Strangers in Between Jan, 2018

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An absolute delight. Perfection…

I’m always surprised at how little actors need on a stage to create magic. In this play it is a bathtub, filled with water, which doesn’t really come into play until the very last few scenes. And yet, water does play a significant part throughout the whole story, if you pay attention. So the stage is clear to give the actors free reign of the audience’s imagination.

The play itself has been written by the insanely talented Tommy Murphy, author of the play  Holding the Man, which is an iconic Australian story that has moved people to tears for a decade now. Strangers in Between was written in 2005, a wonderful coming out story in a mostly hostile environment then, now  with marriage equality and equal rights quite firmly in place still an insightful coming of age story that has gained approval of both male and female, gay and straight audiences as a sign of just how timeless the language of this play turns out to be. (One of my seat partners was a young Indian man who saw a play, any play for the very first time. By the end of the show he said to me, but this is a play about gay men, how can you enjoy it as much as I? No, it is a play about humanity, about family and about friendships and that doesn’t change no matter it you are straight or, indeed, gay. He was quite puzzled by that I think 😉 )

The play itself was perfectly cast – yes, I’m biased, but hear me out: The three actors made me want to hug troubled Ben and have a night out with charismatic Will, made me want to mother young Shane and move in with Peter to just sit at his feet and have Chardonnay and good food. Guymond Simon took on two parts, Will with a rakish smile and oozing charm, and the deeply disturbed Ben, Wil King is Shane, the naive, clueless, big eyed and enthusiastic country boy who almost gets lost in the Cross in Sydney and Simon Burke is the mother figure with his self deprecating wit, his knowledge and his undeniable charm, who finally takes Shane under his wing to prevent him from falling prey to unsavoury characters. The Age called him a gay Obi wan Kenobi and I hate them for coining the phrase before I could. It is his empathy, his mastery of his craft. that shines through his scenes and had me truly moved (must have been pollen in the air in that theatre, surely)

The story: Shane, from some nondescript rural background, lands in Sydney’s The Cross, 2005 the steaming centre of gay culture. Barely two weeks later he works in a bottle-o (a shop that sells alcohol), no idea how to work the till, no idea what to tell people. In comes Will and he seems to be everything Shane has ever dreamt of. Charismatic, funny, good looking – and interested in him. There’s also Peter, in search of something nasty for his sister who’s a pain in the ass, who immediately picks up on the vibes between the two.

Neither of the men knows, but this is the beginning of new friendships, a new family even for this uprooted youngster.

Shane and Peter meet again in a bar – Shane clinging to a glass of water, while Peter, at home at the office, as he calls the bar, has a bottle of Chardonnay. With sweet naivete and the almost manic persistence of a puppy, Shane questions poor Peter about everything: where to keep honey (in the fridge? I don’t have a fridge!), what about laundry softener (on the shelf will do… ) , where to get coat hangers, would Peter please accompany him home because he likes company… yes, he is gay  (it’s good to say it), , are YOU gay???? Well, yes I am. You can say it here without being beaten (oh you can say it ANYwhere nowadays, the slightly annoyed answer of Peter) why do you hate your sister? (remember the nasty wine at the bottle-o)

And all of a sudden and probably for the first time a disarmed Peter opens up about his mother’s dementia and that they had to put her into a nursing home and the sister treating her mother as if she was the mother and their mother the child…there is so much remorse but also sadness about the inability to cope with all of it. They sit, then Shane says … so, what  about anal sex? The look on Peter’s face as he is questioned about this …  a priceless piece of acting that’ll stay with me forever.

So poor Shane, slightly more streetsavvy now, catches a sexually transmitted disease (something very bad) from Will. When he’s finally ready to face that fact, he goes to Peter who has taken to feeding him regularly, once again trying to ask him for company. But this time, over a glass of wine, and while venting about Will, who hasn’t called or come back for a while, the conversation gets more and more erotic. With breathless admiration and in vivid detail Shane recalls the way Will looked and smelled and acted, not realising – or maybe yes, realising and trying out just how far he can go – what effect that has on his friend. When he stands up, slowly opening  his belt buckle, Peter gets to his knees almost in supplication, hands shaking, face alight with – – – and then Shane screams at him – he’s only 16, and it works like a cold shower on Peter. Something has triggered the boy, he hurts Peter, accusing him of vile things, until Peter can’t take it anymore and, tears in his eyes, throws him out.

Ben is in town. Ben, the brother who had beaten him when he caught Shane and his friend kissing. Ben, who was successful in sports, especially swimming. Ben who dismisses accusations of a young girl, that their swim trainer had assaulted her, as lies. Ben who loved the water and wanted to spend all of his time in the pool. Ben who – it breaks out of him pained – himself was assaulted and Shane watched it once.  Ben, who follows Shane into the drycleaners and into his locked apartment.  (I was afraid of Ben. I was actually really scared of Ben. Great work by Guymond who has only a different shirt to help create Ben.)

