Tag Archives: New Theatre

Short and Sweet Cabaret

9 Jan

I realized sometime ago that Life was, in fact, not a cabaret.

At times, I’ve felt Life should lift its game, and would greatly benefit from adopting some of cabaret’s virtues – its sense of mischief, its playfulness, its exuberance.

And last night’s Short and Sweet Cabaret was overflowing with these very qualities.

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I don’t like competitions. Winning is for losers. But the competition that is Short and Sweet is easily ignored, overwhelmed by the vitality of the performances.

Festival director Kate Gaul has assembled a great night of entertainment. And Daryl Wallis as musical director, and spending much of the night on the keyboard, has created magic.

I’m not going to attempt to discuss all thirteen acts, but rather focus on several that especially spoke to me.

Oh, My Shattered Illusions, performed by Kelly Young, is delightfully naughty, and deals with copulation and its two most challenging consequences – STIs and children.

Cienda McNamara’s Hardly The Portrait of a Lady is cleverly written and beautifully sung. It’s a very funny tale of the character’s rivalry with Nicole Kidman, and an insight into the dangers of competition.

Harry + Liv, performed by Charlotte and Evan Kerr, is a perfect vehicle for the artists’ considerable talents, both vocally and on the piano. A simple but charming at home moment between brother and sister is brought alive by two wonderful voices.

Maryann Wright. Photo by Diana Popovska

Maryann Wright. Photo by Diana Popovska

Nuts, performed by Maryann Wright, is a playful presentation of some of history’s eccentrics, and Wright has a brilliant voice.

Another brilliant voice belongs to Josipa Draisma. Her Keep Moving was a marvelously presented collection of songs about the power of dreams.

Brendan Hay "Dance with DeVil"

Brendan Hay “Dance with DeVil”

Also in possession of an amazing voice is Brendan Hay. His Dance with DeVil was polished and witty, and performed with great stage presence.

Jade Yeong’s appropriation of some classic Australian anthems in her Wok Off to Where You Came From is both inspiring and subversive.

Similarly, Bali Padda’s Token Brown Guy raises vital questions about our society’s values. His Hindi rendition of a classic Aussie TV theme is riotous in all the right ways.

I usually make much of the fact that I don’t write ‘reviews’ but rather what I call ‘responses’. A night like this beats my best intentions because there is just so much – a deluge of surprises and spectacles, a torrent of wonders and revelations.

Like the annual flood of the old Nile, it overwhelms Life, and it feeds Life. Of course, it is Life. (Old Chum)

Veronica Kaye

Short and Sweet Cabaret Week 1

til Sat 11 Jan at New Theatre

The cabaret element of the Short and Sweet festival runs til Jan 19


Dying For It

26 Nov

To live, it is said, we must have a purpose. And so, it follows, we must die for one. Sort of.

In Dying For It, adapted by Moira Buffini from the original play by Nikolai Erdman,  Semyon is contemplating suicide. Virtually no-one tries to save him. Instead, they try to co-opt him into dying for their own chosen cause.  

In 1920’s Russia, the idea of living for a purpose was in the zeitgeist, and not just on a pop culture level, but as a government directive. You will live for the People’s State. It is this, I suspect, that drove Erdman to write the play. And then earned him time in Siberia.

Photo by Bob Seary

Photo by Bob Seary

It’s an interesting play to choose now. How many of us feel a pressure to live for a cause? Our sad experience, if anything, (and if I can borrow a phrase) is the unbearable lightness of being. The only serious attempt to suggest we live for a purpose comes from the infantile world of advertising. 

So why the popularity of the play? After all, Buffini is not the only modern writer to adapt it. Simon Stone was at it only a few years ago.

Well, it’s certainly funny. And director Peter Talmacs makes this clever farce come alive. Johann Walraven does a brilliant job as the bewildered Semyon, and the entire cast shine with the exuberance that makes this a truly fun night. (And Tom Bannerman’s set deserves a mention. Imposing and appropriately ramshackle, it evokes the claustrophobia of the human spirit oppressed.)

Perhaps the play’s attraction is the contemporary spectre of terrorism; the tragedy, and horror, of dying for a cause when it might have been better lived for.

But there’s also the end of the play.

Stone’s take, I recall, was rather different. Semyon was left in his coffin, inadvertently forced to play dead when he was not – a poignant symbol.

The conclusion of this version is even more powerful. A killer punch. Sure, it may be an ill-judged hope that any ideology could encapsulate the wildness of Life, but this final scene is a reminder that this failure does not give us leave to run from Life.

For we are not in it alone.

