Tag Archives: Black Swan Theatre Company

Black Swan Theatre Company


Extinction (Hannie Rayson)

State Theatre of W.A.

reviewed by Sophie Saxe-Lehrman


Too infrequently, a new play is mounted which has the seemingly effortless ability to draw the viewer –  in the most meaningful way  – into the world created by the dramatist.


BSSTC Extinction Production ImagesThis was very much the case with Stuart Halusz’s sure and sensitive directorial touch and a cast of four who brought Hannie Rayson’s play to consistently convincing life ie apart from a curious feature: siblings whose accents were so strikingly different that they sounded as if from utterly different families, utterly different countries for that matter.


This curious dichotomy aside, on-stage conversations were invariably engrossing – and one sensed also a total absorption by the audience into Rayson’s idiosyncratic theatre-world.


Central to the play is the fate of a seriously endangered mammal – the quoll – which serves as the focal point for much of Act 1. One of these rare creatures has been injured in a road accident and has been brought to a veterinary clinic – and is being looked after by a veterinary nurse. The injured animal has been brought in by the driver of the car which caused the injuries. By a curious co-incidence, he is a senior executive of a mining corporation which plans to start digging in areas where the quoll is at its most vulnerable.


Rayson has a good ear for conversation; her lines draw one almost at once into an intriguing mood-world. It is rather like eavesdropping on private conversations – and fascinating ones to boot. Of course, even the best lines can be a turn-off if they’re delivered indifferently. But on this crucial count, the cast scored impressively.


Not the least of the pleasures of this production is its seamless continuity with both  actors and stage personnel soundlessly and rapidly moving props around and on or off a darkened stage. And lighting design is one of the production’s best features, subtly underscoring mood and drawing the viewer into the unfolding story.


It was a pleasure to experience stage craft of such high order











Dinner (Moira Buffini) |Black Swan Theatre Company



Kate Cherry (director)

Heath Ledger Theatre

reviewed by Neville Cohn


To suggest that the dinner hostess is angry is an understatement. Within moments of curtain-rise, it’s apparent that she is seething. Her bile-filled fury and contempt for her guests are ever present.


064 Kenneth Ransom, Tasma Walton, Greg McNeill, Alison van Reeken, Rebecca Davis, Steve Turner. Dinner. Image by Gary MarshInitially, we see her and a butler hired for the evening. She gives him what looks like a very substantial number of bank notes, so many that one would have to wonder whether working as a butler is a very much more lucrative way of earning a living than as a critic.


It soon becomes clear that our hostess doesn’t get along well with her husband. Indeed, as the evening wears on, she doesn’t seem to get on with anyone. She comes across as bitterness personified.


‘Friends’ arrive, among them a glamorous TV newsreader, her scientist husband Hal, a former hippy Wynne with a torn stocking – and, later, knocking at the door, a fellow who claims to have been in a truck accident. Perhaps to bolster his self-esteem, he spins the line that he’s a burglar. He isn’t, just a truck driver. He is also invited in.


Guests are seated at a long table which, like the chairs, is made of a transparent plastic material. As the play, set in the conservatory, unfolds, the table and diners revolve slowly.


It’s an evening of ugliness in both social and gastronomic terms. The soup is revolting – could it be stagnant water with ‘things’ in it? Live lobsters are brought in on platters. Diners are expected to place them in a pot of boiling water. Some can’t face that prospect and tip them into a pond in the garden. The ‘mist’ that rolls in whenever the door to the garden is opened, is so over the top, though, that one expects a zombie or other such horror manifestation to emerge from it. The dessert is ‘Frozen Waste’, the chief ingredient being just that.


At this dinner party from Hell, apart from what passes for food, there are lavish helpings of moral ugliness with bitterness aplenty, garnished with envy and plain rudeness.


The ending is completely unpredictable, at once shockingly violent and entirely mystifying.


Laurels to Alison van Reeken who is a delightful Wynne, the most human of that sad company. Kenneth Ransom as the eerily silent butler holds his tongue until almost the very end – and Stuart Halusz gives spot-on characterisation as the fellow who knocks at the door and pretends to be other than he really is. Rebecca Davis does well, too, as the flinty, glamorous TV newsreader. Lars, husband of the hostess, fits seamlessly into his role as does Greg McNeill as Hal, the scientist.

Trent Suidgeest designed the set as well as lighting which did much to enhance the moment.

black swan

The Motherf**ker with the Hat




Black Swan Theatre Company



State Theatre

reviewed by Neville Cohn


I wouldn’t take great-aunt Mabel to The Motherf**ker with the Hat. In fact, I can think of a host of people who would be offended, even outraged, by its almost unbroken stream of profanity. Of a cast of five, three seem virtually incapable of uttering even a single sentence without lacing it with the f-word and a good deal more profanity. It’s as if they’re incapable of a coherent thought free of verbal filth.

 0015 Fayssal Bazzi, Austin Castiglione, Kenneth Ransom. The Motherf--ker with the Hat. Image by Gary Marsh

Fayssal Bazzi, Austin Castiglione, Kenneth Ransom

Photo by Gary Marsh

Jackie (Austin Castiglione) has been recently released from prison on parole. He’s under the supervision of Ralph D. (Kenneth Ransom), an Alcoholics Anonymous  type for whom Jackie has a great deal of respect.


