The Spook

The Spook

The Spook Rating

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6

Travel back to the heart of 1960s working class Australia with ‘The Spook,’ by Melissa Reeves, where the spectre of betrayal looms large and true friendships are put to the test.

Set within the sleepy country town of Bendigo, we are drawn into an examination of the impact of external threats on community dynamics, and the frenzy of Cold War paranoia. These themes are personal, local and global. What makes them resonate is that this biting satire is based on real life events.

Director Casey Moon-Watton presents a thought provoking and at times confronting plot packed with political discourse and fiery debates. Audiences will listen carefully, perhaps even access Google afterwards when words like ‘Trotskyist’ and ‘neo-Marxism’ are casually dropped into the conversation. Loyalty, camaraderie and treachery interweave, yet despite the seriousness of these themes, it’s also unexpectedly funny and at times wryly witty.

In the tense Menzies era, where neighbours could be seen as enemies, the characters are vividly real in their flaws. Moon-Wattons’ open, minimalist and deliberately incomplete set design places each character’s emotional journey front and centre while serving as an ironic metaphor of the story’s exploration of hidden truths and obscured realities.

We experience this story through the eyes of young and naive Martin (Cameron Drake), who is teetering on the brink of adulthood, yet lacks direction and ambition. Struggling to find his identity, he is trapped within the confines of a stifling and banally homogenous community. As with most young adults, Martin just wants to be liked, seen and belong. This makes him perfect fodder for recruitment as a spy against the local Communist Party. Drake presents an agonising mix of adolescent awkwardness and bravado. As Martin slowly comes of age, he is forced to find his moral compass through the gradual realisation that life isn’t a game of heroes and villains.

Trixie, his watchful and disapproving mother, (Courtney Farrow) is everything you’d expect to be in a middle aged woman living in a small post war country town; stoic, repressed and afraid of change. Farrow did well to widen the generational gap despite being quite young for this role. She juggles quick costume and character changes with aplomb to also play Phyllis, the bright but unwitting member and partner of world weary party leader Frank (Rawdon Waller). Frank is the strong but abrasive voice of reason and Waller displayed an accurate understanding of an angry man battling within a system that is rapidly heading towards self-destruction.

Brett Joachim is Martin’s amusingly aloof Controller – in every sense of the word. He is oily and snarky as he manipulates and corrupts his charge’s innocence. He knows Martin is missing a father figure and confidante, which makes his actions and nonchalant lack of empathy quite ghastly.

Tida Dhanommitrapap has the daunting task of playing triple roles. Jean, a perpetually late party member and a stiff-upper lipped policewoman in Act 2. Her main role is Annette, Martin’s girlfriend, who delights in having something apart from Pick-a-Box to distract herself from her utter boredom of small town, small minded constraints and complete indifference to her pending marriage. Both an accomplice and hindrance, she enjoys the perceived glamour of her second-hand status without any of the moral repercussions.

(Nathan Heinrich and Kate Kelly) deliver solid and authentic performances, while producing credible accents as the mysterious Greek couple George and Eli Tassak. Their sad plight and immigration journey is compelling and raises the stakes in forcing Martin to see the real people and motivation behind the “right little nest of dirty Reds”.

Geoff Jones cleverly weaves a subtly chilling soundscape, complemented by an array of pop music and protest songs during scene changes. This enhanced the atmosphere of the era, adding tension and mood, while Anthea Brown’s costumes captured the ultimately conservative modesty of a country town lagging behind the trends and heady days of the swinging 60’s.

We have the indulgence to observe this distinctly Australian zeitgeist through the unique lens of historical context. In light of current politics around China, Palestine and Russia, it is more relevant today than ever. Will it never not be relevant?

‘The Spook’ serves as a timely reminder, highlighting the cyclical nature of history while injecting fresh perspectives into ongoing debates, with a distinctly nostalgic flavour. See this show to reignite your political fervour, embrace your apathy, or simply laugh at the consequences of both.

‘The Spook’ by The Pymble Players plays from 15th May – 8th June 2024. See https://pymbleplayers.com.au/the-spook for details.

This review also appears on It’s On The House. Check out more reviews at Whats The Show to see what else is on in your town.

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Dear Diary

Dear Diary

Dear Diary Rating

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1

‘Dear Diary’, written by Kay Proudlove and directed by Leland Kean, opened last night at the Illawarra Performing Arts Centre. The one-woman show, starring Proudlove, is a balanced mix of nostalgia, self-deprecation, and musical comedy.

