Friday, 30 September 2016

She Stoops to Conquer, Canberra Rep

Old-fashioned laughs a-plenty are on offer in Rep's latest offering, an almost-250-year old comedy that proves that sometimes, there's no joke like an old joke. A tale of romance and confusion, it's energetically played shenanigans that offers big giggles, a little wisdom, some nice frocks and a happy ending.

The title role of the she-who-is-stooping-to-conquer is Zoe Priest, showing a nice charming wit, charm and a whole lot of stage presence. He-who-is-conquered-via-stooping is George Pulley, who covers off the requirements of being handsome, amiably dim-witted, and enjoyable sympathetic. As the monstrous mother, Elaine Noon is grandly gorgon-esque, managing a performance that matches her quite astounding wig in size and grandness. Lord of misrule for the evening is Adam Salter, being appropriately impudent, silly and just-on-the-right-side-of-annoying. Jonathan Pearson gets a solid evening of exasperated confusion in as the regularly bewildered Mr Hardcastle, and Tieg Sadhana and Kate Harris are appropriately romantic and silly as the secondary-couple whose quest to escape with both jewelry and each other makes up the rest of the plot. There's a supporting cast of various supernumerary servants who frequently serve as almost an on-stage-audience to the action, albeit a slightly cruder and sillier audience than the fine folks who are watching the show,

Cate Clelland's set is-simple-but-stylish in its effect, painted as black and white line drawings, while Anna Senior's costumes are a nicely contrasting riot of colour and ostentation.

Simple in its pleasures, "She Stoops" is a fun frolic of a show and worthy of a watch.

The Drover's Wife, Belvoir

We haven't exactly been short of dramas about Australia's colonial past recently. But very few of them have been from an Aboriginal perspective - yes, they may have included Aboriginal characters as victims or marginal figures, but almost inevitably we've got white stories about the history that still shames us.

Not this time. Leah Purcell has hit the bullseye here, co-opting Henry Lawson's 19th century narrative of the woman left behind in the middle of nowhere trying to make the best of a hostile wilderness, and adding her own Aboriginality to the mix. Performing the demanding lead and scripting should theoretically be too much and feel too self-indulgent - but that's never the case - Purcell the writer serves Purcell the actress brilliantly, giving her a role that starts in reticent agressive reserve before continually revealing more and more sides to this apparently simple woman. Mark Coles-Smith matches her as the escaped aboriginal she initially holds at gunpoint and whose breaking down of the barriers between them is the meat of the play.

Leticia Caceres' staging keeps things tight and simple - a curtain, a fallen tree, and a tree stump, often with axe locked into it, are most of the set. But the menace stays real and strong and the playing is heartfelt and real, bringing us a play that has integrity and skill.

Good solid thumping relevant theatre.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Gloria, Griffin Theatre Company

Benedict Andrews has been away from Australian theatre for a while now - his last production here was "The Maids" in 2013, and he's since been working internationally, most noticeably the Gillian Anderson-starring production of "Streetcar Named Desire" (which screened here as part of the NT live series). He's a bit of a controversial figure - his reinventions of classic texts (along with Simon Stone's work in the early 2010s) tended to raise the hackles of a lot of conservative theatre critics who found him more destructive than constructive. Personally I liked three out of the four productions I saw of his - "Measure for Measure", "The Seagull" and "Streetcar". The only one that was a bit of a mess was his attempt at an original work, "Every Breath" - at the time, I remember thinking it suffered a lot from him directing his own writing - some interesting directing images were sabotaged by the writing's imprecision, and some good poetic writing was sabotaged by unclear or overly schematic directing.

"Gloria" is his second original play to reach Australian stages, and it continues his stylistic intention of writing plays that are strong on the poetics, not so much on the "easily comprehensible plot that moves forwards at a regular pace". And for those of you who remember my review of "Under Milk Wood", that does tend to be one of my less favourite types of theatre. Though, as in that case, this does lead to virtuoso staging, provided by Lee Lewis.

In terms of plot, "Gloria" is about an actress who's participating in a production dealing with a traumatic event, and as she enacts it, she finds her sense of identity falling apart. Marta Dusseldorp plays the main character, and manages the multiple emotional and personality shifts with aplomb. She's a magnetic central presence who you're engaged in even as whatever the action is that's going on around her can prove enigmatic or elusive. The cast surrounding her play multiple roles - friends, family, co-stars, attackers, neighbours, and equally manage the multiple personalities they're required to don.

Lee Lewis' staging is unusually spectacular for the tiny Stables stage - morphing, using all the projected multi-media technical bells and whistles while also keeping the focus on the actors whether they're in single monologue, complicated scenes that cross multiple conversations simultaneously or bitchy backstage banter. If Andrew's script is a tad bewhildering, Lewis' staging knows where it is and what it's doing at any particular moment, which gives us enough to carry on through the play.

So this is a good production of a play that I'm not entirely sure I love, but am intrigued enough to consider worth watching. Put it in the "it's interesting" category.