Monday, 18 May 2020

Antony and Cleopatra, National Theatre Live 8 May 2020 ****1/2

THEATRE ONLINE
By William Shakespeare
By National Theatre Live, May 8-14, 2020
Streamed May 8-14, 2020
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ****1/2
 This is a VERY SHORT REVIEW of the streamed production. KH
Ralph Fiennes & Sophie Okonedo pic by Johan Persson
Simon Godwin’s production of Antony and Cleopatra is a sprawling epic that underscores the chaotic messiness of both love and war in Shakespeare’s narrative. 

Ralph Fiennes is impressive, inspiring and passionate as Antony, an ageing Roman General, still dignified and stately, but languorous, indulged and sated in Egypt where he lives and loves with Cleopatra.

On word of his wife Fulvia’s death, he leaves his beloved Cleopatra (Sophie Okonedo) and returns to Rome to marry Octavia and align his family and forces with Caesar and where immerses himself in power and politics. His Antony is playful, a little raddled and ruffled but still commanding.

Fiennes’ Antony is out of balance physically and emotionally with age, weariness, indulgence in alcohol and rabble-rousing and love.  With his gang of aides and soldiers, Antony carouses and boozes until the early hours to Caesar’s chagrin, but Antony is unaware of Pompey’s treachery.

Okonedo captures the impassioned, erratic rantings of Cleopatra as she demands Antony declare his love for her while doubting his fidelity. She is wild and hysterical which is apt for the role, but sometimes becomes vocally jarring.

There is electricity when these passionate, obsessive lovers are in proximity – enough to make your hair stand on end.

Nicholas Le Provost’s Lepidus is dignified and noble with the occasional lapse into booziness. Tim McMullan’s Enobarbus revels in the Bacchanalian delights of Cleopatra’s court and her ladies in waiting but is a loyal soldier and friend to Antony and his interpretation of Enobarbus’ famous speech about Cleopatra’s beauty is rich with vivid imagery.

Godwin’s production has stark staging (design: Hildegard Bechtler) with contemporary costume and modern military uniforms for the warring Roman factions of Pompey (Sargon Yelda) and Caesar (Tunij Kasim) and plenty of glamour for Cleo.

This production streamed for only one week in May during the shut-down, but it was a gift to witness Fiennes as Antony.

by Kate Herbert
Ralph Fiennes & cast, pic by Johan Persson

Sunday, 17 May 2020

Jane Austen Unscripted - Birds Migrating, 17 May 2020 ****

THEATRE - IMPROVISATION
Birds Migrating 16 May 2020  (LA time)
Improvised on one night only
http://improtheatre.com/livestreaming/ see here for upcoming shows 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 17 May 2020 (1pm AEST)
Stars:****
Impro Theatre LA is at it again! This week, their online improvised play is Jane Austen Unscripted with the title, Birds Migrating, an audience suggestion.

Having been a Jane Austen aficionado since I was a teenager, it’s fascinating to see how improvisers interpret her writing, characters and the period in which she lived. Here, we find ourselves in an Austen romantic story that is Pride and Prejudice and Northanger Abbey with a hint of Emma.
Edi Patterson & Dan O'Connor (improvising in 'Iso' together)
Sisters, Emily (Edi Patterson) and Harriet Green (Sarah Mountjoy-Pepka), who live with their silly mother, Mrs. Green (Kari Coleman), have grown into lovely young women while the men of the area have not been paying attention, it seems.

 The improvisers perform via Twitch TV, playing their roles separately from their homes during isolation. The technical skill required to achieve this production is not to be under-estimated.
Sarah Mouttjoy-Pepka
They are in period costume and all action is set against virtual backgrounds, including rooms and gardens of the Greens’ manor home, and the imposing stately Hawkebury House, home of Lord Henry Matthews (Brian Lohmann).

By this mysterious alchemy, the company of six improvisers and three technicians creates an entire Austen world instantaneously on our screens.

