Reviews

AUSTRALIA DAY, by Jonathon Biggins, Directed by Martin Gibbs – Reviewed by Penelope Thomas for Stage Whispers

Mordialloc Theatre Company always brings the goods to the Mornington Peninsula theatrical scene and Australia Day has certainly combined with all their tremendous work to date.

The play, written by Jonathan Biggins (an all-rounder performer, writer, and director in his own right), attempts to show what its like to sneak a peek into the conflict that surrounds the significance and substance of our National public holiday.

It is a true-blue Aussie comedy set in the fictional town of Coriole, where preparations are underway for the annual Australia Day community celebration. On the committee is the Mayor Brian, who is actively trying to further his career to federal politics, his dependable right-hand-man Robert, local builder and stereotypical country man Wally, the head of the CWA and the woman who knows everyone (and all of their business) Marie, new to the shire and fresh faced Greens councilor Helen and flamboyant, constant joker, sometimes prophetic, teacher Chester.

Then there is the burning hot button topics: racism, disabilities, environmentalism, diversity, cultural awareness, and he ever present political/personal corruption. In differing ways, the play is surrounded by a person’s ability (or ignorance) to self-censor – What do you do when you are truly passionate about a topic? Is it ok to think those bad thoughts as long as you don’t say them out loud to others? At what point do you, or can you,stop chewing your own tongue and call someone out on bigotry or lack of the whole picture?

Plays like this need to stir up conversation and discussion that seems to be lacking in the tenuous political climate of late. Which is the real reason why this play needs to be seen en-masse.

In the end however, not one person is correct. There is no right answer to these issues. Wally may be as stubborn and unchanging as a mule but he always retains his dignity when dealing with the controversial topics in the room; Helen is a true ‘greenie’ with high hopes to change the world, staring with the Coriole community, but still holds an ambitions drive to always get ahead; the sociable and gregarious Brian combines public morals with self-interest; and Chester’s constant pun-worthy jokes shows that sometimes humour can prove the only way to cope in strenuous situations.

 The cast work as a true ensemble, all perfectly sitting within their characters.Notable performances go to Cheryl Ballantine-Richards as Marie, the lovingly, ever knowledgeable, grandmother type. Her personified style accenting the role perfectly; and Paris Romanis as Wally – it was hard not to like this rough exterior with a tragic underlying past. Romanis played this role with composure, but ‘letting it rip’ when needs arose.

Set by the director and Mordialloc Theatre’s own ‘Dads Army’ certainly felt as if you were sitting in the local scout hall. A true ‘slice of life’ theatrical event down to the local school band’s “version” of the National Anthem (too bad there weren’t any lamingtons or ‘snot blocks’ to go around!).

THE ONE DAY OF THE YEAR, by Alan Seymour, Directed by Judy Corderoy – Reviewed by Rod Nash – April 30, 2017 for Theatrecraft

When I was asked to review this production, the question I had was, “How relevant is this play when seen through today’s contemporary prism?” I first saw this play in 1968 and at the time it was controversial, as it reflected on the futility of the Gallipoli campaign, and in addition criticised how ex-diggers behaved on ANZAC day. With the passing of time, many of these diggers have died or are in their 90s and there is a prevailing respect for the sacrifices these Australian men and women made.

When you enter the theatre, you are greeted by a set depicting a 1950s working-class home. Upstage there is a kitchen area, downstage a lounge area, and downstage right an area depicting the son’s bedroom; a solid, well-articulated set. Congratulations to Martin Gibbs and his team for the set and to Geoff Arnold for properties. Lighting was used well to highlight the “action areas”. Some of these areas would have been awkward to light—well done to designer Michael Brasser and operator Kevin Hilton. Sound created the appropriate moods required throughout the production—well done to designers Tim Long and Judy Corderoy, and operator Michael Kakogiannis. Costumes were appropriate to the late 1950s, although Hugh (the son) didn’t look distinctively “American” to me. Scene changes were efficient and everything ran smoothly—well done to stage manager Christine Simmonds and ASM Jacky Sabbagh.

Paris Romanis gave a strong performance as the father, Alf Cook. He portrayed a troubled Aussie battler, sometimes an angry man, but underneath potentially sensitive and caring, dealing with his lot in life. Paris captured the working-class Aussie male of the ’50s, coping with changing values of the younger generation. His drunk scene was a highlight of his capable performance; well handled, not over the top, well balanced and believable.

Alf’s wife, Dot Cook, was portrayed well by Monica Greenwood. Monica’s performance was subtle: she was able to capture the world-weary, somewhat downtrodden, working-class mother/wife, patient and caring; an enjoyable performance.

Amongst this strong cast, one performance stood out for me, and that was Max Rackham as Wacka Dawson. Max was able to imbue a certain introspective vulnerability in the character. His reactions to watching the ANZAC march on TV were very entertaining. My favourite scene was with Wacka and Dot in the kitchen where, with the help of a little alcohol and a good listener in Dot, Wacka finally opened up about his experiences in Gallipoli. This was a moving and sensitive scene well handled by both actors; a delight to watch.

The cast was rounded off by the two young characters, Blake Stringer as Hugh Cook, and Kirsten Page as the upper middle-class Jan Castle. These were confident performances, representing the idealism (and to some extent naivety) of youth. At times the physicality between them seemed a little awkward; nonetheless, their performances made a significant contribution to this excellent production—well done.

Director Judy Corderoy commented in the program that she decided to approach the play focusing on the family drama involved, and to a large extent I feel she succeeded. This was aided by the depth of character achieved by the cast, evoking sympathy for each character’s journey. In addition, I feel today we view Alf and Wacka as two men coping in their own way to have a “normal” life after experiencing the ravages and futility of war. Overall, this was an entertaining and moving afternoon of theatre.

The play is still relevant. Thanks, Mordialloc.

 

Outside Mullingar, by John Patrick Shanley, directed by Helen Ellis, reviewed by Frances Devlin-Glass, on 17 Feb 2017 for Tinttean.org

John Patrick Shanley is a prolific Irish-American playwright (23 to date), most famous for his Pulitzer-prize-winning play, DoubtA Parable (2004), which was turned into a movie that was nominated for 5 Oscars, and won a Golden Globe for Merryl Streep. I’ve seen several productions of this play (but not the movie), which is about a priest suspected by an over-zealous nun of clerical abuse. Written at the time when enquiries into such phenomena were in full-flight around the world, including in Ireland, it filled me with disquiet because of its deliberate side-stepping, and minimising, of important issues.  But it struck me then how well this playwright knew catholic culture and how loyal he was to it.

This more recent play, Outside Mullingar, is, I think, his first set in Ireland. His background is the Bronx, and the lower class, and he’s emphatically Irish. He is quoted on IMDB as saying:

I always knew I’d have to come home eventually. I’m Irish as hell: Kelly on one side, Shanley on the other. My father had been born on a farm in the Irish Midlands. He and his brothers had been shepherds there, cattle and sheep, back in the early 1920s. I grew up surrounded by brogues and Irish music, but stayed away from the old country till I was over 40. I just couldn’t own being Irish.

What interests me in this quotation is his resistance to his Irish background.

I’m glad I did not know he was American-Irish while I was watching the play, as I’m sure I’d have spent too much energy testing his Irishness, and worrying about the assumption of Irishness. I have to say, the script got under my guard completely and was delightfully immersive. The dialogue is quick-fire, witty, and very tellingly goes to a lot of stereotypical Irish obsessions – with land, in particular, but also with sexuality, and in particular women’s sexuality. Perhaps the most moving thing it does is to confront head-on intergenerational incompetence of men in dealing with emotions. Two key scenes, one with the dying father, and the other with the young woman drawing out her intended’s emotional nature as a dentist draws teeth, were very moving in the case of the first and funny and shocking, and yes sentimental, in the case of the second.  The (capacity) audience loved the romance, and often audibly expressed shock at the violence done in suppressing real feelings.  One could not but be entranced. Although the romantic resolution was entirely predictable from the start (so I don’t think I can be accused of spoilers), the journey to that end was so full of byzantine twists and utterly seductive that it maintained interest. Misinformation along the farm path was part of the fun of the play.

Helen Ellis, a highly experienced professional, in her first role as director at Mordialloc, has gone for a naturalistic set which allows the action to move easily between two adjacent farm-houses (and their kitchens, and a bedroom) and a barn (quaintly referred to as ‘the manger’). There’s also a beautifully (and appropriately symbolic) constructed stone fence and gate (all praise to Dad’s Army!). This design by Jack Geraghty made for quick scene-changes, mostly. The slowest was the bed, and I wondered if an easy chair might not have done as well, but I’m a minimalist in staging. I loved many details, like the hay bales that were stacked vertically, but rearranged for more intimacy.

Helen Ellis’s master-stroke (mistress-stroke?) was her brilliant casting. It was a tight ensemble with Juliet Hayday and Melanie Rowe as the waspish mother and bolshie daughter respectively, and Stephen Shinkfield as the reluctant and awkward Lothario and Eric Hayes as the truculent father. Dialogue was fast, crisp, full of witticisms given their full value with good timing, and moved the play quickly forward. Although it’s a talk-y play, it was never at risk of longueurs, and accents were good. There was lots of business used for character development, which the audience was quick to pick up on – as for example, the son tying up his apron back to front, or the daughter nervously picking up the broom to sweep. I also enjoyed watching the old father and his son Anthony grow in their roles – they really came into their own in the death scene, and Shinkfield, a young but very experienced actor, built on this in the intense final scenes without ever too much compromising his character’s clumsiness. Juliet Hayday was superb as the interfering widow, and cut a fine figure as an almost professional griever and gossip.

It was hard not to enjoy the land-centred beliefs that the two main characters shared, and the building motifs of the white heather and bees, and especially Rosemary’s earthy pragmatism about time wasted when it’s not spent loving, a view interestingly shared with the crusty old father of her inamorata. Her proactive wooing was straight out of Irish mythology – frank, free and urgent.

Characterisation was far from being maudlin. The dialogue, though sentimental at times, was often acerbic and probing. The final scene, where the young woman becomes as forthright as a sledge-hammer-wielding Celtic queen, involved a fierce interrogation of the bashful male which was hilarious and ended precisely where it needed to. And the other climactic scene, the deathbed of the father, began with what seemed like viciousness about his dead wife, only to explain how lust for life and pleasure explained the conundrum of how the parcel of land came to change hands.

It’s an Irish play alright, at the softer end of the spectrum, so if you can get a ticket, I can promise it’s an entertaining night.

Outside Mullingar, reviewed by Penelope Thomas for Stage Whispers, 4 March, 2017

There are some rare moments when you witness a community theatre performance and wonder why people spend upwards of $100 to go to see professional shows.  Mordialloc Theatre Company’s Outside Mullingar was clearly one of those moments.

From the first time that the actors stepped on stage to the very last moment, the audience is whisked away into this ‘slice of life’ production, so real that you felt you were spying on two abutted family circumstances.

