Review: Shivered (Mad March Hare Theatre Company)

madmarchVenue: PACT Theatre (Erskineville NSW), May 7 – 30, 2015
Playwright: Philip Ridley
Director: Claudia Barrie
Cast: Josh Anderson, Joseph Del Re, Rhonda Doyl, Libby Fleming, Andrew Johnston, Brendan Miles, Liam Nunan

Theatre review
Illusory contours “are perceived where there is no physical luminance, colour or texture difference,” referring to our ability to see things that are not actually there. In the case of Philip Ridley’s Shivered, we form narratives and create meanings from a series of scenes that do not immediately relate to each other, almost as though in a state of delusion. Our human nature is explored not only in the stories being told, but also in the way the audience is encouraged to makes sense of all that is put on stage. Looking at our propensity to interpret events in a way that never strays far from “cause and effect”, it is an examination of logic, which the play suggests is sometimes insufficient, and indeed, futile. Ridley’s work deals with many of the worst things in life, and makes us wonder if we can ever think of our darkest moments as inevitable, and the ethical implications of being embroiled in disappointments and disasters that we do not have direct control over.

These are big philosophical considerations, but individual scenes are melodramatic, almost operatic, in nature. Director Claudia Barrie invests heavily into that duality of intellect and emotion, with a fierce dedication to her stagecraft, and her work here is effective on both those levels. We get caught up in intense family drama not unlike those favoured by tabloid journalism, but the work is unrelenting in placing us at a conceptual distance so that we are always analysing the catastrophic consequences from an abstract perspective, in addition to experiencing the anguish that is being performed. The text is an edgy one, and Barrie takes great care in having Ridley’s words articulated with excellent clarity, but with all the taboo subjects involved, the production often feels tame in its expression when compared to the controversies being discussed.

Light and set design by Benjamin Brockman delivers a sophisticated space that is able to portray abstraction or realism as required, sometimes simultaneously. It accommodates the haphazard timeline of the plot beautifully, and the starkness of his aesthetic matches the brutality of Ridley’s writing very well, but at over two hours, scene transitions become repetitive and predictable later in the piece. The economy of technology Brockman experiments with, though slightly restrictive, is a success story that signals a significant evolution in lighting for Sydney stages.

The cast is detailed and powerful. Every character in the show touches us, despite the outrageous contexts we find them in. Libby Fleming alternates between quite campy humour and palpable rawness, for an enthralling performance that is as fascinating as it is moving. Her impressive ability to portray depths of despair provides a solid core of empathy that keep us anxiously attentive. The connection Fleming establishes with her sons in the play is the crucial ingredient that secures the gravity for its various threads of turmoil. Also wonderfully engaging is Liam Nunan whose presentational style effervesces with extravagance, but with a surprisingly convincing focus that keeps us engaged. Josh Anderson plays the damaged young Ryan with quiet sensitivity, but the threatening intensity he produces teeters close to eruption, and we are fascinated by the complexity he consistently works into his role.

There are horrors around us, and they are by nature absurd, for if they were fathomable, they would also be preventable. Humanity necessitates that we make sense of things, but life often insists on defying logic to demonstrate its dominance over humans. Life is hard, but we are resilient. All the characters in Shivered struggle, and their persistence with survival means that in order to overcome, they have to figure things out, whether possible or not. No one in the play gives up, and that is the moral of the story.

www.madmarchtheatreco.com

5 Questions with Cloé Fournier and Ryan McGoldrick

cloefournier

Cloé Fournier

Ryan McGoldrick: How have you found working in the arts in Australia compared to France?
Cloé Fournier: I must say I really started my professional career here in Australia. But in general, I feel like in Australia we have a quarter of the time to develop a work, a lot less funding too as well. But, somehow, Australian artists make it work. At the end of the day, it is hard everywhere. The main difference would be in the work process and how people interact with each other. In France, we are very direct. If something is shit or if you are not doing what is asked of you, the person will just tell you it is crap. Blunt, cut throat but straight to the point. Here, it is much more polite. People are more encouraging or perhaps not as honest!

