Tag Archives: Old Fitzroy


24 Apr

Recently, as I passed my local RSL, I noticed posters for I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, the U2 Tribute Show, and Holding Back the Years, the Simply Red Tribute Show.

When I was younger, these sort of performers were called ‘cover bands’. I’m too uncool to know whether this term is still in fashion. However, I am cool enough not to be especially interested in this type of performance. I have no doubt the musicians in question are superb. In fact, they could well be better than the artists they are imitating. But still, there’s something less than satisfying about the form.

Few people seem to share my quibbles about what I call ‘cover theatre’. Whenever I see a local company produce a foreign play, or a play we have all seen before, I’m a little bemused. It feels like borrowed authority. Part of me wishes we could……I don’t know…… just transcend it.

Orphans is, of course, ‘cover theatre’. It’s also wonderfully done.

Photo by Rupert Reid

                   Photo by Rupert Reid

By Lyle Kessler, the play is set in Philadelphia’s underworld. (Why are artists attracted to stories about criminals? To quote the musical Chicago, is it because neither group ‘got enough love in their childhood’?)

Orphans is funny and thought-provoking. Director Anthony Gooley elicits from his cast terrific performances, deliberate hyperbolic, close kin to cartoon. It’s delightfully physical (which has its dangers; on the night I attended a crucial reveal came too early because a hidden prop suddenly popped into view.)

Treat and Philip (played by Andrew Henry and Aaron Glenane) are two adult orphans desperately in need of a father figure. Treat needs to learn moderation. Philip needs to learn to be brave. And so Harold arrives (played by Danny Adcock.) Harold might be a gangster, but he offers ‘encouragement’.

It’s an engaging production, with some powerful set pieces. Harold, who is also an orphan, speaks of the time he and the other orphans escaped the home where they were cruelly treated. They roamed the city, and then returned to the orphanage only when their hunger got the better of them. But “they had seen what they had to see.”

A play about parenting is a play about authority. We need it. And we need to transcend it.

Veronica Kaye

Orphans by Lyle Kessler

Old Fitz til 9 May



16 Jan

There aren’t many shows in Sydney with a philosopher as one of characters. Alright, this is a clown version of a philosopher. Some people would say there’s no other sort. (An assertion which the rest of my response, with its usual intellectual pretensions, will no doubt provide supporting evidence.)

Penny Greenhalgh and Kate Walder’s Bad, directed by Scott Witt, is delightfully playful.

Cate Blanchett and Geoffery Rush are about to perform in that much under-rated classic, Mum Where’s my Bucket? However, due to unforeseen circumstances, the two great actors are now unavailable. Step in these two clowns. They find both the execution and the concept of acting challenging.

Photo by Yael Stempler

Photo by Yael Stempler

We usually assume the task of acting is difficult. That’s why we have the myth of the great actor, and fit people like Blanchett and Rush into it.

We don’t usually assume the concept of acting is problematic. We probably should. Pretending to be other people? Fine, if you can actually get your head around what other people are. Which is doubly difficult if you acknowledge you don’t really know who you are.

Bad is an exuberant, engaging subversion of our ideas about theatre.

Penny Greenhalgh’s philosopher is a gentle yet powerful parody of erudition and expertise.  Kate Walder’s stunt man is bouncy and almost irrepressible. He’s textured by the slightest hint of pathos. Dressed to be fired out of a cannon, and filled with the requisite thought-free positivity, just occasionally it seems he has intimations of his fate.

Both performers have a relaxed and deliberate imprecision. It’s as though their characters can’t keep up with the demands of the supposedly important roles they have accepted. This makes them joyfully human and the show a refreshing response to the over seriousness of theatre.

Veronica Kaye


Bad by Penny Greenhalgh and Kate Walder

Old Fitz til Jan 31st,  Late Sessions


The Les Robinson Story and Belle of the Cross

25 Nov

Double bills are intriguing things. Two works that were created independently are suddenly placed together, resonating in unforeseen ways.

This is not a bad thing. To complain about it would be the equivalent of complaining about friendship. In friendship we become different. Our friends draw out certain of our qualities and suppress others.  In fact, it could be asked, what are we before friendship, or indeed before any of our relationships? How much sense does it really make to talk of our own self, independent of the world? Where would this self exist?

‘Oh, if only he/she/they knew the real me.’

