Category: Stage

Love Never Dies – February 21, Capitol Theatre

 

The Phantom of the Opera is the most successful stage musical of all time, but what a lot of people ignore is that it is also one of the dumbest. It’s the story of a petulant child in the disfigured body of a man, who kills people when he can’t get what he wants, and kidnaps women in an attempt to force them to love him. Most people look beyond that to consider the inherent tragedy of his situation, but there are some things you simply can’t recover from.

Andrew Lloyd Webber, by now a very rich man indeed, decided that a sequel was at last called for. Never mind that the original show was still going in London and New York (and still is, for that matter). Never mind that, by bringing the Phantom back onto the stage, you undo the enduring mystery of the finale. Never mind.

 

Love Never Dies was unleashed upon the London public and was almost universally reviled. The Love Never Dies that we have received in Australia is not a replica production, but a new construction from the mangled corpse of the old. To make it work, you have to ignore almost everything that you were told in The Phantom of the Opera, because this show frequently, openly and catastrophically contradicts its source material.

But work it does. Strangely. Grudgingly. Paradoxically. It can only begin to satisfy if you’re heavily steeped in the lore of the Phantom; whether you’ve had a chandelier dropped on your head when you were five, or been dragged to the show that many times … and then you’ve got to ignore everything you know, and accept texture over logic.

It’s a strange, ornate, boutique experience, and it’s only for you. A true spectacle, but a small and intimate story besides.

Britney Spears: The Cabaret – February 18, The Reginald

Britney Spears, once a juggernaut of pop music, now has little more than ironic value in many circles. Tell someone that you’re going to see something called Britney Spears: The Cabaret and they’re going to look at you strangely and ask “why?”. There’s still a draw for old fans (that is, largely women roughly the same age as Spears herself), and she still sells, but the incredibly public life led by Britney has rendered her a modern curio.

 

Britney Spears: The Cabaret is not a tribute to Spears as such, but rather an examination of a fragile personality that has been buffeted from all sides and repeatedly pushed to breaking point and back again. As Spears, Christie Whelan begins her act tongue in cheek, eventually affecting a complete nervous breakdown in front of the audience.

It’s something special.

Wicked – Capitol Theatre, September 6 2009

Wicked is one of those ridiculously popular Broadway and West End musicals, and it made its way to Australia last year. Just yesterday it opened in Sydney, the second tier musical town in Australia (as far as I can tell, there are no tiers after that). I caught the matinee Sunday performance, and it was amazing even in day time.

Wicked is what happens when you take strong, resonant source material – both Gregory Maguire’s book and the Wizard of Oz itself – set it to music, and then have it performed by a strong cast and, uh … Bert Newton.

A great show all around and a great production, Wicked is definitely something that should be seen if you like musicals. If you don’t, there’s probably no helping you.

“The City”, Sydney Theatre Company, 28 July 2009

It’s dangerous to refer to a situation in a play as “awkward and artificial”, because there is a very real possibility that the audience will conflate the comment with the play itself. Martin Crimp’s The City is one such play, a sort of Synecdoche, New York Jr that doesn’t make you question reality so much as it makes you question whether you could be bothered to take anything at more than face value.
I’m inclined to believe that it’s a collection of interesting parts in search of a whole to be the sum of. A stage consisting of nothing but uncomfortably steep steps that is occasionally bathed in complete darkness asks the audience to accept contextual clues as to where we are: it scarcely matters, because we’re always somewhere around the house of two people whose names are irrelevant. It looks like they’re uncomfortable, and this is likely the case.

The City amounts to a collection of monologues masquerading as conversations between a married couple, their eight year old daughter and their neighbour over the course of a year, presumably in this time of Global Financial Crisis (man, I can hardly wait for the GFC to be over).

The monologues are interesting, covering as they do the wife’s trip to a book festival, the husband’s encounter with a boy he had bullied in his school days and, most interestingly and inexplicably, the involvement of the neighbour’s husband in a secret army carrying out a secret war in a secret city, killing everyone inside so that they can then go in and kill the remainder of citizens “clinging to life”. Sometimes the monologues are even related to each other, if we’re lucky – but they are essentially selfish pieces of work.
The thing is that The City is puzzle theatre, and puzzle theatre doesn’t work so well when you couldn’t be bothered to solve the puzzle. The actors acquit themselves well, although I continue to feel awkward whenever actors shout in a play and go red in the face. The “awkward and artificial” line can definitely be applied here, particularly as the dialogue is written in a self conscious mode of constant clarification of meaning and motivation. It’s plainly supposed to be how people “really” talk, but part of the point of movies, plays and books is that they represent the real rather than actually being real. Fictive performance is replication; more real than real.

In trying to both appear real and to make the audience question reality, The City divorces itself from both the audience and the play’s “duty” to maintaining the illusion of reality. It’s interesting but nothing else. It’s hard to know how we’re supposed to take characters who we can’t gauge the meta-levels of.
This was an instance where it really felt there was, more than a fourth wall, a glass screen between the audience and the performer. Reading the program, it seems that this was Crimp’s intent, so I suppose that, on some level, The City was a success.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch: March 1st at Tom Mann theatre

A refugee from East Berlin with a botched sex change operation and a catalogue of stolen songs does not seem a likely subject for a stage show, yet this is exactly what Hedwig and The Angry Inch professes to be. Having taken over @Newtown in the latter half of last year, iOTA has reprised the role at the Tom Mann theatre in Surry Hills as part of the Mardi Gras for this year.
This is a good thing, as the show is something of a tour de force: funny, confronting and dang near moving over the course of its ninety minutes. A more varied crowd than attended The Dying Gaul included men, women and, more surprisingly, older couples.
The subject matter isn’t exactly mainstream.