Sydney Film Festival – The Outrun

The Outrun - Sydney Film Festival

The Outrun – Sydney Film Festival Rating

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According to Orkney Island folklore, when people drown in the sea they get turned into seals. These creatures, called Selkies, secretly come back to land at night to dance in human form, before heading back into the sea. But, if someone sees them while on land, they get stuck in human form, to live their lives unhappily on land and longing to return to the sea.

I recently saw The Outrun, a new Scottish film by German director Nora Fingscheidt, at the Sydney Film Festival. It tells the story of Rona, a young woman who returns to the windswept Orkney islands of Scotland to recover from a troubled past while studying in London. The film is fragmented and non-linear, jumping back and forth in time between her childhood, wild nights out in London, the rise and fall of a relationship, and her journey of recovery on the Islands of Orkney.

The cinematography is solid and often beautiful, showcasing not only the wild, natural beauty of the Orkneys, but also letting us dive into the colour and vibrancy of London and the sensory confusion of intoxication. Rona is an alcoholic, and her journey deep into the abyss of her addiction and then trying to climb back out is the core of the film.

The cast are incredibly engaging. Saoirse Ronan, who plays Rona, also produced the film and leads an outstanding cast including Stephen Dillane, Saskia Reeves, and Paapa Essiedu. They all deliver solid, believable performances that feel true to their characters.

What I noticed most about the film was how well sound was being used to create atmosphere. The constant howling wind on the islands gave a real sense of an unforgiving and cold environment. I felt like I was there. It was often subtle but almost always there, and when they faded out the wind for a poignant moment of reflection it worked beautifully.

In London, the sounds of traffic and people and music was an effective contrast to the desolate wind. Sound was also important to Rona. She listens to dance music as she works on her father’s farm or walks along the shore, a connection to her distant life in London. For months she listens out for the elusive call of a rare migratory bird.

We are told this bird, the Corncrake, has a low chance of surviving its journey to Africa and back. That was an allegory I felt laid on with a heavy hand, especially when Rona is told similar statistics to the success of recovering alcoholics before embarking on her journey back to the Orkneys.

Another problem was the cliché use of hair colour to denote different periods on Rona’s life. Hair-colour is a well-used visual cue for the audience to keep track of constant shifts in narrative time, but they could have come up with something more creative, such as hairstyle or even tattoos. It seemed easy, and lazy. And worse, it was used to manage an editing choice that was itself problematic.

The narrative has several layers of extra complexity and detail that could have been dropped from the film without doing any damage to the core emotional story. This seems to be a hangover from its source; the bestselling memoir by Amy Liptrot, who also helped write the screenplay. It felt as if the production team was so enamoured by elements from the novel, they were determined to put them in the film even though they’re different mediums. Random voiceovers came in that don’t help build the world or drive the narrative forward in a satisfying way. It was obvious these were simply bits from the book they wanted in the film but didn’t have time to explore properly. The Outrun is littered with these half-formed ideas or half-developed themes.

Paradoxically, while it’s littered with detail, the narrative runs out of steam. By mid-way, the film settles into a constant repetition of events and doesn’t really go anywhere, only adding small details or extra information that could have been told earlier and more efficiently, or not at all.

The second act is often dangerous territory for film-makers and The Outrun suffers from a lack of discipline. The constant jumping in time and place may represent Rona’s state of mind, and reflect the source material, but it doesn’t allow the audience to settle down and get drawn into the story. Instead, I was getting bored.

And then came the ending, which I felt was somewhat derivative, predictable, and a little unsatisfying. The Outrun is a well shot, superbly acted film that suffers from an undisciplined script and a chaotic structure that takes the wind out of its sails.

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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A Mid-Autumn Night’s Frenzy Of Laughter And Joy

A Midsummer Night's Dream

A Midsummer Night’s Dream Rating

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Often, the idea of seeing a Shakespearian play conjures up similarities to visiting the opera, symphony, or ballet. There’s a stigma of intelligence, stuffiness, sophistication, and class. You don’t normally consider Macbeth or Hamlet a fun night out with the family. But Shakespeare wrote his plays for everyone, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream was always meant to be a fun comedy, not some academic undertaking. This performance by the Australian Shakespeare Company maintains that tradition while celebrating its 35th year.

I thought about this perception of Shakespeare as I crouched down into my low-rise chair on the lawn, wine in hand, and stared at the empty stage in front of me. The air was cool, and the sky was clear. Behind the stage, the trees of Centennial Park were lit up to form the perfect backdrop to this magical play.

I initially felt a little let down, expecting a more elaborate set-up for a larger, more spectacular show, making the most of the location amongst the trees. Instead, I looked up at a raised stage with a few stairs dressed up with vines and leaves. Then, all of a sudden, a golf cart-style greenskeeper vehicle raced up a ramp onto the stage, and the Athenian players, modernised for contemporary times, burst into a frenzy of audience announcements mixed with their planning of a play within the play. It set the tone well, and the couple beside me were immediately in hysterics. But I needed a bit more warming up, and so I sipped my wine cautiously as the story began…

The energy was electric, and the play moved along at a rapid but carefully controlled pace. Modern humour was added throughout the classic dialogue, which flowed along seamlessly. This helped to keep a well-worn play fresh and entertaining while staying true to the original material. Most of this came through the Athenian players, but even our lovers had plenty of modern quips and references that never felt intrusive or disrespectful.