The ‘real me’ is a fabrication.

Both of the plays in this double bill are (in essence) one-person shows about a person; which is what started me thinking about the above issue.

Photo by Katy Green Loughrey

Photo by Katy Green Loughrey

The Les Robinson Story written by Kieran Carroll and directed by Ron Hadley tells the story of one of Sydney’s iconic story tellers. I’d never heard of him.

Apparently, Les wrote prose in the modernist style, lived in caves, and was under-appreciated by the Great World. The first two aspects make him a character (more on this in a moment) and the last grants him universal appeal. Hasn’t everyone, at sometime, felt they’re under-appreciated? ‘If only they knew the real me.’

When I say Les is a character, I don’t mean the performance by Martin Portus isn’t rich or subtle. Rather what’s offered to us by this play is Les’ difference; how he was different from his world, and from ours. It’s nostalgic and sentimental, and many people will warm to it.

Belle of the Cross written by Angelika Fremd and directed by David Richie presents us with a woman slipping into homelessness. Gertraud Ingeborg’s performance is moving and engaging. Belle’s situation is not easy. She didn’t choose it. And, so we’re told, she dies without anyone knowing who she really was…….

Photo by Katy Green Loughrey

Photo by Katy Green Loughrey

This idea begins the play and ends it.

The beauty of this piece, and what resonates so magically and thought-provokingly with the first of the double bill, is this:

The second time* we’re told that Belle died unknown, we’re asked ‘Who hasn’t? Who won’t?’ And Ingeborg poses the question with a magnificent and mischievous twinkle in her eye, one encompassing both the pity and the glory of the human condition.

Veronica Kaye


The Les Robinson Story by Kieran Carroll

Belle of the Cross by Angelika Fremd

at The Old Fitz, until 29 Nov



* Apologies to Angelika Fremd for a quote which is probably a paraphrasing, and hopefully not wildly inaccurate.


Howie the Rookie

7 Oct

Who doesn’t like a bit of rough?

Something about random violence and casual misogyny puts a tune in your flute. You dollies know what I’m talking about. Who doesn’t want to see some scrapping?

Howie the Rookie by Mark O’Rowe is a finely crafted tale about the bottom of Irish society. I call it a tale because it’s told. Two actors sit on chairs on a bare stage. One begins the tale. The other finishes it.

Photo by Kathy Luu

Photo by Kathy Luu

Despite the simplicity, these are absolutely brilliant performances. Directed by Toby Schmitz, Sean Hawkins and Andrew Henry are sensational. (And, no, they don’t remain seated. The performances are passionate and visceral.)

What does the tale say? Probably that violence begets violence.

This play is foreign. To me, that is. The whole street cred thing’s not my scene. Living a ridiculously privileged life, this type of theatre feels like an exotic holiday. But, if you’re sitting in front of an electronic screen reading this sort of stuff, you could probably do with a holiday.

Veronica Kaye


Howie the Rookie by Mark O’Rowe

Old Fitz til 25 Oct


Four Dogs and a Bone

19 Sep

Brenda: I want to be famous!

Bradley: Why?

Brenda: I don’t know! *

First and third lines said with equal force.

This encapsulates John Patrick Shanley’s satire on the film industry.

This play is very funny. It’s jam-packed with tremendous one-liners.

Amanda Collins, photo Katy Green-Loughrey

Amanda Collins, photo Katy Green-Loughrey

It’s probably one of Shanley’s less substantial plays. The assertion that the film industry is laughable is hardly ground-breaking stuff. However, an enormous amount of money is invested in the triviality that is film while children starve (in the South Sudan as I write). So that means satires like Four Dogs and a Bone don’t lose their bite.

Shanley has created big characters and director Kate Gaul allows her cast to fill them. Design and blocking is kept appropriately simple, creating the space for linguistic brilliance and joyous hyperbole. There were a few opening night problems with pacing, but these will mend, and the cast will provide a terrific night’s entertainment.

