Tag: Nick Schlieper


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


In the hands of the leading lady

By Bradley Storer

The opening image of Melbourne Theatre Company‘s highly anticipated production of Death and the Maiden, the intensely political and unsettlingly violent work of Ariel Dorfman, is striking and instantly ratchets the tension to maximum level – a lone woman in a darkened room, stirred to action by the sound of an approaching car, creeps through the darkness and conceals herself in the corner, the revolving stage giving an eerie flipbook-like effect as the woman slowly reveals a gun. In this single image the blurred boundaries between the domestic, civilisation and the dark savage underbelly of human nature which Dorman sets out to explore is already laid out for the audience.

Death and the Maiden

Set in an unnamed country, inspired by post-fascist Chile but potentially any country emerging from under tyranny, Death and the Maiden examines the slow recovery from politically-sanctioned atrocity and horror on both the personal and national level through the lens of differing characters. The trio presented include a victim of the former fascist regime and its unspeakable methods, Paulina (Susie Porter), her husband Gerardo (Steve Mouzakis), the lawyer who is now part of the government committee dedicated to uncovering the atrocities of the former regime, and Roberto (Eugene Gilfedder), a doctor whose unexpected incurrence into the lives of Paulina and Gerardo sets off the whirlwind of terror and violence which engulfs the rest of the play.

Unfortunately, only in the performance of Porter does the extent of Dorfman’s bleak vision truly come to fruition. She morphs from an uncertain and flighty creature, beset by unknown fears, into a facade of iron-hard determination and self-righteous fury that maintains the central ambiguity of Paulina’s character: whether she is a victim of horrific trauma and gruesome torture that has driven her to insanity, or a woman empowered to throw off the chains of victimhood and become an terrible avenging angel against her former tormentors.

Mouzakis and Gilfedder do not fare as well, their earlier scenes which communicate the bulk of the work’s political background sapping all of the tension and drive from the performance. They improve as the play goes on but sadly lose momentum whenever Porter leaves the stage. Nick Schlieper‘s revolving set does much to symbolically comment on the cyclical nature of violence and victimhood, but slowly loses its impact as the play goes on – its use in Gerardo’s final monologue leaves the last mystery of the play more confusing than intended.

Perhaps this production of Death and the Maiden is not the definitive one, but the performance of Porter is to be commended for its bravery, delving into the darkest and rawest areas of the human psyche that Dorfman is preoccupied with, bringing out the violence and cruelty that Is suggested to lurk within us all.

Venue: The Sumner, Southbank Theatre, 140 Southbank Boulevard, Southbank
Dates: 18 July – 22 August, 2015
Price: $36 – $109
Bookings: At the venue, www.mtc.com.au, 03 86880800

REVIEW: Declan Greene’s POMPEII, L.A.

A wry, absurdist take on the celebrity life

By Myron My

The Malthouse Theatre production of Declan Greene’s Pompeii, L.A. follows the fortunes of a troubled young child star after a terrible accident leaves him in hospital. Green looks at the influence and effects Hollywood has on such young impressionable people and speculates as to the ultimate fate that most of them will meet.

To begin with, Nick Schlieper’s slick set design was flawless: I would go so far as to say it was right up there with the most impressive stage designs I have seen.  There was so much attention paid to detail and ensuring the environment was as real as possible. Having such extravagant sets did run the risk of a clumsy transition with getting rid of and adding so many props and pieces, but scene changes were executed well and went very smoothly.

Also worth mentioning was the great play across such a large space. There were lavish scenes that spread out all over the stage which did create a sort of divide between us and the action and whether this was intentional or not, it worked well. In contrast, the scenes in the hospital which used a much a smaller space and moved closer to the audience created that intimacy and solitude one would expect.

I did find the story a little hard to follow, even somewhat convoluted. I appreciate what Greene was attempting to do in showing the surrealism existing between celebrity life and real life and exploring what can happen when the two worlds blur together but as an average audience member I was left wondering what was going on quite a few times which detracts from being able to immerse oneself into the experience. 

However, what the story lacked was more than made up by the actors, in particular David Harrison as the unnamed protagonist. Harrison played the role with realism and honesty, especially his scenes in hospital. Even when he was surrounded by exaggerated caricatures of people in those scenes, he still maintained the humanity and true emotion of his character. Belinda McClory was also great with her opening cameo as Judy Garland and continued to impress with the other characters she portrayed throughout. There were times I was unsure if there was a different actor performing, such were her chameleon ways.

Overall, Pompeii, L.A. is a thought-provoking production and considering how strongly obsessed our culture is with celebrities and their lifestyles, it’s an interesting piece of theatre that is well worth watching.

Venue: The Malthouse Theatre, 113 Sturt St, Southbank

Season: Until 9 December | 7:30pm, Sat 2:30pm, Sun 5:30pm

Tickets: $58 Full | $48 Concession | $28 Student

Bookings: https://boxoffice.malthousetheatre.com.au