Category Archives: Theatre

Black Swan Theatre Company

 

Extinction (Hannie Rayson)

State Theatre of W.A.

reviewed by Sophie Saxe-Lehrman

 

Too infrequently, a new play is mounted which has the seemingly effortless ability to draw the viewer –  in the most meaningful way  – into the world created by the dramatist.

 

BSSTC Extinction Production ImagesThis was very much the case with Stuart Halusz’s sure and sensitive directorial touch and a cast of four who brought Hannie Rayson’s play to consistently convincing life ie apart from a curious feature: siblings whose accents were so strikingly different that they sounded as if from utterly different families, utterly different countries for that matter.

 

This curious dichotomy aside, on-stage conversations were invariably engrossing – and one sensed also a total absorption by the audience into Rayson’s idiosyncratic theatre-world.

 

Central to the play is the fate of a seriously endangered mammal – the quoll – which serves as the focal point for much of Act 1. One of these rare creatures has been injured in a road accident and has been brought to a veterinary clinic – and is being looked after by a veterinary nurse. The injured animal has been brought in by the driver of the car which caused the injuries. By a curious co-incidence, he is a senior executive of a mining corporation which plans to start digging in areas where the quoll is at its most vulnerable.

 

Rayson has a good ear for conversation; her lines draw one almost at once into an intriguing mood-world. It is rather like eavesdropping on private conversations – and fascinating ones to boot. Of course, even the best lines can be a turn-off if they’re delivered indifferently. But on this crucial count, the cast scored impressively.

 

Not the least of the pleasures of this production is its seamless continuity with both  actors and stage personnel soundlessly and rapidly moving props around and on or off a darkened stage. And lighting design is one of the production’s best features, subtly underscoring mood and drawing the viewer into the unfolding story.

 

It was a pleasure to experience stage craft of such high order

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All My Sons (Arthur Miller)

Roundhouse Theatre, WAAPA

reviewed by Neville Cohn

 

All My Sons

‘All My Sons’ 3rd Year Acting / WAAPA Production (2015) / Photography © Jon Green 2015 – All Rights Reserved

Arthur Miller’s All My Sons comes across with implacable, near-overwhelming intensity, a tour de force with young actors giving proof of significant potential.

 

Tom Healey’s direction holds – indeed rivets – the attention throughout and despite the actors’ youth, they give characterisations that more often than not are close to the emotional epicentre of each part. Miller spares neither players nor audience in a play that brings us face to face with families in self-destructive mode. Its intense reality does not so much attract the attention as rivet it.

 

All My Sons

‘All My Sons’ 3rd Year Acting / WAAPA Production (2015) / Photography © Jon Green 2015 – All Rights Reserved

Healey’s guiding hand ensures there isn’t a weak moment in this production by 3rd- year acting students at WAAPA.

 

In essence, the play, set in the early aftermath of World War II, is about the corrosive, devastating after-effects on two families of faulty warplane parts causing the deaths of 21 pilots in training exercises over Australia.

 

Guilt, subterfuge, regret, emotional devastation, self-delusion and self-destruction are the currency of Miller’s masterpiece – and invariably, the actors rise to the challenge.

 

Bevan Pfeiffer is particularly effective as Chris Keller who has survived the war –  and Brittany Morell, entirely persuasive as Chris’ hysteria-prone mother who insists, against all the odds, that her elder son, a war pilot, is still alive. He isn’t but it would be unfair to intending theatre-goers to reveal what is one of the gut-wrenching climaxes of the play.

 

Arthur Miller provides an inspired dissection of ordinary Americans who find themselves in a devastating emotional maelstrom.

 

In a convincing characterisation as the ethically challenged Joe Keller, Chris’ father, Andrew Creer comes up trumps – but in visual terms he looks too young. Skilled makeup could well have resolved this issue.

 

Stephanie Panozzo gives a touching performance as Anne Deever  – and  Hoa Xuande is impressive as George.

