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The theatre company making incredible work with people who get left behind

The theatre company making incredible work with people who get left behind

Art is powerful. It can change things: perspectives, politics, people. Humans have an inherent need to be creative, to express themselves beyond the practical; we have an inherent right to be creative. No one understands that more than the people behind Milk Crate Theatre. For 23 years, this unique performing arts organisation has been returning the right to be creative to those in our community who have been disenfranchised.  Milk Crate Theatre is a leader in the practice of using art to help people dealing with homelessness, mental health issues, and disability regain confidence and their sense of self, and actively participate in society.  Margot Politis is the artistic director of Milk Create Theatre and has been with the organisation for seven years. Her core practice is around arts in disability. Prior to joining Milk Crate she had been a performer with Restless Dance Theatre in Adelaide (for dancers with or without a disability), and Shopfront Theatre, Sydney’s only cross-art form organisation dedicated to the artistry of young people. Politis is a true believer in the power of art to change people.  Photograph: Anna Kucera | The cast of 'Dust' “When I see [a participant] work through this creative process and that fear drops away, week by week or month by month –  and then they’re on stage and you can just see physically, spiritually, in someone’s eyes… They might be standing taller, their vision is more direct, you know, there’s a real strength in their presence and

40 years on, Dolly Parton's '9 To 5' is as relevant as ever

40 years on, Dolly Parton's '9 To 5' is as relevant as ever

Dolly Parton would agree she has "little feet", but it's hard to dispute that she has created a pair of very big shoes to fill. This is the task faced by musical theatre star Erin Clare, who is playing the role of Doralee Rhodes in the Australian stage musical version of 9 to 5 – a role played by Parton herself in the hugely successful 1980 film of the same name. Clare spoke to us about the themes, the songs and slipping into Dolly Parton’s “teeny, tiny little shoes”.  Apart from playing a lead role in the film, Parton wrote the iconic theme song for the movie and has also written all the songs for the musical. The country star clearly casts a long shadow over the 9 to 5 brand, and it's something that’s very present for Clare.  “Doralee Rhodes, she’s a bright and beautiful country girl, obviously made famous and iconic by Dolly Parton herself," she says. "And she really is the essence of Dolly without actually being an autobiographical character of Dolly Parton.”  The performer, who recently starred in the hit production of American Psycho the Musical, watched a lot of interviews with Parton, trying to glean her essence in portraying Doralee without creating a caricature.  “[Doralee] is often undermined and underestimated because of the way she looks, but she is smart as a whip and she stands up for what is right. So she really brings a fun, comedic, country element that is so reflective of the score and this whole piece in general, and of Dolly,” she explains.  Clare is one

Sydney's alfresco 'Phantom' brings two eras of the hit musical together on the harbour

Sydney's alfresco 'Phantom' brings two eras of the hit musical together on the harbour

It has been performed in the most prestigious theatres around the world but never in an auditorium like this: no walls, no ceiling, not even stable ground beneath the stage; city lights and two world-famous landmarks in the background and the salty tang of seawater in the air. Opera Australia is staging one of the most successful musicals of all time, The Phantom of the Opera, as this year’s Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour production. It’s the first time in its 35 year history that Andrew Lloyd Webber’s timeless masterpiece will be performed outdoors on such a scale. Written by Webber (music/libretto), Richard Stilgoe (libretto) and Charles Hart (lyrics), The Phantom of the Opera premiered in London’s West End in 1986, remaining there for an astounding 13,629 performances. Its run on Broadway began in 1988 and still continues, with a record-making 13,509 shows clocked up so far. The 2022 Sydney production will rival all others in scope and opulence. “The way that Gabriela Tylesova, the designer, has reimagined the set and the costumes for this scale is so impressive and so grand,” says Georgina Hopson, who plays the principal role of Christine Daaé. Hopson is reluctant to give away any spoilers, but does share some teasers. There’s fireworks and pyrotechnics and all sorts of crazy things. It’s really going to be epic “I can tell you that there’s going to be a chandelier and it’s huge and it’s going to be hanging over the stage – that’s going to be magic! And there’s fireworks

Parton the curtain on '9 to 5 the Musical'

Parton the curtain on '9 to 5 the Musical'

Dolly Parton would agree she has "little feet", but it's hard to dispute that she has very big shoes to fill. This is the task faced by musical theatre star Erin Clare. She’s playing the role of Doralee Rhodes in the Australian stage musical version of 9 to 5, the role played by Parton in the hugely successful 1980 film of the same name. After a long postponement, 9 to 5 the Musical will have its Sydney premiere at the Capitol Theatre this February before heading to Melbourne in July. Clare spoke to us about the themes, the songs and slipping into Dolly Parton’s “teeny, tiny little shoes”.  Apart from playing a lead role in the film, Parton wrote the iconic theme song for the movie and has written all the songs for the musical, so she casts a long shadow over the 9 to 5 brand. It is something that’s very present for Clare.  “Doralee Rhodes, she’s a bright and beautiful country girl, obviously made famous and iconic by Dolly Parton herself. And she really is the essence of Dolly without actually being an autobiographical character of Dolly Parton,” says Clare.  The performer, who recently starred in the hit production of American Psycho the Musical, watched a lot of interviews with Parton, trying to glean her essence in portraying Doralee without creating a caricature.  “[Doralee] is often undermined and underestimated because of the way she looks, but she is smart as a whip and she stands up for what is right. So she really brings a fun, comedic, country element that is so re