The Reilly family, Tony (Eric Heyes) and his son Anthony (Stephen Shinkfield) and the Muldoon family, Aoife (Juliet Hayday) and her daughter Rosemary (Melanie Rowe) are neighbours, just outside Killucan, Ireland.  Both have cattle and sheep farms that are becoming increasingly harder to run.  Aoilfe has just lost her husband, so it is up to Rosemary to continue running the farm; and Tony thinking of selling his farm to his brother in America, even though it is Anthony who is the one currently maintaining the livestock.

Concurrently, Rosemary is still bitter towards Anthony, who at 6 and 12 respectively had a fight out the front of the Reilly home where Anthony pushed Rosemary in the mud (at the time of the play Rosemary is 39 and Anthony 45). We are delighted (and frustrated) to watch this relationship unfold.

The ensemble of the four actors was intensely wonderful to watch.  Not one outshone the others, working together in complete and total harmony.  Accents were perfectly situated for the location of the play. Each of the actors compensated for the stronger Irish accent by enunciating each word, so the audience didn’t miss any dialogue.

Director Helen Ellis, a consummate professional, always achieves the utmost peak from her casts.  As a regular director (and performer) in the amateur circuit around Victoria, the audience knows they are in for a good show.

I was hoping for more traditional Irish atmosphere music, rather than hyped modern Irish bands. However this is a small complaint really.

The Shirley Burke Theatre in Parkdale is not an opulent theatre, nor does it have a house curtain, so when you enter the auditorium you are immediately looking at the set on stage. Created by Jack Geraghty, it was beautifully designed in separated parts – the ‘blokes’ kitchen on one side and the ‘feminine’ kitchen on the other. Each was researched and designed in keeping with the era and location; to the dirty dishes and multiple used teabags on one side and the matching porcelain canisters on the other. The kitchens were divided by a pathway separating the two farms.  It was lovely to see a set without the small foot height dividers between locations, but left open and not closed off to the rest of the set.

I am sorry that I could not attend this production until closing night.  I would have been shouting loudly for anyone to immediately drop their plans to see this production.  I am certainly looking forward to the next Mordialloc Theatre performance, if this is the amazingly high quality that they produce.

 

Outside Mullingar, by John Patrick Shanley, Directed by Helen Ellis – Reviewed by Ken Barnes for Theatrecraft, 19 February 2017

Multi-award winning playwright John Patrick Shanley is adept at producing stories which take us into some the deeper recesses of the human condition while at the same time tickling our funnybones. He is also a master of suspense, especially in his forensic examination of hidden emotions including unrequited love. In Outside Mullingar these situations are explored in a happy-sad tale involving two farming families whose properties have become intertwined through complicated historical circumstances.

The story opens in the Reilly home where long-widowed and elderly Tony and his hard-working, introverted son Anthony play host to their neighbours, Aoife and her daughter Rosemary. All four have just returned from the funeral of Aoife’s husband, so the mood is not a happy one as the quartet face the prospect of both Tony and Aoife’s advancing years. Tensions arise when the discussion turns to inheritance issues. In this and the later scenes the often long-hidden attitudes and desires of each character are gradually revealed.

Juliet Hayday played Aoife and she was absolutely outstanding in this demanding role. Her accent was spot-on, she delivered lines with precision and good projection (even to the back of the auditorium) and the mannerisms and movements were up to her usual standard. Another well-known actor, the experienced Eric Heyes, was no less effective in the role of Tony. In his portrayal of the frail yet rather belligerent older man in Scene 1 and as his attitude changed in the later deathbed scene, Eric’s accent, delivery and body language brought home the complex nature of his character. The frank but often whimsical exchanges between Tony and Aoife, then later the poignant scene with Anthony, would have captured any audience.

The two younger actors were also impressive. Melanie Rowe played Rosemary with energy and enthusiasm as befitted the character and again good attention had been paid to accent and body language. She was able to switch from a defiant attitude when engaging with Tony to an assertive yet coquettish one when working her charms on Anthony in the later scenes. My only reservation was that Melanie’s voice did not always project well to row J so I missed some of the fairly complex dialogue with Anthony. Anthony was played by Stephen Shinkfield whose acting abilities I have often admired but who I thought was not suited to the role of a shy, self-effacing farmer and nature-lover who thinks of himself as a bee. For example, one of his best lines was “Maybe the quiet around a thing is as important as the thing itself”. So while Stephen’s delivery, projection and mannerisms (the downcast eyes, the hands in pockets) helped to bring out the character, the actor’s own confidence, personal demeanour and stature made the role less credible. It so often comes down to casting.

The fine acting was accompanied by a functional and carefully equipped and decorated set designed by Jack Geraghty. The play was set in four areas: the Reilly kitchen and bedroom, the Muldoon kitchen, and an outside area called the manger. Moveable panels were used to differentiate the rooms and this was effective. A gate and stone wall were in the background and helped in providing atmosphere. Lighting played an important part in separating or emphasising the areas where the action was occurring and this was arranged competently by Michael Brasser.

Sound design was the work of the director and included effective bird calls and some very evocative music like “Wild Mountain Thyme” by The Corries (sic) and “Borrow my Heart” by Taylor Henderson. Although the volume was a notch too high the songs were a helpful way of introducing each change. On the other hand, the writer had made a point of using Ireland’s notorious weather to help set the mood. I imagine that falling rain is not easy to represent on stage, but a more effective sound system (or perhaps some other ways of portraying wetness) might have helped to establish the gloomy atmosphere.

The competent production team included stage managers Amy Sampson and Kevin Hilton, with David Dodd stitching it all together as coordinator. It is always a pleasure to attend a performance at Mordialloc’s comfortable Shirley Burke Theatre and this was no exception. An appreciative audience would have enjoyed every minute of this tightly-scripted, never tedious, often humorous and quite uplifting play.

 

Inspector Drake’s Last Case

by David Tristram

Directed by Jeff Saliba

Reviewed by Rod Nash for Theatrecraft – November 6, 2016

Inspector Drake’s Last Case is a send-up of the “whodunnit” genre.  It all starts in the program with the character names.  There’s Mr Butler, the guest; Mr Guest, the butler; Mr Cook, the gardener; and Mrs Gardener, the cook.  This play on words and names continues throughout the production; at times funny, at other times it becomes tiresome and corny.  This play is written to be a zany comedy, and the talented cast certainly worked hard to maintain the good pace and energy the production required.

The set (designed by Martin Gibbs) depicted an upper-class English drawing room.  It was a solid and well-articulated set.  Set dressing and props were excellent, thanks to Juliet Hayday.  Just one little quibble: the play was set in the 1940s but the torches used were LED torches.  Lighting (designed by Martin Gray, operated by Sheila Balis) was even and covered the acting area well.  Sound suitably supported the production, thanks to designer Jeff Saliba and operator Kevin Hilton.

A lot of work had gone in to costume selection.  Costumes certainly enhanced the production with each quirky character suitably attired.  Congratulations to Irene Riemer and Juliet Hayday.  Some effects I particularly enjoyed from a production point of view were the lie detector, and the effective way Mr Cook’s shirt, and the curtains, could be ripped off.

This production had a strong cast that worked together well as an ensemble, ably directed by Jeff Saliba.  At times there were a large number of characters (10+) on stage; Jeff’s stage groupings worked well. 

The first character we see is Sergeant Plod, played by Michaela Smith.  Michaela portrayed the somewhat dim-witted Plod with a delightful and entertainingly consistent performance.  Plod’s superior, the eponymous Inspector Drake, was excellently portrayed by Troy Larkin, creating a Clouseau-esque type character.  Troy captured the zany and slightly loopy inspector perfectly – very entertaining, and a joy to watch.

Troy and Michaela were supported by a strong cast: Cate Dowling Trask as Mrs Gagarin and Mary Ship, Laura Bradley as Mrs Gardiner, the cook, and Ben Massey as Mr Cook, the gardener.  Ben executed excellent falls to the floor!  Also well portrayed were Mr Guest, the butler, played by David Dodd – he captured the doddery cliché butler well – and Mr Butler, the guest, played confidently by Geoff Arnold (a wonderful pirouette fall in Act 2). 

Mr Gagarin was played by Jacob Pilkington, who created an eccentric upper-class Englishman.  Jacob’s accent and intonation was a bit perplexing.  I was unsure if he was an Englishman with a speech impediment, or he effected a slightly German accent.  Sandey MacFarlane played the flirtatious Miss Duck with a consistent and strong performance.  The cast was rounded off by the appearance of two stretcher-bearers, played by Christine Simmonds and Emily Daniel.

This style of play (farce/whodunit) requires good pace and strong characterisation, which Mordialloc certainly gave it.  There were a few moments when the action dragged, the dark scene when the Inspector and Plod were trying to sleep; and a succession of short scenes at the end, where there seemed to be a long time between scene changes.  The audience was well entertained by this production and left happy.  All in all this was a performance with a strong production team and a strong cast; it’s a pity that the material they were working with was not equal to their high standard.

 

Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks

by Richard Alfieri

Directed by Eric Heyes

Reviewed by David Collins for Theatrecraft, 2 September 2016

Sometimes, it’s the unexpected friendships that are the best kind. We have our guard down or our focus is elsewhere instead of maintaining a certain image of ourselves. That unplanned honesty can lead to unplanned yet strong relationships, and is the engine driving the story of Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks.

Lily (Julie Arnold) is lonely and bored. She calls an agency for dance lessons and they send around Michael (Greg Barison). Blunt, brash, and lonely is his own way, Michael quickly gets on Lily’s nerves. However, as the title of the play hints, over these six lessons they get closer and slowly build an unlikely, but true friendship.

Julie was excellent as Lily. A scene where she breaks down at the news of her neighbour’s death was fine enough, but later, when Lily admits that reaction was because it connected her with the memory and guilt over losing her daughter, was beautifully weighted.

Greg was also good, but I’m uncertain whether his physicality had to be so heightened to the point of exaggeration. Richard Alfieri’s script and Greg’s delivery were already doing the required work, so pushing it so far with his body threatened to make him cartoonish in comparison with Lily. Then again, Michael and Lily are supposed to be different, but grounding things just a touch would only have served his performance better.

Dancing as a way to transition into the scene changes was a nice touch, but the scene changes themselves were too slow. (The time between Scenes 2 and 3 was particularly interminable.) The set was a little messy – haphazard wallpaper, alcoves not cut straight, squint fixtures, mangled exterior doors, price tags still on props (to be fair, it’s hard to spot a sticker on the bottom of a mug when it spends most of its life sitting on a surface) – but different flooring might have compensated for all that. There was no carpet or hardwood floor in Lily’s apartment, just the black of the actual stage floor. This might have been okay, but it desperately needed a sweep as the lights picked up a lot of the detritus. Lily certainly doesn’t make any comments about any mess, or living in a run-down place, so I assume these features were unintentional. I also assume outdoor furniture was used in Lily’s apartment as it was easier to shift. But, putting a normal couch on casters might have made things even easier to move, as well as more appropriate for the setting. Also, Lily’s balcony doors are always wide open, yet it’s completely silent outside? Some kind of soundscape, gentle traffic, distance [sic] voices, etc, would have been a welcome addition.

