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.

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.

5 Questions with David Ritchie

davidritchieWhat is your favourite swear word?

What are you wearing?
Sweater and jeans.

What is love?
‘Tis not hereafter, present mirth hath present laughter…

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
Orphans at the Old Fitz, 3.5 stars.

Is your new show going to be any good?
Fascinating. Brilliant script and direction; deeply engaging and unpredicatable.



David Ritchie is appearing in Beyond The Neck, by Tom Holloway.
Show dates: 28 May – 13 June, 2015
Show venue: King Street Theatre

Review: Dead Time (Lace Balloon)

laceballoon1Venue: 107 Projects (Redfern NSW), May 20 – 29, 2015
Playwright: Fleur Beaupert
Director: Fleur Beaupert
Cast: Paul Armstrong, Lara Lightfoot, Abi Rayment, Robert Rhode, Melissa Kathryn Rose, Eleni Schumacher, Barton Williams
Image by Phyllis Wong

Theatre review
Stories about the underdog hold a tenacious appeal. Fleur Beaupert’s Dead Time is based on the events surrounding Dr Mohamed Haneef’s arrest and subsequent release in 2007, at a time when the Australian government was placing threats of terrorism front and centre in the national consciousness. The post-9/11 era has allowed public life (including politics and media) to encroach upon individual liberties in the name of vigilance, and our collective paranoia is used to justify racist persecutions in place of sound legal processes. The script is partly verbatim, and it makes a conscious effort to depict events with accuracy. Consequently, moments of heightened drama are few, even though tension is effectively manufactured with relative consistency. Haneef’s ordeal is rightly portrayed as institutionalised exploitation, and the play’s purpose is to give voice to the oppressed. In the case of contemporary Australia, people of the Muslim faith are especially relevant to this discussion. Beaupert’s work as writer and director is not always elegant, but what she has created, is a compelling and stirring statement against our gradually increasing acceptance of injustice in the name of national security. It is a touchy subject, and the show elicits our emotional involvement effortlessly, and for many, its protestations are representative of how we feel about the world today, and the passion on display is reflective of our attitudes about the themes at hand.

Performances are uneven, but leading man Robert Rhode is entirely captivating. The actor’s presence and instincts are a real pleasure to witness, and his easy confidence allows us to empathise with his character at every point of his journey. His interpretation of innocence is authentic, and he builds just enough complexity into Haneef’s victimisation so that we identify intimately with his predicament and his fears. The production is a showcase for Rhode’s talent, which seems scarcely trained, but in its rawness, we observe a natural flair that emanates, and recognise in it, a fragility that makes the cruel mistreatment suffered by Haneef all the more upsetting.

Dead Time is not a polished work, but the clarity and importance of its message makes it a standout in a landscape of bourgeois concerns that characterises our lucky country. The land of the fair go has become delusional in its self identity, refusing to come to grips with its evolution into a Western power that has little capacity for compassion. We insist on seeing ourselves as earthy, sincere and wholesome. We think us better than our corrupt siblings of United States and Europe, but in fact our dealings in regional issues are shameful. Our eagerness to vilify, intimidate and abuse those in need is an extension of the way we have maltreated Aboriginal communities since 1788. Australia’s European history refuses to learn from its own mistakes, and we are now in the middle of a new cycle of violence that is heading towards a repeat performance of its very worst.

Review: (Extra)ordinary, (Un)usual Episode III (The Monologue Project)

themonologueprojectVenue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), May 13 – 27, 2015
Playwright: Pete Malicki
Director: Pete Malicki
Cast: Debbie Neilson, Glenn Wanstall, Luke Reeves, Matt Friedman, Raechel Carlsen, Rosemary Ghazi, Tiffany Hoy, Yannick Lawry, Miss Suzie Q

Theatre review
The production comprises eight monologues, all written and directed by Pete Malicki. His writing is mainly concerned with the ordinariness of Australian lives, but he delves into fantastical inventions on occasion, to create stories that aim to entertain and amuse. Malicki finds the small and mundane parts of existence and places them in the spotlight. His characters all seem neurotic, as their solitude allows them to reveal their deepest idiosyncrasies. The programme is a light-hearted one, with little room for gloom or poignancy, but it does offer social observations through sarcastic jabs and slapstick comedy.