Emily Green (Edi Patterson) is interested in science and the natural world while her sister, Harriet, is compelled to read and write dark poetry that is ‘amiable or horrific’.

Emily has two suitors: the dashing Mr. Edwards (Nick Massouh) who returns to the neighbouring estate after a long absence, and Reverend Johnston (Dan O’Connor), the stumbling, cheerful vicar. No prizes for guessing which one gets the girl.

When Emily meets the cool, pompous, narrow-eyed Lord Henry Matthews, played by Brian Lohmann (channelling Mr. Darcy), the pair share their love of poetry in his huge library.
 Brian Lohmann
This performance is riddled with euphemism about size, burning, heat, biology and anatomy, birds mating and migrating, and other metaphors.

Mistakes are gifts in improvisation and, when Emily’s voice becomes unintelligible momentarily, it provides an opportunity for an entire narrative thread about being tongue-tied in the presence of Mr. Edwards which leads to an inspired, unintelligible proposal and acceptance in the final scene.

It’s a gift to witness these shows when they fly and Jane Austen’s little-known work, Migrating Birds, really flew.

by Kate Herbert

Kari Coleman – Mrs. Green
Edi Patterson – Emily Green
Sarah Mountjoy-Pepka – Harriet Green
Nick. Massouh – Mr Edwards
Brian Lohmann – Lord Henry Matthews
Dan O’Connor– Rev Johnston

Technical Improvisers: Brian Michael Jones, Arlo Sanders & Cory Wyszynski.


Monday, 4 May 2020

Frankenstein, National Theatre Live, 1 May, 2020 *****

THEATRE 
Frankenstein by Nick Dear, based on Mary Shelley novel (1818)
By National Theatre Live, Filmed 2011
Online free from May 1 to May 8, 2020 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert  (of Cumberatch as Creature, Miller as Frankenstein)
Stars: ***** (I'd give it more than 5 stars if I could, but that's my highest!)

Benedict Cumberbatch performing as Creature: Until 7 May 7pm UK time (4am, 8th AEST)
Jonny Lee Miller performing as Creature Until 8 May 7pm UK time (4am, 9th AEST)
Info& resources for teachers, cast lists, photos etc:
www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/nt-at-home-frankenstein
Benedict Cumberbatch & Jonny Lee Miller as the Creature
Benedict Cumberbatch, as the Creature in the first version of Danny Boyle’s production of Frankenstein, is thrillingly primitive, wretched and sympathetic as this monstrous creation of Victor Frankenstein (Jonny Lee Miller) that wrestles with the cruel and merciless world into which he has been born.

‘Born’ is too warm and positive a word to describe the gut-wrenching labour as Cumberbatch’s Creature hurls himself bodily from the artificial womb onto the chill and unwelcoming ground. There, he writhes and crawls like a reptile until he struggles unsteadily onto his weak, useless legs which barely hold his weight as he collapses, rises and collapses again.

The first 15 minutes is a brutally physical and muscular performance and the audience is stunned into open-mouthed silence – even at home.

Danny Boyle's s production transforms the actors and transports the audience emotionally and imaginatively to some disturbing places.

The journey of the Creature from childlike newborn, through abused but still hopeful social outcast, secret student of the old master who teaches him about morality and literature – Paradise Lost is a favourite – to the violent, amoral and murderous Creature that hunts down Victor Frankenstein with one aim: to destroy Victor, his life and his loved ones.

Cumberbatch is a commanding, rough and towering presence, seeming to channel some physical and vocal aspects of a man with Cerebral Palsy and this makes his ostracism by the community even more viciously offensive.

Jonny Lee Miller’s Creature, (they swap roles on alternating nights) is almost move for move the same as Cumberbatch’s, and yet he is a very different creature: smaller, more vulnerable and intimate in some ways, but just as compelling. Each has his own exceptional quality.