The lighting design was a little bland, surprising considering the stylistic touch of colour denoting the sky at the rear of the stage. While it was appropriate to drop the lights at the end of the scene where Lily sobs in Michael’s arms, cross-fading her crying with a jaunty tune to play them off struck a discordant note.

The chemistry between the leads was great, thankfully so. Even when the script would get poetic and over-wrought, the two actors navigated those moments well, precisely because of how comfortable they were with each other. I’m confident most of the kinks would be swiftly wrung out during the run. Dancing can be a daunting proposition for the lot of people (this reviewer included), but Julie and Greg showed no fear or awkwardness in this fine production.

Visiting Mr Green

by Jeff Baron

Directed by Martin Gibbs

Reviewed for Theatrecraft by Michael Bond – June 25, 2016

Mordialloc Theatre Company’s latest offering explores a forced relationship between two men from different parts of life.  After being found guilty of reckless driving, Ross Gardiner is ordered to make regular visits to Mr Green, the man he nearly ran over.  Both men resent the imposition, but a relationship between them develops and deeper issues within their lives are revealed and dealt with.

The tale was played out on Martin Gibbs’ cleverly designed and well-balanced set.  The furnishing and dressing of the space developed by Christine Bridge and Sheila Balis created the atmosphere and appearance required to depict the lifestyle into which Mr Green had settled.  The room contained memorabilia, which gave it warmth, and the colour scheme used on the set itself and furnishings added a visual variance and a “lived-in” appearance to the room.  One other creative aspect of the set was the grubbiness that had been added to the walls, which, to an extent, reflected Mr Green’s decaying state of being.  This was complemented by Martin Gray’s lighting, which used subtle changes and effects to create more than just a wash over the set.

Martin Gibbs’ direction showed a strong understanding of the relationship between the two characters and thus their performances were well developed.  The actors’ movement and use of the space appeared carefully planned and added meaning to the visual aspect of the performance.  The tempo was appropriate to the action, with changes of pace reflecting the mood of the moment along with well-placed pauses in the action and dialogue.  It was a shame that the early scene changes were a little protracted, and even with Tim Long’s well-chosen music, they seemed to drag.  Perhaps two people changing the props may have helped.

As has been inferred above, Eric Heyes as Mr Green and John Murphy as Ross Gardiner, created a performance of which they could be proud.  Both actors had consistent and accurate accents and their characters were very well developed.  The early part of this play is lighthearted, but later has moments that deal with more serious issues.  Both actors were able to move smoothly and realistically between the pathos and humour contained within the performance.  They also did very well to develop the closeness that grew between the two characters in a gradual manner.

Eric Heyes played the gruff, yet likeable Mr Green with a high degree of skill.  His movement and body language successfully depicted an old man slowly giving up on life and his vocalisation was strong yet still reflected the weakening elements of the character he was playing.  His portrayal in particular drew sympathy from the audience.

John Murphy also skilfully developed and presented the character of Ross Gardiner.  Apart from having the physical requirements of a successful and talented actor, he portrayed his character’s initial stages of uncertainty very well, and the development of his character’s concern for Mr Green grew naturally. Murphy’s monologues were delivered with a strong understanding of the pace and passion required.

Juliet Hayday’s choice of costumes was most appropriate to both the characters and the style of the play.  This was particularly reflected in Mr Green’s case, where his costuming was able to bring out his character even further.

This was an enthralling performance and congratulations must go to all concerned in the production.

 

Role Play

by Alan Ayckbourn

Directed by Laura Bradley

Reviewed by Joan McGrory for Theatrecraft on April 23, 2016

On entering the theatre we were confronted with a very realistic set of a kitchen/family room, double French doors upstage leading to the outdoors, and two doors down front left and right.  In fact this design by the director, Laura Bradley, presented a flat in which one would have felt very comfortable.  A couch and lounge chair were down stage centre and the kitchen benches were dressed with drinks and other suitable accoutrements.

As the house lights went down the sound effects of a violent storm were very evident; stage lights up, and we were ready for the play to begin.  Sound effects were by Jeff Saliba and lighting by Robin Le Blond.

Costuming by Irene Riemer was very effective with Mum and Dad, who were visiting their daughter, all very conservatively dressed, whilst the mother-in-law-to-be was more flamboyant and the upstairs neighbour, Paige, was appropriately attired using the ‘less is more’ principle.

Briefly, the play is about Julie and Justin who are hosting a dinner party for their respective parents in which Justin is to declare their engagement.  This process is interrupted by firstly the arrival of Paige, a gangster’s moll, and the subsequent arrival of her ‘carer’, the heavy man Micky, played stolidly by Tim Long.

Comedy can be difficult to present well and pace is enormously important.  Given that most of the situations in comedy can be outrageously unbelievable, it is up to the director to ensure that the audience can believe what is happening on stage.  Unfortunately, this did not occur often enough.

Michael Barrack, who played the part of the boyfriend Justin who owned the flat, was a little too slow in his reactions to what was happening around him and this tended to make the play drag.  His bossy girlfriend Julie-Ann, portrayed well by Bel Shields, had a most wonderful sulk which was also emphasised by her body language.  Dad Derek and Mum Dee, played by Rob Coulson and Christine Bridge, both sustained their northern accounts, and portrayed well the savage intent of the playwright in illustrating the bias of the middle class.  I did find the screeching of both mother and daughter extremely irritating and too much over the top.

Jasmine Dare was the gangster’s moll, Paige Petite. While she was certainly petite, and an effective ‘that sort of dancer”, I found her portrayal of the
character largely unintelligible.  There seems to be a tendency amongst many of our young people to ‘gabble’ and whilst this is really irritating in normal life, it is unacceptable on stage where clarity of diction is essential (even with an accent, which Jasmine sustained well).  Jasmine has a good stage presence, but she will have to correct the tendency to speak so quickly.

Justin’s unconventional mother Arabella Lazenby, played by Wendy McRae, was the epitome of a comedic actress.  This performance was wonderful and when she was onstage, the play ‘lit up’.  Her timing, diction, and body language made full use of Alan Ayckbourn’s wonderful dialogue. 
Congratulations, Wendy.

Finally, a thank you to the very capable and very friendly front of house volunteers and I think a special mention must be made of the wonderful
effort made by the booking secretary, Mavis, in having to arrange for the Sunday bookings to be changed to the Saturday because of an electricity outage on the scheduled day.  A mammoth task!

The Importance of Being Earnest

by Oscar Wilde

Directed by Vicki Smith

Reviewed by Andrew Gemmell for Theatrecraft  – February 28, 2016

The Importance of Being Earnest: A Trivial Comedy for Serious People was first performed on February 14,1893 at the St James’s Theatre, London. It was Oscar Wilde’s fourth hit in only three years.  His earlier play, An ldeal Husband, had only opened a month before and was still playing to packed houses at the Haymarket Theatre a few streets away. Its high farce and witty dialogue have helped make it Wilde’s most enduringly popular play. But satire is ephemeral.  What was hilarious in the West End in late-Victorian England is not so today unless we are let in on the secret. For example:

“l do not approve of anything that tampers with natural ignorance. Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit; touch it and the bloom is gone. The whole theory of modern education is radically unsound. Fortunately in England, at any rate, education produces no effect whatsoeverl’

Or:

“My dear fellow, the truth isn’t quite the sort of thing one tells to a nice, sweet, refined girl. What extraordinary ideas you have about the way to behave to a woman!”

These lines are based on the scuttlebutt of an era. The difficult task of translating contemporary satire to a modern point-of-view is the director’s, in this case Vicki Smith. Her first job would have been to explain to the actors why it was funny in the first place (a history lesson) and then to adapt the delivery of the lines to make them funny now. If you think that the comedy of Adam Hills or Barry Humphries or Chris Lilley will still get laughs 120 years hence, you are guaranteed to be in for a shock.   The capacity house at this play did not laugh much, which detracted somewhat from the atmosphere, and some of the actors seemed to have little understanding of the context of the material they were delivering.

This was, however, an excellent production of a play whose convoluted plot involves two idle young men pursuing two charming young women while navigating the shark-infested waters of their families. Algernon Moncrieff, one of the suitors, has responsibility issues, so common in the rich. Kieran Tracey played him to perfection with a complete understanding of the playwright’s intentions. His friend Jack Worthing was played more quietly by Stephen Shinkfield but with similar effectiveness. Their love interests, the young women, were played by Melissa New (Gwendolen) and Hayley Lawson-Smith (Cecily). Both were very good but I believe that Melissa understood her role better. Lady Bracknell (Juliet Hayday) has the best lines in the play. This may explain why various gentlemen in recent times (David Suchet and Geoffrey Rush to mention a couple) have played this part with relish. Juliet brought a wonderful authenticity to it and her diction ensured that no innuendo, nor any other Wildean intent, was denied us.

The pompous cleric with a heart of gold, Doctor Chasuble, was very believably portrayed by Ian McMaster. The butler in town (Lane) and his equivalent in the country (Merriman) are entirely different characters but were both very humorously played by Keith Hutton. Miss Prism was given suitable prudish intensity by Janine Evans. 

The set (designed by the director and built by a large team called Dad’s Army) was simple, spacious, authentic and cool, allowing the actors plenty of room to act while showing off their marvellously colourful costumes to great advantage. Costume credit is given to Christine Bridge and Sheila Balis.

This set also allowed quick and efficient changes of scene, handled amusingly and expertly by Keith and stage manager Amy Sampson in the second half.  The sound, also designed by the director, was music from what sounded like the 1920s but, to make matters worse, it was occasionally played in direct competition with the actors’ important speeches.  The lighting design by Robin Le Blond was almost perfect with just a bit of dimness upstage during the final arc-ensemble playing. 

I am an inveterate eavesdropper as I slowly leave a theatre at plays end.  By this means I understood that the crowd clearly loved it.  If Wilde had been there he might have wondered, “Who are these people?  They give me titters, where are my guffaws?”

 

 

The Sunshine Boys

by Neil Simon

Directed by Ewen Crockett

Reviewed by Michael Bond for Theatrecraft – October 10, 2015

The plot of The Sunshine Boys is centred on two aging ex-vaudevillian actors, Al Lewis and Willie Clark, who performed as “Clark and Lewis” and who, over the course of 40-odd years, grew to hate each other and thus refused to communicate throughout the final years of their act. Clark is convinced by his nephew, Ben, to revive one of the old routines one last time for a television special on the history of comedy. The play then focuses on getting the two actors into rehearsal despite their differences of opinion once they reunite.

