Category: Theatre/Comedy

There has always seemed to be a stigma about theatre that it is harder to be as creative as it is with cinema but the brand production from Melbourne playwright Brittanie Shipway (A Letter For Molly) throws that untruth right out the window.

I think what I found most engrossing about this production was the fact that it told a story that would be my worst nightmare. See the world that we find ourselves watching on the stage during Senser is a world without music and that to me would be one of the worst nightmares that I could ever imagine.

Directed by Miranda Middleton (Not Today) Senser begins in Berlin in 1943 as the audience are invited into what resembles an underground Cabaret which celebrates Sex! Liberty! And MUSIK! The host is the Cabaret Queen (played by Adam Noviello – Maltilda The Musical) who welcomes the audience into her world with a divine cheekiness complete with song and dance.

We then flash forward to 2043 Berlin is once again under a tyrannical reign. Amongst the things that have been banned is music and for a generation of youngsters, including Eva (Luisa Scrofani – In The Heights), it is but a memory that they can barely recall.

As a rebel Eva is almost constantly in trouble and as a result is no stranger to one of the Regime’s Doctors/Officer (also played by Adam Noviello). But just when it seems she has finally pushed him too far she learns that he has a secret… a secret that soon transports her and the entire audience back to the world of the Queen of Cabaret.

I found Senser to be something very special. This is a production that completely uses all of its surrounds. Throughout the production all characters are often interact with the audience but not in the way that would normally make me feel insecure about the possibility that I might be the next person asked to be part of that interaction.

Likewise all areas of the theatre is used and for a lucky few audience members each night that are practically on the stage as part of the cabaret audience. As a director Middleton also makes use of the stairs around the audience which in a way made me feel even more a part of this world which gave me such a personal connection to the characters at hand that it was impossible not to feel myself getting emotional at times.

Middleton further pushes the boundaries of theatre by using what is largely a minimalistic yet creative set that seems to have an ever supply of areas that open up to reveal another secret. Those boundaries are further tested with people magically appearing out of pianos and on-stage fires – something that I feel I need to congratulate her on as it must have caused some creative nightmares as well.

The creative aspect of Senser is further enhanced by a creative team that is not afraid to mix and match the style of theatre that is playing out in front of us. From deep and dramatic scenes between the two characters at hand where at times it feels like Eva’s life is in danger through to amazing original cabaret songs that just steal the show over and over. I felt throughout the production that I never really knew what was going to play out in front of my eyes next and I loved having that feeling throughout the night.

I also found that the powerful script made me think just how I would cope in a world like Eva is in and at the same time it was the reason why we had two of the most powerful acting performances that we are likely to see on stage this year. Noviello seems to seamlessly morph between the Queen Of Cabaret and the role of a stern-yet-troubled Officer while Scrofani’s portrayal of a character unsure whether they are being plagued by mental illness or something supernatural has to be seen to be believed.

Normally I don’t enjoy productions that involve so much audience interaction but I felt a strange calm throughout Senser… most likely because it is so well written and performed that I felt like I was very much part of the production… certainly there was a strange emotional connection with the characters that is rare in theatre. Senser is guaranteed to make you think and above all surprise you at every turn.

Sometimes emotions around theatre are an interesting thing. Twice I had tried to see Come From Away and twice the universe had thwarted it from happening. Despite that I couldn’t shrug off the need of wanting to see it – it really felt like my life wouldn’t be complete until I had seen it. Now tonight after seeing it I know why I had that feeling – because if I hadn’t of seen it then I wouldn’t have seen a production that is now up there alongside Oliver! and Once as one of my favourite productions of all time.

Set in September 2001 Come From Away tells the story of the events that occurred in the township of Gander, Newfoundland, when the terrorist attacks in New York and subsequent US air space closure results in 38 planeloads of people being diverted to a township of 5000 people.

For the people of the town it was just another day – Beulah (Emma Powell – Kiny Boots) was preparing to teach at school, Bonnie (Kat Harrison – Ladies In Black) was preparing to look after her beloved animals and local Police Officer Oz (Joe Kosky – Jersey Boys) was preparing for another busy day behind the radar gun.

But suddenly with the influx of planes landing in the town they find themselves having to help out people like brave pilot Beverley (Zoe Gert – Kiss Me Kate) who is determined to make sure everybody on her flight is okay, Kevin T (Douglas Hansell – Titanic) and his boyfriend Kevin J (Joseph Naim – Charlie & The Chocolate Factory) and lonely businessman Nick (Phillip Lowe – Dusty).

When I originally read how many actors and actresses involved with the show were playing multiple characters I couldn’t help but wonder whether or not the plot would be some confusing that it would just fall away into a convoluted mess, but that is the first special thing I noticed about the production. It is so well set out and planned by director Christopher Ashley (Xanadu) and creators Irene Sankoff and David Hein that it becomes like a beautiful, magical jigsaw that comes together in one of the most special ways possible.

