Tag Archives: Riverside Theatre

Choir Boy

28 Feb

Choir Boy explores the experience of a young queer man in an environment that frowns on difference.

It’s an absolutely beautiful piece. The songs are traditional spirituals performed a cappella, and with the guidance of musical director Allen René Louis, the cast present them brilliantly. Directors Dino Dimitriadis and Zindzi Okenyo elicit wonderful dramatic performances from the entire cast, and splendidly choreographed movement by Tarik Frimpong aids both the musical numbers and the scenic transitions.  

Tarell Alvin McCraney’s script is captivating and thought-provoking. Set in a boys’ high school of predominantly African-American students, it’s a fascinating exploration of the tensions within a group that we – on the other side of the globe – can be tempted to perceive as monolithic. Oh, if everyone just stayed in their box, life would be so simple ….and dull, and oppressive, and untrue. (Individuals remain in their allotted boxes only in bad art, and worse politics.)

Pharus is the choir leader; he’s gifted both musically and  intellectually, and he wants those gifts recognised, but his queerness challenges those around him. Darron Hayes’s portrayal of Pharus is utterly engaging and deeply moving. He presents a glorious talent, whose oscillation between cockiness and self-doubt is an understandable reaction to a small world. 

But the play offers multiple scenes in which individuals refuse to be contained or constrained.  Anthony, Pharus’ roommate (in a uplifting portrayal of openheartedness by Quinton Rofail Rich) shares an anecdote about his shock at his brother’s homophobia. Pharus delivers an electric speech challenging reductive interpretations of traditional spirituals: were they really just code use by the enslaved to fool the oppressors or, like all human expression, are they complex, multifaceted and so truly alive? Pharus even engages in a surprisingly stimulating verbal quibble with his nemesis, Bobby (portrayed by Zarif with a magnificent aura of brooding menace.) Should we speak of “slaves” or “the enslaved”? The former was good enough for Michelle and Barack, but ways of seeing develop, offering further opportunities for humanity to flourish. No box is ever big enough.

McCraney creates two adult characters who offer the younger men models of maturity, that open-eyed acceptance of complexity. There’s the teacher who runs a critical thinking course, portrayed by Tony Sheldon with that delightful collision of social awkwardness and intellectual grace of the academic. And there’s Headmaster Marrow, played by Robert Harrell, in a powerful portrait of authority and concern. Marrow must maintain school rules, and that might be of little help to Pharus, but inherent in the principal’s discussions of school boards and student codes is a hidden, hopeful reminder that our judgements are created things. All can be made anew.  

Paul Gilchrist

Choir Boy by Tarell Alvin McCraney

Presented by National Theatre of Parramatta in association with Sydney WorldPride

Until 11 March at Riverside Theatres


Image by  Phil Erbacher

Welcome to the Masque

25 Aug

Last Sunday, at Riverside Parramatta, Genevieve Lemon and Max Lambert offered a soulful hour of cabaret.

Twenty five kilometres away, comfortable on my couch, I gratefully accepted their gift.

This is one way live performance continues in the age of COVID. Live streamed and shot with multiple cameras, Lemon and Lambert shared classics by mournful, magical composers like Carol King and Jodie Mitchell. There were songs of loss, love and hope; those aspects of the human experience, wild and intense, that call to be sung rather than said.

And though some of the banter between numbers felt strained, the musical presentation was brilliant.  Lambert played like a waterfall in the sunshine; great primal forces channeled, naturally and seemingly effortlessly, as eternal flow and sparkle. And Lemon’s voice – extraordinarily beautiful, rich and subtle – was used with an actor’s attention to meaning. The potential limitations of the small screen were transcended, a connection was kindled, and each classic shone with light and love.

Welcome to the Masque – Riverside Theatres Digital



27 Jan

In a lot of ways, a production like this is outside my brief.

To start with, no one talks. They dance. They sing. They do the most extraordinary aerial acrobatics. But they don’t talk.

It’s spectacular and beautiful. Director Patrick Nolan brings together the various elements wonderfully. Composer Stefan Gregory and choir director Elizabeth Scott create a fascinating world of sound which choreographer Kathryn Puie’s brilliant dancers inhabit.

It’s a tale of intimacy and desire, though tale is probably too strong a word. The various vignettes, inspired by an enormous breadth of time and place, suggest the connection between courtship and dance.

Photo by Prudence Upton

                Photo by Prudence Upton

I began this response with a mischievous admission of inadequacy.

And I’ll end it with another:
The human body; where would we be without it?

Veronica Kaye


Riverside Theatre

21- 25 Jan


It’s Dark Outside

28 May

I don’t read the program before a show. Or after.

So I sat down in the theatre knowing nothing about It’s Dark Outside. What I experienced was bewildering, beautiful and sad.

Afterwards I broke my rule and had a peek. According to the program, dementia was the starting idea of the artists’ process – in particular, a phenomena called Sundowning Syndrome, which is a “confusion and restlessness” experienced by some patients.

Phot by Richard Jefferson

Photo by Richard Jefferson

So that’s what I saw. I could blame my lack of awareness on my own parochial nature, but I prefer to blame society. This disease affects so many, but we often ignore it.

Creators Arielle Gray, Chris Isaacs and Tim Watts have produced some magical melancholy.  Built fundamentally from puppetry and projection, it’s visually stunning. Wordless, its power comes from the brilliant performances of the creators and the evocative musical composition of Rachael Dease.

An old man is being chased. Or is he doing the chasing?

Pursuing or being pursued; these are fundamental aspects of the human experience. They’re a direct function of the dimension of space. Unfortunately, they’re not a function of that other dimension we live in – time. It allows movement in only one direction. And that’s the sorrow.

Veronica Kaye


It’s Dark Outside by Arielle Gray, Chris Isaacs and Tim Watts

Riverside Theatre til 29 May


It’s Dark Outside is currently on a national tour.