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BEYOND DESIRE

BEYOND DESIRE

By Diana Simmonds

BEYOND DESIRE, Neil Rutherford Productions in association with the Hayes Theatre Co at the Hayes Theatre, 26 November-14 December 2014. Photography by Oliver Toth, above - Nancye Hayes and Chloe Dallimore; right Phillip Lowe and Blake Bowden.

 

Beyond Desire, a “modern Edwardian musical”, is a mash-up of Hamlet, EM Forster’s Maurice and the TV shows, Upstairs Downstairs and Downton Abbey. But it’s so lumpen and inauthentic it beggars belief that co-creators Neil Rutherford (book and lyrics) and Kieran Drury (music) have “presented two private readings of successive drafts (at the London Coliseum with the English National Opera in 2005 and at the Sydney Opera House in 2012) and one workshop, all of which provided invaluable reworking notes and feedback from the invited audience”. It can only be supposed that the audiences were hand picked for their tin ears and myopic vision and unfamiliarity with either of the TV series or the Edwardian era itself. 

 

But first, the good things…

 

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PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE

PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE

By Diana Simmonds

PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE, Melbourne Theatre Company at Southbank Theatre, The Sumner, Melbourne Theatre Company, 8 November-23 December 2014. Photography by Jeff Busby: Bernadette Robinson.

 

After the runaway success of their first collaboration, the delightful Songs For Nobodies, it was surely too much to ask that they might do something else, but they have. The playwright and the performer: symbiosis defined. Joanna Murray-Smith and Bernadette Robinson.

 

In dreaming up Miss Harper Clare Clements from Thunderbolt, Georgia, Murray-Smith hands Robinson a fiction so plausible that two members of the audience were heard, on their way out of the theatre, arguing about whether or not there is a biography or autobiography of the White House social secretary that one might purchase and so discover more about her…

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LA CAGE AUX FOLLES

LA CAGE AUX FOLLES

By Diana Simmonds

LA CAGE AUX FOLLES, Playhouse Theatre, Victorian Arts Centre, MELBOURNE, 21 November-7 December 2014. Photo: Todd McKenney and Simon Burke.

 

For a visitor from Sydney there is more to this joyous production than the show itself because it’s a creation of that unique Melbourne institution, The Production Company (TPC). This is enough to make the deprived weep: that Emerald City cannot support such an outfit (and doesn’t have the phenomenon known as Jeanne Pratt AC to dream it up, support it and then stay the course with it) and apparently can’t even sustain occasional visits from the company after the failed 2002 experiment with Hair!

 

It has meant missing out on the company’s three – occasionally four – shows a year including the multi-award winning Chess, Sugar and (biggest miss of all) Grey Gardens and a Dirty Rotten Scoundrels that, because of the now well-proven TPC business model, didn’t send its backers stone motherless broke…

 

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I'LL EAT YOU LAST

I'LL EAT YOU LAST

By Diana Simmonds

I’LL EAT YOU LAST, Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre, MELBOURNE, 31 October- 20 December 2014. Photography by Jeff Busby: Miriam Margolyes and joint.

 

It’s likely that unless they’re Hollywood tragics most members of the audience will have not a clue who Sue Mengers was and are in the theatre to see the one and only Miriam Margolyes. And sure, they get Margolyes – 90-spellbinding-minutes’-worth – but as she breathes life into one of the more fascinating figures of mid-20th century Hollywood, a rarely seen other side to Margolyes is also revealed. In I’ll Eat You Last, with director Dean Bryant and voice and dialect coach Leith McPherson, she develops and sustains a single character, in depth and with great conviction throughout. It’s what’s known as a tour de force performance – and an uncommonly subtle and moving one too.

 

Written by John Logan from, among other sources, an unpublished transcript of a lengthy interview for Vanity Fair, the playwright has Mengers telling her own story to a bunch of nobodies (us) while she lounges on a couch in her Beverly Hills mansion, waiting for a bunch of twinklies (stars) to arrive for dinner.

 

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CYRANO DE BERGERAC

CYRANO DE BERGERAC

By Diana Simmonds

CYRANO DE BERGERAC, Sydney Theatre Company at the Sydney Theatre; 11 November-20 December 2014. Photography by Brett Boardman: above - Yalin Ozucelik and Richard Roxburgh; right: Julia Zamiro and Eryn Jean Norvill.

 

Richard Roxburgh is a fine actor and over the years has proved it time and again, on stage and on screen, in comedy and drama. Yet to play the title role in Edmund Rostand’s classic of 1897 (set in 1640) requires something more: charm, charisma and – as Cyrano so famously says of himself – panache. Happily, Roxburgh has it all and more: he exudes the humility and decency that balance out the rest. It can’t be faked and is priceless when bringing to life the unique character of Cyrano.

 

This production then, directed and adapted by Andrew Upton from Marion Potts’ translation, has a solid gold heart and an excellent cast. Most notable is Josh McConville as the too funny – and therefore insufficiently nasty – pastel-clad mincer de Guiche. He’s a scene-stealer and who can blame him! De Guiche, with the assistance of his equally foppish friend Valvert (Dale March) is not only determined to kill the irritatingly brilliant Cyrano but also to marry the divine Roxane (a credibly exquisite Eryn Jean Norvill). Another in their firing line is Bruce Spence as the shambolic poet-drunk Ligniere. His loyal friendship with Cyrano and intemperate utterances mean disaster for both… 

 

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A CHRISTMAS CAROL

A CHRISTMAS CAROL

By Diana Simmonds

A CHRISTMAS CAROL, Upstairs Belvoir, 12 November-24 December 2014. Photography by Brett Boardman: above - Ivan Donato, Ursula Yovich, Peter Carroll, Miranda Tapsell, Robert Menzies. Right: Robert Menzies and Kate Box.

 

In publishing A Christmas Carol in 1843, the 30-year-old Charles Dickens set out to jog the consciences, tug at the hard hearts and open the plump purses of Victorian middle England and its government. These were people who liked to justify their attitude towards the less fortunate by (mis)quoting Matthew 26:11 – “For ye have the poor always with you…” But then choosing to ignore Deuteronomy 15:11 – “For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy in the land.”

 

It is more than unfortunate that we are yet again in a plus ça change situation: now we have a prime minister who not only quotes Matthew without embarrassment but can also say, “We just can’t stop people from being homeless if that’s their choice.” And he proudly leads a government that is determined to turn its back on the neediest and most vulnerable of our time – refugees. 

 

So: it’s definitely time to revisit A Christmas Carol...

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