Clybourne Park

Having won a slew of awards (2012 Tony Award, 2011, Pulitizer award, 2011 Olivier Award), this play by US playwright and actor Bruce Norris was always going to be a sell out in the Ensemble season. For a play set in downtown Chicago, its universality is extraordinary and that comes down to its excellent writing. The exploration, the savouring of words and expressions by characters is quite glorious – the celebration of the semantic. In the late 1950’s, Russ (Richard Sydenham) and his wife Bev (Wendy Strehlow) are packing up and moving out of their family home after many years. Their son hung himself after the Korean war in an upstairs room and they have never gotten over it. They want out of that house and are happy to sell it to an African American family – not welcome in the neighbourhood – as many of the neighbours will attest who visit Russ and Bev to voice their concerns. Karl (Nathan Lovejoy) and his deaf wife Betsy (Briallen Clarke) try to persuade Russ, in a very falsely polite and clearly racist way, that such occupants will bring the tone of the neighbourhood down as well as the house prices. The local minister Jim (Thomas Campbell) is even in on the attempt to cajole Russ out of this clearly hasty and unwise decision. A NIMBY attempt in the late 50’s. No one caring how obvious and obnoxious their behavior is, especially to the “coloured” housekeeper Francine (Paula Arundell) and her husband Albert (Cleave Williams). Fifty years later, the same lounge room of Russ and Bev’s house (now owned by Steve (Nathan Lovejoy) and Lindsey (Briallen Clarke) is the setting for an interminably long and overly politically correct meeting where the nimbyism arises again – this time the tables have been turned. Russ and Bev’s decision 50 years ago to sell their house to a “coloured” family triggered a sale of other houses in the area and the once white middle class neighbourhood became a close knit African American community handy to the down town area of Chicago with affordable houses. Now, decades later, the yuppies are moving in, wanting to be close to town and gentrifying the neighbourhood, with its lovely heritage homes and potentially kicking out the black community to replace it with a white middle class neighbourhood. The community consultation is held to discuss the objections to Steve and Lindsey’s DA for the house they have bought – Russ and Bev’s house, and from an African American family. Everyone is keen to hear the other’s viewpoint but no one really wants to change position. This is an invasion of the whites into the African American community even though half a century earlier the opposite arguments were being used to block the African American’s purchasing the houses in the white middle class neighbourhood. The room is thick with irony at how racism, political correctness and property values intersect decades later- in exactly the same way. Directed by Tanya Goldberg, this play requires concentration and is a fascinating exploration of the characters that make up the two communities in both acts. Stick with it and enjoy how the full circle turned in this neighbourhood. Ensemble Theatre. ( Extra performances scheduled for The Concourse Chatswood)

The Pride

Recording a voice message has never been funnier. Bruce (Brendan Ewing), the man about the house, brings his wife Linda (Adriane Daff) a new answering machine as a present and together they sing a cutesy couple message into the phone and then wait desperately for a call to have the message played. This is no usual couple – these are lions (wearing hot onesie lion costumes!). Director and devisor Zoe Pepper of Side Pony Productions was intrigued by the similarities between the behaviour of lions and humans and has set this play in Bruce and Linda’s den – where they are expecting some new cubs (although the disturbing opening scene showing Bruce wringing the necks of some baby cubs seems at odds with Bruce’s new fatherly joy). The domestic bliss is soon rocked by the arrival of new neighbour James (Russell Leonard), a young virile lion keen to help out his neighbours with their renovations. Handier than Bruce, he sets about wallpapering the lounge room, to Linda’s delight as Bruce has been faffing about with the renovations for ages and Linda’s sisters Louise and Miranda are due to arrive and where will they sleep! Bruce’s pride won’t let him acknowledge the help that James can give and the inevitable showdown ensues. There is funny and witty dialogue but it could do with a bit of a boy prune and sharpening up towards the obvious ending. The all singing all dancing lion trio with dark shades and all the right grooves is a crack up!

