Attack of the Periaktoids. Notes from the Sherlock debrief

Monday, 8th December.
Sherlock Holmes and the Legend of the Jersey Lily.
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Debriefs are designed to look at a production and reflect on what went well and what else we need to work on. We had a dozen people turn up tonight to talk through Sherlock Holmes.
There was a range of valuable discussions to do with a range of issues from the practical to the philosophical. The practical included working in the old theatre and the issues involved in working there. The philosophical included ideas about approaches to the play. All of us have ideas about how we would approach a play and sharing those was interesting.
One interesting idea involved the future of the old building. Everyone agreed that a long term plan that involved demolishing the old theatre and replacing it with a purpose-built theatre. There was also a lot of talk about the need to fix our costume and props storage. Luckily executive met tonight to talk about the major working bee in January designed to fix this problem. Watch this space.
On the philosophical side, the group discussed what’s best described as the set change issue. With four locations (plus a dressing room scene) this was a set-heavy show. The production team made use of the Periaktoids to solve the problem. Their theory was that the peris would speed up the set change process. However, the realistic sets and the number of furniture pieces meant that the set changes still took up to seven minutes.
The discussion around this was the highlight of the debrief. Some audience members really enjoyed the set change process, some found the breaks of no consequence and some found them distracting. In talking around the issues, there were some interesting insights for designers. The peris are designed to make changes quicker but they’re more suited for non-realistic sets with big splashes of colourful design items. They are okay for realistic plays but for the theatre savvy, the gaps and inconsistencies of finish are distracting.
The season of Sherlock itself did well financially, taking around $14,000. There were discussions about the strengths of the production, many of which centred on the quality of performances.
The whole debrief procedure is an important part of what we do as a theatre. Thank you to all who took part in tonight’s event.

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A quick look at Ayckbourn’s Role Play

Robyn and I are just back from Club 71’s Role Play. We had a thoroughly enjoyable night, and not just because we were sitting with the Blaxlands, the Birds, Dean, Cassie and several other theatre stalwarts. It was also because it was such a good production of the play.

Brian Wark has been able to coax great performances out of the cast. Rebecca Wall as Julie-Ann was comically neurotic, Katie Wright as the cockney dancer Paige gave the part some depth and Lee Mayne somehow managed to give himself an unexpected physical presence as the ex-boxer Mickey. Brian’s direction brought out the agony behind the funny moments, too.

Look, I great ensemble performance and a fun play. And it still has two weeks to run. Worth a look.

The Boys – A Gritty “Whydunnit” Drama

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by Debra Hely

I was at the Opening Night of The Boys at NTC. What a brilliant piece of theatre! If you enjoy robust theatre that digs into society’s issues and can cope with language, you won’t want to miss this production.

This strong play written by Gordon Graham, introduces us to the Sprague family: the matriarch Sandra (Cheryl Sovechles) and her three sons, Brett (Michael Byrne), Glenn (Craig Lindeman) and Stevie (Duncan Gordon). Each of her boys has a girlfriend, Michelle (Amy Wilde), Jackie (Natasha Steggles) and Nola (Cherie MacKinnon).

Even though as the photographer, I was fortunate enough to witness several rehearsals, my lens-based focus meant I had missed action that happened outside my peripheral gaze, not to mention the subtleties of the script. Sitting in the audience, thinking I already knew what I was going to see, I was quickly blown away by the impact of seeing and hearing everything at once. Nothing replaces the impact of strong meaty drama being acted out live on stage.

This production, directed by John Wood comes across as a genuine ensemble piece, from the robust and believable (often scary) character portrayals to everything that the entire creative team also contributed, including the set, costuming, lights, sound and so forth. Everyone who contributed must be very proud of how all the work has come together in this gripping drama.

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Yes, the language is as foul as one would expect from violent misogynistic men who are overloaded with hate and resentment seeking someone or something to blame for their circumstances. The only solution they seem to understand is a physical and brutal one.

The violence is for the most part confined to the audience’s imagination. However, a few scenes give hints of what is going to manifest such as when two of the brothers scuffle and the girlfriends are subjected to nasty verbal onslaughts and the occasional off stage biff. Amazingly, the mother insists that she brought her boys up to love and respect women. She constantly indulges their whims and tantrums, accepting this aberrant behaviour as normal and typical of men.

The audience is treated as intelligent, and lots of questions are raised. Is the cause of such heartless violence to women due to a cycle of poverty? A lack of education? A broken family? Childhood abuse? Drugs? Alcohol? Or even men egging each other on to fit into their macho ideals that demean women? Or is it due to combinations of these factors? Or other circumstances altogether? The audience observes, reacts and then starts to think. There was a lot of discussion in foyer after the play finished.

We see how the women rally to defend their menfolk, only to slowly accept the truth as it emerges. These truths impact them on ways they don’t understand, in particular why the public blames them as much as the boys. Emotionally, the only way they can survive is to stick together. Scared, lost and bewildered, they start to question how they can raise a boy so that when he’s a man, he won’t go down the same path as his father.

