Dido and Aeneas

The centrepiece of this years Sydney Festival is like a complex meal which you have to digest to appreciate – and even then you may still be wondering what you just ate. German choreographer Sasha Waltz fuses Henry Purcell’s opera, some extraordinary contemporary dance and the music of the Akademie fuer Alte Musik Berlin to create an epic spectacle. The story is a bit hard to follow if you haven’t done your prereading. Dido, the Queen of Carthage is keen on the Trojan hero Aeneas but not sure if he likes her back. The couple go out hunting and the local witches decide to intervene and suggest to Aeneas to head to Italy and move on from Dido. Like many of his modern day counterparts, Aeneas is a committment phobe and listens to the Sorceress. He ditches Dido, who is not unexpectedly pretty disappointed about this short term relationship which ends in her lament. Not a difficult plot, but in this production, you will be struggling to figure out that narrative so grab the free program on your chair and read the synopsis. However there are many beautiful moments in this work especially the opening prologue being the incredible underwater ballet sequence which runs for the first 20 minutes of the performance with lithe and billowy movements by diving dancers in a huge onstage water tank. There is a myriad of eye catching tableaux especially where the dancers lie on the ground and appear to be physically rippling across the stage. The final dance within a long tangled web of black hair that engulfs Dido is quite stunning. The collaboration with the Vocalconsort Berlin sees the singers double as dancers in a unified troupe of performers. The costumes (Christine Birkle) are ornate and opulent and Attilio Cremonesi’s musical direction featuring three lutes and a viola da gamba, is superb. But don’t be surprised if you take a while to figure out who is Dido and who is Aeneas- and their shadow doubles that pop in and out. Surtitles would have been very handy!

On the shore of the wide world

Sometimes the most simple and ordinary stories can move you in an unexpected and astonishing way. UK playwright Simon Stephens introduces us to the Holmes family in Stockport, near Manchester. Parents Peter Holmes (Huw Higginson), a restorer of old buildings, his wife and childhood sweetheart Alice (Amanda Stephens-Lee) and their two teenage boys Alex (Graeme McRae) and Christopher (Alex Beauman). Life isn’t too bad – lots of football, a new feisty girlfriend Sarah (Lily Newbury-Freeman) for Alex, a reasonable amount of work for dad – you can’t complain. But this does not last. Peter’s father Charlie (Paul Bertram) is quietly drinking himself into the grave, tormenting and assaulting his wife Ellen (Kate Fitzpatrick). The younger son Christopher is hit by a car and the family struggles to come to terms with this terrible accident. For the next couple of hours you are right there, listening as the family tries to hold it together, in their intimate and authentic everyday conversations. An ordinary family hit by a typical tragedy now trying to hold it together but not able to provide each other with the solace each needs. This play holds your attention from beginning to end even though the story is just an everyday glimpse into a run of the mill family suffering their own misery and loss. Beautifully directed by Anthony Skuse, this is a cracker of a story from Griffin and a brilliant start to the 2014 season. Griffin Theatre

When and where: On now till February 1, 7pm evenings. Saturday 1 February 2pm as well as 7pm Nimrod Street Kings Cross

La Soiree

For the past few years, Sydney siders have been enjoying the naughty night time spectacle in the round by Brett Haylock that is La Soiree. An eclectic band of entertainers over the years have included the memorable Bath Boy and Frodo the tennis racquet contortionist amongst others. So expectations are high for this years return. Sadly they are not met. This show just doesn’t have the sparkle and jaw dropping acts that previous shows have had. That said, there are still a number of performers that bring the va voom in occasional spots that you have come to expect. Spaniard via Croydon London, Ursula Martinez is a cheeky nude magician who hides a red hanky in all sorts of places you would not expect. Cabaret singer Sarah Ward channels Shirley Bassey with her deep voiced belting numbers including the memorable song about the affection needing to be shown to her pussy wussy. Ryan McCarthy works his way around a pole in a way that no one with normal abs (or complete lack thereof) has a hope in hell of doing. Jess Love’s skipathon and hula hoop routines are good but not as out of the box as they could be. The stand out was Melbourne comic Asher Treleaven who read from a Mills and Boon romance novel with appropriate sound effects and outrageously wonderful gestures and whose diavolo act was succinct and clever. Treleaven was a stand in for comedian Gerry Connolly who injured himself in the lead up to the show. A low point were the Chooky Dancers whose dance to Zorba the Greek was bewilderingly ordinary and seemed to be a tasteless parody on a Welcome to Country. Cabaret tables and general seating surround the pedestal-like stage or peer down from the balcony while you drink or eat through the show. Just don’t expect it to be as good as last years!

