Tag Archives: Seymour Centre

On a Clear Day You Can See Forever

23 Mar

Reincarnation is an alluring belief, and may even be true.

The depth of our emotions, especially for others, can lead us to feel that one life is not enough. Perhaps, somehow, there will be other lives in which our love can continue.

The problem – for those of us with a modern sensibility – is proof.

But none is needed. A belief (or faith or hope) in reincarnation requires no verification; its value is expressive. One might as well ask for proof that my favourite colour is blue.

In Alan Jay Lerner and Burton Lane’s musical, Dr Mark Bruckner hypnotises Daisy Gamble, in an attempt to understand her apparent Extra Sensory Perception. Exploring her memories, he discovers Melinda Wells, an English woman who passed over a century ago.

Perhaps my philosophical pretensions make the subject matter sound heavy, or just plain weird, but it’s not – it’s light, breezy, and beautiful; a glorious expression of our dearest desires.

The play has a history of revisions, and Jay James-Moody (who also directs and performs) has adapted and updated the original story. In this version, following a 2011 Broadway revision, Daisy is a gay man, David, and as Mark falls for Melinda, he must ask what are his feelings for the man in whom she resides. It’s all about…. fluidity.

James-Moody’s production is visually delightful, musically superb, and very funny. As David, James-Moody is both movingly vulnerable and deliciously comic. His timing is spot on. Melinda is played by Madeleine Jones with a mesmerizing pizazz. Blake Bowden’s Mark wonderfully captures both the psychologist’s obsessive drive for knowledge and the man’s desperate need for love.

The vocal performances are terrific, with highlights including “When we are 65” sung by James Haxby and James-Moody, “Don’t Tamper With My Sister” sung by Jones, “Come Back to Me” sung by Bowden, and the title song, performed by James-Moody, Jones and the company. Natalya Aynsley’s orchestra is brilliant. Choreography by Leslie Bell is cheeky and playful, perfectly suiting the gorgeously non-conventional relationships portrayed, and the cast perform it with aplomb.

On A Clear Day You Can See Forever is an exuberant reminder to look beyond the mundane and be open to the surprise of joy.

Paul Gilchrist

On a Clear Day You Can See Forever by Alan Jay Lerner and Burton Lane, revised and adapted by Jay James-Moody

presented by Squabbalogic and Seymour Centre

until 15 April


Image by David Hooley


22 Feb

I love a good piece of history. I love stories that model change.

I’ve noticed in this year’s Pride Festival an interest in history; an awareness that, while change is still required, much has been achieved.

Because it has duration, drama is a perfect artform to explore change. When the house lights finally come up at the end of the performance, where the characters are – and where you are – is usually a long way from where you all began.

I suspect another reason that artists exploring the queer experience are currently interested in history is that the generation who began the public fight for rights are, if they’re still with us …of a certain age. Stonewall was in 1969. The first Sydney Mardi Gras in 1978. It’s a good time to honour and celebrate their achievements.

(I also suspect an older generation of activists might tire of an attitude sometimes expressed by those newer to the fight, an attitude of ‘Why isn’t the world the way I want it to be? What have you people been doing?’ It’s an attitude whose close cousin is the complaining ‘Karen’, she who’s always demanding to see the manager, whose sense of entitlement blandly assumes the automatic existence of structures that have to be both built and maintained.)

Elias Jamieson Brown’s CAMP presents the exploits of the Campaign Against Moral Persecution, a group of activists who in 1971 were the first in Australia to hold a public gathering of gay women and men.

The play presents their struggles to build awareness and achieve justice, and the personal challenges they faced. Particularly precious is the focus on the lesbian experience (maybe I should get out more, but it’s still a representation that gladdens my soul the rare times I see it). I’m not sure if the characters are fictional or if they’re based on specific historical individuals, but they’re fully and richly human, a glorious mix of failings and flaws, passion and determination. Petty jealousies vie with noble dreams (the surest test of human reality) and for these beautiful portraits of living souls we have to thank Jamieson Brown’s script, Kate Gaul’s direction and the gifted cast.

Our focus is on Krissy (Jane Phegan), Jo (Tamara Natt) and Tracy (Lou McInnes) as they navigate the tension between private needs and group goals. (It’s great to see these tensions represented on stage. It’s the romanticisation of political engagement that so often robs us of agency; a portrait of activism as utterly exciting only enervates us when we find it merely necessary.)

In wonderfully realised transitions and tableaux, Gaul powerfully presents a world of action, where the co-existence of the political and the personal is made manifest.  