It is the true People’s State.

Veronica Kaye

Dying For It

adapted by Moira Buffini, from the original play by Nikolai Erdman

New Theatre til 21 Dec


Fully Committed

27 Sep

The customer is always right.

Are there five words that better encapsulate our absurdly mercantile and materialistic society?

Sam, played by Nick Curnow, is the one of the team who takes the reservations for a super trendy Upper Eastside restaurant. It’s the sort of place that’s booked out months in advance, or ‘fully committed’, as the celebrity chef insists. Sam struggles to deal with the demands of both employers and customers.


Fully Committed is a one man show designed to show off an actor’s virtuosity. And it does. Nick Curnow is superb, creating thirty eight characters in fifty minutes.

Sam is Curnow’s primary character, but he launches into the others with breathtaking energy. Curnow’s ability to delineate such an enormous cast of characters is awe inspiring. The laughs come thick and fast. His vocal work is nothing short of extraordinary.

The script, by American Becky Mode, is witty and wonderfully structured. Director Alexander Butt has facilitated a lively night of fun, and thought.

The customer is always right. The slogan is well known because employers ask their employees to abide by it simply because it encourages return business. But customers parrot it, as though it was a moral truth. ‘I am paying, so I must be right.’ But aren’t both parties entering into the transaction in good faith? You give me this, I’ll give you that. Why should one party be privileged?

There are few more injurious attitudes to a democratic society than this false sense of entitlement.

And one of the funniest and sharpest moments is when Sam’s agent (he is, of course, a struggling actor) tells him how he could do better at castings. He must develop an aura of self-entitlement. This is silver service satire.

Veronica Kaye


Fully Committed

New Theatre

Two shows remaining Fri 27 Sept and Sat 28th Sept


Skazka, Told by Night

24 Sep

And they were happy.

Appearing at the end of a tale this line seems simplistic.

Anywhere else it is ominous.

Happiness will be disrupted. The power of the folk tale, despite its exotic and anti-naturalistic setting, is its assertion that we want peace, but it shall be denied us.

This is their insight: not the denial, but the desire.


Told By Night is a series of adapted Eastern European folk tales. They are deeply moving tales of family and death.

Beautifully written by Jonathan Dunk, Finn Davis and Jem Rowe, their strength comes from their simplicity.

They are presented somewhere closer to a telling than a dramatization. Directed by Dunk, the performances are absolutely captivating, with both voice and movement seemingly balanced between improvisation and choreography.

This creates a spellbinding immediacy which enhances one of the most fascinating aspects of this piece. These tales were told to the audience, but also to (and with) those present on stage. We hear and see the tales. We hear and see the responses to them.

Stories don’t represent reality. (Especially not folk tales.) They are not truthful. They play us.

The wind chime doesn’t ask if the wind is true.

Veronica Kaye


Skazka, Told by Night

New Theatre

2 shows left Wed 25 Sept and Sat 28 Sept


Jane Austen is Dead

22 Sep

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a critic reviewing a play alluding to Jane Austen will assert their authority by appropriating an obvious famous quotation.

But I’m not a reviewer. I’m what I call a responder.

Any authority I have regarding Austen comes from a course I did at uni. For six months I surrendered myself to six great novels about love. Disappointing – the class consisted of ninety nine women and one gay male couple. It wasn’t only Austen’s prose that awakened my sense of irony.

jane media image SQ 350px

But Mel Dodge’s Jane Austen is Dead isn’t just for Austen aficionados and it certainly isn’t gender specific. An exploration of the modern dating and mating game, it’s terrific fun. Dodge’s performance is absolutely brilliant. She plays multiple characters, treating the audience to a heap of hilarious insights and a good sprinkling of poignant moments.

Dodge’s main character is Sophie, who is battling the influence of fiction in her life. Where can Mr Darcy be found?

We need stories. And we need to escape them.

They help us look to the stars. But they don’t get us there.

Or to offer another analogy: when the heart goes a hunting, we shouldn’t treat stories as maps. They don’t actually tell us what’s out there.

Perhaps stories are more like gun sights, helping us zero in on what we want. Violent imagery, I know, but they’re powerful, dangerous things.

Love stories, but never ever trust them.

Veronica Kaye


Jane Austen is Dead

New Theatre

One more show in Sydney – Mon 23 Sept


Top Girls

25 Jul

Gender issues are not what I usually write about. For obvious reasons.

But it’s not something I’ve had to skate around that often. Which is rather sad.

So it’s an absolute delight to see a cast solely of women and a play that puts issues that women face centre stage.