When Shane has reached the end of his rope, his STD spreading, his job gone, his lover Will abandoning him, he turns to Peter again. We’re mates, mates fight and are okay again – that’s what his brother taught him after all … I got an STD, a bad one. Peter’s face falls, his eyes mist up. Which one? Warts! (he says it with all the drama a 16 year old is capable of, and that is a LOT) and Peter breaks out laughing: WARTS???!!!!

He is going to go with Shane to the hospital appointment because they are friends, because they are family. And because Shane will need someone if he’s too “spasticated” from the meds. It’s what family does. And he is. Will is there, to help him into a hot salt bath after his operation, Peter is providing food and water and the bath, for that matter, and it seems that everybody has matured, has gained new insights, new perspectives on life. Will is behaving like a friend, not just a two time lover. Shane has decided to go back to school, and to face his fears and call home to make peace with Ben. And Peter, Peter had been cooking a curry, a recipy his mother had sent him years ago. Was in a kitchen drawer, fell out – purely coincidental – just one hour before the call came. Peter’s mother had died in her nursing home.
And he finally admits, to himself as much as to Shane and Will, that he was sad he couldn’t be more of a son to her. Because no matter what happened before, it is a duty – that when we are young, they take care of us, and when they are old, we take care of them. The remorse, the frustration, the sadness, all that so palpable, so real. (yes, pollen alert, my eyes teared up) And so Shane offers to come with Peter to the funeral, so that he doesn’t have to fly home alone.

Friendships forged in fire. And because of that a play that is timeless, also thanks to the beautiful rhythm of the language used, four different sets of instruments coming together in harmony.

As always, Simon Burke is amazing as Peter. It’s the little things, you know. The way he stands, walks, a gesture, his expressions, all that adds layers to his character. There’s scenes when he talks about his cat – the slut, which then vanishes, probably dies – that broke my heart. He made this character human.

I wish I could have seen it not just in Melbourne, but in Sydney as well. Damn, but it was brilliant and I loved it so much!

 

interview Simon Burke

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Richard III March ’17

theatre misc

Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that lour’d upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.

And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover,
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determined to prove a villain

About a prophecy, which says that ‘G’
Of Edward’s heirs the murderer shall be.
With these words Gloucester introduces himself to his audience, a crippled man, unloved, unsightly and unattractive, yet charming, oh so charming when needs be, and cruel and calculating in order to get what he wants, what he sees as his birthright.

Once again Richard was cast with a woman, the incredibly awesome Kate Mulvany, and once again the audience forgets that a woman is playing a man’s part because as it often is with Shakespeare’s characters, it is the archetype of someone lusting after power, after approval, after recognition that becomes a character – and because Mulvany is just so brilliant in the part. While baring her soul to her opponents, Mulvany literally bares all, standing naked, with just a loincloth like panty, back to the audience, proudly in front of a phalanx of Lords and Ladies, and shocks them into silence. A mesmerising scene.

10 people on stage, waiting in the richly decked out salon, where the play takes place, the men taking on multiple parts, interchangeable just as their hunger for power is. The women play one part each, though, their motivations are allowed to change. Whenever a battle scene is on, we see – in slow motion – a wild almost orgy like festivity play out in this salon. First I didn’t like that, I was too caught up in the “traditional” way of portraying the battles, but in retrospect I think the idea to not move from that salon is genius. The hatred, the scheming and the fights can be identical, no matter what kind of battlefield you choose.

When Richard finally dies because everybody turns against him and his cruel reign (and isn’t it fascinating that hundreds of years after this was written the world waits for exactly this kind of end to yet another nepotistic dictator? nothing changes, it seems), Shakespeare gives him the most pathetic words: A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse. And then Richard is killed.

Not so in this version (and I freely admit I had to look it up and found it in the Sydney Morning Herald – thank you for that!): because Kate Mulvany – who also directed (is there anything this woman can’t do???? she is marvellous!) – gives Richard a final chance to explain himself, to make him understood, even pitied even though pity is probably the last thing he wants. With a monologue plucked from the last act of Henry VI, part III she shows us his warped soul, his defiance, his non-acceptance of his defeat and his final pride:

“I have no brother, I am like no brother;

And this word ‘love,’ which graybeards call divine,

Be resident in men like one another

And not in me: I am myself alone.”

***

standing ovations were had. and rightfully so. Ms Mulvany is incredible, as is her direction. I hope she’s on stage again the next time I’m in Sydney. I will make time for whatever play she’s in.

Chimerica March ’17

theatre misc

 

Chimerica – a fusion of the words China and America coined by academic historian Niall Ferguson and economist Moritz Schularick to signal the intertwined economies of those two countries (watch the pronounciation!) – is not just a play about that iconic photography of a man standing in front of Chinese tanks at Tien an men in Beijing. (click on this link for the original coverage by CNN: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YeFzeNAHEhU ). In fact, this picture is just a starting point for how much the US and China are diverted by culture, by upbringing and by social norms.

