Alice in Wonderland – A Timeless Classic

Alice in Wonderland

Penny Farrows’s production of Alice in Wonderland is a colourful and creative retelling of Lewis Caroll’s classic tale and the marvellous adventures his Alice gets up to.

This production also weaves in a few other references from Caroll’s works that broaden the performance beyond the original text. The performance runs for 60 minutes and focuses on the key moments in Caroll’s Alice in Wonderland.

The stage design, props, and puppets are all grand for this production, with a lot of thought clearly put into perspective. An excellent example of this is how Alice’s character really does seem to shrink as she drinks out of a jar that gets bigger and bigger with each sip.

The costumes in this performance are grand and majestical, making the audience feel like they are down some weird and wonderful rabbit hole. Be it Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum’s humorously disproportionate garments or the overly large ears of the March Hare, the audience is genuinely transported into Alice’s new world with these new and zany characters.

It was lovely to see the cast working as an ensemble from start to finish on opening night as the play opened and closed in a joint narration. Physical theatre was employed as the cast shared the storytelling, and it was a joy seeing the actors weave in and out of their costumes throughout the performance as they embodied such whacky and whimsical characters.

Although I found myself laughing out loud many times during this performance, I found the pacing lagged occasionally with some noticeable gaps. It became particularly problematic in the water scene, where the audience first meets some odd characters of Wonderland. There needed to be a stronger pulse to keep the chaos in order.

That said, I really enjoyed this Alice in Wonderland performance, as did my children who came with me. This show is for all ages and would be a shame to miss!

This review also appears on It’s On The House, and more reviews can be found on Dark Stories Theatre Reviews – it’s an excellent way to see what else is on in your town.

A Generational Voyage – Waru: Journey of the Small Turtle

Waru: Journey of the Small Turtle

Bangarra Dance Theatre’s Waru: Journey of the Small Turtle follows the generational journey of a turtle coming out of its egg, finding its way to the sea, growing up big and strong, and returning to lay eggs of their own.

The audience walks in to see a beautifully set stage with fairy lights and magical dot lighting on the walls, like millions of fireflies in the night sky. The ambient music and beach sounds complete the scene and allow the young audience to ponder what they will see when the performance begins.

The first words the audience hears are in a whisper. A voice pays respect to the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, on which the performance takes place, and tells the audience a little bit about what is to come in the production. As the play is aimed at a younger audience, this whisper was an absolutely beautiful way to ease them into the performance space.

The turtle’s story is told from the perspective of a grandmother who lives on the beach and acts as the guardian of the turtles. As such, the journey of the small turtle is told from her perspective and includes many delightful moments of dance, kung fu and song.

The performance itself consisted of two actors – Elma Kris and Aba Beru. Elma’s voice as the grandmother was welcoming, encouraging, and engaging, and her energy was wonderful and drew in the audience. Aba embodied their multiple roles full-heartedly and met their unique energies with joy and consideration.

Audience engagement and interaction was a large part of this performance, and on opening night, the crowd followed Elma’s gentle-paced storytelling through dancing and singing. As the story followed the journey of two mother turtles, the dances and songs were repeated. This repetition was perfect for the young audience to help them remember the dances after the performance.

Another wonderfully age-considerate inclusion was that the play notes the change in ambient music as a foreboding tool. When the lighting and music change and Elma asks the audience, “Can you feel it?” this not only helps the young audience follow in the drama of the story at that moment but also helps them on a broader scale to pay attention to the soundscape and lighting of the show in general.

Waru: Journey of a Small Turtle is the first dedicated children’s performance from the Bangarra Dance Theatre, and for their first production, they got a lot of things right. The drama of the piece and the warm nature of the grandmother’s character kept the engagement levels high for all ages. The story was told in a way that I was not expecting, and I would encourage anyone with small children to give them the opportunity to see this story told on stage.

Performances are running in Gadigal Country (Sydney) until October 14th, then will move to Wadawarrung Country (Geelong) until October 21st.

This review also appears in It’s On The House.

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All My Sons

Maitland Repertory Theatre’s production of Arthur Miller’s All My Sons dives deep into its dark themes, leaving the audience feeling for every flawed and human character. What starts as a leisurely look at a suburban family accelerates into a philosophical examination of duty, trauma and grief, and we are invited into the family backyard to watch in awe as the play’s events transpire before us.