The show’s premise arose from a fateful day in Kay’s life when she was summoned to her parent’s house to clean out her childhood bedroom. The layout of the stage represented said bedroom, which felt both homey and oddly clinical, as she slowly removed the sense of comfort that comes from a safe space like a bedroom as the story progressed. Certain moments were punctuated with clothes being removed from the racks and piled up downstage, symbolising moving on and growing up.

The casual tone and delivery of the interwoven collection of stories made the performance feel like old friends catching up over coffee or a bottle of Moscato. The fourth wall was delicately danced around, with Proudlove referring to her writing process for the show and providing sidenotes and commentary on her memories and diary entries.

Kay’s generational humour and songs crafted from extracts of her teenage self’s diary had the audience in stitches. The stories of her high school crushes on both celebrities and boys she went to school with were hilarious and authentically awkward.

The selective use of a screen to show images and blow-up pages from her diary assisted in comedic timing and context and authenticating the words being read from the diary. It was wonderful to see her growth as a musician and a songwriter, as she has moved past her one verse and one chorus songs with a catalogue of beautiful, powerful, and reflective songs, as well as the majority of songs in ‘Dear Diary’ that are upbeat and lyrically diarised.

Growing up as a theatre kid and having big dreams like fame and going on a world tour are formative in the way young artists identify and shape their perspective on themselves and their environment. Her moment of realisation of her replaceability within her musical space struck a chord with me, who also put together performances and had big dreams of fame as a pre-teen. A sad part of growing up is looking back at all the plans your younger self had made, often with absolutely no understanding of the world and the inner workings of adulthood. Kay captured this beautifully with such raw emotion and simplicity.

If you grew up in the Illawarra and are looking for a healthy dose of nostalgia, this is the show for you. Grab yourself a ticket on the Merrigong Theatre Company website. ‘Dear Diary’ runs until Saturday, 11 May, at the Illawarra Performing Arts Centre before continuing her national tour in Tasmania.

This review also appears on It’s On The House. Check out more reviews at Whats The Show to see what else is on in your town.

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Let’s Kill Agatha Christie – Plotting and Suspects in a Grey Room

Lets Kill Agatha Christie

Let’s Kill Agatha Christie Rating

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2

I didn’t know what to expect with a title such as this one, ‘Let’s Kill Agatha Christie’. Murder? Mystery? Plot twists, a curious and confident detective, and the Big Reveal at the end? Ms Agatha Christie serves as the contemporary writing adversary to the main character, Prudence Sykes (flamboyantly played by Caitlyn Clancy).

Although Agatha Christie does not appear in this play, her presence is felt – she is in the room, the aptly named Grey Room. Thanks to the director and set designer Gregory George, everything in this room, including the flowers and the fireplace, is grey. We are told that other rooms in the house are all painted different colours. Perhaps the reason the sitting room in this grand English mansion is grey could be because it reflects how Prudence feels inside, her insecurities, or maybe because it provides the backdrop and accentuates the characters’ colourful personalities.

Prudence, a prolific author of many novels (27, not 28 as one was rejected by her publisher) craves success as her crime novels have not reached the popularity of Agatha Christie. She desperately wants recognition and to be respected as a writer. Prudence hatches a plan. She invites three of her known enemies to her house and plants a script for them to find, giving each of them a reason to kill her.

The genre of the murder mystery thriller is explored, and The Genesian Theatre Company kept the audience guessing as to what was going to happen next. Michael Schell, who created the lighting and sound design, made full use of creating a dark atmosphere, especially with the music that played to open both the first and second act.

As each character was announced into the sitting room by the sardonic butler Tombs (played by Peter J Donnelly) I was already wondering who going to be the murderer.

Prudence’s guests were all successful – a self-made millionaire named Sir Frederick Belting, a successful poetess named Marjorie Field and a famous actor John Hartley – Miles. Theo Hatzistergos appeared to have fun portraying a pompous and arrogant Frederick, ordering Tombs to get his luggage from his car, (a Rolls Royce,) which he drops into the conversation several times. Natalie Reid returns to The Genesian Theatre to play Marjorie, who tries multiple times to recite her poetry aloud, despite the protestations of the other guests, which made the audience laugh. Bryan Smith brings the actor John to life in the play, giving him a nervous yet quite kind disposition.

A few more characters completed the cast, with Denise Kitching (Montgomery) as Angela Teal, Prudence’s PA, Andrea Blight as the shuffling and stooped Gladys the housemaid, who drew quite a few laughs due to her character’s personality, Brendan Layton as Inspector Murray and Harry Lewis as PC Crockett. Their accents were believably British for most of the performance and the costumes for all characters by Susan Carveth were convincing of the time period.

