The Circus – Australian Tour

The Circus adelaide 2022Weber Bros Entertainment. Bonython Park. 13 Aug 22.

 

The Big Top comes to Adelaide once more, with The Circus landing in Bonython Park. Calling Adelaide home for the second leg of their tour, the Weber Bros Entertainment group will be in town for just over 3 weeks.

 

Coming in at around two hours long the show is a mixture of death-defying stunts featuring highly technical apparatus and traditional circus variety tricks with a dash of slapstick between.

 

Set changes are complex and require a cast of thousands to move pieces into position, but this team have it down to a fine art. Keeping the audience entertained whilst sets are transformed are some incredibly talented circus clowns that dazzle with impeccably timed slapstick comedy routines that have the audience in stitches; a real favourite with the kids!

 

For the big tricks, apparatus such as the wheel of death, human cannon, BMX jump ramps, and the Globe of Death are wheeled out and assembled. The latter a white-knuckle, jaw-clenching performance that truly has one on the edge of their seat! Bravo!

 

It’s not all smooth sailing at this matinee performance, which really highlights the very real danger these talented performers are putting themselves in for our entertainment. Short delays to ensure crash mats are correctly positioned and safety harnesses to catch falling performers make the odd, entirely necessary, appearance.

 

There are also the more common aerial silk performances, trapeze acts, whip cracking and rope spinning, and hula-hoopers. A modern addition of LED-light dance performance is perhaps less successful given the proximity of the performers and daylight sneaking into the tent, but one expects this would really hit after dark.

 

The Circus is wonderfully high high-tech and still highly traditional. For that family experience to remember it is not one to be missed! Just be sure to dress for the wet; be that outside in the rain or around pesky clowns with water pistols. And don’t forget your welly’s. Bonython park is mighty muddy this time of year!

 

Paul Rodda

 

When: 12 Aug to 4 Sep

Where: Bonython Park – Under the Big Top

Bookings: iticket.com.au

Arcadia

846658 ArcadiaPosterTrybookingHeroImage0101 130722120440University of Adelaide Theatre Guild. Little Theatre. 13Aug 22

 

Sir Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia has been classified as one of the great contemporary plays of the English language. Indeed, now that it is over thirty years old, one looks upon it in this latter era of short and sweet and scaled-down theatre as one of the wordiest and most complex of popular contemporary plays being, as it is, presented as a contemporaneous duopoly of time.

 

In the same old English house there exist characters from 1809 hashing out the fine points of mathematics, landscape gardening and literature interspersed with characters of 1993 doing much the same retrospectively. The audience must pay close attention to the two periods and the assorted concepts and opinions as must the actors master a highly complex and prolix script.

It’s not a play for the faint-of-heart.

 

But UATG is far from faint-hearted. It braves works of erudition and packs its little theatre in so doing. For Arcadia, Matthew Chapman has stepped away from acting to take on the role of a solo director for the first time. It is a sterling start.

 

This production rockets along on a sleek and simple one-table set against a pleasant pale blue facade which represents the grand old Sidley Park mansion in Dorset. A subtle festoon of flowers signifies its verdant setting; a great landscaped garden which is subject to the aesthetic upheaval of the latest trends in landscape gardening. This is just one of the fascinating themes which threads through the plot, introducing the character of Noakes (Rohan Cassidy), the Capability Brown of the moment, whose “modernisation” of the glorious formal vista landscape seeks to make, if wild and dense, a suitable abode for a hermit. Thomasina Coverly, (Pari Nehvi) teenage daughter of the house and under the tuition of the handsome Septimus Hodge (Robert Baulderstone) is fascinated by this possibility and draws a hermit into the landscape architect’s sketch where it remains for the misinformation of future historians. They are the other aspect of the play and very ably embodied indeed.

 

Two time periods are enacted, first with clever young Thomasina challenging her tutor with concepts of physics beginning with why, once stirred, jam cannot be unstirred from rice pudding. Subjects such as determinism, iteration and chaos theory wind around sex education, gardening and poetry, salient since the second-rate poet Ezra Chater (Maxwell Whigham) is a regular guest in the house and the unseen presence of Lord Byron lingers everywhere, he having been a friend of tutor Septimus.

