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Murder for Two

Hayes Theatre
16 August, 2023

In short – go see this production. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard in recent memory. It is smart, the leads are charming and talented as hell, and the music is deceptively catchy (I’m still humming a few of the numbers).

Murder for Two is an interesting concept for a musical – two actors, one of whom is portraying multiple characters. There aren’t big costume changes – it really relies on physicality and voice work of one of the actors. This really shouldn’t work – it defies logic! And yet, somehow, it does! Clever staging, and the ruthless charisma of Maverick Newman keeps you at the edge of your seat, completely entranced as the mystery unwinds.

I didn’t want to like this – I wanted to find fault. While I went in with an open (if curious) mind, they actually lost me in the first five minutes. An unfortunate piece of lighting obscured the face of Newman (this was at the very start, when we are trying to connect to the character; any obstacles can make this challenging). Similarly, harsh lighting on Gabbi Bolt’s character, in particular during her opening number, made it a bit difficult to connect. This fortunately changes once we get into the setting of the bulk of the play, the living room where a Murder has taken place (I guess I should have given a spoiler warning, but its in the title…). The lighting from that point on was fine, and elevated the show.

I’m not sure if what happened at the beginning was a conscious choice (as Newman portrays multiple characters, so perhaps the shade was an artistic choice?), or perhaps the actor missed his mark on this particular night. I do find that Hayes sometimes has challenges lighting downstage centre, I presume because it is such an intimate space. Anyway, this was practically forgotten about 15 minutes later, and is only something I noticed as the characters and conventions of this production were still forming.

I’d also remark that it felt a little big low energy at the start. I couldn’t fully invest in Bolt’s ‘Protocol Says’, an up-tempo solo number that sets up her character. However, I can actually appreciate the slow build up in energy, because by the end of the show, everyone is absolutely breathless from singing, laughing and cheering. Bolt’s character is also the “straight – man” to Newman’s insane menagerie of roles, and she absolutely shines when she is interacting with (and reacting to) Newman. I also think Bolt, who (according to her socials) typically plays an instrument while she sings, looked a little bit out of place without a keyboard in front of her. Regardless, once Bolt and Newman’s characters ‘meet’, all is right with the world, and you will be gasping for air between belly laughs.

I don’t want to spoil any of the surprises in store for the audience. The production is quite meta, and you can’t help trying to solve the murder along with Bolt’s hapless detective. Newman is absolutely unhinged as he morphs through characters of varying height, gait, and sanity, with as many dialects as there are dance breaks (of which there are, welcomingly, many). Bolt’s eye brows are the unofficial third (or fourth?) actor in this production, and she has an uncanny ability to connect with the audience whilst Newman Ronde de Jambe’s about the stage.

It’s a great evening of theatre, and Newman and Bolt have joined the list of actors I’d pay to see read a phonebook. I’m also incredibly curious how understudy Sam Marques would interpret these roles! The only thing criminal about this show is that it closes in a mere two -(ish) weeks.

Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812

Darlinghurst Theatre Company

11 July, 2023

Note: This has been edited to better reflect the pronouns of the cast. My intention is always to uplift and support others, particularly my extended family in the LGBTQIA & non-binary community. I am grateful to the cast member who provided feedback so I can continue to work at being a better ally 🙏🏼🏳️‍⚧️

It’s hard to know what it is that I just saw – NP&GC has so much going on – a giant disco ball suspended from the ceiling, musicians who are actors, audience participation, a rollicking score, unexpected/evocative lighting and copious amounts of vodka(?)

As usual, didn’t know anything before hand, easily charmed by social media snippets and the reviews of a friend. Really enjoyed this ‘opera’ style take on a snippet of War & Peace, with an updated score that I dare you not to sing for weeks to follow.

The cast each played one (or more instruments), which (per the director’s notes) were an extension of their character. The stage (which featured an immersive experience) also featured a walkway behind Row C. I purchased seats in Row C, suspecting this may be the case. While I had to turn around completely at times, this was made up for by both the proximity to the front stage, and the occasional brush of tulle over our heads as the cast twirled above us.

The cast was phenomenal – I could shout out each and every one, but really, I don’t want to spoil the show (that, and I promised I’d keep these brief from now on). *Edit*: I called out everyone in the cast. I couldn’t help myself, they were a phenomenal company. I’ll attempt brevity next time.

Grace Driscoll’s Natasha was an absolute dream – the young ingenue, who gave Victorian doll in an oversized babydoll dress, and peeled off layers as she was swept up and corrupted by the Moscow elite of the era.

Jules Pendrith’s Anatole, from their first appearance, was every bit the rockstar they were evoking (Bowie, mixed with Harry Styles, and maybe P!nk? But also very much none of those things). In the director’s notes, it is highlighted that the original music was modified and tailored to this specific cast – you won’t see this production ever again anywhere else – and Pendrith’s Anatole is one of the prime examples of this. Seductively singing in the lower part of their range, Pendrith will occasionally (and appropriately) belt notes several octaves up, and the theatre is immediately transformed into a glam rock concert. These moments were some of the most exciting in an already rich production.

Zoy Frangos’ Pierre evoked for me Pedro Pascal’s scruffy charm – he is “father”, as the kids say. Very much the grounding element of the piece. The show had mic issues our night, during Frangos’ opening performance. Unfortunately they had to pause the show to resolve, but before this Frangos’ pushed through completely unfazed, and doing his best to push vocally against the rest of the ensemble (he really held his own!).

I was obsessed with Jillian O’Dowd’s Marya–I think that was the point; her character exuded the camp, the drama, and the class young gay boys seek in their divas. She was in grande-dame drag, with the most ridiculous (& inspired) headpiece that shook as she commanded (both with her voice and physicality), in between sets of jamming out on the drums. Her interactions with the front row of the audience were particularly fun to watch. She also reminded me of the comedienne Rachel Dratch, which is a huge compliment as I’m a big fan of her versatility and big characters.

