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Opera Australia’s Don Carlos

By Emily Richardson

 

Don Carlos

Conducted by Andrea Licata

Directed by Elijah Moshinsky

Opera Australia

Joan Sutherland Theatre

The Opera House, Bennelong Point

 

Season (see website for performance dates) 14 July – 15 August

Bookings: https://opera.org.au/whatson/events/don-carlos-sydney

 

Opera Australia’s production of Don Carlos, conducted by Andrea Licata and directed by Elijah Moshinsky, deals with dark themes in a grisly period of history when the church was enabled to reign with undue control.

What prevails is an agonising predicament fraught with unrequited love, exile and murder. Think it sounds a little melodramatic? Embrace it – it is

opera after all.

The opera follows Don Carlos, sung by Diego Torre, son of Phillip II King of Spain, sung by the renowned Ferruccio Furlanetto. Don Carlos was betrothed to Elisabeth de Valois, sung by Latonia Moore, however she is married to King Phillip in order to end a war between Spain and France.

As you can imagine, this circumstance introduces an unbridled tension in the family dynamic. To make matters worse, Princess Eboli, sung by Milijana Nikolic, mistakes Don Carlos’ love for Elisabeth as infatuation for herself, culminating in jealousy when she is made aware of the truth.

All of this drama is set amongst the unrivalled power of the church, thus featuring a public parade and burning of condemned heretics.

Opera Australia’s production touches upon the darker elements of the opera to make for engaging viewing, alongside some rather emotional performances. To hold audience focus in this work is impressive considering its length (almost four hours including intermission) and yet it manages to do so.

There are some notable performances in the show, beginning with the remarkable Furlanetto as Phillip II. With a career spanning performances across the globe, it is not surprising that Furlanetto presents an engrossing performance of great depth, expressed with his exquisite voice.

He effectively communicates the conflicted emotions rife in Phillip II’s position as he is ravaged by the devastation of not meriting his wife’s love, desires vengeance against his son for gaining his wife’s love, and yet conflicted by his familial connection and not wanting to treat his son this way.

Nikolic, as Eboli, has a strong voice and contributes splendidly to multiple duets and trios. She is convincing in her portrayal of unrequited love, however plot line development and her relationship with Don Carlos on stage does not serve to convince the audience of the authenticity of her love.

Deep emotions are not conveyed in Torre’s performance as Don Carlos, giving a largely one-dimensional performance. Whilst able to hit some big notes, Torre lacks variation in his vocal dynamics, which could aid his expression of greater emotion.

Moore’s performance as the Queen is particularly evocative, incorporating great skill in her overarching performance technique. This is found not only in her voice work but also in her extensive development of character, taking the audience on a journey.

The role of the Grand Inquisitor is portrayed by Daniel Sumegi, who sings with great passion and gives a fascinating insight into corrupt machinations in the Roman Catholic Church, in accordance with Verdi's perspective. The divine right to rule had to be maintained and the Bible manipulated to justify their actions, such as killing Don Carlos.

Both set and costume design is by Paul Brown, resulting in a harmonious overall design vision. The use of marble walls and statues in the monastery at the commencement of the opera set the moody tone for the piece. However some of the set design and dressing in scenes was lacklustre. This continued for costume design – while some of the dresses and male outfits were stunning and appeared to be plucked from history, others felt a little neglected.

To stage an opera in our contemporary context is a hefty undertaking, under pressures of the modern impatient audience, budget cuts, and the perceived inaccessibility of art in foreign languages. To overcome these challenges is one thing, for the audience to witness moments of magic in Don Carlos is quite another.

 

Ruby Moon

By Emily Richardson

 

Ruby Moon

By Matt Cameron

Directed by Johann Walraven

Factory Theatre

Marrickville

NSW

 

Season: 12 – 23 August.

Bookings: http://www.factorytheatre.com.au/events/2015/08/12/ruby-moon

 

Ruby Moon, a play well known for its unsettling subject matter and contemporary whodunit framework is currently being staged by Samsonite Productions at the Factory Theatre, directed by Johann Walraven.

Rippled with mystery, audiences are drawn into a chilling story whereby Mr and Mrs Moon struggle to find closure regarding the disappearance of their daughter. Matt Cameron’s script sets the challenge for two actors to portray eight roles throughout the story, an ambitious undertaking for any actor and creative team. In Samsonite Productions’ work, we see glimpses of impressive work, but don’t feel like we quite get the chance to sink our teeth into the characters presented.

The play’s focal point is the disappearance of little Ruby Moon, the aftermath of this tragedy and Mr and Mrs Moon’s investigation into the fragments of evidence that may explain the events.

The couple engage in a nightly ritual of laying out everything they know about their daughter’s disappearance, wishing for some kind of epiphany that will bring her back. One day, they are greeted with a parcel on their doorstep that contains a doll’s limb, a doll that belonged to Ruby.

 Interpreting this as a sign of hope to gain answers, the couple embark on an investigative journey, interrogating their neighbours in the cul-de-sac about what they have done, seen and heard. This rigmarole unveils the eccentric characters in their world, and reveals more about the condition of Mr and Mrs Moon.

It must be said that it is a vast challenge for two actors to take on eight roles. I tip my hat to Samantha Lee and Pash Julian who took on the challenge. However the range of roles seemed to place heavy pressure on the actors, and the roles did not feel sufficiently developed.

