THEATRE REVIEW: MICHAEL GOW’S AWAY @ SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE (UNTIL 25 MARCH)

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Michael Gow’s Away is one of Australia’s most popular plays and this latest production makes it easy to see why. The current Sydney Theatre Company and Malthouse Theatre Production sees the play return to its second home at the Sydney Opera House (the show played here one year after it debuted at the Stables Theatre in 1986.) It’s a story that is in some ways deceptively simple and in others is quite layered and complex in its symbolism, imagery and references to different texts. This is a portrayal of three different Australian families going away on holiday in 1967 and one that remains an important and vital slice of home-grown theatre.

Away is directed by Matthew Lutton (Edward II) and stars Liam Nunan (The Golden Age) as a young, aspiring actor named Tom. He falls in love with a strong and independent young woman named Meg (Naomi Rukavina in her STC debut.) The pair met when they were performing together in their school’s production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Young love is a beautiful thing but this romance comes under fire thanks to Meg’s snobbish, ball-breaking mother Gwen (a terrifying, Heather Mitchell). Gwen believes her daughter is too good for this young boy — he’s the son of English immigrants (Julia Davis and Wadih Dona). Gwen also refuses to let up on her stronghold over the family, including her husband (Marco Chiappi), as well as the apron strings, much to Meg’s chagrin.

The other family out on holiday are the school principal (Glenn Hazeldine) and his shell of a wife, Coral (Natasha Herbert). This older couple is grappling with grief because their only son died in the Vietnam War. This is not the only allusion to death in this play, Tom has leukaemia and he learns that his diagnosis is bleak despite his parents’ best efforts to try and shield this dire news from him. This notion of children passing before their parents meant that Away was also described as being a meditation on the AIDS epidemic because this was happening in real life as Gow was writing it.

The lines in this play are very clever and sharp and Gow’s writing in superb. There are also some great little jokes peppering the script. Gow successfully traverses the lines between poignant and meaningful moments and themes like death, loss and conflict and other points that are quite joyous and fun (young love and the idealism of English immigrants in their new-found home, etc.)

The set itself is quite a minimalist one and this makes the audience focus on the actors and their different conflicts. There is a major change in the play where a storm erupts (thanks to some imaginary fairies) and thereafter the actors are bathed in a stark, white light. It’s interesting that in these moments where the tangible things are stripped away that the play’s most narcissistic and wealth-obsessed character can stop, take stock and learn about more important things in life than mere objects.

The actors prove a formidable ensemble cast. They are also extremely adept at realising this highly-versatile script and the many moods and themes that are often referenced in it. The actors should also be commended for their portrayal of Shakespeare’s finest characters and these complex and uniquely-Australian ones.

There is also some different musical interludes by composer J. David Franzke. The music during the scene changes is quite evocative and atmospheric, at once bringing to mind the carefree sixties and at other moments supporting the play’s darker themes.

Away is one entertaining and absorbing show about three different Australian families tackling with important, everyday issues in a tense and difficult atmosphere — the family Christmas holiday. There are moments that will make you laugh and other times where you will despair and cry. Away is ultimately a theatrical beast in every sense, because it plays with the notion of art in such a clever and skilful way and it appeals to our emotions in the most base, visceral and human sense. Amazing.

Photo credit: James Green

Originally published on 26 February 2017 at the following website: http://arts.theaureview.com/reviews/theatre-review-away-is-an-enduring-and-symbolic-look-at-life-conflict-the-family-christmas-holiday/

Visit The Au Review’s homepage dedicated to the arts at: http://arts.theaureview.com

BOOK REVIEW: HELEN RAZER – THE HELEN 100 – HOW I TOOK MY WAXER’S ADVICE & CURED HEARTBREAK BY GOING ON 100 DATES IN LESS THAN A YEAR

helen100

 

There was the bride stripped bare and now there’s the dumped stripped without a care. In The Helen 100, broadcaster and writer, Helen Razer is disarmingly honest in recounting the aftermath of the breakdown of her 15-year relationship. It’s a tale that thumbs its nose at traditional, dating self-help guides and instead offers something more funny and grounded in reality (the pain and heartbreak may be real but Razer sure does know how to make ‘em laugh).

