(2004 Fringe Reviews) (2002 Reviews)

Matt Byrne Media
Mayfair Theatre
Friday, October 4t

"It's more than a game." Anyone who stoops to watching Sam Newman's footy show knows this is the show's theme song, and Barrackers begins with a mimed version of this stirring anthem. Sam Newman and many other football media notables are the target of good-natured ridicule throughout this fast moving and very complex production. I am an avid football follower who is sometimes embarrassed by my fascination with the game, but I walked away from Barrackers feeling proud of the fact. Barrackers portrays the many levels of our national game, many of which extend beyond the boundaries of the field.

The four man cast of Barrackers in turn take on the role of commentators, players, and supporters - the typical beer swilling Aussie blokes, wives of the players, the classic fanatic old ladies, and the chardonnay sipping types in the corporate boxes. Scores of separate scenes are linked together with appropriate music (mostly Australian) and is an astounding feat of memory and timing.

The show is based around a game of the Fernwood Ferrets who haven't won a game for two years, and depicts the tidal wave of emotions that the various people around the club go through during the average game. And it is a very funny show. Best afield was writer/director Matt Byrne - his ability to add just that little bit of swagger or slur, curved lip or smart arsed aside is outstanding. Not far behind him was Rodney Hutton, who plays the token wogboy of the supporter group, and Stats McAvaney. ("This is SPECIAL!"). But like all good football teams, this was a great team effort and all played well.

This show has done the rounds of football clubs and anyone closely associated with football won't have any trouble recognising the types that Barrackers give their 15 minutes of fame. Played inside football clubs I can imagine this show causing absolute pandemonium and side splitting laughter and crowd involvement. It doesn't work quite as well in the more passive environment of the theatre, but the cast do a great job in getting us all involved in the fortunes of the hapless Ferrets. Matt Byrne's address to the audience as the coach at ¾ time is worth the money on its own. And so is their wonderful club song(s).

If you have the slightest interest in football, and you want to see how footy club culture can be reconstructed as art and great entertainment in one foul swoop then go and see this. To quote a review from the Melbourne Age, "Barrackers is sharp.' I reckon they were surprisingly easy on the umpires though…..


The Loves of Cass McGuire by Brian Friel
Adelaide Repertory Theatre
Friday, July 19th

The Loves of Cass McGuire has a hard a message for those of advanced years and this is not a comforting thought for that large cohort in this society who are heading towards senior citizenship. The Adelaide Repertory’s opening night performance of Cass McGuire was made even harder by the sudden withdrawal of Helga Seymour as Cass. Director Phyllis Burford agreed to stand in for Helga and read the part, and did a fantastic job. But try as one might to ignore the fact that the part of the main character was being read, it was a frustrating experience for all concerned. Full marks to the cast for persevering, but obviously Cass’s movements were restricted by having to hold a copy of the text, and the inevitable chemistry that grows between characters during weeks of intensive rehearsal was also missing.

Cass McGuire returns home to Ireland after fifty years in the US and quickly finds herself an outsider. Her carefree attitudes and breezy language are in marked contrast to the staid and proper behaviour of her family back in Ireland and they quickly eject her from the family home and send her off to a rest home where Cass has to confront other lost and elderly souls. Poor Cass finds it difficult to engage people in the present and would rather regale them with spicy stories from another lifetime, but they’re not interested. The action moves back and forth between past and present and is punctuated by dream sequences that relate fanciful tales and give the characters some temporary escape from the disappointment of their unfulfilled lives.

This production featured several strong performances. Norman Caddick shows the benefit of a long career in the theatre as the delightful Irishman Pat Quinn, and Najwa Basheer as the serene eccentric Trilbe Costello, and Brian Knott as Cass’s reserved brother Harry both made an excellent fist of compensating for their missing main character. Eleanor Page as Tessa, the rest home nurse, deserves special commendation for an impressive stage debut.

This intriguing play has been variously described as ‘a gentle romantic comedy’, ‘truly beautiful’, and ‘compassionate’, but I found it to be more reflective of the dark side of human experience. There were in fact no loves of Cass McGuire (and therein lies sad irony), most of the characters are either demented, eccentric or ungracious, and we are told that one’s only solace lies in dreams. This is a play of foreboding, and for mine it was played too straight. More edge in stage set, lighting, and characterisation would have better reinforced its pessimistic tone. The set was more in keeping with drawing room comedy and the atmosphere was light, and for me this clashed with a mood and theme that was far from light.

Wuthering Heights
Independent Theatre
Odeon Theatre
July 27th

Independent Theatre’s main mission is to present the ‘rarely performed classics’, and the opening night of this new dramatisation of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights played to a packed house. I doubt anyone would have left disappointed.

