Kat of the Musicals

Ok well. The actual review of me going to “Like Me” will also be posted soon. Let me just say- it wasn’t for me. Interesting concept though.

The interview was originally posted on Arts on the AU.

Following two sold out seasons in 2014, Mongrel Mouth now returns with a new immersive theatre production Like Me, which will take place in a 166 year-old mansion in The Rocks. The AU caught up with director Duncan Maurice to discuss immersive theatre, unpredictable audiences and laughter saving our sanity.

What is the concept behind Like Me?

Like Me is a comedy that mirrors society’s narcissistic obsession with social media. We wanted to make a work that reflects the ridiculous nature of popularity and the silliness of pursuing it. In Like Me we at Mongrel Mouth are ready and willing to laugh at ourselves and the world around us in a hope of understanding it more. This new show is about the crazy culture of the contemporary ego driven individual and the hilarious hangers on that inspire it.

What sets immersive theatre apart from a more traditional theatre production?

The stage and characters of immersive theatre are all around you and not something to sit still in front of and just watch, although you also have that option too, if you wish. Mongrel Mouth makes immersive theatre that allows the audience to move freely throughout many rooms on different levels of a huge house where the action is happening simultaneously. They can choose a thread of the narrative that intrigues them and pursue different characters. The audience can also make choices throughout the show that effect the outcomes of scenes and ultimately the story. The characters at times might speak directly to members of the audience or could even whisk them away into a private room . This kind of work is spontaneous and unpredictable because although there is a plan for the show the potential for anything to happen is much greater than in a traditional proscenium arch production.

How important is the setting, in this case the 166 year old mansion in The Rocks, to the production?

This huge house has an enormous influence on setting the mood, flow and story of the show. We bring in a lot of set design to create an evocative world that audiences are surrounded by. The physical layout of the house informs how we write the story, create the characters and develop the show. The house is very important to the show because it evokes the audiences imagination, understanding and informs how they move throughout the space.

How do you need to consider audiences when creating such an unpredictable experience?

The audiences experience, engagement and reaction to the show are always at the forefront of our creative development. Every production and in fact every single show teaches us more about audiences. The one thing we know for sure is that an audience member and sometimes more than one will do something we didn’t expect. Because in Mongrel Mouth shows the audience are free to do whatever they want whenever they want we try and anticipate the different choices they will make. Most of the time we have the different options worked out but not always. This is when the real fun begins because the actors need to adapt and keep going, this is the true magic of Mongrel Mouth theatre. During the writing of the shows and the rehearsal process we plan and predict but we’ve learnt always expect the unexpected.

How have you approached incorporating Jacques Lecoq’s Bouffon theatre style within Like Me?

The clownish mockery of Lecoq’s Bouffoonery underpins the characterisation and performance style in the production. This wonderful genre of comedy is a vehicle through which to expose the foolishness and frivolity of the flawed characters in the show. Mockery is at the heart of this style of clowning and this enables the actors to play endlessly with each other and the audience. Creating silly scenes about real themes is the bouffon’s gift to the stage and the key to hearts of the audience.

Did your (very successful) experiences with last year’s sold out sessions impact your approach this year?

We are overjoyed that people are enjoying our hard work and we have the opportunity to make more shows. Knowing that people are energized by new forms of theatre and entertainment inspires us to take pride in our work and keep on going. We believe that audiences deserve value for their money and we want to ensure we deliver high quality art that pushes the boundaries of tradition whilst respecting the unwritten rules of entertainment.

You have said that “laughter might be the only thing we have left to save our sanity”. What did you mean by that?

That laughter is the best medicine. We are continually bombarded with the struggles of the world and I believe we must face the reality of living in this country, on this planet in this time but to do so we need the joy of laughter. To do more than hopefully survive but to really turn this ship around laughter must be the wind upon our sails.

And finally, what should audiences expect from the pure madness that is Like Me?

A fun night of entertainment where anything could happen.

I saw Bobby recently in Ladies in Black and he was fabulous (as was the whole musical)!! Looking forward to seeing him in something again soon.

The interview was originally posted on Arts on the AU.

Frankie Valli himself handpicked Bobby Fox to star in the Australian production of Jersey Boys, a show which he has since performed over 850 times! The AU caught up with Bobby to discuss this honour, adoring fans and what to expect in his latest show Four Seasons In One Night.

You have had quite the career- 4 times World Irish Dance Champion, tours with dance productions such as Riverdance, starring roles in several successful musicals and even realising your own debut album. What has been the standout for you?

