Review Review (by Karen Ractliffe)


An overview of three shows: Uniting Productions’ A Better You, Woy Woy Little Theatre’s Competitive Tenderness, and Gosford Musical Society’s A Christmas Carol.

This time of year Coasties are spoiled for local theatre. In the past three weeks I’ve seen three great shows, and there are more coming soon! First off the block last month was Uniting Productions’ October show. UP are doing sterling work supporting local writers. Their monthly rehearsed readings offer playwrights the opportunity to see their work performed and then to discuss their play with the audience and receive feedback. Usually twice a year, in May and October, the most popular of these plays are then chosen to be performed as full productions.

UP A Better You

Last month it was the turn of A Better You by Mark C. Bourne. Mark’s play is an entertaining black farce set in a community hall where some local ladies are attending a self improvement presentation. Problems arise when the students apparently kill their tutor with kindness, then the seemingly average cross section of women turn into Machiavellian monsters as they debate the best method of disposing of the body. The situation is further complicated by the arrival of a couple of ballroom dancers who have booked the hall to rehearse for a championship. The plot is delightfully bizarre and completely unpredictable, keeping you guessing what will happen right to the end. Mark has created characters that are diverse yet familiar, and enjoyably despicable, and endowed them with some very funny dialog.

Mary Middleton’s direction was subtle, drawing performances from her actors that were nicely understated and droll. This allowed the humour and outlandishness of the characters and the situation to evolve naturally and the drama to build steadily throughout the action. The actors clearly enjoyed the macabre mix of the commonplace and absurd in their roles. It was a great ensemble performance and each of them played their parts well. I enjoyed seeing some familiar faces among the cast and look forward to seeing more of the newcomers.

UP always welcomes new actors, and directors, and is actively seeking more local plays. If you are interested in getting involved, email:  Mary at simbasmum@live.com.au or phone:
Margaret on 4365 1343. The next reading will be on Friday 22nd November at the Uniting Church Hall, Donnison Street, Gosford. Entry is free. A gold coin donation is requested for refreshments after the reading. For more details visit  www.unitingprocutions.org.au

WWLT Competitive Tenderness

Last weekend saw the opening of Woy Woy Little Theatre’s production of Competitive Tenderness written by Hannie Rayson, and directed by Christine Vale. Christine, who directed last year’s innovative and highly successful production of The 39 Steps, now brings her talents to an Australian comedy from one of our foremost contemporary writers.

In this play Rayson turns the piercing light of her acerbic humour on the machinations of a ‘typical’ outback town council. The plot revolves around the appointment of a new CEO. Dawn Snow, whose dubious credentials include running a weight loss empire and reforming the Ugandan prison system, is a successful businesswoman charged with bringing her experience in the private sector to the problem of making the council’s competitive tendering budget cost effective. Despite being new to local government, she soon proves herself adept in the fields of local and sexual politics as she slyly manipulates everyone, from the mayor and local MP to secretaries, dog catchers, traffic workers and the local Greek and Macedonian communities, all of whom have their own very different agendas. The plot twists and turns like a brown snake through ploy and counter-ploy and challenges the audience to keep up as it builds toward its manic conclusion with plenty of surprises along the way.

A diverse cast of deftly drawn characters showcases the talents of some of the Coast’s best known and loved actors while providing opportunities for promising newcomers, and for recent members to start establishing themselves as Woy Woy regulars. All performed well in their roles but I especially enjoyed Annie Bilton’s portrayal of Dawn’s slippery, conniving and idiosyncratic character. Some nice directorial touches in the use of body language humorously pointed up her political manipulations, particularly in her relationship with the fawning Mayor Guest, played by the inimitable Paul Russell.

The cast were backed up by good technicals. Those in the area of sound were particularly realistic. Christine’s set was simple but effective, allowing the action to flow quickly from scene to scene – an important consideration with Rayson whose plays’ fast paced action and frequent cutting between scenes often seems more suited to television and screen than it does to live theatre. Cast and crew have done well to take on the challenge and congratulations are due to all.

Competitive Tenderness closes this weekend and tickets are selling fast but there’s still time to get yours through WWLT’s new online ticketing system at http://www.woywoylt.com.au or call 4344 4737.

GMS A Christmas Carol

This weekend is also your last chance to get along to Gosford Musical Society’s production of A Christmas Carol, but you’ll need to act fast. Saturday performances are sold out, but there are still a few seats available for Thursday and Friday evening. GMS have had several sell-out shows recently and this deserves to be another.

Dickens’ classic tale of the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, who is reformed to humanity after a night of ghostly visitations on the eve of Christmas, has been beautifully adapted by Mike Ockrent and Lynn Ahrens with music by Alan Menken. Before the show my husband was complaining that he rarely finds the songs from contemporary shows memorable, but this one had him eating his words as quickly as Christmas pudding, and I’m still humming the closing number a week later.

Lavish and colourful scenery and costuming recreate both the glamour and squalor of London Victoriana on the Laycock stage, and I’m always delighted by GMS’ ingenious sets within sets that unfold like Chinese boxes to quickly transform scene and setting. Direction and choreography conspire to move the production through the full gamut from frolicsome fun to moving pathos with some genuinely macabre and spooky moments along the way.

Since the character of Scrooge is on stage for the whole of the production, GMS have decided to alternate two actors in the role: David Kerslake and Tim Page. David was Scrooge on the night I saw the show and I enjoyed his performance, which successfully captured both the irascibility of the character and the charm of his reform. He had excellent support from the rest of the cast, especially from the visiting spirits. Ksenia Teliatnikova showed plenty of personality as the Ghost of Christmas Past, and she has the voice of an angel. The talented Richard Lovegrove had great stage presence as the Ghost of Christmas Present, and revelled in the physicality of his role. Shayne Leslie brought goose-bump creepiness to the role of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. And it would take a harder heart than Scrooge himself possessed not to be moved to tears by the endearing Tiny Tim.

I’m a bit of a “bah humbug” myself but this show was almost enough to make me believe in Christmas. “Bless us, every one!”

Tickets for the show are available from Laycock through the website at http://www.laycockstreettheatre.com or call the box office on 4323 3233

[Images courtesy of UP, WWLT and GMS publicity]

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About About the Central Coast

"About the Central Coast" is a FREE monthly ezine, supported by an online blog, that provides readers with a one-stop shop for information and reviews on all their favourite theatre groups, bands and artists on and around the Central Coast. Subscription to the magazine is free; just send an email with SUBSCRIBE in the subject line to about@y7mail.com The magazine is distributed by email on the first Thursday of each month. If you have an event you would like me to promote in the magazine, please send details at least three days prior. Items for the blog may be sent any time.
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