It all starts 20 years ago, when young Joe (Mark Leonard Winter, whose character is given his name to reflect the “average Joe” moniker often given to Americans in general), a photographer on his first boring assignment – an economy conference – in Beijing, is caught in the riots of Tien an men and by pure luck looks out the window of his hotel room just in time to see a single man, holding a plastic bag in each of his hands, standing defiantly in front of the rolling tanks, forcing them to avert him. He takes a photo and quick witted hides the film in the toilet.

At home in the US he is immediately famous. In America the lonely man facing the force of China’s army is a symbol of a new dawn in a dark country, the force of the people against an oppressive regime, something that fits the narrative of the US perfectly.

20 years later, now, Joe is still in touch with his then interpreter Zhang Lin (played by Jason Chong), having been back in China often, yet still not speaking the language… Zhang Lin teaches English in Beijing, trying to instill a feeling of freedom in his students, but mostly being a bit weird, shouting from rooftops (literally). He lives next door to a woman with a severe lung infection caused by working in bad conditions. When she dies, he tries to make the government change said conditions. He’d be in need of some backing, but Joe doesn’t get that he’s supposed to help Zhang Lin. Joe hasn’t had any new successes – he still lives off that one photo he had taken in that hotel room decades ago. When a cryptic message shows up in a newspaper, Joe hopes to finally find that elusive stranger.

Back in Beijing we see in flashbacks, how that photo came to pass: Boy meets Girl at one of the student protests there. Boy and Girl fall in love. Girl gets pregnant, they are happy. But then they get caught in the riots, the girl is hurt badly, dies at the hospital. a tired nurse hands the boy two plastic bags with the girl’s clothes, her shoes, the necklace he gave her. With a bag in each hand he walks away, numb, finds himself standing in front of tanks without even realising it.

While in the US, Joe follows lead after lead until he finds the owner of a flower stand, who seems to be connected to the “brave man in the photo”. It turns out the brave man was his son, riding the tank, not standing in front of it,  avoiding collision with a lunatic. And while China spun a story about how humane its army was, the young man driving the tank was later shot because he didn’t roll over the protester.

The audience, of course, knows – thanks to the flashbacks – that Zhang Lin was the brave young man in the photo, something Joe would’ve caught on as well, had he even tried to learn more about his interpreter who had been a friend to him even when they sent him to prison for “colluding” with Joe.

So we look at two lives at dead ends – one in democratic America, where you have to follow orders given to you because of monetary motifs in a more concealed way perhaps, just like in “non-democratic” China. Who are we to say that Democracy as we know it – being executed by rich white men – is so much better or so much more just than any other form of rulership?

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The play doesn’t give us answers, but asks great questions and did have great impact on me. With the help of personal stories (Joe’s finding and losing love, Zhang Lin’s having and losing all hope) it depicts the differences but more often the commonalities of two only outwardly different countries that probably won’t ever understand each other.  I didn’t warm up to the actors that much, though. I “recognised” Joe’s failures from a lot of distant colleagues, who live off lost glory, but Mark Winter didn’t make me care about him, he rather instilled a vague feeling of discomfort in me. I rather sided with Jason Chong, who did capture the life of someone who was eaten by his grief very well.

All in all it was another great night of theatre thanks to the Sydney Theatre Company in the Roslyn Packer Theatre. If you ever get there, try the restaurant. They serve yummie stuff!

 

 

The Homosexuals or Faggots, March ’17

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Please, dear reader, bear with me. I have the ultimate pleasure to see this play multiple times, thoroughly enjoying it every time and being totally overwhelmed by the sheer talent of Simon Burke. Yes, I am a fan, but I think I would be able to be critical as well. It’s just … he – and the cast as well – are amazing.

The play by Declan Greene is new, strives, and succeeds, to be provocative, is over the top crude at times, but drives home its points with directness that sometimes hurts. Because it’s not just “Homosexuals” that recognise themselves in the words of the play. If we all listen closely, we all recognise ourselves to a degree.

You see, it’s all about Warren (Simon Burke) . He is a successful blogger (thedailybulge.com and yes, there are various blogs of that name but sadly none of them is affiliated to the play), he owns an apartment in tres chic Darlinghurst, he’s happily married and quite admired for his erotic photography. At least that’s the picture he presents to the world.

