Saturday, September 9, 2023

Recent shows, reviewed by Alanna Maclean



Michael J. Smith and Justice Noah Malfitano, the ‘Venticelli,’ and Jim Adamik as Salieri. Photo Eve Murray

Amadeus by Peter Shaffer. Directed by Cate Clelland. Canberra Repertory. Canberra REP Theatre. Closed August 12.

A long but telling production of Peter Shaffer’s speculative version of the relationship between Mozart and Salieri. Jim Adamik is a wonderfully brooding and truculent Salieri, sustaining the man’s rage at God for letting him down in his quest for musical greatness. Jack Shanahan is scatty and scatological as Mozart, very touching in his later scenes. Sienna Curnow is a standout as Mozart’s practical but lower-class wife.

Among the impressively elegant and stolid upper classes there’s the expertly elegant team of Tony Falla, Ian Russell and David H Bennett headed by Neil McLeod as the enjoyably vague but somewhat ruthless Emperor of Austria. Justice-Noah Malfitano and Michael J Smith make bubbling commentators as the two Venticelli.

It was not a short evening but it’s always good to see Amadeus done with, as here, a bit of elegance. 


Hay Fever by Noel Coward. Directed by Joel Horwood. ACTHub August 2-12.

THE ACT Hub is making a bit of a habit of enjoyable cross gender casting. Noel Coward’s 1925 Hay Fever is awash with between the wars wit and frivolity as the Bliss family absentmindedly have a weekend house party which seems to entail largely ignoring the bemused guests they have invited, and engaging in witty banter. Andrea Close headed the cast magnificently as matriarch and actress Judith Bliss whose every word seems to come from a play she’d done…and Alice Ferguson did a sharp scene stealing act as Clara, the grumpy outspoken ‘help’. Boy, Noel Coward could write comedy. And the Hub can play it.


On the Beach by Nevil Shute. Adapted for the stage by Tommy Murphy. Directed by Kip Williams. Roslyn Packer Theatre, Sydney. Closed  August 12.

TOMMY Murphy's simple and haunting adaptation of Nevil Shute's On the Beach makes tough and moving viewing. 1963 in this world sees the northern hemisphere destroyed by nuclear war and the southern hemisphere awaiting the spreading radioactivity. Suicide pills are being issued. An American sub is beached in Melbourne until a strange tapped out message is heard and the crew, hearing it, head out north to investigate.

Those of a particular generation will know the original novel and the post war nuclear tensions. Ours included the tabloids' maps of Sydney... with the circles of destruction spreading out from the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Since we were sitting in the school grounds facing the toll gates a very short walk away this was hardly reassuring. Late 50s, early 60s...

Shute's story goes way beyond this. Should Moira Davison (Contessa Treffone) and submarine captain Dwight Towers (Tai Hara) deepen their relationship while Dwight is still loyal to the wife and children almost certainly lost to warfare in the northern hemisphere? When should the government issued suicide pills be used? Mary (Michelle Lim Davidson) and Peter (Ben O'Toole) Holmes have an infant daughter. What are their choices? 

What are anybody's? 

A spare sometimes stark set (a huge revolve, a very long dark bench that can be a table, a house, a submarine, huge white scrims) underpins a sobering narrative of dying and dead hopes. Quiet and restrained performances reinforce the hopelessness of the situation. The planet seems left to a ghost, and a huge tree, planted in some kind of hope by Mary and Peter. 

It's a wakeup call...


Jeanette Cronin, as Mary, and Ben Goss as Tim

Colleen McCullough’s Tim.
Adapted for the stage by Tim McGarry. Directed by Darren Yap. The Q, Queanbeyan. Closed August 26.

TIM is a delightful and perceptive take on Colleen McCullough’s 1974 novel of the same name and it could have done with a much longer season at The Q. 

With deeply understanding performances from Jeanette Cronin as the no nonsense Mary and Ben Goss as Tim, it’s the story of surprising love between an older woman and a young man with a disability. Valerie Bader is warmly believable as Tim’s Mum Joy and particularly sharp as Mary’s plain talking friend Emily. Ashshey Caplash plays a variety of roles very well, from Tim’s insensitive workmate to the much more understanding Raj. Julia Robertson captures Tim’s antagonistic sister Dee and the outcome of the story is so much the better for her unresolved behaviour toward Mary.

And there’s a powerful standout performance from Andrew McFarlane’s as Tim’s dad Ron. 

And what a set (designer James Browne) , showing what can be done with a cunning revolve or two to differentiate scenes. 

A shame it came through and went before it could grow an audience.


Miss Peony by Michelle Law. Directed by Courtney Stewart. The Playhouse. Closed August 26.

A cheerful intergenerational Chinese tale of a beauty pageant and the clashing life wishes of a young woman and an aspirational ghost granny with long web-like hair. Funny, audience happily grappling with multiple subtitles and an insightful insight into the Chinese multigenerational experience in Australia. 


Ben Mingay and Antoinette Halloran. Photo Daniel Boud

Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber of Fleet Street
. Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Book by Hugh Wheeler. Conductor Simon Holt. Directed by Stuart Maunder. Sydney Opera House. A Victorian Opera and New Zealand Opera Production. Closed August 27.

HAVING been lucky enough to see the first London production in 1980, (where the ushers were grumbling because it wasn’t their usual kind of happy musical show), I’ve always gravitated to revivals of this grand guignol masterpiece. Sometimes it’s treated like a musical. Sometimes, it sounds more like an opera. 

This production tends to the operatic and excels at some good reinterpretations.

I remember Dennis Quilley and Sheila Hancock in the London production of 1980 being rather grey and faded and a tad middle aged in their interpretations (although not in sinister energy). Ben Mingay’s Sweeney and Angela O’Halloran’s Mrs Lovett are younger and riper and much less away with the pixies. It’s a different kind of power and these two are powerfully comfortable in the roles. 

Two other standouts in the cast are Kanen Breen’s lean and lascivious Beadle (no plump Harry Secombe style Beadle going for the laughs here) and Margaret Trubiano as the Beggar woman starkly playing out to the audience. 

The Drama Theatre at the Sydney Opera House does not seem to have a proscenium arch high enough for the towering dark brick set and the small orchestra is hidden out the back when a full orchestra pit is really needed with a steam whistle that screams the audience out of its seat. But the singing and playing are rich and the acting is as dramatic as you might wish. 


Left Karen Vickery as Hazel with Lainie Hart as Rose and Michael Sparks as Colin

The Children
by Lucy Kirkwood. Directed by Tony Knight Cahika Theatre. ACT Hub, Kingston. Closed September 9. 

MOVING, funny and well-reasoned post nuclear disaster piece. As usual, imaginative use made of the Hub’s capacity for flexible seating and setting. 

Nothing new about the subject matter - the varying perils of nuclear have been foreshadowed in Dr Strangelove, On the Beach, Threads, When the Wind Blows, even a brief dealing with radiation sickness in the very first Dalek episodes of Dr Who. Those of us of a certain age have seen it all before as a trope. Trying to continue life as if nothing has happened. Sometimes it’s nuclear war, sometimes, as here , it’s a nuclear accident. 

Here it’s about a nuclear power station gone wrong. Pared down to three characters, the strength of the script is in the interrelationships between an older couple and a not so young woman and the fact that they all worked at the power station. Good dialogue is given splendid acting from Karen Vickery, Michael and Lani Hart. Funny, in a bleak kind way, the interrelationships and the tensions are the thing. The three nuclear scientists are faced with a moral decision. - they can deal with the crisis but there will be a cost. And what about the children?