Tag: Richard Vabre

Review: The Meeting

Enter a dreamer and a revolutionary with a plea for equality still missing today 

By Sebastian Purcell

The Meeting is an outstanding theatre play depicting a fictional dialogue between American Civil Rights Activists, Dr Martin Luther King Jr (Dushan Phillips) and Malcom X (Christopher Kirby) in February 1965. Playwright Jeff Stetson brings events that occurred nearly 60 years ago alive and transforms them into contemporary issues that are at the forefront of today’s political discourse; he play was conceived nearly 35 years ago yet is strikingly relevant now.  

The Meeting explores Dr King Jr’s and Malcom X’s opposing views of how to bring about societal change and equality to African Americans, one dedicated to non-violent means and peaceful demonstrations and the other advocating an advance to freedom through revolution with the ends justifying the means, even if that includes violence.

Peter Mumford (set and costume design) and Richard Vabre (lighting design) immediately place you into what feels like the Audubon Ballroom, New York, where Malcom X was assassinated on February 21, 1965, and later transitioning to the balcony in which MLK Jr was assassinated three years later. The staging, while sparse, cleverly uses a large wooden table as the centrepiece depicting the meeting, the balcony and even competing ideals of the two activists. The lighting and sound (Justin Gardam) works to transport the audience to what feels more like a memory, using almost sepia tones as if to say the movement, and those who fought for its ideals, are beginning to fade like an old photograph with the passage of time.

Director Tanya Gerstle has excelled in all elements here, firstly through casting. Not only do Phillips and Kirby go toe to toe for 60 minutes in both a verbal and physical contest, but Kirby’s towering and athletic physic adds to Malcom X’s heightened sense of willingness to use force to create change. It is a wonderfully paced play and the addition of Akkhilesh Jain as Malcom X’s body guard offers levity in what is a tense and thought provoking story. Jain had the audience laughing out loud with his well-timed quips, and serves as a physical representation of the pawns which Malcom X is fighting to protect in his game of chess.

Phillips and Kirby as Dr King Jr and Malcom X respectively are captivating. Their verbal sparing is delivered with conviction and clarity. The energy from both is cleverly aligned to their characters; Phillips is calm, stoic, patient, non threatening, aligned to that of his beliefs in civil protest, while Kirby is more rash, forceful in delivery and bold and physical in his performance.

Some of the clear messages that arise from The Meeting include: that non-violence does not equal non-action; that we all have to put in to create a better, more equal society; and that while the systems and laws may change, if those who wield power and hold privilege don’t change then the application of those laws and systems will continue to disproportionately affect those they were intended to uplift.

The Meeting is a timely reminder that even when our philosophies differ, pushing in the same direction will support achieving equality for all, much sooner and with far less resistance.

The Meeting is presented by Red Stitch until to 23 October in St Kilda, tickets available at Red Stitch or via Melbourne Fringe Festival 

Promotional photo by Robert Blackburn & Work Art Life Studios


Sinking delicately into the depths of remembrance

By Margaret Wieringa

Smoke drifts across the stage in layers, twisting and turning with the gentlest movement. The air is filled with the sounds of summer, of insects and birds and the past. Slowly, so slowly, a figure in red is revealed off in the distance corner of the stage, obscured by the smoke and several long, semi-opaque banners that hang from the ceiling to the floor. And the remembering begins.


You know what it is like, when you recall your childhood. You remember a story, but cannot be sure if the facts are right, or if you are blending two stories, or if any of it actually happened. But you can remember the full names of your primary school classmates and what they were known for. Sometimes it comes in a rush, sometimes in dribs and drabs. Sometimes, bits layer on top of each other like a dream, or a memory of a dream.

Kate Hunter has captured those feelings in this performance of Memorandum. Being in her company in the space at Theatreworks was like being invited into her memory; or a version of someone’s memory. It was a beautiful and surreal experience that was at once mine and not mine.