This was a shame as there were points that ignited curiosity and idiosyncrasies of characters that caused great laughter and enjoyment for the audience. I wanted to see strong chemistry between Ray and Sylvie Moon, Ruby’s p

 

The Great Speckled Bird

By Emily Richardson

 

The Great Speckled Bird

Directed by Ryan McGoldrick

Re:Group Performance Collective

PACT Centre for Emerging Artists

107 Railway Parade, Erskineville

Season: 17-20 June

 

The Great Speckled Bird presents a quirky alternative ‘creation myth’ in response to dissatisfaction with the Big Bang theory. Featuring a dancing giant, and of course, a great speckled bird, the universe is brought into being. An ensemble of three interacts with digital media projected on the screens behind them and a cross-breed of classical, jazz and soul music is incorporated to tell the story with sound and movement.

The process of fabricating an alternative creation story is a peculiar one, which sparks innumerable questions. In consideration of what the ensemble was embarking on, one must question the process in which we accept or reject the stories and explanations about how we have come about.

Could each theory be as valid as the next in its didacticism and moral worth? Are we incapable of discerning the true explanation of our beginnings, and thus any attempt at explanation must be considered a myth? Creation ‘myths’ are prevalent in almost every historical culture, highlighting a human desire to understand our roots. At what point does this desire become futile and fruitless? In posing a potential answer, The Great Speckled Bird seems to act as a catalyst for even more persistent questions.

Helping tell the story was the digital media illustrations, projected on the back screens. Director and performer, Ryan McGoldrick, currently a PhD candidate at the University of Wollongong researching the dramaturgies of motion-tracking and digital projection technologies,  designed the digital media utilised in the work.

His designs added humour and intrigue to the performance, and served to push the dialogue onwards, which at points could be a little slow. The music of Claire Stjepanovic and Steve Wilson-Alexander was upbeat and the consequent movement brought a nuanced groove to the piece.

Stjepanovic displayed diversity with her exquisite voice skills, resulting from extensive classical experience. Wilson-Alexander paired his funky bass guitar with physical movement and interaction with props to enhance the overall theatricality. The entire ensemble showed off some pretty impressive dance moves.

 The Great Speckled Bird presented its audience presented its audience with plenty to ponder, in an unconventional manner. Evading any mundane parameters of theatre, the theatrical work engages numerous facets of performance to compel you to question what you know - or what you think you know. Immersed in an imaginatively viable alternative, the audience surrenders themselves to endless possibility. Oh, the wonders of theatre.

 

Dining [Uns]-table

By Emily Richardson

 

Dining [Uns]-table

Directed and Performed by Cloé Fournier

PACT Centre for Emerging Artists

107 Railway Parade, Erskineville

Season 24-27 June 7 pm Bookings: http://www.pact.net.au/2015/03/dining-uns-table/

 

The dining table is a traditionally integral component of family life. It constitutes the heart of a family home drawing people together as a unit to enjoy a meal in each other’s company.

This is especially true in France, where the culture emphasises the significance of food and the passing of hours sating appetites at mealtime. Thus, the dining table is an effective centrepiece for Cloé Fournier’s work Dining [Uns]-table, observing the quirks and nuances of family life.

However this central emblem of serene family relationships may also be present in the deterioration of said relationships, demarcating turmoil and underlying hostilities amongst the people we should love the most. Dining [Uns]-table begins as a whimsical step into an abstruse world, and ultimately exposes the darkness that can corrupt familial relationships. Prepare to be brought into this fascinating interpretation of an aspect of life familiar to us all.

Fournier transforms the theatrical experience through interaction with the audience, with multiple roles to be filled. I was lucky enough to be given the role of Papy (an affectionate French name for Grandfather – I’ll take it as a compliment). She welcomed us into the home, ordered us around, and bestowed a personality upon us, through the role.

The audience had a part to play in creating the spectacle, with Fournier’s watchful eye and carefully timed actions minding that the events unfurl as she sees fit. Each member responded with glee to her directions, delighted by the comedic situation they had been drawn into, and of which they were allowed to contribute.

In simple actions of being seated and setting the table, Fournier managed to draw out the humour in the situation, breaking the process down into the simplest of actions. Barking orders to go faster, to put things in the right place, to pick things up, to move seats, the work verged on absurdism as simple tasks spiralled into a near state of chaos. Fournier worked to create widespread disarray across the performance space in a highly theatrical manner, only to enlist her audience counterparts on stage to clean it up. This fruitless process moves into the realm of the absurd with this artistic decision speaking to the cycle of hostility many experience with their family.

Fournier is a French-Australian artist and incorporated her own cultural perception of family into this work. She frequently creates an atmosphere of playful and childlike French jabber that resounds with the audience as a noise we are somewhat acquainted with, in spite of the disconnect experienced due to the language barrier. This is a cunning technique, shaping the piece to be incredibly personal to Fournier, as well as ensuring that the audience is always slightly unnerved by the proceedings taking place, shifting them from their comfort zone into a space where they are totally at the mercy of the work’s mood and workings.

Fournier labelled her work a dance-theatre piece, in the sense that strong physicality affected her movements, as she incorporated movement to evoke emotion and represent familial life.

Fournier createt this physical performance contorting her body, often with connection to commonplace domestic objects. This seemed to represent to me her strained and uncomfortable relationship with this aspect of her life, and in a broader sense, how many people may feel growing up. She displayed vast talent as a dancer, not only in the way she could move her body, but also in the story she could tell and emotions she could evoke in her movements.