Frankenstein himself becomes the antithesis of his Creature. Victor is cold, anti-social, superior, cruel, obsessed with science not humanity, and self-absorbed and a stranger to love, despite his betrothal to the lovely, curious and generous Elizabeth. Meanwhile, his Creature craves contact, love, partnership, warmth, learning of literature and humanity, and is much more attractive as a human being than his creator.

I will not, in this short review, analyse the atmospheric and deceptively simple staging and the masterly performances of the ensemble. Suffice to say, this is exceptional theatre with outstanding performances by Cumberbatch and Miller in both roles.

I imagine the experience live in the theatre was overwhelming, it was sufficiently awe-inspiring from my couch watching it online. Bravo!! I'd give it for than 5 stars if I could!

By Kate Herbert


Cast:
The Creature Benedict Cumberbatch or Jonny Lee Miller
Victor Frankenstein. Benedict Cumberbatch or Jonny Lee Miller
Gretel Ella Smith
Gustav John Killoran
Klaus Steven Elliott
Agatha de Lacey -Lizzie Winkler
De Lacey- Karl Johnson
Felix de Lacey-Daniel Millar
Elizabeth Lavenza-Naomie Harris
William Frankenstein-Jared Richard
M. Frankenstein-George Harris
Clarice-Ella Smith
Servants -Martin Chamberlain, Daniel Ings
 Rab-Mark Armstrong
Ewan-John Stahl
Female Creature-Andreea Padurariu
Constable-John Killoran
EnsembleJosie Daxter, William Ny

Saturday, 2 May 2020

Benedict Cumberbatch & Jonny Lee Miller in Frankenstein


Review to come.

Watched Benedict Cumberbatch (creature) and Jonny Lee Miller (Victor) in Frankenstein -National Theatre Live. 

It is an extraordinary production by Danny Boyle with exceptional physical performance. 

Will watch Miller as creature and Cumberbatch as Victor today.
Yes, they alternate roles!

 See link for full play:  Frankenstein 
Benedict Cumberbatch & Jonny Lee Miller  in Frankenstein

Thursday, 30 April 2020

Twelfth Night NT Live 28 April, 2020 ****

Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare
National Theatre Live (streamed April 23 to 30, 2020  
Reviewed by Kate Herbert online 
Stars: **** 
I'm writing this in Iso-land in Australia, keeping my reviewing muscle operating while we stay in front of our computers to imbibe our theatre. It is short, fast and doesn't cover all elements or characters, but it gives the flavour of the production, I hope. KH (Melbourne, Australia)
Daniel Rigby, Tim McMullen, Imogen Doel, Tamsin Greig
Simon Godwin’s ebullient, vivid and lively production of Twelfth Night is a contemporary interpretation with plenty of drunken revelry, rowdiness and tomfoolery to counterpoint the darker or more poignant moments of introspection or vengeful action.

A soaring, revolving staircase transforms the stage into multiple locations (design Sutra Gilmour), including Olivia (Phobe Fox) and Orsino’s (Oliver Chris) grand palazzi, and the dark and atmospheric shipwreck that almost drowns Viola (Tamara Lawrance) and her twin, Sebastian (Daniel Ezra).

The performances are uneven and some of the modern readings and cross-gender casting are more successful than others.  

Tim McMullan comic foil, Daniel Rigby is a wonderfully understated, but still dotty Andrew Aguecheek, who he plays not as an obvious clown, but as a man who understands little of his surroundings.

Tamsin Greig as Malvolia (a change of gender for Malvolio) is the feature of this production; she is dour, rigid, nun-like in her grim, black gown and basin cut wig. Her Malvolia is a priggish, puritanical, obsessional, school-mistressly battle-axe – and desperately in love with her mistress, Olivia.

Greig has innovative and impeccable timing and delivery, with odd and surprising pauses that bring new, comic inflections to lines. Her careful enunciation and soundless creeping leave Malvolia ever watchful and waiting in the wings for Ollvia’s beckoning.

Greig’s reading of Maria’s taunting letter is a very complex, comical performance of hysterical desire, although it is, in parts, a little laboured. Her appearance in ‘yellow stocking cross-gartered’ is a riotous piece of burlesque.