Kala Gare’s Sonja was a far cry from Six’s Anne Boleyn–we’ve already established this is a Six stan account, get over it–as she stepped into more of a supporting role (in that she was supporting her friend, Natasha; Gare pulls focus wherever she goes, and the piece was more ensemble anyway). Belting Sonja’s ballad in Act 2, providing narration for the Opera, and incredible feats during The Private and Intimate Life of the House (no spoilers) – Gare was so game for what this production threw at her (including an accordion, a keyboard, and a xylophone).

Lillian Hearne’s Princess Mary was bewitching – both physically and vocally. We are introduced to Mary in The Private and Intimate Life of the House, where she expresses the oppressive nature of their home life with rigid posture and stoic movement, while Hearne jumps up and down their impressive range for both comedic and dramatic effect). Followed by Natasha & Bolkonskys, Hearne’s Mary dripped with judgement, and delivered a delightful back and forth with Natasha. Hearne is another example where the Musical Direction team (Six’s Claire Healy, Hayes Theatre’s Victoria Falconer, and the prolific Benjamin Kiehne) adapted the piece to take full advantage of the voices of the cast. There were some issues in Act II, either with the mics or perhaps Hearne was fighting off a cold, so we didn’t get to hear some of the notes that I’m confident Hearne is capable of – this is disappointing only because Hearne was truly a standout in Act I. I’m envious of future audiences who get to enjoy the full breadth of the ‘Princess Mary’ experience!

The oft-absent Andrei was portrayed by the ever-present P. Tucker Worley. Worley traipsed through the theatre, acoustic guitar in hand, impressing us with his incredible dance moves, and commitment to character when acting as part of the ensemble). He immediately charms us from the opening number, both with voice and appearance– “Andrei isn’t here” is repeated a dozen or so times, so he is top of mind even when his character isn’t featured. The audience shares Natasha’s longing for Andrei, as we await Worley’s next appearance.

Calling Cameron Bajraktarevix-Hayward’s Dolokhov ‘sexy’ is redundant, because the entire cast exudes sensuality. However, their commitment to the dangerous and seductive Dolokhov is excellent. In John Doyle’s production of Sweeney Todd, much like in NP&GC, the small ensemble cast also plays instruments. Bajraktarevix-Hayward, when not featured, played (I believe) a cello, with the same malevolent strumming that Dolye’s Sweeney Todd used, to demarcate his killings. I presume this was intentional, as Dolokhov was known for committing a murder in the world of Great Comet, and is behind some of the more sinister plot developments. The actor visually relished their role in the debauchery, and was a delight to watch as he sneered from the sidelines.

Helené (Marissa Saroca) is established as…generous, shall we say. And Saroca is very much that, as she belts, entices and glides lithely through the space. Their powerful voices rounds out the ensemble, and provides a moral counterweight to the “good” Sonja, in the battle for Natasha’s soul.

Anton Berezin spends much of the performance as part of the ensemble–performing in the opera within the opera, as a servant in the Bolkonsky’s home, and other duties as required. Capable and certainly on par with the rest of the outstanding cast. But in Act II, he is showcased as the namesake in Balaga, an upbeat whirlwind of a number that may have you out of your seat dancing (literally). Chanting to “hey Balaga, Ho Balaga”, the ensemble supports Berezin’s growls as the song builds to an exciting crescendo.


There’s so much to love about this production, though it may not be for everyone. There’s a particularly meta moment in Act I, where Natasha, watching The Opera, sings “I cannot follow the opera, or even listen to the music…queerly dressed actors, moving and singing so strangely.” NP&GC IS an opera–it even says it in the Prologue–and that may not be for everyone, who needs a bit of a break between musical numbers.

The production deliberately creates a foreign space: “We have made the world so heightened and so non-naturalistic that their stories, their movements, their expressions and their use of a musical instrument becomes a new norm for the world we have created (Director’s Notes)”. While the immersion and other-worldliness is one of the things that makes this production so special, there will be some who might not be game (particularly in the case of a spouse who prefers more traditional musicals – sorry babe!).

In a production that defied, subverted, and dragged up the concept of gender, the costuming by Nicol & Ford elevated this world into the stratosphere. I’ve never coveted a pair of trousers so much than the extreme-wide-leg pants worn by Pierre and others. Some of the male-presenting roles were in heeled boots; the female-presenting roles in combat boots; the costumes played with fabrics, sheen, shape, colours to reinforce that you weren’t in any world that you’ve visited before, but one that you’d want to stay in for a sinfully good time. The costumes enhanced the sensuality, the danger, the naïveté, and the campness of the characters.

The lighting and set were equally stunning. There were at times moments where the actors weren’t quite in the light (in part perhaps due to the way they’d move around the entire space, or how they’d be in character even when interacting off to the side). I suspect this is more blocking – despite this minor observation, the lights were ethereal, and the use of warm and blue lights on the faces of the characters highlighted the duality, the good-vs-bad, the moral conflict in each.

The set was very cool, it reminded me of a gyrosphere, or an orbitall diagram. There were certainly some surprises which I won’t spoil, and the way in which the cast moved around and onto it. The loft areas were challenging, as the safety rails sometimes came into conflict with sightlines, and the blocking (particularly Anatole and Pierre in Act II) favoured each other rather than the audience, so we could quite see. Still, the levels made the set more interesting and exciting.


I also make a note that I’d love to look into the other musicals by creator Dave Malloy. He has 14 original pieces, which include Beowulf -1000 years of baggage, Black Wizard/Blue Wizard (based on role playing games), and Little Bunny Foo Foo, which was a nursery rhyme my nana always used to sing to me.


There were a few slower paced moments, which felt particularly slow, given the frenetic pace of the rest of the piece. Particularly because it is on the long side. In saying that, these slower moments let the cast shine, and its only to be expected to have some still moments amongst the frenzy.