Dining [Uns]-table deals with family relationships, how do you approach including personal material in your work?
I am very interested in social behaviours and specifically human interactions. I guess that is one of the reasons I started developing this work. I often use my personal experience when I start working on a project. Then it expends but somehow I need a personal connection to the subject matter to deliver an honest work. I also think there is always something tragic present in every family story. And I like to make fun of everything that is not necessarily funny.

When did you start dancing and what made you want to make a career out of it?
From what Mum told me, I came home one day and simply said to her that I wanted to enrol in dance classes. I have no recollection on why and Mum never pushed me to become a dancer. She was far from the “ballet mum” stereotype. I was 4. I never stopped. I did not choose to make a career out of dance. The truth is I just wanted to dance so I made it happen. But it now goes beyond. I have other interests such as theatre and technology. Dance is always present in the work I create but not in its purest form.

What interests you in audience participation in performance?
The challenge, the thrill of having to improvise every night depending on who your audience is.

Who are you tipping to win the flag this year? (AFL)
Unless the players decide to play naked, I really do not care about AFL!

ryanmcgoldrick

Ryan McGoldrick

Cloé Fournier: You used to dance. In a bathtub. In public. Naked. Myth or Reality?
Ryan McGoldrick: ‘Dancing’ might be a stretch, but I did spend some time bathing with other actors in the lounge room of an ex-nunnery-turned-sharehouse in Marrickville for a sell-out season at Woodcourt Art Theatre. Yah. Reality. #freethearts

What is the best memory you have of your childhood?
Playing soccer on crisp, wintery Saturday mornings.

How does the use of technology influence your daily life?
I’m a news junkie, so I’m quite attached to my digital news subscriptions.

Do you identify as an “Arty-Nerd” specimen?
Yes. I was living a lie for so many years, but now I’m finally at peace with it, and it feels great.

With the big news about the change of funding for the Arts, do you think we are mad to be artists?
Nope.

Why should I come to see your show? (OMG, that’s six questions! #rebels – Suzy)
Because I’ve got a fucking great story to tell you.

Afterglow – 2 emerging performance makers, 2 new works, 2 weeks.
The Great Speckled Bird by Ryan McGoldrick 17 – 20 June, 2015
Dining [Uns]-Table by Cloé Fournier 24 – 27 June, 2015
Show venue: PACT Theatre

Review: Educating Rita (Ensemble Theatre)

ensembleVenue: Ensemble Theatre (Kirribilli NSW), May 21 – Jun 28, 2015
Playwright: Willy Russell
Director: Mark Kilmurry
Cast: Catherine McGraffin, Mark Kilmurry
Image by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Willy Russell’s Educating Rita makes a case for aspirations, but not in capitalistic terms or in the form of the all too common middle-class pipe dream. He talks about the importance of culture and choice in all our lives, and suggests that the greatest value of life resides in the active pursuit of self-betterment. The very act of finding greater meanings and knowledge, is the key to enriching one’s existence. The effectiveness of Russell’s narrative relies on the obstructions that we face, especially repressive forces in our surrounds that hold us back and prevalent apathetic attitudes of our communities. Frank is an alcoholic, who is all but resigned from hopes, dreams and ambitions. He has removed the clock from his office wall and hides it along with the secret bottles of booze that occupy the back of bookshelves, so that he can deny the fact that time is passing him by, while he drinks his days away. Through his education of Rita, we observe all that Frank has to offer the world, but he does not acknowledge his own talents, and lets himself flounder and descend towards oblivion.

Direction of the work by Mark Kilmurry is beautifully executed, and very moving. Both characters are engaging and solidly established, so that we feel an instant familiarity that helps us become quickly invested in their stories. Kilmurry has created an environment where both actors collaborate intimately with little ego in the way of storytelling, and what they present often resonates with extraordinary authenticity, and we relate to the play from very personal and deep perspectives. As a performer, Kilmurry is lively and multifarious. His work is vivid, with remarkable clarity in intention and expression, but his character evolution as Frank is insufficiently dramatic in latter scenes for tensions to sustain beyond the show’s very exciting first half. Catherine McGraffin is an effervescent Rita, with the right variety and amount of charisma to let her role translate powerfully and emotionally. Through her heartfelt approach to the material at hand, we are able to examine our own lives, and to think about the parallels between Rita’s experiences and the choices we have made for ourselves. McGraffin’s intuitive and unrestrained style of performance takes hold of our empathy at will, but Rita’s progression later in the piece becomes unnecessarily subdued, resulting in the play seeming to lose steam over time.

