The God Of Hell (Mophead Productions / Sydney Independent Theatre Company)

mopheadVenue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Aug 26 – Sep 13, 2014
Playwright: Sam Shepard
Director: Rodney Fisher
Cast: Vanessa Downing, Jake Lyall, Ben McIvor, Tony Poli
Image by Gareth Davies

Theatre review
Sam Shepard’s The God Of Hell portrays patriotism as a dangerous concept. In the name of national pride, morality is distorted and human rights are nullified for the benefit of an abstract higher power. The meaning of citizenry is subversively explored, against the backdrop of a traditional and idyllic farm, where residents live honest existences without the need for labels of jingoistic identification. Emma and Frank live quietly in Missouri, with cows and plants occupying their attention, and they want for nothing. Their lives are simple but complete, and we admire their wholesome day-to-day routine, which the play presents at some level of glorification. Complications emerge when characters appear to disrupt their peace, and we observe scenes of destruction transpiring as a result of narcissism, greed and ignorance.

Helmed by Rodney Fisher who serves as director and designer, the production is inventive, exuberant and sophisticated. It is a very good looking show, with an ambitious set that is perfectly proportioned and elegantly executed, communicating a sense of rustic purity that is immediately endearing. Together with Ryan Shuker’s lighting, Fisher has materialised a blissful vision that represents an ideal we cannot bear to see tainted. Also successful is sound designer Max Lyandvert’s work, which provides a beautiful dimension of rural domesticity that eventually develops into something much more sinister.

Fisher’s direction is lively and precise, with a surprising clarity that always places emphasis on the narrative. It is very accomplished storytelling that constantly introduces fresh elements of interest to maintain a connection with the audience. Even when Shepard’s script becomes alienating or abstruse, the plot continues to be excitingly coherent. Fisher achieves a balance between naturalism and theatricality that makes The God Of Hell fascinating and enjoyable. The smell of bacon cooking on a stove top is both an ordinary occurrence and a flamboyant stage flourish. The four actors too, are impressively believable, while being quite dazzlingly entertaining.

Emma is played by Vanessa Downing who keeps us anchored in a place of reality while the play escalates to dramatic heights. Downing is charming, funny and entirely likable, so we identify with Emma readily, even if her life is probably quite unlike anybody’s in Sydney. She provides an authenticity that allows an understating and affiliation, and we form an important emotional bond with that character. Her husband Frank is equally charismatic, thanks to Tony Poli’s vibrant stage energy and immense presence. Jake Lyall as Haynes has extraordinary focus, giving valuable gravity to a mysterious role, and Ben McIvor’s playful interpretation of the villainous Welch is critical to the dynamic and buoyant quality of the production.

It is easy to be fatigued by arguments about politics, terrorism, torture and military power. Thirteen years have past since the September 11 attacks, and no one is any closer to winning either the real or metaphysical wars against terror. Governments are unable to provide effective solutions, and every form of media bombards with incessant information that we can only, at best, struggle with. These themes have become bewildering, and like Emma, we can only attempt to not be lured into convenient modes of ideology and behaviour. It is a challenge to preserve a clear conscience and a pure heart, but it is the human spirit that will always hope for Emma to stay uncontaminated, regardless of the insurmountable odds she faces at the play’s end.

www.sitco.net.au | www.mophead.com.au

In Rehearsal: Sugarland

Rehearsal images above by Gez Xavier Mansfield and Kar Publicity from Sugarland,
by Rachael Coopes and Wayne Blair.
At ATYP, from Aug 27 – Sep 13, 2014.
More info at www.atyp.com.au

5 Questions with Megan McGlinchey

meganmcglincheyWhat is your favourite swear word?
Bullshit.

What are you wearing?
Jeans.

What is love?
Zero zero in tennis.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
Constellations and I would give it 5 stars.

Is your new show going to be any good?
Yes, sir.

 
 
 
 

Megan McGlinchey stars in Gruesome Playground Injuries, part of Sydney Fringe 2014.
Show dates: 24 – 28 Sep, 2014
Show venue: TAP Gallery
Pozible campaign: http://www.pozible.com/project/183765 (deadline 29 Aug 2014)

Danny And The Deep Blue Sea (Little Spoon Theatre Co)

littlespoonVenue: Roxbury Hotel (Glebe NSW), Aug 22 – 30, 2014
Playwright: John Patrick Shanley
Director: Fiona Hallenan-Barker
Music: Ed Gain
Cast: Wade Doolan, Karli Evans

Theatre review
Love and human connection are sacred. They come easily to some, but remain elusive to others. John Patrick Shanley’s Danny And The Deep Blue Sea shows us two downtrodden souls Roberta and Danny, both desperate and lonely. We witness their efforts at discovering a life beyond their personal darkness, commencing with a chance meeting at a depressed bar in the middle of a poor Bronx neighbourhood. They find hints of contact, but each meaningful moment perishes, and every brief instant of radiance dissolves back into gloom.