The standout in my career so far was completing my role in Jersey Boys after three years of playing Frankie Valli. It was such an amazing feeling to get the part of course but I knew there was such a huge task ahead of me. I wanted to do it and do it well. What I’ve learned from playing that part will stay with me for as long as I’m a performer.

You were handpicked to star in Jersey Boys by Frankie Valli himself. Was there a lot of pressure with that kind of responsibility?

I suppose there was. But I just refused to think of it that way. I just thought, ‘do the work and the practice and it’ll all fall into place.’ There was an amazing team of directors and choreographers there to guide me though all the way so I felt I was in great hands.

Were you familiar with the Jersey Boys before being cast in the musical?

I was. I had seen the show a year before the auditions started in Australia, which actually worked against me! Because I loved the show so much I was beside myself with nerves before my first audition. Thankfully though the panel saw through that and gave me a second shot.

What is it like working with such amazing jukebox material as in Jersey Boys?

Sometimes being part of “jukebox” shows can have its difficulties. The material can be hard to make work. But in Jersey Boys it’s so unbelievably well crafted and written and directed that it was nothing but a wonderful challenge every night. Some of the finest pop music ever written by some of the finest writers that ever lived.

How do you keep your performance fresh each night after having performed for over 3 years and with 850 performances?

The role of Frankie in Jersey Boys was so hard and the writing so complex and layered that no matter how good you thought you were getting at it, there was always more to learn and improve on. I loved it. I’d love to play it again someday.

The musical is known for its adoring fans, do you have any experiences/stories from fans that you can share?

I got a call from my agent one day with a strange request – to appear as a ‘special guest’ at a 35th birthday party. It’d never happened to me before so I was intrigued. The deal was made and I was to stay for two hours directly after my show on Saturday night. Honestly, I was quite nervous about what was going to happen. They ended up being the nicest people you could ever meet and we are now very close friends to this day. In fact, five years on, I’m going to her 40th this weekend and performing at the party!

What can audiences expect from Four Seasons in One Night?

The show is basically a backstage pass to what it was like seeing and getting the role of Frankie… to learning and performing the role over 850 times… to anecdotes about what it was like performing at the Footy Grand Final to seeing Frankie himself perform live. All intertwining the greatest hits of Jersey Boys and The Four Seasons.

And finally, do you have a favourite song to perform?

I love ‘My Eyes Adored You’. It’s simply stunning.

I didn’t actually end up seeing “The Unknown Soldier”, but it seemed to be a beautifully put together play.

The interview was originally posted on Arts on the AU.

On the battlefields of WWI, a 16-year-old soldier fights for King and Country; in the 21st century, a 13-year-old boy questions how a soldier can simply disappear. In this new play The Unknown Soldier writer Sandra Eldridge explores the themes of this Unknown Soldier – who he is and what does he represent to young Australians today?

The AU caught up with Sandra to discuss the new work (her first as a playwright!) and how it is brought to life on the stage of Darling Harbour’s Monkey Baa Theatre.

Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you came into the idea for writing The Unknown Solider?

I’m one of the creative directors at Monkey Baa, an actor, director and writer with the company, which we formed way back in the 90s. Almost 18 years ago! The idea for The Unknown Soldier came from a number of sources, touring around the country and wondering what a young person makes of the War Memorials that are prominent in each town. From a dinner conversation, my brother told me about when he and his friends all realised that they had a Great Grandfather that died on The Somme and [had] characters from that time talking to me once I had spent a few years researching the period and the War. I also wanted to make a piece of theatre around the time of the centenary of WWI.

The play was conceived through your travels around Australia, from war archives, diary extracts, books and poetry. What originally prompted this trip?

I’m very lucky to travel a lot with my work. Touring Monkey Baa Theatre productions as an actor or director, or visiting schools around the country doing workshops. It’s allowed me to journey to so many beautiful and strange, wonderful places.

How does one attempt to bring the battlefields of WWI to life on stage?

We are very fortunate with the play to have a terrific director Matt Edgerton at the helm and a fantastic design team, Anna Gardiner (Set and Costume) Matt Cox (Lights) and David Stalley (Sound) and through research, creativity and sheer brilliant stage craft they are going to make it happen. But the most important ingredient is the audience’s imagination. That’s what makes theatre so unique and special.

The Unknown Soldier is the Monkey Baa’s first entirely new work. How does this compare to approaching adapted productions?