Razer begins her dating odyssey by describing the day one dry Melbourne afternoon when her partner announced without warning that she was leaving and “Needed to grow.” It was only later on when Helen reflected on things (and hacked the ex’s Facebook account) where she learned that the writing had been on the wall for the relationship for some time. Her ex-girlfriend had been cheating on her and there were several occasions where these love trysts happened when Razer was standing several metres away.

Razer takes some tentative steps into the crazy and occasionally frightening world of online dating. She does this with her sweet cat, Eleven by her side and the pair share a diet of barbeque chicken and sadness (it’s a dish best consumed in sorrowful, elasticised pants like pyjamas.) Razer also decides to publicly criticise Coldplay (thank God) and embark on 100 dates inside a year. It will be one point per date and a maximum of five per individual and no, this isn’t an Australian Bridget Jones.

This book is not a gritty tell-all. Do not expect Helen to sit there writing about date one and his bad breath or that date two didn’t turn up. Instead, Razer recounts the exchanges she had with potential suitors on a XXX app (males and females) as well as the recent events in her life (like chucking in her soul-destroying job writing copy for a discount beauty website.) She also describes her world views on politics, which make this book not unlike Lee Zachariah’s Double Dissolution: Heartbreak and Chaos on the Campaign Trail.

Razer is an opinionated individual with some very clear ideas about politics. It is unsurprising then that we see her discussing Marxism with a man in possession of a “Big Slavic cock” (in his humble opinion). We don’t find out if Razer agrees with his assessment because she actually spends her night with this Russian man and his daughter. She is also forcibly restrained in order to watch the Barbie Live show (I may have made up the part about the restraint.)

The Helen 100 is an antidote to love just like Adam Sandler singing “Love Stinks” in The Wedding Singer or if you burn rather than listen to a Cure album. Razer is one cranky and messy lady but damn, she is one we can all relate to. Her story is a fresh take on love and heartbreak in all of its complicated wretchedness. The Helen 100 is an unfiltered and bold conversation that we all need to have and we should be glad that Helen wasn’t afraid to go there- chicken, cat hair and all.

Originally published on 22 February 2017 at the following website: http://arts.theaureview.com/reviews/book-review-helen-razers-the-helen-100-is-a-brutally-honest-look-at-heartbreak-and-bbq-chicken/

Visit The Au Review’s homepage at: http://www.theaureview.com/

BOOK REVIEW: MARTIN SIXSMITH – AYESHA’S GIFT

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Ayesha’s Gift is a book that could also be called “Ayesha’s Curse” because it is brimming with sorrow. It’s the fictionalised account of the real-life events that saw Philomena author and former BBC foreign correspondent, Martin Sixsmith assist in investigating the death of a British-Pakistani man. The book is ultimately a rather multi-faceted detective tale where a murder is solved, cultures collide and a kind of quiet respect, empathy and trust is forged between two unlikely main characters.

To read the rest of this review please visit the following website: http://magazine.100percentrock.com/reviews/book-reviews/201702/224417

Visit 100% Rock’s homepage at: http://magazine.100percentrock.com/

BOOK REVIEW: J.C. GREY – LOST GIRL

lostgirl

 

Lost Girl is like a gift wrapped up in an enigma, topped off by a riddle. The novel is a wistful romance by J.C. Grey. It is a first person narrative where the titular character is the narrator. What ensues is a dark and mysterious novel filled with love, loss and heartbreak.

To outsiders, Emerald Reed-McAllister has it all. She’s the “it” girl around town. A successful model and stylist, she’s nabbed herself an adoring and clever husband in the form of a sexy man named Marc McAllister. But all is not as it seems. Em is the kind of girl who runs away from her problems and they don’t get much bigger than the one she suddenly finds herself in the middle of.

So Em seeks sanctuary in the form of a strange, old house named Lammermoor. This building has had a chequered history to say the least. Some of its previous inhabitants have been subjected to unfortunate accidents or other inexplicable things. The locals are scared and convinced that the place is haunted. Em is encouraged to leave but she wants to fix the place up and remains steadfast in her plans.

