Before writing about the many plays I have seen since last writing I wish to recommend the two plays at the Belvoir Street Theatre which I will review for the next edition. Downstairs, there is a wonderful surprise from Lally Katz. She was commissioned to write a play about the global financial crisis and this is her one woman tale of what happened, Stories I Want to Tell You in Person. Upstairs, Forget Me Not is an extremely moving story about the effect on one family of the deportation of the central character from England as an orphan to Australia.

I have seen five productions, all of them excellent and all different. What a broad church theatre is and at its best it is life affirming, sometimes emotional and sometimes inspiring.

Owain Arthur leads the cast of One Man, Two Guvnors as the National Theatre of Great Britain production tours Hong Kong, New Zealand and Australia. ©Johan Persson

One Man, Two Guvnors
By Richard Bean, based on The Servant of Two Masters by Carlo Goldoni
Songs by Grant Olding 
Directed by Nicholas Hytner
National Theatre of Great Britain
Sydney Theatre

We are fortunate to have two of the best, and very different shows from the National Theatre of Britain touring Australia at the same time. I am a firm believer in Australian casts and productions to preserve our industry and culture. However, I also believe we are entitled to see the best of the work from overseas and in this production we see the best of the very best in this genre. And this genre is hard to define. We enter the theatre to singing from a four-man skiffle band  think Lonnie Donegan and My Old Man’s a Dustman. They then play at the interval and scene changes and are very, very good. The play is a farce with mistaken identities, stupid lovers, pratfalls, chases with touches of Monty Python and Benny Hill thrown together with an extraordinary central performance by Owain Arthur. This is modern commedia dell’arte at its best performed by an expert cast at the top of its form. I had tears rolling down my face from laughter.

Little Mercy
By Sisters Grimm: Ash Flanders and Declan Greene
Directed by Declan Greene 
Wharf 2
Sydney Theatre Company

This was one of those theatre-going events that was a complete and delightful surprise. Sisters Grimm is a gay company that attempts very different views of theatre. Here they send up mercilessly the cinema genre of stories about evil children think The Bad Seed. The story, which is almost irrelevant, is that of a family and their adopted child Mercy, who they discover murders her nanny and almost everyone else who comes into their lives. It is the style of the play that makes it a delight. It is campy and comedic. The women are played by men and Mercy is played by a woman in her 70s. Add to this a soundtrack and an organist who creates the melodrama. This was theatre being turned on its head and worked as the cast played it for real. Keep an eye out for Sisters Grimm in the future.

De Novo
Sydney Dance Company
Choreography by Rafael Bonachela
Sydney Theatre

Because of the smaller audience for modern dance, seasons are quite short. We are going through a renaissance at present but those of us who enjoy the art form need to keep our eyes out as the seasons seem to come and go very quickly.

I have watched the Sydney Dance Company evolve from its beginning with Graeme Murphy and Janet Vernon. It has always been exciting and has broken boundaries. After a few guest directors, the current artistic director Rafael Bonachela took over and the company is now going from strength to strength. 

In De Novo, Bonachela shows off the best talents of his company with three works. The first, “Emergence”, is devised by him and displays the extraordinary athletic and artistic strengths of all his performers. The second, “Fanatic”, created by Larissa McGowan, is a brilliantly funny piece based on the effects of the internet. The third piece, “Cacti”, was first performed by the Nederlands Dans Theater by Alexander Ekman. It is brilliant in construction and ideas, and yes, cacti play an important part. With all the Sydney Dance Company performances, design, lighting and music are integral. In “Emergence” we are delighted by original music from composer and singer Nick Wales and Sarah Blasko. I cannot recommend this company too highly so keep an eye out for its next show.

The puppeteers disappear and the horses become real in War Horse.

War Horse
By Nick Stafford
Based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo
National Theatre of Britain in association with Handspring Puppet Company
Lyric Theatre

I also had tears running down my face as I sat watching this inspiring and amazing production for a second time. I have been talking up this show for years and am so delighted that so many people now have a chance to see theatre that is so extraordinary and beautiful and emotional.

I have heard some criticisms of the script and wonder at how some people just don’t get that this story is told from the perspective of the horse, Joey, from when he is a foal and bought at auction. It is in these early scenes we learn all we need to know of his handler, Albert, and his family. The story takes us from Devon in 1912 to war in France with British troops on the Somme and behind German lines before the finale. It is a simple story about the millions of horses that took part in the war. Most of the horses were slaughtered.

It is told using very simple sets, an enormous cast of 36 players and commentary from a series of beautiful folk- style and period songs. The whizz-bang puppetry of the horses and a goose sends this production into the stratosphere. The actors and puppeteers are local and are all great. The concept is so good that the puppeteers disappear and the horses become real. This is a perfect example of all the elements being brilliant and creating the synergy of a great show. It is a perfect anti-war story and one I will remember forever.

Reviews by Frank Barnes.
Frank is happily retired and spends most of his time on the beach in Tuncurry. But he recommends the rare chance to see a production of Patrick White’s The Ham Funeral at The New Theatre.