Review: V.D. (Copanirvana Theatre Co / Sydney Independent Theatre Company)

sitco2Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Oct 28 – Nov 15, 2014
Playwright: Pete Malicki
Director: Lisa Eismen
Cast: Eliza St John
Image by Katy Green Loughrey

Theatre review
This is a story about a woman in love only with two things; herself and alcohol. Pete Malicki’s script is crafted with some skill. His jokes are incessant, and timed with a natural flair. His characters are abused and ridiculed, and no one is presented in a positive light. There is very little beauty and inspiration in the play, but it has a humour that will appeal to many. It is a harsh truth that Australians find alcohol funny. We laugh at people making destructive decisions and falling over due to drunkenness, and V.D. capitalises on that unfortunate part of our culture. It also takes advantage of the fact that making women desperate and dateless gets laughs easily. Sophie Webb is hopeless, almost idiotic, but she is not unrealistic, and of course, our artistic landscape must make room for all kinds of characters no matter how undesirable.

The script is skilfully executed by director Lisa Eismen and actor Eliza St John. Presentation of the comedy is wide ranging, from the very broad to the very subtle. Character development is sometimes uncomfortable in the plot, but the women manage to create a narrative that is often believable, although the show’s ending is quite bewildering. St John’s performance is masterful. She is wild, intuitive and considered, with a conviction that can turn water into wine. Her work is completely absorbing, and she manages to endear herself to her captive crowd, like using sleight of hand techniques to mask the hideous uselessness of the woman she portrays.

The world can be an ugly place, and it is necessary to know its flaws. The theatre is not reserved for snowdrops and daffodils, and artists must not be censored, but audiences look for morals in stories, and maybe even find meaning in listening to what is being said. What V.D. articulates is sometimes true, but also very sad indeed. Life is worth living because of hope, and we need to acknowledge the darkness that we live with, but we must always recognise it as such.

Review: November Spawned A Monster (Fly-On-The-Wall Theatre / Sydney Independent Theatre Company)

sitco1Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Oct 28 – Nov 15, 2014
Playwright: Alex Broun
Director: Robert Chuter
Cast: James Wright
Image by Katy Green Loughrey

Theatre review
Morrissey’s music courses through the veins of his fanatic devotees, and William is a young Melbournite who has the rock star’s records underscoring key events of his life. We meet him at a time of mourning, having recently encountered a deep personal loss. The struggle for clarity, direction and a new lease on life is a familiar experience, and Alex Broun’s script is an honest representation of that shared phenomenon. Melancholia is created beautifully in a plot that takes us from everyday banality to extraordinary circumstances, with gentle humour and a generous slew of Morrissey songs that provide poignant irony, and a remarkable coolness.

Also very cool, is Benjamin Brockman’s lighting design for the production, which gives a sense of differentiation between scenes so that we perceive a variety of moods as the leading man goes through scenes of transformation and evolution. Brockman’s work is intelligent and sophisticated, giving the show a visceral sensuality that connects with Morrissey’s omnipresence. Robert Chuter’s direction of the one-man show cleverly finds every opportunity to manufacture shifts in tone, preventing the production from ever being monotonous in spite of its monologue format. Chuter finds nuance in William’s journey and depicts the human condition at a time of sorrow with great sensitivity.

In the role of William is James Wright, who has the challenging task of memorising an eighty-minute play entirely on his own, along with singing a big selection of the idol’s highly idiosyncratic greatest hits at regular intervals. Wright is an enthusiastic performer who has the ability to be engaging, but his confidence levels are inconsistent, and on this stage, there is simply nowhere to hide when the actor’s consciousness is fractured, however briefly. Notwithstanding its energetic rhythm, November Spawned A Monster is chiefly about pain, which Wright does not sufficiently embody. It is almost a metaphysical quality that can be perceived when a person lives with a broken heart, and on the stage, that quality can be forcefully seductive, but that brand of charisma which we can see in Morrissey, is sadly absent in this show.

