Review: The Trouble With Harry (Siren Theatre Co)

sirentheatrecoVenue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Feb 16 – Mar 3, 2017
Playwright: Lachlan Philpott
Director: Kate Gaul
Cast: Thomas Campbell, Bobbie-Jean Henning, Jodie Le Vesconte, Niki Owen, Jane Phegan, Jonas Thomson
Image by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
In there somewhere, is a true story. Harry Crawford was a transgender man who lived in Sydney a century ago, and when he fell foul of the law, was forced to present as female in public. Stories of the oppressed are systematically sublimated by dominant forces that demand not just acquiescence in behaviour, but also censorship of histories. Lachlan Philpott’s The Trouble With Harry goes in search of a fascinating figure from our cultural past, to create a new collective memory that is as significant to our lives today as it should have been yesterday.

It is a modern piece of writing on the subject. We are still focused on the persisting struggles of trans people, but Philpott does not put us through the exasperating process of “understanding why”. The trans person is not required to defend his position, or explain his existence, and this is radical. We only see the persecution and injustices that befall Harry, and that is more than enough for our protagonist to connect with his audience’s humanity.

The sophistication of the script is reflected in the production’s look and sound, with an exceedingly elegant team of designers bringing to the space, a serene beauty that evokes an appropriate grandness of emotion and meaning, so as to correspond to Harry’s extraordinary experiences. Matt Cox’s work on lights is particularly laudable, for an unmistakable quality of transcendence that permeates the show.

The same sophistication is missing however, in the casting of a female actor as the leading man. One could easily imagine Harry turning in his grave at the very idea. The play’s structure too is damaged by the cat being let out of the bag, far too early in the plot. We need to see what Harry’s neighbours see, in order that the cruelty and absurdity of his troubles can be revealed with greater poignancy, and accuracy. (More on this “theatrical misgendering” of trans characters in my piece last year on Belvoir’s Back At The Dojo.)

Nonetheless, performances are uniformly accomplished in The Trouble With Harry. Jodie Le Vesconte is a soulful Harry, convincingly strong and silent, with an impressive sense of depth to his inarticulate suffering. A mesmerising couple, with Jane Phegan as his Annie, their mutual affection feels completely genuine, and a crucial point of success for the production. Director Kate Gaul’s confident, understated approach gives us a very smart show, with a lot of integrity injected into her depiction of one of society’s most misunderstood. There is a real beauty in Gaul’s theatricality, but dramatic tension for the piece is inconsistent and occasionally underwhelming. We want the tragedy to play out in a more predictable way, but the staging resists that convention and its associated clichés.

There is a delicate balance in our society that involves the constant negotiation between cohesion and individuality. We want to feel safe in our communities, so we are compelled to make endless assumptions about our neighbours, and how much they are just like us. We want other people to conform, because if we are to follow the rules unquestionably, we will ensure that others must do the same. Gender, it can be argued, is nothing but a long list of requirements made of us that contain virtually no inherent logic. Harry was a man with a quirk, and a man with no quirks, is no human at all.

www.sirentheatreco.com

Review: The Judas Kiss (Old Fitz Theatre)

redlineVenue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Feb 15 – Mar 11, 2017
Playwright: David Hare
Director: Iain Sinclair
Cast: Robert Alexander, Luke Fewster, Simon London, Hayden Maher, Hannah Raven, David Soncin, Josh Quong Tart
Image by John Marmaras

Theatre review
Oscar Wilde’s career was cut short, when in 1895, just several months after The Importance Of Being Earnest first opened, he was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment for homosexual behaviour. David Hare’s The Judas Kiss is a chronicle of Wilde’s downfall, with Act 1 detailing his last day of freedom, and Act 2 summing up his final years in exile and poverty.

Hare’s writing is nothing short of sublime. The beauty of his language lives up to our expectations of Wilde’s speech and milieu, along with gripping philosophy incorporated into its plot at every turn. It is a rewarding intellectual experience, but the play is also rich with romantic and emotional dimensions that have the ability to engage the more empathetic sides of our attention.

Under Iain Sinclair’s heavily melancholic direction, the show’s humorous Act 1 becomes more sombre than necessary. A dark cloud looms over all the brilliant wit and notorious flippancy associated with Wilde, taking away the laughs, and causing the gravity of the piece to appear too plain and obvious. Sinclair’s style is more effective in Act 2, where the serious tone provides good support to the dramatic unravelling of its main characters.

Playing Wilde is Josh Quong Tart, an actor capable of great intensity, excellent at portraying the role’s inner turmoil. We see him grapple with the writing’s complexity, slipping in and out of resonance, but Quong Tart proves himself to be always captivating even in momentary lapses of authenticity. The Judas in question is Wilde’s lover Alfred, performed by Hayden Maher who brings youth and energy to the stage, but his interpretation is a simplistic one that detracts from the story’s otherwise extraordinary depth. Simon London leaves a remarkable impression with his disciplined, understated approach as Robbie, a quiet personality given tremendous presence by the actor.