This play had a comedic element which ran all the way through. Veiled insults thrown at each other and clever quips were woven into the dialogue. Other times the comedy was physical – the top step tripping up the characters became a running theme, and it was funny watching how different characters dealt with this tiresome step.

‘Let’s Kill Agatha Christie’ was written by Anthony Hinds after he retired from making horror movies and published in 1990. It was an entertaining homage to the mystery murder genre and to Agatha Christie.

I watched the opening night’s performance on Saturday May 4 and it ran for 2 hours with a 20 minute interval. It is playing on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays until the 8 June 2024.

The Genesian Theatre 420 Kent St, Sydney. Tickets from $30

This review also appears on It’s On The House. Check out more reviews at Whats The Show to see what else is on in your town.

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Fourteen; A Coming-of-Age Memoir

Fourteen

Fourteen Rating

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There are plays which immerse the audience immediately. Fourteen, originally a memoir by Shannon Molloy and adapted by Nelle Lee, Nick Skubij and the author, grabs our attention and takes us back in time to 1999. To the town of Yeppoon on the coast of Rockhampton, where the birds sweetly sing as the morning sun drenches the timber balcony and weatherboard walls. But all is not idyllic in Shannon Molloy’s life as he navigates being fourteen, questioning his sexuality and dealing with life in a small town.

This is a story of a young man in an all-boys Christian school, subject to extreme bullying, both physical and verbal taunts and the victim of cruel practical jokes. Fourteen is told mostly in flashback snapshots by Shannon, flawlessly played by Conor Leach. Conor convincingly portrayed the emotions and vulnerability of Shannon.

The retelling of the unfairness and the constant terrorising of a young teenage boy must not be lost in current society, and Molloy has not held back in recounting these parts of his life which no doubt would have been painful to write about.

There are scenes in Fourteen which tell a cautionary tale of what happens when those who are supposed to protect us, such as the teachers in his school, not only fail in their duty of care but actively become an antagonistic force. There is a build-up of multiple classroom incidents where a teacher (played by Steven Rooke) continuously ignores verbal abuse towards Shannon in his classroom. I found another bullying incident extremely disturbing, where he grabs a sexually explicit letter falsely signed by Shannon and reads it aloud to the class. Today a quarter of a century later, teachers are subject to accountability for their actions so I would like to believe that they would not act the way that teacher did in Fourteen and if so, they would be called out.

The deceptively complex set design by Josh McIntosh uses a clever amalgamation of multi-story levels, several doors hinting to other larger spaces and a central turning stage used to create a spotlight on the characters and the storyline. The lighting by Trent Suidgeest and the sound design by Guy Webster were integral to the play, highlighting dramatic points and creating a realistic atmosphere. One intense scene where Shannon looks into the mirror facing the audience, as he contemplates ending his life was powerfully portrayed using the framing outline and lighting to highlight his distress.

Although harrowing, and some scenes are quite harrowing, director Nick Skubij, creative producer Ross Balbuziente and the cast ensure that there are times which show how the support of Shannon’s family and friends buoy him in his darkest moments. We cheer on Shannon in a leadership role as he creates a fashion show with the supportive youth worker from the local community youth centre. Fourteen shows just how important it is to have a community who loves you for who you are.

Cast members played multiple characters and they were distinguished with the use of costumes designed by Fabian Holford. Karen Crone stood out in multiple roles, notably as Shannon’s salt of the Earth supportive mother – who he calls his rock.

The script strikes a good balance of seriousness with comedy which lightens the play. Scattered throughout, the choice of familiar cheesy late 90’s music accompanied by synchronised dance moves onstage encouraged the audience to burst into song, which is always a good sign that they are having a good time!

The Shake and Stir Theatre company’s Fourteen is a story of pain, healing, and hope. We are left with one teen’s story of survival that can be blanketed across to any teen, regardless of gender, sexuality, or race. For those people who are feeling hopeless, or have experienced bullying, the universal message remains to never give up and that there is life to be lived and love to be had, beyond the school gate.

Fourteen runs for one hour and forty minutes with no interval. The play I saw on Friday, May 3, at The Riverside Theatre was the first performance of a National 20-city tour.

For tickets, go to www.shakeandstir.com.au/mainstage/fourteen

This review also appears on It’s On The House. Check out more reviews at Whats The Show to see what else is on in your town.

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