Listings and reviews (7)

Dust

Dust

3 out of 5 stars

With their latest performance piece, the Milk Crate Theatre team proves that you don’t need high production values or big name actors to create a high quality piece of theatre – you just need a lot of heart. Dust is immersive theatre in the truest sense, intimate and engaging.  When a dust storm breaks out in the tiny fictional town of Bunan, a group of people find themselves trapped in the local pub, and old tensions settle in. Elixir (Kamini Singh) is a middle-aged woman, owner of the pub, mother to a rebellious teenage daughter, and devoted resident of Bunan. Jeddi (Lana Filies) is said teenage daughter – loud, obnoxious, restless, and anxious to leave Bunan and explore the city.  William (Matthias Nudl) is the English teacher at the local school and also appears to be a permanent guest at the hotel. Kirra (Darlene Proberts) is a friend from Elixir’s past who is in town for her mother’s funeral and makes an ill-timed visit to the pub. Two Bob (Desmond Edwards) is a boisterous, pretentious larrikin whose appearance and connection is never really explained; as such, he adds an element of mystery and surrealism.  Recommended: The theatre company making incredible work with people who get left behind The play opens with Jeddi throwing a tantrum about not being allowed to go to the city while Elixir defiantly cleans and fusses, unmoved. William, who is steadfast in his diplomacy, tries not to get drawn in. His deadpan delivery provides much of the humour.  Kirra’s arrival adds

Jekyll and Hyde the Musical

Jekyll and Hyde the Musical

4 out of 5 stars

Risky experimentation is central to Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous 1886 gothic thriller, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – it is also the creative impetus behind Hayes Theatre Co’s Australian premiere production of Jekyll and Hyde the Musical. Genre switches, dynamic casting choices, multiple roles, minimalism – it requires some surrender from the audience. But if you’re prepared to lay aside preconceptions, you’ll be rewarded in spades.  The very notion of staging Jekyll and Hyde inside the diminutive dimensions of the Hayes Theatre seems bonkers. The show is usually mounted with a grand late 19th century setting and costumes on par with The Phantom of the Opera or Sweeney Todd. The Hayes’ version uses a single setting – the bland, two-tone ward of the post-WWII St Jude’s Military Asylum. Yet it works – as long as you’re prepared to use some imagination.  Premiering in 1990, Jekyll and Hyde the Musical was written by Leslie Bricusse, probably best known for Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and Frank Wildhorn (whose credits include the hit song ‘Where Do Broken Hearts Go’ by Whitney Houston). Jekyll and Hyde is operatic in style, similar to the aforementioned Phantom and Sweeney Todd. Its breakout hit is ‘This is the Moment’, an anthemic ballad often sung by reality show contestants whose moment dies soon after. Acclaimed cabaret artist/pop singer/songwriter/actor and local queer icon Brendan Maclean makes his musical theatre debut playing the lead role of Je

Ghosting the Party

Ghosting the Party

4 out of 5 stars

When people “ghost a party” they make an inconspicuous exit, hoping no one will notice. That’s how 87-year-old Grace would like to leave the world: subtly and quickly when she’s had enough. The problem is, her daughter and grand-daughter are blocking the way out.Playwright Melissa Bubnic (Boys Will Be Boys, Beached) does not cower from difficult, confronting subject matter, and in her new play Ghosting The Party she tackles the scariest subject of all – death. The story focuses on three women, three generations of a family. Grace (Belinda Giblin) is the cantankerous, acid-tongued matriarch who is grinding reluctantly towards the end of her ninth decade on Earth and just wants to call it quits. Her daughter, Dorothy (Jillian O’Dowd) is 56, divorced, working full time as a teacher, disillusioned with life but hanging on to a self-help styled optimism. Suzie (Amy Hack) is Dorothy’s daughter and Grace’s grand-daughter. She is 34, single, working in a high pressure marketing job in Canada trying to convince herself she is living the dream.The play begins with a sort of prologue in which the three women, standing apart and in dressing gowns, exchange thoughts on what might be the best way to die. The first scene opens proper with the women all dressed in black having just been to the funeral of Grace’s sister. The topic of death and quality of life continues, becoming more earnest and bordering on macabre as Suzie and Grace start discussing suicide. Hack, O’Dowd, and Giblin... work