 

Cameron Routley’s lighting design is consistently effective; so, too, is Sallyanne Facer’s set design of a typical US backyard. Music, however, was far too loud and overwhelming in a negative sense.

Dinner (Moira Buffini) |Black Swan Theatre Company

 

 

Kate Cherry (director)

Heath Ledger Theatre

reviewed by Neville Cohn

 

To suggest that the dinner hostess is angry is an understatement. Within moments of curtain-rise, it’s apparent that she is seething. Her bile-filled fury and contempt for her guests are ever present.

 

064 Kenneth Ransom, Tasma Walton, Greg McNeill, Alison van Reeken, Rebecca Davis, Steve Turner. Dinner. Image by Gary MarshInitially, we see her and a butler hired for the evening. She gives him what looks like a very substantial number of bank notes, so many that one would have to wonder whether working as a butler is a very much more lucrative way of earning a living than as a critic.

 

It soon becomes clear that our hostess doesn’t get along well with her husband. Indeed, as the evening wears on, she doesn’t seem to get on with anyone. She comes across as bitterness personified.

 

‘Friends’ arrive, among them a glamorous TV newsreader, her scientist husband Hal, a former hippy Wynne with a torn stocking – and, later, knocking at the door, a fellow who claims to have been in a truck accident. Perhaps to bolster his self-esteem, he spins the line that he’s a burglar. He isn’t, just a truck driver. He is also invited in.

 

Guests are seated at a long table which, like the chairs, is made of a transparent plastic material. As the play, set in the conservatory, unfolds, the table and diners revolve slowly.

 

It’s an evening of ugliness in both social and gastronomic terms. The soup is revolting – could it be stagnant water with ‘things’ in it? Live lobsters are brought in on platters. Diners are expected to place them in a pot of boiling water. Some can’t face that prospect and tip them into a pond in the garden. The ‘mist’ that rolls in whenever the door to the garden is opened, is so over the top, though, that one expects a zombie or other such horror manifestation to emerge from it. The dessert is ‘Frozen Waste’, the chief ingredient being just that.

 

At this dinner party from Hell, apart from what passes for food, there are lavish helpings of moral ugliness with bitterness aplenty, garnished with envy and plain rudeness.

 

The ending is completely unpredictable, at once shockingly violent and entirely mystifying.

 

Laurels to Alison van Reeken who is a delightful Wynne, the most human of that sad company. Kenneth Ransom as the eerily silent butler holds his tongue until almost the very end – and Stuart Halusz gives spot-on characterisation as the fellow who knocks at the door and pretends to be other than he really is. Rebecca Davis does well, too, as the flinty, glamorous TV newsreader. Lars, husband of the hostess, fits seamlessly into his role as does Greg McNeill as Hal, the scientist.

Trent Suidgeest designed the set as well as lighting which did much to enhance the moment.

black swan

Perth Festival

UBU and the Truth Commission

State Theatre

reviewed by Neville Cohn

 

DSC_8426In 1948 in South Africa, Dr D.F.Malan’s National Party came to power, turfing out the Smuts government and setting about laying the foundations of a hateful and cruel separation of the races. If you were classified ‘white’, you were at the top of the heap. If you were black, you were dumped at the very bottom.

 

Although many still firmly believe that the Nationalists were voted in because of their apartheid policies, it was nothing of the sort. It was, improbably, the promise of white bread – not apartheid – that swept the Nats into power. And they ruled implacably for decades with their hideous policies, ensuring the disenfranchisement of the black majority. They applied these ghastly laws with cold indifference to the misery they caused, always claiming – with breathtaking hypocrisy – to be God-fearing and guided by the bible.

 

During World War 2, it was forbidden to use white flour for baking. But countrywide, housewives would break the law by sifting wholemeal flour to rid it of bran – and a thriving cottage industry worked overtime to produce flour sifters which could be found in millions of households. By 1948, South Africans were tired of brown bread – and it was something as trivial as a guarantee of legally available white bread that swept the Nats into power and for decades they ruled the political roost.