You really have to see Natasha & Pierre – like many fleeting productions of this calibre that pass through Sydney (Belvoir’s Into the Woods, Hayes’ Metropolis, Sydney Opera House’s Amadeus), you’ll only regret not getting your tickets now, before they almost certainly are exhausted. Maybe even twice, if you have the opportunity to try the immersive experience (it’s nothing scary, and both cast and audience are very supportive). Perhaps try sitting behind Row D or E, so you can see the full spectacle unfolding. The closer rows make it a bit hard to see the action behind (though there’s so much going on at any one time, it’s hardly a big loss).

I’ll leave you with another quote from the production team, which suimmarises their intent:

The experience of Great Comet can provide escapism, but also an encouragement to see others beyond the basic labels thrust upon them.

Thoughts & Insights from a Community Theatre Novice

I see a lot of theatre. At the start of the year, at my partner’s behest, I created a Theatre budget. I plugged in all of the shows I was planning to see, from big musicals at the Lyric and Royal Theatre, some things at Sydney Theatre Company, new works at Hayes and Griffin, and some interesting pieces at Belvoir, just to name a few.

My list, I’ve realised, was lacking. There is a tremendous amount of Community and Amateur theatre which had not been on my radar. Genesian Theatre, where I’ve seen a few things now, and Packemin Productions, I was familiar with. As well as The Regals Musical Society, where friends of mine were in the wildly popular Priscilla: Queen of the Desert last year.

The same friends encouraged me to audition for Carrie – a small, non-singing role, mainly comic relief. It has been two decades+ since I’ve been on a stage, and I was equal parts excited and fearful. But it has been the most wonderful and rewarding experience. I can’t review Carrie, since I’m obvious heavily biased, but I thought I might share some insights I’ve gained from this experience.

  1. There so much community theatre in Sydney
    At the first rehearsal, I was blown away by how experienced the cast was. Most of them had worked together (or worked with friends of friends) in productions with Regals, locally, and even as far away as Gosford. I began hearing stories of shows from Engadine, Miranda, Rockdale, Notable, Blackout, Strathfield, Bankstown, and the list goes on. I hadn’t realised it, but I’d entered a multiverse of amateur Musical Theatre societies. As someone who loves Theatre, and is now accountable for sticking to a budget, this is a dream come true.

    Now that this is on my radar, I fully intend to see a lot more community theatre -its affordable, and I now have 20+ castmates to support as they move on to their next productions.
  1. Community/Amateur does not mean amateur talent
    I remember sitting in rehearsals, watching some of the musical numbers – this was early days still, and I wasn’t in many of the ensemble numbers. I recall how impressed I was with the calibre of the cast. The singing talent was incredible – better than I’ve seen in some professional shows. Many of the cast were also quite professional in their approach to rehearsing, taking notes, preparing – I was taken aback that this sort of talent gravitated toward a community theatre production.

    And that’s not to say anyone was unprofessional – if anything, much of the cast was young, Gen Z (which was its own learning experience for me…). These are kids who were out of (or finishing up school), and starting to build a theatrical resume. I can’t wait to see how their careers evolve, if the nascent talent I witnessed is anything to go by.

    It reinforces for me that Community Theatre is a fantastic place to find real talent who for one reason or another, isn’t in a professional production at a particular moment in time. The performers are absolutely of a professional standard.
  2. It Takes a Village
    I had forgotten how many people it takes to put on a show. Suddenly, our cast was dwarfed by the number of others who flooded the theatre to make our show happen:
    • Our brilliant band and conductor, under the direction of our stalwart musical director.
    • A stage management team which I’m convinced fell from heaven, having replaced someone at the literal last minute.
    • Light and sound techs who took this production into another level of quality – I’ve never heard an audience comment on lights, sound and production so much before!
    • Front of house volunteers, stage hands, our talented-beyond-her-years costumer who lived backstage with us. The list goes on and on.

      Considering many of these are unpaid positions, we are so incredibly fortunate for those who sacrificed their time so that we (the cast) could go on stage and sing and dance for a couple of hours every night. It also adds to the electric experience of live theatre – anything can go wrong at any time (and like any show, Carrie had its moments). With so many people in the wings, it was amazing to see how we could quickly recover and bounce back from any unplanned events, often with a laugh and a fun story to recount after.
  3. Intimidating to break into
    I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but I haven’t performed in a long time. And, as the rest of the cast were playing high school students, I was significantly older than most. As a result, I found the process to be quite intimidating. In part, this is due to the absolute legends in this show – kudos to the production team for the way they assembled this insanely talented group of people.

    At the auditions, I realised I was woefully unprepared. Seeing the younger cast rocking up with their headshots, prepared songs – I was compelled to run away! Though the audition obviously went well for me, I do wonder if I was a little typecast. A stressed out, middle-aged American man was cast as a stressed out middle-aged American man – I joke that they’d cast me before I even started to read my sides.

    I did find aspects of this experience to be challenging: I don’t read music and often felt ‘behind’ the talented cast. I’d never worked with a microphone before. I was unfamiliar with sitzprobe, bump-in, bump-out. I’d never heard of toilet paper awards. I do think there’s capacity for someone who may be new to a community theatre society to get a bit more support, in terms of understanding some of the basics. The production team were fabulous when I asked questions, but I wonder if there isn’t a way to help make Community Theatre a bit more accessible to those who maybe haven’t done it before. Particularly when, from what I’ve seen, there is a severe lack of males (and male presenting) across the region.
  4. Provides the gift of performing to many
    And accessibility is quite important, because Community Theatre has the tremendous capability to provide opportunities to so many people. Thinking back to the number of musical societies out there, and the number of shows happening simultaneously, there are easily a thousand or more opportunities each year for performers to join a show.

    Whether its a hobby for someone who once did a bit more theatre in their youth (hello!), a way to build up experience before pursuing a professional career, a way to meet new people – Community Theatre is a wonderful thing, and has the power to change lives. Building self confidence, working as a team, developing and honing skills – it really is a magical thing.
  5. It needs support
    Carrie was an excellent show. Not just by Community Theatre standards, but professional as well. And yet, we didn’t sell out any of the performances. I was disappointed at that, as I really felt like this was a show worthy of a full house.

