No Plain Jane

Theatre reviews and musings (mostly) from Adelaide

Tag: Sarah Dunn

Review: Alice and Peter Grow Up

Every now and then I have a moment where I realise that maybe – just maybe – I’m actually a Grown Up.  They’re few and far between; not because I see myself as a child, but because to be an adult seems all at once huge and scary and unobtainable and certainly doesn’t seem like something I will be at any time soon.  More often, I suppose, I feel like I am playing at being a Grown Up.  I’ve managed to convince people that I can have proper jobs and proper responsibilities, and it’s all a farce which is great fun.

At the entrance of Format, we are passed a questionnaire: how grown up are you? Downstairs in the slightly awkward basement, we are introduced to Subject One and Subject Two, working their way through a modulated course, giving their audience the skills they need to grow up.   Alice (Aston Malcom) has a Grown Up score of 9 out of 50.  Peter (Sebastian Freeman) has a Grown Up score of 12. The apathetic Alice and the cocky Peter must make their way through each of the sections, learning, among other things, how to have a conversation, how to date, how to be married, and how to act at work.  It’s trial by procedure rather than trial by error.

This devised theatre piece by a young team under the direction of Nescha Jelk hilariously and charmingly winds its way through the bed of uncertainty that is these years of trying (or ignoring the fate) of being an adult.  From the jokes that hit too close to the bone, to the sublimely ridiculous, Malcom and Freeman embrace the essence of struggling with your burgeoning adulthood, even if it is in a course and not in the real world. Read the rest of this entry »

A Catch Up and Newsey Pieces

  • Having been almost completely obliterated by the Festival season, I was one of those lucky people who found work getting more intense post-Fringe than during it, hence the overall lack of posts bar some catching up re-posts from other sources.  Outside of work work, I spent five days working for the Come Out Festival as a delegate host, which was one of the most inspiring and satisfying art experiences I have had perhaps ever.  To spend five days surrounded by artists and programmers and administrators, seeing theatre for children with children, is incredibly gratifying.  I saw some truly incredible work (and, yes, a few terrible pieces), including two works which completely changed my outlook on everything: Hans Christian, You Must Be An Angel a theatre installation unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, by Teatret Gruppe 38 from Denmark which was filled with more magic and joy than can possibly be explained:And Thick Skinned Things by Dutch group Stella Den Haag, a curious monologue about a woman who “belongs to the legion of the uncomfortable.”  Nora lives alone, struggling with everything, even her garbage bags, until she finds comfort in the way the man next door lays down his garbage bags:

    Can you find comfort
    in the way a person puts his garbage outside
    I would wonder desperately
    Can this be?

    Until one day, he is gone, and all that Nora can do is run into the forest, and dig herself a labyrinth: “I am a mole. I speak softly.”  It was in this play by Hans van den Boom, about sadness and loneliness and isolation, under a masterful performance by Erna van den Berg that I actually found an incredible peace and calmness and started to repair myself from the extreme tiredness of the season.

  • ActNow Theatre has a new Artistic Director in the form of director/writer/actor/administrator/friend Sarah Dunn, and with the help of publicist Sophie Bruhn, they are starting to conquer social media.  I did my Arts Admin Traineeship with Sarah, and I am greatly looking forward to raking her over the critical hot coals seeing what she comes up with. They will be revealing their new logo and officially welcoming Sarah to the fold May 13.
  • Edwin Kemp Atrill, the former AD for ActNow, will be stepping over to the University of Adelaide Theatre Guild taking their inaugural Artistic Director Grant, which is a brilliant initiative for emerging directors in this city.  2011 has already been programmed for the company, so we will possibly have to wait until next year to see what stamp Edwin puts on the company.
  • In May, Adelaide’s independent theatre companies are starting to emerge from the post fringe drought.  This week, opens The Eisteddfod by Lally Katz.  Katz is one of the most produced playwrights on Australia’s main-stages this year, with world premieres playing at Malthouse, Melbourne Theatre Company, and Belvoir Street, and if you are interested in Australian playwrights and/or female playwrights you should be making an effort to see this show. Coming up later in the month, Accidental Productions will be presenting a new work by Adelaide playwright Alex Vicory-Howe, Molly’s Shoes from the 20th, and also from May 20 Tutti are presenting One directed by Daisy Brown, who you may remember from my rave of Ruby Bruise.
  • And for something a little different from what I usually write about: to catch some Adelaide theatre actors on the big screen, and see why my job became more crazed post-Fringe, the Mercury Cinema will be screening the best South Australian films of the last year on May 6 – 8, with the South Australian Screen Awards announced May 13.

Review: An Enemy of The People

Guy OGrady: sitting with class since 1997. Photo by the brilliant photographer and venue and event manager Aaron Schuppan. Adelaide is too small. I love it.

My review for this incredible show by ActNow Theatre for Social Change (just a bit of a mouthful).  Disclaimers I’m sure should follow: I know Sarah Dunn and production manager Megan Huitema, and then, clearly, that night I met a lot more people involved in the show.  And they’re all wonderful.  But that’s not why you should see it, you should see it because it’s good.

This review originally appeared on

ActNow Theatre for Social Change and Sean Riley have taken the very brave choice of presenting Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People. The youth theatre company, whose ensemble confidently tackle roles written for actors much older and more experienced then themselves, succeed admirably and deliver a measured and accomplished production.