Dining [Uns]-table is a truly fascinating work. It is interactive and it can be bizarre, but don’t let this prevent you from seeing the show. Fournier is a delight to watch and interact with, and sets forth to give you a highly enjoyable experience injected with ample humour.

Sometimes it is the unconventional experiences that can teach and grow you the most, initiating extensive reflection on how this unorthodox interpretation changed your perception of a known experience. I think it’s time to destabilise that dining table of yours.

 

Cleansed in Blood

By Emily Richardson

 

Cleansed in Blood

Written and performed by Thom Jordan

Presented by Not Suitable for Drinking

The Old Fitzroy Theatre

129 Dowling Street, Woolloomooloo

Season 23-27 June 9:30 pm

Bookings: http://www.oldfitztheatre.com/cleansed-in-blood/

 

What would compel you to believe in God? To be convinced of his existence, and thus his almighty power…to surrender all of your life to this higher being and encourage others to do so as well?

I imagine that if the audience took a discussion break that night in the Old Fitzroy Theatre, we would hear some rather diverse responses. In fact, it is exactly this dialogue that Thom Jordan is wishing to instigate through his play Cleansed in Blood. Jordan’s work confronts the audience with the crucial questions of the divine and the eternal, highlighting the power that religious institutions or individuals can wield, when blind faith and lack of scepticism prevail.

Some say that acting is essentially storytelling, and Cleansed in Blood embraces this concept, driven by the telling one man’s life story. Jordan’s self-devised performance as Paul initially drew on personal experiences from his upbringing as a Minister’s son.

Through this background, the work possesses deep authenticity and allows the character of Paul to express his passion in serving God as well as natural criticisms, dubious of certain religious behaviours prevalent in a Christian culture.

Throughout the piece, a particular perspective is not privileged, rendering the audience more receptive to the various views conveyed. Jordan’s spiritual beliefs never seem obvious, as the audience is met by his conflicted nature growing up in a highly religious environment and apparent fervour for an evangelical mission for God, eventually opposed by his nagging scepticism and doubts. Jordan takes advantage of this uncertainty and subverts natural narrative progressions and audience expectation to keep you constantly on the edge.

The final product is electric, with Jordan’s boundless energy reverberating throughout the theatre from start to finish. Jordan keeps music in his command through clever use of a laptop, incorporating this sound design to build tension to an astounding level with only one person on stage. Jordan’s characterisation of Paul was enamouring in its naturalism and believability and this extended to his portrayal of numerous other characters, aided occasionally by a simple costume change.

Jordan performed Cleansed in Blood at the Adelaide Fringe Festival and was consequently nominated as ‘Best Emerging Artist’. Having just completed his tour in Perth and currently shaking things up on stage at the Old Fitz in Sydney, Jordan’s next challenge is to take on international audiences at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. This is your chance to catch him in his final performances for Australia before he shares the show with the world!

As we all consider our faith, or lack thereof, and grapple with our justification of these beliefs, this play will strike a chord with everyone. Profound insight complemented by sharp humour, Jordan has crafted a scintillating work. Is humanity faced with an all-powerful God with sinful followers who endlessly screw up, or are some humans simply deluded in a hope for something greater than us on earth?

Do people need physical miracles coaxing them towards God? These are certainly big questions for a night at the theatre, but infused with comedy and Jordan’s irrepressible energy on stage, you’ll have a ball.

 

Like Me

By Emily Rochardson
 

Like Me

Written by Angela Blake, Charles Upton, Duncan Maurice, Moreblessing Maturure, Sharon Zeeman
Directed by Duncan Maurice

Presented by Mongrel Mouth

Merchant’s House

43-45 George Street, The Rocks

Season 18 June – 11 July 8 pm

Bookings: http://mongrelmouth.com/like-me/

 

Mongrel Mouth’s production, Like Me, will transport you to another world - one with stark differences from the world we live in, yet which abstractly and analytically hones in on some pointed features of contemporary society.

The cultural movement to define one’s identity on social media is examined, as a hostile competition based on superficial criteria unfolds, and the public downfall of an individual once held on a pedestal is relished.

The original Merchant’s House is utilised to juxtapose the known with the unknown – the performance space being an original 19th century house, and yet its insides, at first glance, seem to be totally unfamiliar.

Costume and make-up by Alex P. F. Jackson and set design by Gemma O’Nions is championed in this work, serving to create and immerse the audience in an alternate world.

A cacophony of colours descends on the audience at the entrance to the house, complemented by the vast entanglement of wires and dismembered computer parts.

I can see this as a metaphor for the deconstruction of a technologically centred society, culminating in total loss of functionality. Every room in the house is occupied by a character and enhanced by a design work that the audience is encouraged to explore.

An inherent fascination with outsiders comes to the fore in this work, set in a derelict treatment centre where the main characters are patients admitted to the centre for extensive physical reconstruction and supposed mental rehabilitation.

Like Me depicts a refracted portrayal of contemporary society, taking pertinent issues and themes and regurgitating them to an audience as a metamorphosed version of the familiar world. An estrangement from the characters that reflect our personal behaviour permits for a space of self-reflection.  

It is an achievement to present a theatrical experience that initially seems so enigmatic, when in fact it reveals great insight into our everyday lives. The work is a true immersive experience whereby audience interaction with the characters is integral to the performance in helping to progress the plotline.