The opening scene lays the grounds for what’s going to come. A very upset Warren tells us about this dreadful evening he’d had. Husband Kim dutifully delivers encouragement and the proper adjectives. Because it’s been a farce! First paying 120 dollars for tickets to impress Warren’s guests from Yahoo (big deal), then sitting through an – English – farce with according to Warren only one redeeming scene (which Kim didn’t like at all), and finally trying to find some food at 11pm in The Cross in Darlinghurst. They make it to a British pub and there it was. In the menue. Written there between Spotted Dick and Wiggly Squids: Faggots! A farce, really. Slurred at by a menue!!! Both Warren and Kim take immediate offense which results in a flying plate, an enraged pub owner (they’re minced liver meatballs!) and a devastated Warren feeling powerless (Kim: you felt impotent.. Warren: NOT impotent, just to clarify!!!) . They decide to boycott the place.

Fast forward months to Mardi Gras in Sydney. Warren has invited a gorgeous Twink (a twentysomething year old straight boy) to do a “photoshoot” he clearly wants to expand into something else. But while the unsuspecting Lucacz tells stories about how he and his model agency friends had been hiking naked and then drove home – naked (and Warren has no idea how to hide his naked lust) – Kim comes home early from a summit, because he had been cyberbullied. So in between hiding the Twink, ushering Kim upstairs and having to take up an interview with Bae Bae, a highly political blogger with a web series, Warren is being tugged in every direction. Only with the help of his old friend Diana he manages to avert immediate crisis, but it doesn’t end there. Bae Bae turns out to be the bully that had hurt Kim. Kim suspects – correctly – that husband Warren had more in mind than just a photoshoot, and had forbidden Warren’s hobby when they married (It’s not even legal, some dyke wooshed a stick over you both on the beach, ladida, says Diana) and Lucacz has lost his baggie of cocaine in the folds of the couch.

Bae Bae turns out to be half blind and only thus another terrible crisis is averted, because the internet VIP takes offence at anything even remotely racist. Luckily she has to run out in support of a friend surrounded by the village people.

The parade starts (and can only be seen from a window over the loo in the bathroom) so everyone still present runs in there.

Enter a burglar. By now Warren – trying to convince Kim he didn’t have a photoshoot planned – wears a too small police costume, Kim has donned a Caitlyn Jenner costume, Diana wants to go to the politically incorrect party a friend is throwing and the burglar looks just like Bae Bae and has lost her previous job as a sous chef because some idiot threw a hissy fit and the pub had to close down because of a boycott.

Lukacz comes back for his “baggie”. Unfortunately the burglar was faster, the coke is gone. Madness reaches its farcical boiling point with doors opening and smashing closed, a couch turning into a wall and hiding people, and the kitchen going up in flames. Warren and Kim’s quarrelling reaches another highpoint when Kim throws mashed potatoes in Warren’s face and knees him in the balls. Those mashed potatoes make another appearance when Lucacz, being jewish, empties the bowl over Kim in his Hitler Drag Queen costume. and then Bae Bae comes back.

And everything is lost. Yahoo won’t be supporting Warren any longer. Diana is deeply hurt not just by Warren’s broken promise to go with her to the party. She fumes about how  both Warren and Kim have left their LGBT family behind to become one of Them. One of the wealthy married people who moan about how hard they have it – even though they have it all – a life none of them could even picture in the 80ies when they buried two or three friends a week at the height of the Aids-epidemic.

When Diana runs out of the apartment, doors banging, the life Warren had, crumbles around him. Kim desperately invokes their broken love, and that they must stick together, and clean up the apartment. But Warren is just sitting there, in the midst of the shattered remnants of his life, everything gone that he cared for, his life with Kim a lie. Tears are streaming down his face as the stage grows slowly dark.

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Farce is probably the most complicated form of theatre to play. If the timing is off, it doesn’t work. If one of the actors tries to be funny, it doesn’t work. If the darkness of/in the end doesn’t come, it doesn’t work.

that said: this farce ticked all the boxes. The cast is fantastic.

I’ll start with Diana – Genevieve Lemon. Her Bill Cosby is a riot. Her monologue at the beginning of the dark end is amazing. The way she goes from hysterically funny to broken by memories and feeling left out by her best friend is an amazing display of her talent.

Bae Bae – Mama Alto – fuck, she’s good as Bae Bae. Yes, words hurt. They have meaning. They are worth fighting for. Awareness is a must in times like these. We all must be alert. I hear, she worked with Declan Greene (the writer) on her part. Damn, she’s talented.

Mama Alto also was the drug addled burglar who looked unbelievably like Bae Bae, thus adding to the farce. I do admit that she did seem a bit too over the top sometimes, but her talent made up for that. I like her a lot and hope that I’ll be able to see her in her “natural environment” as a singer/entertainer sometime soon.

Lucacz – Lincoln Younes – it’s his first theatrical adventure (he’s been highly successful on TV) and he brings all the goodies a “Twink” needs – he has a body to die for, he oozes charm and he’s quite sexy when he’s freaking out on stage. Almost with wonder he confessed at opening night that he realised only during rehearsals that he could actually play with different aspects of his part and he seems to be doing a great job so far, even when he’s realising something doesn’t work and thankfully ditching that in the next show.

