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.
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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.

La Cage aux Folles Nov.21st, 2014

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I can die a happy woman now. Not only have i been treated like the queen of England – or maybe even better – and kissed not only by Simon but by Todd and the producers, the creative directors et al, I was also lucky enough to see the absolute best version of La Cage aux Folles to date. (There might be a better one in some distant future, but actually I don’t even believe that). 

The seemingly easy interaction between Georges and Albin, the frigging talent of the Cagelles, the sweet, helpless innocence of The Son Jean Michel (Robert Tripolino) that makes him vulnerable… it all adds up to an amazing show that is both gripping and funny and hilarious and heart wrenching. Leave it to Simon Burke to have me sniffling more than once, esp when pointing out how much Albin had sacrificed for him(look over there) or throughout the truly heartwrenching rendition of song on the sand. I loved how they use flashbacks with young actors to show the solid fundament on which their love is built – all within a few takes of the music. Leave it to Todd McKenney to make me feel the real anger during his rendition of I am what I am, no frills, no sugarcoating, just pure human anger. And I absolutely adored the sweet unassuming last scene behind the curtain, in the dressing area, after the Dindons are gone, that made their kiss so much more than just a kiss!
It is a bonus of course that Rhonda Burchmore is part of the ensemb!e as well as Marg Downey as Mrs Dindon – repressed by her overbearing husband – and Gary Sweet as right wing politian. An honourable mention goes to Aljin Abella as The Maid – hilarious as s/he should be.

And the best : I’ll be able to see it again and again and again… Lol
Stage  door – yes, definitely. Bar: hell yeah! The woman’s face when she printed out my tickets? Priceless!! All in all a marvellous experience!!!

Mr Kolpert / March 13th, ’13

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This is a play from the year 2002 – it’s been archived by the State Theatre, recorded by one fixed camera, strictly for research purposes. Now because Simon Burke is brilliant and a miracle worker, I was allowed into the archives of the theatre to watch this surrealistic farce by  young German author David Gieselmann. To say I was happily overwhelmed is an understatement.

Title giving Mr Kolpert is a work colleague in a higher position of Sarah and Ralf. The two have invited friends – but their apartment is bare except for a rather large chest in the middle of the living room. There is nothing to eat as well! So when Edith and Bastian (Simon Burke) arrive there’s the question what to drink, eat and where to sit… And while Ralf is ordering pizza on the phone (not made easier by wife and guests repeatedly changing/repeating the varieties they want) Sarah also makes small talk – did they know Mr Kolpert?

There is an ominous knocking sound nobody can place at first – does it come from outside, is the pizza already being delivered? Or is it in the next room – or is it… the chest … the one item in the room nobody can overlook, the pink elephant?

And then it turns out – Mr Kolpert, with whom meek Edith of all people says she had an affair, who is missing – has been killed. Sarah and Ralf have killed him and stuffed him into the chest that is still standing in the middle of their bare living room. So while they are waiting for their pizzas to be delivered and while Bastian gets more and more aggressive, he and Edith try to open the chest while Sarah and Ralf are trying to prevent that. Even pizza delivery boy joins in – mostly because he’s mixed up their orders – and the terror of knowing that there is a dead person in their midst grows.

When they finally manage to break the chest open… it is empty.

But in the midst of relief and growing jealousy on Bastian’s side, growing confusion on pizza boy’s and simple glee on Sarah and Ralf’s because they were able to fool them all… fists fly and in the tumble between the two men and the two women with pizza boy as a reluctant spectator, they crash into a wall.

Mr Kolpert.

The killing couple had stuffed the corpse  into the dry wall.

It is as if the revelation of the murder and the uncovering of the corpse has freed primal instincts in everybody. They barely and now for real have stuffed Kolpert into the large chest when rage and bottled up anger come to the fore. And it is Edith, shy, meek Edith, who finally raises her hand against her husband under whose short fuse she obviously had suffered for years. Bastian is still half alive when they stuff him, with multiple stab wounds bleeding out, into the chest to their first victim. Because… to kill somebody could be the new normal…

This farce is a brilliant example that even partly repetitive and even nonsensical text combined with a strange, weird plot full of violence and malignance can make sense and lead to some soul searching in the audience if, IF great actors lend their talent.

As was the case in this production. There was not one moment – not even the laughable ones – when I wasn’t mesmerized by the sheer ferocity of Sarah and Ralf and by the very clever way they lured first Bastian, then Edith into their spider’s web of lies and deception, until Edith finally snapped.