It’s been a different journey for Monkey Baa in the process of creating this script. When we adapt a piece, we have the framework of the story laid out for us. Almost like a map that we choose to stay on or veer from, depending on the dramatic choices that we make with the work. Also, we adapt a piece for the stage collaboratively with Eva Di Cesare, Tim McGarry and myself working very closely together. This was a play that emerged from my research and imaginings, so at times, it was a lonely process for me. But I liaised with the others and Tim was dramaturge on the play, which was great. We had (as with our adaptation process) a creative development on the script, so it got bashed about a fair bit with the actor, director and dramaturge all working closely with the writer (me) to tighten the script.

Since moving to Lend Lease Darling Quarter Theatre, we have been expanding our repertoire and our process in creating theatre for young people and this journey was a part of our expansion into other forms of theatre making. Ultimately though, as with our adaptations, we have a script at the end of the day that we take into rehearsal and hopefully create a engaging, entertaining theatre experience.

The play is also a first for you as a playwright. How does the experience of being both writer and actor compare to simply being an actor in a production?

Yes, it’s been an enormous learning curve and I had to take the writers hat off at the beginning of rehearsal. We joke in rehearsal that the writer is in bed working through the Harry Potter series, so can’t be disturbed. But if there is a tweak here and there, I’ve put the hat back on. The interesting aspect is seeing links that I didn’t know I had written. An actor comes to a script from such a different angle and that has been fascinating to discover. Lines have been hard to get in though as I have 12 drafts in my head!

To you, what does the Unknown Solider represent to young Australians today?

I hoping it offers questions about war, about fighting about being a soldier, about honor, duty and sacrifice. Seeing the links between WWI and the war Australia is currently in today. And I hope that the War Memorials become more than granite, but speak.

And finally, if there was one thing your audience could take away from this production, what do you hope it would be?

That the past isn’t a foreign place, it is always with us.

My most favourite ballet that I’ve seen so far <3, and the discovery of my now favourite Ballerino Guo Chengwu (even though he arged that One Piece was better than Bleach- ha!)

Originally posted on The AU Review.

The Dream is a beautiful adaption of Shakespeare’s classic tale of whimsical lovers quarrels amid a magical midsummer’s night. In The Australian Ballet’s latest adaption the tale is brought to life within a beautiful forest setting full of characters demonstrating the physicality, charm and lightness through dance that one can easily imagine of the original tale. The night is divided into three distinct ballets, with Monotones II and Symphonic Variations preceding the main act of The Dream.

Monotones II is simple in execution and very precise, with three dancers clad in white body suits- two male, one female. The dance is elegant and concentrates on controlled flexibility. The two males provide a support for the female as she turns around on the spot in full extension.

The second, Symphonic Variations, is a little more lively. The dance is comprised of sharp fast movements, dispersed with moments of held pause, and reminds me ever so slightly of Irish dancing. The partner work is splendid, with plenty of lifts and turns. There is a fabulous moment of such synchronicity with Amber Scott and Ako Kondo, and the short solo from Brett Chynoweth was probably my favourite part of the piece.

Both pre-ballets were both splendid in their own right, but by intermission I was certainly looking forward to being swept away into a storyline! Time for The Dream!

The adapted tale follows the four young Athenians- Hermia, Lysander, Helena and Demetrius, as they are caught up in their tangled love lives. Nearby the King of the Fairies Oberon and his Queen Titania are having their lovers quarrel. Oberon intends to humiliate Titania with the juice of a flower, which will cause her to fall in love with the first thing she sees- which turns out to be a mule-headed man. Chaos ensues! Eventually everything is set to rights once more, with all couples rightly matched and the royal quarrel resolved.

There is something so right about the tale brought to life through dance- for these are characters of magic and whimsy, and the beautiful dewy forest stage, soft costumes and dazzling ballet (Fredrick Ashton) is perfectly dream-like. Mendelssohn’s score sets the piece to charm its audiences, with the right amount of playfulness and etherealness. It’s all a wonderfully magical experience.

This is a ballet that is very much to be enjoyed. There are no tragedies or unrequited loves here! The Dream takes you on a beautiful journey through a well-known tale, a tale which is given new life through the choreography of the dance. It is sure to make you giggle, sigh wistfully and gasp a little in awe at the performers.

Madeleine Eastoe in the role of Titania is sweet and beautiful- she sweeps across the stage and you can’t help but feel charmed by her. Titania is accompanied by her company of fairies, and when the rows line up together to perform in perfect synchronicity the effect is beautiful.

The real stars of this ballet though, are its men. Kevin Jackson as Oberon is perfect, he is able to capture and balance both gracefulness and authority in his dance. His heavy breathing near curtain close is well justified- with several long displays of talent and technique.

