Weaving A Spell

Hugo Weaving In Macbeth

Hugo Weaving In Macbeth© Sydney Theatre Company

Writing 101 today asks:

Who’s the most interesting person (or people) you’ve met this year?

Our stories are inevitably linked to the people around us. We are social creatures: from the family members and friends who’ve known us since childhood, to the coworkers, service providers, and strangers who populate our world (and, at times, leave an unexpected mark on us).

The most interesting person I’ve met so far this year. Well if we have a loose definition of ‘met’ then earlier this year I went to my first Sydney Theatre Company Pier Group Lunch.

These are organised by the STC Pier Group as a fundraiser. You get a nice lunch (at the Bar at the End of the Wharf), a glass of wine and a chance to talk to some of the creative people involved in one of the STC productions. I think they have four a year. This one was the ‘Macbeth’ lunch and I had a chance to listen to Andrew Upton, director Kip Williams, Melita Jurisic (who played Lady Macbeth) and Hugo Weaving (Macbeth himself).

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The Sydney Theatre Company 2015 Season

So I’m just home after the subscriber briefing and season launch for the Sydney Theatre Company.

First some organisational criticism (let’s get the small pains over early). We are all told to be there early to pick up tickets because it will start promptly at 5pm. Except that the doors to the theatre didn’t open till 5 minutes after 5, by which time people had been standing waiting by the doors for more than twenty minutes. Several of the older patrons were getting faint or ill being in a crowd over that time. As someone who is still post-operative a hip replacement my legs were getting tired from standing that long.

Second, Jessi and I intended to go to the Bar At The End Of The Wharf after the briefing for dinner and a drink (her 22nd birthday was the day before). We also saw at least a dozen more people doing the same. Unfortunately the Bar was closed for a private function. To make matters worse, while there was a sign at the top of the stairs to tell people there was no sign at either the top or bottom of the lift so people with movement difficulties had to walk all the way to the end of the wharf to find out. (Another unnecessary task for my new hip and easily tired legs.) So bad scheduling and bad signage guys.

Going to the subscriber briefing is great fun. Listening to Andrew Upton talk about the plays provides an excellent background. He tells you why a particular play, where it might sit in a playwright’s works, how he managed to get Hugo Weaving back for more Beckett. Then there is the excitement of discovering the actors and directors that will be gracing the stage next year.

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Review: One Man, Two Guvnors

The band, "The Craze", before the play (Photo: Jessica Williams)

The band, “The Craze”, before the play (Photo: Jessica Williams)

Last night I saw One Man, Two Guvnors, a production of Britain’s National Theatre bought to Sydney by The Sydney Theatre Company.

The show had hugely successful runs in London and New York before coming out to Australia for the Adelaide Festival and now Sydney.

Shifting the action of the Italian play A Servant of Two Masters by Carlo Goldoni to 1963 Brighton with visually bright sets and costumes. We are really only left with the plot of Goldoni’s play, but a superb plot it is.

This production is a masterpiece. From the moment you take your seat to the skiffle music of the house band you are entertained. The band will be back several times, often accompanying a cast member or three, during set changes and after interval giving the show a slightly vaudeville feel.

The play itself is a masterpiece of visual and verbal comedy, though the second act after interval doesn’t have the strength of the first which is a marvellous slow build to the last scene which had me laughing so hard I was in danger.

Owain Arthur as the servant, Francis Henshall, gives a brilliant performance throughout. He is backed by a marvellous ensemble from whom it is difficult to find a standout performance as all do so well though Mark Jackson, as 87-year-old waiter Alfie, is a classic clown with some superb physical comedy.

This was by far the funniest play I have seen on a Sydney stage in decades. It is the humour of Goldoni filtered through classic British comedy of slapstick, farce, sight gags and often just plain silliness.

My one complaint is that the sound was terrible with lines lost in some scenes and the lyrics to the songs often impossible to understand. Why it can’t be done better in production that has toured to many theatres is difficult to understand, both the production and the STC should have done much better.

Review: Signs of Life

Tim Winton has over the last twenty years engraved himself into our culture. He arose out of the waves of Western Australia and has risen all the way to Living National Treasure. A superb and unique author.

It is only recently that he has turned his pen to playwriting, “Signs of Life” is his second play after last years “Rising Water”. It is a co-production of the Sydney Theatre Company and the Black Swan State Theatre Company from Perth.

“Signs of Life” is unmistakably a Winton work, it’s concerned with place, identity and belonging. It reminded me strongly of the English “kitchen sink” dramas of the sixties, it felt as if you came into an ongoing story at some random moment and left it the same way while in between you saw lives unfolding with all the difficulties and pasts that life holds. It is a somewhat sequel to his novel “Dirt Music” which I must admit to never having read. That may have to change.

Heather Mitchell, Pauline Whyman and Aaron Pederson do a marvellous job supported by George Shevstov. The men have a difficult job in this play as neither character feels really central and well developed, it is the two women who carry the play forward while the men have roles that are more explanatory and narrative. Pederson, in particular, has a difficult job as he and Mitchell have most of the dialogue while he shows only a little of himself and little variation in character. When his character shows it is important, large to him and so subtle. He is, in a word, superb. Shevstov looks right, an ageing hippy, but somehow never seemed right to me.

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The Pirates of Penzance Review

Last night I had the pleasure of seeing ‘The Pirates of Penzance’ at the Sydney Theatre Company.

This is a production imported from the UK and directed by Sasha Regan with an all-male cast.

I have to admit to not being a huge fan of Gilbert & Sullivan, I suspect it’s one too many poor productions in a suburban theatre and I’ve never been a fan of opera in any of its forms.

On the other hand when it is done well it is marvellous theatre with hummable tunes, a nice plot and good comedy and make no mistake this is G & S done well.

It starts with the simple set that allows the production to move swiftly from scene to scene. The costumes are equally simple, which means that the chorus can quickly change from pirates to daughters to police and back again as required.

The all-male cast is refreshing in the the way that it is not men in full drag with wigs and false bosoms but merely men wearing dresses and singing in a high register, in fact with faces fairly devoid of makeup and hairstyles that could only be described as short back and sides it is their singing, plain white dresses and movement that define them as female characters. It is an all-male cast without being overly camp. The first appearance of the daughters gets a laugh but personally I mostly forgot they were men when the chorus were playing daughters. There were moments with Mabel and Frederic however where it was impossible to deny that you were watching two men romantically involved.

The major characters are well performed and well sung. Alan Richardson’s Mabel is an amazing performance with his ability to sing up to a high D flat. The Act I finale is a just amazing with Richardson demonstrating a brilliant voice at such a high register for a man.

Musically it is just a single piano played by the Musical Supervisor Michael England and it fits the simplicity of the rest of the production like a glove. All the simplicity and paring back work wonderfully to leave the musical and its songs and humour to stand out.

My other stand out performance was Joseph Houston as Ruth. It was a performance with humour and style. Vocally my ear is not good enough to split Richardson from his co-star Mathew Gent as Frederic, Gent has a slightly easier task since he sings an octave or two lower but his voice is warm, rich and clear. He is, I am told, also “incredibly easy one the eye”. Some of the actual acting from the chorus was a little stiff or a little overdone but it is a fine line to tread in a comic opera.

The choreography was good with several moments of style and some of genuine humour. It was an excellent mix of a slightly modern style and the classic plonking G & S style, it certainly added to the humour of songs such as “Modern Major General” and “A Policeman’s Lot”.

Taken as a whole this was an enjoyable, watchable and fresh production – G & S for the 21st century and a modern audience.