Kudos must also be given to Jonathan Hindmarsh’s extremely ambitious set design. Breathtakingly constructed by Colin Emmerton and Gautier Pavlovic-Hobba, one can hardly imagine the effort required for its daily assembly and dismantling.

The persecution of Oscar Wilde has made him an unwilling hero of our LGBT movement, one that is hungry for historical figures to help validate our existence, and to provide contexts for our narratives of struggle. People who had suffered before, tend to have their stories wiped away by the same dominant forces responsible for their mistreatment, so we cling on tightly to the tales that remain. Wilde is remembered not only for his legacy in writing, but also his part in helping us articulate, as a community to the wider world, the prejudice we face, and the value we bring to the world.

www.oldfitztheatre.com

5 Questions with Brett Rogers and Charles Upton

Brett Rogers

Brett Rogers

Charles Upton: Describe the play using a haiku.
Brett Rogers: Mitchell is a star, who lives life in the closet. Then he meets Alex.

What do you think makes this play important and how does it relate to your life?
This play is important because it forces audiences to look at the double-standards they hold, of which they might not even realise they have. Why can we happily believe an actor is a serial killer, bank-robber or S&M fetishist but we won’t believe that a gay actor is straight on screen? The Little Dog Laughed forces audiences to look at themselves and talks about the crushing pressure this puts on actors to choose between main-stream success and authentic happiness.

I relate strongly to this play. I have always been open about my sexuality but it creates barriers to getting work and being represented. I also have creative friends who refuse to live openly; they can achieve leading, main-stream roles more easily but it takes a heavy toll on their mental health.

The Little Dog Laughed is New Theatre’s Mardi Gras play for the year. What was your first experience of Mardi Gras?
My first experience of Mardi Gras was the FULL experience. I had just relocated to Sydney from Hobart and my new friends wanted me to experience Mardi Gras as there was nothing like it in Hobart. Dressed as Tom Cruise from Risky Business I marched in the parade on the Actors float and attended the official after party. Up until that point I had not been exposed to LGBT culture in such an open and celebratory way. It was an amazing introduction to Sydney and Mardi Gras that I hope more people from rural and remote areas, or more conservative areas, get to experience.

What do you find most rewarding about your creative life and career?
What I find most rewarding today is the same thing I found rewarding when I first started acting. Performing other people’s stories allows me to have greater empathy in my day to day life and a greater awareness of what’s happening around the world. One specific highlight was touring the Northern Territory with Terrapin Puppet Theatre for the Helpmann Award winning show Boats. We had the opportunity to perform in remote communities throughout the NT and conduct puppet making workshops with some of the most exciting, cheeky and infectious little personalities. Recently I have also worked with people with intellectual disabilities; bringing drama to this group will always be a career highlight.

Who is your favourite character in this play and why?
I really like Alex. Given one of the themes of the play is about the pursuit of happiness, I think Alex’s understanding of what happiness really means is more three dimensional, mature and authentic than the other characters.

Charles Upton

Charles Upton

Brett Rogers: Describe The Little Dog Laughed using a limerick.
There was a man named Mitchell Green, set for a life on the big screen. He meets a boy. His life fills with joy. What happens next could not be foreseen.

What drew you to this story and the role of Alex?
I was drawn to this story because it’s funny. It’s about people pursuing happiness, some of those people are lost or going in the entirely wrong direction, which makes it very funny sometimes but also very sad sometimes. But that’s the common thread. And I was drawn to Alex because he does his best to act courageously and be true to himself, because he’s a survivor.

What scenes challenge you most?
It honestly changes night to night. But my initial concern was a key sexual scene in the play where I have to get nude. My mind was constantly distracting me for every vain reason you can think of throughout rehearsals. I’d never had to do a scene like that before, but it was only challenging the first time, now it’s quite liberating. Also my main concern as an actor is always being truthful and in the moment, so whenever that’s not happening, I have a challenge on my hands.

Who do you think will see this play and who do you think should see this play?
Well The Little Dog Laughed is New Theatre’s Sydney Mardi Gras show for the year. So there will definitely be a lot of the Mardi Gras crowd coming to see it. Also it’s a comedy, I think anyone who wants to have a good laugh should come for sure, the play is a lot of fun. It pokes fun at the world of film and theatre and ultimately it makes fun of itself. So people who work in the creative arts should definitely come and see too, they’ll get some jokes not everyone will.