This adaptation for theatre is long, and the cast is to be commended for maintaining energy and passion throughout. Rob Croser’s superb direction results in a production that effortlessly delivers the haunting atmosphere of the Yorkshire moors. A simple and effective set, beautiful lighting, stage mist, precise audio accompaniment (the wind rushed every time the door to the outside opened), and a strong cast without a weak link all combine seamlessly in a harrowing and entertaining journey through the tortured souls of Heathcliff and Catherine.

Tahli Corin’s portrayal of Catherine was magnificent. Her performance was even more remarkable for the fact that she had only two weeks to rehearse the role. The chemistry between her and Heathcliff, played by Nicholas Opolski returning to the Independent Theatre after a long television stint as Evan in Neighbours, seemed real and was absolutely engaging. Their obvious affection for each other was equally matched by the acrimony between them that ensues after Catherine betrays Heathcliff.

Opolski’s epic performance as Heathcliff befitted one with national stature as an actor, and he quite convinced me that Heathcliff was a total cad. I was glad to finally see him die so he could inflict no more misery on others.

Apart from the omnipresent Nelly Dean (suitably played without fuss by Lyn Wilson) and Heathcliff, everyone played multiple roles, many having to be adults and children at different times. Joseph Hynes seemed more at home playing the part of the child Linton Heathcliff, but Jeff Gannon and David Roach were equally impressive in all their roles.

Some enduring images will remain in my kind for a good while – Catherine playing with the feathers from her pillow soon before her death, Lockwood being tormented at the window by Catherine’s ghost, and the final joining of Heathcliff and Catherine’s hands in death was beautifully staged.

This is a great production.


The Importance of Being Earnest - Oscar Wilde
St Michael's College
Tuesday, July 2nd

"All great art stems from sadness," wrote Oscar Wilde. His own life was somewhat testament to this belief, but his plays live on nevertheless, and none more so than The Importance of Being Earnest. There is however, nothing sad about this play as it takes us on a light hearted romp through the morality of London's idle classes of the 1890's, and senior school drama students of St Michael's College did their best to keeps thing bubbling in their recent production of Earnest.

Lachlan Mantell did a marvellous job as Jack Worthing, hitting just the right note of affectation and self-parody. Generally speaking the female characters put in the stronger performances, with perhaps Sally Hoffman as Gwendolen and Balin Kolbig as Jack's ward, Cecily Cardew, being the best of them. Andrew Crupi showed a good feel for comedy as Dr Chasuble, and Patrick Harrington deserves a mention for the presence he brought to the minor role of Lane, the supercilious butler. Despite the obvious challenge of having to create a feel and style far removed from contemporary theatre, it was pleasing to see young actors successfully staging this classic from a bygone era.


Pack of Lies by Hugh Whitemore
Therry Dramatic Society
Friday, August 23rd

Hugh Whitemore’s Pack of Lies has often played live around the world since it was written in 1983, and also exists as a successful television movie. The Therry Society’s current production, directed by Loriel Smart, brings back memories of the Cold War, spies, and international intrigue. “The Russians are Coming” we used to joke. So much part of the lives of the Boomers generation, there is another generation coming through for whom the Cold war will be meaningless. (My son was born in 1983 and I just checked – he looked blank when I asked if he knew what the Cold War was.)

And I must say that I, fifteen years since the Berlin Wall went down, struggle to see the point of this piece today. I liked the play. I like its good old-fashioned straight up and down story line, and its predictable build to its final and expected conclusion. All very satisfying. Everything you want to happen does happen. Trouble is, there doesn’t seem to be much more to it.

A very even cast did their best to give Pack of Lies as much impact as they could, but while the story of a normal English family’s lives being interrupted by an MI5 spy investigation in their neighbourhood is interesting enough, it is hardly earth shattering.

Many of the cast have appeared in previous Therry productions. Julia Whittle as the spy-neighbour Helen Kroger is clearly the best of them here. She has a lot of fun mocking the prudery of her English friend Barbara (Frances Wauchope), and gives a wonderful portrayal of how free American spirits were in contrast to their British neighbours. Ironic really, given the fact that the real Helen Kroger was actually Lona Cohen, who grew up in Poland before moving to the US and later joining the KGB. Martha Lott’s cameo role as Thelma, an MI5 operative, was impressive, and Gregor Ferguson was just right as the dowdy, but helpful to a fault English gent, Bob Jackson. (Lovely cardigan there Bob.)

I enjoyed this production. It really was a change not to have to worry about time being sequenced in a confusing order, dream sequences, or multiple levels of meaning in the text. If you were in need of more information to piece together the background, each scene was linked to the next via a narrator, a role shared by all the major characters, and which helped reveal a little more about them.

