Skip navigation

Category Archives: THEATRE

I once experienced a physical reaction that felt like my stomach was scraped clean with a spoon. Much later did I admit to myself that what I felt was jealousy. It was such an acute pain that I couldn’t quite belittle it to just jealousy at that point but as the pain faded in time, I admitted defeat. Irish playwright Enda Walsh describes these feelings that we have conveniently given names like jealousy, despair, infatuation, fear in such incredible detail that you have no choice but to feel them with the actors on stage.

The story that he’s written is impeccably structured and immaculately told by sisters Breda, Clara and Ada and visitor Patsy. Breda and Clara (whose facial expressions of a whimpering teenager are absolutely exceptional) reenact one fateful night at the New Electric Ballroom when the music flowed just as generously as their feelings for a certain heartthrob. When their feelings get crushed by his ignorance of their adoration, they replay the tragedy of the night over and over again in garish make-up, poofy skirts and teenage emotions as a cautionary tale for younger sister Clara. As a challenge to the cautionary tale, Patsy, an unassuming local fishmonger tries to infiltrate the tight circle of the sisters, to be noticed, to be welcomed into their homes not just as a necessity but a visitor.

Justin Smith who plays Patsy nearly steals the show with his monologue and an unexpected solo performance, but it is the words of Enda Walsh that upstages any performance because “Staring back behind the blusher and the eye shadow is a girl who’s yet to be kissed. Properly kissed.” And it is that simple kiss that results in this exceptionally told story.

Until 31 March, Griffin Theatre, $15-$30.

Advertisements

We know Aaron Sorkin wrote The Social Network, The West Wing, A Few Good Men and The American President but Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip is rarely mentioned. Think 30 Rock but with ping pong dialogue that will leave your head spinning and yearning for more. Unfortunately, the series (starring a much transformed Chandler – Mathew Perry) was cancelled after the first season. In The Farnsworth Invention, Sorkin takes his love for television and his fascination with invention on stage. The story revolves around a Philo Farnsworth, a self-taught electronics genius, and David Sarnoff, a broadcasting tycoon, who fight over the invention of television. Set in 1929 but framed within an acute awareness of today’s audience, this is a battle between the scientist and a dirty word called patent. TicketStubbies’ speaks to New Theatre’s Artistic Director and Director of The Farnsworth Invention, Louise Fischer for an insight into television on stage.

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip also by Aaron Sorkin.

Sorkin’s one-liners are quick, witty and too good to be true. What was your experience directing his words? It has been a truly fun ride – lots of wonderful things to discover in this terrific script.  There are some hysterical scenes but there are also some “you could hear a pin drop” poignant moments.

Were there any challenges? Making sure the work is highly theatrical.  There was a danger that a play about television could look like a television play on stage.  A dramatic irony we wished to avoid.

With something being invented every other minute, do you think the idea of invention has lost its magic in today’s world? Sadly yes. Like exploration of the physical world, there seems to be very few frontiers that haven’t been discovered.

Do you feel this story is timeless? Firstly, great writing doesn’t date and the story itself is about human relationships and the struggle to realise a dream.

What three things/questions would you discuss with Aaron Sorkin if you were to meet him? What compelled him to bring Farnsworth’s story to light? He could have made Sarnoff more of a villain but he’s written a relatively sympathetic character. Does he relate to Sarnoff in some way? Will he introduce me to Martin Sheen?

Enough about Sorkin, tell us a little about yourself. How did you nab the title of Artistic Director of New Theatre? I had been doing a lot of stuff at the New Theatre – directing, acting and generally making a nuisance of myself.  They let me be AD to shut me up.

Do you watch much television? If so, what are the top three programs you are most ashamed of watching? I don’t get a lot of time to watch TV and often it’s the late night crap I watch after rehearsals but my guilty pleasures are The Amazing Race  (I so want to be a contestant), Angel/Buffy (beats the Twilight mob hands down) and Scrubs. (West Wing goes without saying)

Throw us a few titillating words on what the audience can expect at your production. I’m not sure about titillating but what they can expect a compelling night at the theatre with a kick arse script performed by an ensemble of amazing and versatile actors.

TRU THAT LOU!