The soundtrack cleverly used well-known tracks that often triggered the audience to sing along. There was a Taylor Swift Eras Tour joke at one point because even Shakespeare can’t escape her orbit. All around me, groups of friends, partners, and colleagues were turning to each other and gasping, ‘This is so amazing! How good is this!’

The cast gave it their all, sometimes a bit too much, with only one scene becoming a bit hyperactive. The humour was often cartoonish, in a good way, with body language replicating characters from Loony Tunes cartoons, such as the love-sick Lysander and Demetrius floating along on Tiptoes after Helena. You’ll know it when you see it. This cartoonish energy worked well with the fantasy feel of the play. While the Greek lovers, players and Aristocracy were dressed in what seemed like 1990s-inspired suits, dresses and overalls, our fairy kingdom was wisely kept fantastical.

The audience became more vocal as the play progressed, and the wine flowed. The performers all encourage cheers, laughs, clapping, and whooping. When Oberon’s coat was caught on a trapdoor on his way onto the stage, Hugh Sexton broke character and declared to the crowd ‘what an entrance!’ to which they cheered and clapped. The whole point of the play, and the way it’s delivered, is to have a great time.

Once the lover’s quarrel is resolved and the wedding takes place, the Athenian players take to the stage within the stage.
That’s when the whole performance goes into manic overdrive. Layer upon layer of humour and inventiveness energised the audience. Details like the ‘director’ mimicking the actor’s performances, the reactions of Theseus and Hippolyta, actors not in the central performance, adding a few jokes, there was always something going on.

And when it was all finally over, I didn’t mind that my initial expectations of some visual spectacular had not been met. The staging was subdued, and I was disappointed that the big fog cannons and fireworks only came on at the end, but something even better happened. I left with a smile on my face.

I’m not sure what a serious Shakespearian scholar would think of this performance. I hope they simply had a great time, along with all the other adults, young kids, and even middle-aged kids like me. So, if you want a god-natured fun night out with a lot of laughs, be sure to get there while you can. And don’t forget to bring some nibblies and a blanket, because the weather is starting to turn cold out there.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream Under the Stars is playing at the Centennial Park Belvedere amphitheatre until the 28th of April, with a range of ticket prices to suit your budget.

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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Boeing Boeing – A Fun Ride On An Old Classic

Boeing Boeing

As the lights dimmed and the last few people made their way to their seats, I turned to my friend and said they should play the message tone familiar to anyone who’s hopped on a plane. Moments later, there it was, that familiar sound, followed by a tongue-in-cheek announcement mimicking cabin crew telling us the onboard entertainment would be live. It made me smile like a little kid getting ice cream. In an instant, I knew this was going to be fun, and I settled in for take-off.

Marc Camoletti’s Boeing Boeing has been a theatre staple since its first French production in 1960, even made into a movie starring Tony Curtis and Jerry Lewis. Set in 1960s Paris, contemporary at the time, it’s aged into a retro comedy about a deceitful Lothario, Bernard, juggling three separate fiancés who are all air hostesses. Thanks to alternating airline schedules, each comes home for a short time believing they’re Bernard’s one true love while remaining oblivious to the others. The energetic farce kicks off when Bernard’s old friend Robert arrives, and interruptions to the schedules throw the routine into chaos, sending the women into a turbulent collision course.

Michael Mulvenna seems at ease playing the womanising Bernard, oozing sophistication and charm in the early stages and then descending into panic and terror as he loses control. Each of his three fiancés in their colour-coded uniform brought their characters to life with exaggerated accents and outstanding energy.

In red, there’s the confident and sassy American, Gloria (Laura Stead); in blue is the fiery and temperamental Italian, Gabriella (Gabrielle Rawlings); and in yellow, the carnal and loud German, Gretchen (Cassandra Gorman). (As an aside, the sets and costume design are terrific.) Luke Baweja does a great job as the nervous Robert, trying desperately to keep the women apart as they play musical rooms. His physical comedy often triggered the biggest laughs, and his manic nervousness created a sense of exhaustion whilst still allowing the fun to continue.

My highlight was Maggie Scott as Bernard’s long-suffering and grumpy maid, Bertha. Her sardonic French accent and defeated body language were constantly amusing, and she was a delight every time she shuffled onto the stage and sighed, ‘Yes, monsieur.’

While the play is a classic for good reason, the story risks becoming outdated, such as Bernard’s pride in his ‘clever’ deception and manipulation of women or Richard’s admiration of it. Luckily, it isn’t mean-spirited, and the women give as much as they get.

The play deals with Bernard’s womanising in a way that justice is served while still making everyone happy. Director Chrissie McIntyre rightfully focused on the tomfoolery and physical comedy to keep the audience laughing throughout. The cast attacked the material with energy and enthusiasm, which is vital in making a play like this work. It’s meant to be silly and fun, so if you don’t buy into the characters and absurdity of the situation, or if the actors hold back, you don’t laugh. Thankfully, I did, and so did everyone else.

Boeing Boeing is a fun, light-hearted retro romp that’s boarding at the Hunters Hills Theatre in Club Ryde until the 24th of March. Don’t miss your flight!

This review also appears on It’s On The House, and check out more reviews at Dark Stories Theatre to see what else is on in your town.

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