 

Particularly in the latter years of their appalling incumbency, the secret police tortured and murdered many black citizens to ensure their ruthless hold on power – and it is to Mandela’s unblemished credit that when the Nats were finally voted out of power, there was little vengeful retribution on the part of the newly enfranchised black majority. And the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to bring out into the open innumerable horrific events engineered by a cold, cruel government, was an important safety valve for airing understandably shocking grievances.

 

But it is a cruel irony that while black citizens now have the vote, most have little else. Poverty is widespread, crime rates are very high – and reckless promises on the part of black leaders that there would be jobs and rising standards of living for all in the new South Africa have not materialised for millions of embittered black citizens – and endemic corruption at the very highest levels has exacerbated matters.

 

UBU is set in this latter period. It’s ribald, whacky, loud and hugely entertaining. It is also very disturbing. The two main protagonists are Pa Ubu, played by Dawid Minnaar, the former policeman (who doesn’t really regret anything he’s done) and Ma Ubu, his black wife in a relationship that would have been unthinkable and severely punished in apartheid South Africa.

 

As Ma Ubu, Busi Zokufa is a delight. With a booming voice, which occasionally alters to a squeak – and immense energy, she moves about the stage as if it were her natural milieu. Alistair McCall Smith’s description of Precious Ramotswe of No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency as ‘traditionally built’ would apply, too, to Ma Ubu, who, delightfully, trips the light fantastic, moving about the stage as if it were her natural milieu. Minnaar, on the other hand, invariably garbed in underpants and vest (has he any other clothes, I wonder?) is a dour presence with an absolutely authentic Afrikaans accent. The two get on fairly well but there’s tension and some bitterness between the two because of Pa Ubu’s philandering ways.

 

Added to the mix are three puppeteers who do wonders with three scene-stealing dog heads and a rather crotchety but articulate crocodile.

 

Reminders of the country’s violent recent past are provided by confronting black-and-white drawings of people being tortured at the hands of the police. These are flashed onto a screen at the rear of the stage. They need no explanation and add significantly to the air of foreboding that is a hallmark of the production.

 

I hope UBU is seen by many around the world. It certainly deserves a long run.

The Seagull (Chekhov)

Black Swan Theatre Company

Heath Ledger Theatre

reviewed by Neville Cohn

 

Far and away the star of this fine production is Rebecca Davis as Masha, one of Chekhov’s most fascinating characters. Davis gives a totally convincing interpretation. Here, both word and gesture are faultless in evoking Masha’s neurotic, alcoholic personality which hangs over the production like a grey blanket. There is a sense of barely contained hysteria that is altogether persuasive.

 

Greta Scacchi, too, is no less convincing as the celebrated, self-absorbed actress Irina Arkadina. Breathtakingly indifferent to the problems of others, extraordinarily self-centred – and miserly to boot – she is wilfully blind to the concerns of her own daughter and her sad son, rubbishing his recently written play, utterly indifferent to the humiliation that he experiences as a result. Andrew McFarlane is a consistently gentle presence as Dr Dorn.Rebecca Davis, Adam Booth. The Seagull. Image by Gary Marsh

 

In a smaller role, Michael Loney is altogether persuasive as Irina’s brother Sorin, a bachelor unfulfilled in life who, on stage, departs for the hereafter as quietly as he has lived his rather drab life.

 

In a debut role, Leila George as Nina is a pleasing, word-perfect stage presence in a play within the play but rather more emphatic voice projection as required; it was too low-key in decibel terms.

 

Greta Scacchi, Rebecca Davis, Andrew McFarlane. The Seagull. Image by Gary MarshThis is a finely nuanced production which, as it unfolds, draws the viewer ineluctably into Chekhov’s unique world where, invariably, all manner of tensions and misunderstandings seethe below a sometimes seemingly placid surface.

 

Kate Cherry’s production unfolds seamlessly, enhanced by Jon Buswell’s lighting design and Fiona Bruce’s costumes.