The Dream is of course known for its requirement for a male dancer to go on point, in the character of the transformed mule-headed man Bottom. This is taken on board by Joseph Chapman who does an absolutely incredible job. His character is absolutely hilarious, and Chapman’s ability to achieve this hilarity through the slightest quirks, antics and on-point shuffles, all from the shoulders down, is highly applaudable.

But the true standout for me is Chengwu Guo in the role of Puck. Guo is simply a delight to see perform, with a technique and skill that is absolutely jaw dropping. His abilities seem to be that of both a professional ballet dancer and world-class gymnast, with this almost inhuman height to his jumps and such strength in the preciseness of all of his movements. In the character of Puck, Guo is so animated and charming with a large cheeky grin and mischievous shrugs. A true performer- best at both his art and in his ability to delight and entertain his audience (who cheered very enthusiastically in response). I must say I have become quite a fan of Guo’s (I also saw him in Giselle recently) and would most definitely be making an effort to see any of his future performances.

Seeing a ballet live is an absolutely enchanting experience, listening to the little squeak of the ballet shoes against the floor amongst the sweeping music of the live orchestra, seeing the dazzling costumes against the backdrop of a magnificent set… The Dream is exactly the type of ballet that makes little girls want to grow up to be ballerinas. And with dancers like Jackson and Guo, hopefully little boys too.

The pelican puppets in this production were so cool- so of course I had to ask about them!

The interview was originally posted on Arts on the AU.

Set on the coast of Coorong in South Australia, the classic novel Storm Boy has long been a childhood favourite. The tale follows Hideaway Tom and his son “Storm Boy”, and the friendships they form with a local indigenous man called Fingerbone Bill and three orphaned pelicans. The theatrical production of Storm Boy premiered at the Sydney Theatre Company in 2013, and this year sees the productions triumphant return to Wharf 1 under the careful guidance of Director John Sheedy.

The AU spoke with John about the latest production, discussing his own take on the beloved story and the struggles of creating pooping pelican puppets!

Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you came into directing Storm Boy?

I grew up on the costal town of Torquay, Victoria, so the beach was my backyard really. Storm Boy was my favorite book as a kid as that sense of isolation and growing up on a wild coastline resonated with me. The journey of Storm Boy and his beloved Mr Percival is one that has stayed with me my whole life. When I became the Artistic Director of Baring Gecko Theatre Company, Storm Boy was the first on my list to bring to the stage. The conversation then went to Andrew and Cate and the team at the STC, a partnership was forged and in 2013 Storm Boy had it’s world premiere at The Wharf, a very fitting place for a Pelican’s stage debut!

What is your personal take on the beloved story, and how did that form your vision for the production?

Storm Boy goes beyond the poignancy of the friendship between a boy and a pelican in that there is also a wonderful bond forged between Storm Boy and the Indigenous Fingerbone Bill. An unexpected education of belonging, connection to the natural land, loss and of letting go. We experience an ancient art form of storytelling, and an almost Dreamtime story approach woven richly through the conceptualization of this piece.

How did you and the creative team bring the coast of the Southern Ocean to life on stage?

The Shows sound designer, Kingsley Reeve spent a week camping and recording the wild southern ocean and winds to create an authentic soundscape that the audience can be submerged in. Set and Costume designer Michael Scott Mitchell and I also went on a trip to the Coorong and spent a few days taking many photographs of the shifting landscape, sweeping sand dunes and wildlife. Being able to capture these details, Michael has encapsulated these elements in his design – a breathtaking work that truly honors the landscape that resonated so strongly with Thiele.

The show also brings many characters (namely pelicans!) to life through puppetry. How did you need to consider these puppets when directing?

It was the million-dollar question when discussing the stage adaptation, Mr Percival is our leading man and his brothers play a huge part as the comic relief in the story telling. Michael Scott Mitchell and the STC props department have created several versions of the P’s that allows them to click and clack, fly and flap, peck and play fetch, pretty much everything but poo – which I really wanted!

How much did you consider cues from either the original novel, the adapted film or the 1996 Bell Shakespeare adaption in your production?

I never saw the Bell production nor did Tom. It was difficult to stay away from the film, however, Tom Holloway, in this adaptation, has honored the original novel and brought all the elements of Thiele’s original novel to the stage.

You have had an amazing career working with some of Australia’s most respected theatre companies. What sets Sydney Theatre Company apart?

STC is the mother ship of all theatre company’s in Australia, it is incredibly resourced and has a super talented team of people with a passion and commitment to creating world class theatre. It’s also housed in one of the worlds most spectacular locations – who doesn’t want that view!

If there was one thing your audience could take away from this production, what do you hope it would be?

