Five professional shows that enriched Canberra in 2018

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Proof by David Auburn. Directed by Derek Walker. Freefall Theatre. Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre.

Alex Brown as Hal, left, and Ylaria Rogers as Catherine in <i>Proof.</i>

Alex Brown as Hal, left, and Ylaria Rogers as Catherine in Proof. Credit:Michael Snow

The Q’s program manager, Stephen Pike, continues the fine tradition of presenting professional touring productions to Canberra and Queanbeyan audiences. A highlight of the 2018 season was Freefall Theatre Company’s production of David Auburn’s Proof. Directed by former Canberran Derek Walker and featuring Canberra professional actor Ylaria Rogers in the lead role, this taut, fascinating and moving production of Auburn’s play about a daughter (Rogers) who has created a ground-breaking mathematical formula attributed to her deceased father was gripping theatre, tightly directed and powerfully performed by an excellent ensemble, and a fitting testament to Canberra’s emerging professional artists.

Switzerland by Joanna Murray-Smith. Directed by Jordan Best. Pigeonhole Theatre. The Courtyard Studio. Canberra Theatre Centre.

Lachlan Ruffy as Edward Ridgeway in <i>Switzerland</i>.

Lachlan Ruffy as Edward Ridgeway in Switzerland.Credit:Karleen Minney

As part of the Canberra Theatre’s Collected Works 2018 Subscription Season, Pigeonhole Theatre followed up its previous outstanding success, Playhouse Creatures, with Joanna Murray-Smith’s riveting psychological thriller based on the life of crime writer Patricia Highsmith. In the intimacy of the Courtyard Studio, Murray-Smith’s play held the audience spellbound by its unfolding tension and surprising twists and turns.

What made this production so powerful and arresting were the gripping performances of Karen Vickery as Highsmith and Lachlan Ruffy as the enigmatic visitor Edward Ridgeway. Under Jordan Best’s astute direction, this cat-and-mouse battle of wills yet again consolidated Pigeonhole as a leading Canberra theatre company capable of the highest professional standards.

Diary of a Madman. Adapted from the story by Nicolai Gogol by David Holman. Directed by Caroline Stacey. Street Two. The Street Theatre.

PJ Williams in <i>Diary of a Madman</i>. 

PJ Williams in Diary of a MadmanCredit:Shelly Higgs

After seeing Caroline Stacey’s production of Diary of a Madman at The Street, I wrote “Diary of a Madman is ultimately the finest local production that you are likely to see and one that will linger and haunt for a long time to come.”

As the simple, unremarkable civil servant Poprishchin, tormented by his ordinariness and inexorably bound towards his psychological self-destruction, PJ Williams turns in a tour de force performance of tragic proportions. Trapped in a futile existence, his plight is heart-rending as he struggles to maintain a semblance of sanity. Supported by Lily Constantine in minor roles, Williams gives a riveting performance worthy of any professional production.

Venus in Fur by David Ives. Directed by Caroline Stacey. Street One. The Street Theatre.

 Craig Alexander and Joanna Richardsstar in  <i>Venus in Fur</i>.

Craig Alexander and Joanna Richardsstar in Venus in Fur.Credit:Shelly Higgs

The Street Theatre cements its reputation as a professional theatre venue creating challenging and original contemporary works for Canberra audiences. David Ives’ Venus in Fur examines the complex relationship between a director and an aspiring actress in a drama that essentially becomes a metaphor for the battle of wills between the sexes, and the struggle that each character faces to assert authority.

Every aspect of production was meticulously executed, from Imogen Keen’s imposing design to Caroline Stacey’s intelligent and purposeful direction and the vibrant and suspenseful interplay between leading Canberra actors Craig Alexander as the director and Joanna Richards as the auditionee. Perfectly paced and totally engaging, the production demonstrated once again The Street Theatre’s commitment to exciting new work and the highest standards of production.

The Bleeding Tree by Angus Cerini. Directed by Lee Lewis. Griffin Theatre Company. The Playhouse. Canberra Theatre Centre.

<i>The Bleeding Tree</i> at The Playhouse with Sophie Ross, left, as Ada, Paula Arundell as Mother and Brenna Harding as Ida.

The Bleeding Tree at The Playhouse with Sophie Ross, left, as Ada, Paula Arundell as Mother and Brenna Harding as Ida. Credit:Elesa Kurtz

Canberra audiences are especially well-served by the Canberra Theatre Centre’s selection of interstate touring productions of outstanding quality.

Griffin Theatre Company’s performance of Angus Cerini’s The Bleeding Tree is not only notable for the outstanding performances of actors Paula Arundell, Sophie Ross and Brenna Harding as a mother and her daughters driven to murder to escape the fearful, cruel and violent abuse of a drunken father. It is also a confronting and powerful dramatic statement on the lives of many women, forced to endure the worst consequences of the scourge of domestic violence.

Cerini’s strikingly simple and darkly poetic play is uncompromising in its biblical justification of revenge, confronting society with the urgent need for action – ostensibly within remote Indigenous communities, but also as a call for justice across the entire nation. The performances, especially Arundell’s, are searingly honest in a production that reveals a national disgrace and urges understanding, empathy and compassion through direct and immediate action. This is the very best of theatre that holds a mirror up to society, and certainly the most significant piece of theatre included in the Canberra Theatre’s Collected Works 2018 subscription series.

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