Juxtaposed with scenes set in the 1970’s, Jamieson Brown shows us the women as they are now, played respectively by Anni Finsterer,  Genevieve Mooy and Sandie Eldridge. It’s over forty years later, and much has been gained, and much has …changed. It’s an intriguing device, an invitation to consider time, that great gift, the one which always goes, whether we use it or not.

How should we use it?

This is big, bold, inspiring theatre, with a very human heart.

Paul Gilchrist

CAMP by Elias Jamieson Brown

presented by Siren Theatre Co and Seymour Centre in association with Sydney WorldPride

at Seymour Centre until 4 March


Image by Alex Vaugh

Gay Sydney: A Memoir

20 Feb

We often make statements that follow this formula: ‘So-and-So made History by doing Such-and-Such’. (It’s indicative of the naïve inadequacy of such a formula that So-and-So is often a cricketer and the Such-and-Such is the scoring of a century.)

But history is made in the telling; or more precisely, it is the telling. And someone needs to do it. Someone needs to tell us what happened and how it all strings together. In regard to gay experience in this city, William Yang is in the perfect position to make history: he was there, and he took beautiful pictures.

In Gay Sydney: A Memoir, with his stunning photographs and his gentle wise voice, Yang creates a story that is both deeply moving and deeply inspiring. It doesn’t feel like a performance, but rather a generous sharing.

With personal anecdote and eye witness authority, Yang speaks of events from 1969, when he first came to Sydney, to the present day: the birth of Mardi Gras, the flowering of the Darlinghurst “gay ghetto”, the decriminalisation of homosexuality, the tragedy of the AIDS epidemic, the success of the marriage equality movement…

Such histories are invaluable because they give voice to queer stories. But histories also matter because intrinsic to them is the concept of change. A trend we currently suffer is the privileging of ways of seeing the world that unconsciously deny change. These ways of seeing, theories if you like, recognise injustice but offer little insight into the processes by which it might be overcome. (An example of a theory unconsciously wedded to the status quo might be one that asserts an individual’s life experience, and their understanding of that experience, is determined solely by demographic factors: race, sexuality, age….) One cure to the childlike infatuation with this sort of disheartening theory is a good dose of actual history – which Yang provides. (Though he wastes no time on philosophical nonsense, as I do.)

Accompanied by evocative music created and performed by Timothy Fairless, Yang’s memoir is simple, powerful, and most of all, uplifting –  a wonderful celebration of a way forward.

Paul Gilchrist

Gay Sydney: A Memoir by William Yang

at Seymour Centre until Feb 23

presented by Seymour Centre in association with World Pride


Image by William Yang

Art + Information

24 Nov

We live in an age of specialist knowledge. The woman sitting across from you in the bus might be a world expert on continental drift. The man ahead of you in the supermarket queue may know more about the venom of the Eastern brown snake than has ever any living soul. The person sitting dully in the park at lunch might not be dreaming of the holidays that will eventually free them from the tyranny of deadlines; they might be musing on the evolution of grass.

The more we know, the more difficult it is to share; especially with those who have no grounding in our speciality. And the sharing is crucial, because knowledge is a communal thing. Much of its value comes from its ability to enrich the community, and much of its pursuit is only possible through the support of that community.

So how can the rest of us come to appreciate what the specialist does?

This set of performance lectures, directed by Kate Gaul, is a magnificent sharing of deep knowledge.

A person (not an actor!) holds the stage and, with evocative light and projection (Morgan Moroney) and sound (Zac Saric), we’re invited into a particular corner of reality.

Beth Yahp, creative writing lecturer at U Syd, tells us of Small Pleasures. In limpid poetic language, she muses on several simple objects – a Christmas beetle, a remnant of cloth, a physio’s “hammer” – reminding us that when we focus solely on the extraordinary we blind ourselves to the value of the everyday. In giving all our attention to the mining disaster, we ignore the riches that come from the routine mining itself.

Tara Murphy, professor of astrophysicist at U Syd, shares a story of Exploding Stars. Exquisitely balanced between the minutiae of working in a lab and the gargantuan event of the collision of two neutron stars, Murphy’s tale is one of truth and awe. She also considers the evolution of the great scientific project; long a practice based on sharing, science has now become such that the ‘hive mind’ is crucial, as no individual alone can make sense of the universe. (Perhaps as it should be, for if there’s any insight the lay person like myself can offer, it’s that the universe is bigger than me.)