Kate’s performance is both mesmerising and hypnotising, at times funny and at times heartbreaking, and it is complemented so perfectly by the use of light and set to create a world that is vague and dreamlike and enthralling. Lighting designer and lighting operators Richard Vabre and Suze Smith build with light from traditional theatre sources as well as using projections and offstage lighting to create the vague, magical mood. Having two separate projections of similar images projected on a angle upwards through the three banners gave a layering effect of images, both clear and sharp, and fuzzy and distorted, and with Kate standing in front of them seemed to place her within the memory, within her dream, within her mind.

Then there was the sound, operated by Michael Havir; layers of voice that synch and clash with what Kate herself is saying, adding detail, removing meaning. Revealing, slowly and gently. Even the freezing cold of the theatre was bearable as we were absorbed into the world of memory.

Venue: Theatreworks, 14 Acland Street, St Kilda
Dates: May 20 – June 1, Tuesday-Saturday 8pm, Sunday 5pm
Price: $25 Full, $20 Concession $20, Groups of 8+ $20
Tickets: www.theatreworks.org.au


Into the darkness…

By Myron My

night maybe

Entering the theatre space at Theatreworks for night maybe felt like I was venturing into an ethereal world. I immediately felt the stillness of my surroundings whilst a swirl of fog hid much of the set; all I could see was grass and I half-expected some zombies to come staggering out like Michael Jackson’s Thriller, such was the intensity.

Instead, two siblings Tom and Sasha (Tom Conroy and Sarah Ogden), appear and they are lost in a park. They argue and Tom disappears leaving Sasha alone. From there, she meets a variety of characters, and it’s up to us to determine if they are real or imaginary. It’s like Alice has stepped into Wonderland again but the darkness dial has been turned up a few notches. It’s a world where time seems to be ignored: watches are broken and people are running late.

Both leads are strong and show their versatility with a demanding script that could easily have resulted in them getting too caught up in the complexities and rushing through or losing their momentum, but they stay true to their characters and the themes of the show. The supporting cast of Marcus McKenzie and Brian Lipson further solidify the remarkable acting in night maybe.

Kit Brookman’s script is like a cloud of black smoke which slowly envelops us as it deals with issues of love, being alone and abandonment. The lines are delivered fast, which is a nice contrast to the minimal action happening on stage. This is a wordy play with lots to think about so it’s good not to be too overwhelmed especially with the technical styling.

Mel Page’s set creation is one of the simplest yet most effective ones I have seen for some time: there is real grass laid out covering the stage, with three leafless trees hidden in the mist and darkness. Richard Vabre’s lighting design and his use of shadows, darkness and depth suggests that the park we find ourselves in extends for eternity, adding a supernatural overtone to the show. I particularly enjoyed the effectiveness of characters coming out from within the shadows and disappearing back into them.

However, it was James Brown’s haunting music and sound that really and aptly struck a chord with me. From eerie soundtrack moments to a lone piano key being played – there is reason and purpose to everything he creates. Without giving too much away, one particular scene had me almost gasping for breath and provoked a very strong visual response from me too.

It is rare when all the elements of a show come together in such a perfect way to create a special piece of theatre. night maybe is a glorious example of this.  

Venue: Theatreworks, 14 Acland St, St Kilda

Season: Until 1 September | Tues- Sat 8:00pm, Sun 5:00pm

Tickets: $30 Full | $25 Conc

Bookings: 9534 3388 or http://www.theatreworks.org.au


Teen drama tackles big issues

By Myron My

What happens when we die? What happens when we are confronted with death and begin to question our own mortality? Heaven attempts to deal with these questions when a young girl (Jessica Clarke) is killed by a bakery van and three classmates attempt to bring her back from the afterlife.