When and where: On now, 8pm, The Studio Opera House

On the shore of the wide world

Sometimes the most simple and ordinary stories can move you in an unexpected and astonishing way. UK playwright Simon Stephens introduces us to the Holmes family in Stockport, near Manchester. Parents Peter Holmes (Huw Higginson), a restorer of old buildings, his wife and childhood sweetheart Alice (Amanda Stephens-Lee) and their two teenage boys Alex (Graeme McRae) and Christopher (Alex Beauman). Life isn’t bad- lots of football, a new feisty girlfriend Sarah (Lily Newbury-Freeman) for Alex, a reasonable amount of work for dad – you can’t complain. But this does not last. Peter’s father Charlie (Paul Bertram) is quietly drinking himself into the grave and tormenting and assaulting his wife Ellen (Kate Fitzpatrick). Then the younger son Christopher dies – hit by a car in a terrible accident that is not the drivers fault. The family struggles to come to terms with this. For the next couple of hours you are right there, listening to the innermost thoughts of the characters in intimate and authentic everyday conversations. An ordinary family hit by a typical tragedy now trying to hold it together but not able to provide each other with the comfort each needs. We watch as Peter turns to his client Susan (Emma Palmer), Alice turns to the driver of the car that hit her son John Robinson (Alistair Wallace) and Alex runs off to London to stay with his friend Paul (Jacob Warner). This play holds your attention from beginning to end even though the story is just an everyday glimpse into a run of the mill family. Beautifully directed by Anthony Skuse, this is yet another cracker of a story from Griffin and what a brilliant start to the 2014 season. Griffin Theatre

When and where: On now till February 1, 7pm evenings. Nimrod Street Kings Cross

The Piper

The Piper – Review
Created by theatre group My Darling Patricia, this is a modern day retelling of the fairly frightening story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin but this is very clearly set in Australia with wry political references. The tidiest town of the year Hamelin, has a dirty little secret that its Mayor is trying to hide. Rampant consumerism has infected the once beautiful town and whilst you can get anything you want 24 hours a day in Hamelin, the town is heaving under its own mounting pile of garbage. None of the slick lines by the shiny smiled photogenic high fiving Mayor will get this town out of trouble. Hamelin may be own for business but it sure smells! Enter a huge bear – the modern aged Piper (inspired by a play former English Poet laureate Ted Hughes). The bear is clad in autumnal leaves and has a way to help the town- but will the Mayor agree to the deal struck by the bear?? Several members of the audience (who bought special onstage tickets) are specially fitted with headphones and become the good folk of Hamelin and have to work with the Mayor to find a way to rid Hamelin of its rotting waste. There are lots of traditional theatrical devices (such as the billowing silk cloth to form the water) that are used in this work but they do not seem cliched as they have been carefully finessed and re-imagined – and a new generation of captivated young theatregoers are seeing these devices for the first time. Everything has been thought of and there is lots of everything- clever sound effects and geometric sets, apt music, arresting video imagery at the back of the stage. This is an ecological morality tale with a beautiful theatrical feel. The plays concept is by Sam Routledge and is directed by Clare Britton and Halycon Macleod. Clare Grant is the voice of the bear and the bear is performed by Ghenoa Gela. Known for its puppetry, this is My Darling Patricia’s first venture into a children’s play (you may remember Africa and Posts in the Paddock) and they do it brilliantly. If you can get an onstage ticket- all the more fun! Great for kids 5- 10.

Tickets $35 adults and $20 kids. On stage tickets are $55 (1 adult and a child). 
When and where:  On now until 19 January at 11 am. 11 and 16 January at 2.30pm and 19 January at 4pm. 1 hour.

Circus Oz Cranked Up

Circus Oz: Cranked Up – Review
The circus is back in town! Celebrating its 35th birthday, Cranked Up is the latest show from Australian circus group, Circus Oz. The show has toured nationally and overseas before being installed in Sydney for the January school holidays. Under an air conditioned Big Top in Tumbalong Park, a construction site awaits with a fire engine red crane and huge suspended New York skyscraper style crossbeam from which the performers spring, spin and fly from the trapezes. Mason, wearing a fetching short leather apron, literally kicks the show off as his muscled leg shoots up through the middle of a grand piano – reminiscent of a variation on Thing from the Addams family. The leg becomes a body which rises up for a pole dance on a very wobbly pole. More talented legs and feet follow as five balls and a table are juggled upside down on only the toes of a very adept performer. Individual acts are good but it is when the whole circus troupe are on stage that the circus magic happens with trapeze routines which are fun and cheeky rather than risk taking. Darrell (aka Des with the mullet, “I was born looking this sexy”) is a crowd favourite, especially his slow mo baton twirling and cartwheeling routine. With a live band on stage, the performers movements are captured with spot on sound effects. A beautiful spectacle emerges when the previously sedate drummer climbs into an eerily lit bell shaped cage and swings through the air setting the beat for the fast ground work of somersaults and backflips below. Cranked Up is gently humourous and playful with moments when you think “I could never do that”!. The magicians need a few better tricks though if they want to hold the audience’s attention!

Admission $40- $95. 
When and where:  On now until 27 January, evenings 7pm, 1pm daily and 5pm Sunday evenings. Tumbalong Park Darling Harbour.
Circus Oz