With the plot in mind, it is necessary that the two lead actors are of the highest calibre, as faltering on either of their performances will put the success of the production in jeopardy. Ewen Crockett’s choice of actors was most astute. Crockett also displayed a thorough understanding of the play and a high standard of direction by creating well-considered stage movement, a highly effective pace within the performance and well-considered character interpretation.

Eric Heyes as Willie Clark, and Kirk Alexander as Al Lewis performed their roles to a very high standard. Both their characterisations were excellent, displaying excellent physicalisation and a thorough knowledge of their characters’ motivations thus creating two independent, yet interdependent characters. A major strength of their performance was the strong chemistry that existed between the characters on stage making the situation far more believable. Both actors maintained their accents very well and it was pleasing to see that they had developed specific localised accents and had not relied on generic American accents. The Doctor’s sketch was very well done, mainly because Heyes and Alexander were able to change their delivery and transport the audience to the vaudeville style that had been so successful at that time.

Greg Barison as Ben Silverman performed the role of Willie Clark’s long-suffering and frustrated nephew with authenticity and confidence. He showed a strong understanding of his character and his delivery was well-paced and articulate. One other strength in his performance was that he played a very good foil to the recalcitrant characters with whom he had to deal.

The smaller parts also contributed to the success of this production. Even though their times on the stage varied, their effectiveness did not. Ray Howden, Sheila Balis, Caitlin Langridge and Sue Rosenwax are to be congratulated on their performances. Sheila Balis should also be congratulated on developing and maintaining the smooth running of the play.

John Shelbourn designed a very functional and authentic set. The Dad’s Army set construction crew are to be congratulated on creating an atmospheric and time-ravaged effect through their talented and detailed finishing of the set. The props developed by Deborah Fabbro reflected the time period of the play and filled the requirements of the Doctor’s sketch. Bruce Parr’s introductory and interlude music was well chosen and added to the general feel of the production.

Ewen Crockett’s lighting design allowed for the stage to be covered evenly and this was coupled with a well-chosen hue and level for the wash, creating an effect that created the atmosphere required for the performance. It may well be said the colour of the wash reflected the sunset of Willie’s life and career.

The costumes developed by Christine Bridge not only successfully reflected the time period of the play but also the characters and their social situation.

The team at Mordialloc Theatre Company is to be congratulated on a production that reflected a focussed, creative and talented crew.

84 Charing Cross Road

by James Roose Evans

Directed by Peter Newling

Reviewed for Theatrecraft by David Collins on September 10, 2015

With television adaptations finding their way into more amateur theatre line-ups, Mordialloc Theatre Company deserve a good helping of respect for putting some-thing a little different on, as opposed to yet another cycle of Dibley, with their production of 84 Charing Cross Road.

On a choice set, less sparse as it was pragmatic, the action unfolded at a deliberate pace, like what you find in a Kubrick film. That palpable sense of utter control permeated all of the action on stage, particularly with players other than our leads. Shifting around, moving in and out, these minor characters took on physical qualities that you find in chalet-style cuckoo clocks as they strike the hour. It’s not that they were minor characters that consigned them somewhat to the periphery – they had plenty to do and conducted them-selves with strong, clear presence while on stage – but rather just that they rarely spoke or imposed them-selves on the main story.

Adapted for the stage by James Evans, the play retains the epistolary (i.e. a story written as a series of documents) structure of the book it was based on. It’s a quiet, but ultimately touching story of a friendship formed over years of correspondence between Helene Hanff (Marianne Collopy), a writer in New York, and Frank Doel (Barry Lockett), a book seller in London – the address of the bookshop happening to be a very titular 84 Charing Cross Road. The letters, initially just requests for specific book titles soon soften and become more personal, the book requests reduced to a PS at the bottom of the page.

Through death or moving on, the staff in the shop changes, and Helene repeatedly promises Frankie (as she soon calls him) that she will visit the store in person. Those final moments when Helene keeps her promise are possibly the most compelling part of her story, and serve to highlight a difficulty with the material as well.

Helene or Frank receive each other’s letters in turn, and when one of them opens one, the lights shift and the other starts speaking what the contents are. Because they’re describing events that have already taken place, that past-tense exposition feel lends a distance between the audience and the action, making it difficult for fthe audience to engage with on an emotional level. It’s why Helene’s final scene is so effective, because it is the only present moment in the whole play, its immediacy heightening the poignancy of that last beautiful image and line before the final blackout. Thus, the work of connecting with the audience can only be achieved through performance, resting mostly on the shoulders of our two leads.

Marianne Collopy certainly looked the part, and did great work as Helene from her small section of real estate at the back of the set. As alluded to earlier, the character of Helene takes longer to invest in by the audience, but this is more a consequence of Helene’s arc over the play, rather than any criticism of Collopy’s talents.

Barry Lockett pulled off a bit of an Alec Guiness in the way he disappeared in the role of Frank. The gradual increase in comfort that Frank feels as his relationship with Helene develops; the lovely way he discards his manners and formalities, as they become more familiar, was a joy to watch. It’s so easy to play drunk badly; however, Frank’s subtle touches of smile and slur meant the Christmas scene was a particular highlight, not least of all due to an off-kilter Christmas cracker hat being responsible for turning a “very proper” English book seller into Jughead from the Archie comics.

Providing excellent support were the other staff of the bookshop: Del Barwick, Audrey Farthing, Ben Taylor, Martin Gibbs and Janine Evans all equipped themselves well, with no sign at any time of any moments of dis-traction or lack of focus.

Director Peter Newling clearly drilled his cast like the Dirty Doze, but they all performed like the Magnificent Seven. Kudos.

Hotel Sorrento

by Hannie Rayson

Directed by Deborah Fabbro

Reviewed for Theatrecraft by Phyl Freeman on 25 June, 2015

Mordialloc’s second offering for this season has a 1991 Australian setting by award-winning writer, Hannie Rayson.  It tells of a family situated in Sorrento, Victoria, concerned to see their lives in a book written by their sibling, Meg, who has lived in London for the past ten years.  Act I gives us a window into their reactions.  In Act II, Meg and her partner Edwin Bates arrive in Sorrento for a visit.  As with all families, long-held animosities on both sides are aired.  How they are handled is the core of the story.

With fine direction from Deborah Fabbro and a well-chosen cast, the mature matinee audience was treated to a strongly-paced production, helped by a multiple set consisting of the Sorrento family kitchen upstage audience left, Meg and Edwin’s London flat upstage right and a jetty jutting out into Port Phillip Bay in Act I and the Sorrento home in Act II.  Constant lighting changes kept the backstage crew on their toes.  Costumes looked comfortable: check shirts and jeans for the local folk with upmarket styles for the younger sister Pippa, Meg and Edwin.

The Sorrento family consisted of Ewen Crockett as the delightful grandfather, Wal Moynihan, a typical Aussie battler, expletives flowing freely, much to the amusement of the audience.  He had a good rapport with his teenage grandson, Troy, Connor McRae, who had a poignant scene with his mother in Act II.  Audrey Farthing as Hilary, Troy’s mother, was fine as the daughter who stayed at home.  She gave the character an air of having given up. The youngest daughter, Pippa, played by Laura Brough, swept into the ménage, tossing her hair and regaling the family with her adventures.  Unfortunately, her accent was not consistent.  Natasha Boyd was very strong as the writer Meg, showing her character’s sorrow at not being accepted by her chosen country, England, and then her family’s dislike of her book.  Ian McMaster as Edwin Bates, Meg’s partner, gave her good support; his changing opinion on his new surroundings was interesting.

In contrast to the family scenes were little vignettes from Juliet Hayday as a neighbour, Marge, together with her visitor from Melbourne, journalist Dick Bennett, played by Tim Byron.  His scenes with grandfather Wal epitomized the familiar Aussie style.

Vocal projection from upstage audience left was a little lacking from some characters, but Mordialloc and the playwright should be pleased with this excellent production.

A Month of Sundays

by Bob Larbey

Directed by Martin Gibbs

Reviewed for Theatrecraft by David Collins on 26 April, 2015

Cooper’s life is like being one of the last customers in a closing restaurant. Where previously was no shortage of people close to him, people to interact with, is now a sparse landscape of empty tables. The lights are dimming, the wait staff are turning the chairs over and soon even Cooper will have to leave.
One of the many nice things about Bob Larbey’s script, chosen so well by Mordialloc Theatre Company, is the lead character of Cooper. He’s under no illusion. Cooper’s days aren’t a noble attempt to rage against the dying of the light. He just wants to hang on to his life for as long as possible, and not be alone.
It’s a treacherous life: his favourite nurse, Wilson, has a life that progresses outside the rest home – one that will eventually take her away from him. Cooper also keeps tabs on the mental decline of his peers, rueing the inevitable increase in the population he calls “zombies”. Finally, his own mental state – a subject of much self-monitoring – is a concern for Cooper, as the more fragile he becomes, the more he fears his daughter, Julia, will stop visiting.
The relationship with Julia is a catch-22 of sorts. His fear means he finds it very hard to be honest with her, so tries to shield her with niceties and generic sentiment. Unfortunately, that lack of interest is making Julia less enthused to visit, which only increases Cooper’s fear, leading to him doubling down the banality that’s pushing her away in the first place.
The resolution of these story threads was splendid. Briony Jones, as Wilson, played the role of caregiver with heart and empathy. Admittedly, an emotional turn where she falls to the ground in tears, holding Cooper’s leg as a child might do her father’s, was a little inorganic. Otherwise, it was a case of good work on Jones’s part, getting that balance of nurse versus friend so finely tuned.
As Cooper’s human barometer for impending senility, David Stephens’ performance as Aylott made for believable companionship. Aylott is by no means nimble on his feet, but the script called for Stephens to do some deft work in navigating a rapid turn from cognisant to “zombie”, which was handled well.
The scenes with Philippa Bain as Julia (backed up nicely by Paris Romanis as Julia’s husband, Peter) were the real meat of the play. It was here that the strong-yet-subtle undercurrent of fear running through Cooper was on display. The final moment between them, Cooper’s honesty and trust that his daughter would not be repulsed by his physical and emotional frailties, was marvellous.
Whether Cooper’s constant talking to the audience is an aspect of his decline that he’s in denial over, or just a theatrical device, Eric Heyes did a fantastic job in the role. Regardless of the near-constant laughs from the audience, A Month of Sundays felt more like a black comedy, with the emphasis on black. There was plenty of darkness here and Heyes should be commended for his courage in embracing the role’s darkness and larger truths.
Providing valuable support was Christine Bridge, playing the home’s cleaner, Mrs Baker. Her scenes with Cooper were satisfying and flowed well, much like the ablutions she would serenade him through.
Thank you to director, Martin Gibbs, and the team at the MTC. A lovely bit o’ stuff, this.