Both heartbreaking and hilarious, Alice Livingstone’s production of Caryl Churchill’s play is superb. The cast are brilliant.

Photo by Bob Seary

Photo by Bob Seary

Top Girls is a provocative, engaging and deeply annoying title. It encapsulates the thorny issue at the play’s heart, and the issue that makes this play of abiding relevance.

Every member of an oppressed group faces an extra challenge in addition to the many that make them a member of an oppressed group in the first place. That challenge is the responsibility they have to the other members of the group.  An unavoidable question must be faced: “If I personally can break out of the circumstances that previously held me back, am I obliged to help those I left behind?”

Am I an individual? Or am I a member of a group?

( Margaret Thatcher’s answer, it’s worth noting, was “There is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women.”)

For me, the most poignant moment in the play comes at the end of the second act. I don’t do spoilers, so go and see it.  Suffice to say, this moment encapsulates the very issue I’m discussing. It’s a line delivered by Julia Billington, whose entire performance is extraordinary. Billington plays Marlene, the top girl who exists in both the play’s present (Thatcher’s Britain), and in the play’s intriguing opening, a dinner party where the guests are a broad sample of women from the past. (The stories these women share around the table are enough to make you feel that the world really is a vale of tears. Or at least the world we’ve allowed to exist.)

But back to that moment.  Marlene’s line is about one of her relatives, poor simple Angie, played marvelously by Claudia Barrie. Marlene’s line is delivered with throw away perfection. For when our hearts have hardened we no longer have a use for them.

Sharply intelligent and deeply moving,  this play argues for softness but does it with an iron strength.

Veronica Kaye

Top Girls

New Theatre until 3rd August


The Ham Funeral

5 May

Several Australians have won the Nobel Prize, though Patrick White is our only recipient in the frivolous category of Literature.

Alfred Nobel reputedly instituted the prize to assuage the guilt complex he developed after inventing a type of explosive.

Ironically, this play is dynamite.

The Ham Funeral puts the fun back into funeral.

This is incredibly rich theatre. Enjoy the first viewing, and then come back for more.

Phillip Rouse’s director’s eye is magical. The cast is wonderful. Lucy Miller and Rob Baird give extraordinary performances, evoking an eternal battle.

That battle is the one between flesh and thought.

Photo by Bob Seary

Photo by Bob Seary

“Thinking never kept anyone alive,” I probably misquote from the play.

Of course, the issue is whether such a battle is real or not. Why do we forever contrast the mental and the physical? I suspect it’s a lazy, unnecessary division. (And I suspect it’s the soul who’s experienced only scant pleasure in the one who would assert there was no pleasure in the other.)

Perhaps the perceived battle is a result of this insight: pleasures of the flesh seem honest. They are honestly self-serving. Great sex is great sex is great sex is…..

Pleasures of the mind often pretend to be more noble. ‘This is the Truth’ we tell ourselves, and don’t stop to question whether such a ‘Truth’ might simply be one that serves our own interests.

And hence arises the healthy, and deeply stupid, distrust of thought.

Veronica Kaye

The Ham Funeral

at New Theatre til 25 May


The Pillowman

23 Mar

It’s funny what we’ll laugh at. Context has a lot to do with it. I usually don’t find torture and the murder of children especially amusing.

But in the context of a finely produced, thought provoking play, I apparently do.

Director Luke Rogers’ production of Martin McDonagh’s play is a top night of theatre. The cast is uniformly excellent.

The Pillowman promo Web (1)

The Pillowman explores storytelling. Katurian is being interrogated about his fiction. What drives him to tell stories? What are the consequences of listening to them?

The answer is a rather vicious circle. It’s what the world inflicts on us that drives us to create stories. And our stories, in turn, affect how we see the world, and what we inflict on it.

In The Pillowman, all of the characters write stories, tell stories, or eagerly listen to them – with, admittedly, some pretty dreadful consequences.

The play presents us as a story driven species.

And that’s a story we’ve been telling ourselves quite a bit lately. It’s the idea behind much  of post-war European philosophy and contemporary American pragmatism.

Of course, it’s not the only story we can tell ourselves.

I often think that the difference between conservatives and progressives is summed up in their attitudes to narrative.

The progressives acknowledge that we tell ourselves stories, all the time. And they tell the tale that all stories are equal.

The conservatives assert there’s only one story, but argue about which one it is. And prefer to call it The Truth.

I tell myself I’m a progressive. It’s a story that boosts my ego.