Mitchell Gibbs tells us about The Humble Oyster. A PhD in Marine Biology/Biochemistry and a postdoctoral researcher in the School of Geosciences at U Syd, Mitchell is also a Dunghutti man. With moving personal anecdotes, he tells of researching and writing his thesis, his deep dive into speciality, while maintaining close connection with family. He quotes his father, who asserted that if you really understand something, you should be able to explain it to anyone. He speaks with inspiring optimism of his desire to bring indigenous insights into Western academia, for the benefit of all and our fragile environment.

This is not conventional theatre; it’s part of an exciting movement to challenge what we might expect to see on stage. It does, however, share with drama, and fiction in general, one crucial aspect: the focus on the particular, the assumption that this certain corner of reality repays close inspection.

It’s an entertaining night, and a tantalising one, because corners have a way of dissolving, unfolding, and offering extraordinary vistas.

Paul Gilchrist

Art + Information

Seymour Centre until Nov 26


Image by Jacquie Manning


7 Aug

Mike Bartlett’s Albion is a piece of theatre on a grand scale: nearly three hours of stage time and a plethora of well-drawn characters.

This level of ambition is thrilling.

No prize for guessing where a play called Albion is set. It’s a foreign play; a state-of-the-nation play where the nation portrayed is not ours. This is Britain post-Brexit: a wealthy woman buys a rural property with the intention of redeveloping it’s once famous garden. (In the first draft, were they raising a bulldog?) The villagers (yes, that’s what they’re called) are disappointed that the new owner won’t fulfil her customary role; she won’t host their festivals in her garden. The woman’s family are divided about the London they’ve left behind: has it become a temple of mammon, or is it a life-giving alternative to a country grave?

And it’s all a very conscious homage to Chekhov. Yes, it’s a garden, not a cherry orchard – but there is a Firs, the old servant lost amongst the flux ( This Firs is called Matthew, and is played with moving poignancy by Mark Langham.) And, like The Seagull, those on the rural estate are visited by a famous writer who causes mayhem among those with artistic ambitions but less success.

State-of-the-nation plays are an odd genre; though grounded in realism, they reach to the symbolic. And what odd things symbols are: invested with meaning by who, for who, for how long? Once, I asked a young person what a lion might symbolise – and was told paddle pops.

So, what about the performances? Excellent. Director Lucy Clements gives us inspiring depth and breadth. Joanna Briant as Audrey, the matriarch, is a masterclass in glib superiority; a thought-provoking posing of the tragic question at the core of materialist societies: must success murder empathy? The visiting writer ….. and there are a lot of writers in these sort of plays: three in this one, out of a cast of eleven; a rather inflated sample, considering writers usually fill the same percentile of the population as serial killers ….. the visiting writer is played by Deborah Jones with a gorgeously warm charisma, providing her with ample space to growl when the going gets tough. Rhiaan Marquez as Zara, Audrey’s daughter, beautifully balances youthful exuberance with youthful naivete.  Jane Angharad’s Anna grieves for her lover, Audrey’s son, with powerful truthfulness. (The dead son, too, becomes a sort of symbol: a lost England to dispute over, under a very English heaven.) James Smithers as Gabriel offers a superb character arc, like a piece of lost space junk that ultimately burns with a searing white heat when it drifts into the orbit of a more imposing body. Charles Mayer as Paul, Audrey’s husband, gives a performance of gentle intelligence. Paul maintains his safe orbit, as all things do, by allowing change to be dictated by that more imposing body.

Due to popular demand, this season has been extended. (Gardens have a way of growing.)

Paul Gilchrist

Albion by Mike Bartlett

Seymour Centre until Aug 20 https://www.seymourcentre.com/

Image by Clare Hawley

Before the Meeting

28 May

All addicts are liars. Or so says one of the characters in Adam Bock’s Before the Meeting.

A play about “lying” needs as its basis truthfulness – and finds it in this beautiful production by director Kim Hardwick.

We’re in the basement of a church, waiting for an A.A meeting. Is this truth? It’s certainly what truth feels like. The truth is the cleaning of cups, the filling up of the coffee urn, the putting out of chairs. Truth is how we treat each other.

We gently meet the characters as they prepare for meetings. We learn about the challenges each faces, a little of their backstory – and there’s a sense of foreboding, that all might come undone. And, by now, we deeply care about these people.