My vision is to introduce this classic Australian story to a new generation, to literally bring these beautiful characters to life, and for those who already know the story of Storm Boy to fall in love with it all over again.

And finally, do you have a favorite scene or character from Storm Boy?

Yes, the Pelican chaos scene, especially the moment when Mr Percival pecks Hideaway Tom on the bum – Although I would love it even more if he could poo as well!

Photos courtesy of Sydney Theatre Company / Barking Gecko Theatre Company’s production of Storm Boy © Brett Boardman

I actually love thrillers that are all “WHAT THE HELLFIRE IS GOING ON” so this was right up my alley- and kept me in suspense right up to the end.

Originally posted on The AU Review.

It’s that old question- How far would you go to get what you want? In Deathtrap we take a glimpse into a play within a play, with real people as characters who commit unthinkable acts that may not have been the acts you thought they were at all. It’s an intensely thrilling stage play crafted to shock.

As we walk into the Darlinghurst Theatre Co’s Eternity Playhouse we are greeted with a small and cozy conversational stage. Set in the late seventies, the furniture includes a desk with a typewriter sitting atop and a small canter trolley of alcohol at opposite ends of the stage. But what is most prominent is the array of weapons hung above the large fireplace. The menacing array of rifles, swords, small guns, double headed axes, bayonets, maces, knives, crossbows… It definitely sets the scene of a thriller.

There is an eerie scratching and the sounds of a vicious storm as the theatre darkens and the play begins… And that is all that I will tell of the plot.

Deathtrap is the longest running thriller on Broadway, and the success of a thriller lies in its ability to shock. It for this purpose that we are asked “for the sake of future audience members- please don’t give away the plot!”. I can assuredly tell you that Deathtrap delivers on its cat & mouse shocks and twists!

And the plot is not all that delivers, for the small cast is brilliant and captivatingly believable. Andrew McFarlane in the role of Sidney Bruhl is so convincing in his characters profession and his subsequent portrayal of his flaws. There is a perfect chemistry between McFarlane and his younger co-star Timothy Dashwood as Clifford Anderson. Dashwood is fascinating, with a wonderful array of expressive features and an ability to depict both revealing and equally reserved emotions.

A refreshing bit of comedic light is brought into the play by the character of Helga Ten Dorp, played by the hilariously wonderful Georgina Symes, who holds her character with all her little quirks and distinctive accent perfectly.

Combining a captivating script, brilliant acting, alarming twists and just the right amounts of intrigue and suspicion, Deathtrap holds its audience in suspense the whole play through. It is a magnificent theatre production just lying in wait for you, ready to shock.

I think what was most special to me about this performance is that I went with my mother 🙂 She is a primary school teacher and has taught this book often to her students and it has always been a favourite of hers- she even visited the location (although unfortunately it was completely dry when she visited due to drought). I remember when I was in primary we learnt from it as well- I think most Australian kids know this story!

Originally posted on The AU Review.

The Sydney Theatre Company’s Storm Boy stays true to the beloved childhood story, bringing recluse fisherman Hideaway Tom, his son “Storm Boy” and their home on the coast of the Coorong to life within the theatre of Wharf 1.

The production premiered at the Sydney Theatre Company in 2013 and we were lucky enough to witness the reprise of veteran Boy, Rory Potter, who returned naturally to the stage and the role. The stage itself sets the scene of the coast perfectly- the cast is not large and nor is the story, which suits the smaller space. There is a constant ebb and flow of coastal sounds full of waves and gulls, and the whole area feels dry and salt crusted. The flat ground stage is mostly occupied by a large wooden skeletal outline (perhaps of a whale). This piece serves as both the shack and to extend the stage, as performers run over its spine and sit on the highest ledge. The scattered fishing nets and traps littering the ground look strong enough to capture “supper” and the single cane chair rustles as you would expect. It’s all very real and equally dream-like.

The realism continues into the characters, with Tom’s (Julian Garner) fisherman boots and his messy hair of salty sun-dyed locks hanging over his face with beard to match. You can almost sense his dried cracked skin and lips. All clothing is practical and worn with mended patches. Rory is more than comfortable as Boy. His youthful innocence is portrayed perfectly through a more uneducated structure of words and the unsure way he holds himself. Storm Boy is a character that is relatable for children, his character is grounded and his language simple and colloquial.

Fingerbone Bill (Jimi Bani) brings both lightness and depth to the story. He arrives as a bit of comedic relief and you can’t help but grin along with him. His is an instantly likable character, and it is he who gives Storm Boy his name, “a little storm boy that comes in with the storms and waves”. Fingerbone has plenty of laughs but his role also takes on a more serious note- that of a guide and teacher to both father and son on fostering their relationship. He also teaches Boy about his surrounding environment, and as a result we the audience feel as though he is guiding and asking us to understand it as well.