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This powerful piece of theatre had the audience appreciating the moments of humour, but mostly we were spellbound, only able to breathe freely again at curtain call, when we enthusiastically clapped as hard as we could. The commitment to their part by each and every actor was one of the major strengths of this production.

Yes, I’m biased. I’m a member of NTC, I’m on the Committee and last year I was on the panel doing the play selection for this year. I’m not only biased, I’m very proud. This season of NTC has been diverse, powerful and engaging with many excellent performances / directing / sets / costuming / singing / and plays that can make you laugh, cry, tap your feet, or even think – in other words be moved. And we still have two more plays in the season.

The Boys is on right now; the last performance is on the 18 October. Contact the theatre, via the office, online or Facebook. If you have a social conscience and like your drama meaty, you must see it.

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Rabbit Hole Review

Rabbit Hole by David Lindsay-Abaire
NTC July 12–26 2014
A review by Debra Hely

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A minimalistic but evocative set welcomed the audience. As I sat there absorbing the atmosphere, I must confess to some trepidation as to how the subject matter would be handled, even in the hands of the wonderful Kathleen Warren. In no time at all, any concerns were totally allayed as an ensemble cast presented performances in keeping with the set. With seemingly little effort, they took our emotions on an enthralling adventure, often sad, but with enough humour to steady us.
The lights came up to reveal a woman, Becca (Amanda Woolford) folding a small child’s clothes into a laundry basket. A natural act, yet Becca was slightly hesitant – was it because she was listening to the other younger woman? Izzy (Emily Ralph) was rambling on and on about the pub and an incident with a total stranger who became aggressive. Slowly it transpired that Izzy was not only “the other woman” as far as the stranger was concerned, she was also pregnant.
Becca’s reaction set the quality for the rest of the play. She was pleased but again, somewhat hesitant. Before long the audience knew that she and her husband, Howie (Drew Pittman) had lost their only son, Danny, and the clothes she was folding were his, being prepared to give to charity. By the time Howie came home, and tensions were mounting, Danny, (voiced by Georgia Pittman) had chased his beloved dog onto the road (through a gate accidentally left open) and was hit and killed by a car.
It wasn’t too long until Becca’s mother, Nat (Sue McEwen) joined the family, constantly comparing the loss of Danny to her own son. Becca has no time for her brother’s life story – he was a drug addict, and a loser and old enough to know better, unlike her own innocent son. Tension kept building, the family kept trying to avoid serious conversations by talking about everyday things, but the everyday quickly became metaphoric. The unspoken was booming with clarity.
There were poignant moments: as when mother and daughter found common ground in Danny’s bedroom; when Howie watched a family video; the discovery that the dog had been banished to Nat’s care; how Emily deeply loved her sister but managed to keep saying the wrong thing at the wrong time; and Jason’s short story as well as his letter of apology.
Jason, (Heathcliff Stubley) was the young driver who in swerving to miss the dog hit Danny. His guilt of being over the speed limit of 50, doing maybe 51 or 52, kept eating at him. Still at school, he wrote a story he dedicated to Danny, after seeking permission via a letter to Becca. When Becca read the story aloud, we understood the title of the play.
This play could have been a drawn out disaster dwelling in pathos; instead it was a powerful and moving drama, full of beautiful nuanced writing equally matched by the performances. Being in the audience was a bit like being a voyeur, it felt so real, and had us leaning forward more and more (when we weren’t discretely wiping our moist eyes). Fortunately there were many moments of humour, which allowed us to breathe again, not realising until then how rapt we were, or that maybe we were holding our breaths.
It was obvious Becca and Howie still loved each other, but each had a journey of grief that excluded the other. The play took place at a time where they were either going to split apart forever, or find their way together. And the audience truly cared, as evidenced by the gasps, tears, silences and body language.
Kudos to each cast member for bringing depth and life to each character. Amanda’s poise, hesitation and hurt were nicely balanced by Drew’s portrayal of Howie’s growing frustration and anger. When the very scared but determined Jason arrives, the body language of the cast was perfect. Heathcliff captured that awkward time in teenage life, caught between childhood and adulthood and clearly feeling the weight of Danny’s death upon him.
Emily brought the right amount of energy into her role, moving through clownish moments to equally serious ones. Sue, who battled laryngitis, kept the reins in on what could have been an over-the-top character, instead she revealed a woman of depth deserving of our sympathies.
Kathleen Warren obviously deserves the praise I’ve given the actors too, as she was the Director and fine-tuned their performances. No doubt having the delightful Lynda Rennie on board as Assistant Director only added to the mix, likewise all the designers involved in the production. Everything pulled together, nothing jarred: no inappropriate sound / music and no shadowy faces, all lit and easy to see.
Congratulations Kathleen and the cast and crew for the artistry you gave us. It made me very proud to be a member of a theatre company that can produce work like this.