It is curious to watch the audience evolve in their engagement with the performers and belief in the concept, as well as in their sense of community as their role is not to be a mere spectator, but an active participant.

Each character possessed a distinct personality, with varying motivations and tendencies to attract audience attention. This served to reach a relative equilibrium between the characters, as some worked to counter the more extreme personalities to reduce the intensity of the overall experience.

This was a welcome approach, as it can be quite tiring to be such an active participant in a full-length show. This issue emphasises the phenomenal energy the performers generate night after night to recreate the experience, holding absolute focus and maintaining their persona in the midst of unpredictable improvisation required. A clear workshopping process of each character took place, developing specificity of their background, which shapes their mannerisms and interaction with humans. This process equipped the performers to respond to unpredictable audience input with great integrity and precision. This general process also allows for an evolving understanding of the character, as audience contributions trigger a fresh circumstance that insists upon a change in the character to authentically respond.

Like Me is a theatrical wonderland that reflects more about our day to day lives than people might think at first.

In embracing the unorthodox experience, the audience could fully appreciate the carefully constructed and bizarre idiosyncrasies of this world that in turn serve to deconstruct societal norms that are pretty nonsensical in themselves.

Using the weird to unveil the weirder, Mongrel Mouth presents the audience with a unique opportunity to be a direct part of this process in the theatrical marvel that is Like Me.

 

Bring it On

By Emily Richardson

 

Bring It On

Directed by Rod Herbert and Musical Direction by Anne-Maree McDonald

Presented by Supply Evolution

NIDA Theatre

215 ANZAC Parade, Kensington

Season 27 June – 9 July

Bookings: http://premier.ticketek.com.au/shows/show.aspx?sh=BRINGITO15

 

Supply Evolution’s Bring It On presents all the archetypal features of a high school cheerleading movie and packs it onto the stage, with live song and dance thrown into the mix. It’s brimming with energetic stunts, lifts and amusing one-liners. If you’re the cheerleading-musical type, you will love this stage version of Bring It On, and even if it’s not usually your thing, I think you could still have a great time.

Alex Lewtas took the lead in the show as the protagonist, Campbell, a once-cheerleading captain, dethroned when she ia moved to a different high school that tragically doesn’t have a cheer squad.

Although Campbell makes some careless decisions, which occasionally renders her an unlikeable protagonist, this is because of the plot and not to Lewtas’ performance. Her singing voice is exquisite and she shows versatility in her acting and dance performance.

Overall throughout the cast, the writing only allowed for a superficial level and breadth of acting, however this was largely compensated for by the well-received laugh-out-loud humour throughout the performance. Furthermore, this approach is characteristic of this genre, and perhaps complex performances are not the target audience’s desire in seeing this type of show.

The success in comic work should be notably attributed to Sophy Carol as Bridget. In spite of having to carry the stereotypical role of the nerdy and fat girl, Carol lit up the stage. A refreshing casting decision was in the transgender character ‘La Cienaga’ in the ‘cool kid posse’, played vivaciously by Timothy Langon, to great audience appreciation. Some clever one-liners brought a new depth to the standard teenage angst about not fitting in, so commonly seen in this genre. The audience embraced La Cienaga with open arms, hankering for the evasion from the narrow demographic so often presented in mainstream media.

Many of the performers in this show come from a dance background, with the cheer routines being particularly impressive throughout the show. With the cheer choreographed by Melissa Mckenzie and general dance choreography by Tracey Rasmussen, audible gasps in awe resounded in the audience, as everyone was dazzled by the lifts and jumps.

This spectacle was especially appreciated considering the removal of a safety net provided in similar onscreen performances with camera tricks and stunt doubles. Awareness of the immense skill required in these feats was heightened by the suggestion of a wobble in a pyramid formation. This seemed only to augment audience wonder at the endlessly energetic performances before them.

If you’re after some light-hearted musical entertainment, Bring It On has got the goods. It doesn’t make for rigorous watching requiring deep thought; it simply takes you along for the ride with high kicks and pom poms to add to the cheer.

 

La Traviata

By Emily Richardson

 

La Traviata

By Giuseppe Verdi

Directed by Elijah Moshinsky

Conducted by Renato Palumbo

Opera Australia

Joan Sutherland Theatre

The Opera House, Bennelong Point

Season (see website for performance dates) 3-22 July

Bookings: https://opera.org.au/whatson/events/la-traviata-sydney?gclid=COye84SU0MYCFdgnvQoddp4E3g

 

La Traviata, meaning ‘The Fallen Woman’, laments the tragedy of a beautiful courtesan’s downfall, who meets an agonising end after suffering for her deep love.

The Opera Australia production at the Opera House is utterly beautiful, taking the audience back in time in a deeply moving production that enraptured the audience.

La Traviata is Verdi’s masterpiece is one of the most performed operas and is renowned for its poignant evocation of emotion.

The story follows the romantic and tragic love between Violetta and Alfredo. After confessing their love to one another at a party and then living together in the countryside, Alfredo’s father begs Violetta to leave Alfredo as the scandal of their affair is jeopardising his sister’s forthcoming marriage.

Plagued with tuberculosis, Violetta consents to leave him; despite the anguish both feel without each other. Heartbroken and jealous when Violetta attends a party with the Baron, Alfredo publicly insults Violetta, unaware of the deep devotion motivating her actions.