What is expressed very clearly by the end of the play, is the vehemence of Maria’s (Niky Wardley) loathing of Malvolia and the cruelty of her dupe which makes Malvolia is a sad butt of a cruel joke. Malvolia’s avowed vengeance seems justified in the face of such abuse.

Despite being a little overwrought at times, this production is vivacious and innovative, and it is certain that a live performance - rather than this online version - would have the audience cheering.

By Kate Herbert

twelfth_night_doon_mackichan_as_festetamsin_greig_as_malvolia_image_by_marc_brenner

Monday, 27 April 2020

Shakespeare Unscripted, Impro Theatre LA, April 25, 2020 ****

Shakespeare Unscripted 
Impro Theatre LA online 
Sat April 25, 2020
Reviewed by Kate Herbert (Melbourne AU) 
Stars: ****
See link: improtheatre.com/ 
Here’s a review of another improvised play by Impro Theatre LA. This time, it’s Shakespeare Unscripted. K
Madi Goff as Camilla/Ophelia
This one is a delicious combination of cunningly wrought and accurate Shakespearean form and language with comical, parodic allusions and mistakes as gifts. 

In Padua, the Duke Dan O'Connor has two sons. The elder son, Antonio (Paul Rogan), who inherits the Dukedom, is fine-minded and committed to ruling fairly, while the second son, Sebastian (Brian Lohmann), doubts his brother’s capacity to take power and has a villainous desire to usurp the Dukedom.

There are love interests, political intrigues and disguises – all part of Shakespeare style.

One highlight is Rogan as Antonio, who really knows his Shakespeare and delights us with improvised, lyrical, metaphorical descriptions of his love, Camilla (Madi Goff), who is really the high-born Ophelia in disguise.
 
‘The heart is the king of the bodily ship…the admiral of the bodily fleet, and does govern our every decision’, and ‘Her eyes do sparkle with a thousand royal gems…Her smile doth illumine every room.’
 
The other highlight is Lohmann who, as wicked Sebastian, improvises a compelling soliloquy of evil intent and incorporates metaphors, couplets and rhymes into his insidious, demeaning slights against his brother.

‘I do weep for such a ruler who would know not how to wage a war when it need be waged…Where is the steel within the heart of my brother? It is a willow branch that breaks.’

Keep watching, every show is different because it really is all improvised.

By Kate Herbert

Cast
Dan O'Connor - Duke of Padua
Paul Rogan - Antonio
Brian Lohmann- Sebastian  
Kari Coleman - betrothed to Antonio
Madi Goff - Ophelia of Napoli /Camilla
Kelly Holden Bashar - Duchess of Padua
Paul Hungerford - Claudio

Technical Director - Brian Jones
Technical Improviser - Arlo Sanders

Saturday, 25 April 2020

Simon Palomares - playing Dali in Hysteria, June 21, 1994

I'm posting this 26 years late, because Simon Palomares just posted in Facebook a photo of himself playing Dali in Hysteria in 1994 at MTC. Here's my article /interview with him about it. I thought I'd reviewed it for Melbourne Times, but evidently I wrote this article. Kate

Interview with Simon Palomares (1994)
Playing Salvador Dali in Hysteria, by Terry Johnson
Melbourne Theatre Company
Article by Kate Herbert for The Melbourne Times 
June 21, 1994

Simon Palomares as Dali in Hysteria, MTC, 1994
"Salvador Dali is not just another ethnic," says Simon Palomares. "He's Spanish." Palomares, a Spanish-Australian who has recently been living between Madrid and Melbourne, plays the provocative master of surrealism in an upcoming Melbourne Theatre Company production of Terry Johnston's Hysteria.

Hysteria is not a play about the mad Spaniard (I mean Dali, not Palomares), but Dali's meeting with psychoanalyst and patron saint of the surrealists, Sigmund Freud. Dali, says Palomares, visited Vienna three times to meet his idol.