The Farnsworth Invention (American production)

Until 13 Aug, New Theatre, 542 King Street, Newtown. $22-$28. 9519 5081, newtheatre.org.au

Families.  Like it or not, you’re stuck. Like honeycomb to teeth, you’re stuck with memories, stories and questions that remain forever unresolved. Last year, we glimpsed into Paul Capsis’ Maltese family tree in another one-man show Angela’s Kitchen at the SBW Stables Theatre. This year, in an intimate Old Fitzroy Theatre, we are welcomed into the home of Lloyd Beckmann Stitz – beekeeper, cordial host and grandfather to performer of the play, Tim Stitz. Through the science of bees, Lloyd takes us through his life, especially the bits that are too sticky to battle through.

Once you’ve entered the Lloyd world, there’s really no need to be shy. Help yourself to the bikkies and pretzels. Wine or beer? It’s up to you. Cozy up and soak in Lloyd’s warmth. A taste of honey on your lips, smell of talc in the air, sight of floral lamp shades, sound of Lloyd’s excitable voice and a squeeze of your shoulder whenever the old man comes around to tell you his bee tale. These are all part of the Lloyd Beckmann sensory tour package.

Just leave the big, red chair empty. Because when the going gets tough, that’s where the hardy man slumps. A slump so unnatural to this sunny Queenslander, he pushes his woes deep down. Be it death, disease or bankruptcy, “you gotta stop that thing up there,” he says pointing to his temple. “You gotta keep smiling.”

Tim Stitz’s portrayal of his grandfather on stage is uncanny. His verbal rhythm, inflection and whistle combined with a hurried limp only an Aussie battler with a godly work ethic can pull off, plus an endearing incessancy to spell out words transforms Stitz the actor into older Stitz, the character. Just watch the audience’s body language change. No longer are they in a theatre – they are respectful, attentive and polite in the presence of grandfather Stitz.

Don’t fret too much if you are not a big fan of “interactive theatre”. Lloyd is kind and you can easily fade into the dark back seats if you wish, but if you want to sample some of Lloyd’s famed honey and paw paws, pull up a stool, drop your chin on your palms and lose yourself in grandpa’s story.

Memories, stories, nostalgia and mystery. You’ll never know the full narrative of your family but like Stitz’s final recording of his grandfather’s actual voice, you’ll never stop replaying it. (Published in Time Out Sydney, July)


 Until Jul 25, Old Fitzroy Theatre, cnr Cathedral St & Dowling St, Woolloomooloo, $21-$33, 9365 3848, rocksurfers.org

A Bridgett Jones-esque accountant, Justin Bieber and a teasing plastic bag are just some of the characters you will meet at Bare Boards Braveheart. After a rave review for Toy Box by none other than yours truly, masterminds of subtlenaunce theatre company Paul Gilchrist and Daniela Giorgi are back. This time, they’ve cleared the stage for a slew of talented writers, directors and performers in a festival of solo performances.

The BBBH experience begins with the venue itself. An unassuming Drill Hall set against spectacular views of the Sydney bridge at Rushcutters Bay is a pleasant surprise for those not familiar with the place. Then, there is complimentary hot tea and coffee or wine by donation followed by blankets in baskets if you’d like to rug up during the performance. So far so good. I get the same cosy feeling after a hot towel and a packet of peanuts aboard a Singapore Airlines flight.

View from Rushcutters Bay

All six plays were charming but with short plays/stories/films, there’s always the issue of completion. How best to tell a story or convey an idea within a short period of time and in this case, with just one actor. Some of them missed the mark but as a whole festival, in its entirety, the six plays worked. The Line We Draw (pictured above) written and performed by Skye Loneragan was one that ticked all the boxes. Clever story and a great use of space and minimal props. It’s story time and the children (the audience) are in for a miseducation (Lauryn Hill style) and bitter truths about a little thing called life.

Unsex Me (pictured just above) felt incomplete but I found out later that, it is. The feature version will play later in the year at Riverside’s Theatre’s True West. So, does that mean it’s a teaser? If it was, I’d have preferred less of the haphazard lighting sequence and more of Nick Atkins’ brilliant acting.

