Frank Barnes

Within the next two weeks our two major theatre companies (Sydney Theatre Company and Belvoir) will have theatre-lovers getting out their 2016 diaries and planning their major theatregoing for the following 12 months. Some of us will agonise over which plays to select and how to fit them in.

When I was working, I frequently went on Monday or Friday evenings. There was a group of eight of us who went together, 30 years ago; organising a group of that size was a nightmare but we somehow did it. It is much easier now as I go with just one other, and we made a decision some time ago that we would do matinees whenever possible, or early performances. The evening performances finished too late for us as we aged. At Belvoir, Sunday performances start at 5pm and Tuesday shows at 6.30pm. STC plays on Mondays at 6.30 with some occasional Sunday performances.

It usually takes me a week of playing with timetables and calendars to sort out these dates. I also have to take into account other shows we might see.

We always go to The Sydney Dance Company, regularly to Bell and occasionally to New Theatre (we are both life members), Griffin, Ensemble, Darlinghurst and The Old Fitzroy. Lately I have been to almost all the shows at Hayes and Squabbologic.

Living where I do in Paradise it is all very expensive as I have to drive to Sydney and back and stay in a motel whilst there. I don’t begrudge this as I love going to the theatre, and I say this again: I pay for all my tickets as I choose when I go and firmly believe in supporting the arts.

Then, of course, there are the really big shows — coming up for me in the next month is Anything Goes at Opera Australia and Matilda at the Lyric. In the meantime...

Heathers: The Musical

Book, music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy
Based on the film screenplay by Daniel Waters
Directed by Trevor Ashley
Showqueen Productions and Working Management
Hayes Theatre

Heathers was a cult film from 1988. It was a well-received teen sendup and looked at a group of Mean Girls with a bit of murder and mayhem; it was a natural for a musical.

Getting Trevor Ashley to take this on as his first directorial opportunity was a sensible move by the “little theatre that could” as it is very high camp and a perfect vehicle for him. He has done a very good job though there were times when his inexperience showed, although these were minimal.

The Hayes Theatre continues to bring us musicals that we are unlikely to see in big productions but still deserve an outing. But what is also obvious is the depth of great performers and theatre practitioners we have and because of this we get the opportunity to see performers of the highest calibre as in this production starring Jaz Flowers and Lucy Maunder.

Often the production has a further life, as we saw with Sweet Charity, Blood Brothers and Masterclass, and I suspect this production will be picked up also. It was great fun with top performances, terrific songs, excellent costumes and choreography from a wonderful cast.

Next up at The Hayes Theatre is High Society, yes, the musical of the film of the film of the play, The Philadelphia Story.

Mother Courage and Her Children

By Bertolt Brecht
Translated by Michael Gow
Directed by Eamon Flack
Belvoir Upstairs

I was really looking forward to this product as it is one of the most famous of plays and directed by Eamon Flack who is taking over the reins as Artistic Director of Belvoir and who directed three of my favourite shows of the last few years, Angels in America Parts 1 and 2, The Glass Menagerie and Once in Royal David’s City, and a production with Robyn Nevin in the title role and also starring Paula Arundell has a good chance of being great. But not this time.

Brecht is considered by some to be the god of playwrights. He is thought to use a process of alienation so that the audience does not identify with the characters and therefore will see and hear what the play is saying.

In this case, he writes about the horror of war using the 17th century long and destructive Thirty Years War in central Europe as the setting and Mother Courage as the person who drives her sales cart through the fields of war, selling her goods to whoever will buy them. Along the way, her three children are killed but she still continues on her journey.

I was still gripped by the story but there were two things that were off-putting. One was the cart, which I found too glitzy and big, and the other was the low-level performance by Nevin. It was very disappointing.

Nevertheless we need to see plays by Brecht. For many years Brecht was never performed except by the radical and brave New Theatre but he is now a regular in the mainstage programs and while this production might have been disappointing it is still better than not being exposed to Brecht at all. The irony here was that Robyn Nevin directed a better production for the STC when she was its artistic director.

Love and Information

Love and Information is a play about people without defining their gender. Photo Pia Johnson

By Caryl Churchill
Directed by Kip Williams
Sydney Theatre Company
Wharf 1

Big call, but this is my favourite piece of theatre for this and many years. I am a great fan of Ms Churchill and her range of challenging theatre. She is now 77 and still producing exciting and challenging theatre. Top Girls and Cloud Nine are two of her most famous plays and anyone who has seen these knows she never writes anything simple and that no two of her plays follows a single genre.

Here, she writes a play about people without ever defining their gender or where they are. That is left to the director to work out with the cast. The play has no construction and has up to 76 scenes but a production could have as few as 50. This production had at least 70.

Little is defined by the writer except for the seven sections, each with at least seven parts that can be presented in any order; there is a defined mandatory final scene. Some of the scenes are as short as five seconds and the longest is five minutes.

So the necessity for a production is an absolutely versatile cast with an extraordinary design team with lighting and sound. In this one the great director Kip Williams pulls together all of these elements. I hope Caryl Churchill has a few more years and a few more ingenious ideas to entertain and keep us challenged.

Frank Barnes is retired and looking forward to seeing Les Miserables again this weekend, not to mention Cate Blanchett and Richard Roxburgh in The Present at The STC.