Tag: Amber McMahon


An impressive experiment with palpable discomfort

by Rachel Holkner

This new adaptation of Joan Lindsay’s classic Australian novel, written by Tom Wright and directed by Matthew Lutton, is a stylish exploration of the themes of time, space, alternate dimensions, past, present and future. And hanging over it all, an ancient volcanic rock and the intolerable heat of an Australian summer.


The play requires some familiarity with the story whether from the novel or the 1975 film by Peter Weir. With a small cast it is necessary to recognise quickly the various characters and their place in the story, as the performers often leap from one to another without overt costume changes. Surtitles present chapter headings throughout, granting the original 1967 text an unnecessary supernatural presence. It remains unclear whether the production intends to seat the audience inside the novel as it suffers a sort of intrusion of the present, or develop an entirely new interpretation of the ‘disappearing girls’ story.

An extended opening in the style of a school reading, grounds the work. Re-admittance to the theatre is not permitted after this sequence as the entire room is plunged frequently and suddenly into complete darkness. It is this darkness that carries the emotional burden, as the audience slowly learn to fear what it may bring. This is not a performance suitable for children or those of nervous disposition!

Just five actors take on over a dozen roles in a commanding fashion. While each has a part they default to, they switch with ease into alternate characters, sharing the burden of story-telling evenly. Of note are Amber McMahon as the visiting English gentleman Michael, and Arielle Gray as the unloved outsider Sara. The character of Sara was particularly well conceived, her body distortions and hurried whispers reflecting her state of mind and lack of autonomy. Harriet Gordon-Anderson, Elizabeth Nabben and Nikki Shields round out the cast with assuredness.

The sound design by J. David Franzke and composer Ash Gibson Greig ranges as wildly as the natural environment it is attempting to evoke. As tensions rise sound effects evolve from precise recreations of the bush to a barrage of noise. Discomfort became palpable as the audience grasped at any moment in the dialogue which might relieve the tension.

The play’s weakness is that it tries to encompass too many themes at the same time. The final act is muddled, the costume choices and staging do not carry enough conviction as all the ideas of nature, time, legacy and even gender are attempted to be resolved in the final few minutes. The successful use of light, shadow, sound and minimalist staging earlier on have been forgotten in a flat-lit confusion of props.

Picnic at Hanging Rock is an impressive experiment in bringing the colonial inferiority and fear of the environment of the late 19thC into the beginning of the 21st under the heavy volcanic overhang of millions of years.


Venue: Malthouse Theatre

Season: 26 Feb – 20 March

Tickets: $35-$65

Bookings: http://malthousetheatre.com.au/whats-on/picnic-at-hanging-rock


Seeking the adventure again

By Caitlin McGrane

The reimagined Hitchcock classic North by Northwest gets an excellent presentation at the Melbourne Arts Centre after its fantastically successful run in 2015.

North by Northwest 2.jpg

For those who don’t know, the story is that of Roger O. Thornhill (Matt Day), Madison Avenue advertising executive mistaken for the mysterious George Kaplan in The Plaza Hotel in New York; thus setting in motion a chain of events that takes Thornhill to the United Nations, Chicago, and Mount Rushmore. His partner in crime is Eve Kendall (Amber McMahon), an enigmatic femme fatale with whom Thornhill forms an instant connection on a train.

Writer Carolyn Burns and director Simon Phillips really have done a terrific job of bringing the classic film to the stage; Burns has successfully managed to tread the very fragile line between appreciating and replicating the original, especially given it is such a well-loved text. Hitchcock’s contemporality is appropriately heightened through clever direction from Phillips, so some of the uncomfortable and backwards politics of the 1950s can be seen through a modern lens.

The ensemble cast, comprised of Nicholas Bell, Ian Bliss, Lyall Brooks, Leon Cain, Sheridan Harbridge, Matt Hetherington, Tony Llewellyn-Jones, Gina Riley, Lucas Stibbard and Lachlan Woods are all clearly having a ball. Harbridge, Llewellyn Jones and Riley all delivered standout performances, providing just the right number of nods and winks to the audience and some truly excellent accents. It would perhaps have been nice to see more chemistry between the two leads, and it sometimes felt to me like McMahon’s Eve was not as self-assured as her silver screen counterpart. But these minor critiques did not hamper my enjoyment of their respective performances.