Now, to be completely unfair to the rest of the plays… From a Great Height will tickle, Sharks Can Smell Fear will make you feel, It’s Ok to Ask will get you thinking and So It’s That of Quest may require your participation.

For a measly $15, this is a fabulous night of theatre.

 Until June 25, The Drill Hall, 1C New Beach Road, Rushcutters Bay, 7pm, $15, subtlenuance.com


Hmm… How do I put this? How can I express my feelings in a proper fashion?

OHMYGOD! I LOVE THE FILM ROPE. IT’S LIKE ONLY THE BEST HITCHCOCK MOVIE EVER. EVER!

Can you tell I’m going to be biased? I can’t help but compare Ian Sinclair’s Rope to the Hitchcock screen version in 1948 (originally a play by Patrick Hamilton written in 1929). The story is simple but malevolent. Two university students kill a fellow student, simply because  they can.  Then they invite guests for a dinner party around the body. Can they get away with murder?

In the first few minutes, Sinclair’s version shocked me and I was intrigued by the new level of darkness he’d injected into the play. Unfortunately, this was not translated throughout.

However, a strange series of events rendered that Wednesday night, June 15 to be exact, into crisis management mode. This actually revealed how dexterous the actors truly were in the face of theatre mishaps. A curtain rail came hurtling down as it was drawn. A boo boo that was quickly covered up by one of the performers. Then, a very visible monster of a cockroach was stamped to death by another performer just before a dialogue about murder. Excuse my French but that was fucking cool!

Final shows on tonight and tomorrow night. Despite my Hitchcock rant, the actors are fantastic and the set design, simply fabulous ma’dear! Go see it!

P.S. Special shout out to the bartender for cooking up that amazing mulled wine!

The Hitchcock Trailer

Until tomorrow Jun 25, Bondi Pavilion, Bondi Beach, 8pm, $25-$33, rocksurfers.org

I have a “quirky” habit when I read books. I highlight lines that seem like they are speaking directly and only to me or sentences that are too brilliant not to run over with florescent colours. When I was watching writer/director Paul Gilchrist’s latest play Toy Box at the Tap Gallery last week, my “quirky” habit was verging on OCD as I felt an excessive compulsion to highlight or in this case mentally record every inspired line that was looking me straight in the eye.

These were not literary quotes you find plastered on ridiculously expensive birthday cards, these were simple stringing of words drenched in an exceptional ability to observe human behavior and thought. This is a story about children seeing their parents as fallible human beings, mothers and those who don’t want to be mothers, siblings with the magic power to incite intense hatred and love within the span of a few minutes, men who will always be boys and women who always carry with them an inexplicable sadness. This play could be staged anywhere in the world and it will resonate with the audience. Paul Gilchrist and Daniela Giorgi (producer) of Subtlenuance Theatre, remember me when you become disgustingly famous. I wanted to highlight you way before everyone else did.

ONLY UNTIL APR 17, TAP Gallery, 278 Palmer Street, Darlinghurst. $12-$25. 9361 0440, tapgallery.org.au

A call to the end of a scene, a snip at the barber’s, slicing of a cake or detailed incisions that result in a row of paper men. The list goes on with what the title of this one-woman show could mean. With playwright Duncan Graham’s words and Anita Hegh’s acting chops, director Sarah John explains the mystery behind the fantastical psychological thriller, Cut.

Why the title Cut? The title Cut is a reference to Atropos the third and most fearsome of the three Fates who was responsible for cutting an individual’s ‘thread of life’. The central character in Cut finds a kinship with Atropos as she attempts to wrestle down and take control of her own fate.

Would it be correct to call this play a one-woman psychological thriller? In one respect, yes. It’s a kind of mindscape made up of a series of reflections and refractions of a woman attempting to hunt down her true self and a mysterious thread of impulses and instincts that she is experiencing.

Could a man play this role? If he could fit into an airhostess outfit maybe… But I’m quite happy with Anita!

You’ve worked with Duncan before. What about him impressed you? What is it like working with him? Duncan and I studied together and have since collaborated together on a number of occasions. He’s an excellent writer and is extremely open to work with, encouraging intense interrogation of his texts. Actors and other collaborators are often surprised at his lack of preciousness and willingness to try suggested changes and cuts.