The performances are terrific. Jane Phegan as Gail is superb, and her monologue, a sharing of the gift she has found in AA, is a magnificent mix of positivity and hesitancy. Tim Walker as Tim offers a poignant portrait of an uncertain young man whose potential is so painfully obvious that you yearn for its fulfilment. Tim McGarry as Ronny delivers a delightful mix of the curmudgeonly and the good humoured. Alex Malone’s Nicole is a wonderful portrayal of youthful hope battling present realities. Her response to the play’s one violent moment is performance gold. Ariadne Sgouros’ cameo powerfully encapsulates the rage we feel at our own powerlessness in the face of the failings of others.

The play doesn’t try to give many reasons why people become addicts. It just shows us what it is to be one. As Gail says (and I’m paraphrasing) people who drink get it wrong. I drink because I have problems? No. I have problems because I drink.

There’s a beautiful sense of an empowerment in feeling it’s best not to focus too much on what has happened to us. There’s something nice about hearing the stories of people who were arseholes. The stories of victims make us long for change, but the stories of arseholes –  because they’re being shared honestly – make us realise change is possible.

Gail says several times she doesn’t know why AA works for her. But it does. So she keeps coming. It’s a blessed victory of pragmatism over any theory.

These people are here for each other, and ultimately, the play is a deeply moving paean to what community can do.

Paul Gilchrist

Before the Meeting by Adam Bock

Seymour Centre until 11 June


Image by Danielle Lyonne


11 Apr

Can a person change?

If so, is it done by denying your past or by accepting it?

And who determines how you should change? You or others? Are we creatures of our culture or autonomous individuals?

Charles Dickens funded a home for ‘fallen’ women. This play by Seanna van Helten explores the state of five of these women as they prepare for a new life in the colonies.


Image by Marnya Rothe

Historical fiction always serves a contemporary fantasy. The Victorian world fascinates us because we can posit it as a cautionary tale: this is repression. There’s the danger we can be smug or complacent in our comparison, but used appropriately, it’s a yardstick to hold up to our own society and judge if we’re doing much better.

The rule in this home for ‘fallen’ woman is that your past is not to be discussed. It’s a perfect metaphor for the silencing of women’s voices.

Dickens doesn’t appear, so we never hear his take. And, intriguingly, we don’t hear too much from the women themselves. The characters silence each other, and the playwright chooses to tell us little about their backgrounds, or about the outcome of the whole experiment.  The plot becomes the relationships between the women in that place, that time. It’s a fascinating miniature.

The play could be read by a misogynist as an indictment of bullying, manipulation and emotional immaturity. That’s not the intention, of course – no more than Hamlet (say) is meant as a criticism of men. The play acknowledges that we are, to a huge degree, products of our environment. If this small contained world of women is less than perfect it reflects only a larger, more deeply flawed, world.

Now, let’s change it.

Paul Gilchrist


Fallen by Seanna van Helten

directed by Penny Harpham

at the Reginald at Seymour til 22nd April

Tix and more info here

The Trouble With Harry

23 Feb

An Australian play! And by a living writer! Thank you Siren. Thank you Seymour.

But The Trouble With Harry is set in the past. Designers Alice Morgan, Matt Cox and Nate Edmondson effectively create a forlorn, sepia, early twentieth century Sydney.

The trouble with Harry is one of identity. Lachlan Philpott’s play is rich in motif: Little boys wanting to leave short trousers behind. Roosters called Lena. Bearded ladies at freak shows. Returned soldiers, in uniform still, but no longer whole. And the ceaseless suburban drone of ‘decency’.

“You think I chose this?” asks Harry, in a rare moment of vulnerability.

Elsewhere, “We’re doing fine,” he tells his wife.

“You act like a man,” she replies. “Do you also have to think like one?”*


Photo by Ben Rushton

With a fine cast, director Kate Gaul creates a captivating night of theatre. As always, her visual imagery is extraordinary.

Philpott’s script is both beautifully poetic and powerfully narrative driven. It’s a thought-provoking mix of direct address to the audience and firm-fourth-wall naturalism. Jodie Le Vesconte and Jane Phegan create the couple at the heart of the story, and present a moving portrayal of genuine affection under threat. Jonas Thomson and Bobbie-Jean Henning play their children, and it is in them we see the contrast between innocence and the pain of knowledge.  Niki Owen and Thomas Campbell linger and lurk, giving voice to the gossipy neighbour, the constant observer, the perpetual gaze. They are the hegemonic narrative, and their performance is suitably unsettling.