But, after 140 minutes of high stakes storytelling, The Pillowman left me feeling that perhaps I’m neither progressive or conservative. It left me feeling that maybe there is something to Zen Buddhism and the ideas of Simone Weil. It left me feeling that perhaps we need to learn to shut the f*#*# up.

This is not a criticism. You gotta pay a play that’s utterly absorbing in performance and deeply troubling in the days that follow.

But The Pillowman did make me question the value of stories. It made me feel that perhaps we need to learn to stop the chatter, that maybe we need to learn to be quiet, and wait.

Veronica Kaye

The Pillowman

at New Theatre til 13 April



14 Feb

Creation is God playing Hide and Seek with herself.

She knows herself.

And now she doesn’t.

She becomes the role.

Then remembers she’s the actor.

Milk Milk Lemonade is that sort of exuberant game. Director Melita Rowston’s production of Josh Conkel’s play is superb.

‘Do you mind if I take off my shoes? I can’t dance in them,’ says Emory, played brilliantly by Mark Dessaix. It’s a poignant moment, a moving symbol of liberation. Yet it’s said by a young boy play acting he’s an older girl at her high school prom.

Hide and Seek.

Towering over this production is a giant chicken, designer Antoinette Barbouttis’ ingenious way of presenting the processing plant that dominates the poultry farm where the play is set. Chain smoking Nanna, played by Pete Nettell with a wonderfully larger than life small mindedness, tells Emory that it’s the chicken’s role to be eaten.

And there’s that enormous chicken – an ominous warning. Whatever roles we choose to play, we can’t let others decide them for us.

And Linda the Chicken, played by Sarah Easterman, fights the role Nanna gives her, delivering a beautiful hard-boiled-in-ya-face stand up routine, one of the many crazy elements in this joyous play.

Keiran Foster as Elliot, Emory’s love interest, gives an energetic jack in the box performance. Elliot is painfully trying to push his burgeoning sexuality back into a more conventional box, only to have it explode out again.

We’re not all of one piece, and to underline the point, Conkel gives Elliot an evil parasitic twin, played to kooky perfection by Leah Donovan. “Punch the faggot” the twin says to Elliot.

At another moment Donovan is Starlene, Emory’s doll, forbidden to the boy by narrow minded Nanna.  And it’s Donovan’s performance, as Starlene, of I’ve been to Paradise (but I’ve never been to me) that sums up the play.

It’s a performance that’s deliciously subversive. It asks ‘What – exactly – is a genuine life’?

We play roles. We forget we play roles. We remember. That is the glorious game of life.

And everyone should be allowed to join in.

Veronica Kaye


New Theatre til 2 March


The Small Poppies

21 Jan

I like to sit in the front row. And I usually get what I want, especially when it’s general admission. I’m fast, I’m nimble, and I’m not held back by manners.

But at The Small Poppies it was on for young and old.

I was surrounded by little people. There was wriggling. There was giggling. And there was a refreshing absence of pretension. (No comments of the “I see a lot of theatre” type. Not a single six year old sniffed anything like “I saw the 2000 production. At Belvoir. Geoffrey Rush was superb”. Whenever someone begins a comment with “I see a lot of theatre” I’m left wondering whether it’s a claim of expertise, or just a cry for help.)

Felicity Nicol’s production of David Holman’s play is high energy from the get go. I’d only just finished elbowing a five year old when I was assaulted by a cacophony of Outside Voices being used inside.

Yes, Inside.

Children love that sort of thing. And rightfully so. They appreciate there’s little point to theatre if it’s not subversive.

But David Holman’s play is not just for children. Nicol’s ensemble is superb. Playing both adults and kids, they deliver a fun and moving story of three kindergarten children and their parents.

The Small Poppies 5s

But it’s also the story of the extraordinary institution that is school – one the great experiments in human history. Universal schooling, based on the belief  knowledge should be shared equally, is democracy in action. Because we all went through it, we assume it’s natural. It’s not. It has to be made. And made right. And the play honours those who have tried to make it so.

The play is also the story of an ethnically diverse society. Set in the 80’s, the demographics might have changed, but many of the challenges remain. Rosie Lourde’s moving portrayal of Lep, the 5 year old Vietnamese refugee brought me to tears.

Multiculturalism is another of our great experiments. We struggle with it. I’m not proudly Australian. I’m not proudly anything. But watching The Small Poppies I felt we’ve had a go. There’s more to do. And the job, such is its nature, will never be complete. But we’ve had a go. We’ve used our Outside Voices.

And let’s continue to do so. Because, as kids know, that’s what Voices are for.

Veronica Kaye

The Small Poppies by David Holman

New Theatre til 26 Jan