Hideaway Tom is just as distant and hard as I remember from the novel. In his own way he is just as awkward and unsure as his young son. At one point his fatherhood is compared to the boys adoption of pelicans, where it is questioned whether Tom has any more idea about raising Boy than Boy does of raising the pelicans. This relationship is the most important development of the story, as the two learn more about the other through the helpful guidance of Fingerbone, Mr Percival and the events that transpire.

The real stars of this production, though, are of course the pelican puppets. The mannerisms and puppetry is absolutely delightful! Indigenous puppeteers/dancers Anthony Mayor and Phil Dean Walford bring movement and life amongst the set as the pelicans caw and baw and scuttle around. There is something so magical when you see the look of captured wonder on the faces of children gazing at Pelicans taking flight into sky of the stage.

Storm Boy aims to delight its audience, both those who have grown up with the story and its new younger audience. I took my mother along to the production, as she has taught the novel to several years of her primary school classes and it is one of her all time favourites. She loved every moment, and commented that what made it so enjoyable was the adaptions dedication in being true to the original story and its messages.

For within the light story we are all reminded of the constant ebb and flow of life, as Storm Boy says “things change I reackon. Sometimes its sad and sometimes its good. You just gotta go with it. That’s what I reackon”. Yeah I reackon too, Boy.


Photos courtesy of Sydney Theatre Company / Barking Gecko Theatre Company’s production of Storm Boy © Brett Boardman

Aida is probably not my most favourite opera, and I’ve since decided that perhaps all Verdi operas are not really my thing, but you could literally see anything on the outdoor stage they build specifically for Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour and it will still take your breath away.

Wow as always Sydney- you really do know how to put on a show ❤

Originally posted on The AU Review.

The giant weathered statue head of Neferiti looms over the sloped stage set against the backdrop of the darkening Sydney Harbour sky. There are sets of gleaming broken golden statues heaped on either side, lined with flags that flutter in the wind. It’s an impressive site, and the Opera hasn’t even begun yet.

Aida is a four act Italian opera by Giuseppe Verdi, based on a scenario from French Egyptologist Auguste Mariette (who eventually oversaw the initial set designs and costumes for the original production). It is set within the time period of the Old Kingdom and follows the enslaved Ethiopian princess Aida, who the Egyptians have captured. Radames is an Egyptian military commander who falls in love with the princess and struggles between this love and his loyalty to the Pharaoh. Our love triangle is complete with Amneris, the Pharaoh’s daughter, who is in unreciprocated love with the military commander. We watch as Radames hopes to win Aida’s hand through victory over her very own father (although this is unbeknownst to Radames). Aida is somewhat equally paralleled torn between her love for Radames and her homeland.

The spectacular Sydney Harbour couldn’t be more apart from the endless sands of Ancient Egypt, and yet the setting works. It is grand and breathtaking, as the sun sets upon our Ancient Egypt. The production itself is a blend of classical and modern Egypt- with both Gods and machine guns, which is all brought to life with magnificent lighting and the grandest sets.

The costumes used in the production are large, colourful and glitzy- with more than 2,000 individual items of jewellery and over 300 different costumes being used throughout the Opera. There is an interesting mix of the robes of an Ancient Egyptian High priest (complete with snake headdress), colourful Ethiopian garbs and strict military uniforms- all fitted to the impressive cast of an astounding 96 people. This is a variation that is never more evident than when our trio of leads harmonise together- with our awarded military official Radames, the bright and colourful Aida, and the imposing glittering daughter of the Pharoh.

Our Aida (Latonia Moore) is nothing short of breathtaking- with a clear and captivating voice that hits all of the right emotions of her torn character. Amneris (Milijana Nikolic) is so equally as impressive- a character who is imposing and yet tragically tormented. She is a Pharoh’s daughter of both force and fragility, with a voice that is simply spectacular. When she appears in the broken eye of Neferiti near the Opera’s dramatic conclusion the audience can’t seem to tear their eyes away from her beautiful silhouette.

The force of the rivalry between the two female leads is the most interesting relationship of the Opera for me, and these two women project both of their characters in their strongest light. The romantic interest is of course engaging (with Walter Fraccaro as a romantically adamant Radames), but these two woman have their audience so drawn into their characters that you feel their desperate aching and cry for their desolate fate.