See How They Run

by Phillip King

Directed by Cheryl Ballantine Richards

Reviewed for Theatrecraft by Alison Campbell Rate on 20/2/2015

Mordialloc’s first show for 2015 was a definite winner with the audience which responded enthusiastically to the frenetic comings and goings of this typical English farce. Set in wartime England in a village vicarage, a series of impostures and misunderstandings unfolds involving the vicar’s new wife, the local gossip and an escaped German prisoner – just for starters.
The era – 1940s – was well established with appropriate costuming by Juliet Hayday and a beautifully dressed, functional set designed by Martin Gibbs. The many entrances and exits got a thorough workout as the action grew more frenetic – nice to see everything was solid as a rock. The innocent little coat cupboard where so many people ended up hiding made me think Narnia must be back there somewhere.
The complex craziness of a farce has to look effortless from the front and Director Cheryl Ballantine Richards achieved this. People were running, jumping and fainting all over the place but the chaos was never out of con-trol and the pace was good throughout. The cast was uniformly strong with some stand-out performances in the mix. All worked well together, were strong vocally and brought their own quirky physical comedy to their delib-erately overdrawn roles.
Asja Sarajlic was assured in her role as the maid Ida with her Cockney accent and a spunky attitude to match. Spot on comic timing and an expressive face as she observed the goings on around her created lots of humour. Miss Skillon, village gossip, was well played by Diana Stathis. Diana showed us a stereotypical buttoned up spinster who unravelled after a blow on the head and too many nips of restorative brandy. This role called for lots of physical comedy which Diana handled well. In James Dodd’s capable hands, the Rev Lionel Toop was convincingly mild mannered and bewildered while his wife Penelope was effortlessly captured by Claire Benne. Claire’s forthright delivery and energetic movements epitomised the hearty Englishwoman type.
Penelope’s old friend from acting days, Clive, now a Lance Corporal stationed nearby, introduces complications by borrowing the Vicar’s second best suit for a forbidden outing. Matthew Allen was great in this role – lots of energy and a nod to Basil Fawlty in the excellent physical humour. Barry James was a memorable Bishop of Lax, by turns autocratic, doddering, indignant and bemused. Another hapless vicar was the visiting Rev Arthur Humphrey well played by Laurie Jezard. Laurie showed Arthur as a gentle, unassuming individual very much caught in the toils of the situation but with a touch of mischief never far away.
The intruder, an escaped German soldier from the internment camp, was played by Tim Long. He too ended up dressed in borrowed vicars’ clothes so at one point we had 4 Revs on set. Tim’s accent went a little astray at times but otherwise he delivered his role well. Lastly David Dodd was aptly officious and bellicose as Sergeant Towers, on the hunt for the escapee.
This was a really enjoyable performance – tight, slick and funny. Congratulations to all at MTC.

Bullshot Crummond

By Ron House … et al

Directed by Jeff Saliba

Reviewed for Theatrecraft by David Collins on 14/11/2014

 

Much like Charles Ludlam’s The Mystery of Irma Vep, or Ross Gumbley’s adaptation of The 39 Steps, Bullshot Crummond wears its absurdity on its sleeve … And the other sleeve, and both trouser legs while it’s at it. Authors Rob [sic] House, Diz White, Alan Shearman, John Neville-Andrew and Derek Cunningham have sired a hilarious lovechild from the wittiest of British comedies and the most earnest of Republic serials.

Otto von Brunno has caught wind of Professor Rupert Fenton’s latest breakthrough in diamond manufacture. With his close, er, “relative”, Lenya, by his side, Otto parachutes into England and kidnaps the Professor with the goal of learning the secret to take control of the world’s diamond market. But as Robert Burns wrote, “The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men, gang aft agley …” Indeed, Otto’s arch nemesis, Hugh “Bullshot” Crummond, has stumbled upon his plan. Through two hours of plastic pigeons, car chases off cliff tops and “fool-proof” death traps, Bullshot stops at nothing to put an end to Otto’s designs.

Whether you were up close and personal in the front row or doing your best Hilary and Tenzing impression in the upper reaches at the back of the theatre, the cast put on a show that left no one out on the joke.

More chameleon than character, James Antonas took to the seven roles required of him by the script with gusto. As one-part SS, one-part Sally Bowles, Janine Evans was splendid in her demented turn as Lenya. With schemes to rival a Bond villain, Gaetano Santo was great in the role of Otto, channelling his best Herr Flick of the Gestapo, albeit without the limp. Melissa New brought the respective charm and sauciness of upstairs/downstairs in a very British turn as Professor Fenton’s daughter, Rosemary. However, Rosemary’s upper-class breeding was positively hoi polloi next to the Albionic majesty that was Hugh “Bullshot” Crummond. His pipe never long from his grasp, Stephen Shinkfield made it look easy in a strong performance, made all the more funny by the extent to which Bullshot’s heightened stoicism was played.

There’s a danger seeing a show on opening night as often a show can take a few minutes to warm up. Seeing the play in the middle of its run, however, the cast had things humming from the get-go. However, that familiarity comes with its own risks. There’s a fine line between confidence and cruising, and there were occasional moments where the action onstage felt too steady and safe, becoming less dangerous and thus less compelling.

Plaudits are also deserving of the crew backstage. Connie Bram and Juliet Hayday kept the fake fowl flying, among the other props and quick change shenanigans (Gaetano Santo jumping between Otto and gangster Salvatore Scalicio, for example) that were as much a highlight of the play as the cast were.

While there were only a handful of empty seats on the night I attended, it was a handful too many, considering this entertaining show that director Jeff Saliba and the team at Mordialloc Theatre Company have produced at the end of a successful 2014 season.

That Good Night

by N.J. Crisp

Directed by Deborah Fabbro

Reviewed by Barry O’Neill for Theatrecraft, 18 September, 2014

On a bitterly cold Melbourne night Neil Barnett’s set thankfully transports us to the sun-drenched courtyard of a white-walled villa in the Umbrian Hills of Italy. Wrought iron occasional furniture is complemented by a variety of potted plants and earthenware artefacts, with a sturdy stone wall running along one side. A very warm, authentic and inviting setting. Dad’s Army once again did a fine job.

The villa is rented by Ralph and Anna: he, a curmudgeonly selfish man in his seventies, she his younger devoted and caring wife. Ralph has led an active and generally rewarding life but has recently been diagnosed with a terminal illness. He is now determined to be reconciled with his estranged son Michael and wants to ensure that he is not a burden to his wife as his health deteriorates. To this end he has decided to end his life on his own terms. His attempt to patch things up with his son proves fruitless when he meets Michael’s girlfriend and proceeds to pick a fight with her. So, unbeknown to anyone, Ralph proceeds with his plan to use the ser-vices of an organisation that can help him end his life. The plan comes unstuck when the helpful ‘visitor’ administers a temporary knock-out drug rather than the permanent version. Consequently, Ralph has to face his demons but comes to realise that life, for whatever length of time, still holds challenges, surprises and re-wards.

As one would expect, Eric Heyes delivered a well-crafted characterisation of Ralph: selfish, cantankerous and sarcastic but, despite his faults, in love with his wife and struggling to understand the meaning of life. It is always a pleasure to watch Eric work so naturally and convincingly. As his long-suffering but always loving wife Anna, Monica Greenwood provided the perfect foil to Ralph’s acerbic wit. Monica looked completely at home in the surroundings, moved comfortably and confidently around the stage and held a flawless soft Austrian accent perfectly all night. An outstanding performance.

No doubt Geoff Arnold followed the director’s instructions in his portrayal of ‘the Visitor’ employed by Ralph to help him into ‘That Good Night’. However, I found the characterisation far too casual and matter-of-fact for someone who is, after all, Doctor Death. I appreciate the need to avoid over-dramatising the character but my view is that a little more formality might have been appropriate. Tim Byron was solid as son Michael but lacked convincing emotion, particularly in scenes with his father. Notwithstanding that theirs was a fragile relationship, I felt Tim could have added more colour and meaning to their exchanges. As Michael’s girlfriend Debbie, Samantha-Ellen Bound showed good stage presence and manner in her limited appearances.

There are humorous moments in the play but it is essentially a very wordy piece with several powerful monologues plus deep and meaningful one-on-one conversations. No doubt the actors were intent on ensuring that the audience grasped the full meaning of the dialogue. However, their endeavour often led to the pace slowing and emotions disappearing. Notwithstanding this issue, the actors worked well together throughout and delivered a thought provoking production.

LOOT

by Joe Orton

Directed by Martin Gibbs 

Reviewed for Theatrecraft by Ken Barnes – July 3, 2014 

Joe Orton’s Loot is a play that has attracted a good deal of controversy and suffered from mixed reviews.  First written in 1964, rewritten several times and finally being awarded Best Play by the Evening Standard in 1966, it has been called a mixture of Monty Python and Oscar Wilde.  While that description seems a little over-generous, it can at least be described as a black comedy.  It is also a unique attempt to send up the Catholic Church and to lampoon the British Constabulary.  Audiences have found it outrageously funny, its script banal, the storyline disjointed, the characters one-dimensional or all of the above.  So I was interested to see how Martin Gibbs, his cast and crew brought it to the Mordialloc stage.

There were two acts, both performed in the home of a mature-age gent called McLeavy.  The director had designed the set with great care and attention to detail, with articles representing the family’s Catholic faith: tasteful wallpaper, appropriate furniture and many flowers, most of them decorating the centre-stage coffin of the newly-departed Mrs McLeavy.  There were doors, a single bed, a screen and a cupboard, all placed strategically to facilitate the action as the plot unfolded.  The lighting and sound were fine and the actors were perfectly audible throughout, though some of the stronger voices became a little harsh at times, perhaps because the auditorium had such excellent acoustics.  With one exception, costumes were in keeping with the roles being performed, including the carefully-wrapped body of Mrs McLeavy looking for all the world like an Egyptian mummy, as required by the plot.

On the night I attended the acting was a mixed bag.  Max Rackham was well cast as McLeavy and brought an engaging style and believable accent to the role, his mannerisms and energetic movement around the stage ensuring that he held the audience’s attention throughout.  The same can be said for Peter Maver as the enigmatic Truscott who maintained a thoroughly entertaining and often darkly threatening) presence on stage, as he was for most  of the play.  Heli Simpson was also well cast as the capricious nurse Fay, whose seemingly innocent demeanour was belied by her heinous past activities.  The two young conspirators, Hal and Dennis, were played with rather less conviction by Matthew O’Reilly and Chris Kapiniaris, both of whom could have used more subtle mannerisms and polished up their delivery and accents to better engage the audience.  The cast was completed by Greg Barison who made brief but convincing appearances as the rather confused policeman, Meadows.

I felt that more attention to detail would have lifted the performance.  For example, the attempt by Hal and Dennis to stuff the money into the coffin was not well executed; Hal’s bloodied face and quick recovery after the Truscott attack was less than convincing; and Fay’s “acquired” black dress that fitted perfectly was surely not what the previous owner would have worn.  More importantly, while lines were generally delivered with precision I gained the impression that the actors were reciting them and hastening to the end of the show rather than savouring the lines with pauses and feeling.  While Loot did not engage my funny bone at any time, it made a few telling points in its attack on the established order, though a tickle would have had more effect than the writer’s sledgehammer approach.  The general atmosphere, both in front of house and inside the comfortable Shirley Burke Theatre lacked that sparkle that makes for a memorable evening.

