(June 2000) Although more widely known for the characters he has created for the Rise and Follies and The Summertime Revue, Maynard Morrison has made an equally big contribution to the island’s theatrical community as a high school drama teacher for over twenty years. And as dedicated as he is to nurturing the talents of his students at Sydney Academy, in the last couple of years, Morrison has been as equally determined in providing them with a proper space to rehearse and perform in. Last year, one of the Academy’s classrooms was outfitted with a stage and, in the winter of last year, hosted its first public shows.
Now, Morrison has taken on an even bigger project in converting one third of the high school’s gym into a performing space that could host theatre and music shows. If nothing else, Welcome To The Room, the first show to use the space, introduced to its audience a much needed and well-designed new venue.
Morrison and the Sydney Academy Drama Group specialize in revue type shows: a grab-bag of original skits and music combined with found spoken word pieces and classic songs. Welcome To The Room featured much of the same elements: new sketches about falling into a time warp, a Law and Order parody, and the climatic piece about a film about an execution that goes terribly wrong were combined with the witch scenes from Shakespeare’s MacBeth, T.S. Eliot poetry, and a very sly tale with a twist by H. H. Munro. (One skit about a bleeding man stymied by hospital red tape was new but seemed to owe a lot to a vintage Monty Python skit.) In the musical part of the program, the fabulously voiced Guerliene MacLeod sang “White Room”, the ‘70s classic by Cream, and a haunting more contemporary ballad. Guilttrip rocked the house with an original tune, and the excellent house band led by Eric Burke provided a solid back-up to the onstage craziness.
Generally, the original material needed to be a bit more focussed and clearly written. One piece about television executives discussing how to cover the end of the world actually played it kind of safe: there should have been more hysteria – not over the comet due to smash into the earth, but over the need to scoop the other tv networks. The “time warp” skit was a clever idea, but confusingly set up. One scene set around a man on a blind date who was continually putting his foot in his mouth worked extremely well right up to the rather obscure punchline. The execution scene, where a high-strung director grows fatally frustrated with the bloopers that keep ruining each take, showed a fine sense of comedic pacing and character creation.
The Shakespeare witches were well performed but how they fitted in the scheme of the show was a puzzler. The piece by T.S. Eliot was very well presented and performed. But the highlight was the H. H. Munro short story about a nervous young man visiting a gloomy English manor where he is told a spooky ghost story by a precocious young woman and then has it come alive in front his eyes. All three cast members, the young man, the young woman and the narrator, gave well-honed performances that were clear voiced and highly expressive. (Articulation was a problem in a number of other scenes.)
Morrison, as a director, brought many fine performances from his young cast and he used his new performing space to its best advantage. Now that it has proven its worth, hopefully the Sydney Academy Dramagroup might consider using it for a more sustained work that will spotlight the acting talents of its members. Also, for the benefit of appreciative audience members and confused reviewers, they might want to be more specific in their program about who wrote what and who performed what so that credit can go where credit has been earned.