Tom and Meg, teenagers in a school play, are bobbed and buffeted in a waters meet of social change in 1967, striking out through family eddies for their own identity one moment and floundering against the will and grief of their parents in another.

In Shakespeare’s KING LEAR we see a portrait of offspring’s sense of debt and obligation to parents clashing against the shoals of parental ambition for those offspring and the agony and tragedy that follow form the bloody meat of the play.

In his play AWAY, David Gow finds an insightful resonance with LEAR as the teenagers traverse the currents to adulthood while the adults deal with past grief and failing ambition in changing times.

We’re left to see how leaving the safety of a secure and familiar world can bring a hidden strength, a stronger being, renewal to both parent and offspring.

It’s a powerful play and arresting to see so many familiar images, details and historical moments especially for those of us who saw the 60’s. It’s easy to see why this play brought David Gow to our attention. Once more, Sport for Jove’s new production displays the remarkable depth and talent of the company.

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The Taming of the Shrew

Sport for Jove’s highly acclaimed production of this comedy was a delight that surpassed my highest expectations. Setting the play in 1920s silent movie Hollywood and making Kate a bold and spirited aviatrix was as near a stroke of genius as any re-imagining of Shakespeare.

Most notable were the wonderful performances, especially Danielle King. Also brilliant were the clever manoeuvrings of the cast through the film set, the screen movie clips and the inspired use of sound effects in the space as Kate barnstorms the ensemble.

As always Damian Ryan writes very illuminating notes about the play and their performance – read more about it here.  Just brilliant!

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Hay Fever

I caught Hay Fever last Thursday week. Silly time of year, autumn, to contract such a flush of the senses but the actors fairly bristled and blustered through Noël Coward’s witty dialogue as they lolled in the bath tub, broke a barometer and hated breakfast. I enjoyed it thoroughly.

Heather Mitchell excelled herself – I hadn’t seen her do so well with comedy! And all of the cast kept the pressure up brilliantly, Helen Thompson especially.

I’ve known the play for years and wondered why the STC revived it now? It occurred to me a day or so later that a portrait of collisions between self-absorbed, self-indulgent middle class bohemians resonates beautifully with the modern young set who peer constantly through the window of their smart phones at their own private universe. Hmmm… Noël, you’re still singing to us 90 years later!

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King Charles III

Last Friday I had an audience with King Charles III. In an animated session when many contemporary issues were aired he (spoiler alert) threatened to dissolve parliament and confronted abdication in, at times, a quasi Shakespearean style.

Some speeches were delivered neatly in the bard’s idiom and several scenes ended with rhyming couplets, consciously drawing some continuum (and profundity) between the successions of the British monarchy as portrayed in Shakespeare’s history plays and our time which anticipates a change of monarch.

These humorous touches lightened a re-examination of the relationship between monarch and parliament in a finely performed and beautifully mounted Almeida Theatre Production presented by the Sydney Theatre Co. Although written from the UK perspective it has relevance for us in Australia.

It was great to see the British actor Robert Powell here in the flesh!

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John Cleese & Eric Idle

Hmmm… the Ides of March. Last night I saw two Pythons live at the State Theatre in Sydney.  An omen?  Whatever, it was a buzz to see these comedy legends in the flesh – even from up in the gods.

Like Pythons they put the squeeze on political correctness, indulged in a bit of bad taste and singing, reminisced about working in the early ’60s when political satire was taking serious shape, and performed a sketch or two written for pre-Python shows, Do not Adjust Your Set and At Last the 1948 Show.

My party all felt that less reliance on video clips from their glory days and a bit more live sketch comedy would have made the evening even more delightful. Mr Idle was in fine voice.  Mr Cleese was paying off his marriages. We all left laughing.

I had no idea some Pythons wrote material for the late great Peter Sellers. Egad!

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The Pearlfishers

I saw Opera Australia’s dazzling production of The Pearlfishers last weekend and I’ve been swimming in Bizet’s music ever since.  The score was an exotic delight from the first note of the overture to the last echo at lights out – sumptuous, textured and highly coloured. The orchestra balanced well with the powerful principle voices which were true and resonant and by the end the conductor was sopping wet!  Everyone gave their all.