After being rebuked by his father, Alfredo realises his mistake and goes to visit Violetta at her home where she is starting to waste away at the cruel hand of tuberculosis. With their love rekindled, they begin to plan for their future…before Violetta falls dead.

Lorina Gore is astonishing in the role of Violetta – with an impeccable voice and such strong expression of both love and despair that it was tangible in the theatre. These emotions were further conveyed in her changing use of vibrato, resulting in an engrossing performance.

She exhibited exquisite dynamic control, heightened by the top-notch acoustics in the Joan Sutherland Theatre, so that Violetta could express her anguish and exasperation in hushed tones as well as her jubilation at great volume. Furthermore, her powerful voice seemed incessantly effortless in spite of the demanding voice work required by the piece.

Violetta is required to sing in ‘three voices’, with flexibility and strong top range in the first act, warm tones and character depth in the second act, and finally the drama in her vocal ability to express the terrifying nature of her impending death.

Gore revealed this diverse range of skills in her performance to great success. There were numerous duets throughout the opera, which served to convey the relationship of the characters in their world. Notably, Rame Lahaj as Alfredo sang with Violetta in proclamations of love, which were irresistible to the audience. Additionally, Jose Carbo as Giorgio, Alfredo’s father, was also a standout, imploring Violetta to weep and leave Alfredo as he is conflicted between protecting his daughter by establishing a secure marital position for her, and allowing Alfredo to flourish with the woman he loves.

The set and costume design was pivotal in painting an authentic historical picture. With set designed by Michael Yeargan and costumes designed by Peter J Hall, the two elements had great synergy to make this stage version of Paris highly believable, and yet simultaneously dreamlike in catering to our tendency to romanticise the past.

 Lavish costuming and ornate furniture filled the stage, framed by some exquisite architectural designs. The audience could feast their eyes on this abundance of sublime detail, especially during the chorus items with a spectrum of colourful personalities on stage.

La Traviata is breathtakingly beautiful, and a truly magnificent introduction to opera. With subtle English subtitles this performance can be accessible to anyone, regardless of your previous experience with opera. It is rare to come across such a rich and opulent performance on the stage of late, with funding and support of the arts a continual struggle.

Here is an opportunity to see a spectacular celebration of what art can be, in its engagement with both the joyous and harrowing experience of love, as well as indulging in the elation of opera.

 

Opera Australia’s Turandot

By Emily Richardson

 

Turandot

By Giacomo Puccini

Conducted by Christian Badea

Directed by Graeme Murphy

Opera Australia

Joan Sutherland Theatre

The Opera House, Bennelong Point

Season (see website for performance dates) 24 June – 28 August 2015

Bookings: https://opera.org.au/whatson/events/turandot-sydney

 

It appears that the opera gives us an outlet to explore emotions at a heightened level, on the journey of the protagonists, skirting the borders of death and falling into the deepest love, all in the span of two short hours.

During the two intermissions giving us an interlude between the three acts, we remark the calibre of the performances and the severity of the circumstances that our protagonist is fraught with. And when the opera concludes, the large majority of us go home to our relatively mundane lives, left to ponder the turmoil endured by our endearing protagonist.

These 20th century Italian artists were onto something when they composed music and applied contexts to characters that gave audiences a taste of the thrilling extremes of emotion. The Opera Australia production of Turandot directed by Graeme Murphy does exactly this, ensconcing the audience in a riveting tale like none that we could experience in this day and age.

Puccini’s Turandot hurdles its audience into legendary times in Peking, China, where it is sacred law that if a suitor of royal blood can answer three riddles correctly, he can have Princess Turandot’s hand in marriage - but if they answer incorrectly they forfeit their life.

Marred by her ancestor’s experience when she protected herself from male influence until an invading foreign prince murdered her, Turandot is adamant she does not want to marry. When a prince of a dethroned kingdom, Calaf, sees Turandot for the first time, he falls instantly in love with her and in spite of the danger to his life and despite the fact that the Persian prince is about to be executed before his eyes, Calaf declares himself a suitor. Turmoil, anguish, and eventual love ensues in this epic opera.

We are presented with a female protagonist, Turandot, performed by Lise Lindstrom, who embodies the complex doubling and dichotomy in the perception of women, as opposed to the reality of their core. This is illustrated in the discrepancy between language and actions and is sublimely encapsulated in Lindstrom’s performance.

Turandot is repeatedly referred to as pure, one who cannot be touched, and yet catalyses the suicide of Liu – one who has been exiled and disgraced, yet remains perpetually loyal, dying for a noble cause. Turandot is dressed in white, seemingly symbolising purity in our western culture, and whilst this symbolism can continue in Chinese culture, it is also the colour worn during mourning and can be associated with death.

She is cast as being in control and wielding ultimate power over men, as multitudes sacrifice their lives in an attempt to win her hand in marriage – yet this is quickly overturned when Calaf answers the riddles correctly and gains the power to marry Turandot, even against her will. Ultimately, Turandot’s father and suitors reduce her to a commodity, placing upon her the illusion of power to increase her allure. Emphatically, Turandot’s power as one of the most influential females in this society could be likened to a toothless tiger.