Over the course of the novel we learn more about the house as well as Em’s own history and the nature of her relationship with Marc and his family. The prose is well-written and nicely-paced and overall it is a rather clever, romantic mystery. The beginning is a bit of a slow burn as things are put into place and the alternating timelines can jar a little bit but if you can see past these things you will be rewarded with an intriguing and extraordinary novel. This book is so much more than your average love story, it’s ultimately a mysterious and atmospheric look at the past and it proves that some relationships are in fact, built to last.

***Please note: a free copy of this book was given to the writer through a Beauty & Lace giveaway. To read the original review on that website please visit: http://bookgirl.beautyandlace.net/book-club-lost-girl#comment-286418

BOOK REVIEW: NADIA MARKS – AMONG THE LEMON TREES

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Love is a wonderful thing. We all want to experience it. Many musicians, artists and writers have used it as inspiration, but it was perhaps Darren Hanlon who put it best when he sang, “Love is just a lazy generalisation that we use for a hundred different feelings and as many situations.” Journalist and author, Nadia Marks knows a lot about this kind of love, as she proves in her debut novel for adults, Among the Lemon Trees. She says that the Greeks have no fewer than four different types of love: Agápe is the big love, storgé the tender other love, philia friendship, and éros sexual love.

To read the rest of this review please visit the following website: http://magazine.100percentrock.com/reviews/book-reviews/201701/218733

Visit 100% Rock’s homepage at: http://magazine.100percentrock.com/

BOOK REVIEW: ANNA ROMER – BEYOND THE ORCHARD

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Beyond the Orchard is an Australian saga spanning multiple years, taking in different generations and perspectives. It seems to have a lot in common with the late Bryce Courtenay’s work insofar as it’s an epic slice of Australiana. The book is the third novel by Anna Romer (Thornwood House) and a rich and detailed tapestry where some different characters lives are all interwoven together through a series of secrets and lies.

The story stars Lucy Briar, a young woman whose mother passed away when she was just a young girl. Briar is now all grown up and has been living in London for the past few years. She is also newly engaged. Lucy left Australia for the UK a few years ago after a relationship with an older man (the father of a friend of hers) had gone awry.

Lucy is called back to her childhood home after she is invited to her friends’ wedding. Before Briar arrives in Victoria she receives a message from her estranged grandfather that is completely unexpected. He wants to meet her and set the record straight on a few things regarding the past. Sadly, Lucy’s grandpa does not get the opportunity to follow through with his promise. But little by little Lucy undertakes he own detective work and uncovers a rich and complicated family history and some life events that involve her relatives as well as love, loss, death, despair and redemption.

Anna Romer’s novel is a rather ambitious one that threads together the perspectives of various characters living at different points in history. She also adds additional textural flourishes in the form of extracts from a book written by Lucy’s father Ronald. These extra storylines add greater depth and meaning to the existing characters and their motivations because it is a case of art imitating life.

Beyond the Orchard feels like it’s a real story because it is so atmospheric and emotional. It’s a testament to Romer’s fabulous writing that the characters seem as rich and complex as real people. Romer’s prose is well-written and sometimes quite poetic and beautiful. This book is a well-constructed one where mystery and romance make for one haunting and intriguing family history.

***Please note: a free copy of this book was given to the writer through a Beauty & Lace giveaway. To read the original review on that website please visit: http://bookgirl.beautyandlace.net/book-club-beyond-the-orchard

BOOK REVIEW: KATE KERRIGAN – IT WAS ONLY EVER YOU

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She loves you yeah, yeah, yeah! It Was Only Ever You is a romantic story about three strong, young women and their relationships with one charming man living in New York City. It’s an engrossing, light and sweet tale that will leave you wondering how it will end and who will wind up with whom.

This story is set in an almost identical place to Colm Tóibín’s Brooklyn. It is the 1950s and a time when many Irish people made a passage in order to have a new life in America. Instead of focusing on one main protagonist, Kate Kerrigan frames the story though a group of young people. Her prose is quite light and whimsical at times and for this reason, it occasionally reminds me of Marian Keyes’s work.

Kate Kerrigan’s real name is Morag Prunty and she is a journalist and best-selling author. Her most famous novel is The Dress. In It Was Only Ever You Kerrigan provides a smoking soundtrack and backdrop that takes in jazz, ballads and early rock ‘n’ roll. It is a period when people were just learning how to rock around the clock and they did so with gusto. Kerrigan’s main character, Patrick is a dreamboat by all accounts and a fledgling singer.