The most famous piece “The Triumphal March” is so large and glorious over the harbour. It’s bold and brassy tune soars over the crowd celebrating victory triumphant. Another clear standout was the magnificence prayer sequence- “Oh Mighty Phtha”, with dancing tribute to Anubis. The High Priest Ramfis (David Parkin) ruled over this splendour, a striking figure cut with a most commanding voice. And then there is the tragic end, as the lovers fade away beneath the earth and the orchestra grows ever dimmer- everything softly fading into oblivion in the “ecstasy of eternal love”.

This is a splendid, dazzlingly visual experience for anyone to appreciate. The Opera is accessible, the cast is impressive and more than anything else- the staging is just so mesmerising. Watching Aida at this outdoor theatre of Sydney Harbour, as the sun sets and the stars blink into the darkening sky, is certainly an experience that will have you singing the praises of this wonderful country (just as our Aida sings longingly of hers).

Bit of a different writing format than usual but THE BIG ONE! The musical of musicals! Les Miserables!

And WHAT A PRODUCTION! It was darn near perfect- in my mind lead by the most wonderful of Javert’s (my favourite character in Les Mis) Hayden Tee. Incredible voice, and lovely guy! But everyone was wonderful, and it was wonderful ❤

Originally posted on The AU Review.

This week saw Australia’s latest production of Les Miserables march triumphantly into Sydney’s Captiol Theatre. Our Editor Larry caught the production in Melbourne and gave it a glowing review as a Les Mis first-timer, but what makes Les Miserables such a defining and unmissable musical experience?

Here’s a few points as to why we think it is. And why you should hurry on down, waving your flag, to join the revolution that is Les Mis at the Capitol too-

1. The Story

Les Miserables is a musical epic like no other. It combines all the elements of theatre into one huge breathtaking production- with drama, despair, romance and hope. The story follows the life of its protagonist Jean Valjean, a wronged convict who determinedly aims to make use of his life for the better. He is constantly dogged by the policeman Inspector Javert, who staunchly abides by the law and his duty, and who is thus seemingly unswayed by Valjean’s determination. Through acts of fate Valjean swears to the dying Fantine that he will take her child Cosette into his care, at which begins his new journey.

Valjean and the grown Cosette then travel into the midst of unrest, where students plan a revolt against the Government. Cosette falls for one of the handsome students (Marius), and the two pledge an everlasting love to the other. When Valjean finds out about their commitment he takes it upon himself to protect Marius as the students wage their desperate and doomed revolution.

And so tells Les Miserables tale of the struggles of life and the cruelty of people, matched by its glimmering rays of hope and the happiness of young love. A tale that you will fall so deeply into during your time in the theatre that it will be quite a shock when the flags wave for the final time and the characters (that you are now very attached to) all return to the stage for a triumph reprise of “Do You Hear The People Sing?”. Yes, yes we do!

2. The Capitol Theatre

The Capitol Theatre almost seems like a custom built stage for a production of Les Mis- it is all at once able to seem large and imposing and dark and cramped. A feat that is possible due to an incredible set and lighting design.

In this production the fateful barricade does not turn, instead using its static position to create the illusion of “them vs. us”. And as each shot lights up an individual, and they crumble upon the barricade, we feel the effect with a whole lot more despair at the tragic waste of each young life.

The acoustics in the Capitol are also fantastic for the production, with each note and sigh being caught and echoed through the theatre. And it not only amplifies the noise on stage, but builds the deafening roar of cheers in the crowd, encouraging the audience’s appreciation and in turn encouraging the actors on stage.

3. The Cast

This is such a perfect casting, full of actors who are so able to recreate their characters that you have no choice but to become involved in their struggles.

Simon Gleeson creates a Valjean who, across his passing years, shows a man who is simultaneously both so strong and resolute, yet kind-hearted and sadly broken, and all this with the most astounding vocal range. He is joined in perfect chemistry with his fixated rival Javert, who Hayden Tee hits spot on. Tee’s Javert may very well be the best since Philip Quast himself, and his unyielding strength translates perfectly into Tee’s powerful and commanding baritone.

Patrice Tipoki (Fantine), Kerrie Anne Greenland (Eponine) and Emily Langridge (Cosette) are women who fight back against the harshness of life and dream dreams of hope. Their voices are each uniquely beautiful, despairing and hopeful. They are joined in their hopeful dreams by the students, led by Chris Durling (Enjorlas) and Euan Doidge (Marius).

Of course a crowd favourite is the disgustingly despicable and hilariously wonderful Thenardiers, Lara Mulcahy and Trevor Ashley, who prance about the stage to deafening laughter and cheers.

The whole cast is supported by an equally strong ensemble, who bring to life this despairing world with soaring harmonies.