“Youth is wasted on the young”, said George Bernard Shaw, but William’s story is a reminder that feeling stranded in one’s youth is important for achieving an understanding of grief, and therefore, gaining an appreciation of all that is significant in life. It is not all a bed of roses, but that’s how people grow up.

5 Questions with Lucian McGuiness

lucianmcguinessWhat is your favourite swear word?
Kutwijf. It’s Dutch, and very satisfying though sexist. Look it up.

What are you wearing?
About 5 extra kilos, a fine salt, pepper and ginger moustache and some clothes I guess. For the show I dress the moustache up and wear some really spanking outfits from local and imported ingredients. That’s when I look my best.

What is love?
My daughter. She’s consistently the coolest, smartest and most beautiful person I know.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
The Shadow King at Brisbane Festival last month. There’s a bit at the end that ties the Shakespearean morals to Aboriginal rights in Australia that moves you. 4 stars.

Is your new show going to be any good?
My new show, quite frankly, is one of the best things going. All previous incarnations of this ensemble have sent the audience into a fit, and the Speakeasy takes all that and makes it bigger, tighter, better and funner. Funner is a word, right?

Lucian McGuiness is writing, directing and performing in Little Egypt’s Speakeasy.
Show dates: 6 – 9 Nov, 2014
Show venue: Django Bar, Camelot Lounge

Review: Blue/Orange (Ensemble Theatre)

ensembletheatreVenue: Ensemble Theatre (Kirribilli NSW), Oct 23 – Nov 29, 2014.
Playwright: Joe Penhall
Director: Anna Crawford
Cast: Ian Meadows, Dorian Nkono, Sean Taylor
Image by Clare Hawley

Theatre review (extract)
Health services are a crucial part of all civilisations, where access to medical professionals is a basic human right, regardless of class and creed. The subject of mental health is a growing area of concern in the West, with awareness and understanding of relevant issues fast improving through our communities. Joe Penhall’s script centres around Christopher, a mental health patient with the UK’s National Health Service. Surrounding him are two doctors, Bruce is the younger of the pair, idealistic but naive, and Robert is the authority figure of the hospital, seasoned and carnivorously ambitious. A fight ensues with Christopher caught in the middle, and as the plot unfolds, the play’s themes expand simultaneously. Christopher’s African ethnicity and low social status are the linchpin that brings into discussion, not just the intriguing process of psychiatric diagnosis and the health industry in general, but also race relations in contemporary settings and the machinations of authority (and its betrayal) in our daily social structures.

The ideas are big, but Penhall’s story is precise and simple. His captivating dialogue is rich with humour, controversy and intellect, consistently entertaining our senses and challenging our ethics. Some portions could be more succinct, but Penhall’s words and their rhythms are brilliantly crafted, as evidenced by the thrilling and energetic narratives that the show’s cast and director are able to create from the text. Anna Crawford’s direction is decidedly wonderful. The comedy of the piece is powerfully delivered, and the immense joy of being in an auditorium with laughter erupting at every turn is simply theatrical magic. Crawford introduces a daring freedom that encourages her actors to make risky choices, and much to our delight, they all seem to work. Likewise, the many scenes of altercation are loaded with explosive drama, always with a threatening tension and dangerous intrigue… (full review to appear at Auditorium Magazine)

5 Questions with Helen Vienne

helenvienneWhat is your favourite swear word?
Fudge. Very G rated, I know.

What are you wearing?
Gingerbread pajama pants and an ex boyfriend’s T-shirt.

What is love?
Being a Beatles fan, I would have to say love is all you need :)

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
The Glass Menagerie at the Belvoir. It was a very simple but brilliant interpretation. They had video cameras set up to capture the actors in quieter moments and these images were projected on large screens in black and white, giving it an old Hollywood movie feel. I would give it four stars.