    I look back at the myriad ways we could have promoted the show better perhaps. I mean, Community Theatre is rarely on anyones radar, unless you know someone in the cast. We were up against Vivid, world premieres from Hayes and Darlinghurst Theatre Company, Beauty and the Beast premiering and much more. This was on at the same time as shows in Adams Family (Miranda Musical Theatre Company), and shortly after Rockdale Musical Society wrapped its run of South Pacific in the same space.

    The marketing is all volunteer led, both from the cast and the committee. I felt we were pretty creative with how we aimed to get the word out – market days, flyer hand outs, lots of social media. We were fortunate to have several reviewers come out (all with unanimously positive comments).

    How, then, do we get the butts in the seats? Supporting Community Theatre is critical – particularly in light of Covid, where some societies actually did not survive, and rising costs of, well, everything. Without the Community behind it, there is a real threat that these opportunities and productions may cease to exist.
  6. Why we do this?
    This is a question I keep coming back to. I first asked this having seen a Community Theatre production I didn’t particularly enjoy – ultimately, if the first priority is to give opportunities to amateurs, I can get past bizarre directing choices and poor quality. But I find that there are instead many conflicting reasons for why people are drawn to Community Theatre.
    • to create high quality musical theatre, aimed to entertain?
    • To educate and advance culture?
    • To provide affordable, top tier entertainment outside of the CBD?
    • To bring together people in the community for a common purpose?
    • To establish a safe space for developing artists to hone their craft?

      Each reason is valid, but comes into conflict with each other at times. I think a Musical Theatre society should have a clear intention and priority, that is understood and accepted at all levels of the organisation. I find that it impacts every decision from programming, casting, the rehearsal process, marketing and performances. It also impacts how the show is received.

      I think its important, because if the main driver of a show is quality, sets the bar for the level of preparedness, the type of feedback, etc during the rehearsal process. If it is more about learning and opportunity, that’s great, and should be measured by how the cast and production developed through out the process. If it is about the audience, and providing affordable, local culture, are we putting on shows they want to see? I think its worth exploring these avenues, as if you try to be everything at once, you may end up falling short everywhere at once.

I am so fulfilled at having gotten to do Carrie. I hadn’t really thought I’d return to my theatre roots, and I definitely would not have assumed it would be in a musical inspired by Stephen King. I’ve found connection with others, rekindled a love of performing, learned some new skills, and was able to share my passion with my friends and family. I don’t think I’ve got another show in me for a while – this is hard work! – but I am forever grateful.

Porpoise Pool

Belvoir – 25a

13 June, 2023

This is my second show at Belvoir’s 25A space (following on from The Italians, which I continue to be obsessed with, and is playing on Aussie Theatre Live right meow). I am so impressed with the quality of works in this space- absolutely worth incorporating into your theatre budget, as it’s always incredible value.

Author Jojo Zhou has created something very special here – deeply dramatic, at times hysterical, and eerily relevant with its commentary on artificial intelligence. This was fused with brilliant direction by Eve Beck, who left crumbs and teasers for us to follow as the story unfurled. Audience members made comparisons to Shutter Island, and Everything, Everywhere All At Once (you’ll see why), which is a testament to the way Zhou and Beck discreetly presented a mystery, and quietly answered it at a comfortable pace. 

Acting wise, this show belongs to Lou, played by the indomitable Meg Clarke. Clarke starts as a rough around the edges mother at the end of her tether, but begins to quickly unravel. Despite mining the depths of her trauma, Clarke never loses her grit, her charm. Even playing a younger version of herself, Clarke impressively swaps her jaded outlook for an acerbic yet optimistic one. Clarke is immensely talented, and I look forward to watching her career continue to grow.

Luke Leong-Tay primarily portrays Jonah, Lou’s significant other (though if their relationship was Facebook official, it would be ‘it’s complicated’). Leong-Tay has quite in impressive resume, but most recently I’ve seen him as part of Hayes’ insanely brilliant Dubbo Championship Wrestling, so it was interesting to see him in a less eccentric role. He easily endears the audience, and wins is over at the same time as Lou, as we watch elements of their meet cute. And he is especially powerful playing modern day Jonah, where his helplessness, frustration and love are intermingled on his expressive face.


All I can say about Jane Mahady is that she is a remarkable talent on and off stage: moving between nurturing and chilling sometimes within the same sentence. I don’t want to spoil anything, so I can’t comment much on her performance, being able to do SO MUCH within the tight confines of a particular role is the trademark of true brilliance (and this extends to Zhou and Beck as well).

Carlos Sanson Jr is most well known from the tv show Bump, and is a big part of what drew my curiosity about the piece (having recently binged all four seasons on a long haul flight). In this piece, Sanson proves he is so much more than Santi. Without spoiling the spontaneity of the production, Sanson takes on a variety of roles and showcases his physical comedy, as well as darker and more dangerous sides to his physicality. And another of his roles was equal parts hilarious &  charming, and featured excellent accent work. I can’t wait to see what he’s in next.

Rounding out the cast is the multifaceted Loretta Kung. Kung appears in several roles throughout the piece, and no matter how wacky the direction may have sounded, she delivers the performances with extreme sincerity and care. She has perhaps the most challenging costumes to work with, but appears effortless in her portrayals. Much like Mahady, she often times must whirl on the spot to deliver two radically different reactions, and helps to ground the piece as it reaches an emotional crescendo.


In the performance I saw, at perhaps the apex of this crescendo, unexpected technical difficulties required a stoppage of the show. Despite a confusing sound heard by the audience, the actors hadn’t faltered at all, so the first time we actually saw that a pause was needed was when the stage manager came out. The Stage Manager, House Manager and cast worked diligently to get the show back on track after a short pause.  I mention this because the professionalism, the efficiency, and the expediency of the entire production team and venue meant that, when things go haywire (as they can in live theatre, which is why we love it), the must go on, and on it went. Kudos to all involved, in particular Meg Clarke, whose emotional journey was impacted the most, and brought us quickly back into the moment with her.