TALKING HEADS

By Alan Bennett

Directed by Judy Corderoy

Reviewed by Alan Dilnot for Theatrecraft – May 2, 2014

Talking Heads was the title given to two series of monologues by Alan Bennett that first appeared on television, one in 1988, the other in 1998. Subsequently the two series were made available for performance as live theatre. There are interesting differences in the ways in which the two art forms convey their material. The television presentations typically show a monologuist at home, self-communing, or reminiscing, or agonising, or even obsessing, as he or she delivers a narrative privately. A TV viewer likewise is at home in a living room, possibly alone or with just a companion or two, passively receiving the material emanating from the screen, and unable to send a response to the monologuist. Television thus encourages the development in the viewer of a sense of eavesdropping. Television also has a valuable technical resource, in its ability to signal changes of time and place with the very briefest of screen blanks.

Live theatre tends to diminish the sense of eavesdropping, and it cannot utilize screen blanks. However, it has features of its own which can be equally effective. If the monologuist is speaking to a live audience any elements of guilt or shame or humiliation in the narrative are intensified because they are being shared with a community rather than with iust one or two viewers. Furthermore, audience response is audible to the speaker, bringing both parties closer. And, if handled efficiently and deftly, breaks between scenes on stage give a greater sense of the passing of real time as well as supplying suspense.

These strengths of live theatre were very evident in the production of Talking Heads by Mordialloc Theatre Company. In the first of the three pieces, “Her Big Chance’, Amelia Hunter gave a first-rate presentation of Lesley, a young and obscure would-be film star who believes that her chance has arrived when she lands a part in a movie, which as far as the audience can judge is not very far from being semi-pornographic. Alan Bennett’s characters mostly have a capacity for self-deception and in Lesley’s case she believes that she is becoming more “professional” as she acquires and begins to deploy the jargon of the film makers, while building up, on a minimum of guidance, her characterization of Travis, who, the audience deduces, is not intended by the director (“Gunter”) to be much more than a mobile nude. Amelia Hunter well conveyed the ineradicable naivety that plumes itself on being sophisticated, as well the terrible emptiness of the real life of Lesley, compared with which the world of acting, though probably at a very low skill-level, seems like an exciting escape. Lesley appears to have no family life and no on-going relationships: the film’s cast and crew become part of her personal history, and she will remember the episode as a markedly brighter experience than when she had a bit part in Crossroads, which in turn was more rewarding than anything available at home in her bed-sit. She thinks she has been part of the high life, but we can see that she has been gullible and exploited. Amelia perfectly portrayed the emptiness of the home life of Lesley and the tawdry substitute life offered her by the film makers.

Self-deception remains to protect the self-esteem of Lesley but it is not available to comfort Graham in ‘A Chip in the Sugar’. To a great extent Graham can do without that comfort because throughout his narrative he presents himself as a hero who defends himself and his mother against the threats of the crass, the second-rate and the modish, primarily represented by an old boyfriend of his mother’s, Frank Turnbull, but also by a glib social worker and a trendy vicar. Matthew Allen’s presentation of Graham was perfect, from the mastery of the Yorkshire accent (no difficulty for Matthew, one presumes) down to the skill with which he brought to life the changing outlook of Graham’s mother as she swung from being his best companion to being his severest critic, and then finally back to being his sympathetic partner on outings to see antique buildings of a churchy nature. Of course, Graham is vulnerable: at the crisis of the narrative he is faced with being ejected from his home because public opinion would consider him too old still to be living with his mother. He is saved from this because his antagonist, Frank Turnbull, is revealed as an inveterate womanizer with a disabled wife, and in no position to marry. So Graham triumphs, but it is a victory which returns him to the security of a kind of prison, where he and his mother are all-in-all to each other. Matthew Allen expertly portrayed this narrow and sheltered life with all its nuances. His timing was exact, and his delivery of the key line “l didn’t say anything” spot on.

The third piece, ‘A Lady of Letters’, at first contrasted with the previous two because it seemed to feature a character safely in charge of her own life. Iris Ruddock writes letters to the relevant authorities whenever she comes across what she considers unsatisfactory behaviour or derogation of duty. It is not long, however, before we discover that she herself is a public nuisance, and, worse than that, someone who is mistaken about the nature of what she witnesses. Linda Morgan constructed convincingly the picture of someone who on the one hand wants to benefit society and on the other relishes finding fault. I particularly liked the way Linda looked out of the window to scrutinize the couple who had moved in across the way. Iris has an ego strong enough to make her think that she can even give advice to the Queen. But deep down she senses that there is nobody who cares whether she lives or dies, nobody who thinks that she matters. When she is admitted to a real prison, ironically she wins a temporary freedom from the mental prison she has been inhabiting: in prison she comes into her own, finding friends, appreciative company and a use for her writing skills. Her release back into her old life is a step towards sadness, and there is a deep pathos in her final declaration that she is happy when we know that she is looking into a void. Linda Morgan voiced the inflections of this sombre narrative extremely sensitively.

The three plays are masterpieces in themselves. Do they add up to an integrated whole? I think they do, because they share Alan Bennett’s mastery of idiom and his exquisite ability to depict a life where only a whisker divides comedy from pathos. All three characters have their moments of success, but the future lives of all three will be lived in the shade.

A word should be said about the set, with a backdrop that served all three plays. Depicting a row of terraced houses in Northern England it was especially appropriate for the last two plays, less so for “Her Big Chance” which wasn’t so dependent on a northern location. Each character had a limited portion of the stage, the boundaries being emphasized by lighting. Praise should also be given to the costuming, again exactly right for England in the 198os. In fact, this was pretty well a flawless production. My partner thought that it was the best amateur theatre she had ever seen. If it weren’t for my own self-esteem I’d entirely agree with her. Certainly, to use the word of Lesley, but without any irony, this production, under the assured direction of Judy Corderoy, was fully “professional’.  

QUARTET

by Ronald Harwood

Directed by Eric Heyes

Reviewed by David Collins for Theatrecraft – February 22, 2014

The 1950s saw two refrains enter the common lexicon that we use today when speaking about having to confront and persevere against daunting odds: Dylan Thomas with, “Rage, rage against the dying of the light”; and minorities from the southern United States with “Stick it to the man”’ The four leads in Quartet – former singers who find them-selves reunited in retirement and given a less-than-appealing opportunity to recreate their biggest hit from younger years with older voices – embody these creeds in different ways.

Cecily (Pat Alcock) has her idealism, Reginald (Geoff Arnold) has his pride, Jean (Carol Shelbourn) has her fame, and Wilfred (Barry Lockett) has his libido. Framed by a series of twisted paintings, the set for Quartet isn’t so much designed by Martin Gibbs as curated. The space – a lounge area in a plush retirement village of sorts – was authentic, like something recreated in a museum, but with a subversive dash of Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion-like art thrown in. It works as a subtle visual companion to our characters: people who are resisting with all their fad-ing might the status of being museum pieces themselves. However, the stakes surrounding their performance (which ends the play) are more than just embarrassment. Come across too forgetful or dottery and they risk being “shipped away” from their comfortable way of life and sent to an actual rest home.

The plaudits are an easy things to give. All four actors (featuring an admirable late replacement in Pat Alcock, who stepped in for one of the cast) were perfectly cast by director Eric Heyes, and performed in marvelous fashion. The comedy beats were not too difficult a thing to hit, so what was great was the harder task of convincing the audience, through their physicality, bickering, and empathy, that the four of them could be old friends reuniting after a long time. The wrinkles were small, but there.

Despite Barry and Geoff’s banter in Act 1, the pacing and rhythm wavered at times, but was much improved by the second half. Some scenes had the potential to really engage, but instead were too passive and relaxed, making them less interesting to watch. The happy ending was a genuine surprise. Throughout the show, more and more darkness creeps in from the periphery: admissions of mental illness from Jean, Cecily’s wors-ening senility, Wilfred’s failing body. The weight of mortality presses down from the beginning, but by the end these story threads are seemingly discarded by playwright Ronald Harwood. It’s a brave choice leaving any final meaning to the audience, but in the days following the show I realized the ending isn’t necessarily as saccharine as first thought. It’s a powerful climax (settle down, Wilfred) because Harwood never lets us forget that, irrespective of all the preceding laughs and heart from this fantastic production by Mordialloc Theatre Company, that darkness is there. Like King Canute demonstrating that not even a king can stop the tides, neither can this wonderful quartet of singers stop time. And time will take us all.

The Dixie Swim Club

by Jones, Hope and Wooten

Directed by Cheryl Richards

Reviewed by Alison Campbell Rate – November 14, 2013 for Theatrecraft

Strongly defined characters, whipcrack one liners and enduring themes make this play a wonderful vehicle for strong female talent to strut their stuff and have a jolly good time doing it. Sheree, Lexie, Dinah, Vernadette and Jeri Neal have been friends since their days on the College swim team. Every August they meet for a girls’ weekend at a beach cottage on the Outer Banks, North Carolina to drink martinis and discuss their marriages, sex lives, divorces, children, hopes, dreams and fears. The action covers four of these weekends from their mid forties to their mid seventies and over this time we witness the shifts and growth in each character and in their friendships as life deals out what it will. Heather King played Sheree, team captain, born organiser and determined health nut. Heather conveyed Sheree’s more conser-vative, straight forward nature well. She needed to project her voice for the back row and relax into the character a little more. Lexie is the sex bomb of the team with a string of ex-husbands and a carefully maintained body. Elizabeth Garnsworthy embod-ied this character with every move and inflection and made credible Lexie’s journey from self centred good time girl to carer for Vernadette by the last scene. A delightful performance. Janine Evans played career lawyer Dinah, a no-nonsense woman who tells it like it is and is never far from her next martini. Janine’s physicality and comic timing were brilliant and in her capable hands Dinah was satisfyingly pungent and a great foil for Lexie. Their scene together where deeper matters are touched upon was balanced and believable. The accomplished Wendy McRae played Vernadette, accident prone victim of fate, with a wonderfully laconic delivery and laid back physical presence. This character has some of the best lines in the play and Wendy’s perfectly timed dry delivery hit the mark with a highly appreciative audience. Janine Lynch gave a lovely performance as naive ex-nun, un-wed mother Jeri Neal, injecting plenty of perky cheerfulness and energy into the role and also showing Jeri Neal’s growth in personal confidence as time passes. Four of the characters aged up well for the final scene with the help of costuming, wigs and makeup but what really sold the illusion was the way each actor modified their way of moving and speaking to that of an older woman without lapsing into caricature – very well done. Wendy McRae also had to depict Vernadette’s mental deterioration and did so in an understated way which added to the poignancy of the situation as the friends assemble in the stripped down cottage for the last time and farewell one of their own. The set design by Juliet Hayday was very evocative of a simple beach retreat. I loved the detail of the old green screen door and the view beyond the window. Effective changes to decor and furnishings helped establish the passing of time. I found the final scene change distracting with so many people bundling out furniture and pictures etc in too much light. Great music and costuming choices helped to take us across the decades and, in the case of costumes, also established the individuals well. Lightning effects during the hurricane scene were very effective. Well done Brian McCallum, Tim Long and Juliet Hayday for all that went into lighting, sound and costume respectively. Congratulations to director Cheryl Ballantine Richards who pulled all the strands together to give the audience a satisfying night of storytelling, laugh out loud fun and touching nostalgia.