And I had to think – what does it take to snap? How cold are we already to dine over a dead body, just being happy it’s not us. And how did Sarah and Ralf first start to kill…

It might also not come as a surprise that I was absolutely enraptured by Burke’s portrayal of Bastian – his command of his voice, facial expressions and finally body made it a joy to watch his fight with his rage, his conscious and finally with Ralf and with Edith and Sarah. He delivered yet another remarkable piece of work and I was so glad I was allowed to watch it.

It’s an amazing play and I am so very privileged to have seen it. My gratitude knows no bounds. (I want a DVD – yes, I am that entitled!) LOL

Mrs Warren’s Profession March ’13

mrswarren

Take a look at the picture I posted. No, for once I don’t mean the gorgeous and talented man in it – look at the curtain: it’s made of roses, and to enhance that visual the theatre adds the scent of roses to it before each show. An enchanted hedgerow of pink and pale red blossoms, its thorns protecting the girl hidden inside – Sleeping Beauty comes to mind at the imagery.

And an innocent Sleeping Beauty she is, Vivien Warren, who lives in this secluded garden. Her goal is to accumulate knowledge, and from this ivory tower of science she dreams of an intellectual life of financial security spent with friends.

As it is her awakening will be a rude one. Up until now Viv has only been a mollycoddled spoiled child, with all the money she needed or wanted, and hasn’t seen much of her mother who has been travelling most of the time, keeping an eye on businesses unknown. Now that Viv’s studies are mostly finished, she is brought into the real world – and fails to deliver. Her mother wants to be friends and therefore invites her into the enchanted garden for a holiday – something Viv despises deeply – maybe because she doesn’t know what to do with life.

To esase the strain of this first longer meeting mother Kitty Warren has invited a good friend, architect Mr Praed (Simon Burke), to join them. Also coming is her business associate Crofts. And indeed, Praed is the perfect ice breaker as he arrives prior to Mrs Warren and Crofts. Charming and charmed by Vivien’s unconventionality he eases her out of her shell by confiding that he is an “anarchist, I can’t abide the law.” But in doing so he still is trying to uphold the strict regulations society requires of him in his day and age – he fights for the “hard chair” and even though he loses he still has done what convention asks of him.

Crofts – when he finally shows up, trailing Mrs Warren – is a man who knows his worth and his standing in society. He demands attention and is almost immediately drawn to the young woman. Secure in the knowledge of his wealth and position he decides to marry her – and thus asks Praed if he knows who Viv’s father is – after all, Mrs Warren has made this a secret to day.

But Praed, even though apparently well informed, has no idea – he is proud to be Kitty’s friend, and in being her friend he does not attempt to know all her secrets – or even know her as well as other men probably have. He takes his pride that he is the one man she can turn to without having to fear he would misuse her trust. He is also fairly disgusted of Crofts’ ambition to marry Viv – Crofts after all was “born old! I was born a boy.,.”

Finally enter Frank, who, with boyish charm and an immature, childish enthusiasm pursues Viv – with the best of intentions of course: As the young woman seems to have all the money she wants, he is definitely ready to marry her – in order to finally get out of his financial troubles his rather flippant lifestyle brings on.

And thus the story unfolds. Mrs Warren, a lot more hands on and less lady-like than her educated daughter, demands her daughter’s love and respect, Crofts wants to marry Viv (as long as he isn’t her father) and reminds her that he won’t live forever. And Frank is adamant to defend his ticket out of his debts – even with a rifle, if need be. But it is Crofts who fires the parting shot: he re-introduces Viv and Frank – they are half siblings, the reverend apparently their father.

With that the gorgeous hedgerow vanishes – Viv has been awakened to the circumstances of her mother’s life – a life she has benefitted her whole life from. And while she pragmatically and rationally understands that women might be in troubling circumstances that force them into a life they would not normally want to choose she cannot understand why her mother, settled and rich for years now, hadn’t abandoned the profession she had been forced into so many years ago. With all her education and her own dreams of independence she cannot comprehend that for her mother, staying in this business as a madame hads been the only way to be as independent as she wanted to be.

And so Viv breaks with her former life – she no longer accepts her mother’s checks, she works for her living. And she has to accept that Frank is distancing himself from her: not because of her mother, he argues, but because she cannot support him and herself. And so Viv’s only friend stays Praed, the hapless romantic, always in search of beauty and art in everything. He will flit in and out of her life, a friend, nothing more, while she is alone. just as alone as her mother who wasn’t able to buy a daughter’s love with all the money she made.