 

Also in the 19th Century household is the chatelaine, Lady Croom, (Kate Anolak), a very firm and sensible Matriarch with a wee flirtatious edge. It is a big and busy household and this is a big and busy play.

 

And in come the contemporaries, at the same table at Sidley Park, hashing over the history. There’s Hannah Jarvis (Alison Scharber) and Valentine Coverly (Guy Henderson) and, most significantly, Bernard Nightingale, the Oxford don who masquerades under the alternative avian name of Peacock, and who is obsessing on Lord Byron theories. John Rosen makes a delicious meal of this character.

 

The transitions between the present and the past slip to and fro very nicely with the occasional moveable prop and, of course, changing period costumes. All of which, importantly, is illuminated by the excellent Stephen Dean, late of the beloved Bakehouse Theatre.

 

Rebecca Kemp pops into the production credits as an “intimacy co-ordinator” which is very on-trend but de trop when the intimacies in this play, while integral, also are hardly lusty or intimate. There’s also Nicholas Clippingdale in the credits as “mathematics advisor”; it seems more logical, albeit oddly obscure. As is the need for a “classics advisor”. ’Tis a much-advised production.

 

One wonders what the playwright might be making of these further offstage loads to a production team when, already, the play calls for a large cast and some very niftily co-ordinated switchings of time and players.

 

Indeed, Arcadia is an ambitions production which embraces a fecund swathe of academic erudition, ideal perhaps in a university context. 

It is also a play inclusive of seasoned and young players in its cast, which it the perfect combination in an educational environment - and which worked so very well in the balance of performances, not always even, but not bad at all.

 

For those interested in the rules of physics, there is some grist to an ancient mill. For those caring about the egocentric bastardry of landscape gardeners, there is an ongoing agenda over which to fume.

 

For those seeking an intellectually busy night of theatre, here it is.

 

Samela Harris

 

When: 13 to 21 Aug

Where: Little Theatre

Bookings: trybooking.com

Summer of the Seventeenth Doll

summer of the seventeenth doll genesian theatre 2022The Genesian Theatre Company. Genesian Theatre, Sydney. 13 Aug 2022

 

It’s widely acknowledged that Ray Lawler’s Summer of the Seventeenth Doll changed Australian theatre forever when it premiered in Melbourne in 1955. It’s the first play – or the first popular play - to put working-class Australians and their sturdy vernacular centre stage for an exploration of the search for happiness in unconventional domestic arrangements.

 

While presently a time capsule of social norms of the ’50s – feminism hadn’t reached Carlton yet – forgive him this trespass as the emotional quotient of misunderstood love and nostalgic yearning in the play is as relevant today as it ever was. The Doll is far deeper than any one theme and compels endlessly debatable questions for the trip home. After opening in Melbourne to critical acclaim in 1955, productions in the UK and New York commenced before the end of the decade. Ray Lawlor is still collecting royalty cheques at the rare age of 101.

 

Canecutters Roo and Barney return to Melbourne for the seventeenth layoff from the season up north. Olive, happy with love only five months a year and eschewing conventional domestication, anticipates the boys breathlessly but, this time, with some agitation. Her beau is Roo, but Barney’s Nancy has married elsewhere. Olive sets up a blind date between Barney and her fellow barmaid at the local pub, Pearl. Pearl’s primness and uncertainty around the arrangement foreshadows the fading of the romantic mirage.

 

Olive’s shabby home is well-conveyed by Tom Fahy’s set design and Barry Neilson’s decoration. But this veracity is shattered by Grace Swadling’s bitchy and unpleasant Pearl. Who could stay in a room five minutes with this person, let alone work with them? A viewable nuance of trepidation mixed with vulnerability went wanting. Jodine Muir’s Olive has hard work dealing with this deadweight and what could have been an empathetic but challenging encounter was delivered as unattractive anger. Director John Grinston here employs a technique repeated through the production – characters on opposite sides of the stage delivering out front. This heightens disengagement where a dialogue simmering in subtext could be more interesting. I don’t think people say what they mean in the 1950s any more than they do now.

