre and I say this production nails it.

 

Foster directed the original production on the Gold Coast and recast it, adding himself to the mix for this Brisbane Powerhouse season, Shock Therapy’s Brisbane debut. He tells me after the show on opening night that everything they need is already there, in the text. As Mamet preaches, “Everything that you need to communicate is in the text.” But it takes an astute director and bold actors to bring the text to life.

 

This is a dynamic company who have been around for a while and now seek to have the same impact on mainstage audiences as they do on their school audiences. (Sound familiar?!).

 

The Pillowman will surprise, delight and devastate you, leaving you wanting more, much more, from Shock Therapy Productions.

 

 

 

Pillowman Trailer from Try Less Be More on Vimeo.

 

29
Oct
13

Design For Living

 

Design For Living

Queensland Theatre Company

QPAC Playhouse

19 October – 10 November 2013

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

Design for Living

Noel Coward’s Design For Living is Queensland Theatre Company’s final production for the year and I think it’s safe to say they’ve saved the best for last!

 

I loved QTC’s last offering, Other Desert Cities, and this final show is a sophisticated chaser, and a fitting finish to the 2013 season. Design For Living leaves nothing wanting; it boasts a terrific cast, an exquisite design aesthetic, a swellegant soundtrack and – of course – a laughing-til-you’re-crying typically witty and wicked text from the scandalous banter meister, Noel Coward. No, no relation, Sam’s family were Vikings (no surprises there!).

 

This is by far the best we’ve seen from Director (and Artistic Director of QTC), Wesley EnochDesign For Living is fast, fun and so cleverly contained that nothing is too OTT, despite some outrageous moments that, in less capable hands, would draw rolled eyes and sighs of exasperation rather than giggles and guffaws.

 

Jason Klarwein, who we’ll see in the titular role in Macbeth next year (it’s a co-pro between QTC and Grin & Tonic), is perfectly cast as Otto, who is in love with Gilda, played by his real-life wife, Kellie Lazarus. And oh, what a glorious role for Lazarus! She effortlessly embodies Gilda’s energy and effervescence. (Yes, a bit of the Year 5 alliteration coming into play there!), but it’s Klarwein and his antics that fuel the comedy and pace of the play. His is the role that drives this piece, though only by a little. Academic, actor and director, Tama Matheson, is Otto’s partner in crime, the ever-so-slightly more subtle Leo. Perfectly underplayed, I’m reminded (and I had to find it again so I could link to it here) of something Matheson told the SMH earlier this year about directing opera… “You never let the audience off the hook; you never let them sit back.” Matheson’s compelling stage presence ensures this is the case in a straight play too…well, in fact it’s not THAT straight, is it?!

 

Matheson and Klarwein are perfectly matched and make the greatest theatrical comical duo Brisbane has seen in a long while. Directors and actors alike, do go see these two do their very best “drunk acting”, to spectacular comic effect!

 

So both gentlemen are in love with Gilda, and she is in love with them both. This makes for a most elegant and exuberant, and ultimately satisfying, ménage-a-trois, with the play traversing years in the lives of these three bohemes, as a tryst becomes betrayal and indecision (or denial, largely due to society’s expectations that one should end up with one other person only) eventually leading to marriage….and its rapid dissolve. The themes, of love and art and freedom, and living by one’s own rules, are timeless, and if it were not for the society manners and sophisticated 1930s style conversation, and the exquisite set and wardrobe by Richard Roberts, one might assume the play had been written only recently.

 

There are, of course, several additional characters, including Ernest, Gilda’s other-other-other male friend, brought to us by Trevor Stuart, and in a strange sort of gesture, we see Fez Faanana play both Miss Hodge and Matthew. I think Miss Hodge works very well for him. Matthew, not so much. I loved the reporter, Birbek, played by the incomparable Andrea Moor; it’s a comprehensive character study and a coup for the transgender casting effort, which, a little like neon, should not be worn by everyone just because it’s once again become the current season’s trend. It certainly suits some better than others. Just saying.

 

Speaking of the latest trends, if you’re seeing Design for Living on a Friday night, remember to frock up! FROCK UP FRIDAY is the follow up to FUR FRIDAY, which was enjoyed by so many during QTC’s run of Venus in Fur.

 

If all the world is a stage, then it must be a catwalk too…

 

Do frock up, drink up, and enjoy the swell party that is QTC’s splendid Design For Living. Be quick! This is one that you’ll be truly sorry to have missed!

 

 




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