Now it’s no surprise that I really enjoyed Simon Burke’s portrayal of the helpless, hapless architect who means well, but fails to be of any help. Praed is a bit like the audience – partly in the know, but unable to stir the play into a different direction. His part has some funny one liners which he deadpans with brilliant timing, and his wide eyed surprise/shock is one of the highlights of the play. It is certainly credit to his huge talent that he commandeers the scenes he is in – with ease and elegance, I might add.

Also brilliant in her part: Helen Thomson as Kitty Warren. Her immaculate lady with the shady present comes through when she tries to get a reaction out of her daughter, abandoning the high class dulcet tones in favor of a vulgar London brogue that has no place in society.

Frank – Eamon Farren – is suitably young and charming and captures the good for nothing attitude with verve. He is the young version of Crofts – Martin Jacobs – who made his money by investing in shady dealings but still is able to hold his position in society. Both men have never worked a day in their lives and still are honored members of nobility. Frank’s “roman father” Drew Forsythe is every bit the comic relief as well as the center of the play. He succumbs to the sudden changes in his life with ungraceful embarrassement, which is incredibly funny to watch.

The weakest link in the play is unfortunately young Lizzie Schebesta – Viv – who emphasizes the modernity of her character without realising the restrictions that still came with being a young woman in the 1900s. Her facial reactions and expressions are too “modern day” to translate well into a character of 1902, the year the play has been first brought onto a stage. She shows none of the trepidation a woman in her time would have certainly felt when all of a sudden plunged into a life dependent only on her own. Her “awakening” feels as if she’s made up her mind to move into a smaller apartment in the city, not as the decision to live alone from now on.

But aside from that one bit of criticism I love the show, the minimalistic stage design is incredibly well done and choreographed in the changing of the scenery. and Shaw’s words have not lost their appeal – his reckoning with the double morale and double standards of his time are as apt as they were then. And we all should try and think about the prejudices we still carry around – and about what or how much it takes to make us forget them…

Mary Poppins Feb. 2012

Now I do realise that this is going to be a bit biased (yeah, what a surprise) as my most favorite actor/singer/entertainer is participating in the show. But that said I will try and be as objective as I can be despite the fact that I enjoyed the show tremendously – all eight times I saw it. 😉

Prior to coming to Australia’s lovely Brisbane I’d read many a raving review on the show, and I hoped the musical wouldn’t disappoint. Well, it didn’t – which shouldn’t come as a surprise as it’s Disney. Which means it’s a highly professional production with a lot of love for details and an impeccable cast – that’s what Disney does best.

I just assume the story of Mary Poppins is well known through the books of PL Travers or the Disney movie. If not, I added a rather extensive summary complete with “songs” and “dance numbers” in quotation marks below. All this because I really really want to delve into the characters of the play first.

First of all – the children: four girls, four boys, alternating the parts of Jane and Michael and each of them such a talent, so absolutely brilliant on stage. As I saw the musical more than once I am lucky enough to have seen both main cast and understudies – and it was a joy to watch them. The kids are rarely off stage (just to get another costume on) and all share an obvious enthusiasm both for acting and singing. Yes,  one girl had better enunciation or was more natural, yes, one of the boys has a face just made for the stage with bright red hair, too. But all in all they were each fabulous in their own way.

Then Bert – played by Matt Lee – he is an amazing dancer with a stamina that is breathtaking. There is this one routine where he has to walk up the walls and then dance while hanging from the ceiling to “step in time” and he is just brilliant. He even manages to sing hanging in the rafters, while tap dancing. I get dizzy just describing it. As the storyteller he too rarely leaves the stage and his presence reminded me strongly of an irish leprechaun, a youthful, beard less version at least, no stranger to trickery but not mean spirited in the least.

And then Matt Lee had to leave for Perth on a publicity tour and Drew Weston had to take over. And he was great – he took a different approach to the part, a more mature, less cheeky, wink-wink one, more the one of a hero in disguise, waiting for his moment, and it worked. While a little breathless during the first few minutes of his performance he was flawless even tho, as he confided at the stage door, he hadn’t stood in for Matt in over five months. He delivered a solid, spirited performance and I consider myself lucky to have seen it!

Mary Poppins – I am convinced Verity Hunt-Ballard was born to do this part. She has a natural elegance and does the part with vigor and poise, and the voice of a lark, and all that without a single hair out of place. I know it’s all down to make-up and behind the scenes work, but the way she is leading is just amazing. Even in the huge tap dance number to “step in time” she is spit spot speck perfect in every way, never losing the natural grace that looks so easy and takes so much work.