 

All was forgiven when the boys arrive. Lawlor has Olive build them into demi-gods and like “a couple of eagles descending out of the sky” – to paraphrase a line from the play – their entrance signals the game is on. The boisterous boys bounce around the tiny room and the relationships are realised with alacrity. Harley Connor has the best role as the robust larrikin Barney. No wonder Lawlor himself played Barney in the initial Melbourne, Sydney, UK and New York productions. Barney’s seduction in the Taming-of-the-Pearl scene is masterful, as are Pearl’s subtle and self-surprising hot flushes in reaction. Bravo! Martin Grelis is a formidable Roo, hulking, sulking, and coming to grips with this challenging layoff. Grace Swadling develops her Pearl into a far more complex and interesting persona as the play progresses and Jodine Muir excels in Olive’s climactic outburst.

 

The nostalgic routines of the seventeenth layoff are falling apart and Lawlor has given us three observers to the tragedy, each with a unique viewpoint. Heather Tleige’s Bubba was five at the first layoff and is now confronted with losing the magic and the need to rekindle it elsewhere as Kathy, her real name. Liz Grindley as Olive’s sardonic mum provides comic relief and caps the proceedings with bouts of wisdom. Her contumelious Emma, however, is more caricature than authentic. Johnnie Dowd is a young cane ganger who worked with the fellas up North, and now intruding on the foursome, reflects on the unreality of their situation. Hamish MacDonald gives a sweet performance.

 

Besides the aforementioned physical/emotional distancing, director John Grinston needs to pay more attention to detail. Like the lack of festive decorations on New Year’s Eve and the pre-mature fireworks. Roo apparently was looking for a job in the Financial Review and wears tennis shoes when he should be putting his boots on. And would it be that hard to have labels on the beer bottles, like Carlton? Small beer, but details do matter. On the other side of the ledger, the physical business is very good, and Susan Carveth’s costume design (and hair?) distinguishes the period. Bravo!

 

Ray Lawlor has constructed a near perfect play in which all the characters realise they have to change. Summer of the Seventeenth Doll is a dynamic rendering of its time yet crammed with modern emotions. Highly recommended for both.  

 

P.S. Saint Genesius is the patron saint of actors.

 

David Grybowski

 

When: 16 Jul to 20 Aug

Where: Genesian Theatre, Sydney

Bookings: genesiantheatre.com.au

Photography Credit: Craig O'Regan

Home

Home patch theatre restless dance 2022Patch Theatre/Restless Dance Theatre. The Space Theatre. 13 Aug 2022

 

Remember playtime when you were a kid? Your imagination made new worlds. If you were jumping over crocodiles, you really were!

 

Home takes this experience to the next level in a fashion that is totally and magically immersive.

 

Even before the show starts it has won over its audience of 4-10 year olds. A few discover a flat table that projects hands, objects and faces on a screen; a horde of little tackers surge forward to have a go!

 

That surging, playful horde of amazed kids is the very essence of the spirit of Home.

Co-Director/Designer Geoff Cobham and Designer Michelle Delaney’s set is gloriously colourful. Bright synthetic green grass floor, bright yellow door smack bang centre upstage, and pretty metallic flower structures dotted about. Composer Jason Sweeny graces the work with terrifically upbeat pop music as you take your seat, and you notice there’s a little house sitting on a brightly lit little mushroom shape stool.

It is a very important little house! It comes to life! It speaks! It introduces us to Zoë (Zoë Dunwoodie) and Charlie (Charlie Wilkins,) our new friends who share some wild adventures with us, guided by the little house.

 

The little house likes to be passed about the audience. If you are lucky, you might be invited onstage to play games! Discover what’s behind the yellow door!

 

What magical worlds that yellow door hides and reveals. Co-Director Daisy Brown along with Cobham successfully gives the production the true feel of anarchic mystery that playtime is made of. We bounce from one wild world of magic to another, barely noticing where we were, let alone going next. That’s sharp, very aware direction.

 

Jimmy Dodd, Artist in Residence, Elias Ppiros and Wendy Todd’s props are the stuff childhood magic forgot. Renate Henschke’s costumes are just right kid-stuff. Sound Designer Sascha Budimski’s superb work makes one particular game an outstanding top kid moment.