Handa Opera on the Harbour – The Phantom of the Opera

Handa Opera on the Harbour – The Phantom of the Opera

5 out of 5 stars

Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour’s Phantom of the Opera had the blessing of the gods on opening night, with the rain clouds that have near-relentlessly plagued the city during the La Niña summer graciously holding back for the full duration of the show, and a bare whisper of a breeze. You could even hear crickets during the quiet moments (in a good way). Of the outdoor Handa Opera shows that have been staged on the harbour during its ten year history, this would have to be among the most ambitious and extravagant. A plethora of moving parts, slippery slopes, technical wizardry, and incendiary special effects require perfect positioning and precise timing. Then you have a script and score that demand vocal mastery and intense emotional expression. Put it all on a stage with a footprint double and a half the size of any other theatrical stage in the country, throw in a sweeping staircase and an enormous chandelier held aloft by a crane, and you pretty much have a floating powder keg just waiting for an errant spark. If any of this bothers the performers, they certainly don’t let it show. But for some very minor glitches, the performance on Friday night went like clockwork, which was very fortunate since Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber himself was in attendance. Revered designer, Gabriela Tylesova, is the inventive genius behind the set and costumes. She effectively had to work against the expansive surrounds of Sydney Harbour to conjure an illusion of the lush Paris Opera interior and the

Orange Thrower

Orange Thrower

3 out of 5 stars

A love letter to South African women set in the sweltering outer 'burbs of Perth, Orange Thrower has finally hit the Sydney stage at Griffin Theatre’s Kings Cross home after a customary Covid set-back in 2021. Teenage Zadie (Gabriela van Wyk) is holding down the fort while her parents are away visiting their hometown in South Africa. But when their house is pelted with oranges, she has to deal with more than just her nice white neighbours trying to touch her hair. Kirsty Marillier’s debut play is an endearing muddle, filled with youthful enthusiasm and energy, but a little untidy and a tiny bit overcooked. On the other hand, it won the 2019 Rodney Seaborn Playwrights Award, so, you know, eye of the beholder. A younger theatregoer is more likely to relate to the themes of teenage angst, awkward emerging sexuality, and difficult family politics. A younger crowd might also better cope with the relentless pace, quick-fire vernacular-drenched dialogue, and tinder-box emotional reactions. The action takes place in a fictional Perth suburb called Paradise. It is mostly set in the lounge room of a modest home (occasionally, other settings are inferred with simple props for swift scene changes). Zadie and her slightly younger sister, Vimsy (Mariama Whitton) are left to their own devices while their parents are in Johannesburg. The difference between the two girls is immediate – Zadie is serious, responsible, perhaps a little uptight; Vimsy is care-free, impressionable, uninterested in

Breaking The Code

Breaking The Code

4 out of 5 stars

Many people have come to Alan Turing’s story via the much lauded 2014 film, The Imitation Game, in which he was portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch. However, if there was more justice and less homophobia in the world, Turing’s name would be instantly recognised along with his monumental achievement during World War II. Turing cracked the diabolically complex Enigma code which was being used by the Nazis to encrypt their tactical correspondence. Had Turing not achieved this, WWII might have ended very differently. Alas for Turing, he broke another code, a social code of morals – he was a confessed, active homosexual. As long as they were allowed to use his magnificent brain, British authorities turned a blind eye to how Turing used his body. Once his intellectual currency diminished, so too did tolerance of his indiscretions – and, at the time, homosexuality was not merely frowned upon, it was illegal. Before Cumberbatch stepped into his britches, Turing's story was told in British playwright Hugh Whitemore's 1986 play, Breaking The Code. This dynamic show, which threads together different periods of Turing's life, comes to the stage as part of the Sydney Mardi Gras at New Theatre in Newtown. When Whitemore wrote Breaking The Code, it was a time in England when Margaret Thatcher led an ultra conservative government, HIV/AIDS was devastating the LGBTQIA+ community, and skinhead culture was morphing into neo-Nazism. Despite this, the play received enthusiastic reviews, and in 199

The Museum of Modern Love

The Museum of Modern Love

3 out of 5 stars

In 2010, divisive Serbian artist, Marina Abramovic sat on a plain, light-coloured wooden chair in front of a plain square wooden table for almost eight hours every day for 75 days without food or water. In an identical chair opposite her, patrons of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York could take turns to sit and engage eyes with the artist. It was an extraordinary show of human endurance and a contentious example of performance art.  Those who participated in The Artist Is Present, as it was called, experienced a range of responses – some broke down in tears, some laughed, some could only last a few minutes while others endured for hours.  Australian author, Heather Rose, was one of the patrons bold, brave, or bewitched enough to sit opposite Abramovic several times, and it inspired her to write her award winning novel, The Museum of Modern Love. Through her narrator’s eyes we are privy to the thoughts and feelings of a collection of composite characters Rose created based on the people she observed in the gallery.  Rose’s book is descriptive, hypnotic, exquisitely simple in style, meticulous in recollection. It is contemplative and observational.  Translating something so internalised, intellectually intimate, to the stage is tricky and risky. There’s little doubt that playwright Tom Holloway has the calibre and proven track record to meet the challenge, but his stage adaptation of The Museum of Modern Love, staged as part of Sydney Festival, may well be as polarisin

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