This is brought to mind when the understudy takes over – now, every understudy is doing a fantastic job and they are all very well trained, of course. But there was a certain lack of confidence and composure I spotted – and I’m quite sure the rest of the audience was unaware of. The one thing the audience noticed tho was the total failure of the contraption that enabled Mary to fly one matinee. The thing got stuck behind the scenes with the poor understudy in it and they had to draw the curtain and end the show without the remarkable flying act that made the children scream every day. I hear they had to untangle the poor woman who was shaken but not injured. whew.

What bothered me, though: I found some of the educational turns Mary Poppins has to take quite creepy, to be honest, but then in every good fairy tale there is also an amount of horror and in this case it might just be the number “playing the game” – might just be me, though.

Another part where I had the chance to see two different actresses play on stage: Mrs Brill, the cook. Sally-Anne Upton was brilliant, absolutely marvellous and able to take her part and turn it into theatre gold: the way she pronounced the word heirloom will be forever in my mind, the hhhhhhhhhheirloom in question being a dainty vase. Her understudy was very well prepared but lacked in body volume as much as in comic timing, I am afraid. She was good, but in comparison not nearly as good as Upton. Again this is something the audience would not be aware of and I know that I’m lucky to have been able to notice it.

For comic relief and as counterpart to Mrs Brill is valet Robertson Ay (Christopher Rickerby) the right sort of clumsy and well meaning, he and Upton playing off each other delightfully.

Unfortunately I just saw Pippa Grandison as Winifred Banks – she has the least appreciative part in the play. Rather dim and dumb she has to try and find her niche in family life, not succeeding much as a mother, a wife or a lady of society. Her character doesn’t have the chance to shine in a dance number – the one song where she could join she is just allowed to stand there, ruffling her long skirt to expose her undergarments. And she has just one song, “being Mrs Banks”, but sadly the orchestra comes on a bit strong and drowns her out almost completely. I would have liked to see what any understudy could have made with the part, but it wasn’t to be and so Winifred Banks stays rather bland and lackluster in my memory.

Not so, of course, George Banks. Simon Burke is obviously my most favorite actor by far, his talent always as much a joy to see shining as his down to earth personality and his considerable charm make it easy to approach him at the stagedoor.

What he does with the part of Mr Banks is remarkable. From the clearly damaged man, incapable of showing his children any affection or his wife any love he changes through the course of the play into a man fighting for his family and finally into a  loving father and husband. It is a character study, showing change in small gestures and his expressive face.

There is this one scene where his children try to say good night and he finally realises that he is able to show them love without losing his standing as a father – and the kids, knowing that he has lost his job, probably for good, offer him their sixpence – a little money to loosen up the situation (an expression Michael clearly has heard from his father before) – and Banks is just standing there, tears running down his face, from this moment on a changed man. (I do not have to mention that this was also the moment when I reached for anything – usually my shirt – to wipe away the annoying dampness in my face, do I?)

There is also the struggle to find himself again, when he is alone in the park, the charming “good for nothing” he once was and what became of him. Aided by his lush and very expressive voice, Burke manages to be completely convincing throughout the whole musical, treating it as the drama it can be with actors who know what they’re doing. He became the charge that’s been blowing up in Miss Andrew’s face because of mistreatment, and he turns into the man he wants to be with a little help from Mary Poppins, Bert and his own children who teach him how to love them.

Yes, I admire Simon Burke very much and up until now his talent has never left me wanting – and I’ll certainly be booking yet another trip to wherever whenever he announces his next engagement.

++++

The story is told by Bert, a Jack of all trades who loves life and comments on all the family business going on on stage. His imagination is what shapes the story in the first place. – The Banks’ children are everybody’s (certainly mine!) personal nightmare and should be brought to classes on why to not get pregnant. Jane and Michael simply refuse to be broken by Nannies whose only means to nurture someone are fear and intimidation and not a little bodily abuse. Therefore the children act up and their helpless mother – a former not very successful actress – is way out of her league not only to find a suitable Nanny but also to keep her own offspring under any means of control.

The father, George Banks, an aptly named banker with a personal history regarding Nannies, keeps as far away from personal matters as possible – his only hope (mocked by not only his servants but also by his rather dim wife)  is “precision and order” (a new song) – something hard to acquire by the looks of it…as another Nanny has just left the house. This time Jane and Michael try to have their own advertisement placed in The Times – they are searching for a loving Nanny who won’t pester them – and if she doesn’t there won’t be any frogs in the bed or pepper in the tea.