Kim – Simon Corfield – he’s portraying that really whiney overly sensitive femme man where everyone’s wondering – given Warren’s preference for young, sexy jewish boys – why he ended up getting married to him. Somehow he feels like the weakest part of the cast, trying to overplay more often than not, and I wonder if it’s an instruction from the director ( who is doing an amazing job, btw – she’s incredibly gifted and the way she’s steering everyone else I think it’s not her directing. Lee Lewis did a magnificent job, and jokingly referred to directing a farce as the anarchy of the rehearsal room). I have the suspicion, that anarchy might have taken over Kim.

Now finally to Warren – Simon Burke. His part is the Lothario of the farce, the charming adulterer, the man who has it all, wants more and loses everything in the process. His comedic timing is impeccable. He is everywhere at once, barely leaving the stage and even breaking the fourth wall in a funny, desperately charming way that makes you understand why everyone is always forgiving him. He does it with an almost magical easiness and skill that is a joy to watch. Yes, he’s playing a “bad” character, but he does it in a way that has you forget his flaws. And when his career, his life finally collapses, the emotion, the sadness, the loss is there in his eyes and his demeanour. There is that one scene at the end where Kim asks him “have you learned your lesson” – and his up to this point heartfelt sorrow for causing so much pain drains away in moments until he finally, much colder, says “Yes”. It seems the last straw his husband is dealing him – when he sits down, tucking his feet under him, hugging his legs, it is clear that he has nothing more to give, no love, no regret, no feeling at all, but also that he can no longer take love – he is utterly alone. Something has died inside him as he looks at his life that is lost and shattered. And his tears mourn more than just the loss of his apartment.

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also I want to thank the theatre and the theatre family at the Griffin – they treated little old me like royalty and I admit I enjoyed that so much! xxx

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This is what Lee Lewis had to say in the program:

This play is a cluttered, messy,cruel modern farce. And right now, in the

midst of the anarchy of the rehearsal
room I am hating both the form and the
playwright: the form for embracing
implausibility and props, and the
playwright for leaving me with no choice
but to put these issues on the stage. If
Declan Greene had a less urgent voice, my
life would be a lot simpler this week.
Declan (has an) extraordinary capacity to detail the humiliations
and horrors of ordinary modern urban existence. His
writing is challenging for actors and audience alike. It
requires a deep honesty about frailty and pretension. It is
painful to make… and not just because of all the slamming
of doors. It is painful because it requires us all to dip into
the ‘well of worst moments’ in order to bring the best
moments of the play to life.
Yes there are big contemporary political issues wrapped
around the play but the heart of the story is filled with love,
age, friendship, the crises of choice and the horror of
mistakes.
The Homosexuals, or ‘Faggots’
dissects the
aspirations of coupledom but with the scalpel of farce.
Everyday at work is like entering the humiliation Olympics.
+++
At the Q&A after one of the shows, (I think it was) Lincoln who said that in ten years’ time we’ll look back at this play and see how far we’ve come – and if we haven’t come this far, how much we failed.

Clinton The Musical Aug., 2016

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William Jefferson Clinton / Simon Burke

I don’t even know where to start.

It’s brilliant. Amazing. Hilarious. Irreverent. Crass. And brilliant again.

And with a light hand picks up current politics as well as the shenanigans of the Clintons back then in 1998.

So let me start with a bit of meta-info:

Michael and Paul Hodge are the playwrites (Michael, the older one, is also a barrister) and came up with the idea of a musical about Clinton by way of a joke made by a friend of theirs. It took a bit, but they finally brought the musical to Edinburgh’s fringe festival and later on after a couple of rewrites for the US-market (you don’t need to explain this, everybody knows!) to Off-Broadway winning prizes along the road. And even though the show wasn’t actually acknowledged by the White House, some official men in black came one night and laughed heartily at the irreverent jokes – as well as some friend of Monica’s who actually believed Miss Lewinsky would have found it fun to watch.

The story is known by everyone who wasn’t living under a stone in the late 90ies (or not born yet): We are following William Jefferson Clinton’s imploding double life – he himself said in his autobiography that he felt sometimes as if he was leading parallel lives; on the one hand the suave and charismatic diplomat who steered the US of A out of financial troubles and into a better future, and on the other hand the still charismatic but also roguish and reckless saxophone playing entertainer who strayed from the married way more often than not.

Which of course led to pretty intern Monica Lewinsky and the Republicans’ war against the President. And even though his political opponents had the “stained dress” and witness statements, they weren’t able to dethrone the charismatic president. Neither Kenneth Starr who investigated Clinton’s affairs (and has just been fired/retired from his university job because of … wait for it — a sex scandal involving the football team), nor Newton Gingrich, the Republican speaker of the house, who began coughing while criticizing Hillary Clinton for coughing, have been glaringly successful since Monica-gate.

