4 stars: excellent and recommended
There are few musical theatre songs that have attained the anthem status bestowed upon ‘Don’t Cry for Me Argentina’. Most composers dream of creating just one tune so universally hummable – the kind that keeps the money rolling in in the form of royalty cheques long after the composer has passed on. Andrew Lloyd Webber, who penned that earworm for his 1978 musical-cum-rock opera, Evita, is responsible for a handful of them. So it’s quite a moment when, at the start of Evita’s second act, Australia’s own Tina Arena steps forward on the balcony of the Casa Rosada as Argentina’s controversial first lady, Eva Perón, to deliver the song. The clarity and warmth of her voice is astonishing as she, along with the Opera Australia orchestra, weaves a musical tale of triumph and yearning. And, of course, it’s glorious. Wrenching. The kind of singing that makes you hold your breath, anticipating the next phrase. The stuff that musical theatre dreams are made of. Eva is declaring her love to the working-class people of Argentina, who’ve just elected her husband to power. She appears to be pouring her heart out and seducing the nation. And then, something unexpected happens. She turns away from the crowd, her whole demeanour changes – the spell of seduction is broken – and she sings nefariously to her husband: “Just listen to that, the voice of Argentina. We are adored, we are loved.” That cynicism and winking eye is a large part of the appeal of Evita, which tracks the meteoric rise o
This rocking semi-autobiographical play with songs was a big hit for Sydney’s Belvoir in 2017 (read Time Out Sydney’s four-star review). Ursula Yovich co-wrote the play with Alana Valentine and stars as Barbara, an angry pub singer who takes no prisoners. Her life is turned upside down when she and her sister (played by Elaine Crombie) are called back to Katherine to say goodbye to their dying mother. Time Out Sydney wrote: “Barbara and the Camp Dogs is a road trip buddy comedy that pulls itself apart to reveal our intergenerational, national distress – how the horrors of invasion, genocide and brutality by those in power caused fault lines that even today damage the livelihoods of First Nations Australians.” All the songs are killer and performed with a live rock band on stage. And Malthouse has been transformed into a big, sticky pub to accommodate Barbara.
It’s rare for Red Stitch – a theatre company that bases its reputation on expertly acted new plays from around the world, with the occasional commissioned international premiere – to do a “classic”. They mounted a production of Uncle Vanya a few years ago that was only intermittently successful, all those Russians crowded onto that tiny stage. As far as I know, this is the first time in their history that they’ve mounted a classic Australian play. It’s possible they’ve hedged their bets a little, because Michael Gow’s Sweet Phoebe is a classic that feels a little like a new discovery, given its limited production history and frankly tenuous position in the Australian theatrical canon – despite featuring a young Cate Blanchett in its original production. It turns out to be one of the company’s more astute choices for its 2019 season launch. Certain sociological aspects of the play feel a little dated at first, but as it progresses it takes on a kind of cautionary fervour that feels super contemporary, a play very much for our times. It was an ingenious decision to hand the directorial reins over to Mark Wilson, whose own performance history – most notably in Red Stitch’s production of French playwright Catherine-Anne Toupin’s Right Now, in which he played the creepiest of neighbours – suggests a natural affinity with this kind of material. The plot is simple, the sort of clean conceit on which a good farce is founded: Frazer (Marcus McKenzie) and Helen (Olivia Monticciolo) a
3 stars: recommended with reservations
Shakespeare in the Park is one of those concepts that sells itself; with its stamp of cultural quality and its image of picnics and wine in an urban botanical setting, it appeals to a wide range of people – as long as they’re from the literate middle classes. Melbourne has seen plenty of it over the years, thanks mainly to Glenn Elston and his Australian Shakespeare Company, who return this summer with Macbeth. It doesn’t seem like typical holiday fare, but it’s surprisingly effective as “light thickens, and the crow makes wing to th’ rooky wood.” Perhaps this production’s biggest drawcard is the chance to see Alison Whyte finally take on the role of Lady Macbeth, one that seemed a natural progression from her star-making debut as Abigail in MTC’s 1991 production of The Crucible. Sadly, she was off shooting a film on the night we saw it, and the role was taken up by ensemble member Elizabeth Brennan. It’s a significant shift – given that Whyte is considerably older than the actor playing Macbeth (Nathaniel Dean) and Brennan is considerably younger than him – with massive implications for the power and gender dynamics that follow. Of course, as often happens when one drawcard withdraws, another is waiting in the wings to take its place, and Brennan equips herself admirably as the “fiend-like queen”. In an uncanny echo, she recalls Whyte’s turn as Abigail, breathlessly sexual and impatiently ambitious. There’s been a decided interpretive re-evaluation of Lady Macbeth in recen