Set on a Sri Lankan coast, the production design was built on a blue-orange colour theme and the decaying temples on the beach evoked a sense of superstition and vulnerability.

The duet sung by the friends Nadir and Zurga, In the Depths of the Temple, is the most sublimely beautiful duet in all the opera I’ve heard – it always moves me to tears.

Bizet was another child prodigy who at 36 died far too young.  He wrote Pearlfishers at 24. (His later opera Carmen is one of the most popular in the repertoire.)  What might he have composed had his art matured even further?  We’ll never know, but see this production!

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Tom Stoppard is a staggeringly brilliant playwright!  The somewhat Georgian symmetry of the stage set belies the chaos of the intersection of ideas and times that will play out across the space until some order is restored and most questions are answered.

The play slips seamlessly between two periods 200 years apart while dealing with the transition from classical to romantic sensibility, the 2nd law of thermodynamics, chaos theory, ambition and human infidelity – it could only be conceived by a giant intellect.

This Sydney Theatre Company production revelled in the challenge of staging two times concurrently and Ryan Corr was perfectly convincing as the tutor, Septimus.  I heard every word he uttered.  The other leads were excellent too, although some voices got a little lost at times when they spoke from the back of the stage.

For more information about the production see Kate Hennessy’s article in the Guardian, although I don’t agree that the play was as flat as she suggests.  I was intrigued from the start, marveled at the play’s ingenuity and delighted in Stoppard’s wit, jokes and funny moments.

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La Traviata

This is the fourth year for Opera New England – an initiative that couples great vision with bold ambition.  Their offering this January was Verdi’s La Traviata in which Violetta, a high-class courtesan (read ‘party girl’) returns to society but tragically succumbs to tuberculosis… not, however, before two suitors fight a duel over her.

The cast I saw was truly first rate.  Kathryn Williams, a soprano coloratura Masters graduate of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music was electrifying as Violetta with enunciation so clear I heard every word!

Michael Butchard, a graduate of both the Sydney Conservatorium and the Royal college of Music, London was the most charming lyric tenor whose voice blended beautifully with Ms Williams’.  The quiet buzz of the night surrounded Timothy Newton as Dr Grenvil whose bass voice produced moments of gravitas both full and rich.  A graduate of the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music we’re destined to hear much more from this superb young talent.

Months of work go into these productions.  The vocal mentor was the highly esteemed Rowena Cowley from the Sydney Conservatorium.  The 18 piece orchestra is drawn from Armidale and the surrounding districts and sounded wonderful! I saw their production of La Boheme in 2014 and Carmen in 2015.  The northern New South Wales region is inestimably richer for these productions and long may they continue!

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The Importance of Being Ernest

I really love this play.  It effervesces with Oscar Wilde’s legendary wit, reveling in and at the same time lampooning the British upper classes with lines such as Gwendolyn’s: 

I always have my diary with me – I like to have something sensational to read on the train.

The cast were all equal to the superlative writing and found the right balance between poise and lunacy.  It was well staged with some inventive choreography that at one point got the butler from the city to the country in a single sweep from the ‘wings’ onto the stage.

The second of Sport for Jove’s summer season of plays which I saw at Bella Vista Farm just before Christmas, it’s another triumph for the hugely talented Damian Ryan and his cast.

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Love’s Labour’s Lost

The first of Sport for Jove’s summer season was a Shakespearean comedy that is rarely performed.  Full of scintillating, at times inscrutable wit, the play was quite possibly written for an eclectic, sophisticated audience.  Described by the director, Damian Ryan as a ‘sketch’, the business of Love’s Labour’s Lost involves courtiers withdrawing from political life for the purpose of academic reflection only to be interrupted by a delegation of women lead by the Princess of France.

This was a spritely production with evocative Elizabethan costumes and a dizzying sense of fun.  I particularly liked the witty ripostes between Moth (brilliantly played by Aaron Tsindos) and his master Don Adriano de Armado and others.  The men are shaken from their intended course but the women ultimately refuse their overtures.

Ryan’s adaptation, championing same sex marriage equality and its triumph for women certainly made it a contemporary and relevant offering.  A highly enjoyable summer evening’s entertainment.

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