What was your first experience in the creative arts?
Professionally, I started working in the arts at 18 and it was actually my first official job. I’d moved to Sydney from Northern NSW and somehow managed to get a job at the Sydney Opera House working on an opera as a props assistant. I was over the moon. But my first experience I can remember was seeing Cats when I was about seven. It was this big regional tour and I was totally blown away. I was fascinated by every element of it, but particularly by how much fun the performers were having. I can remember thinking, I want to do that.

Brett Rogers and Charles Upton can be seen in The Little Dog Laughed by Douglas Carter Beane.
Dates: 7 Feb – 4 Mar, 2017
Venue: New Theatre

Review: Making Love (King Street Theatre)

kstVenue: King Street Theatre (Newtown NSW), Feb 14 – 25, 2017
Playwright: Jess Scott Driksna
Director: Martin Ashley Jones
Cast: Philip D’Ambrosio, Jess Scott Driksna, Shannon Daniel Fallows, Eleanore Knox, Matthew Oberg

Theatre review
It might look like the 1990’s but the story takes place in a sci-fi future. Robots have become indistinguishable from humans, and are being sold to us as spouses and lovers. Jess Scott Driksna’s Making Love envisions a time when we finally give up on each other, and choose instead to live with compliant beings customised to fulfil our every desire.

It is a logical development of course, as technology continues to take over every function. We know that the events in the play are probably many lifetimes away, but Driksna’s predictions are entirely reasonable. Today, 50 million people are estimated to use the dating app Tinder, and many men in Japan have already declared themselves in serious relationships with virtual girlfriends who exist only on their computing devices and in the imagined ether. We might think of technology as synthetic, and hence contrary to the organic flesh and blood quality of how we conceive of relationships, but our behaviour demonstrates the readiness at which we meld the two.

Driksna’s writing inspires many fundamental and exciting questions about humanity at this advanced stage of civilisation, and even though his ideas are interesting, execution requires greater refinement. The play needs a trimmer plot, and characters would benefit from shorter, sharper dialogue. The script does offer some witty banter, but direction of the piece, which involves long sequences of actors sitting on a couch doing little more than reciting lines, and occasional corny physical humour, is less than exciting.

Acting is unfortunately stilted and under-rehearsed, although leading lady Eleanore Knox does leave a good impression with her concluding scene, in a soul-baring speech about loneliness in cutting edge times. As our consciousness shrinks into a size that fits into our smartphones, we become increasingly insular. People are distractions from an all-important self that exists only between one’s own body and a small magic screen. There is no need to understand others, there is no need to embrace other bodies. Everything can be made to fit one person’s vision of the world, and we think that each one of our tiny bubbles is good enough.

www.kingstreettheatre.com.au

Review: The Mystery Of Love & Sex (Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

darlotheatreVenue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Feb 10 – Mar 12, 2017
Playwright: Bathsheba Doran
Director: Anthony Skuse
Cast: Deborah Galanos, Thuso Lekwape, Nicholas Papademetriou, Contessa Treffone
Image by Steven Siewert

Theatre review
We have told many “coming out” stories over the last several decades. The agonising process of revealing one’s own queerness to inevitably heterosexual parents and a correspondingly straight world, is a mainstay of queer art. In Bathsheba Doran’s The Mystery Of Love & Sex however, we are concerned with how individuals come out to themselves.

Charlotte’s parents are open-minded, savvy individuals who are relaxed about homosexuality, yet she finds herself in a state of crisis when discovering that she might be gay. Her closest confidante Jonny, too, is taken by surprise. Even with all the intimacies that they had shared through the years, the assumption of heterosexuality never goes away. Best friends can tell each other everything, but when it comes to any possible deviation of sexual preferences, those remain a deep, dark private secret.

The play is about society’s persistent inability to makes structural adjustments, that will allow our children to grow into adults with sexual idiosyncrasies, without fear of discrimination or persecution. Doran’s approach for this political issue is subtle, very cleverly handled. It is an intriguing plot, with dialogue that amuse, resonate and challenge. Its ideas are not new, but they are presented in a manner that makes us feel only their relevance and urgency.

Directed by Anthony Skuse, the show has an enchanting warmth that appeals to our sentimental selves. These may not be our families and friends who tell their stories on stage, but Skuse makes us feel as though they are part of our lives. The production has a tendency to be overly polite and placid, but all its messages are relayed with clarity and a beautiful deliberateness.

Charlotte is played by Contessa Treffone, effervescent in personality and comic timing, for a central character impossible to dislike. Best friend Jonny is sensitively crafted by Thuso Lekwape who brings wonderful depth and complexity to a young man trapped between tradition and modernity. Nicholas Papademetriou as Howard is a loving father, almost too sweet for several of his more combative scenes, but we believe all the relationships he fosters. The fiery Lucinda is a memorable presence in actor Deborah Galanos who contributes an excellent vitality, and whose artistic instincts are relied upon for much of the staging’s authentic sense of time and space.