The great tension in the concept of identity is this: Identity is our own, but it must be lived socially. (You can have your own private language, but it’s difficult to remain fluent, and only too easy to slip into a soulless silence.) Identity is both personal and political. This fault line is the cause of much pain.

A play set in the past always provokes. It asks are we doing any better.

Paul Gilchrist


The Trouble With Harry by Lachlan Philpott

Produced by Siren Theatre Company

Seymour Centre til 3 March

Tix and info here

* Apologies to Lachlan Philpott if I have misquoted his beautiful words.

The Screwtape Letters

23 Nov

When I read The Screwtape Letters years ago I loved it. C.S. Lewis is a first-rate Christian apologist and an incomparable stylist.

What is an apologist? Apologists defend the claims of Christianity, but not by a call to faith, but rather by historical evidence, philosophical arguments and the like.

Apologists attempt to make the magical appear possible, the absurd seem reasonable.

What Lewis does in The Screwtape Letters is save the Devil.

What I mean is that he saves the concept of the Devil from contemporary cultural forces that would have us view temptation as exciting and evil as transgressive.

Lewis presents Satan as hell bent, not on some metaphysical concept of damnation, but rather on human misery. As one human soul says, as he finds himself in Hell, I have arrived here by doing neither what I ought nor what I enjoyed.

Screwtape is a senior devil dispensing advice to a junior devil on how to best make the human soul in his charge damnable – that is miserable.


Photo by John Leung

It’s a cute conceit, and one of Lewis’ neat tricks is to make Hell a bureaucracy. Sharp letters go back and forth between the departments, and it’s all great fun, but the result is that we’re given some wonderful insights into how we can potentially waste our lives: in sleepwalking habit, in obsession with trivia, in petty vanities. (A simple example: Encourage your human charge to read, suggests Screwtape, though not for enjoyment, but that he may say clever things to his friends.)

There have been several stage adaptations of the book, and this version by director Hailey McQueen works well. This is an achievement; the original source material is not fundamentally dramatic, nor even a dramatic monologue, but rather a set of essays framed in Lewis’ ironic epistolary form.

To make it work, you need a top notch cast, and Yannick Lawry and George Zhao provide the goods. As Screwtape, Lawry is suitably dapper and articulate, classically and coldly reasonable…until provoked. Zhao as Toadpipe gives a wonderful physical performance, his clowning providing the necessary texture which allows us to appreciate Lewis’ rich, beautiful prose.

Do you have to be Christian to enjoy this?

I’m not and I did.

Paul Gilchrist


The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis (adaptation by Hailey McQueen)

Reginald Theatre, Seymour Centre, Tuesday 22 November- Saturday 10 December, then Melbourne and Canberra.

Tix and info here

Grey Gardens

23 Nov

American royalty. That phrase says it all: the paradox of the great democracy obsessing over the privileged minority.

With book by Doug Wright, music by Scott Frankel and lyrics by Michael Korie, Grey Gardens tells the story of a troubled mother and daughter relationship. This particular pair just happen to be Jackie Kennedy’s relations. But, as Noel Coward would say, even duchesses have problems.

The story is presented in two acts. In the first of these, set in 1941, mother and daughter battle out the younger woman’s right to a suitor. Beth Daly and Caitlin Berry do excellent work. And so does Simon McLachlan, who plays the suitor – Joe Kennedy.

Grey Gardens

Photo by Michael Francis, Francis Photography 

The next act is set thirty years on. We’re still in Grey Gardens, the family home, but things have changed. I’m not really sure how. It’s still the same mother and daughter and they’re still fighting, but they’ve become cat ladies, living in squalor. Standard music theatre fare this is not. The two roles are now played respectively (and powerfully) by Maggie Blinco and Beth Daly.

Directed by Jay James-Moody, the show is technically and musically tight. Squabbalogic have a reputation for quality and it’s well deserved. The show’s all class (though considering my earlier comments this might sound like a cheap pun.)

It was pointed out to the audience that the true cost of the production might be much more than will be recouped by ticket sales. Theatre’s a tough business and money must be saved where ever possible. For example, it appears Squabbalogic has purchased the rights for only two of the acts of this three act musical.

Of course, it’s not a three act musical – but the greatest challenge of Grey Gardens, or perhaps its most intriguing element, is that missing thirty years.

Veronica Kaye

Grey Gardens (Book Doug Wright, Music Scott Frankel, Lyrics Michael Korie)

Reginald Theatre, Seymour Centre, til Dec 12

tix and info  here