An Enemy of the People
 has a rather simple narrative: Doctor Thomas Stockmann (Guy O’Grady) discovers the baths, the lively-hood of the city, are supplied by a water source teaming with bacteria. While he originally has the support of city residents, his brother Mayor Peter Stockmann (the assertive Kurt Murray), seeing the economic impact that rectifying the situation would cause, turns the town against Thomas, labelling him “an enemy of the people.”

In-the-round in a parlour room in Ayers House, the artifice of presenting to an audience is removed. By the very nature of the fact that the audience is not only surrounding the acting space, but the space envelops the audience, director Edwin Kemp Atrill has skilfully directed his actors to only exist in the space, and the blocking delightfully appears to be free of constraint through thought to audience perspective. While anything presented in-the-round is of course going to lead to excessive masking of actors,Kemp Atrill and the cast make no apologies for that, leading to a very refreshing presentation in which much pretence is removed.

And while the masking certainly means that you miss many things, and I did find it unfortunate at times, there is something wonderful in this knowledge that every single person in that space is seeing a different play than you. This staging leads to some great moments where, because frustratingly you can’t see the faces of the actors in the scene’s primary interaction, you are forced to focus on, say, Catherine Stockmann (in a touching performance bySarah Dunn) slowly breaking down in the corner. It feels like a point of privilege to be watching this almost private moment; something that I perhaps wouldn’t have noticed if not for the very act of masking forcing me to open my eyes to other things on the stage.

Naturally using the space involves using the existing lighting structures and lamps, which were left on throughout the performance, except, inexplicably, during the curtain call, when it would’ve been nice to properly see and thank the cast. Because of the constant lighting set changes occurred in full light, and worked best when the tail of one scene overlapped slightly with the head of the next. However, due to this naturalism in set and presentation, the use of music, composed by Rory Chenoweth, had a tendency to remove me from the scene. The production became much more powerful when all you could hear was the breathing of the actors, and the ticking of the antique clock.

In the lead role of Dr StockmannO’Grady is the standout amongst a strong cast, and is very much an emerging actor to watch. He gives a nuanced performance, bringing a keen intensity to a role which grows and develops over the arch of the narrative.

Most striking about Ibsen’s play is as we watch it half way through a frustrating 2010 political campaign, is almost 130 years after he penned it the relevance of Ibsen’s work is startling. Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s adaptation of the play, further edited by the ensemble, remains truthful to Ibsen’s text, while being a tight and contemporary adaptation, shedding the stiffness which plagues many earlier translations of his work. Presented in Australian accents, the choice to preserve parts of Lenkiewicz’s cockney slang to indicate class is questionable, even if just a minor quibble.

Beyond being a brilliant production that deserves to be seen fully on its own merits, it is exciting to see theatre of this nature taking a foothold in Adelaide. A young, professional company, bringing us an interesting, challenging, historically important production: this is independent theatre at its finest.

ActNow Theatre for Social Change and Sean Riley present An Enemy of the People by Henrik Ibsen, a version by Rebecca Lenkiewicz.  Directed by Edwin Kemp Atril with assistant director Gemma Sneddon, designed by Kate Moore, composition by Rory Chenoweth, production manager Megan Huitema.  With Guy O’Grady, Sarah Dunn, Catherine Story, Kurt Murray, Alexander Ramsay, Nicholas Cutts, Felix Alpers-Kneebone, Alisa Dunlop, and Loki Reef Macnicol.


Coming off my post about why we need young voices commenting on the theatre and about 30 minutes after I submitted that review, Barry Lenny posted his review for Glam Adelaide here.  I simultaneously love and find hilarious that the very thing I found the best about the play was the very thing Lenny thought was the worst.

From my review:

In-the-round in a parlour room in Ayers House, the artifice of presenting to an audience is removed. By the very nature of the fact that the audience is not only surrounding the acting space, but the space envelops the audience, director Edwin Kemp Atrill has skilfully directed his actors to only exist in the space, and the blocking delightfully appears to be free of constraint through thought to audience perspective. While anything presented in-the-round is of course going to lead to excessive masking of actors,Kemp Atrill and the cast make no apologies for that, leading to a very refreshing presentation in which much pretence is removed.

From Lenny’s review:

There is a trap in performing in a small, non-theatrical venue in that the actors tend to deliver their lines to one another and not to the audience, which happened here. The lack of projection, coupled with poor diction and rushing lines, ignoring all punctuation, made this a difficult performance to follow. This was worsened by it being performed in the round, as it is even harder to hear what an actor is saying when they have their back to you. This is easily remedied and no doubt will have been corrected by the next performance, acting on comments made by audience members.

Brilliant.  But I don’t know what audience members he was talking to: the ones I was talking to were all agreeing with me.  My favourite thing, I will stress again, was that it just was. No acting to the audience: no making things a little less natural to fit the audience’s expectations that they should be presented to.  It was just honest itself.  And I hope that it wasn’t “corrected”.

And for all my harping on about reviewing: if you thought what I wrote was shit, especially if you were someone I talked to on Wednesday, call me out on it and let me know.  Because I want and need to know your opinion, and I very much want to talk theatre with you again.

Also, if you are reading this, are in Adelaide, and interested in theatre I strongly encourage you to come along to RightAct 10 which these guys are running.  Panels, performances and workshops concerning theatre, politics, activism, performance and social change at Format over the October long weekend.  I’m looking forward to it.