Yonghoon Lee is astounding as Calaf, exuding intense passion and focus in pursuing his all-encompassing love for Turandot, as one of the strongest forces on earth. This emotion translates into his phenomenal voice that captivated the audience over and over again. His performance was complemented by Lindstrom’s icy Turandot highlighted in the renowned aria Nessun Dorma, and further contrasted with the heartbreaking grief experienced by Liu, portrayed exceptionally by Hyeseoung Kwon. Her utter devotion to Timur, Calaf’s exiled father, and her relentless love for Calaf was palpable. The audience adored these leading protagonists, which was reflected in a standing ovation for their performance.

Integration of all the performance elements enhanced the overall spectacle, producing wonders for the eye as material fans and sheets billowed across the stage, likened to the fantastical aesthetics gleaned from Chinese culture. The effectiveness of choreography was highly dependent on these props however, leaving moves that were solely reliant on the human body to appear basic and clumsy. Costumes were a dazzling sight and helped to symbolise the status and nature of a character.

Puccini’s Turandot takes audiences to emotional extremes on this operatic journey, and Murphy’s production is immensely moving as led by three riveting lead performers. Risking a torturous death for an all-powerful love, Turandot fills you with commanding music to feel these profound emotions for yourself.

 

Ghost Stories

By Emily Richardson

  

Ghost Stories

By Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman

Directed by Peter J Snee

Drama Theatre, Opera House

Bennelong Point, Sydney

Season: 10 July – 15 August

Bookings: http://www.sydneyoperahouse.com/whatson/ghost_stories.aspx

 

It is a peculiar relationship we have with scary stories and the horror genre. The elation we feel seems to be rather irrational as we embrace the possibilities, albeit unlikely, of spooky forces and events occurring in this world, scaring us out of our wits.

Peter Snee’s Ghost Stories capitalises on this strange human desire to create a gripping show, with a killer cast and nifty technical tricks to boot, Ghost Stories blurs the boundary between the actual and the perceived.

The show begins in a keynote speaker format, led by Professor Phillip Goodman, played by Lynden Jones. Professor Goodman enlightens the audience as to the various interviews he has undertaken with individuals who swear that they encountered a ghost, or had a comparable experience.

The near-clinical form of presentation and seemingly mundane beginning served to lull the audience into a false sense of security – a clever start. Jones shines in his presentational style; however at points seemed to lack connection with the other actors on stage as he proceeded to interview them about their experience.

The show retells a series of episodic supernatural experiences through Goodman’s interviewing. These include the recounts of a night watchman, played by John Gregg, a teenage driver, played by Aleks Mikić, and a businessman and new father, played by Ben Wood. The first two episodes particularly explored the power of suspense and how anticipatory tension can be built to extract a satisfying thrill for the audience.

As a staple in the horror genre bag of tricks, this technique was successfully employed, and augmented by the eerie lighting design, by Christopher Page, and a revolving stage. Mikić was charming in his role as Simon, as he grappled with his inexplicable experience. All characterisations were strong, and Wood as Mike Priddle, the businessman, was delightful, and vaguely unnerving as he paired canny comic timing with a sinister edge to draw the audience into the mystery.

The strength in this work arises from its drawing on innumerable years of experimentation and development of technique and flair in the horror movie industry.

Moving from the West End of London to Sydney and already having being performed to over 400,000 people the show’s formula is tried and tested, to achieve consistent scares night after night. The audience was undoubtedly been given some great frights and shocked by the twists the plot took, however to horror movie buffs the scares may ring a little predictable. In spite of this, even to those with nerves of steel, the show continues to possess intrigue and is not rendered impotent in its occasional jump-scare predictability – sometimes the anticipation of something frightful can create a stronger impact than the scare itself.

The show is in its early stages of its performance run and management of set and technical changes needs to be tightened up in order to sustain the theatrical illusion. The occasional thud and conspicuous movement draws focus from the chilling proceedings on stage. Director Snee has a background in creating technical stage illusions, as developed in his direction of Houdini in the UK, allowing him to apply this knowledge to Ghost Stories.

Without the blood and guts some horror works are reliant upon, the believability of these techniques must not be compromised. The apt capacity of the cast to respond to ghostly proceedings on stage with resolute focus and conviction is pivotal to suspending audience believability – I think this was largely achieved.

Human mirth in the horror genre is inextricable from emotions of fear and humour, tied down to the primal fight or flight instinct. As horror movies continue to be churned out in cinemas each year, cradled in the popular techniques of shaky camera shots or excessive blood, Snee’s Ghost Stories is a testament to the ability of artists to extract the mystifying emotion of self-induced fear in a live setting. With gleeful results.

 

Of Mice and Men

By Emily Richardson

 

Of Mice and Men

By John Steinbeck

Directed by Iain Sinclair

Sport for Jove

Reginald Theatre, Seymour Centre, Chippendale

Season 9 July – 1 August (Sydney) 6 – 8 August (Canberra)

Bookings (Sydney): http://www.seymourcentre.com/events/event/of-mice-and-men/ or call 9351 7940

 

In an increasingly individualistic culture, we can broadcast our voice to the world, yet not know to whom we are speaking, nor do we truly listen to each other.

As meaningful communication is fragmented by the rising influence of social media and instant ‘connectivity’, Steinbeck’s novel Of Mice and Men, persists as a relevant text for our time. Sport for Jove’s production of the adapted novel, directed by Iain Sinclair, examines loneliness in a society awash with outsiders, and the dehumanising impact that humans can have on each other. The production is an effortless refashioning of Steinbeck’s original work that draws in every audience member and distils the raw emotion that acts as a reflex response to the sometimes shocking, yet mundane, circumstances that arise. It is breathtaking in its simplicity.