4. The Music

Which leads us to the music. There is no doubt that you have heard something from Les Mis, even if you are unaware of its origin in the musical, but the well known pieces “I Dreamed a Dream”, “One Day More” and “Bring Him Home” are so much more captivating in their original setting.

Other lesser known standouts are the powerful opening “Prologue” filled with the booming chants of convicts, the wonderful fun of “Master of the House” which always gets the crowd clapping along, and Javert’s incredible anthem-like soliloquy “Stars”.

The music of Les Mis is some of the most notable in all musical theatre, and it is impossible to not feel affected by it’s beautiful melodies and hopeful choruses.

5. The Whole Experience

Les Miserables is more than just a musical, it is an experience unlike most other theatre. It is just so overwhelmingly and breatakingly big! Its story and music is incredibly moving, and leads you to become so attached to its characters that you will remember them long after the curtain falls.

When it was announced that Les Mis would be premiering in Australia once again, its first return since 1989, several people reminisced to me about their experiences seeing the production all those 26 years ago (some even remembered the exact outfit they were wearing!). This is exactly the kind of experience that will stay with you, especially at Sydney’s grand Capitol Theatre.

It is the emotional ride of the production, full of powerful songs and incredible characters, that makeLes Miserables one of theatres most truly unmissable experiences.

Le Noir was pretty cool, although it really takes a lot for me to find these circus act shows impressive. Maybe I’ve seen too many and the stunts (although really incredible displays of human capability) get a little repetitive? I guess the standout in this case was that the performances are reallyyyy close.

Originally posted on The AU Review.

From the sexy innocence of white, through the seductive risqué of red, and on to the adrenaline-fueled darkness of black, is the journey Le Noir takes us on. It is the “dark side of Cirque” and its surreal journey is filled with characters that are no less as intriguing, athletic and risk seeking as you would expect to find in any cirque performance.

We are guided through this journey by our Master Of Ceremonies (Salvador Salangsang), who keeps the energy moving through acts and engages the audience in several small skits. He also demonstrates on more than one occasion his own prowess as a dancer and performer, which is refreshing from the standard “clown of the show” that he could have easily become.

The most unique aspect of this particular circus performance is apparent as soon as you enter the theatre- everything is just so CLOSE. The stage is comparatively small, with just a single runway and circular elevated platform, surrounded by tables and layered seating for the audience. It is this level of intimacy and closeness that really sets Le Noir apart- where normally the danger is so distant as to feel somewhat safe, here it is right in front of you and you are very keenly aware of it’s presence. It certainly gives you a far greater appreciation (and a far greater nervousness) for the acts!

As Producer Simon Painter explains “The original concept behind Le Noir was to take the very best of the best cirque performers in the world and rather than create a production in a huge auditorium or arena, produce an intimate style show where the audience is literally inches from the action on stage”

A few highlights amongst these performances- The Duo Silk (Dasha Shelest & Vadym Pankevych) who perform the most beautiful choreography with such beauty and gracefulness; the Skaters (Jeronimo Ernesto & Queenslander Jessica Ritchie) whose heart-pounding speed on such a small stage makes you imagine with dread her flying and slamming into the surrounding audience members; the Aerial Cradle (Emilie Fournier & Alexandre Lane) with their utter skill and trust that leaves you gaping at each catch; and the Wheel of Death (Carlos Macias & Angelo Rodriguez) which is just insanity plain and simple, and almost leaves you silently pleading with them to stop with the craziness.

These last two acts were particularly mesmerizing for the level of obvious risk and danger that you are witnessing so very close. You are sitting there close enough to see their faces as the leap into the free air and you’re sinking deeper into your seat in dread, and then they BLINDFOLD themselves and you think- insane, you’re utterly insane. But they’re there and it’s all happening right in front of you.

All the performers are no less than the most incredible athletes- their abilities have pushed the limits of human flexibility, strength and partnership. The dark sexiness of the costumes means that in most cases the performers are wearing very little- which in turn means that you truly are able to see each and every one of their very defined muscles hard at work.

The music builds and ebs in tune with each unique performance, and an onstage music master allows for the perfect control of sound for the act. In some cases music is paused or restarted, just at the right moments, which gives it all again much higher sense of realness. The lighting design is incredible and highlights darkness and colour through the smoke to give perfect setting and atmosphere.

As the door opens to admit the performers for one last round of appreciation before slamming shut again to blackness you’re left feeling very much in awe and somewhat drained as all the sexiness and the utter insanity sinks in. And then you find yourself muttering into the dark, “I need to go to the gym”.