Loaded (Melbourne)

Directed by Stephen Nicolazzo

Based on a novel by Christos Tsiolkas

Co Adapted by Christos Tsiolkas and Dan Giovannoni

Malthouse Theatre

9 May, 2023

I want to be mindful of what I say, given I believe the show was in previews. Although, I have only good things from my observations.

I came into this show knowing nothing at all, except for two things: 1. The delightful Danny Ball was in the cast (also didn’t realise he was the entire cast!), and 2. everyone I knew in Melbourne was buzzing about it (had tickets, knew someone who was going, etc). It was only on a whim that I looked at the ticket site after my flight got in, that I snapped up the last two tickets for the show that night (which was starting in 30 minutes).

The Malthouse Theatre is a cool venue – it reminds me of the Stables which hosts Griffin Theatre company shows. It’s a microbrewery(?) with one or more performance spaces (I didn’t have time to check it out, as I had only moments to spare)!

The set was an absolute wonderland – rotating, and other surprises I won’t spoil. The shape of the dramatic arches, the textured curtain – it was fascinating to observe.

Very quickly I realised this would be a “one-man show”. This could go horribly wrong in inexperienced hands but having seen Ball previously in The Italians (soon to be streaming on Aussie Theatre Live – would recommend!), I had no doubts he’d carry this easily.

And carry it he did! He enticed the audience showing the flirtatious side of Ari, and mustered the false bravado of his character whilst juggling other fleshed out ‘roles’. I would pay to watch a web series of Ball performing the vegan girlfriend character, I’m just saying.

I was unfamiliar with the novel, as well as the film Head On (which apparently was based on the novel), so I was surprised at some of the racier references. I had just unclenched my pearls when I realised it got a LOT MORE risqué as the play went on. I wasn’t prepared for the how much was laid bare (both emotionally as well as the actors oft-bared torso); in amateur hands this might have been awkward but Nicolazzo and Ball were adept at bringing to life these personal experiences inspired from the source material.

I could spend paragraphs and pages gushing about Danny Ball, but I’ll leave it that, in addition to being an imminently talented actor, he could also easily be a hair model – his thick locks were his unofficial costar.

I hardly need to tell you to get tickets to Loaded, as it seems most of Melbourne already has, but I will plead once more for a Sydney transfer so this amazing piece can be enjoyed by more audiences.

Metropolis

Written & Directed by Julia Robertson
Orchestrated & Musically Directed by Zara Stanton
4 May, 2023
Produced by Little Eggs Collective
Hayes Theatre
Aisle Seats, Row F

Metropolis is a world premiere musical based off of Thea Von Harbou’s 1925 novel, which also inspired the silent film by Fritz Lang. The film was very long, and very stylised. I think it was produced during the Weimar era in Germany, and “trippy” is the only way I can describe it. I didn’t know what I was going to encounter when seeing this production.

I can best describe my experience by an interaction at the intermission. One of the attentive bartenders asked, as she poured me a glass of Shiraz, if I was enjoying this show. I was surprised to find I couldn’t answer immediately. The quality of the music was fantastic, the cast delivering breathtaking performances, and I wasn’t bored at all – I think I struggled to answer because it’s a bit more intellectual and avant garde, so ‘enjoy’ isn’t the word I’d use. Curious and impressed are probably better ways to describe my feeling at that point in the show.

I would describe watching Metropolis as I would consuming a decadent dessert adorned with smears of caramel sauce, raspberry coulis and heavy creme. There’s no question that it’s delicious, but the richness and complexity must sit on your palate before it can be adequately described. But once you find the words, “yummy”, “delicious!”, and “oooooh soo good!” are sure to be among them.


Music

The musical composition is amazing. This is what I was most excited for – how they would translate this silent film with dystopian content into a musical, and I was not disappointed. The composition and musical direction by Zara Stanton was absolutely incredible; Stanton is now on my shortlist of “whatever it is, I’ll see it” musical directors.

I’ve already put it out there that I am manifesting a cast recording immediately! 

Some songs have stuck with me more than others. One was easily The Heart Machine, delivered with intensity by Jim Williams. Not only is the song an ear worm (and made for a very effective Instagram preview – I think this is what convinced me to finally buy tickets), but the intriguing movements and lighting made this a fantastical spectacle.

Act II opener Yoshiwara is a bop, and one I can see being very popular. Performed by most of the ensemble, and led by Shannon Alyce Quan, you’ll be dancing in your seats! 


Another wonderful moment was Extraordinary, which, depending on the way this work may be licensed in the future, could become a go-to power ballad I’d expect to hear at Showtune Karaoke. Quan’s tone and command of her instrument was in full effect here, with this haunting melody.  

I also must credit the cast with a completely a capella sequence, of harmonies, delivered powerfully over several minutes. This was such an effective and emotive moment – I can’t recall which song, but the talented ensemble will leave you astonished.


Design

Metropolis felt like a master class for anyone studying theatrical lighting or set design. The lighting was incredible.  The lighting designer pulled from every lighting trick that could be used to create this strange futuristic world. Backlights, scones, illuminating panels, LED lights (look, I don’t know all the names of the types of lights, but it was effective). Typically lighting is something that goes unnoticed unless it is either very good or very bad – the lighting by Ryan McDonald falls into the former category.

The chromatic, I want to say art deco set was simple but effective. Instead of many set pieces, Set Designer Nick Fry focused on rich details. And the set colours complimented the black and gold costuming by Ella Butler. Each member of the ensemble had a unique but fascinating costume (particularly in Act II), reminiscent of the denizens of the Capitol in Hunger Games.


Kudos to Fry, Butler, and McDonald, and the rest of the creative team.

The Cast

The cast was extraordinary. At times, the production seemed to be a launch vehicle for the Shannen Alyce Quan fan club – and believe me, I’m signed up! 

Quan portrayed two different characters (Maria and Robot Maria) and excelled at both. She weaved through the set, belting and crooning where needed – she has an impressive range and a soothing tone (as highlighted in the song “Extraordinary”). Prior to this I’d only seen Quan as a swing in Six (I saw her stand in for Jane Seymour), so I knew she had a great voice, but the score for Metropolis needed someone who was capable of more variety than I’d previously seen, and Quan was infinitely up to the task.

