Review: Cosi – La Boite Theatre Company at the Roundhouse Theatre

Images: Dylan Evans Photography (Main Image L-R: Trevor Stuart, Jessica Marais, Amy Ingram, Anthony Standish, Benjamin Schostakowski, Jennifer Flowers, James Stewart)

Cosi by Louis Nowra is a much-loved and, by now, a classic in the canon of modern Australian plays. According to David Berthold, it’s also the playwright’s personal favourite. It’s certainly admired by La Boite Theatre Company who have produced it three times over the years. The latest has just opened at the Roundhouse under the direction of Mr Berthold and it’s a production that finds the rhythm of the play’s compassionate heart.

Filled with marvellous characters, and set in an asylum during the Vietnam War, Cosi follows the adventures of young Lewis (Ben Schostakowski) a uni student, who gets a job helping the inmates “put on a show.” He’s all for a bit of Brecht but Roy (played with glorious gusto by Trevor Stuart) is adamant that the music of the spheres must be heard in their shabby little theatre, and so it’s Mozart’s opera Cosi Fan Tutte that gets the nod. It’s as nutty an idea as is possible to imagine, and perfect given the play’s setting. No one can sing, one can hardly speak – all are damaged and apparently incapable of any kind of cooperative activity. Young Lewis (‘Jerry’ to Roy’s ‘Martin’) is clearly out of his depth.

Aaron Davison and Benjamin Schostakowski - Photo by Dylan Evans
Aaron Davison and Benjamin Schostakowski

‘Putting on a show’ plays are ready-made for comedy. Typically we are treated to agonising (hysterical) auditions; shambolic (hysterical) rehearsals and, finally, awful (hysterically awful) performances. There are often great one-liners and in-jokes for the theatre crowd so there’s a lot to laugh at. By the way, the little theatre that designer Hugh O’Connor creates in the big room at the Roundhouse is just delightful. Cosi is no different in this regard, but there’s a whole lot more going on.

One of the great strengths of Nowra’s play is its ability not only to make us laugh but also to make us feel the hurt of those we’re laughing at. Cosi also makes plain the importance of so much we take for granted. As we watch the hapless troupe and their director grope and stumble around it’s clear that they are, perhaps for the first time ever, rediscovering what it means to be useful. No longer isolated they come together squabbling, arguing points of view finding a kind of collective wisdom and joy on the fly. Continue reading Review: Cosi – La Boite Theatre Company at the Roundhouse Theatre

Review: Trollop – Queensland Theatre Company at Bille Brown Studio

Some time ago, I pulled this quote from a longer article by John Lahr – The Illumination Business: why drama critics must look at and look after the theatre. I came across it again as I was reviewing another piece I’m working on. It continues to resonate for me, but the quote itself couldn’t have come at a better time as I sat down to record my response to Maxine Mellor’s play Trollop, the winner of the Premier’s Drama Award 2012-13 and receiving its premiere, world performance at Queensland Theatre Company.

Reviewing assumes that the plot is the play; criticism, on the other hand, knows that the plot is only part of a conversation that the playwright is having about a complex series of historical and psychological issues. The job of the critic is to join that conversation, to explore the play and link it to the world. The job of the reviewer is to link the play to the box office.

Mr Lahr is clearly not  keen to be described as a ‘reviewer.’ I don’t particularly care one way or the other; a critic by any other name will smell as pungent. Anyway, I did rather like the bit that notes the critic’s job in joining in the conversation. I’ve always been more interested in conversations with playwrights than budget bottom lines and I agree that plots are not the play, which is just as well. Continue reading Review: Trollop – Queensland Theatre Company at Bille Brown Studio

Review: Out Damn Snot – Shake and Stir at La Boite Theatre Roundhouse

Images: Dylan Evans

Let me get one thing out of the way up front. I’m not at all keen on shows where adults play kids. The sight of 20-somethings leaping around pretending to be children can be embarrassingly awful, twee, and an insult to kids who just don’t behave the way they are often portrayed on stage. I wondered how kids felt about this and thought about sending along another reviewer to get a different perspective. However, Miss 8 was not available for the opening night of Shake and Stir’s Out Damn Snot directed by Ross Balbuziente. That left me to face my misgivings. Whilst I still think there’s a missed opportunity here to use children to play children in plays for children (some company care to have a go?) there is no doubt that this hilarious, very physical, beautiful-looking show written and created by Shake and Stir’s artistic directors Ross Balbuziente, Nelle Lee and Nick Skubij is great fun for kids and their adults.