Simple, effective, and entertaining. And a thoroughly charming and detailed set.

Six Degrees of Separation by John Guare
Independent Theatre
Odeon Theatre
Wednesday, November 13th

An elegant angular set is revealed to be the home of Oisa and Flanders. Flanders (David Roach) is an art dealer and is looking forward to securing a two million dollar investment loan from a South African visitor (Bruce Keir). Together they make fun of the proletariat, and titillate each other with idle chatter before their world is rudely interrupted by an intruder who has just been stabbed. This young intruder, Paul (played by James Edwards), soon wheedles his way into their life with his charm and stories of his bogus exotic heritage. They later learn that he has pulled off the same routine with other friends of theirs, and even later he cons a gay companion into paying for an expensive night out.

Along the way there are allusions to art and values and ethics via asides on American popular culture, but the success of this play rests heavily on the ability of this young con man to work his magic and get what he wants from people. And therein lies the problem with this production. James Edwards as Paul tries hard to be this engaging, irresistible character but I found his performance a tad mono-dimensional, and even irritable at times. I have a sneaking suspicion that it was partly due to the fact that he was trying so hard to keep on top of his New York accent that he is unable to really get down to the business of being a bewitching character. Employing accents can be a risky business. Unless they are exceptionally talented, it is preferable for actors to speak in their native accent. American culture is not so far removed from our own that it would seem strange for a cast to be discussing American history and culture in an Aussie twang.

There are glowing American reviews of this play: ‘a multi layered journey into the human psyche”; “wonderfully funny, touching and poetic”, but Six Degrees of Separation is evidence of Americans taking themselves too seriously. What they think may be great art is really a pretty humdrum commentary on the human condition. It is black comedy – that kind of comedy that eschews sacred cows, but does not necessarily make you laugh.

There were compensating moments. The pace was good. A naked man running around the stage shouting ‘I might have a gun’ is a memorable image! The collective disgruntlement of those representing the younger generation was effective and amusing, and the young punk son of the doctor (Carl Nilsson-Polias) impressed for being the only character who gets the American-ness right.

As Paul the intruder departs for the last time beneath the Kandinsky that hangs regally above the stage, he tells us that “the Kandinsky has two sides.” Six Degrees of Separation explores issues of chaos versus control, intimacy versus estrangement, wealth versus poverty, but I think most of us know that matters of life can be viewed from opposite perspectives. This play does not present any real tension between such opposites, but merely rubber stamps a truism.

Private Lives by Noel Coward
University of Adelaide Theatre Guild
Thursday, October 24th

The University of Adelaide Theatre Guild is currently showing Noel Coward’s Private Lives at the Little Theatre. The fact that I first saw a Noel Coward production in this same theatre nearly thirty years ago will be of significance to no one but myself. What is significant is that Coward’s plays can still entertain contemporary audiences. Private Lives is a close-up look at the harmless debauchery that is part of the human condition. Thirty years ago I was a student in the midst of a life of excess and knew this condition first hand. Now, perhaps more like one of those ‘futile moralists who try to make life unbearable’ that Elyot Chase chastises, Private Lives evoked pleasant memories of a life that was!

From the moment Sybil and Elyot Chase appear on one of two identical balconies on their honeymoon in the Riviera, talking of Elyot’s previous marriage and divorce, you sense what is coming. You know the other party of the divorce will appear on the other balcony. And when the two divorcees meet, (Elyot and Amanda Prynne) it takes just minutes for old passions to be reignited, and they soon elope to a Paris apartment for days of smoking, drinking, and lovemaking.

A canny satirical script with a sacrilegious sense of humour (“kiss me before your beauty rots”), and an experienced strong cast take us on an entertaining romp that takes aim at the idle wealthy. Director Peter Goers has ensured that the show proceeds apace – alarmingly so at first – but as the ear attunes one is swept away by the rapid fire delivery into a world of elegance, poise, bluster, debauchery, and grace. A confused quartet of lovers don’t really know who they want to be with. Elyot ends up back with Amanda, and Victor Prynne with Sybil, but one feels they could easily switch back if there was another act.

Martha Lott is wonderful as the alluring Amanda, and Elyot’s affectation and shallowness as depicted by Ben Passehl grows on you. John McCall’s blustery Victor is not meant to be an engaging character, and he deserves the sooky and hurt Jenny, nicely overplayed by Maggie O’Grady. Indeed, everyone gets what they deserve. And though we may agree with the French maid’s (Karen Bannear) hilarious and dismissive treatment of these ‘idiot Anglaises’, I left with a smile that remained with me all the way back to the car. A thoroughly charming reminder of how silly and frail those in love can be.

And I loved the gramophone. Hadn’t heard one since I was a kid!