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Now finally on to Clinton The Musical

When the curtain rises we see a person in pants sitting with their back to us, the audience, smoking a cigar. The impressive leather chair turns – and it’s Hillary Clinton (fabulous: Lisa Adam), telling us she ever only loved two men her whole life, and they were one. Enter William Jefferson Clinton, suave, charismatic, statesmanlike (the sublime Simon Burke), introducing himself with “I’m William Jefferson Clinton”  –  in struts another man from the other side (radio morning show host Matt Dyktynski) with the same line, just adding “But you can call me Billy, darling”. So while William Jefferson is trying his best to win the Presidency in order to give people a better life, in order to have a legacy (cue Hillary stage whispering “Legacyyyyy”) with telling them that he’s from Hope, it is the roguish Billy – he plays the Sax!!! – who wins over people, because he knows that “people have the attention span of a congested gold fish and politics is showbiz for ugly people!”

The Clintons win – WJ paints the future in The Me I See in glorious colours (Simon Burke’s voice is incredible sigh) – then try to get rid of Billy for the term. Because he lies (I’m creative with the truth) and has no moral compass (I just don’t use it) and because he’s trouble (no! Trouble finds me). This of course sets the stage for a power struggle between the two Williams for the White House and for dominance over Clinton himself. While William and Hillary celebrate their win (would I ever lie) out of the shadows comes a bored intern leading a group of tourists – and stops in her tracks because MR PRESIDENT!!!! I’m Monica (Megan Kozak, her first engagement and boy is she talented)… and off it goes with a kiss that takes minutes there on the steps and Billy declaring his love to Monica – would I ever lie – it’s a brilliant 4some happening; two duets merging into one brilliant song.

Meanwhile at the Republican’s headquarter “a Starr” is wished upon… Ken Starr (Brendan Hanson), the prosecutor, emerges from behind a wall-door in a black coat and hat and he wants Clinton buried deep. In his intro it turns out he wears leather chaps over an american flag thong. It is a safe laugh of course, but also a bit cringeworthy. He dug up a land deal in which the Clintons lost money “Whitewater arrrghhhh” and feeds that to the press. and even though nobody really knows what Whitewater (arrrrrgghhhh!!!) is, WJ is in trouble for the first time as the press is covering the story “today… and tomorrow… and the day after that”. Because the Republicans and especially Newt Gingrich (hilarious and whiney and great Luke Hewitt, snacking throughout the show!) want Clinton and his health care plan by Hillary (“a witch!!” hisses Ken Starr) dead and buried. and it works because congress says “nay”.

And then there’s Monica who is “fucking the fucking president, oh yeah, u hu! I’m fucking the fucking president shazam!!!” but as she can only see one Bill Clinton at a time, she’s devastated when WJ breaks up with her. The budget is – thanks to Billy’s plan to outmanoeuver Newt – balanced, people love their president, Hillary urges both men to work together (you must go both ways) to get re-elected, so “what could go wrong?” A subpoene, that’s what could go wrong.

It’s all downhill from then on – WJ doesn’t want anyone to know about Billy and therefore lies to Starr, his State of the Union-address doesn’t have anything sexy or legacy worthy in it and the press is asking about Lewinsky. In a rousing song about A Place Called Hope William dreams up his vision of America, a vision he’s had since before he was born… “where fox news were made illegal, where everyone would have an education, a house and such, and would need no guns because there are none and would go to church, but not too much. Where two gay men would marry, and adopt a child named Harry and join the Milit-ary and it would be heaven for them. … in a place called Hope”. There’s no time for that, though. Cast aside, Monica decides to side with Starr who – snake like – has waited in the shadows for her call. Together with Monica’s “friend” Linda Tripp (an amazing Clare Moore in a christmas themed pullover, who also doubled as a reporter, Eleanore Roosevelt and Callista Bisek) he has the witness, the DNA, the dress and Monica to ruin WJ, who in the meantime has confided in Hillary (she has plans of her own, to make 8 years in the White House into 16 and Trump plays his part in this…) who is devastated.

Only a miracle can now save the President. A miracle in the form of Callista Bisek – who has intimate relations with Speaker of the House Gingrich. She reluctantly after being outed by Clinton helps WJ understand that he will succeed only when showing his dark side, or in his case: Billy to the people who are judging him.

The trial in front of the congress is about to start, with Billy watching if his alter ego is going to be thrown out of office. But with political half truths William Jefferson manages to escape Starr – he first asks for the paper about sexual relations being explained, which both Starr and the Sheriff (Luke Hewitt obviously enjoying the song) then interpret: “if it’s groin, labia or glands, breast, hands or chest….then it is … sexual relations”. But, what a regrettable oversight indeed, the MOUTH is never mentioned. And President Clinton’s statement that he never had sexual relations with Monica therefore was correct.