Rita’s thirst for knowledge and her eagerness to lift the veil on secrets of the big, wide world is an inspiration, and Frank’s tragedy is a cautionary tale perhaps, of the increasingly parochial ways we live. Interaction with culture requires broad minds, but affluent societies are complacent. We spend time and energy chasing pleasures, but neglect the more challenging and meaningful parts of life. As we make our communities more wealthy and stable, interesting ideas become dangerous and we shut them out. It is difficult to be progressive in 2015 Australia, where fear is becoming a virtue, and we become increasingly protective against enemies real and imagined. The theatre might be a safe and sometimes conservative space where risky thoughts are contained, but at least they (theatre and risky thoughts) are both still thriving, and patrons can always leave with some degree of choice as to the freedoms they will allow themselves.

www.ensemble.com.au

5 Questions with Gareth Reeves

garethreevesWhat is your favourite swear word?
I really can’t go past Fuck. It has some kind of instant, guttural Norse power that I love. I’ve read some research about how swearing can actually be an effective painkiller and having been front row seat at a couple of births, I attest to its power in that regard. I now have a 14 month old so I’m weaning myself off Fuck so I go to my next favourite, Bollocks, which I think was born out of a childhood diet of British comedy.

What are you wearing?
Ha. A weird mixture of my own clothing and a couple of items our designer brought in today. It’s always a great treat when you get the shoes, especially when they’re quite different to your own.

What is love?
I read an interview recently with the guy that created the TV show Will And Grace back in the day. Asked where the names came from he said “The Will to give and The Grace to receive.” I thought that pretty much summed it up. Acting too for that matter.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
I saw Bell Shakespeare’s As You Like It in Melbourne and I give it 4 out of 5. I was pumped because I didn’t know the play well and I felt like I really heard it. What a masterpiece. Zahra Newman was amazing and that speech coming out of John Bell at this time in his life? The word Oblivion rang out like a bell I can still hear.

Is your new show going to be any good?
Look, it’s an amazing play. I confess I underestimated it on first read. It’s seriously clever. Anna and I are a couple of neurotics, if we can remember to have fun and not get lost down the rabbit hole, we should have something pretty special to show you. If you can, see it, see it again, read it, then see the Polanski film. Or if you hate it the first time go to hell and I won’t see you in the bar.

Gareth Reeves will be appearing in Darlinghurst Theatre’s Venus In Fur, by David Ives.
Show dates: 29 May – 5 Jul, 2015
Show venue: Eternity Playhouse

Review: The School For Scandal (New Theatre)

newtheatreVenue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Apr 29 – May 30, 2015
Playwright: Richard Brinsley Sheridan
Director: David Burrowes
Cast: Tel Benjamin, Richard Cotter, Sasha Dyer, Peter Flett, Emma Harvie, Rhys Keir, Chantel Leseberg, Moreblessing Maturure, Lillian Silk, Marty O’Neill, Nick Rowe, Billie Scott, Eleanor Stankiewicz, Samantha Ward, Jacob Warner, Madeleine Withington
Photography © Matthias Engesser

Theatre review
Money makes the world go round, but it is also the root of all evil. No ordinary person is able to escape the claws of modern economy, and we all have to define our existences in, at least, partially monetary terms. The School For Scandal is about greed, and our ability to be blinded by wealth. Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s script is a wickedly funny one, and his outstanding wit has ensured that his story about deception and decadence is still well-regarded 238 years later.

Direction by David Burrowes is ambitious and visually striking, with a very contemporary rendering that draws inspiration from the nouveau riche of Australia’s more brazen social set. The work is wildly energetic, and comedy is always being created around the text, but less attention is paid on the nuances of the writing. The resultant work is flamboyant and amusing, but the actual story is often a secondary aside. Plot is sacrificed for effect, and while the experience is not always satisfying, there certainly is a lot that is remarkable in terms of the generous amount of creativity being featured. Isabella Andronos’ set and costume designs are mischievous and refreshing, adding to the Sydney theatre landscape an exciting aesthetic that is reflective of a particular generational and cultural segment. The representation of dominant social tribes is important in the understanding of our selves, and Andronos’ contribution is an acute study of the way things are, for some of us, in the absolute now.