Tom Dawson (Freder) has an astonishing lung capacity—he delivered a number of monologues with what I can only imagine was the longest breath ever held. Dawson’s speech and singing voice were both stylised as well to fit the piece, and he had a number of challenging vocal moments delivered with care and precision.

When Joshua Robson (Joh Frederson) first stalks onto the set, you get ‘Scar’ (from the Lion King) vibes. So often menacing characters aren’t portrayed convincingly, but Robson was in a league of his own. His tall, lean frame was often complimented by lighting cues which exacerbated his menace – it was quite effective. His deep bass gets a moment to shine during “Hella, Help Me”, and—excuse me, I need to add another song to my list of favourites above.

Tomas Parrish (Giorgi) also has a number of stellar moments, the highlight being their downward spiral in Yoshiwara – Parrish demonstrates the ecstasy and indulgence of Giorgi in a ‘can’t-take-your-eyes-off-them’ performance. I was also impressed with their physicality, as they needed to contort their body at one stage whilst standing serenely and this was very masterfully executed.

Thomas Campbell (Rotwang) had some lovely moments, particularly in his interactions with Robot Maria. He made the most of the challenging score and delivered some powerful moments.

I won’t spoil the surprise, but there’s a moment with the cabaret singers, including Dominic Lui performing operatically (did I mention the cast is versatile and insanely talented?), accompanied by the composer Zara Stanton on accordion. 

I’ve raved about Jim Williams (Grot) earlier.  And truly, everyone in the ensemble had their little standout moments.  It is obvious that the cast have built up significant trust and synergy to be able to so precisely execute the myriad little moments that make up Metropolis.

What Didn’t Work (for me)

The source material is not something in familiar with (I did not read the novel, and only skimmed parts of the film which is available on YouTube).  This made following the narrative challenging at times. 

At the intermission, it felt like they made the audience fully vacate the theatre. This didn’t seem necessary to me, as I didn’t observe any major set changes. I’d have been happier to do so if there was a greater pay off.

To borrow from some of the robot imagery of the show, it felt like a prototype, which has room for improvement and refinement. This is to be expected for new work, and especially one with such challenging source material. I have no doubt Metropolis will spark interest in future stagings, and I can’t wait to see how it further evolves over time.


I strongly recommend Metropolis if you don’t mind something a bit more avant garde and unlike your typical musical. Yes, I expect it will be produced again – it would be a tragedy if the gorgeous music was not heard again – but I wouldn’t for a second wait to book tickets if you haven’t already.

Julia

Sydney Theatre Company

21 April 2023
4 out of 5 fans

Julia is a new work commissioned by Sydney Theatre Company, and tells a fictionalised her-story of Julia Gillard, Australia’s first and only female PM (2010-2013), who (despite a number of accomplishments) is most widely known for her “misogyny” speech in Parliament. The speech serves as an anchor for the storytelling, bookending the production and building up to an astonishingly precise recreation word for word.

Julia was masterfully played by an ageless Justine Clark, who oscillates between Julia and a narrator type role. Clark delivers a lethal performance, ranging from PM Gillard’s youth to her time in parliament. She fuels this fictionalised Gillard with confidence and ambition, as well as warmth and charm. Clark perfectly recalls PM Gillard’s signature accent and (despite not being made up to look like Julia) stirs up in our memory some of the former Prime Minister’s public remarks.

Justine Clark is a hugely talented actress, but she is also gifted a marvellous text by playwright Joanna Murray-Smith. Murray-Smith’s Julia is unapologetic, and direct (just like the former Prime Minister herself).

I can’t help but draw comparisons to STC’s “RBG: Of Many, One”, where Heather Mitchell portrayed another revered feminist hero, Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Julia is a powerful and moving production, still highly relevant today in condemning the ‘otherness’ of female world leaders, and the double standards of scrutiny they must face. We do not have to look much further than Jacinda Arden, or recent leaders in Australia, to see that.

A Streetcar Named Desire

Genesian Theatre

By Tennessee Williams

Directed by Tom Massey and Meg Girdler
3.5 out of 5 fans

Photograph courtesy of Luke Holland

Streetcar is a really challenging piece of theatre. Thematically, it includes rape, alcoholism, domestic violence. There’s so much packed in and it’s really, really dense. I’ve learned to never expect much from an amateur production (unfortunately, that has been my experience).  However, I think the cast and team at Genesian did a fantastic job, and really rose to the challenge given the difficulty of the piece.

A Streetcar Named Desire, made famous (in my opinion) by the film with Marlon Brando, follows Blanche DuBois as she somewhat unexpectedly arrives at her sister Stella’s home in New Orleans under certain mysterious circumstances. She’s obviously not quite well. What follows is a bit of an exploration of her relationship, not just with Stella, but also with Stella’s husband, Stanley, and some of the other folks that she meets in New Orleans.  Like Tennessee Williams’ other works, I find the tension comes from the arrival of family, and reaching a boiling point, rather than accelerating toward a particular event. And it is this building of tension and a slow unveiling of Blanche’s recent and distant past that make this a delicious piece of drama.

 

The Cast

First and foremost, I have to call out Stella (Ali Bendall) for her fantastic portrayal. While the show revolves around Blanche (Georgia Britt, whom I’ll come to in a moment), Stella has to do much of the heavy lifting. She acts as a stable anchor to Blanche’s insanity and Stanley’s anger, and has the unenviable task of humanising these two tempestuous humans. Bendall was grounding and firm, whilst also revealing a vulnerable and raw side to Stella. I was really, really impressed with this portrayal. 

 

I was equally as impressed by Stanley (Riley McNamara). It’s not an easy role, particularly because many of us will refer back to Marlon Brando’s performance and cast (unfair) comparisons. The proof that I was so thoroughly convinced by his Stanley is that, when the cast came out for their curtain call, McNamara was all smiles, and I completely forgot he was an actor playing a role. He had me fully convinced that he was Stanley. For such a complex character, that’s probably not what anyone wants to hear, but kudos to Tom Massey and Meg Girdler for their casting (really, across the board).