Meanwhile Hillary is crushed. Betrayed once again by her unfaithful husband she sobs into the huge desk in the oval office, when Eleanore Roosevelt steps out of her portrait (it’s so lifelike, remarked WJ in the beginning) and gives out good advice to Hill: you’re like a bag of tea – you never know how strong you are until you’re put into hot water. Hillary should stay true to her husband – not out of love or for the marriage – no, for the country. Hillary misunderstands again: she won’t be discarded like a tea-bag – she’ll be president – a bitter brew but strong!

At congress it’s all about dismissing Clinton, who finally admits his sins, showing that he is just human. Even Billy helps to get Monica to forgive him and Callista – who wants Newt for herself – is center stage singing “I’m fucking the fucking speaker, oh yeah!” Then even Hillary joins her husband at congress, waiting for the verdict but the two Bills already have a plan – the lights go out. And in red glittery jackets they appear before congress: two men who make one hell of a president. Clinton is not thrown out of office, Hillary goes on to announce her candidacy for president – just not right away, tea needs time to brew after all – and the two Bills strut down the stairs “Then we’ll be fucking the fucking president, oh yeah, shazam”.

 

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Are you still with me? good!

The cast is marvellous. Seven people, on stage almost all the time, their chemistry is shining through the play. A riot Lisa Adam who unabashedly hogs the stage with her  energy. Her antics in her dreadful water colour suits are amazing. (Set and costume designer Bruce McKinven really outdid himself with a brilliant White House dominating the rotating stage and the dated dresses he created! loved it!!)  She is the ecstatic worshipper, the air guitar player, the driven politician and the gleefully echoing “Legacyyyyyyyyyyyy” wife and brilliant.

Clare Moore as Eleanor Roosevelt’s portrait is quoting the past first lady and being misinterpreted by Hillary – she is brilliant in her multiple parts, as a reporter (what the fuck is Whitewater arrrghhh???) as well as the American woman. And I love her Callista who really hates WJ but still talks sense to him.

Luke Hewitt: I almost broke something laughing when he slurped canned peaches during the impeachment scene (I love peaches!! he’d confessed before). His portrayal of a whiney, not very clever politician who does, well, nothing at all is hilarious and awesome – he is snacking through all his Gingrich scenes leading to slapstick comedy with a too tight belt or a too tight corset or a moment of clarity when he asks Ken Starr if it’s bad to have an affair… asking for a friend…

Which leads me to Kenneth Starr played by Brendan Hanson. Now, don’t get me wrong – he’s a good actor with a strong set of pipes and some hilarious one liners written into his part. But… One newspaper wrote about his almost aggressive portrayal of a gay man. And that was my problem with his interpretation. Of course the whole musical is way over the top (in a truly brilliant way) and blunt and fun, but I cringed when he started slapping his bare buttocks or got the definition of sexual encounters on paper out of his fly. Yes, it’s a programmed laugh, yes, it’s entertaining, but less would have been more, at least for me.

On to the two Clintons. Matt Dyktynski managed to be roguish without being sleazy, and made it very easily believable that women were falling for him left and right. When it is stated that the National Guard was procuring women for him, he steps in, enraged “That is a blatant lie. I procured them myself!” and I swear, me and every woman in the audience believed him. When I met him after the show I gushed a bit and he answered: I live to give! I’m not quite sure if he realised that this tagline was so Bill Clinton I almost choked on my water.

“I’m William Jefferson Clinton” are the first words Simon Burke sings when entering the stage. He sings it American, his accent flawless. When he talks, his voice is slightly hoarse and has the drawl Bill Clinton has. He’s one minute suave, the next comically wringing hands, being afraid of Hillary or trying to bring order to chaos and not succeeding. His talent shines – even more so when the sheet covering the huge portrait of Eleanor Roosevelt wasn’t budging and he improvised, which brought on more laughs. I especially adored his “The me I see” – his first big number, ending on a high note and perfectly executed every time I saw the show. Or his A Place called Hope – the lyrics both earnest statement and hilariously surreal, he creates a new world with his voice, a world we all would love to live in, never falling out of his American accent. Which brings me to the impeachment scene: I swore I saw Clinton sitting in this chair, playing with his glasses, shrewdly commenting around the truth. Even his gestus was on point!  His voice (yes, I am a huge fan, so sue me) is rich, velvety, belting when necessary, lyrical in intimate duets. I was so lucky to see this performance.

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Also: huge thanks to the cast, the people of the black swan theatre and everyone involved for making me feel like a VIP – I have never been so well treated. I am still in shock and awe about it. Just please believe me when I say I loved every second of it and am hugely grateful.

My gratitude to Simon has no bounds. Nor has my admiration and love for him. Thank you for making this trip an extraordinary experience. You rock.