When and where: Evenings at 8pm till 5 April at Bondi Pavilion

Ganesh versus the Third Reich

Tackling the Nazi’s and the Indian God Ganesh in the one play and having it performed by a majority of intellectually disabled actors from the Geelong based Back to Back theatre group is truly something to behold. This is quite simply extraordinary theatre. This is the story of the elephant headed Ganesh who is requested by his mother Parvati to travel to Germany from India to meet with Hitler and reclaim the ancient symbol, the swastika, from the Nazi’s. But this is a play within a play as the action stops and the actors gather to discuss how the play is going, what they should do, rehearse bit from it and regularly challenge (or accuse) the audience on whether they are watching the performance because of the intellectually disabled actors – some freak porn or is it legitimate theatre. The work was conceived in 2008 and finally performed in Melbourne in 2011. It has travelled all around the world and finally in2014 has come to Sydney at Carriageworks. Directed and devised by Bruce Gladwin, it stars many of the regular ensemble Simon Laherty, Mark Deans, Scott Price, and Brian Tilley- each with a varying degree of intellectual disability. The humour throughout the script is funny and also at times very sharp as the disabled actors taunt each other about their varying levels of impairment “Mark, you will have to speak, Hitler was a great orator” says Simon to Mark Deans whose natural speech is difficult to understand. Luke Ryan is not intellectually disabled and is cast as Dr Mengele, the Nazi surgeon fascinated by disabilities and oddities within the human race- and the Indian God Vishnu. It is ironic that Luke as a very good looking and well built man, plays a character so flawed and imperfect – as well as the perfect God. In Carriageworks large bay area, the set (Rhian Hinkley) is sparse but with many layers of long plastic curtains that are dragged across the stage and lit from differing angles to create mystical backdrops, a train ride through Swiss mountains, a fertile forest in India, a burnt out Berlin with battered Brandenburg Tor. The music (Johann Johansson) is used to full effect to accentuate the varying moods. If you have ever seen the work of Back to Back (Super Discount, Small Metal Objects) you will be simultaneously humbled yet be laughing at the incongruous humour within the work. This is theatre that makes you feel alive, uncomfortable and uplifted – all at the same time.

The Winter’s Tale

The consequences of a mad and jealous king’s actions wreak havoc in a happy family situation when King Leontes of Sicily (Myles Pollard) wrongly accuses his pregnant wife Hermione (Helen Thomson) of adulterous behaviour with his best friend Polixenes (Dorian Nkono). After giving birth to a daughter, Hermione is banished, Polixenes escapes back to his kingdom after being tipped off by loyal servant Camilo (Philip Dodd) that Leontes wishes to poison him. Even Leontes 10 year old son Mamilius (Rory Potter) after witnessing the distressing jealous rage of his father, disappears never to return. Hermione’s innocence is confirmed by the Oracle of Delphi but the King will not believe even this unshakeable testimony. The baby daughter is disowned by her father and is taken by servants and left in a basket in the desert, fortunately to be found and raised by a kind shepherd family and named Perdita. All this happens very rapidly and Shakespeare offers no explanation for this cruel and flaky behaviour of King Leontes who has swiftly destroyed an idyllic family life. As Perdita grows up in the kingdom of Bohemia, unaware of her royal lineage, she meets Polixenes son Florizel (Felix Jozeps) and the young couple fall in love, against the wishes of Polixenes.
After many years, King Leontes is struck by his terrible behaviour and cursed by midwife Paulina (Michelle Doake). Shakespeare wrote this play in the final years of his career and instead of the character development and anguish that you see in Hamlet and Othello, this play has little by way of character layers but focuses on the premise of whether such awful deeds can ever been forgiven and any recompense made. The final scene is an attempt to restore the sins of the past in the famous solemn statue scene. Directed by John Bell, this is the Bell Shakespeare company’s latest offering. A fairy tale child like set with enchanting lights and toys contrasts with the severe and dreadful actions of the King, reminding of the childhood trauma that the Kings’ young son would have suffered before he disappeared. Superb performances, particularly from Michelle Doake whose sharp tongue is like a knife repeatedly stabbing the King’s conscience. Two acts over 3 hours with a 20 minute interval.

Playhouse Theatre Opera House, on now.