THE SHIFT – Underbelly – 3K

By Peter Maddern

The words ‘physical theatre’ are now used in polite and knowledgeable circles to describe what has hitherto been called circus (and it is to be noted the Underbelly people defer to the use of Circus Hub to describe their Meadows precinct.)

But if ever the term is apt, it is with this four-person team (three guys, one girl) of the Barely Methodical Troupe who grace the square at the centre of Beauty with an array of grace, grunt, some hairy gyrations and the occasional moments of wit. The show’s link, which is somewhat weak (though not perhaps as much as the even more occasional background music), is blue rubber bands.

It’s all engaging and captivating but until the, at times, sublime use of a large hoop that the show finishes with it can be considered a bit ‘been there done that’. Nonetheless, families and adults alone were at the finish fulsome in their praise of the quartet and none can claim that this is the stuff one could just take up as a new hobby at home.

Kryztoff Rating 3K

THE MARILYN CONSPIRACY – Assembly – 4.5K

By Peter Maddern

The Kennedy clan left a trail of hope and destruction behind them much of it shrouded in myth, rumour and innuendo. The death of Marilyn Monroe is no small case in point and this new work written by Vicki McKellar and Guy Masterson (who also directs) takes no prisoners and if one is to believe its version of events the truth is very unpleasant indeed.

Monroe dies around 11.30 one evening but it is five hours before the group of seven people who are there in her house soon after report it to the Coroner and the police. What did these people do or discuss during that time while the starlet, ‘the inspiration and hopes to those in foxholes’ (as the radio voiceover at the start describes her) lay dead, turning blue in the adjoining room?

Across the 70 minutes of this slick production, actor Peter Lawford (Oliver Farnworth) clumsily at times, skillfully at others guides a heated conversation all the while challenged by Monroe’s good friend and publicist Pat (Susie Amy). Caught in the crossfire are (inter alia) two doctors, Lawlor’s wife (Bobby Kennedy’s sister) and the housemaid who seems to know more than might be convenient.

The writing is terrific; details teased out delicately, conflicts of interest smoothed over, self-interests hidden behind ‘the good of the country.’ Farnworth as Lawlor is equally good as is Amy as the main combatants and Gavin Robertson is also great as Monroe’s psychiatrist. There is a tendency for too much shouting, especially from Amy’s character – more intellectual sparring and mind games between her and others may work just as well – and it is not all that clear exactly what her relationship is to Marilyn and all these people.

But all in all this production has a great future, better certainly than the starlet did and the clan that took her down.

Kryztoff Rating   4.5K

COMIC’S PORTRAIT OF A SERIOUS ARTIST – Ed Book Fest Spiegeltent – 4.5K

By Peter Maddern

Edinburgh seems to wish to pack as many festivals as it can into August; maybe the persistently unflattering weather makes organisers wonder about what might happen in a later month?

The Edinburgh Book Festival on in Charlotte Square reached out into inter-disciplinary fields Sunday evening when music, drawing and chat came together in a fascinating 90 minutes.

Reinhard Kleist is a German author and illustrator and his latest graphic novel is about Nick Cave of The Bad Seeds variety. This follows other works about such diverse characters as Johnny Cash and Fidel Castro.

Under careful questioning, the audience heard of his inspirations and methods of practice and then Kleist played backing visuals to four Cave song sets by both the Zephyr Quartet and the Ukulele Death Squad (though they are nothing as terrifying as their name may suggest) including one with the delightful vocals of Carla Lippis.

This night brought together a number of persuasions including UNESCO designations for both Edinburgh (Literature) and Adelaide (Music), the latter the home town for the Quartet and the Death Squad.

In all, a night to remember; a risky collaboration between so many diverse elements that came off brilliantly. Congrats to all involved.

Kryztoff Rating 4.5K

JEREMY NICHOLAS – After Dinner Stories – Gilded Balloon – 4K

By Peter Maddern

Jeremy Nicholas is the 11th most successful Jeremy in BBC history; it’s a claim to fame that is neither verified nor doubted. Nonetheless, it sets the scene for this engaging hour long chat from the voice of the FIFA Football game about his various triumphs, failures and frustrations, especially as colleagues who have sat with him in various sound proof booths across England have gone on to fame and fortunes that might have been his. To be clear the name-dropping is done with good humour with a bell signing off each mention.