It would be extraordinarily remiss of me not to mention the exceptional creative work from the backstage team. Nick Schlieper’s lighting and set design were joyously clever and funny, Ian McDonald’s composition and sound design catapulted me back in time to my first screening of North by Northwest, while Josh and Jess Burns’ innovative and hilarious use of video really stole the show. I shall never see Mount Rushmore the same way ever again.

To have a bad time watching North by Northwest would be an extremely difficult thing, and while this may seem like damning with faint praise I really would be surprised if anyone came out of seeing this production feeling anything but contented. Sometimes what I need is a big sugary treat from the theatre, and North by Northwest delivered deliciously comforting familiarity in spades. This is the second time I’ve seen the production, and it is the combination of joy, self-awareness and fun that makes this such a pleasure to watch.

North by Northwest is now showing at The State Theatre at the Arts Centre until 13 February 2016. More information and tickets from: https://www.artscentremelbourne.com.au/whats-on/theatre-drama/north-by-northwest-2016


MTC’s masterly salute to the master of suspense

By Rachel Holkner

How will they do the scene on Mount Rushmore? This has to be the question at the front of the mind of any audience member familiar with Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film North By Northwest. In this world premiere production by the Melbourne Theatre Company the film is adapted for the stage by Carolyn Burns in ingenious and highly entertaining ways.

North by Northwest

The story follow the trials of Roger Thornhill, a New York advertising man mistaken for a spy. Following leads and leading chases across several states on trains and planes, through hotels and auction house, Thornhill gradually uncovers a larger plot with higher stakes than a simple case of mistaken identity. High-paced action scenes are interspersed with romantic interludes, all peppered with witty dialogue. One of North By Northwest‘s main attractions: it doesn’t take itself too seriously.

More of a straight reenactment rather than a reimagining, director Simon Phillips‘ stage adaption sometimes holds a bit too tightly to the film. A few (very few) moments do not translate well, and might be a bit odd to anyone not familiar with Hitchcock’s work. Several characters are straight impersonations of the film’s actors, and this was to the play’s detriment. Occasionally it felt as though the actors did not have full ownership of their parts.

The cast of twelve do a spectacular job in taking on the work of a cast of thousands. With the aid of amazing costuming, wigs and headgear by costume designer Esther Marie Hayes it was easy to forget that the woman dining in the train had minutes ago been in a stand-up argument as Thornhill’s mother. Matt Day is excellent as Roger Thornhill, as was Amber McMahon as Eve Kendall, the femme fatale. Many other familiar names bring their strength to the production including Nicholas Bell, Tony Llewellyn-Jones, Deidre Rubenstein and Matt Hetherington. The entire cast deserves high praise for their faultless and energetic work.

However, the show-stealing performance, that which received the most spontaneous applause, laughs and gasps from the audience was the staging. An incredibly creative use of a massive rear-projection screen used with live-action miniatures brings the language of film right onto the stage. Complete with an opening credit sequence nod to the kinetic typography of Saul Bass (titles designer of many of Hitchcock’s films), no opportunity was lost to draw the audience into the play and into the manipulative world of 1950s America.

The audience shared in the glee of the cast as they interacted at frequent intervals with items key to the setting, whether writing notes, pouring drinks or driving tiny cars, these actions were projected to provide close-ups, midshots and moving backgrounds key to keeping the production as close to Hitchcock’s vision as possible. The iconic cropduster scene is gobsmackingly good, keeping us simultaneously on the edge of our seats and in fits of laughter.

I cannot know how much someone not familiar with the film would enjoy this production, however lines which I was merely nodding to as I recognised them, were getting genuine laughs from the audience which would indicate that there is enough clarity and freshness here for all. MTC’s North By Northwest is an amazing achievement. Hilarious, tense and dramatic at all the right moments. You won’t regret seeing this one, it’s sensational.

And as for Mount Rushmore? Well I can’t tell you. You simply wouldn’t believe me.

Venue: Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne
Season: Until 20 June 2015
Tickets: $51-$124
Bookings: http://www.artscentremelbourne.com.au