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Review: Our Man in Havana

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adapted by Clive Francis, from the novel by Graham Greene,
directed by David Blakey

Wormold - Jared Abel
Narrator 1 - Romy Lane
Narrator 2 - Jo Olsen
Narrator 3 - Georgina Townley
Hawthorne - John Way
Milly - Dayna Reinink
Hasselbacher - Max Golding
Segura - Oliver Roberts
Beatrice - Amy Arnold
Lopez - Benjamin Way

by Rex Steele

A political satire based on a 64 year old book predating the Cuban missile crisis. Capitalizing on the enthusiasm of youth and a challenging valiant effort by ETS this necessarily postponed production provided a show which gave patrons a taste of what was in its day, a delicious comedy. It allowed the actors to create their own characters, and there is a wide ranging plethora of those, including narrators essential to keep the audience up with the play, so to speak, as it constantly changes direction.

Central to the story is the struggling salesman, wrenched from his complacency into a bewildering world of espionage, vigorously interpreted by Jared. He by turn drags, pushes or follows the audience through his turmoil with excellent pace. Women are run off their feet filling in the filigree of the scenes leaving us to visualize Georgina, Romy, Amy, Dayna and Jo, some frantically and often, changing their gear backstage. The other four men, Ben, Max, John, and Oliver deliver memorable portrayals to enhance the convoluted tale.

Us wrinklies can vaguely remember a time when clarity of diction and projection were fundamental to stagecraft, though youngsters, damn them, with their perfect six senses have lesser need of that in an era of screen in lieu of stage. But it is a wise director that occasionally listens to old patrons, who still have a modicum of wisdom of their own to impart. In summary perhaps, capturing the words of a departing patron “I didn’t understand a word of it, but I liked it”…

Review: Ellerslie Festival of One Act Plays 2022

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Sex with a Mathematician . Galatea . Rosa & Leo . Kandahar

Written by Pete Barry
Directed by Phillippa Hibbs
SARA ~ Kate Fu
NIKOLAI ~ Calum Hughes

Written by David Blakey
Directed by David Charteris
ROBERT ~ Paul Thompson
MATIU ~ Cameron Pitney
SIMON ~ Geoff Gunn
HANNAH ~ Jo Olsen

Written by Adam Szudrich
Directed by David Charteris
ROSA ~ Sue Golding
LEO ~ Max Golding

Written by Neil LaBute
Directed by David Blakey
MAN ~ David Steadman

ONE ACTERS review by Rex Steele

Bravo! Accepting the constraint of minimum set and props ETS rekindled and presented a powerful selection of one acters, loudly proclaiming, “YES, we’re open again.”
“Sex with a Mathematician” where the pair went in cleated boots and all in the first five lines contrasted deliciously with “Rosa & Leo” where delicate yet fervent love remained unrequited for a lifetime. In the first, clear enunciation, swapping of dominance, brashness versus insecurity, with the final realization that there may be some commonality to explore, was brought with crisp direction, an excellent acting trio, and an economical script, to vibrant, reality.

In the second, "Rosa & Leo", with Sue and Max inevitably approaching early middle age we were captivated by subtle nervousness, callous humour, tension, poignancy and seamless swapping of sadly powerful life stories, reminding us that so often “life ain’t fair”.

In “Galatea” David Blakey let us into a private reflection on paintings that he had revered as a youngster, and wove an enigmatic tale interlaced with cogent observations on the inner thoughts of an artist. Passing time with cliques clicks allowed the tale to deepen as art students embroidered the work of art with increasing detail and finally, we hope, led to a meaningful and sustained relationship.

“Kandahar” allowed David Steadman to engage the audience who are judge and jury, and draw on personal experience to peel layers away in a powerful, starkly realistic, brutal explanation of an act of violence. Delivering a subtly timed, economical argument of blame-shifting, he interpreted a superb script with finesse.

The plays held our interest and attention throughout, and reminded us why we cherish live theatre in this electronic age.

Review: The Picture of Dorian Gray

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an adaptation by Neil Bartlett
directed by Bruce Brown

Dorian Gray - Sinéad O'Flynn
Lord Henry Wotton - Oliver Roberts
Basil Hallward - Steven Ciprian
Mrs Erlynne/Duchess of Monmouth/Chorus - Shannon Geary
Francis / Chorus - Joshua C. Boa
Mrs Leaf/Mrs Vane/Chorus - Rose Van Wylich
Victor/Alan Campbell/Chorus - Calum Hughes
Parker/Lane/James Vane/Chorus - Jared Abel
Lady Victoria Wotton/Chorus - Georgina Townley
Lady Narborough/Sybil Vane/Chorus - Isabelle Cohen
Lady Ruxton/Chorus - Caitlin Flower
Lady Carlisle/Chorus - Melanie Raye Castor

by Rex Steele

“The play’s the thing”

This play, a selective but faithful distillation of his only novel dominates the production throughout, providing any aficionado with a plethora of bon mot from Wilde’s copious 130 year old collation. Our production reminded this wistful has been (sporting new hearing aids) that theatre will always have the capacity to delight, engage, and allow the imagination to soar. Sure there were small liberties, touches of ham, dropping of the ends of lines, but audiences departed replete, reminded again of the genius of the man who was so shabbily treated in his day, but finally rewarded by history.

An economical set worked well, and occasional deus ex machina smoothly advanced the plot. This was as well, as some stage directions in the script were challenging to convey on stage. It is as edifying to read the script as to watch the play.