Of Mice and Men is a 20th century classic set during the Great Depression, with George and Lennie traipsing around the countryside, moving from job to job, trying to pick up a ‘stake’. They are working on a ranch before Lennie gets into trouble and they have to relocate again.

Lennie is physically strong and a great worker, however his mental capacity is limited, and George, an uneducated but intelligent man, has taken him under his wing. The title of the play is inspired by Robert Burns’ poem, “The best laid schemes o' mice an' men. Gang aft a-gley (Often go awry)” and with a string of unfortunate events in their history, you can’t help but sense that Lennie and George’s fate in this play may not be fine and dandy.

From the moment you enter the theatre the audience is greeted by a waft of dirt, transporting you straight to the California countryside. The Reginald Theatre in the Seymour Centre has been stripped back to its bare bones, reframed by wooden accents, a back panel crafted with wood and a dirt covering that spans the floor. Initially this set design, by Michael Hankin, seems incredibly understated, but brilliant details glimmered and revealed themselves as the performance unfolded. Shafts between the wooden backdrop paired with the light design by Sian James-Holland, created a stop-motion effect when characters entered and exited the stage. This seemed to highlight how the simple action of running could be broken down into innumerable intricate sequence of events, each one consequentially affecting the next. In this sense, the design managed to encapsulate the fatalistic themes of the play.

Lennie and George, played by Andrew Henry and Anthony Gooley respectively, exhibit a serene chemistry. True companions, there are numerous sweet moments between the two as a tender love is evident in their relationship, in spite of the challenging circumstances they face. The audience ache over Lennie’s crippling innocence, never wishing to inflict harm yet leaving a trail of affliction in his wake. Henry is artful in his construction of Lennie on stage, with an acute attention to detail, every sound that escapes his lips and every movement is truly Lennie in the flesh.

This is a performance that is not to be missed. The infallible believability in Lennie’s character serves to entrance the audience throughout the play, and this is further augmented by the nuances presented by each character that present real, relatable humans on stage. Each actor brings something different to the table, exhibiting their own brilliance as a performer on stage, and Sinclair has tied together this laudable cast, producing enthralling dynamics.

Loneliness is central to the story, however it is also emphasised that this loneliness is perpetuated by inhuman treatment of each other. The degradation of humans to mere expendable labour, and hence the flippant disregard for various characters’ dignity, is strongly expressed in the play.

This is enhanced by paralleling the expendability of humans with evocation of compassion for animals. A scene where Candy, played by Laurence Coy, grieves as the audience waits for an audible signal that his dog has been put down creates a dreadful churn in your gut. It seemed to me that this emotion for a dog in a very sad situation superseded some of the emotions felt for human characters in far more sinister situations - a fascinating directorial decision that triggered extensive thought. The blatant disregard of outsiders and people on the fringe is a persistent theme in contemporary life, as our society mindlessly marginalises the ‘other’ – whether this ‘other’ is individuals of differing religion, sexuality, economic status or race.

There are multiple figures in the play that embody an outsider, and whose extreme loneliness causes them to partake in conversations where neither is truly listening to the other; rather each wants to release the thoughts that have built up inside of them. Dialogue would take place virtually in the form of two interspersed monologues as neither character properly engaged with what the other was saying. This was an interesting technique, given its foundation in Steinbeck’s dialogue and brought to the fore in Sinclair’s direction. Perhaps it mirrors modern communication for some of us today, when we are overly concerned with making one’s own voice significant and yet we fail to authentically engage with the people around us.

Sport for Jove’s play Of Mice and Men is immensely compelling and showcases incredible skill in all aspects of the production. There are innumerable ideas to grapple with in the piece, in addition to the plethora of emotions involuntarily generated in response to the work. Its audiences will be moved, and I hope they will be changed. See for yourself.

 

Opera Australia’s Don Carlos

By Emily Richardson

 

Don Carlos

Conducted by Andrea Licata

Directed by Elijah Moshinsky

Opera Australia

Joan Sutherland Theatre

The Opera House, Bennelong Point

 

Season (see website for performance dates) 14 July – 15 August

Bookings: https://opera.org.au/whatson/events/don-carlos-sydney

 

Opera Australia’s production of Don Carlos, conducted by Andrea Licata and directed by Elijah Moshinsky, deals with dark themes in a grisly period of history when the church was enabled to reign with undue control.

What prevails is an agonising predicament fraught with unrequited love, exile and murder. Think it sounds a little melodramatic? Embrace it – it is

opera after all.

The opera follows Don Carlos, sung by Diego Torre, son of Phillip II King of Spain, sung by the renowned Ferruccio Furlanetto. Don Carlos was betrothed to Elisabeth de Valois, sung by Latonia Moore, however she is married to King Phillip in order to end a war between Spain and France.

As you can imagine, this circumstance introduces an unbridled tension in the family dynamic. To make matters worse, Princess Eboli, sung by Milijana Nikolic, mistakes Don Carlos’ love for Elisabeth as infatuation for herself, culminating in jealousy when she is made aware of the truth.

All of this drama is set amongst the unrivalled power of the church, thus featuring a public parade and burning of condemned heretics.

Opera Australia’s production touches upon the darker elements of the opera to make for engaging viewing, alongside some rather emotional performances. To hold audience focus in this work is impressive considering its length (almost four hours including intermission) and yet it manages to do so.