 

On to Blanche (Britt). Blanche Dubois is probably one of the hardest roles in theatre. She is literally a psychological case study, with layers of trauma, dysfunction and delusion. This is a very challenging role, and I think Britt did an admirable job portraying Blanche. Again, the role was famously portrayed by Vivian Leigh, and is considered to be one of the most brilliant performances of all time, so it is hard not to compare (not that its fair). Britt’s Blanche had more denial than delusion, for me; more anxious than unhinged. It was still a masterful performance, it still worked. It just goes to show that this is an incredibly difficult and nuanced roles in theatre. I think Britt is talented, and look forward to seeing what she does next – she obviously does not shy away from a challenge!

 

The supporting cast was excellent as well, including Mitch (Matthew Doherty), who actually portrayed quite a similar character in Genesian’s Love from a Stranger! Poor Mitch. Doherty made it easy to root for him. And I’ll also call out Eunice Hubbel (Rosie Daly) who brought some of the few lighthearted moments to the show.

 

I thought that it was a fabulous cast. The play is long. It is a long play, but it didn’t feel long. It actually did feel like the action kept moving along, which is challenging in a play like this because it can feel long. You have to be in the mood to see some serious drama. The topics are serious. This is not a fun play. There’s some moments that you’ll chuckle, some lighter moments, but the topic is heavy, so you need to be kind of like ready for that.

 

The Production

That’s one of the things I really admire about Genesian is that you kind of know what you’re getting. They do their thing: classical texts that we’re all familiar with. And there is definitely a desire for something like this in Sydney.

I think the only criticism I’d have is possibly unfair, given limitations on budget and space. I find that while the actors did an extraordinary job in building up this constant tension, the lighting perhaps could have helped a bit more to reinforce the feeling of claustrophobia. If I think back to the film, there are many close, tight shots, which really builds on Blanche’s frantic unravelling. I’d have liked to have seen more tight spots on the kitchen table during some of Blanche and Stella’s scenes – to my recollection, the stage was fully lit most of the time. Again, this could just be a limitation of the space, (which is a great incentive to get behind Genesian’s fundraising for a new space!).

 

Let’s Be Honest

This is a long play. Nearly three hours of running time. Kudos to the cast, because it never ‘felt’ long. However, the combination of it being later in the evening, the warmth and coziness of the Genesian’s space, and the slow burn of tension from the script mayhaps have made my eyes close occasionally*.

This is not at all a reflection of the cast (who maintained a sizzling energy and pace throughout) nor the production! But, I also think it is natural after a long week. I say this because this was my experience watching Streetcar, and I want to give an honest expectation of what your experience might be.

Tennessee Williams’ works are built off of a simmering tension. The subject matter is dark. This may not be for everyone, but I think if you ARE up for an intense drama, a fan of the film, or just curious about a classic that isn’t mounted frequently, I’d encourage you to check this production out.

(*I promise, schedule permitting, to go to a matinee next time!)

Into the Woods

Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim

Book by James Lapine

Directed by Eamon Flack

Orchestrations & Musical Supervision by Guy Simposn

Belvoir
14 April, 2023

5 out of 5 Fans (Though, sadly, fully sold out through the rest of its run)

Seating at Belvoir

I’m a big fan of getting the best seat to enjoy the show, so my quick tip for Belvoir. We were sitting on the right-hand side and I was sitting on the interior aisle.Great seats at Belvoir definitely sitting on the aisle is always ideal because the sight line are great from wherever you’re sitting generally. But with the seating, they aren’t defined seats. So, it’s better to kind of sit down the aisle because it’s just a bit easier to get in and out and might be a little bit more comfortable. That’s what I’ve found anyway – interested to hear what others think?

 

The Plot

Into The Woods is essentially an amalgamation of different fairy tales. You have Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood. The musical takes all of these parables, where you generally learn some kind of an ethical lesson and it mashes them together. By doing so, the musical highlights both the simplicity of these moral lessons, but also how they falter when it comes to applying them to real life, which is vastly more complex.
 

Act One is all about getting to a happily ever after. Act Two is what happens after happily ever after: Humanity is never satisfied, and craves for ‘more’. Our actions have consequences. An entire song is devoted to a lack of accountability and responsibility. The musical is a wonderful study in what it means to live in a society, where you may have to sacrifice things for the good of the many as opposed to the good of the one.

The Production

I really did not know what to expect with this production of Into The Woods. I’ve only ever seen it staged on really large stages with lots of props and set pieces.  So, I was interested to see how it was going to work in the Belvoir space, which, if you aren’t familiar, is a sort of half blackbox, half arena. The word I’m going to keep using is surprising. Surprising & Delightful.

 

I knew the show was going to be a high quality because Belvoir always produces awesome stuff, but with this production they just kept surprising us. Which isn’t easy to do for a musical as well known as Into the Woods. It was delightful the various ways that they brought this show to life. 

Some spoilers will follow. So, if you do not want to be spoiled, go see the show and then come back later!

 

The Cast

Gosh! Where to start? I’ll start with the Witch (Tamsin Carroll), and all I can say is, “Meryl who?”. It was a unique portrayal of the witch, but at no point did it feel like it didn’t belong. The actress employed some stunning and hilarious accent work, a sort of Germanic/Scandanavian confluence that was hysterical. This felt appropriate, and it harkened back to the origin of these fairy tales, from Brother’s Grimm, Hans Christian Anderson, etc. About halfway through, the With undergoes a transformation of sorts, and whew! Carroll took the transformation into the sultry flapper was visually arresting. Mad props to the costume team (led by Micka Agosta), as all of the costumes were stunning.

 

Side note, I was delighted to see that Tamsin Carroll was actually a familiar face. I have watched Everybody’s Talking About Jamie from the West End (original cast) a few dozen times on YouTube, and seeing Carroll in the digital programme, I instantly knew it was her. What a special surprise!