The script at hand here is one of the best I have ever seen brought to stage. This production feels like it takes you on a journey. It reminds you that the pain of September 11 went further than just two buildings in New York and throughout Come From Away I found myself at times laughing at some of the more comical parts and at other times I wanted to cry. This is one production that will touch on every emotion possible and it is for that reason it is so damn remember.

The emotion that is so evident in the plot also shines through with the music. Songs like Welcome To The Rock instantly make you want to sing along while the haunting Prayer and Something’s Missing will bring a tear to the even most hardened soul. Musically the highlight for me though was Zoe Gertz’s brilliant rendition of Me And The Sky – it was so beautiful and so heartfelt that it gave me goosebumps.

Gertz’s performance tonight was truly amazing, her songs, her monologues came together with a performance that deserves to be award winning and she was well supported by the likes of Phillip Lowe, Joe Kosky and Douglas Hansell who led one of the best ensemble casts that we have ever seen on stage in Melbourne.

I think though what I liked most about Come From Away is that it made you think about how you would have acted on that and placed you in the shoes of those people who lived through one of the hardest days of their lives. Throughout this production tonight I found myself thinking ‘would I have taken people into my house if I had been there that day?’ or ‘how would I have reacted if there had been a Muslim on my plane that day?’ They say that good theatre will always make you think – and if that is the case then Come From Away far exceeds good and heads into greatness.

I guess the only way I can describe how much I loved Come From Away tonight is that I have already spent an hour convincing someone else to go and see it and I am sure as hell going to buy tickets to go and see it with him. Come From Away will make you laugh, it will you cry and above all it will make you realise that you are watching one of the best productions that you will see in your lifetime.

I love theatre that makes me think, better still I love theatre that is going to make its audience think and perhaps come to a realisation. As someone that works in the media industry I love to observe what is going on within it and around me, and it is strangely funny that I went to see Anna K at The Malthouse Theatre last night because it addressed something that I have becoming very aware of in the media industry over the past few months.

In Anna K the show is named after its lead character, Anna K (Caroline Craig – whom many would now from her role as Tess Gallagher in long-lasting TV drama Blue Heelers) a respected journalist who is known for exposing the truth (not matter the cost) on her week-nightly 8pm news show.

She soon finds herself becoming the news after it is revealed that she has left her husband and is involved in a relationship with Lexie (Callan Colley), a SAS soldier whom she interviewed about an accident that he observed while on deployment. As Anna K escapes her marriage and spends time with Lexie in a hotel everything begins to go wrong. Her husband starts to use their child as a bargaining chip in what is promising to be a dirty divorce, her son doesn’t want to talk to her and the press are starting to portray her as a home wrecker who has also acted immorally with her work. Worse still the paparazzi are now camped outside the hotel room desperate to get a shot of her leaving.

Written by Suzie Miller and directed by Carissa Licciardello I found that Anna K brilliantly presented something to its audience that I have been thinking about for a while now. In 2022 as a society we seem to love to celebrate the role of women in the media but at the same time it seems that there are vultures out there just waiting for the smallest slip-up in order to try and bring them down… yet if it is a male at the centre of the controversy it is often swept under the carpet.

I found that Miller’s script was amazing in bringing that point to the stage and she needs to be congratulated for the fact that she never held back with the topic and as a result the audience are taken on an emotional ride as we watch Anna K go from a up-front and strong journalist to someone that is suddenly falling into a whirlpool of mental illness.

Miller’s script provides the perfect fodder for actress Caroline Craig who takes hold of this role and brings one of the most amazing performances that we will see on a Melbourne stage this year. I found Craig’s performance to be utterly stunning, she never leaves the stage for the entire 90 minutes of the performance and I often found myself feeling heart-broken as she took the audience on the emotional journey that her character is going through.

She is well supported by Callan Colley whom I can see has a big career ahead of him on both stage and screen. He is a naturalistic style to his acting that made him believable and likable as Lexie. His scenes with Craig bleed with romance, drama and romance and the chemistry between them on the stage was electric whether it be a time when they were depicting passion or in the middle of a fight.

The set design of Anna Cordingley also goes a long way to making this show work so well. I’ll admit there was a real ‘wow’ moment as I walked into the theatre and saw the detail of the ‘hotel room’ on the stage. From the bath through to the lobby and sizable room it was impossible not to imagine that you had just walked into somebody’s hotel room and that went a long way towards helping with the realism of the scene that was playing out in front of me. That set design also allows for a neon sign that reads ‘stupid f**king slut’ to disguise itself as an advertising sign outside the hotel room – that becomes important because not only is it something that is said about her on social media but it seems to be the ‘title’ that Anna K most takes to heart. Its position on the stage above Caroline Craig constantly reminds the audience of the burden and torture that Anna K has to endure throughout the story.

Anna K is easily one of the best theatre shows I have seen this year. An amazing set, an intense and dramatic storyline that takes its audience on a poignant journey and a stunning performance by Caroline Craig makes this one show that you simply shouldn’t miss.