Shows that brought audiences to their feet
Published: December 31 2012 - 3:00AMAn ovation, if you please, for theatre in Sydney in 2012, writes Jason Blake.
Standing ovations come in all shapes and sizes: quick or slow; enthusiastic or grudging; complete or partial. Many's the time I've stood up just because I didn't fancy a vista of someone else's backside for two minutes.
Then there is the spontaneous, unanimous rush to the feet that catches you like an ocean wave. I've seen two in 2012. One was generated by Barry Humphries, who farewelled live performance this year with the splendidly mounted, wickedly funny Eat Pray Laugh! The other - every bit as deserved - was sparked by I'm Your Man (Sydney Festival/Belvoir), an affectionate yet probing documentary which drew its audience into sights, sounds and rhythms of a Bankstown boxing gym.
Kate Mulvany and Anne-Louise Sarks's Medea (Belvoir) deserved an ovation too. Many, I think, were too overcome by what they had experienced in this heartbreakingly intimate work to get to their feet.
Anthony Skuse's production of British writer Simon Stephens's Punk Rock deserved one too, but the ferocity of the play's climax - a mass shooting in a school - left us unsure how to show our appreciation.
The musicals got standing ovations, thanks to the opening night claque that leaps to its feet as if free tickets depended on it (which they probably do). Annie (Lyric Theatre) was solidly entertaining, with Anthony Warlow and Todd McKenney in great form. But Alan Jones as President Franklin D. Roosevelt? Surely the most perverse piece of stunt casting seen this - or any other - year.
A Chorus Line (Capitol Theatre) was impressively revived, though it couldn't land an emotional punch. Legally Blonde deserved its standing ovation for its unrelentingly upbeat appeal and a cynic-zapping performance from Lucy Durack.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang got one for the car. Some misguided souls even stood to applaud An Officer and a Gentleman, mercifully allowing others quicker egress from what was 2012's musical theatre lowlight.
Sydney's mainstage companies promised a lot in their season launches, though what landed on stage didn't always meet expectations. The Sydney Theatre Company scored with a stripped-back but emotionally filling Les Liaisons Dangereuses, directed by Sam Strong and featuring Pamela Rabe as a kind of human Death Star in a feathery blonde bob. By contrast, the STC's even more stripped-back production of Pygmalion let the proverbial baby out wiv the barfwater, and Simon Stone and Andrew Upton's adaptation of Ingmar Bergman's screenplay Face to Face proved a no less empty vessel.
A late highlight of the STC year came when Tadeusz Rozewicz's Mariage Blanc was slotted into the season in a cleverly realised production by director Sarah Giles and designer David Fleischer.
There were ups and downs at Belvoir, too. Ironically, most of the ups were in the Downstairs Theatre: the aforementioned I'm Your Man and Medea but also Food (by Steve Rodgers, co-directed by Kate Champion), Old Man (by Matthew Whittet, directed by Anthea Williams) and Don't Take Your Love to Town, Leah Purcell's stage biography of Ruby Langford Ginibi.
Upstairs, Simon Stone did impressive surgery on Eugene O'Neill's Strange Interlude, though his amputation of Arthur Miller's epilogue to Death of a Salesman - theatrically thrilling, I thought - provoked the wrath of the Miller estate.
Elsewhere, Psycho Beach Party, I Want to Sleep with Tom Stoppard (both at the Bondi Pavilion) and Sport for Jove's Hamlet (Seymour Centre) demonstrate an independent sector in rude good health.
And if you saw John Adam and Harriet Dyer in The School for Wives (Bell Shakespeare), Josh McConville in The Boys (Griffin Theatre), Colin Moody in Red (Ensemble), Justin Stewart Cotta in Syncopation (Concourse Theatre), Sara West in Belvoir's Babyteeth, Sean Taylor in Skylight (Ensemble) or Colin Friels and Patrick Brammall (Death of a Salesman), you saw some of this year's outstanding performances.
This story was found at: http://www.canberratimes.com.au/entertainment/shows-that-brought-audiences-to-their-feet-20121230-2c18k.html