All performances in the show are strong. The cast is committed to Burrowes’ vision of creating something extravagant, and to keep us entertained. Rhys Keir as Charles Surface is a quirky combination of sex appeal and clownish tomfoolery. The actor’s larger than life presence is determined to captivate, and his comedy is quite irresistible. Keir’s sharp instincts and confident timing make his joyful showmanship a real pleasure to witness, and his ability to manufacture chemistry with colleagues demonstrates a natural flair of someone born for the stage. Equally gifted is Madeleine Withington who plays Lady Teazle, a shrewd young lady with an impetuous, ditzy edge. Withington’s style feels unfettered, but there is an exacting focus to her manoeuvres that help provide a clarity to a plot that often gets lost in the incessant pandemonium. There is noteworthy work by two of the show’s smallest roles, played by Emma Harvie and Moreblessing Maturure, but it must be said that there is more than a little discomfort in watching the only actors who are not of Caucasian appearance, take on the parts of servants.

Theatre can do many things, but an audience will always concentrate on story if one exists, and treat other elements as subordinate. This production of The School For Scandal has a fierce experimental spirit that resides in every corner, but although undeniably passionate in approach, much of the effort does not translate as anything more than embellishment. Sheridan’s work is solid, and it resists obfuscation. There is much to admire in the show, but what we crave is something deeper and more substantial, something quite the opposite of surface.

www.newtheatre.org.au

Review: Rhymes With Silence (Improvising Change)

rhymeswithviolenceVenue: 107 Projects (Redfern NSW), May 16 – 24, 2015
Playwrights: Alex Broun, Jane Cafarella, Joy Roberts, Kate Rotherham, Loueen Winters, Natalie Banach, Pete Malicki, Suzy Wilds, Vee Malnar
Directors: Chrissy deSilva, Garreth Cruikshank, Glen Pead, Glenn Groves, Kaye Lopez, Lisa Eismen, Margaret Barnaby, Natasha McDonald, Uma Kali Shakti, Vee Malnar, Wayne Mitchell
Cast: Alex Gercsov, Ali Aitken, Angela Gibson, Bendeguz Daniel Devenyi-Botos, Debbie Tilley, Dede Attipoe, Elisa Cristallo, Eliza St John, Garreth Cruickshank, James Belfrage, Joanna Kedziora, Karina Bracken, Katherine Richardson, Katrina Papadopoulos, Kerrie Roberts, Lisa Hanssens, Liz Harper, Liz Hovey, Lynda Leavers, Matt Cowey, Melissa Day, Rebecca Van-Hek, Ros Richards, Sarah North, Tommy Deckard, Veena Sudarshan
Image by John Tsioulos

Theatre review
The programme comprises 13 short plays, unified by the theme of domestic violence against women and girls. The event aims to bring attention to a problem that struggles to find articulation, due to the unthinkable horror of being attacked within the most intimate of relationships. The perpetrators we hear about in Rhymes With Silence are husbands, lovers, fathers. Men who are meant to be our protectors have failed to provide the shield from harm, and their betrayal of trust is of the most severe and devastating kind. Without a doubt, the stories being shared here are dark and often harrowing. There is certainly no shortage of gravitas in spite of the casual presentation style, which simply moves from one basic staging to another with minimal fuss.

Some of the pieces can feel too obvious in their approach, and there is a repetitiveness to the proceedings that makes the two-and-a-half hours slightly challenging, but the earnest and direct way the artists deal with their difficult subject matter is a refreshing experience. The level of honesty we encounter is intimidating, but we are compelled to learn more. The scenarios are shocking but never unbelievable. Joy Roberts’ Regret is one of the few opportunities to hear from a male character, and the revelations of a wolf in sheep’s clothing is enlightening and exasperating. Also intriguing is Good Men Do Bad Things by Suzy Wilds, which features two mothers-in-law in dialogue after the son is sent to prison for killing the other’s daughter. The extraordinary context is fertile ground for explosive interchanges, and the script explores the possibilities beautifully. All the complex emotions are authentic and we relate effortlessly to every plea and confrontation. More than other stories in the collection, this work holds the greatest promise for a very interesting full length iteration.