The production is staged in a makeshift theatre at the Roxbury Hotel, located just outside of Sydney city. The space is quartered, so that performances take place along two channels that intersect in the room’s centre. It is an unusual location, so it makes good sense to resist creating a conventional proscenium aspect, but the actors’ faces are often obscured and losing that precious perspective is disappointing. Fortunately, both actors Karli Evans and Wade Doolan, are intense and focused, and they conspire with the venue’s intimacy to manufacture a beautifully transportative experience that takes us to spheres of secrecy and revelation.

Evans and Doolan are individually captivating, and their chemistry is excellent. Scenes of conflict later in the piece are dynamic and daunting at close range, but less effective are earlier sections that require a lighter, more humorous touch to allow greater identification from the audience. Their stories are dark, and we need to be invited into their worlds with a little more warmth. There probably will always be a sense of alienation to this story, but it needs to capture our emotions more firmly at the start before it unleashes its tumultuous dramatics.

Tales of hope and salvation are important for art and the society to which it belongs. Artists find inspiration, so that they can themselves provide inspiration to their public. Roberta and Danny represent the sadness and regret that persist in our lives, but more significant is the unexpected bravery that surfaces from their interaction. Who knows what it truly means to love, but when two people collide and engender a wonderful joy that had been hitherto impossible, that phenomenon feels quite a bit like magic.

www.littlespoontheatre.com

Wolf Lullaby (New Theatre)

newtheatreVenue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Aug 19 – Sep 13, 2014
Playwright: Hilary Bell
Director: Emma Louise
Cast: Maryellen George, Peter McAllum, Lucy Miller, David Woodland
Photograph © Bob Seary

Theatre review
We walk around with rose-tinted glasses everyday. The world can be a very ugly place if one chooses to see it only for its flaws, so we hold on to convenient lies in order that we may arrive at bedtime relatively unscathed. In Hilary Bell’s Wolf Lullaby, a veil is lifted off some hard truths and we are confronted with concepts of childhood innocence and familial sanctity that contradict the comforting notions we hold dear. Bell’s play is dark, disturbing and challenging. It is also full of mystery and dramatic tension, with interesting characters that tell an unusual, and sometimes horrific, story.

Director Emma Louise’s interpretation of Bell’s text is subtle and unpretentious, but the resulting production is a powerful one. Much of the abomination that happens, can only be seen through our own imagination. Heidi Brosnan’s lighting, and sound by Chelsea Reed and Alexander Tweedale, contribute immensely to an atmosphere of foreboding, and Allan Walpole’s set, while being a little too literal, contains elements that heighten the play’s supernatural qualities. A highlight of Louise’s work is the handling of ambiguities in the narrative. She does not force upon us a strong point of view about unfolding events, but leaves morsels of intrigue resonating for our own discovery and comprehension.

Half of the show’s four characters however, feel a little too indistinct. The portrayals of Warren and Sergeant Armstrong are realistic, but their personality transformations seem too sudden and we are left with a less than thorough understanding of their behaviour and motivations. Fortunately, the more dominant roles are delivered with greater detail. Lucy Miller plays Angela, the mother character in the piece. Her work is beautifully complex, and she creates a multiplicity that is responsible for the work’s depth and intellectual impact. Angela is unexpectedly fascinating, and Miller’s measured approach makes her the most disarming and enigmatic character on stage. Nine year-old Lizzie anchors the play in a realm of nightmares. Maryellen George is an adult but her performance as Lizzie is accurate, touching and eerie. Her mimicry of childlike gesturing is impressive, but it is the way she balances conflicting truths within her personal narrative that thrills and perplexes us with a perverse delight.

