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Roslyn Packer Theatre, September 9
Until October 14
Reviewed by JOHN SHAND

A good production of The Importance of Being Earnest confirms civilisation still exists. The barbarians may have vandalised art in favour of what they call popular culture, but if Oscar Wilde can still adorn our stages, the war’s not lost, and a difference survives between wit and the inanity that mostly passes for comedy. As a consequence, we can sit there with tears in our eyes, not just because the play is so funny, but because the cleverness is so beautiful.

Helen Thomson (Lady Bracknell) and Charles Wu (Algy) star in this beautiful productionCredit: Janie Barrett

This Sydney Theatre Company production, directed by Sarah Giles, is also beautiful to behold (which Oscar would have liked), thanks to the lavishness of Renee Mulder’s costumes and Charles Davis’s set, skilfully lit by Alexander Berlage. The production contains two performances fully justifying a trek to the public transport backwater of Hickson Road.

Firstly, Helen Thomson is a younger, more pert and more vital Lady Bracknell than most. Her voice modulation should be compulsory listening for all young actors as she plunges and soars through the octaves of Wilde’s wit, culminating in the immortal injunction to Gwendolen, “Come, dear – we have already missed five, if not six, trains. To miss any more might expose us to comment on the platform.”

The other is Megan Wilding playing the daffy Gwendolen, who exhibits supreme instincts for tone, timing and facial expression. When these two are absent, the show loses just a little sparkle, like champagne that’s been open for an hour or two.

Their excellence is replicated by the too-seldom-seen Sean O’Shea as Algy’s butler, Lane. Giles has opted to emphasise the long-suffering side of the lives of the servants, with the set allowing us to see into their mimed world while the main action unfolds. Yes, Wilde did write The Soul of Man Under Socialism, but his fabulous play amply punctures the vacuous pretensions of the “ruling class” without need for further elaboration.

The other leads – Charles Wu’s Algy, Brandon McClelland’s Jack, Melissa Kahraman’s Cecily, Lucia Mastrantone’s Prism and Bruce Spence’s Chasuble – also acquit themselves well. There are, however, finely shifting lines between maintaining comedic pace and talking over the audience’s laughter, and they will feel these out as the season unfolds. They could also pull back slightly, and let Oscar do more of the work. He won’t let them down.

Seeing a mad world through unhinged eyes

Old Fitz Theatre, September 8
Until October 15
Reviewed by JOHN SHAND

They smear on their make-up before our eyes: smudged white and garish red, making faces that might have delighted in the guillotine during the French Revolution, hooting when another head plopped into the basket. Then they pull on the ragged clothes that constitute their finery, contrasting with the asylum-like scrubs in which we first find them: him mopping and her fussing. With their faces and finery in place, they’re ready to receive their guests.

iOTA, Paul Capsis and director Gale Edwards on the set of The Chairs.Credit: Janie Barrett

Eugene Ionesco’s 1951 play just names them Old Man and Old Woman, although the Old Man does call his wife of 75 years Semiramis, a fog-thickening reference to the mythological Assyrian queen. Ionesco wrote it just after Beckett penned Waiting for Godot, but The Chairs beat Godot to the stage, and thereby helped spawn the retrospectively termed “theatre of the absurd”.

It’s seldom performed, and yet Gale Edwards’ gripping iteration for Red Line Productions fizzes with immediacy. It is still a brave piece, too – and requires bravery from the performers, for beneath the daub of white and red they must invent the characters more than in most plays.

If boldness is required, who better than iOTA as Old Man and Paul Capsis as Old Woman? These two can be zany grotesques or bleed with humanity, can be Punch and Judy puppets, vaudeville comics, homespun philosophers and even weird precursors of George and Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, all at once.

Edwards has chucked out Ionesco’s elaborate staging directions, instead having designer Brian Thompson give us just a round red podium, like a circus ring, with the chairs jumbled to either side. As the invisible guests arrive, the Old Woman sets up the chairs on the podium, ready for the lecture the Old Man has devised that will explain all. Except that he won’t deliver it. Even though she hails him as having been capable of becoming a maestro, a doctor or chess grandmaster, he’s not up to delivering his own thesis, and so they await the Orator.

Capsis and iOTA are compelling, funny and startlingly eccentric, with heartbreak an optional extra, as when he imagines their flesh “rotting together” when they die. It’s not a truly great play, but The Chairs will never shed its fascination, and I can’t imagine it being done better than this. Dare to see it.

G Flip’s now an influencer, but it’s their music that convinced

G Flip
Enmore Theatre, September 7

Five years ago, Georgia Flipo was a Melbourne session drummer uploading songs in their bedroom.

Tonight, three weeks after their sophomore album topped the Australian charts, they were working the first of two capacity Enmore crowds like they’d been a rock star forever. No opportunity for a fist pump went unpumped, drumstick twirl untwirled, or mass clap-along unclapped.

G Flip’s rapid rise to prominence might have a bit to do with their 2021 announcement that they are nonbinary, still a relatively rare thing in Australian pop culture. Or last year’s news that they married Chrishell Stause, the actor and real estate agent of Selling Sunset fame. That’s a lot of social and celebrity zeitgeist to surf.

No opportunity for a fist pump went unpumped or drumstick twirl untwirled.Credit: Don Arnold/WireImage

But anyone who came tonight for G Flip the influencer stayed for G Flip the songwriter and performer.

The opening drum solo was a literal smack in the head for anybody who’d forgotten Flip’s musician credentials. And while the mid-paced melancholy of 7 Days was an odd choice as setlist starter, things kicked into gear with Hyperfine, Flip roaming the stage with a dancer’s energy as their three-piece band (including a second drummer with whom she alternated throughout) underpinned the first of tonight’s many, massive, shout-worthy hooks.

The range and power of Flip’s singing has improved markedly since this reviewer saw them at the Metro back in 2019 – the big high notes they hit in Queen were impressive enough to think maybe a vocal coach has been involved.

Flip’s songwriting and arranging is still bound to pop-rock convention, but the standouts were exemplars of the form – the rocky Rough boasted a chorus as clever as it was loud, Australia showed a touching way with an acoustic ballad, while The Worst Person Alive was an instant classic that felt like it should be everywhere. (If they released tonight’s version, where none other than Mike Shinoda of noughties heroes Linkin Park bounced on for an impromptu rap verse, maybe commercial radio would actually play it).

G Flip the influencer was here tonight as well, and that’s undeniably part of the appeal. Declaring a “safe space” for all, they later helped a girl in front come out as bisexual with a joyous chant of her name. Flip clearly revels in the community leadership role.

Yet the music was the driver. The anti-anthem Drink Too Much sparked a frenzy as surely as it did four years ago, but encore closer and recent single Gay For Me was tonight’s highlight. With a chorus made for stadiums, and a riff for melting faces, it was sexy no matter your orientation and proved that long after Flip is out the headlines, their songs will be around.

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