"While he (Dali) was sitting in a cafe eating snails he heard that Freud had gone to London and when he walked into the house in Hampstead, the first thing he saw was a trail of snails leading to the bicycle." Very surreal and spooky according to Dali.

Rebecca S. was a famous case history of Freud's. In the play, Jessica, the daughter of Rebecca S, invades Freud's study late one wet London night to confront him about his incorrect diagnosis and treatment of her mother as an hysteric and victim of incest. Rebecca's mental deteriorated severely after treatment and her memories of abuse by her father were revealed to be inaccurate.

Johnston is reflecting the recent world-wide outcry, started in the US, against therapists who have uncovered, through hypnosis, deep memories of incest in disturbed patients. Sceptics suggest that such memory may be manufactured and therefore inaccurate. The argument rages still about therapists whose every client has the same memories of abuse. The problem arises when the experience of all incest victims is doubted.

Letters from Freud denouncing his own theory, were found in a closet in his Hampstead home after his death. They suggested that the "hysterics" may fantasise about fathers' attentions and therefore manufacture memories. These letters were used in a book by a former member of the Freudian Foundation and Terry Johnston has used Freud's last-ditch recanting as the basis of his narrative.

"Freud thought the surrealists were a pack of wankers.... He didn't believe you could put the subconscious on canvas." The meeting between the two masters was ten minutes only, but Freud, who was dying with mouth and throat cancer, was quite taken with Dali and allowed himself to be sketched.

The title of the play has its origin in the Freudian theory of hysteria. Freud posited that hysteria, an exclusively female condition according to him, was a direct result of childhood sexual abuse by the girl's father. "When Freud's theories came out pre-World War II, he was a Jew in Vienna suggesting that "the proper men of society were molesting their daughters."

He took a rapid about face when his sister, Anna, manifested symptoms of hysteria in later life and he was confronted with the impossibility of his own father's misdeeds.
Johnston is walking on fragile ice here, but his intention is not to write a dark tragic expose' on Freud's misdemeanours. The play dances blithely between broad comedy and dark surrealistic drama and the one feeds and highlights the other.

"There are parts of the play that are pure farce," says Palomares. "Doors slamming, knocking, 'Ooh, somebody's coming', getting caught in embarrassing positions. You lull the audience into a sense of 'this is what we're watching', then suddenly you start talking about child molestation and incest." Comedy and tragedy are all too close in our lives.
In Spain, he made a French-Spanish feature film, ˜Shooting Elizabeth, with Jeff Goldblum and Mimi Rogers. He played an Anglo-Saxon American. Ironically, in Spain, he always auditions for the British and American roles.

He went back to Madrid recently to write a pilot for a comedy show. The Spanish television comedy scene is evidently differs little from ours. "TV executives are the same everywhere. They think they know what people want to watch."

Given the comic elements of the script, it is obvious why director, Simon Phillips, has cast Palomares as Dali. He has worked in comedy for many years and was one of the original team which created Acropolis Now.

He has recently been in an ABC documentary about the recent development of ethnic humour in Australia, but he had reservations about being involved. "I'm sick of the subject. It doesn't mean every time you do a character who is not Australian or Anglo-Saxon that you are saying anything about Australian ethnicity."

He has separated himself from the image of "wog comic" he had a few years ago, by living overseas and doing more theatre and film work. It takes courage and creative ambition to leave such a lucrative and popular area in an industry riddle with unemployment and Palomares has gone ahead in leaps and bounds.

Choosing Dali as a character in a play about Freud is not based exclusively on his artwork and public persona. Dali was a psychotherapist's dream case; a veritable can of psychological worms.  His parents, rather morbidly, named him after a sibling who died at 18 months and the second young Salvador was regularly taken to visit a grave bearing his own name. No wonder he was a wacko!

He had been molested by a male teacher as a child. "He had a problem with intimacy," says Palomares. "Although he was a very sexually active person he never touched." In the 60's he became the guru of the hippies who lives near his Spanish home. He invited young people to his studio for orgies. "He would stand behind his canvas and masturbate rather than paint" - a charming mentor for the young.