Stories about children are often predictable and unoriginal, but Wolf Lullaby is a rare beast. It is not light entertainment, but it is certainly an enthralling and eye-opening night at the theatre. It locates sacred beliefs and punctures them with an honesty that cannot be doubted. Our world is not a perfect place, but its dangers are amplified when we endow them with delusions. Art is often about fantasy, but its real worth is found in its depiction of the human condition. This is now a production that will lull us into sweet slumber, but its messages will keep our minds occupied for a few nights thereafter.

www.newtheatre.org.au

Nora (Belvoir St Theatre)

belvoir1

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Aug 9 – Sep 14, 2014
Playwrights: Kit Brookman, Anne-Louise Sarks (after A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen)
Director: Anne-Louise Sarks
Actors: Blazey Best, Linda Cropper, Finn Dauphinee, Damien Ryan, Ava Strybosch
Image by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
It is no surprise that artists are drawn to the idea of reconstructing Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. The power of the original text and the stunning questions it poses have kept audiences debating for centuries. Kit Brookman and Anne-Louise Sarks’ updated version brings key characters to contemporary times, with the first act presenting a condensed re-telling of Ibsen’s story, and the second act continuing on from the legendary cliffhanger.

Act one is an elegant revisit that places focus on Nora, her husband Torvald and their children. It effectively communicates the anguish that could result from a life that includes only homemaking duties, and shifts Ibsen’s burden of blame away from Torvald, so that Nora’s own decisions and actions are implicated. This is an important new perspective that amplifies the play’s central theme of personal empowerment. We see Nora’s struggle and understand it to be a consequence of an individual’s poor decisions. The protagonist is no longer seen only as a victim of circumstances beyond her control, so her determination to find liberation resonates with greater complexity. Also successful is visual design of the production’s initial half. Marg Horwell’s set and Paul Jackson’s lights magically transform the stage into a middle class home with a deceptive foreboding warmth and see-through walls that indicate a sense of deficiency. The space is intimate and claustrophobic, giving us insight into a life that is visibly cosy, but oppressive under the surface.

Act two comprises mainly of a single scene, taking place only hours after Nora leaves her home. There are parallels with Ibsen’s original where Nora’s friend comes to her for help with seeking employment, but the show’s second half is largely a new invention that examines her future more closely. Unfortunately, Brookman and Sarks’ vision seems to dwell too heavily on Nora’s shock and confusion, which prevent character development and do not add enough interest to the unfolding aftermath. Also too obvious is the revelation that her responsibilities over her children must be met, regardless of the divorce. This commonplace discovery feels awkwardly trite, and it prevents drama and tension from taking hold. In 2014, we all know that there simply is no rationale for any woman to abandon everything she knows in order to cultivate a better life for herself in the Western world.

Damien Ryan’s performance as the updated Torvald is intelligently crafted. We see a man who has not been attentive to his spouse’s emotional world, but unlike his predecessor, his behaviour is not particularly undignified. He plays the familiar role of a regular modern day husband, and makes us wonder if our social conventions and expectations are enough for making a happy home life. This Torvald does not display glaring misjudgments, so we attribute guilt to him in a much more nuanced way. The dark and problematic role of Nora is played by Blazey Best who invests heavily into portraying her character’s torment. Her commitment is evident, but concluding moments reveal a less than convincing sequel to Nora’s story. Best plays her disorientation well, but that prolonged state of bewilderment seems to prevent the narrative from going somewhere more compelling and theatrical. The ultimate resolution or perhaps lack thereof, gives a feeling that the show is undercooked and prematurely unveiled.

The idea of Nora is experimental, but its spirit is less brave. It is radical in concept but not in execution. Nora’s story is about being stuck, and about the courage that is necessary for a breakthrough to occur, but the production appears to be confined by a shortage in risk and adventure. The original work ends at a point that fires up imagination. Thinking about the characters’ fates become irresistible, and their stories are brought to completion in private fantasies. Masterpieces are intimidating, and overhauling the great Ibsen’s writing looks to be as hard as building a new house that aims to improve upon a perfection that resides only in our minds.

www.belvoir.com.au

5 Questions with Dominic McDonald

dominicmcdonaldWhat is your favourite swear word?
I prefer swear phrases: God’s fuck! Jessica Christ! Christ on a stick! Christ’s cunt! (Can anyone say, Catholic School boy?)

What are you wearing?
A knowing smile.

What is love?
Baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, no more.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
Theatre is like golf, fun to play but no fun to watch.

Is your new show going to be any good?
You do know that I’m in it?

 

 

Dominic McDonald is playing the role of Man in Jennifer Forever by Tara Clark, for Sydney Fringe 2014.
Show dates: 17 – 28 Sep, 2014
Show venue: The Old 505 Theatre