Is your new show going to be any good?
Bet your bottom dollar! (As Annie would say).

Helen Vienne is appearing in Haus by Black Raven Productions.
Show dates: 5 – 15 Nov, 2014
Show venue: King Street Theatre

Review: Five Women Wearing The Same Dress (Act IV Theatre Co)

activtheatreVenue: TAP Gallery (Darlinghurst NSW), Oct 28 – Nov 2, 2014
Playwright: Alan Ball
Director: Deborah Jones
Cast: Nadim Accari, Kaitlin DeLacy, Chloe McKenzie, Eleanor Ryan, Melinda Ryan, Wendy Winkler
Image by Tim Levy

Theatre review
Weddings are traditional affairs that expose the roles that we play for others in daily life, and our obligations as friends and family members. Participation in weddings often involves some level of reluctance, and most would probably prefer to be some place else doing something less painful. Alan Ball’s fabulous script is about the interactions between five bridesmaids after a wedding ceremony. The women have distinct personalities, with nothing in common, except for the hideous purple dress forced onto their bodies, and an unconcealed dislike for the bride. The play’s context positions the women in relation to the concept of marriage, and we observe how the supposed universal ideal of matrimony is no longer relevant to modern lives. Ball’s fascinating characters reveal their individual idiosyncrasies and it becomes clear that fulfilment and happiness might have little or nothing at all to do with marriage.

Ball’s writing is entertaining, whimsical and punchy. The charming language of the American South is showcased beautifully, and the women’s lives are vividly imagined, with a familiarity that allows us to find points of association. Their worlds seem real, because Ball exposes their imperfections in a way that demonstrates a humanity that we can relate to. Direction of the work is provided by Deborah Jones who brings a clarity to narratives and motivations. She keeps energy levels high, but there is a stasis to the atmosphere that prevents the show from providing a more dynamic experience. The comedy is written well, but it is not a uniformly strong cast, so the results of delivery are mixed and chemistry is not always fine. It must be noted that although some performances are less effective, every actor is clearly full of conviction and focus, and the stage is always an engaging one.

Eleanor Ryan is outstanding in the role of Mindy, a jovial lesbian who exemplifies the liberated individual in a world overrun by peer pressure and broken promises. Ryan’s comic timing is a highlight of the production and her creation is the most endearing of the group. Her style is much more flamboyant than her colleagues, but she retains a grounding authenticity that keeps her character believable and interesting. The complex role of Georgeanne is played by Wendy Winkler, who captivates with a clever blend of tragedy and irony. Her depiction of strength and optimism in the role’s banal existence is delightfully inspiring.

This is a play about women from a man’s perspective, and even though it is debatable if the writer knows the gender well, he certainly does understand the human condition. The anxieties it expresses and the desires it explores are absolutely real for many of us. Five Women Wearing The Same Dress often feels like light entertainment, but what it leaves behind is altogether more deep and meaningful. We think about the choices that present themselves, and the ones that seem elusive. The decisions that we make shape the life that we live, but so do the circumstances that seem to be beyond control. When a wedding invitation arrives, one can only choose to accept or decline, but to respond with honesty and truth is infinitely more perplexing.

5 Questions with Jacob Warner

jacobwarnerWhat is your favourite swear word?
Strewth. Which I only recently learnt is a contraction of ‘gods truth’. And by recently I mean just then, when I googled the word to check the spelling.

What are you wearing?
A suit. I am about to go to my graduation ceremony. I just finished the full time course at The Actors Centre.

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?
Writing For Performance by Michael Gow at NIDA. It was wonderful. Duncan Ragg was particularly moving as Roland. 4 stars out of 5.

Is your new show going to be any good?
Better bloody be. I dyed my hair blonde for it.

Jacob Warner‏ is appearing in Daylight Saving, from Darlinghurst Theatre Company’s 2014 season.
Show dates: 31 Oct – 30 Nov, 2014
Show venue: Eternity Playhouse