George of course will have nothing of it – he rips the letter to pieces and throws it in the fireplace. Enter Mary Poppins, proper and “practically perfect” (a new song)  she takes over the decision making from wife Winifred and introduces the children to her very own and magical way of imagination. Not only do they go on a “Jolly Holiday with Mary” in the park, even together with a rather unkempt but friendly Bert, they also experience marble statues coming to life, and see their world in – literally – new colors.

So while the children “hope she will stay”, Winifred prepares for a tea party and has the help of her children – not a good idea, as they soon wreck the kitchen and cause chaos. But Mary Poppins turns a chore into a game and soon the kitchen is spit spot speck and the kids even like the remedy they are given – as it is given “with a spoonful of sugar” and tastes like their favorite flavors. Despite all that magic happening the tea party is a failure: Winifred clearly invited the wrong people – upper class snobs instead of her real friends – as they all refused to come to the ex-actress’ house.

The next day sees Mary and the children on their way to George’s office – to experience “precision and order” first hand and see how their father makes enough money to provide for them all. We see him interviewing two prospective clients – a snazzy man with an idea but no heart and a man with decency who, when meeting the children, even gives them sixpence each to teach them the value of money. And then Jane asks her father the all important question: what do you look for in an investment? A good idea or a good man? and it is the first time we see George Banks review his whole life in that one moment before answering: I guess I should say a good idea, but a good man is much rarer and harder to find.

So he invests the bank’s money in the decent man’s plans and lets the snazzy German with the high flying ideas go. Because “a man has dreams” …Unfortunately the bank’s CEOs don’t see eye to eye with the decision George has made – they suspend him without pay until further notice and plunge George into a deep depression.

Jane and Michael meanwhile learn something new, too: that someone in rags and dirty not necessarily is a bad person. The Bird Woman teaches them how to “feed the birds” and to see behind the outward appearance.

Another venture into the park brings the kids and Bert and Mary to the Talking Shop – they buy letters and create a new word – “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”.  When they come home and share the word, the song, George Banks explodes which leads to the children taking out their frustration on their toys. But of course Mary Poppins won’t have any of this – not only does she berate the children, that sometimes parents need help, too, she also brings the toys to life and lets them explain how the children are not “playing the game” (a new song)  without destroying them. At the end of the song Mary leaves – because sometimes the children have to cope for themselves to learn something.

Days later Winifred has a surprise for her suffering husband: she finally found his Nanny, the one he always spoke of with great respect and admiration. Or so it seemed to her. Because when Miss Andrew arrives it becomes clear where poor George got his inability to communicate from: The Holy Terror who with “Brimstone and Treakle” (a new song) made his childhood a loveless, living hell. He storms out of the house while Miss Andrew starts her education in a way that makes Jane and Michael run to the park, where they meet Bert again, this time a chimney sweep who tells them “let’s go fly a kite”. Which is a great plan as their kite brings back Mary Poppins! And it is the same park where hours later poor George is reminiscing about his youth when he was still the “good for nothing” (a new song) on cherry tree lane. A man who seems long gone now. And the same park where Winifred searches for her children, realising for the first time what it means “being mrs Banks” (a new song).

Back home in Cherry Tree Lane 17 Mary Poppins frees the lark evil Miss Andrew had captured, then forces the Holy Terror to drink her own poisonous potion of  “Brimstone and Treakle” (a new song) and sends her – hopefully – to hell because mishandled charges blow up in your face. So finally when George is brought home by a police man the family is reunited and will face their fate together.

As a last lesson the children learn that a “step in time” is all it takes to change their life – and while the chimney sweeps invade the house, George Banks receives notice from his bosses: he has to come to the bank this evening. In preparation he plans to sell his only heirloom – a beautiful vase – but breaks it by accident. Amongst the shards are glittering stars – collected and hidden away by him when he was still a little boy. And it seems the stars are more important to him than the vase – they are, after all, his only happy childhood memory. With a handshake with Bert for good luck he goes on his way to hear his fate.

But to his surprise – “anything can happen if you let it” – he isn’t going to be cut off; in fact he made his bank a lot of money as the money scheme of the German entrepreneur blew up in his face and brought their rival bank to its knees, while the decent customer’s factory was a solid success.

In the end Mary Poppins is able to fly away again, soaring over the heads of the audience in the most breathtaking way – she is no longer needed by the reunited Banks family where the children are finally feeling safe and loved and even the parents’ dodgy marriage is mended – showing in the tenderest of very romantic kisses ever seen on stage.

The show ends in yet another terrific dance number that works as a curtain call as well, bringing the whole cast on stage again for well deserved standing ovations.