Sunday, 3 July 2016

Drama Queen

This week I had the pleasure of seeing two wonderful plays at two different Sydney theatres.

The Literati (Griffin Theatre Company) 
On Monday I went to the Griffin Theatre in Kings Cross to see The Literati, an adaptation of Moliere's Les Femmes Savantes. The adaptation by Justin Fleming, is hysterically funny and gives a contemporary Australian spin to the play. Performed in a tiny theatre with a revolving stage, the five actors take on multiple roles and deliver their lines in rhyming verse.

The story centres on a wealthy dysfunctional family in Paris. The ill-matched parents have raised two daughters who could not be more different. Erudite Amanda (Kate Mulvany) is very much like her academic mother Philomena (Caroline Brazier) while simple Juliet (Miranda Tapsell) has a simliar world view as her hen-pecked father Christopher (Jamie Oxenbould).

Juliet is keen to marry Clinton (Jamie Oxenbould) and live a domestic life, while Amanda views marriage as unnecessary and believes Clinton is actually in love with her. Philomena is keen to marry Juliet to upcoming poet Tristan Tosser (Gareth Davies) in the hopes that he will give her younger daughter some smarts and credibility.

The performances were extraordinary by everyone. I particularly enjoyed Mulvany's physical comedy, and Oxenbould's management of two characters in an incredible scene where he played two parts at the same time. Tapsell's turn as the dismissed maid Martina was also brilliant. The last time I laughed so hard at the theatre was seeing The Present at Sydney Theatre Company in 2015. I thoroughly enjoyed myself at this play and am pleased to have found the Griffin.

All My Sons (Sydney Theatre Company)
On Tuesday night I went to the Roslyn Packer Theatre to see the Sydney Theatre Company's production of Arthur Miller's All My Sons.

This story also involves a dysfunctional family, this time in the American midwest in 1946. Joe and Kate Keller (John Howard and Robyn Nevin) have two sons - Chris (Chris Ryan) returned from the war to work in his father's manufacturing business, while Larry is still missing in action and presumed dead by everyone except Kate.

Chris invites Annie (Eryn Jean Norvill) to visit which is the catalyst for the story. Annie was their next door neighbour, and daughter of Joe's business partner. More importantly to Kate, is that Annie was Larry's girl. But in the years since Annie moved away and Larry's plan went down, a bond has formed via correspondence between Chris and Annie and they plan to get married.

Along the way we learn that the Annie's father and Joe were put on trial for selling cracked cylinder heads to the US Air Force which resulted in the deaths of dozens of pilots. Annie's father was convicted, but Joe escaped - causing tensions on the family and in the neighbourhood. Tensions boil and spill over, causing Kate to confront what happened to Larry, and for all the Kellers to confront Joe's involvement in the aircraft scandal.

This was a remarkable production, uniformly well acted, and to the high standard one expects from the Sydney Theatre Company. Robyn Nevin in particular was brilliant. In the last few plays I have seen her in she only had minor roles (like the Fool in King Lear), so to see her in the lead in such a complex and nuanced role was a real treat.

Kip Williams is a talented director, bringing his innovative staging to the fore as he did with STC's Macbeth in 2014. My only quibble was that some of the actors were hard to hear in parts. But that did not detract from the evening.

At the end of each play, after taking their bows, one actor stood forward and spoke to the audience about arts funding. In May 2016 the Australian Government cut funding for small and medium arts companies, a devastating blow for our culture. The Griffin Theatre will be hit by these cuts, and the actors at STC reminded us that many of them got their start in small performance spaces. The "I Stand With The Arts" campaign is calling on government to restore the $72 million in funding the Coalition government has cut from the arts - a timely reminder during the last week of the election campaign. I stand with the arts!