Hairspray April, ’16

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Disclaimer

I’m still not a musical lover. But thanks to Simon Burke I actually learn to love some of them. Be afraid, be very afraid…  😉

 

We are in Baltimore in the 60ies, where being different is still a bad thing and segregation and racism are still very common. But there’s Tracy Turnblad (the brilliant Lauren McKenna), who is different – she’s plump, she’s fun loving and adorably naive and she thinks that everybody should have the chance to just dance together. Her favourite show is the Corny Collins (Tim Campbell and very over the toppish glam – in a good way!) Show and her favourite part of it is negro day. She wants every day to be negro day.

When one of the main dancers of the show drops out ( for, like, nine months),Tracy auditions, only to be laughed off the stage by Amber von Tussle and her producer mother Velma, an ex Miss Baltimore Crab.

But she doesn’t give up. With moves learned from her new black friend Seaweed in detention, she catches the eye of both Corny and the wanna be Elvis Link and is a new regular on the show. When she tries to include her black friends into the all white dance group, they’re all apprehended and land in jail. But in the big finale all is well again: Tracy wins Miss Hairspray and Link commits to her, her black friends are finally integrated into the show and racist von Tussle is put in her place.

Doesn’t sound like much?

Oh but it is.

Not only did the producers manage to get 900 ( nine HUNDRED) kids from 7 to 22  on stage in absolutely riveting choreography. With clever lighting, minimum props and two raised main stages they were able to hold the audience’s focus fixed on the main characters who are able to show off their acting and singing skills.

There we have Tracy, 22 year old Lauren McKenna in her first leading role and she’s killing it. Basically present on stage for almost all the time and singing, her strong voice is a reliable source of joy. She does an amazing job and hers is a name we will have to remember. Wherever she goes next, follow her. She’s amazing.

Obnoxiously racist Velma von Tussle is unashamedly camp played by Amanda Muggleton, who unfortunately suffers from a cold which of course affects her voice. But she is brilliant when she summons her frightened staff with clapping twice and I do believe her when she claims to have a politician in here pocket and damning Polaroids in her safe. Her daughter Amber is unfortunately played by a weaker actress. At first I thought that was a directorial decision, but she actually does lack charisma and stays as bland as she is blond.

Link is the perfect budding Elvis-copy and the weakling Amber first fell in love with. He is good looking enough to carry his playboy/idol role off and good enough to succumb to Tracy’s charme.

Barry Conrad,  a finalist in the Australian x factor, shows off his moves as well as his strong voice as Seaweed and is especially sweet when playing with his love interest Penny (Emily Monsma) whose talent for comedy shines. She’s incredibly cute and lovable.

Tim Campbell does a perfect stereotype of a show host, constantly smiling and focused on himself until he starts to fight for his integration ideas and luckily his poster boy good looks, his voice and his talent provide him with the tools to pull that off without a problem.

Christine Anu (the producer of negro day, Motormouth Maybelle) – awesome. Her voice: damn great. She IS soul music. Damn, she’s good.

Now on to the one drag  part of the musical. (The one played by the absolututely dreadful John Travolta in the movie, whose lack of acting and singing made a mockery of the part)

Here it’s Simon Burke who dons a dress and does his or rather Edna Turnblad’s roots to look good for the cameras, before she, devoted wife and loving mother, goes out to join her daughter in the fight for equality. Having the best lines and being the comic relief could be enough but Simon does so much more with his part. He conveys the slightly frustrated working mum with no time to care for her appearance just as believable as the glam, self assured woman with a cause and a lot of sequins.

But it’s his voice that makes his portrayal so special (and I’m not talking about his choice to not use  falsetto to mock-play a female! I always find that slightly offensive, actually). No, it’s his singing that keeps blowing me away. He simply soars. His ad-libs and ensuing giggles are infectious and despite his (private) claims that he can’t dance he’s really very good at it.

I just wish he’d have a better “husband”. Wayne Kermond, a delightfully pleasant and nice man, comes from Vaudeville royalty and it shows. He strongly reminds me of those old Hollywood vaudeville comedies. Not a bad thing if it fits. Unfortunately it doesn’t in the time set for hairspray. His style is not 60ies, it’s 20ies and 30ies. It also doesn’t help that he’s huffing and puffing through the one song he has. At one point in the show he twirls a cigar like the Marx brothers, for heaven’s sake. too bad his audience isn’t old (or nerdy like me) enough to realise that. I have to say, though, that by the end of the run he had calmed down considerably. A relief, really.

Bastard Territory April 5th, ’16

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A play about searching for ones identity – with very different outcomes. A father running from the truth, a mother desperately looking for love and a misplaced gay son who can’t find the answer he’s looking for, because no one knows the answer (who his biological father is). On their way they influence and destroy the lives of the people they touch , sometimes more,sometimes less. In the end there’s death and alcoholism and a son who sets out to find his mother, as he hadn’t been able to find his biological father.
The play is very good, the actors are strong. But 3 hours with 2 intermissions is too long. The play could use some clever cuts and would profit from it. But other than that it was a really great evening / night at a very cute and charming theatre.