Malicki’s direction is not particularly versatile, but he ensures that each segment is energetic and vibrantly quirky. He has a knack for extracting confident and quite wild performances from his cast, all of whom appear to bubble with excitement when placed centre stage. Glenn Wanstall’s performance in That Time Harold Borgenstein Went Speed Dating And Got Taken Over By All Of The Greek Gods, is impressively athletic and irresistibly funny. The actor’s intuition is remarkably precise, and the level of conviction he displays is entirely captivating. The piece is somewhat pointless, but it serves as a secure platform for Wanstall to present some of the most outrageous and flamboyant spectacles one is likely to encounter.

Artists often need boundaries to instigate the creative flow, and in Malicki’s case, the short monologue format is a framework that he is clearly very comfortable in. His ability to find tension and humour within his preferred structure is well-honed, but like the faces in his cast, greater diversity is required. Presenting eight works together is an appealing idea, and as much as it is a showcase of one’s strengths, it is able also to unwittingly expose one’s weaknesses. Malicki may not speak universally, but he is certainly an expert in his chosen field.

Review: Decay (Eclective Productions)

eclectiveVenue: Old 505 Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), May 19 – 24, 2015
Playwright: Melissa Lee Speyer
Director: Rachel Chant
Cast: Joel Horwood, Rosie Lourde
Image by Pamela Amores

Theatre review
The act of storytelling can sometimes be more interesting than the actual content being shared. This is an important feature of theatrical experiences, because original stories are hard to come by, but finding new ways to relay old tales is what keeps us challenged and excited. Melissa Lee Speye’s Decay experiments with timelines and plot structures, using very little words, to create a work that depicts the human condition in a truthful but unusual light. The context involves death and disaster, but the production is not particularly moving. Instead, it connects with our curiosity and intellect for a seventy-minute journey that is more cerebral than visceral. It interacts with us by prompting a series of questions that may be about the characters on stage, but mostly, of the world in general.

Centre stage is Joel Horwood, who takes on the challenge of portraying extreme emotions but without the indulgence of a conventional narrative flow. The actor manufactures tension well, and it is clear to see that he invests heavily into the role’s emotional arc. Horwood is dynamic and focused, but the mysterious nature of the play prevents us from getting too caught up with the protagonist in all his drama. Direction by Rachel Chant gives the production a tautness in pace and atmosphere, and her commitment to an unconventional and sometimes surreal theatrical form is refreshing and quite courageous. Nate Edmondson’s sound design is cleverly imagined, and beautifully realised. Without many spoken lines to occupy our minds with, Edmondson’s contribution takes on greater importance than usual. More than any other element of the show, it is the sound that provides us with the information required to help make sense of the intriguing chaos that unfolds.

Toying with conventions is always risky, and in the case of Decay, it ticks many boxes but leaves us cold. It does not entertain sufficiently, but it satisfies in other ways. With a defined artistic vision, we are impressed by the way it bends rules and negotiates boundaries. There is good work to be admired herein, and like most daring ventures, it will unsettle a little, and at times, it might even disappoint, but we can be certain that what is served is not rehashed rubbish rolled in glitter or painting by numbers, which is very comforting indeed.

5 Questions with Pete Malicki‏

petemalickiWhat is your favourite swear word?
Cunt. Sorry, it’s a terrible word, but it does the job.

What are you wearing?
I wouldn’t even know if I didn’t look down. I’m clothes blind.

What is love?
Depends who you ask. Semantics etc.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
Take the fifth!

Is your new show going to be any good?
It’s going to be fantastic, actually. The Monologue Project has been growing rapidly since its formation two years ago and now runs dozens of workshops, courses, shows and tours each year. Our pool of talent is growing and we’ve been fortunate enough to find the most suitable actors for the pieces we’re staging. The monologues have won 15 major awards between them and the cast are incredible. We’ve been working on this for close to half a year and it’s going to be epic.

Pete Malicki is writer, director and producer of (Extra)ordindary (un)usual III .
Show dates: 13 – 27 May, 2015
Show venue: New Theatre