How are rehearsals going? Have there been any surprises? Rehearsals are on track. I get quite nervous talking about it at this stage in case I ‘jinx’ things but we’re working really hard and we all feel quite excited as to how it’s taking shape. I am constantly surprised by Anita Hegh. She is an incredible actor who makes the most courageous choices and finds the most beautiful nuances, so that a text that I have read countless times still feels alive and surprising.

You were trained as an actor but work primarily as a director. Why? I enjoy (and crave) the challenge and thrill of making theatre. As an actor, I found that I often felt frustrated by the lack of creative involvement I had in projects and ended up with little investment and belief in them. As a director, I was more easily able to instigate projects that excited me.

Incidentally, my first real (but unofficial) teacher in directing was Peter Evans who I worked as assistant director to on a production called Yellow Wallpaper – a one-woman show staring Anita Hegh.

What about theatre never fails to excite you? Someone once told me a story about the Stradivarius violin. Apparently, they are so finely tuned that if you place two of them in opposite corners of a room and pluck a note on one of them, the other violin will ‘hum’ in tune. This is a wonderful analogy for the experience of theatre. I never tire of attempting to tune each moment after moment in the hope that a good hum might be created between the work and the audience.

Why should people see Cut? It’s an awesome new piece of writing. It stars one of the finest actors around. It’s a very dark, strange little piece in the spirit of David Lynch. It’s only 50 minutes and you never know, it could be quite good.

Apr 7 – May 1, Belvoir St Downstairs Theatre, 25 Belvoir St, Surry Hills, $32-$42, 9699 3444, belvoir.com.au

“I’m no harm to anybody but to myself. And if this is harmful, bring on the hurt please.” 67-year-old Aboriginal actor Jack Charles speaks like a poem and the harm he’s talking about is his former relationship with heroin. We saw his story about drugs, burglary, prison time and theatre in the documentary Bastardy. Now, he is seducing the nation on stage with a one-man show at the Belvoir. I speak to Australian legend, Uncle Jack.

What can we expect from Jack Charles v the Crown that wasn’t revealed in Bastardy? We honour Bastardy as the foundation of the person I’ve become. We’ve got images screening behind me. Since Bastardy, my life’s turned around. I’ve been able to jump off the methadone and start living like a beacon for others in my community. I also found the power of writing my own material.

We do backdrops from Bastardy but the new photos that have come from the heritage mob and the blokes from Box Hill Boy’s Home, my siblings if you will, have remembered me once they saw Bastardy on ABC nationwide. They wrote in and sent me photographs. And we’ve added these into the show. It’s a revelation. It follows from the documentary.

I’d also hooked up with Bunjilaka Melbourne and in essence they brought me home with so much information on the Bringing Them Home program. So much information about my forbearers. My great great greats, where my mother came from. On the opening night, during Christmas time last year, I found who my father was.

Wow. Yea, they weren’t married so therefore a bastard I’ll still remain, thank god (laughs).

How does it feel to be back on stage? Oh it’s great. Being up there is where I’ve always felt comfortable. It’s good being up there, just me alone with three band members on the side. I’ve always felt that every performer, in their lives, should try to do a one-man show.

How do you actually feel when you are on stage? 10 foot tall. I really do ya’ know. I get a realisation that we are getting full houses. Melbourne and Sydney audiences were being treated to light performance from this particular little black duck. I’m being honoured for that and I feel, like I said, 10 feet tall. The performance is more genuine too. Remember that I haven’t trod the boards for over a decade and a bit. When I did the Melbourne Festival, it was a hesitant performance but I whizzed through it and I was so proud to have done it. And now we are ready to take it up to Belvoir.

It’s easy for the rest of us to see your life as an extraordinary one. Do you feel you’ve lived an extraordinary life? I do realise that now. It’s a fair comment to say now. My life’s embedded in the National Archives even. I mean very few people get that opportunity. Very few black fellas get that opportunity. There are more stories to come now. It’s given me the power, as my memories come on with a clarity that I never thought I could ever get. The eagles must be flying over me, protecting me. And I suppose that’s the reason why I’m still here at 67.

What scares you? Not being taken seriously.

