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The Front Page

The Front Page Rating

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Picture this. The sound of a typewriter, the keys furiously tapping, while multiple phones sound their distinctive “brrrrring!” under a cloud of cigarette smoke. This is the 1920’s, inside a crowded room full of newspaper journalists at the Criminal Courts in Chicago.

Production and Costume Designer Paris Burrows places the audience right there; the journalists wear stylish vests and ties, the women have beautiful hair and hats and the room is complete with several coloured candlestick telephones noisily vying for attention on the wooden table – those upright standing telephones with a separate mouthpiece and receiver and the round dial on the base of one hundred years ago. The set feels authentic, and the standing glass water cooler, small paper cups and the wooden roll top desk are a quiet but strong presence and used at key points during the play.

Journalists play cards and banter, waiting to report on the hanging execution of a prisoner convicted of shooting a black police officer to death, Earl Williams (played by Diego Retamales) which is set to take place at 7am the next morning.

This is The Front Page, a play by Ben Hecht and Charles Macarthur which premiered on Broadway in 1928 and has been remade into three movies in the years since then.

Director Nicholas Papademetriou’s adaption of The Front Page has cleverly kept multiple original themes clearly at the forefront, whilst changing the gender of the one of the main characters, journalist Hildy Johnson. This worked to the play’s advantage, and I truly enjoyed Rose Treloar’s performance as Hildy, the “newspaper man” as her character’s quick wit and gutsy comebacks proved she was as intelligent and competent as her male colleagues.

The Front Page has many moments that allow us to ponder how far we have come in the last century, with the play highlighting how sexism and gender bias were acceptable practice in the workplace. It is a case of art imitating life, running somewhat true to the era, as Hecht and Macarthur were themselves newspaper crime reporters in Chicago. Other issues such as corruption in politics and manipulation of facts to suit one’s agenda for their own benefit are sharp reminders that some things remain the same.

The play, despite these serious themes, is a comedy and the antics of some characters made the audience laugh, notably the overbearing character Mrs Chambers who was superbly played by Alison Grant. Mrs Chambers, or “Mother” (in law to be), stood out and seemed to be a firm favourite villain, and we winced at her snooty treatment and attitude toward her son’s fiancé Hildy. Bruce Grant is played by Michael Smith. He convincingly conveyed a bland insurance salesman who holds hope for the move to a quiet life in New York with Hildy and his mother, all three living together. Hildy is fiery, career driven and has an unstoppable need to write exciting stories, so we are left wondering if this is a good match.

This was a large cast of eighteen and all were cohesive on stage, not an easy task with the rapid-fire script and the constraints of a stage. The supporting characters easily carried the play forward, with the second act moving faster than the first. As the news breaks of William’s escape, the throng of journalists jostling and hungry for a story were reminiscent of a flock of seagulls feasting on some chips at the beach!

For the performance I attended on Friday, Jerry Mullaly stepped into the role of The Herald Examiner newspaper’s managing editor Walter Burns. Mullaly and Treloar had an understated onstage chemistry that grew the more they bantered, and hinted at perhaps a hopeful romance, even though Hildy was about to start her new life in New York.

The Front Page is a fast paced and entertaining play which is well worth seeing as a glance into the world of tabloid press.

Running time: 100 minutes, no intervals
The New Theatre, Newtown 23 April – 18 May 2024
Full $37
Concessions, Groups (6+) $32
New Theatre Members $25
Thrifty Thursdays $25

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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In the opening scene of Lally Katz’s semi-autobiographical play Atlantis, Lally confides in her boyfriend at the time, Dave, about an important dream she had involving a panther, friendship, and growing up in Miami. Dave reluctantly listens, and when Lally confronts him about not being interested in her story, Dave casually remarks that he isn’t. I confess I found it difficult to engage with her story, too.

The biggest problem lay at the core of the stage play, with a heavy emphasis on narrating events occurring on stage, making it difficult to settle down and immerse myself in a scene. After half an hour of ongoing narration, I had no idea where the story was meant to be going or why I should be caring. Lally was doing stuff while telling us about doing that stuff and relying too heavily on ‘this is a true story’, but maybe I’m being unfair.

I could see where the dialogue and narration could have used a more delicate touch. Often, the story may have worked better at a different pace or delivered more reflectively and thoughtfully. Georgia Britt, to her credit, played Lally with energy and enthusiasm. But Lally (not Britt) comes across as a hyperactive, overbearing, self-indulgent narcissist obsessed with marriage, babies, and curses. Lally is quirky, optimistic, and energetic almost all the time, which, to my mind, distracts us from the deeper character arc of her story.

Many scenes suffered pacing issues, sometimes seeming to be a race to get through a scene as fast as possible, with offbeat timing, pace, and/or control.

The most interesting character was Electra, played superbly by Tamara Foglia Castañeda, but felt her efforts were diluted because there was no humorous contrast between her rapid-fire New York Latino delivery and that of rapid-fire, overly enthusiastic about everything Lally. Many of the characters came across as manic. Some scenes would have been far more emotional, interesting, and impactful if the play had slowed down and become more intimate.

The set itself and the technical delivery were impressive. Two single panels and a few props were used to create a range of environments, from apartments to streets, nightclubs, and churches. Each panel also had chalkboard windows that would open up to serve as bars, windows, reception desks and even a DJ booth. I was, however, confused as to why place names were written on the chalkboards, like subtitles in a movie, when we switched locations. There was so much potential there to use the chalkboards for more than place names.

The cast did a great job switching between their multiple characters, which came across more as caricatures to me. The cast did what they could, but unfortunately, much of their time, effort, and energy fell flat on occasion.

The story is that of the playwright, and the characters are based on real people. My favourite moments revolved around Electra’s dog. The second was an in-joke about a caricature the same performer had played earlier. And the third was the sex scene. I was genuinely impressed and amused by the creativity of the sex scene between Lally and Diego.

Alyona Popova genuinely entertained me in the background of a scene between Lally and an Uber driver. With each driving scene, a spare actor in the background runs a toy car around the inside of a window frame. During Lally’s final journey to Miami, given the length of the journey represented, Popova used the entire backdrop and moved with a slow, purposeful grace. It was a slow-motion dance, really, and genuinely entertaining.

An interaction with a New York Cabbie helped introduce us to the theme of Atlantis. References included global warming, finding oneself, holding on to the past, yearning, loneliness, the challenges of womanhood, growing up, and finding love.

These are themes I normally connect with. I appreciate being drawn into the characters’ feelings and emotions, but the play goes so fast that I found investing in Lally and her struggles challenging. And that’s a shame. To be fair, many in the audience were noisy and laughing out loud—a lot. So it just might be that Lally and I just didn’t connect with each other on this occasion.

Atlantis is playing at the New Theatre in Newtown until the 13th of April, 2024.

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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