It is a personal love of mine when actors perform pre-show or during intermission. As you walk into the playhouse for MRT’s production of All My Sons, all the characters are already on the stage. The idealised American Dream is set by actors sitting on green, green grass in front of bright blue walls, staring off into the horizon while a sepia-coloured home video plays in the background.

This production uses a bare-slanted stage, which does several clever things. First, it allows the actors to be seated on the ground in a way that is still very visible to the audience. Second, the audience feels like they are in the space with the characters, as if the backyard’s grassy knoll is extended to us. And third, it helps to create the illusion of the horizon as the actors stare over us and into the distance.

Despite the bare stage, the costumes and accents help to set the play in the right time and place. There is no confusion that we are in America in the aftermath of WWI.

Many of the characters in All My Sons give heartfelt and emotional monologues that reveal the depths of their trauma. Aimee Cavanagh, Richard Rae, and especially Carl Caulfield did a fantastic job with their pieces. Real sweat, tears, and authentic connection to the words and themes resulted in the audience feeling for and with the characters of Kate, Chris, and Joe (respectively).

Although it was hard to look away from Carl Caulfield’s powerful presence, the standout performance in this production was Richard Rae’s portrayal of Chris Keller. Rae’s connection with every cast member was clear, and he was the weaving that threaded the production together.

An absolute treat for the audience was the scene between Chris Keller and Joe Keller, where truths are revealed and philosophies grappled with. This was the only scene that mainly used music or lighting, creating a warped sense of reality. Their world was collapsing right before our eyes, and the audience could only watch with awe.

Maitland Repertory Theatre’s All My Sons remarkably brings Miller’s play and its characters to life. Although this review emphasises the darker elements of the play, it should be noted that the performance includes some light-hearted moments and witty interactions, which were an absolute joy to watch as well.

The production runs for Friday, Saturday and Sunday performances from 14th July through to the 23rd July.

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Money Money Money – When Dad Married Fury

David Williamson’s When Dad Married Fury is a cheeky comedy that explores the tensions created in the family unit when inheritance is discussed, especially when a new, young, beauty-queen wife joins the picture. Hunters Hill Theatre’s production brings both the funny – and flawed – character traits to the fore whilst tackling the darker themes of the play.

The simple set lets all the tension and drama hold its own space. Red-painted walls and a giant lit-up dollar sign make it no secret what the play’s themes will be about. Clever staging choices also made certain scenes and themes stand out. For example, the character of Judy had just lost all her savings and house and was now living somewhere “too small for a cockroach”. Her primary place on the stage was in a cramped corner on a small lounge. The furnishings were simple and homey but did a great job representing her small and crowded new home.

While the musical score was minimal, intentionally allowing the drama on stage to unfold naturally, there were delightful and well-thought-out entrances for the father, Alan. These emphasised that Alan is a “smooth operator”, and David Kirkman’s strong acting exuded coolness.

Michael Richmond and Dave Went, who played the brothers, Ian and Ben, respectively, had great stage chemistry, and it was clear they were having a lot of fun bouncing off each other. A nice touch was when the actors gave each other a brotherly punch as they walked offstage after the audience applause. This may have been an opening-night-only-comradery, but it was a treat.

Moving to the more serious themes of the play, the character of Laura reminds the audience that the drama on the stage is so far detached from the grim reality of the political world around them. Although Laura requires broodiness and dismay in her portrayal, there is also much room for fun and lightness in her character. Melissa Jones shows the darker side of Laura well, but as the production season progresses, I hope Jones can experiment, play, and explore all that Laura has to offer.

Fury (Laura Stead), Alan (David Kirkham

Another serious theme the play explores is the harsh reality of financial risks. Whilst the brothers are fighting over who should get how many millions, Laura’s mother, Judy, is trying to adjust to her new life after her late husband lost all his money in Alan’s get-rich-quick scheme. Jan Johnson did a superb job drawing the audience in and pulling on their heartstrings. The passion in her monologue in Act 2 was amazing. Johnson’s Judy provided a definite sense of humanity to the monetary debate of inheritance.

Hunters Hill Theatre’s production of the play was simple yet effective. Excellent stage choices, great acting, and a cast that clearly enjoy each other’s on-stage company make this play a joy to watch.

When Dad Married Fury runs for two more weekends starting from 7:30 pm Friday 23rd June through to a closing matinee session on 2 pm Sunday 2nd July.

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