I wasn’t sure what the kids in the audience would make of the two sisters Mackenzie (Amy Ingram), Kimmy (Nelle Lee) and little brother Heath (Nick Skubij). Given that they knew the actors were grown-ups, would they buy into the game that these were kids like them? Given their own capacity to role play on the fly, I’d say the young audience were perfectly accepting of these mad adults releasing their own inner kids and mucking about cartoon-style in a magic world. Buy this and it becomes a different experience. I really did enjoy the simplicity of the actors’ child-like (not childish) observations of game-playing and one-upmanship. My favourite is the one where we both try to tell a story simultaneously; you start and I have to join in and do it with you. Know the one? Magic! Ms Lee and Ingram release their inner-child with this lovely little slick schtick. Continue reading Review: Out Damn Snot – Shake and Stir at La Boite Theatre Roundhouse

Review: Rabbit – The Good Room at !Metro Arts Theatre

Bella is entering her 30th year – a dangerous age we used to be told. For the members of Gen-Y (look it up) portrayed in British writer Nina Raine‘s realistic comedy of manners Rabbit (2006), Time’s wingéd chariot is rumbling along all too loudly on the bumpy road. It’s time to take stock, socialise the hell out of the opportunity and, inevitably, get really ugly with your friends. It’s mostly uncomfortable veritas that emerges as the vino flows and vodka and reputations get slammed in what turns out to be a BLOCK CAPS WITH LOTS OF !!!! kind of party for those who turn up.

Bella’s joined by a handful of friends at her small though positively exuberant 29th birthday celebration in a hotel bar somewhere in Brisbane. Director Daniel Evans has relocated the play to the city, and it works well. Guests include Bella’s good friend Emily, a doctor; former lover #1 Richard, a barrister but wannabe writer; former lover #2 Tom, who works in the city – in Brit parlance a stockbroker or banker; and Sandy, a writer.

On the night of the party Bella’s father, played with intelligence and subtlety by Norman Doyle, is hospitalised and dying from a tumor that is gradually wiping away his seat of emotions and memories; he has refused treatment. Bella is angry with her father for his decision, and guilty for not being at his bedside. We learn it’s been a rocky relationship in a series of flashbacks – heartfelt duets between father and daughter.

Designed by Tara Hobbs, with lighting design by Daniel Anderson and sound design from Anthony Ack KinmouthDaniel Evans‘ production of Rabbit for the indie company The Good Room is a sharp, witty, fast-paced interpretation that draws terrific performances from the cast of six, who are just about perfect for their roles. They are as slick and excellent an ensemble as you could want.

The cast is headed by Amy Ingram as Bella, a successful publicist, in a performance that is as robust as it is gentle and nuanced. It’s also in perfect sync with Raine’s shrewd take on friendship and contemporary society. The performances by Sam Clark, Kevin Spink, Belinda Raisin, and Penny Harpham as Bella’s friends are individually and collectively proof of the depth and quality of acting talent we are experiencing right now in this country. Raine writes terrific characters in this – what was her first and an award-winning work for the stage – and the dialogue is hugely enjoyable; I bet the actors loved working on their roles.

Yes, Bella’s Friends are all a whiny, self-indulgent, privileged bunch and, at times, as nasty as they come; with cynical friends like these etc.  At times you want to slap them all in turn and, sometimes, all at once. I went for an interval drink (YES!! THERE IS AN INTERVAL!! AMAZE!!) loathing the lot of them but, as Raine develops the play throughout the second act, we experience its real strength – the development of characters whose directness and brutal honesty are, perhaps, their saving grace. You actually do end up ‘caring’ for them – and I count this as one of the markers of a good play/production.

So, whilst opening night saw a lot of first-night adrenalin pumping on both sides of the fence – there were a lot of friends in the house – and there was probably a little too much SHOUTING AND LOUD, I have no doubt this fine company will continue developing and finessing across its season. The tiny Sue Benner Theatre will get full houses, so get in quick.

Rabbit by Nina Raine for the indie company The Good Room as part of !Metro Arts Allies program plays until July 28th. Get details from the website.

Like to read more Greenroom reviews? You can right here.