Night Must Fall

by Emlyn Williams

Directed by Leslie Batten

Reviewed by Alison Campbell Rate – 13 September, 2013 for Theatrecraft

This psychological thriller is set in the 1930s in the country house of Mrs Bramson, a wealthy but bitter, demanding woman who pretends to be a wheelchair-bound invalid in order to keep others at her beck and call. Her impoverished niece, Olivia, reluctantly resides with her as companion and bears the brunt of her aunt’s sharp tongue. Circumstances bring the mysterious Dan on the scene, who plays upon Mrs Bramson’s self-interest and quickly ingratiates himself into the household as her new caregiver, much to Olivia’s disquiet. When a local woman goes missing amidst rumours of murder and her headless body is found in the grounds of Mrs Bramson’s house, Olivia’s suspicions about Dan intensify, as does her unwilling fascination. The title of the play suggests there is an inevitability about evil, that it hovers waiting to descend. The character of Olivia is most attuned to this sense of the inescapable. Like her, we know that Dan is the murderer and what’s in the hatbox he has in his room.  It’s inevitable that Dan will murder Mrs Bramson for the money hidden in the desk. The play is not a ‘murder mystery’ in that sense. The interest factor is in how the characters of Olivia and Dan play out their odd relationship. Katie Macfie (Olivia) and William Mulholland (Dan) successfully developed a tense, understated interplay between their characters. Katie showed us an intelligent, suffocated woman who knows her suspicions are right yet allows herself to be drawn to the enigmatic Dan. William used his delivery and physical presence to give us a taut, dangerous Dan who could both charm and repel. Great timing and use of silence by both these actors to heighten tension at key moments. As Mrs Bramson, Linda Morgan convinced with her childish, attention-seeking behaviour and overbearing manner. The cloying nature of her feelings for ‘Danny’ was well drawn, showing the loneliness at the heart of her character. An assured performance by Octavia Stapleton as Mrs Terence, the cook/housekeeper, made the most of the humour in the text. Her no-nonsense reactions to Mrs Bramson’s dictates were very funny and one got the sense that she was her own woman. I found the accent of the maid, Dora, played by Kirsten Page, difficult to understand and this, along with some rushed lines, marred her delivery. Kirsten gave Dora an appropriately simple, naive persona but overall her performance was somewhat undisciplined. Greg Barison was Mrs Bramson’s neighbour, Hubert, a would-be love interest for Olivia but rejected by her on the score of being ‘boring’. Greg imbued Hubert with suitable hearty Englishness and this provided an effective foil for the more sinister Dan. Neil Barnett played the small ‘prologue’ role of Lord Chief Justice before the action proper commenced, and later that of lnspector Belsize. Neil’s work was relaxed and his delivery confident. There were some nice cat-and-mouse moments between the inspector and Dan. Sheila Balis combined her assistant stage manager role with the small role of Nurse Libby who attends Mrs Bramson. Sheila also brought some humour to the proceedings with her buoyant portrayal. Director Lesley Batten put together a cohesive production and kept the story moving along at a good pace. My only quibble was the Act 2 scene where Mrs Bramson fears she has been left alone in the house at nightfall and tries to find Danny; this scene was too protracted and some momentum lost. The set was beautifully designed by Martin Gibbs and dressed by Barbara Bateman with plenty of appropriate period colour and detail, such as the playing card case and the glue pot and brush. The dark velvet curtains framing the entrance hall upstage provided a dramatic backdrop to the final scene.  Costumes by Bronwyn King were also excellent.  Effective lighting design by Gordon Boyd and Kyle Smith added to the shifts in tension and off stage sound effects (design Jeff Saliba) worked well.  An enjoyable evening of theatre from Mordialloc.

Albert Nobbs

by Gordon Steel

Directed by Martin Gibbs

Reviewed by Nicky McFarlane – 16 June, 2013 for Theatrecraft

In Gordon Steel’s play, Albert Nobbs, played by Eric Heyes, is not the woman of the film, but a retired widower whose wife Connie (Christine Bridge), returns to help Albert cope with his grief.  The director’s notes describe the play as a “Blithe Spirit for the working class”, an excellent story of laughter and sadness. Set in the living room of the Nobbs’ home, designed by the director (cream walls patterned with green leaves, and simply furnished), Albert obviously feels lost, unhappy and concerned about things he should be doing, for instance taking his medication.  Connie’s friends Alice (Sheila Balis), and Rose (Kate Llewelyn), are keen to look after Albert, and Connie decides to step in and warn them off. We are taken back and forward in time and there are very funny moments and sad ones as well, taking us literally from tears to laughter as the action unfolds.  Eric Heyes as Albert is a delight; trying to cope with a whole new life, confused by the changing scene, longing to have his life with Connie back.  Christine Bridge makes Connie a calm and loving being, coming and going into the scene quietly and lovingly.  Sheila Balis and Kate Llewelyn pop in and out like teenagers.  These people make a close and happy team.  I would guess that rehearsals were very enjoyable.  The scenes move smoothly, pace was well balanced, and glory be, we could hear everyone loud and clear. Lighting, designed by Kyle Smith was smooth, and sound, designed by Tim Long and Nicholas Gertner, appropriate.  Thanks to Mordialloc for a delightful, fresh play, and an excellent production.

Lost in Yonkers

 by Neil Simon

Directed by Michaela Smith

Reviewed by Nicky McFarlane – April 28, 2013 for Theatrecraft

Awarded a Pulitzer prize in 1991, described as a “comic drama”, Lost in Yonkers is “about finding one’s way through the tangled web of family.”  It is how Jay (John Murphy) and Artie (Haydn Zubek) feel when they are left by their travelling salesman father, Eddie (Peter Tedford), with Grandma Kurnitz (Judy Corderoy) after the death of their mother.  Grandma carries a big stick and uses it on occasion, for instance when accusing the boys of stealing lollies from the sweet shop she runs.  They have to put up with this and with their Aunt Bella (Melanie Rowe), who is a sweet girl but still a child at heart, naive, impetuous and easily swayed.  Also in the family is Uncle Louis (Jacob Pilkington), who could be a bad influence, and Aunt Gert (Janine Evans), who has an awkward speech problem, which was very well sustained.  The boys have to adapt to all this as their father keeps in touch by letter while on the road, the letters read by Eddie in a spot. The setting is Grandma’s house in Yonkers, 1942, designed by Gaetana Santo and Stephen Trevan.  It comprises a living room, centre stage is a large sofa which opens up as a bed when needed, windows upstage with net curtains and a (surprising?) English landscape on the wall. Somehow the boys manage to fit in with the rest of the family without losing their own identities, and they settle down into a new life.  I would have liked to see a touch more brotherly feeling as they support each other in this new situation.  On the other hand, most brothers in my experience tend to fight all the time, regardless of the situation. Melanie Rowe is outstanding as Bella, a beautiful performance, a well-developed character sustained throughout, impetuous and naive and very touching.  Melanie gets better every time I see her. The music between scenes, chosen by Tim Long, was jazz piano of the period, which was appropriate.  Lighting design by Kyle Smith worked smoothly.  Over all a very good production, smoothly run.

The Grand Manner

by A.R. Gurney

Directed by Judy Corderoy

Reviewed by Graham McCoubrie – 9 February, 2013 for Theatrecraft

We are taken back in time with this piece of work based upon the life experiences of a young A. R. “Pete” Gurney who, hailing from Boston, goes to Manhattan from his New England Boarding school just to see star and legend Katherine Cornell playing Cleopatra in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra at the Martin Beck Theatre in1948. It could be termed an autobiography of prolific playwright Gurney but it is written about an event set in one small part of his life. It is the younger Gurney’s encounter with a world of fantasy where being merely life-size isn’t enough. MTC’s team from Dad’s Army put Steve Trevan’s very much art deco set design together to create the Green Room of the theatre. To subtly emphasize the location, two scenes of New York skyline were set above the ceiling line either side of a billboard highlighting the season of Antony and Cleopatra.  The open stage was furnished with an art deco side table and an upstage bar, while centre stage a luxurious chaise lounge was the focal point for most of the work. Both men were costumed well by Marie Skitt in the 40s style while Ms Cornell’s several changes of costumes were commanding and, while matronly, did add to her status as a diva of the times. Pete, played by Connor McCrae, opens the performance by explaining his reasons for wanting to meet with the star of stage and screen, that they both had their upbringing in Buffalo and he wanted her autograph to show to his school peers that he actually did get backstage to achieve his dream. His youthful exuberance shone together with his determination, although there was a touch of awkwardness and naivety in his performance. His desire to meet Cornell overshadowed his reason for coming to New York, that of “meeting his girlfriend” when in actual fact he didn’t have a girlfriend and he really wanted to play out his fantasy of meeting and getting Cornell’s autograph. To get to see Cornell meant having to run the gauntlet with Cornell’s husband, manager and producer Guthrie McClintic, played strongly by Geoff Arnold. McClintic has directed dozens of her plays, many well beyond their use-by date. He was a fiery foulmouthed entrepreneur and showed desires for Pete by inviting him to their country residence where he could join them swimming nude while promising him a job in theatre. The underlying sex didn’t stop there as Gert, played by Cheryl Richards, was Cornell’s “great and good friend” and confidant who travels eternally with her and, while having an air of gruffness, was able to give Cornell the devotion and boost she needed whenever she was down and challenged. Such relationships back in the 1940s were only allowed to flourish in the world of permissive theatre. Katherine Cornell with all of her frailties was played superbly by Vicki Smith, who took us on a journey of her life where she said “lt’s a terrible thing to be trapped in the wrong role.” Young Pete exposes her to her past roots in Buffalo at the very time she doubts herself as an artist. Vicki Smith showed all the empathy and grandeur of a great diva, commanding us throughout until the very end where Cornell re-enacted her last great scene of Cleopatra in her dying moments, but doing so with the close attention of Gert. After Cornell’s “final curtain” we were taken back to the beginning with Pete completing his dialogue, reflecting on the events that we witnessed that were now part of his history, leaving an indelible mark in his life. A richly staged piece of work with four actors and a director leaving us well entertained once again at the Shirley Burke Theatre.