There are some notable performances in the show, beginning with the remarkable Furlanetto as Phillip II. With a career spanning performances across the globe, it is not surprising that Furlanetto presents an engrossing performance of great depth, expressed with his exquisite voice.

He effectively communicates the conflicted emotions rife in Phillip II’s position as he is ravaged by the devastation of not meriting his wife’s love, desires vengeance against his son for gaining his wife’s love, and yet conflicted by his familial connection and not wanting to treat his son this way.

Nikolic, as Eboli, has a strong voice and contributes splendidly to multiple duets and trios. She is convincing in her portrayal of unrequited love, however plot line development and her relationship with Don Carlos on stage does not serve to convince the audience of the authenticity of her love.

Deep emotions are not conveyed in Torre’s performance as Don Carlos, giving a largely one-dimensional performance. Whilst able to hit some big notes, Torre lacks variation in his vocal dynamics, which could aid his expression of greater emotion.

Moore’s performance as the Queen is particularly evocative, incorporating great skill in her overarching performance technique. This is found not only in her voice work but also in her extensive development of character, taking the audience on a journey.

The role of the Grand Inquisitor is portrayed by Daniel Sumegi, who sings with great passion and gives a fascinating insight into corrupt machinations in the Roman Catholic Church, in accordance with Verdi's perspective. The divine right to rule had to be maintained and the Bible manipulated to justify their actions, such as killing Don Carlos.

Both set and costume design is by Paul Brown, resulting in a harmonious overall design vision. The use of marble walls and statues in the monastery at the commencement of the opera set the moody tone for the piece. However some of the set design and dressing in scenes was lacklustre. This continued for costume design – while some of the dresses and male outfits were stunning and appeared to be plucked from history, others felt a little neglected.

To stage an opera in our contemporary context is a hefty undertaking, under pressures of the modern impatient audience, budget cuts, and the perceived inaccessibility of art in foreign languages. To overcome these challenges is one thing, for the audience to witness moments of magic in Don Carlos is quite another.

 

Ruby Moon

By Emily Richardson

 

Ruby Moon

By Matt Cameron

Directed by Johann Walraven

Factory Theatre

Marrickville

NSW

 

Season: 12 – 23 August.

Bookings: http://www.factorytheatre.com.au/events/2015/08/12/ruby-moon

 

Ruby Moon, a play well known for its unsettling subject matter and contemporary whodunit framework is currently being staged by Samsonite Productions at the Factory Theatre, directed by Johann Walraven.

Rippled with mystery, audiences are drawn into a chilling story whereby Mr and Mrs Moon struggle to find closure regarding the disappearance of their daughter. Matt Cameron’s script sets the challenge for two actors to portray eight roles throughout the story, an ambitious undertaking for any actor and creative team. In Samsonite Productions’ work, we see glimpses of impressive work, but don’t feel like we quite get the chance to sink our teeth into the characters presented.

The play’s focal point is the disappearance of little Ruby Moon, the aftermath of this tragedy and Mr and Mrs Moon’s investigation into the fragments of evidence that may explain the events.

The couple engage in a nightly ritual of laying out everything they know about their daughter’s disappearance, wishing for some kind of epiphany that will bring her back. One day, they are greeted with a parcel on their doorstep that contains a doll’s limb, a doll that belonged to Ruby.

 Interpreting this as a sign of hope to gain answers, the couple embark on an investigative journey, interrogating their neighbours in the cul-de-sac about what they have done, seen and heard. This rigmarole unveils the eccentric characters in their world, and reveals more about the condition of Mr and Mrs Moon.

It must be said that it is a vast challenge for two actors to take on eight roles. I tip my hat to Samantha Lee and Pash Julian who took on the challenge. However the range of roles seemed to place heavy pressure on the actors, and the roles did not feel sufficiently developed.

This was a shame as there were points that ignited curiosity and idiosyncrasies of characters that caused great laughter and enjoyment for the audience. I wanted to see strong chemistry between Ray and Sylvie Moon, Ruby’s parents, in a compelling manner. Chemistry that followed them as they worked through grief, love, and frustration, sometimes united as parents and at others, detached and distant as anguish and mental instability threatened their relationship. There are many colliding and conflicting dynamics in this relationship that the audience had glimpses of, and yet this seemed to me to be an area largely untapped.

Both Lee and Julian achieved comic moments in their portrayals of various characters, which is a success considering the eerie subject matter of the play.

Engaging use of lighting shone at various points in the play, utilising lamps scattered around the stage to create shifting atmospheres. Spotlights were also employed to direct audience attention to features on stage, such as the striking image of the mannequin of a young girl, dressed in a red dress.

This overbearing physical symbol of the missing Ruby stands as a talisman of the hope held out for her return, albeit somewhat lifeless hope just like the mannequin.

Mr and Mrs Moon’s refusal to come to terms with the loss or harm of their daughter is devastating, and the lighting design and use of props reflected this. Effective costume changes were executed swiftly to assist the actors with a seamless physical transformation into a new role.

Ruby Moon teeters between boundaries of the real and the imagined, and pushes the boundaries of its actors to explore their range emotionally and in characterisations.

Lee and Julian work hard in their performance, exerting great energy to present an engaging and diverse work. The challenge may have proved a little ambitious, but their effort is not ignored. The piece stands to speak for the woe experienced by family members of missing people and the extents they will go to for closure, even if this means resorting to vivid escapism.