What’s your best memory? The memory of former CIU (Criminal Investigations Unit) inspectors, retired, coming to see Bastardy, twice to see JC v The Crown. This is heartening for me. Even people I’ve robbed have come up to me after the show and said “Oh my Charles, we lived in a large house up in Melbourne many years ago and we were robbed and we were wondering…” (laughs). These are good memories for me, connecting with these people. Knowing that they are there in the audience and they enjoyed the show.

What’s your biggest regret? That it took me till I was over 60 to get on the methadone program. I’m the kind of guy that I told myself once I got on the program, I will never use the needle again and I hadn’t so it’s been great staying clean the past seven years.

Would you agree with the saying youth is wasted on the young? Oh my word. Yes, yes, yes. I have been reborn. Not a reborn Christian, religion scares the bejesus out of me.

Uncle Jack, it’s been an honour talking to you. Thank you very much. Thanks mate.

Until Apr 17, Belvoir St Downstairs Theatre, 25 Belvoir St, Surry Hills, 9699 3444, belvoir.com.au

Instead of recommending a DVD this week, I urge you go see The Brothers Size for less than $30 at the Stables Theatre. My partner Dave and I watched it on Wednesday night without really knowing much about it. We knew it was a story about brothers, it’s written by an American playwright, based in Louisiana and was described as “Shakespeare meets The Wire”. And that’s all you should know as well. Ok, if you want to know just a tad bit more, click here to read my interview with director Imara Savage. But stop right there and go see it! You will thank me 😉

Until 16 Apr, SBW Stables Theatre, 10 Nimrod St, Kings Cross. $26-$30. 8002 4772, griffintheatre.com.au

Described as “Shakespeare meets The Wire”, The Brothers Size is written by 27-year-old American playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney, a newly inducted member of the prestigious Steppenwolf Theatre Ensemble. We speak to director Imara Savage as she brings to stage McCraney’s poetry on paper.

What was it like working with Tarell Alvin McCraney? Wow! I wish I had worked with Tarell. I didn’t have the pleasure of meeting him and had to content myself with YouTube clips and interviews. Tina Landau, the director of The Brothers Size at the Steppenwolf describes this piece as a choreo-poem. Tarell himself admits that he harbours a not-so-secret desire to be a dancer.

How would you describe his style? It is Greek theatre and Shakespeare in the sense that gods and mortals collide. It is The Wire in that it’s written in contemporary African American vernacular. It is prose, verse, hip hop anthem and a gospel choir. It is movement and song. It is Peter Brook’s The Empty Space and Grotowsky’s “poor theatre”, in that it strips theatre back to it’s basic state and demands of the actors their voice, text, bodies and their relationship with the audience to be the tripod on which the show stands.

How does music play a part in The Brothers? The play is written around drum rhythms. The rhythms of the music of the Yoruba tradition are embedded within the text, so that even when there is no music, the audience is listening to musically encoded text. In the same way that Shakespeare provides us with rhyme and metre, Tarell’s words are built around rhythm and song. His influences come from his favourite hip hop artist Common and his first theatrical experience being in Baptist churches watching his grandfather preach the story of Lazereth rising from the dead.

On another level we are working with Miriam Liebermann, an accomplished musician who has spent a good deal of her life in Latin America and Africa studying the music of the now dispersed Yoruba traditions. So there are three dynamics at play. Firstly the songs that Tarell himself references (hip hop, soul and R&B), secondly the music of the Yoruba traditions played live by Miriam on stage (mainly drums, kora and voice) and thirdly there are the rhythms played out in the text.

As the director, what impressed you about McCraney’s words? When I first read the play I thought, “this voice is truly unique”. It wasn’t trying to be anything other than what it was. Tarell’s text is raw, exposing, poetic, beautiful, violent and sensual, just the way life is.

There was a play, True West, about brothers at STC late last year. Why are stories about brothers so compelling to tell and watch? I saw True West. Actually, I was directing another Shepard play Fool For Love at Belvoir around the same time which was also about siblings. I don’t think brothers are any more interesting than sisters, fathers, mothers or half cousins for that matter. Brothers are about family and family will always be a compelling story to tell and watch.

Until 16 Apr, SBW Stables Theatre, 10 Nimrod St, Kings Cross. $26-$30. 8002 4772, griffintheatre.com.au