 

Home is an experiment founded on immense technical skill which manages to hide itself brilliantly and instead make live and present a magical feeling during and after the show.

 

David O’Brien

 

Where: The Space Theatre

When: 13 and 20 Aug

Where: Hopgood Theatre Noarlunga – regional tour 23 August – 8 September

When: 27 Aug

Bookings: patchtheatre.org.au

Chalkface

Chalkface state theatre company 2022Dunstan Playhouse. State Theatre Company South Australian and Sydney Theatre Company. 9 Aug 2022

 

Post-covid and in an era of funding cuts and bureaucratic bungling, most of the teachers of West Vale Primary hang out in the parking lot, leaving just a ragged core to frequent the run-down old staff room.

 

Returning from school holidays, the jaded veteran teacher Pat Novitsky shakes a cockroach out of the kettle before hammering loose the contents of a jumbo Nescafe can and heaping five spoonful’s of granules into a cup. She sighs as if its nectar on the first sip. The audience is already laughing because fey fellow teacher Denise Hart has preceded her by doing a horrified once-over of the room before disappearing into the Ladies. Catherine McClements and Susan Prior respectively have broken the comic ice with some lovely mime setting the scene and the mood for this Sydney Theatre Company and State Theatre Company SA co-production of Angela Betzein’s Chalkface.

 

The title, one discovers, references the “coal face” of teaching as opposed to makeup.

 

While there is a lot to laugh at in this play, loaded as it is with cornball clichés of the trials and tribulations of long-suffering but ever dedicated state school teachers, it is, in fact, a sad and disturbing portrait of a disintegrating system.

 

Novitsly’s best friend Sue, a fellow veteran teacher, dropped dead as they began their dream trip to Hawaii. Her funeral in school holidays was ignored by colleagues. Novitsky brings memorial ritual to the staff room along with Sue’s ashes. Playwright Betzein has fun with this - and so does the audience. 

 

The play rolls through all manner of tropes, especially in introducing the new millennial teacher, Anna Park, bright and cocky with her Masters degrees in neuroplasticity and child behaviour. She is embodied and well developed by Stephanie Somerville. The headmaster is more of an administrator. He’s nick-named “Thatcher” for his economic rationalist policies and, played by Nathan O’Keefe with a wee trendy man-bun, he’s buck-passing and hands-off. His staffroom offsider is the over-aptly named Cheryl Filch, played by Michelle Ny. She commands the supplies, the shredder, and the school PA over which she loves to issue exquisitely inept pronouncements. She is the tight-fisted school villain.

 

The sports teacher Steve, played by Ezra Juanta, has been on compo following an injury caused by the school’s pupil nemesis, Hurricane Little. He now suffers from paranoia. 

No one wants Hurricane and his perilous pranks in their class, so the smug newbie offers to take him. And so the school year rolls on, its tides and terms marked by flags and bunting strung across the staff room and also, by zany little dance vignettes from Denise, the kindie teacher. She is pregnant, so her growing stomach also shows the passage of time. 

 

The play's funny/nightmarish denouement is in Book Week when everyone is themed up, Denise as the many-armed Hungry Caterpillar. To this end, designer Ailsa Paterson has had lots of fun with costumes and, indeed, overall with a scrupulously detailed archetypal old-school staffroom complete with labelled pigeon holes, an ideas box, broken hot water system, and a flotsam of old furniture. Mark Shelton brings this all to vivid life with a gorgeous lighting plot, complete with inefficiencies and blackouts while Jessica Dunn’s sound and music taps right into the spirit of primary schools and is a delight in its own right. Indeed, it’s an altogether good production team and director Jessica Arthur sustains the cast’s timing and interaction to a school bell tee.

 

Chalkface is not a great play. But, it is a nice play. Its one hour and 45 minutes passes swiftly and its portrayal of the ravaged education system gives serious pause for thought. It dares a spot of didacticism and labours the word “pedagogy” to underscore today’s decline in depths of teaching of language and critical thinking.

While the performances all are pretty shmick, it is  Catherine McClements as the world-weary doyen who steals the show and our hearts.  

 

Samela Harris

 

When: 10 to 20 Aug

Where: Dunstan Playhouse

Bookings: statetheatrecompany.com.au

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