Patrick was a poor boy from County Mayo in Ireland. He found love in the form of an artistic, rich girl and Doctor’s daughter named Rose. The pair were besotted but Rose’s parents did not approve of the relationship. Patrick’s head was also filled with big ambitions of his own. He leaves Ireland and goes to New York while his heart pines for Rose and he works a lowly job because he is indebted to his employer. This world is a very different one to that inhabited by a caring socialite named Ava. She is an idealistic girl who is aware that she won’t win any prizes for her looks. Ava remains optimistic however, and continues to frequent the dance halls in the hopes of finding a nice husband.

Shelia is the most interesting character of them all. The orphan of parents who died during the Holocaust, Shelia is the kind of girl who is determined and knows exactly what she wants. Shelia is a vanguard and an inspiration. She is trying to forge her own way in the music industry, a world that is almost exclusively controlled by men. It’s fortunate that Shelia has a nose for talent and she hopes she can discover music’s next big thing.

It Was Only Ever You is like a patchwork quilt of different emotions that show a group of young people falling in and out of love and discovering themselves. This is a story about love, loss and following your dreams and it is set amongst the glamourous New York nightclub scene of yesteryear. The story features some likeable and well-developed characters and the story feels very authentic. It Was Only Ever You is a pleasant book to read not least because it shows a group of fine characters marching to the beat of their own drums.

***Please note: a free copy of this book was given to the writer through a Beauty & Lace giveaway. To read the original review on that website please visit: http://bookgirl.beautyandlace.net/book-club-it-was-only-ever-you

DVD REVIEW: HOW TO MAKE AN AMERICAN QUILT

american-quilt

 

How To Make An American Quilt is a film that is written by, directed by and starring women. It’s a dramatic story that looks at a group of women and the love, hurt, lies and betrayals they have experienced in their course of loving men. The story isn’t’ an overly preachy one but it does try to cover a bit too much ground. This means it’s like a missed opportunity where you are often just scratching the surface of all the characters and their different backstories.

The film was originally a novel by Whitney Otto and was adapted for the screen by Jane Anderson with our very own, Jocelyn Moorhouse (The Dressmaker) at the helm. Winona Ryder (Little Women) stars as Finn, a flighty Berkeley masters student who seems to go through thesis and research ideas like some people go through clean clothes. Finn is the product of a broken home so she’s a little apprehensive when she is asked for her hand in marriage by her well-meaning boyfriend (Dermot Mulroney.)

Finn’s response to the proposal is to go and live in California with her grandmother (Ellen Burstyn.) It is there that she is introduced to her gran’s quilting group. These strong women have come together to make Finn’s wedding present, a gift about the meaning of love. As the group sit around sewing and sharing their stories they open up to Finn about their own broken hearts and bittersweet romances. Some of these flashbacks have culminated in broken dreams, single motherhood or longing over what might have been. In other instances the women found themselves either in the arms of another man or their beau’s arms wrapped around another woman’s.

This story is tender and it tries to get you to think. Finn’s own character has a lot of introspection and navel-gazing to do. There’s the marriage proposal and her thesis to contemplate as well as the promise of an exciting summer fling with the seductive Leon (Johnathon Schaech.) Finn also enjoys the refuge and counsel offered by these wise older women who have been through a lot before and essentially had a lot of adventures and life experience that they can talk about.

How To Make An American Quilt is not a perfect film where the characters rich backstories from a detailed and cohesive tapestry. Instead, it barely skirts around the surface of these vignettes meaning it’s all a little haphazard, just like in real life. In all, this is a good little film where some strong performances take us on a journey through some methodical stories about love, loss and life. It’s like a lukewarm chicken soup for the soul, it could’ve been tasty but it is lacking a bit in bite.

 

Originally published on 24 July 2016 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/how-to-make-an-american-quilt-dvd-review/

Visit Impulse Gamer’s homepage at: http://www.impulsegamer.com/

BOOK REVIEW: LEAH FLEMING – THE LAST PEARL

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A pearl can be an interesting symbol. Some people are superstitious and think it brings bad luck if worn at certain moments. And at the very least in different levels of light this thing can shine and change colour in front of the naked eye. In Leah Fleming’s novel, The Last Pearl we are presented with some characters that change colours like pearls in that they are like real, multi-facetted gems in some instances while others bring bad luck and sadness to the people around them.