In sometimes unaware collusion with Basil the artist, the theme of the play is the relationship between Dorian and Henry in an ever-varying exchange of dominance. At times it is hard to decide which of these rich, privileged men is the more evil. To this end Sinéad and Oliver exchanged centre stage positions smoothly and played tirelessly off the words and thoughts of each other, although not always on stage together. The casting of Sinéad as Dorian after the initial surprise worked extremely well and a very skilled portrayal of progressive descension into depravity was achieved.

As always Director Bruce was the unifying force, moulding and guiding his enthusiastic band of thesps so as to provide us with a cogent and seamless commentary on progress. Each chorus member adopted multiple characters exploiting accent, stillness, interjections and surprise to hold our attention throughout. In these trying times our thanks are due to all involved in this successful show.

“I love acting. It is so much more real than life.”

Review: Sham

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written by Jess Sayer
directed by Merrin Cavel

Meryl - Mandy Clark
Fern - Stasia Boyce
Neva - Anna Baird
Ann - Ngaire-Ann Hobson

by Rex Steele

“We are having a bloody nice time.”  And not a virus in sight.

Jess provides a crisp economical and acerbic script that pulls no punches, which allows four extremely competent actors to develop characters that each explore to the full. With continually unexpected aggravating agitation they probe deeply into life’s challenges where each relationship releases festering resentments.

But at the end of this short play we are left with the gentle hope that with honesty, compassion, and intelligence a peaceful resolution might finally emerge.

The subtle direction by Merrin unifies four diverse characters into a riveting divertisment, absorbing us throughout as dominance changes frequently and subplots develop.

Mandy envelops Meryl, mostly centre stage, strong, careworn, and resentful having done her best with what scraps life threw at her.

As Fern/Frances Stasia holds her own as the youngster and though gobsmacked at the start rapidly absorbs most of the eruptions around her with maturity.

Neva is portrayed by Anna as grand, dazzling, but superficial as much came to her easily, though her life for all that is not an easy one.

Ngaire-Ann envelops the rock character of Ann, but she has paid the price for life too, [more fun when everyone hated us] many times over.

The simplistic but subtle set is perfect. At the aftershowdown all of those involved in this excellent production betrayed unashamedly just how much they enjoyed being a part of it. Well done all of you.

Review: Proof

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written by David Auburn
directed by Carl Drake

Catherine - Jennifer Onyeiwu
Robert - Fellis McGuire
Hal - Eri van de Wydeven
Claire - Munashe Tapfuya

by Rex Steele

Q E D “I didn’t find it. I wrote it.”

The play is twenty years old, but still challenges with events that communities continually wrestle with. Concentration is vital as clues are often slid in tangentially when characters talk past each other as talking heads, upon which you must concentrate to extract the essence. If the central theme is mental rigour in the form of mathematics, the subject is mental illness, which can appear both gently and angrily. Some of the best acting appears, be it mental or physical, when the characters spur each other to outbursts of honesty and occasionally explore love in several forms.

Actors bring emersion to their roles, Jennifer sustaining hyperactive energy throughout, in contrast to the dignified control of Munashe. The interaction and timing between sisters is dynamic. Eric portrayed a geek with gentleness, sympathy, and strength, while Fellis remained self-contained and natural, handling graphomaniacally, and with aplomb the unawareness of his mental condition.

Keith’s set is a visual feast, and if I was smart enough I might have detected the physical slide of mental deterioration across it, and power play on the stairs. Although lighting is subtle, I often itched to tweak the lumen button up a few notches.

Direction from Carl was meticulous and caring, eliciting accuracy from each character, and paying great care to the integrity of the script.

Unfortunate that the run of this sophisticated play had to be curtailed due to a pesky microbe.

Review: Enchanted April

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written by Matthew Barber as adapted from the novel by Elizabeth von Arnim
directed by Jason Moffatt

Lotty Wilton - Shivaun Statham
Rose Arnott - Sonia Beal
Mellersh Wilton - Zac Clarke
Frederick Arnott - Raymond Vinten
Caroline Bramble - Chloe Olivier
Mrs Graves - Sue Golding
Anthony Wilding - Michael Bache
Constanza - Vanessa Clarke

by Rex Steele

A little more sand under the wheels might have provided traction to the philosophical preamble of this play, but once momentum is gained it flows and builds elegantly into a disparate collation of wrongly supposed pigeonholed widows.  Four disparate women, ebullient, effervescent Lotty, delicate, restrained Rose, distanced, brooding Lady Caroline and repressed, perceptive Mrs Graves form an unlikely alliance to enjoy an “Enchanted April” holiday in an Italian villa, away from all the complications of “home” in England.

They are aided and abetted by two totally contrasting husbands, stolid, pompous Mellersh, and charming, devious Frederick. This sextet is completed with an artistic, almost opportunistic landlord Antony, and Constanza, the deliciously irrepressible housekeeper.

Symbolic naturalism abounds with the acacia growing out of a planted walking stick, ground-cover trodden underfoot, and the ever healing and enveloping wisteria’s smoothing balm. As the enchantment richly unravels and prejudices are delicately unpicked we discover ever more revealing threads which provide mystery, drama and comedy by turn. The most delightful aspect of this show is the close knit support and unity amongst the actors, flowing into the characters they portray.

Jason’s direction of this work is excellent, being both faithful to the script, whilst allowing individual cast members to develop their own interpretations of the varied roles. This delivers to us an enjoyable and timeless capture of an era now long gone, to be enjoyed with a hot cup of “indiscreet” tea.