Nicholas starts his tour of radio and sports venues with a detailed examination of the various accents that dot the English landscape and while, as an Australian, many of the places and people mentioned were not known, this hardly deprecated from the rich enjoyment to be gained from a master story teller relaxed in his role.

When stand up has often resorted to crudity and the crass, even the 11th most famous Jeremy can deliver a rousing hour of humour from which to further embark on your day at the Fringe.

Kryztoff Rating   4K

THE HOUSE – Assembly – 5K

By Peter Maddern

In the past 12 months this writer had seen his family home sold and then, holus bolus, demolished. “Have you seen what they have done to your home? Have you seen it?” has been a constant question as the carnage played itself out to which my response has only been – “the guy owns an abattoir – it comes with the territory.”

Brian Parks’s The House is all about this writ large, face to face. The Redmonds, Manny and her dentist husband have welcomed into their house the new owners, the Libbits, a young married professional couple looking to replicate the cycle of creating their own family in a house they are keen to make their own. When views differ about what the future holds for what is, after all, bricks and mortar, distain, anger and outright violence break out, all mixed with some Sam Peckinpah blood effects and all manner of mess that makes one wonders how they achieve the required 15 minute turnaround between shows.

The House is the most terrific fun, speaking to generational issues that are, as I mentioned, very real. All the cast sparkle in a production that is extraordinarily fast paced – right from kick off. It’s brilliant comedy and farce with a no holds barred approach to topics covered, including a refreshing use of material that Millennials may deem discomforting for this politically incorrect taint.

Don’t be deterred; it’s doubtful there is more captivating and riotous theatre anywhere this year. When such stuff is usually the province of the English, under director Margaret Perry’s direction, it can be safely announced the Yanks are great at this stuff too.

Kryztoff Rating 5K

FREE & PROUD – Kings Head Theatre – Assembly – 4K

By Peter Maddern

In this new play by Charles Gershman, his two late twenties characters are married together but otherwise peas from different pods. Hakeem is a Nigerian emigrant to the U.S., nerdish, career oriented and committed to his relationship. Jeremy is your typical right at home Californian jock, promiscuous and, as with most Millennials, looking for his next dopamine fix.

Director Peter Darney gets fine performances from both his players, perhaps underscored by the ostensible induced emotion brought forth by his Jeremy at the play’s conclusion who may otherwise have seemed to have been acting himself. (Apologies for not naming the actors as no such details seem to be accessible on line.)

The struggles of seemingly incompatible compatibles are perhaps well-trod LGBT territory but still capable here of generating debate about who might be to blame for the relationship unraveling. However, the circumstances under which this tale is shaped gives Free & Proud an edge and its concluding quandary is delicious, masterful even in its construction.

Kryztoff Rating 4K

GAMES By Henry Naylor – Gilded Balloon – 4.5K

By Peter Maddern

Henry Naylor has made quite a name for himself as the playwright for a series of works that resonate with contemporary issues – his Arabian Nightmares series will be long remembered.

In Games it is hoped that he is dealing with an issue that is behind us though certain aspects of current UK politics may suggest it is not. Helene Mayer (Avital Lvova) is the 1928 Olympic fencing champion, a single minded pursuit that calls upon the strongest of nerves as well as determined training and talent. By 1936, she seeks to win gold again but now having a Jewish father clouds the scene. Gretel Bergman (Tessie Orange-Turner) is much younger, a school girl when she first meets Mayer, but her prowess is in more team minded pursuits but her goal is the same. As a proud Jew, she too is caught up in the ghastly games played by the Nazis to identify, shame, exclude before the Berlin Games.

Naylor carefully plots our way through the two women’s similarities and differences both of their own perspectives and of the way they are treated. While the outcome for Bergman is clear cut, that for Mayer is much more equivocal and sure to generate as much debate as his other works have done.

In typical Naylor style as well, both actors produce powerful performances – in Lvova Mayer’s face of steel, in Orange-Turner a vivaciousness that is immediately both infectious and in stark contrast. The set is plain but immediately evocative.

It all amounts to great theatre and not to be missed by serious theatre-goers this Edinburgh Fringe.

Kryztoff Rating   4.5K

GOOD MANNERS GONE BAD – JAMES MCLEAN – GILDED BALLOON – ROSE THEATRE – 4K

IMG_3697By Peter Maddern

For his latest work, but on his first visit to Edinburgh, James McLean takes us back to that bane most of us faced – the job interview for the job we’d rather not to have.