The inordinately large number of cast members is evidence of the growing concern we have for the issue at hand. Some of the performances might be of an amateur level, but all are committed and serious in attitude. More polished actors include Karina Bracken, who shines in Whirlpools by Alex Broun. Bracken’s style is still but powerful, and her quiet confidence allows us to connect with the works she puts into her character’s thought processes. The fluidity in her interpretation provides a humanity that feels familiar and genuine. Also impressive is Melissa Day in Tara Weldon and Vee Malnar’s I Just Want My Little Family, whose energetic depiction of the single, low-income mother of an infant is as heartbreaking as it is threatening. The actor has a precision that is entertaining to watch, and a unique earthiness that gives her play a strong and individual flavour.

Theatre gives voice to the silent, and the formation of narratives allows us not only to share our experiences, but also works as a vehicle for individual catharsis. The healing process for the most gravely damaged is one that lasts a lifetime, and the artistic journey is also one with no end. The most enduring work comes from a place of truth, and unpacking emotional injuries requires an interrogation into the human condition that has no tolerance for pretence or triviality. There is nothing good that can come out of domestic violence, but many of the worst things that occur can be transposed into a new creativity, so that life can be be reconsolidated along with the art forms being built.

www.improvisingchange.com/

Review: The Merchant Of Venice (Sport For Jove Theatre)

sportforjoveVenue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), May 22 – 30, 2015
Playwright: William Shakespeare
Director: Richard Cottrell
Cast: Darcy Brown, Michael Cullen, Pip Dracakis, Jonathan Elsom, Lucy Heffernan, Jason Kos, Erica Lovell, James Lugton, Lizzie Schebesta, Christopher Stalley, Damien Strouthos, Aaron Tsindos, John Turnbull
Image by Marnya Rothe

Theatre review
At the centre of Shakespeare’s The Merchant Of Venice is its anti-semitic depiction of the principal antagonist, Shylock, the Jewish moneylender. Productions today face the conundrum of having to adjust their interpretations to fit contemporary sensibilities, while maintaining a level of faithfulness to the author’s original. The script not only demeans Shylock as an individual, it often makes sweeping statements that can only be termed racist.

Richard Cottrell is clearly aware of the problem, as his direction of the work reflects the precariousness of bringing to stage a script that, although well-crafted, is painfully archaic in its representation of attitudes toward Jewish peoples. Cottrell’s show does not hide the outrageously vilifying lines of the text, but subverts them to reveal ugliness of those words. Content that is objectionable by today’s standards, is portrayed as such, so that the company declares its oppositional stance to what Shakespeare had intended. The production is set in pre-WWII, and it encourages us to view the Bard’s vilifications in a context that relates to the rise of Nazism. It is a sophisticated treatment of the material, but the play’s conclusion is preserved sufficiently, so that the story’s distasteful moral is kept intact. It is hard to deny what the work is about, and much as Cottrell is careful with the issue, the show leaves a very bad after-taste. Some are fond of questioning the interminable choice of reviving Shakespeare, but on this occasion, the question is undeniably about the decision to pick this title in particular.

A reason for any interest in Merchant could be that Shylock is among the most spectacularly audacious characters in the Shakespearean oeuvre. Performed by the magnetic John Turnbull, the role is colourful, unpredictable and spine-chillingly dangerous. Turnbull’s work is precise and calculated, but also full of panache and vigour. It is a very stylish performance that is fascinating to watch, and the actor’s ability to present both good and bad sides of his character is complex and quite beautiful. Another star of the production is designer Anna Gardiner, who has created a simple but effective Art Deco set, and a wardrobe of very handsome suits, for an elegant aesthetic that makes the unpleasant goings-on slightly more digestible.

The way we relate to Shakespeare in Australia today is peculiar. We like to think that being suspicious of authority is a crucial part of our identity, yet virtually all quarters readily accept the legitimacy of his genius. The gender bigotry in all his texts is conveniently swept under the carpet, and it appears that we are quite happy as well, to let sleeping dogs lie when it comes to issues of ethnicity and faith. The company has created an entertaining show, and all their individual talents are marvellously present, but we need to take a stronger stand for the things we believe to be true.

www.sportforjove.com.au