Belvoir Street Theatre
Reviewed July 16, 2009
In Sydney’s mild winter we can barely imagine the suffering of the 3 million citizens of Leningrad, when in 1941 they endured temperatures of –40°, lack of food and heat, and constant bombardment by the Germans who had laid the city to siege. The Promise at Belvoir brings this stark period of Russian history to life on stage, through the story of three people struggling to survive while hundreds of thousands around them are dying. Their underlying humanity and desperate attempts to forge a ‘normal’ life are powerfully conveyed, in both the acting and the production design.
A tentative connection evolves between Lika (Alison Bell) and Marat (Ewen Leslie), as they shelter in a bare room away from the horrors of the siege (the loud shelling sound effects sometimes irritatingly obscuring the actors’ voices). There are many delicious moments, such as their guzzling of a rare food parcel on Lika’s birthday, and the hesitancy and pent-up longing of their first kiss. A complication is introduced with the arrival of Leonidik (Chris Ryan) whom they nurse back to health. Their ensuing love triangle is played out over three acts, spanning half a lifetime, with the passage of time emphasised by the constant rotation of the simple wooden stage.
Adored by the two men, Lika’s maternal instincts make her sway towards the one she most pities, and her decisions have a profound effect on all their lives. The characters’ evolution and aging is well-played, but the jewel of this production is Ewen Leslie, who displays Marat’s intellectual and emotional torture with a haunting subtlety and realism. This ‘extinct volcano’ of a man laments how fear and survivors’ guilt can tragically prevent happiness. Lacking the usual interminable boredom of so many Russian plays, this witty script dances through the years while not allowing us to lose sight of the big issues at hand.
The Comedy Store
Mike Vecchione & Andrew Norrelli
Reviewed July 21, 2009
If you’re looking for an affordable and righteously entertaining night of stand-up comedy, look no further than the double bill now showing at the Comedy Store. Presented as a double bill, but in actual fact a quintuple bill, the show not only features two of America’s brightest new comedic stars in Mike Vecchione and Andrew Norrelli, but also three up-and-coming local stand-up comics.
The most conspicuous of the local performers, and certainly worthy of mention, was Adelaide’s Anthony Salame, whose side-splitting impersonations and politically incorrect racial observations had the near full-house in stitches.
Following the local performers was NYC’s own Mike Vecchione, a physically unique character in that his appearance rests closer to that of US Marine than it does to the stereotypical stand-up comic. With an authoritarian ‘short back and sides’ hairstyle and a wide-shouldered stocky build, Vecchione uses his confronting and unique stature as an integral element of his set. Covering a broad range of topics from Catholicism to his love of gangster rap, Vecchione is unquestioningly an intelligent man, but it is the way he couples thought-provoking topical issues with his typically NYC style of delivery which makes his dry brand of comedy so appealing.
Appearing last, but certainly not least, was Comedy Central’s Andrew Norrelli. Whilst certainly not as in your face as Salame and Vecchione, Norrelli nonetheless followed suit in delivering a hilarious selection of wonderful social observations. Focusing his set on observations of human behaviour, Norrelli is one of those comedians who so often leaves you thinking, ‘yeah, that’s true, that’s exactly how it is’. Put simply, Norrelli is an extremely personable comic, and one whose personality and charm is bound to have Australian audiences laughing well into the evening.
Tap Gallery Theatre (Darlinghurst)
Steven Berkoff’s Decadence
Reviewed July 17, 2009
First staged in 1981, Steven Berkoff’s Decadence, is one of the most savagely poignant examinations of the British class system ever performed on stage. Punctuated by a unique writing style of rhythmic poetic verse, this minimalist and humorous portrait of middle-class decadence, has to be one of the most underappreciated plays in modern British theatre.
This particular interpretation of Decadence, was staged by Sydney’s Inner City Arts theatre company, and was performed amidst the cosy ambience of Tap Gallery; an appropriately intimate setting for a character drama wholly centered around two adulterous relationships. Helen (Salme Geransar) is a sassy and highly educated socialite with an unquenchable appetite for bodily lust, and Steve (Rowan McDonald) is her outlandish and pompous ‘toy-boy’ who shares her insatiable desire. Sybil (Dani Crane), the disaffected wife of Steve, is a crude and vengeful middle-class slut, and Les (Peter Morris) is her inadequate blue collar ‘geez’, who’s all talk and no action when it comes to fulfilling Sybil’s vengeful plots against her adulterous husband.
To highlight the class division between the two affairs, the dramas are staged independently of one another, and are only loosely connected by Steve and Sybil’s marital ties. All four players give commanding and humorous performances as Berkoff’s troubled and deeply flawed characters. And with aptly minimalist sets, an appropriate and well used soundtrack, and some expressive direction, the Inner City Arts company can hold their head up high for a righteously entertaining staging of a very challenging piece of theatre.