Palomares says that if he played Dali as Dali he would be "too over-the-top" because, let's face it, the guy came across as pretty potty. Ironically, Palomares met, in Spain, people who knew Dali and who described him as " a very average person. But as soon as the camera went on or the tape recorder went on the he was off flying." He made himself a phenomenon. He could turn "Dali" on and off at will.  "He and Gala had one of the best publicity stunts of this century," quips Palomares.

He actively pursued the role of Dali in Hysteria.  "This is not playing another ethnic. I'm playing a character. It's got nothing to do with us in Australia. Salvador Dali is not ethnic. He's Spanish." In fact, he is the quintessential Spaniard. Palomares believes that Dali is almost single-handedly responsible for the Spanish stereotype: the sweeping moustachios, the beret, the arrogance and bravado, the sexually overt behaviour.

"Dali represents ego (in the play). Even when Freud tells Dali his work is rubbish, Dali says 'The world's a whore and you sell it shit.' "

He also epitomises animal impulse and vanity. "When there's a naked woman in the closet, Dali is the one who walks straight in." In fact, all the characters in the play are manifestations of Freudian theory. Jessica is the instinct, Freud's Id. Yahuda, Freud's doctor in the play, is a composite character based on a real Rabbi and Freud's physician, represents the social conscience, the Superego.

After reading Dali's biography, Palomares is convinced that Dali and Gala "were ruthless with people they met. They only talked to the people who would benefit them."

Dali was a big old show-off, a shameless self-promoter, a marketing expert before it became fashionable, and a relentless opportunist. With his formidable talent and personality, he is the ultimate representation of Ego in 20th century culture.

KATE HERBERT



Sunday, 19 April 2020

Tennessee Williams Unscripted, April 18, 2020 ****



Impro Theatre L.A. online 
Caterpillar -Tennessee Williams Unscripted
Online Sat April 18, 2020 (Melbourne time 1pm 19 April)
Available online:improtheatre 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ****
The improvised plays keep on comin’ from Impro Theatre in LA. Improvisers in lockdown are finding new and exciting ways to create theatre live on Zoom from their desks.

This time, it’s Tennessee Williams Unscripted, directed by Brian Lohmann, and the title is Caterpillar. Williams might have created these characters and locations that are provided on Zoom Virtual background.

Annabelle (Madi Goff) is a naïve, Southern miss celebrating her Coming Out party with guests that include Miss Patricia (Kelly Holden-Bashar), a bitter, middle-aged woman, and Bertram (Ryan Smith), her bourbon-soaked husband.

Annabelle has several suitors: the reserved and awkward Griff (Mike Rock); the slightly demented Wilson (Brian Lohmann) whose love for Annabelle is unrequited;  and his disloyal and violent friend, John (Nick Massouh), who whisks Annabelle away, telling her she needs to be a caterpillar and escape this Southern community ­– with him.

The line of the show is from Wilson, who says about his treacherous, former friend, John, ‘He’s a walking broken promise in a pair of pants.’

There is a stately home on the Mississippi, a lush conservatory, a sleazy hotel room and the golden Bourbon Street, where John strangles Wilson.

When Annabelle ‘loses her voice’ (her microphone stops working at end), the improvisers take this mistake as gift, and Annabelle fades into an early, tragic demise. She is re-cocooned as a caterpillar and the story ends with Wilson’s funeral and Annabelle’s death.

Williams Unscripted requires a thorough knowledge of Williams’ plays and styles, and the company’s research, as well as the acting and improvising skills, make this a delightful performance.