Jackie has found a humble job as a porter, news he proudly relates to his girlfriend Veronica (Rhoda Lopez). Astonishingly foul-mouthed, Veronica produces a stream of gutter language that would silence a sea-going parrot. She is also a coke addict living in a squalid bed-sitter.


As the play unfolds, it becomes increasingly clear that Jackie is a far more decent person than his so-called sponsor, even though Jackie is seemingly blind to Ralph D.’s ugliness of character.  The plot is further complicated by Victoria, Ralph D’s wife  (Alison van Reeken), who has a more than passing interest in Jackie.


He might be rough, uncouth, violent, an unattractive human being – but Jackie has a sense of fairness and honour (however rudimentary) which are largely lacking in his appalling sponsor.


Playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis homes in unerringly on the disparity of personality between the two men. It is this which makes the play a fascinating and absorbing theatre experience. Castigione plays Jackie with a very real understanding of his flawed character. And Ransom brings an effective sleaziness to his characterisation of Ralph D.


Fayssal Bazzi plays Julio, Jackie’s cousin, a seemingly mild man who nonetheless has a tendency towards violence.


In a setting strongly rooted in grim realism, the fight scene between Jackie and Ralph D seemed somewhat contrived and awkward.

 0001 Rhoda Lopez, Austin Castiglione. The Motherf--ker with the Hat. Image by Gary Marsh

 Rhoda Lopez, Austin Castiglione

Photo by Gary Marsh

Brian Woltjen has designed a first-rate set, a series of interiors mounted on a circular, revolving base. In its mood establishment, Woltjen’s set adds materially to the overall impact of the production as did Trent Suidgeest’s imaginative lighting design.


Motherf**ker is presented without interval – and it hasn’t a dull moment. If you like gritty, abrasive, expletive-filled and violently confrontational theatre, then this is the play for you – but, as mentioned earlier, don’t bring great-aunt Mabel. She’s likely to be so offended, she might well clamber on stage and use her umbrella to beat the  bejesus out of the characters for bad language and worse morals.



Boundary Street (Reg Cribb)



Black Swan Theatre Company

Heath Ledger Theatre

reviewed by Scott Rheede

Gary Marsh & Henrik Tived – Gary Marsh Photography

Boundary Street is a play that ought to have been written decades ago. In its at-times shattering frankness, it focuses unblinkingly on a dark (no pun intended) aspect of Australia’s social and political history. It’s a play that ought to be required viewing particularly by high school and university students, many –  perhaps most – of whom could well be largely unaware of those  tragic times.


It is also worth bearing in mind that although South Africa’s notorious apartheid laws were promulgated after the Nationalists won government in 1948 (which remained in power until the late 1980s when Nelson Mandela’s release from prison ushered in the new, so called ‘rainbow’ nation), a very restrictive colour bar had been in existence for very many years. Australia’s colour bar, too, in both official and informal terms, had for years brought misery to a significant but largely powerless constituency.


It’s a curious co-incidence that Reg Cribb’s play comes out at a time when a documentary series on SBS reveals just how severe Australia’s colour bar was. And it is hardly a secret that South African apartheid was considered acceptable – and worthy of emulation – by significant figures of the Australian establishment. But that is seldom mentioned above a whisper these days.


Boundary Street’s story is briefly this: it is World War II and one of the many USA warships (come to tackle the Japanese in ferocious and bloody engagements) is docked at Brisbane. Numbers of its complement are African Americans (then known as negroes). But there’s a move afoot on the part of Australia to prevent black servicemen coming ashore and, quel horreur, possibly mingling with whites. But, after the emphatic intervention of no less a personage than US President Franklin Roosevelt, black servicemen are allowed to come ashore – and this is where Cribb’s play begins.

 Gary Marsh & Henrik Tived – Gary Marsh Photography

Much of the action is set in a night club-style environment. There’s a band in the background with, as leader, James Morrison on trumpet and also, discreetly, on piano. I cannot praise the work of this ensemble too highly. With extraordinary skill, its decibel levels are adjusted to on-stage action in the most sensitive and meaningful sense. Visually, sonically and stylistically, the band scores high throughout. Morrison is beyond reproach. The band’s presence is a crucial factor in evoking the mood of the era.


Choreographically, too, there’s much that is admirable. As the dancers do their jive routines, they positively radiate authenticity as those in the audience who were around in those tumultuous times would instantly recognise. And they certainly know how to strut their stuff.


These aspects of the production, significant as they are in evoking and maintaining period authenticity, are really side shows, as it were, to the main game which evokes a period that very many people would like to forget on either side of the terrible divide that brought so much misery to people who had done no wrong but had the misfortune to have been born on the wrong side of the colour divide – and, for too many, that hurt continues.

Gary Marsh & Henrik Tived – Gary Marsh Photography

Reg Cribb has a near-faultless ear for dialogue. He hasn’t put a foot wrong and the same applies to a large cast. The latter serves Cribb well, breathing life and authenticity into his lines.


If Boundary Street doesn’t become an Australian classic, I would like to know why. This stamp of period authenticity is near-faultlessly maintained. And there’s not a weak link in the casting. Each makes a significant contribution to the whole. I watched, riveted, as we saw, in all its cruelty, the terrible damage that racism wrought not only on those at the wrong end of the colour spectrum but on Australian society as a whole.


If a production of Boundary Street comes your way, don’t miss it. It has every prospect of becoming an Australian classic.