 

Next, the ubiqitous Marty Alix. I think this is the forth production I’ve seen them in (Spamalot, Hamilton, Bring It On), and I’m always impressed at their range. I felt like Alix’s Jack was dumber than I’ve seen before, but that’s the fun thing about this character. Despite Jack’s daftness, Alix played the innocence in the character adorably. And Giants In The Sky is a personal favourite of mine, and I absolutely loved Alix’s rendition of that.

 

The Baker’s Wife (Esther Hannaford) was phenomenal. The role is hugely important and visible and gets some of the most beautiful songs in the show. But what I wasn’t expecting was the comedy! Hannaford’s Baker’s Wife was intelligent and hilarious. She stood out to me as well.

Hannaford has excellent chemistry with the Baker, played by Justin Smith. Considering I last saw Justin Smith in Dubbo Championsip Wrestling, in a singlet, this was (again) surprising and delightful! Justin brought “dad” vibes to the Baker – responsible, considerate, and with great comic timing!

Another stand out in this cast for me was The Wolf, played by Tim Draxl’s abs–when you see the show, tell me if you can look away from his perfectly displayed torso, accentuated by the best interpretation of Wolf costuming I’ve ever seen. I

actually did not even realise that was Tim Draxl at first.

The production didn’t go too literal with “Wolf” and instead leaned into the danger and sexuality of the role in the costuming. This was the best Wolf portrayal I’ve seen, between Draxl’s delivery, the costume and the staging. Draxl, like many others, played dual roles, and he was also a delight as Cinderella’s Prince, but man, the Wolf made far more of an impression!

 

Rapunzel’s Prince (Andrew Coshan) was also double cast with Lucinda, Cinderella’s Stepsister, and played both roles incredibly well. Coshan played off of Florinda (Stefanie Caccamo) brilliantly. Coshan and Draxl also had wonderful chemistry as the agonised Princes. The hot pink bustier underneath the Coshan’s jacket as the Prince was an inspired decision.

Caccamo had a few great moments as well, as the slightly digested Granny. Rapunzel imitating the Witch’s accent was hilarious, and Caccamo nailed Tamsin Carroll’s comical inflections.

 
I was most impressed with the way the double cast roles/actors swapped between roles instantly in during the ‘First Midnight’, ‘Second Midnight’ and ‘Into the Woods’ numbers.

And a special shout out to the spry Peter Carroll, a brilliant narrator and thrower of confetti – an important convention suggesting a character has vanished. The role was quite ‘meta’ and self aware, and while it is written that way, Carroll leaned into these bits to uproarious effect.

 

The cast was superb from start to end. Cinderella (Shubshri Kandiah) sang beautifully, though I feel she had less to do than some of the other leading roles. Little Red Riding Hood (Mo Lovegrove) was far more vicious in this production, which I found hilarious. And if Jack’s Mother (Lena Cruz) looks familiar, when she’s not basking in the wealth of stolen giant gold, she was also recently featured on Wellmania (as Lorraine’s coworker, Mary).

Cinderella’s stepmother (Anne Maree McDonald) was also playing one of the pianos which sat centre stage for the full show. Seeing her slide in and out of her roles was magic, particularly the contrast from the ambitious and sly stepmother to a silently observing musician (when she wasn’t playing).

 

 

Closing

I’ve touched on maybe 30% of the production. Hopefully you can see what I meant when I referred to the show as surprising & delightful. And trust me, there are so many more surprises in store – it is truly something to behold. The cast are beyond talented and superbly capable, and the staging in a space like Belvoir felt both intimate and dangerous.

The only criticism I have is I wish it was running longer <3

Rocky Horror Picture Show

Theatre Royal

March 31, 2023
4 out of 5 fans

The 50th anniversary production Theatre Royal, Sydney


The Plot

It’s hard to describe the plot. It’s based off of a film, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which back in the US people would and probably here as well, people would watch it in the cinema at midnight and they would actually kind of act it out on stage; it was very much a cult classic phenomenon. RHPS references lots of Sci-Fi and B movies from 70’s and such. And it’s just a hoot (one of the standout songs is called Sweet Transvestite, from Transexual, Transylvania, which I think sums up the irreverence of the loosely coherent plot.


The Cast

This was not the Rocky Horror Show; this was the Riff-Raff and the Magenta show. Riff-Raff (Henry Rollo) was absolutely brilliant. The energy he infused into the role, and his powerful voice made him a delight to watch. I’ve seen Rollo in ensemble pieces before; I imagine many more lead roles in his future.

 

Stellar Perry first came out as the Usherette, before resuming her role as Magenta . She made my toes curl, her gritty voice perfectly suited both the time period and the character. Riff Raff and Magenta were just so fun, and flirty. In the original movie, Riff-Raff and Magenta were eccentric, but this production really leaned into the “sexy” aspect of RHPS. It was so fun!

Also of note: Brad (Ethan Jones) and Janet (Deirdre Khoo) were insanely talented. Brad’s physicality, the way that he moved was amazing. He moved fluidly but robotically through Damnit, Janet and the Time Warp, and was a riot through. Janet had the voice of an angel. Both were so game, they really understood the assignment.

 

As this was the anniversary edition, there were a few high profile casting choices, including Jason Donovan as Frank’n’Furter, and I think he did a good job. Tim Curry originated the role in the film, and I think so many of us have him in mind, but Donovan was still enjoyable.

 

This production also had Myf Warhurst as the narrator. I really appreciated how she was able to roll with the audience interactions – she’s such a seasoned vet, it was so obviously in her wheel house. Absolutely contributed to the fun of the night, and really made it feel like anything could happen!

And anything COULD – we were all dancing out of our seats by the end! If you’re a fan of the film, go see it, you’ll have a blast. If you don’t know the film, but you’re kind of up for a journey – go, I think you’ll enjoy it. Don’t question the plot too much – just go along for the ride.


Unfortunately, the production has left Sydney, but is (at the time of this post) playing in Melbourne and travelling around the country.