By Kate Herbert

Cast:
Griff – Mike Rock
Annabelle -Madi Goff
Wilson -Brian Lohmann
John-  Nick Massouh
Miss Patricia- Kelly Holden-Bashar
Bertram – Ryan Smith??
Brian Jones -creative backgrounds/ live editor
Arlo Sanders -soundtrack (Taking Zoom performance and adding Zoom to Twitch video)

Wednesday, 15 April 2020

The Statement NDT, April 15, 2020 ****1/2

By Crystal Pite NDT 1
Nederlands Dans Theater
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Online Review 15 April 2020 

The Statement by Crystal Pite, for Nederlands DansTheater, is a collision of movement and dialogue in an impeccably choreographed piece of dance theatre.


The narrative is embedded in recorded dialogue that accompanies and the rhythms, pace and power dynamics of the voices create the score for the dancers.

This physicalisation of the four dancers relates directly to the dialogue which reveals corporate misdemeanours, mismanagement, cover-ups, on- and off-record statements.

All physical action revolves around an enormous, glossy and expensive boardroom table, four people deal with corporate issues. The actual business of the company is never stated but the content and conflict could be anywhere, anytime, in any type of corporate business.

They all indulge in justification, excuses, shifting responsibility and lame claims of innocence and following instructions: ‘It’s a cover up!’ ‘Clear it up!’ says the leader. ‘Your department got it going.’ ‘I’m here to get a statement about how your department acted independently.’

The Power dynamic, conflict an argument escalate as it becomes clear that some of these underlings are puppets, manipulated by and invisible bosses and controllers up the corporate ladder.

The Statement is an exhlarating and gripping 20 minute performance that melds theatre superbly with dance.

By Kate Herbert




Monday, 13 April 2020

Chekhov Unscripted, Impro Theatre LA, 10 April 2020 ****


A Tree Planting
Chekhov Unscripted
Impro Theatre LA 
Friday April 10, 2020 (Live on Zoom, then available on Vimeo)
Directed by Dan O'Connor
Live Streaming link: impro theatre
See the Unscripted plays each Thur, Fri, Sat LA time 8pm (Melbourne Aust time 1pm Fri, Sat , Sun)

Impro Theatre in L.A. may have paused its live performances, but it continues to create improvise performances online, live streaming from the actors’ homes directly to your couch.

The company continues to create fully improvised plays in style of famous playwrights and novelists – in this instance, Anton Chekhov.

A Tree Planting, a fitting title for a Chekhov, has echoes of his plays, The Cherry Orchard, Uncle Vanya and The Seagull.

The ensemble of six improvisers begins with the title and creates an entire narrative, characters, relationships, locations and Chekhovian problems that straddle the line between tragedy and comedy, as did Chekhov’s own writing.

At their country estate, the sensible Anya (Edi O’Connor) and her extravagant, lovesick brother, Ivan (Paul Rogan), have a tree planting ceremony to honour the death of their father.

There is unrequited love, lost fortunes, pining for Moscow, a boring doctor a vain actor, a maudlin neighbour and a practical estate manager (Nick Massouh).

Anya and Ivan’s guests include: Doctor Petrov (Dan O’Connor), who loves Anya; Leonid (Brian Lohmann), the self-absorbed actor adored by Anya; Masha (Kari Coleman) the neighbour who loves Leonid but is adored by Ivan – and the tangled web continues.  

It is funny, clever, impeccably researched but totally improvised. Any mistakes are treated as gifts: a blank screen means a character is lost for words; when the Doctor misnames himself, he justifies it, saying, ‘I forget myself’, in true Chekhovian fashion.

In the Zoom room, the ‘theatre technician’ provides screen backgrounds of landscapes and rooms of a Russian estate, and cunningly switches between screens, cutting from one character to another, rather than using split screens with multiple actors visible at once.

It’s easy to forget that this Chekhov is all improvised in the moment, with no script or narrative preparation. It does, however, require an enormous amount of research and knowledge of Chekhov, his style, characters and themes to make Chekhov Unscripted. They've got it all!


By Kate Herbert

Anya – Edi Patterson O’Connor

Doctor Petrov – Dan O’Connor

Ivan  – Paul Rogan

Masha – Kari Coleman

Leonid Andreyevich – Brian Lohmann

Gorkov – Nick Massouh