Theatre’s revenge on film. Stage’s little brother is big on budget, but small on substance. And Shanley has fun with this. Victor, played by Paul Gerrard, is a stage writer hungry for money and therefore ripe for seduction by celluloid. Collette, played with glorious energy by Amanda Collins, is the star of the movie, but Collette is hampered by that most disgraceful of descents: she’s a theatre actor. Brenda is Collette’s support in the film and hence her rival in life. (Melinda Dransfield gives a delightful portrait of the nightmare performer: a façade of sweetness masking utter self obsession.) Belinda gleefully tells Colette that she looks grotesque in the daily rushes. As a stage actor, she is too big. A delicious irony – after all, regardless of performance style, big budget film rarely does subtlety.

Veronica Kaye

* Possibly a paraphrasing; my hunger for accuracy unequal to Brenda’s desire for fame.


Four Dogs and a Bone by John Patrick Shanley

Old Fitz til 27 Sept



Thom Pain (based on nothing)

8 May

I try to avoid appearing as one of those self proclaimed experts who compare performances. You know the type. They say things like “I preferred the third grave digger in the ’28 production. Olivier. At the Old Vic. Oh, didn’t you see it?”

Well, the last time I saw Will Eno’s Thom Pain (based on nothing) was in 2009. Luke Mullins. Downstairs Belvoir. Oh, didn’t you see it?

Mullin’s Thom was more aggressive than the current Thom, played by David Jeffrey in this SITCO production, directed by Julie Baz.

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Mullin’s was more lash out, than lash in (a play on words I’ve taken from Eno’s brilliant script.) Jeffrey is more inward, more self-deprecating. His performance is touching and very, very funny.

The title is an intriguing entree to the world of the play. The ‘Pain’ is obvious: Thom is disconnected. He speaks of himself in the third person. He refers to a past romantic relationship, but we never get her name.

But Thom Pain is also Poor Tom from King Lear. (Eno’s allusion, not mine.) Like Edgar in Lear, who adopts the persona Poor Tom at a time of crisis, Thom finds in ‘madness’ a type of security. His uproarious ramblings are much more structured than one might initially imagine, and his stories are sharper than any vulnerable tear-laden sharing. This one man show will not leave you feeling you’ve accidentally stumbled into some sort of support group. Thom is very much in control of his narrative. And, with a lot of laughs, you’re going to hear it his way.

Thom Pain also evokes Thomas Paine. (Or at least it does for me. Maybe I’m more nerd than wanker.) Paine was the English/American radical writer responsible for Common Sense, which fired the American independence movement, and The Rights of Man, which defended the French Revolution’s dream of liberty, equality and fraternity. He was a man deeply dissatisfied with the existing order, a man who demanded we could do better. Perhaps predictably, he died estranged from many of his contemporaries. Only six people attended his funeral. Eno’s Thom Pain could conceivably share the same fate.

But I don’t want to push this allusion too far. Eno’s Thom is more existential in his pain. More self centred.

And one of the things that makes this play so very dazzling is its dynamic and endlessly inventive word play. Eno takes simple idiomatic expressions, and inverts them, reverses them, pulls them inside out. (One small example, no doubt misquoted: “I didn’t know where I was, but I know I wasn’t in love.”) Idiomatic language is our companion in the everyday (and so, oddly, an intimation of the eternal). It speaks our common humanity. But Thom is betrayed by this common humanity. Or is he the traitor?

Either way, in this production, the result is hilarious.

Veronica Kaye


Thom Pain (based on nothing) by Will Eno

Old Fitzroy til 10 May


Lies, Love and Hitler

21 Apr

It’s refreshing to see a play about ethics, one that puts the discussion of what’s right and wrong centre stage.

For many years I felt alienated by the obvious fact, that in our pluralistic society, there isn’t one common ethical system. People have different visions of what makes a good life. This troubled me, because it emphasized my youthful isolation.

Then I had a strangely liberating epiphany. I realized that not only do people have differing ethical systems, but they also place vastly different importances on them.

I realized ethics was like aesthetics: people have different visions of what is beautiful, but honestly, many people just don’t think beauty matters all that much. They’ll say, “Yes, the curtains are hideous, but who cares?” (All the while, there are other people who can’t sleep at night knowing those ugly curtains are there, waiting.)

Paradoxically, I was heartened by my youthful epiphany. If many people didn’t take ethics that seriously, then it might be of value if someone did. (Me.)

Lies, Love and Hitler by Elizabeth Avery Scott focuses on a man who took ethics very seriously – the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Photo by Katy Green Loughrey

Photo by Katy Green Loughrey

The play begins by positing a simple dichotomy, one which presumably Bonhoeffer faced: Do we make our ethical decisions based on a set of predetermined rules? Or do we make our decisions based on what we imagine will be the consequences of our actions?