Fleming has written numerous books including The Captain’s Daughter andThe Girl under the Olive Tree. Her latest novel is a well-researched one that is set in the 19th century and takes in stories from Scotland, York and Iowa over a period of around twenty years. It follows three main characters who are motivated by a desire to better themselves, sometimes with good intentions (like doing relatives proud or supporting the family) and others with evil ones (as they’re motivated by pure greed and lust).

The story begins with a young, Scottish lad called Jem Baillie. His father is a pearl fisherman and the two discover a large, exquisite pearl they name, “Queenie.” This rock is to be set aside so that one day it will pay for Jem’s education. But Jem’s father falls ill and passes away and his mother makes the mistake of selling the pearl for a pittance to a rogue buyer. Jem is mad and vows revenge.

In York Greta Costello had lived a comfortable life until her father passes away. She takes on different jobs, working at a Quaker household and with a local jeweller who teaches her the art of pearl stringing. These jobs are abruptly cut short and the naïve Costello is faced with a difficult decision that is not dissimilar to Elizabeth Bennet in Pride & Prejudice. Costello must decide whether she should marry the wealthy Eben Slinger in order to secure comfort for herself and her family or whether she would wait for a man that truly loves her. The choice she ultimately makes has long-standing ramifications because things are not as rosy as they initially seem.

The Last Pearl is a beautiful and delightful gem of a book. It’s a complex slice of historical fiction where different stories are woven together to produce a dense family drama. This novel tackles the themes of love, loyalty, greed, hatred and loss. Some characters will make you laugh and love them while others will make you want to cry, and then there are some still that will make you want to hit them in anger and frustration. This book is a rare, emotional one that shakes you out of inertia and causes you to feel just as the characters do in a most stark and visceral manner. Brilliant.

 

***Please note: a free copy of this book was given to the writer through a Beauty & Lace giveaway. To read the original review on that website please visit: http://bookgirl.beautyandlace.net/book-club-the-last-pearl

BOOK REVIEW: JENN J MCLEOD – THE OTHER SIDE OF THE SEASON

the-other-side-of-the-season

 

The Other Side of the Season is a mysterious, Australian novel set near Byron Bay. It’s the fourth book by Australian author, Jenn J McLeod and it’s basically like an onion. As you read the prose it’s like another layer is slowly stripped away to reveal something more and slightly different. The Other Side of the Season is a heart-warming tale that proves that there are often multiple sides to a story and that each perspective is often as valid and as important as the other.

The book begins in the present day with a strong woman named Sidney who is looking to escape her mother’s house in the Blue Mountains. Sidney found herself returning home to live with her Mum after a long-term relationship break-up. This character is named after the artist, Sidney Nolan and she is looking at discovering some information about the past. Sidney is a relatable and rich character who has never been told much about her extended family so she decides to go on a journey with her younger rapscallion brother to get some answers.

The second major thread in this novel has the reader immersed in a quaint town called Dingy Bay in Northern NSW in the late seventies. The main characters in this story are two young brothers, a 17 year old aspiring artist named David and his elder brother Matthew. The pair work on the family’s banana plantation. David is in love with the girl next door and Matthew looks poised to run the family business but one day a tragedy strikes and the decisions the characters make will have long-standing ramifications that shake their simple, rural lives.

McLeod has done a fantastic job of creating very real and interesting characters and revealing many facets of their lives so we know exactly what makes them tick. She also expertly weaves together two very different stories set in opposing periods in time. In the end the reader is offered a very vibrant, detailed and lush tapestry of life, love, family and friendship and a story that is told with a nostalgic view of the past and present. This novel is one that will tug at your heartstrings as it is so emotional. It will also make people stop and cherish life and realise that the choices we make are often more complicated than they initially seem and that you really shouldn’t live your life filled with regrets.

***Please note: a free copy of this book was given to the writer through a Beauty & Lace giveaway. To read the original review on that website please visit: http://bookgirl.beautyandlace.net/book-club-the-other-side-of-the-season

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