Moonlight and Magnolias

by Ron Hutchinson

Directed by Gaetano Santo

Reviewed by Bruce Cochrane – 15 November 2012 for Theatrecraft

By now the story behind the making of mega-movie Gone With The Wind is widely known and the play about it has been popular with many theatre companies, offering as it does a blend of comedy and nostalgia.  As a prologue a newsreel from 1939 set the scene in showing the publicity build-up to the premiere of the biggest blockbuster to that time. In the male roles, this production featured three of Mordialloc’s finest and was particularly physical, more so than other interpretations I’ve seen.  It was also more macho in the interaction between the characters, emphasising an inherent aggression which at times tended to reduce the potential for laughs.  This was the old problem of actors shouting to convey anger or frustration and now allowing enough variation of expression for an audience to maintain their engagement with each character. Opening on an attractive and functional set (Martin Gibbs’ design) which served admirably as the office of a Hollywood movie mogul of the thirties, the play set off at the required breakneck speed.  With the shooting deadline fast approaching, David O. Selznick, played by Shane Ryan, is urging Ben Hecht (Adrian Gertler) to take on a rewrite of the script where others have failed to deliver.  In the process of coercion Shane hit an early peak of energetic aggression, which he maintained for most of the first act and set the pace for the other actors.  Ben Hecht has probably the best lines in the play and Adrian Gertler had the right tone and inflexion to get the sarcastic humour in his lines before doing his share of shouting.  As veteran director Victor Fleming, Stephen Shinkfield was uncharacteristically subdued at the outset before warming up with the action sequences.  A lot of work had gone into these scenes of frenetic wrestling, running and slapping episodes that accompany the playing out of action as part of script development.  The actors threw themselves into these exhausting routines which got plenty of laughs and were executed with maximum effort and timing. As the days pass the need to demonstrate the degeneration of the office requires a build up of screwed up paper and peanut shells as well as discarded clothes.  For this production a decision had been made to close the curtain for several minutes to achieve the transition.  This took away from the flow of the story and suspecting that interval had arrived led some of the audience to clap half-heartedly.  We are well adjusted to the practice of effecting scene changes without losing momentum by bringing the actors into the process.  When the curtain closes it closes us off from the actors. The fourth character in this scenario, Miss Poppenghul, is a challenge which calls for maximum result from minimum lines.  Michaela Smith was a good choice for the role of long-suffering secretary to Selznick.  Well directed and with an appreciation of the comedy potential of her part, Michaela extracted humour with her walk and her talk but especially her facial expressions.  This was an area of the men’s performances which seemed to have been mostly lost in the helter-skelter of action. Jeff Saliba was a major contributor to the production as assistant director, sound and lighting design (with Kyle Smith) and voiceovers (with Peter Newling) and was too busy to be a member of the large set construction team.  Overall this was a good standard production which seemed to hit the mark with the Mordialloc audience.

Prelude to a Kiss

by Craig Lucas

Directed by Tim Long

Reviewed by Jill Watson – 20 September, 2012 for Theatrecraft

Program notes tell us that this is a modern day romantic fairy tale.  Peter and Rita meet, fall in love and marry, all in a short space of time.  A supernatural event happens at the wedding, brought on by the bride kissing an old man who turns up unexpectedly.  The result of this kiss (good stage effects, I must say, with electricity flashing through hands) tests the strength of their love and commitment to each other.  Won’t say any more, as it could spoil the play for future performances, but suffice to say the event changes the personality significantly of Rita.  The work is set mainly in 1990s New York, with various locations: Rita’s flat, her parents’ place, a hotel poolside in Jamaica.  The device used to depict scene changes was a large open book upstage, with page turning by various cast members.  The paintings of these places were done in a childish fashion and the whole exercise worked successfully.  The other props were a bar stage left and two chairs downstage right.  Various characters pass through Rita and Peter’s lives.  Matt Mirams as Taylor, the friend who introduces Peter to Rita, has a strong stage presence and portrayed a hippy New Yorker very well.  The interaction between Rita, Peter and Taylor at the beginning of the play was well done, with annoying, well-sustained twangy New York accents!  Roger Poynder and Lyn Laister as Rita’s parents worked strongly together, showing the dissension on how they dealt with their daughter.  I did, however, have an occasional problem in understanding Roger; he swallowed some of his lines.  Michelle Murphy made a strong impact with her two small parts, the Minister and Leah (the old man’s daughter); clear diction and quite different in each part.  Sheila Balis and Connie Bram played Aunt Dorothy and Cousin Fiona, who attend the wedding.  I was very impressed with David Dodd’s portrayal of the old man.  He seemed to come from nowhere in the wedding scene, quietly standing at the bar while the other guests mingled.  People were asking who he was and a good amount of tension was built up, coming to a head when Rita is drawn into his gaze and responds to his request for a kiss.  David’s later scenes with Peter, after the latter’s return from honeymoon, showed the rapport between the two, despite the strange circumstances.  Elisabeth Gertner as Rita believably portrayed the rather intense, communist-leaning young woman (I noted the picture of Che Guevara on the wall in her flat), coping with insomnia.  She unexpectedly (for her) falls in love with Peter and later on experiences a change of personality.  Not to be too critical, as Elisabeth did particularly well, but I missed some of her lines now and then (I have excellent hearing).  Tim Long as Peter gave a wonderfully sustained performances, depicting a kind, gentle young man slightly out of his depth with happenings, but possessing a practical strength to pull through.  I liked the way he handled the intermittent conversation with the audience, explaining things and carrying us along with how he felt.  Well done Tim, you totally turned around my opinion that directors should not appear in their own play!  This play is deeper than it first appears and has a lot to say about tolerance and how people deal with adversity without going into a panic.  Thank you, Mordialloc, for an excellent evening’s entertainment.

Life & Beth

by Alan Ayckbourn

Directed by Martin Gibbs

Reviewed by Phyll Freeman – 1 July, 2012 for Theatrecraft

Mordialloc, now back in their recently renovated theatre, gave us the latest Ayckbourn play in Life & Beth.  As with all, or most of his plays, the central theme was family.  Here we have a whimsical take on the ‘newly departed’. As Beth, we were treated to a well-rounded character from the experienced Christine Bridge.  She showed us the gradual awakening from the role of an unassuming wife to a person ready to make her own decisions, with a little setback along the way.  Beth’s sister-in-law, Connie Bunting, was played by Christine Taylor, whose grief at her brother’s demise was loud, continuous and helped along by a glass or two of red wine.  Playing an inebriated character is not easy, but Christine did it well.  As this was a Christmas get-together, Beth’s son and his girlfriend arrived. Paris Romanis as Martin, the son, took control of the arrangements. Jackie Kosmak as the girlfriend, Ellie, seemed so overcome by all the fuss that she was unable to utter a word!  David Dodd as Gordon, the late husband, appeared to Beth every now and again.  He was dressed in his business suit and his manner was still as dictatorial to poor Beth as ever.  The prime mover of this visitation was the local vicar, Rev. David Grinseed, amusingly played by Alan Dilnot, who had a ball with the role.  Connie, between drinks, had her eye on him, his entrances lifted the pace. The setting was a living room of a house somewhere in England. A light brown settee doubled as a bed for Beth, with older style furniture elsewhere.  A dining setting was upstage audience right just in front of a two-door hatch into the kitchen.  This was used to good effect throughout the play.  A Christmas tree was produced and garlanded with great aplomb by Martin.  The back wall had a wide curtain across through which the red light of the Christmas reindeer flickered continually.  The lighting was excellent, especially when Gordon came to visit.  Costumes were present day.  Music was upbeat and English accents were acceptable. This play was not as ‘in depth’ as Ayckbourn’s previous plays but was enjoyed by the large audience.

The Heiress

by Ruth and Augustus Goetz

Directed by Vicki Smith

Reviewed by Alison Campbell Rate – May 16, 2012 for Theatrecraft

Based on a Henry James novel of 1880, this play concerns Catherine, the painfully shy daughter of a wealthy widowed doctor whose emotional detachment and poorly concealed disappointment with his daughter’s lack of social accomplishments has dominated her life. Along comes Morris Townsend, offering Catherine the love and acceptance she craves. Is he sincere or merely a fortune hunter as her father suspects? First impressions were all about Vicki Smith’s sumptuous set – gorgeous! Dr Austin Sloper’s front parlour featured a seven-piece striped satin suite, side tables, desk, knick-knacks, lamps and flowers (nice to see these change as time passed). Dividing the parlour from the entrance hall upstage was a ‘wall’ of separated panels, each slightly angled and papered to match the room. This allowed us to see ‘through’ the wall as characters moved beyond. Warm, rich colour and a sense of elegant order prevailed. I loved the large portrait above the mantelpiece of Catherine’s mother, symbolically commanding the attention denied to the daughter. Two tiny quibbles: the big sash windows remained obviously closed even on a hot summer evening, and they also had no side drapes or dressing of any kind. This seemed at odds with the realistic opulence of the rest of the room. As Catherine, Anna Rodway gave a lovely controlled performance. Her character travelled believably from the gawky, socially inept, submissive girl to the self-possessed woman who coolly deals the final card in the ‘game’ Morris has fully expected to win. Catherine’s emotional journey was clearly conveyed and nicely understated. The final scene where she stands listening to him knocking and calling for entrance, and deliberately walks away carrying the lamp, leaving him, and us, in darkness, was one of many lovely moments and indicative of Vicki Smith’s intelligent direction throughout. Geoff Arnold played Dr Sloper with a sure hand, displaying a complex blend of genuine concern for Catherine’s happiness overridden by frustration and contempt at her perceived shortcomings. Geoff gave the scene where he interviews Morris as to his intentions an enjoyably restrained ‘cat and mouse’ quality, and I liked his domestic moments with the maid, Maria, played with energy and a sense of fun by Hayley Lawson-Smith. Julie Arnold was Dr Sloper’s romantically inclined sister Lavinia. Julie imbued her character with unsquashable optimism and delivered some very funny moments: an engaging performance. Kieran Tracey as the ingenuous Morris Townsend employed a diffident, plausible manner that effectively kept us wondering about his motives. I liked the way Morris expanded in Lavinia’s company, physically and vocally, revealing more of his true nature. His calling out to Catherine at the end from off-stage hit just the right note of entreaty and disbelief. I would like to have seen just a little more polish and definition in Kieran’s way of moving and sitting. Smaller roles comprised the doctor’s other sister, sensible Elizabeth, played with warmth by Juliet Hayday; Catherine’s cousin Marion, a delightful performance from Taryn Eva; Morris’s cousin Arthur, played competently by Matt Mirams; and Morris’s sister Mrs Montgomery, a confident portrayal by Jennifer Piper. Top marks to Christine Bridge and Sheila Balis for the magnificent costuming, especially Catherine’s red dress for the last scene – it said it all. Gordon Boyd’s lighting design was very effective; I loved the cold light from the street while Catherine was waiting for the faithless Morris, and the subtle use of the hand-held lamps. Sound design, also by Vicki Smith, added to the atmosphere. All in all, an intriguing story well delivered by everyone involved.

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