In this, Peter Hart confronts Viktor Popov, ‘a legitimate businessman’ for a position in his new restaurant and night club. His good manners win him the job and an adventure that a less polite man might have escaped; the feckless Richard, the punchy patron and the proprietor’s daughter and secret.

Having seen Mclean’s work over a number of years in Adelaide, this is his most accomplished show to date. His characterisations are sharp, the wit prominent, and his singing of reconfigured nightclub staples a treat. The slow build up develops into a frightening farce but the polite boy holds his nerve and his life to tell the tale.

Kryztoff Rating 4K

THEATRE – Creditors – The Space – 4K

Peter Kowitz and Matt CrookBy Peter Maddern

For this production Duncan Graham has adapted the 19th century original of Swedish playwright August Strindberg. Typical of his works Creditors combines the then new style of naturalism with deep investigations of psychology, something the writer wastes no time introducing as the play opens with an older man, Gustav (Peter Kowitz) counselling the much younger Adolph (Matt Crook), the budding artist, for purposes the audience must await to discover.

From there the intensity of the exchanges ratchets up, first between those two, then between Adolph and his wife, the feisty Tekla (Caroline Craig) and finally Tekla and Gustav. It’s a style that needs pinpoint accurate delivery and all three cast members deliver on what must have seemed like, at times, a daunting commitment.

Many of the themes, especially those explored by the men, may seem confronting – more reasons why men are bad – and the self-determined Tekla, suited up in a fiery red dress and out to live her own life must have been even more so to Strindberg’s first audiences in and around 1890.

But Tekla proves to be a person of substance, not cowering to the attacks she must endure behind a wall of victimhood. She stands her ground and, by play’s end, proves her worth in the face of what proves to be inadequacy around her.

All three players do great work. Kowitz mixes a calculating nature in his torrent of hurt with aplomb. Craig is strong and forceful but not overbearing while Crook plays the emotionally immature with a welcome lightness and humour.

Adapting works to the modern day is fraught with danger; the impact of mobile phones and social media renders what was once impossible (and plausible) not so today. The references to Instagram and leaving their phones elsewhere don’t really add up but no harm is done by it all. Matt Crook’s get up perhaps not so; his hair particularly seems to parody his hipster world rather than represent it. Ailsa Paterson’s set of warm colours with the infinity pool beyond takes us to a resort even though exactly where is never discussed and doesn’t much matter.

This is solid and enjoyable theatre requiring of full attention if the parrying of intellectual barb and sword and the resulting expositions of strength and weakness that director David Mealor so admirably extracts from his players is to be fully appreciated.

Kryztoff Rating   4K

THEATRE – Brothers Wreck – Odeon – 4K

Nelson Baker and Dion Williams in Brothers WreckBy Peter Maddern

In her program note, writer and director Jada Alberts writes “..it may be second nature to think that tragedy won’t happen to you. But this is not something Indigenous Australians have the luxury to dream.” From there it doesn’t take long in her 2015 work Brothers Wreck for that very thing to happen.

This is a tale of unending torment for an underclass that seems to find taking a trick beyond them for often no fault of their own – self harm, sickness and accident all seem to conspire against life with stasis.

Twenty something Ruben (Dion Williams) is constantly under the pump and seemingly trapped in a defensive state of mind that defeats the purposes of those who seek to help him, his sister Adele (Leonie Whyman), his mate Jarrod (Nelson Baker) and Parole Officer David (Trevor Jamieson).  The set of grey replete with Chris Petridis’s diffused pale light along with its chain link screen doors seems often as much a prison as it does a home; the incessant whining of Kelly Ryall’s soundscape and the equally persistent rain adds to the sense of capture and pressure from which release is so hard.

Aunt Petra’s (Lisa Flanagan) arrival helps drive the narrative that in family lies the potential for what is required to survive all this.

This joint State Theatre and Malthouse production in the nicely revamped Odeon Theatre is unashamedly about and performed by indigenous members.   Though sometimes hard to decipher words, Williams is a force that sustains the plot. Lisa Flanagan lifts the whole production with her other-worldly wisdom.

While Albert’s note continues into polemic, her play keeps asking us – relatively wealthy, comfortable theatre goers – to consider how this world exists for people in a country as fortunate as ours. It’s a difficult tale well told.

Kryztoff Rating   4K