This is an old philosophical chestnut. Rules versus results.

I think it’s a false dichotomy.  I think virtually everyone uses the results model. But, of course, they judge the desirability of the consequences of their actions based on a predetermined set of ‘rules’.

This is what Bonhoeffer did. Living through the Third Reich, he made the decision that the Fifth Commandment could be broken in order to stop Hitler’s brutal lunacy. (I don’t know many people who’d have scruples about this.)

But the play is not primarily about Bonhoeffer’s life. The focus is the present, where a university lecturer and his student have to negotiate the morality of both their relationship, and society’s  sexual power games.

Bonhoeffer appears in the majority of the play as figment of the modern day characters’ imaginations. He gives them advice. He inspires them to confront the issues.

Some people might find this a little cutesy, and query whether the issues facing the two moderns are really commensurate with the trials Bonhoeffer faced.

But we all face ethical challenges, and we have to find support somewhere.

I began by suggesting it was refreshing to find a play that puts ethics in focus, but it’s also good to find one interested in the life of the mind. Not that the play is intellectually heavy. There’s plenty of humour, and some real passion. The performances are enjoyable, with James Scott as the lecturer being lovably goofy, and Ylaria Rogers as the student giving an impressive portrayal of youthful intensity. Doug Chapman as Bonhoeffer is particularly charming, combining intelligence and warmth. Director Rochelle Whyte’s engaging production of this clever play is certainly a conversation starter.

Ultimately, for me, the play is not about ethics. It’s about the idea of having intellectual mentors. And I think this is a vital concept. In a pluralistic society we often feel we’re doing it alone. Chats over coffee with friends or work colleagues somehow don’t always cut it. Our contemporaries are often as confused, and complicit, as we are.

But we live in a literate, historically-aware society and we should take advantage of it. The support networks available are wide and so deep. We’re potentially the inheritors of a vast hoard of treasures. The characters in the play find support from Bonhoeffer. My intellectual mentors are Simone Weil, Catherine of Siena, Joan of Arc, Gandhi and Ramakrishna.

At least thirteen years were spent teaching you to read. Do yourself a favour, and use that skill for something more Life-enhancing than newspaper articles, real estate ads and theatre reviews.

Veronica Kaye


Lies, Love and Hitler by Elizabeth Avery Scott

at the Old Fitz til 3 May


A Moment on the Lips

2 Apr

Mackenzie Steele’s production of Jonathan Gavin’s A Moment on the Lips is both funny and moving. And the performances are brilliant.

Seven women deal with each other, and Life. And, boy, do they throw a lot at each other! All eight of ‘em.

I often feel alienated by theatre set in the here and now. (And this play is. Well, almost; it’s certainly set within the last decade.) I like a bit of distance. Give me Ancient Greece or Renaissance Europe or Nineteenth Century Russia. Hell, even contemporary America will do. Anything that helps me feel the play is not meant to represent the world I live in.

Beth Aubrey and Sarah Aubrey, photo by Katy Green Loughrey

Beth Aubrey and Sarah Aubrey, photo by Katy Green Loughrey

Because I’m not at home in the world of this play. I don’t share the values of the characters nor their attitudes to each other. Gavin’s script gives equal weight to seven different female characters and so feels like an attempted snap shot of female experience. I’m hardly the person to judge if it’s an accurate one, but I’m troubled by what’s implicit in the attempt – the assumption that it’s possible.

The play feels like a condensed TV series. Everyone has their issues, everyone gets their moment and BIG things happen at regular intervals – though most of them off stage. Actual stage time is dominated by nasty arguments. Throughout my twenties and thirties, I couldn’t watch TV drama because of its flat, confrontational representation of Life.

However, I suspect, many audience members will recognize themselves or people they know in this play. Last night I sat in the back row of a full house, and I don’t do that often enough in indie theatre.

And this production deserves to be seen for the extraordinary performances. Beth Aubrey, Sarah Aubrey, Lucy Goleby, Sabryna Te’o, Ainslie McGlynn, Claudia Barrie and Sonya Kerr do wonderful work. These seven captivating actors certainly create seven intriguing characters.