It’s only been two years since Heaven was written but unfortunately it already has an outdated feel with regards to its language. I did not feel convinced 15-year olds speak like this – but perhaps I am way out of touch with the youth of today. I do understand what writer/director Kit Brookman was attempting to achieve here, but the switches from child-like behavior (playing with toy robots in one scene) to the characters dealing with profound issues like life after death ended up seeming contrived. The ending left me with many questions that did not necessarily need to be answered but would have benefited from having some clarity brought to them. 

I felt the characters could also have been developed more as they appeared to be mere familiar teen stereotypes: the nerd, the goth, the jock, and the brain. Having said that, the cast do their best (appropriately) to bring life to them. Lachlan Woods as Stewart was very good in displaying not only the jock’s bravado but also his emotional insecurities. Another special mention goes to Sarah Ogden, who brings some incredibly touching scenes to the stage as Sally.

Furthermore, there are a number of great ensemble moments in this play, in particular the séance between Max (Andre Jewson), Sally and Stewart, which has some genuinely funny dialogue. There is a good blend of humour and truth in Heaven, with the final scene being quite a touching one. 

On the technical side, the score by Tom Hogan and lighting design by Richard Vabre added strong emotive elements to the narrative. When used, they not only created an intimacy and the almost claustrophobic environment that Heaven required, but were able to increase the tension and heighten the mood of what was coming.

Heaven tries to cover a vast array of topics in the spectrum of life and death. Some it does quite well, and others it should have stayed away from. Overall, the admirable acting and production elements are let down by a story whose script doesn’t quite hit the mark.

Venue: La Mama Theatre, 205 Faraday Street Carlton

Season: Until 2 June | Wed-Fri 8:30pm, Sat-Sun 6:30pm

Tickets: $25 Full | $15 Conc

Bookings: http://lamama.com.au or 9347 6142


Welcome back to the 80s

By Myron My

I really wanted to love School Dance. Everything I had heard about it was positive, and it is set in the 80s – which I think was an awesome time.

School Dance

Sadly I didn’t love it, but I certainly didn’t hate it either. All the ingredients were there, but I felt like this production has just in the oven for too long.

It’s the night of the school dance and we follow the amusing adventures of three awkward high school friends as they try to break through the barrier of social acceptance at their school. Everything about School Dance screams 80s – in a good way.

The costuming and make-up are authentic, including the acid-wash jeans, the big hair and the t-shirt that has a suit print on it. The high school auditorium set design by Jonathon Oxlade helped in setting up the time and environment, and the lighting design by Richard Vabre is exceptional and feels like it has its own character on stage.

Then we have the music – one of the best eras of music in my humble opinion. The performance is liberally littered with snippets of classic songs that were the epitome of those times – think I Need a Hero by Bonnie Tyler, and the like. The accompanying crazy dance moves and choreography are taken straight out of those neon-lit clubs from the 80s.

The three actors – Oxlade, Luke Smiles and writer Matthew Whittet – were flawless. Clearly they have been performing this show for quite some time as their comic physicality was impressive and the presence of their characters was felt throughout. Their interactions and energy levels was the main reason that School Dance endeared itself to so many.

There were a few dark elements that felt out of place in School Danceparticularly as it is currently playing as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. The premise of the show was so happy and comedic that the unexpected allusions to domestic violence, for example, went completely against that. There was no elaboration or ending to this sinister storyline which makes me wonder why it was included. Moreover a tighter script would have helped tremendously too as there seemed to be a few scenes that were there just for laughs and not to develop the story.

Upon discussion with a few others that had seen it, I found there were strongly polarised opinions about this show. There were people who loved it and wanted to see it again and people who wanted to leave halfway through. I enjoyed the nostalgia and it definitely took me on a journey I was not expecting, but for me, the narrative of School Dance still needed some work to really make this a slick production.

Venue: The Arts Centre Melbourne, 100 St Kilda Rd

Season: Until 20 April | Tues-Sun, 6:30pm

Tickets: $29 Full

Bookings: 1300 182 183, www.artscentremelbourne.com.au & at the door