But it’s the eighth character who troubles me. It’s not that it’s difficult to characterise Life. I just don’t think we should try.

Veronica Kaye


A Moment on the Lips by Jonathan Gavin

Old Fitzroy Theatre, til April 12




4 Feb

‘Slips’ Cordon is a top bloke. By his own admission.

Some other Australian legends are admitted to the pantheon. But others are not, and these others are quickly dismissed as sniveling pricks and the like.

One of the irresistible charms of Slips Cordon, the great raconteur, is his indubitable judgements. By sheer strength of personality, he inexorably divides the world into the wheat and the chaff.

Photo by Katy Green Loughrey

Photo by Katy Green Loughrey

This magnificent teller of tall tales shares with us his part in some of the seemingly seminal events of a very Australian twentieth century. The key aspect of each story is that he’s always the hero.

John Derum’s performance is a true delight. Pat Sheil’s script is comic brilliance.

Lex Marinos’ direction is simple and highly effective – the ambiance of a fire side reminisce, an evening of the gentle look backwards, generates hilarity by the absurdity of the contrast with Slips’ truly outrageous stories.

Like Forest Gump, but without the innocence, Slips seems to have been everywhere. And known everyone: Bradman, Phar Lap, Melba, Errol Flynn, Simpson, his donkey. Everyone. And Slips out shines them all.

So Legend is a satire on the big talker? The wanker?

Perhaps.  It’s difficult not to love Slips for his colossal exuberance.

The night is a roll call of Aussie icons. And Slips’  involvement in their famous lives is invariable. The fun is who’ll be next.

And that’s the point. Why are these people (and assorted members of the equine family) our heroes? And, indeed, why have heroes at all? That these names are so very familiar is indicative of a culture beguiled by the simplicity of judgement, and seduced by the safety of the indulgent backward gaze.

Veronica Kaye

Legend! by Pat Sheil

The Old Fitzroy til 15 Feb


Roberto Zucco

7 Oct

With my no doubt frustrating tendency to write philosophy instead of theatre criticism, it might be expected I’d take this play about a serial killer and use it as a launch pad to discuss that old chestnut – “the nature of evil”.

But I won’t. Instead, I’ll use it as an excuse to write about conventionality.

Zucco’s violence, and the responses to it, are symbolic. This is not a blood thirsty play. It’s an amusing and engaging exploration of rebellion.

It begins with the murderer escaping a supposedly inescapable prison. The prison guards are conventional, in the sense they don’t see it coming, and conventional in that they’re characters virtually out of commedia. Played with a wonderful sense of fun by Neil Modra and Sam Dugmore, they return later in the proceedings as gloriously keystone-like cops.

Zucco, played with marvelous energy by Tim Cole, baffles those around him because he is so unexpected. We follow his extraordinary journey.

Photography by Katy Green Loughrey

Photography by Katy Green Loughrey

He has a whirlwind romance with a young girl. Played with a fascinating balance between naivety and dissent by Gemma Scoble, she longs to escape the expectations placed upon her by her family. Their only concern is that she’s marriageable material and can follow the conventional path.

In a powerfully tense scene, Zucco talks to an old gentleman who is lost in the subway. He’s taken a wrong turn, and is confused and vulnerable. Adrian Barnes plays this brilliantly, capturing the deep doubt of one who suddenly finds the world larger than he had ever imagined.

Later, Zucco kidnaps an “elegant lady”. She is more than willing. This is her chance to escape from her stultifying middle class world. Kirsty Jordan, harmonizing humour and dignity, creates a character whose authority and strength drive her to challenge the very milieu that originally empowered her.

Director Anna Jahjah has drawn from her entire cast engaging performances. I particularily loved Lyn Pierse’s joyfully larger than life characterisations.

Martin Crimp’s translation of Bernard-Marie Koltes’ play is rich and intriguing. There are some delectable speeches.

This play is part of a European tradition. Think Jean Genet. Criminality as rebellion.

It’s a risky symbol. And no justification is offered for Zucco.

It just throws it out there the idea that conventionality is problematic. It offers no alternative.

But what alternative can there be?

To live Life fully – and this play reminds us Life can be over much sooner than we imagined! – to live Life fully, we cannot pretend to know it in advance.

Veronica Kaye


Roberto Zucco 

Old Fitzroy until 19 Oct