It is a real privilege when the greatest obstacle for social acceptance comes from one’s self. Many of us who will see The Mystery Of Love & Sex, live in progressive communities who have learned about our LGBTQ neighbours, and the diverse expressions of love, sex and gender of all peoples, yet many of us struggle to face our personal desires and sexual experiences with honesty, and without shame. The things we are taught as children stick with us tenaciously. Values and beliefs that have long expired can retain their grip on how we think of ourselves. Each of us has to come to a full realisation that these old ideas have outstayed their welcome, and have them banished.

www.darlinghursttheatre.com

Review: Blink (Stories Like These)

storiesliketheseVenue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Feb 9 – Mar 4, 2017
Playwright: Phil Porter
Director: Luke Rogers
Cast: James Raggatt, Charlotte Hazzard
Image by Robert Catto

Theatre review
It is a love story between a simple man and a complicated woman. Phil Porter’s Blink is a work of fantasy that magnifies the experience of infatuation, to sometimes inappropriate levels of obsession. We can choose to see Jonah as a creepy stalker, even though the play tries to show him only as naive and sweet. His actions are clearly harmless, but that of course, is what most men will say about their fixations. Sophie is made mastermind of Jonah’s actions, and although there is something gratifying in having a woman orchestrate her own experience of romance, the reprehensible fact that Jonah is a Peeping Tom who follows her everywhere, thinking that the object of his desire is completely oblivious, cannot be discounted.

Ultimately though, the characters do develop mutual feelings, and what the play does with their relationship is wistful, and very whimsical. Anna Gardiner’s set design corresponds with the quirkiness of the text, for a performance space imaginatively conceived to provide an enchanting sense of innocent wonder. Director Luke Rogers brings good coherence to a piece of unfettered mosaic-like writing, and his ability to balance upbeat energy with a daydream quality, gives the production its charming, and distinct style. In the role of Jonah is James Raggatt, awfully adorable and convincingly wide-eyed in his Tim Burton-esque interpretation of a young man smitten. His gentle but animated approach almost makes you believe his trespasses to be no more than a little innocuous skylarking. Sophie is a much more complex character, played by Charlotte Hazzard who portrays a woman’s need to be seen, with vital delicate care.

We all want to be acknowledged, for to be invisible is intolerable, but we are not always ready to pay the price for a bit of attention. Sophie wants to be on Jonah’s mind, but is unwilling to offer anything in return. Relationships do not always fit definitions or expectations. People can connect in unexpected ways, but convention can be agonising, and if we let it, can pull us apart. What a happy ending looks like, is familiar to everyone, but when destiny takes us in different directions, we may have to modify our beliefs, and see an alternate image of fulfilment.

www.storieslikethese.com

Review: BU21 (Outhouse Theatre Co)

outhouseVenue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Feb 8 – 25, 2017
Playwright: Stuart Slade
Director: Erin Taylor
Cast: Jessica-Belle Keogh, Skyler Ellis, Emily Havea, Bardiya McKinnon, Whitney Richards, Jeremy Waters
Image by Rupert Reid

Theatre review
In Stuart Slade’s BU21 a terrorist attack occurs in London, but it is not a work of documentary, and the event being investigated did not happen on the public transport system, 7 July 2005. The play presents as fiction, focusing on the aftermath as experienced by the humans of collateral damage, following the horrific incident of a plane crashing into an area where people live and work. The stories may not be true, but the trauma is real. Slade’s writing feels thoroughly researched, and his subjects are explored at extraordinary depth. A sense of theatricality is built around the main concern to provide greater structural complexity, but the value of BU21 is in the intimacy at which it allows us to observe unadulterated human responses to catastrophe.

Direction by Erin Taylor brings a certain minimal elegance that keeps our minds attentive only to what is important at each moment. There is great sensitivity to her storytelling that protects us from ever feeling alienated, no matter how the phenomenon of pain is expressed. The messy business of dealing with emotional devastation is often ugly, but Taylor is always able to let humanity emerge, and our empathy cannot help but connect with it. Atmosphere is calibrated gently, but brilliantly, by Christopher Page’s lights and Nate Edmondson’s sound and music. Both demonstrate acuity and artistic maturity with their respective disciplines, contributing significantly to a show that communicates with precision and confident ease.

The cast of six is exceptional. Each distinct character is brought to life with great vividness (and convincing London accents), by a team of talented and charming actors, all conspiring with a beautiful stylistic cohesion, to take us through a mesmerising journey of agony and truth. They are spirited, colourful, dramatic, but also honest and disarmingly vulnerable. Jessica-Belle Keogh is particularly moving as Ana, distressed with injuries inside and out, in a constant state of disorientated struggle, but she delivers the most life-affirming speeches, perhaps without herself being aware of their profundity. Keogh plunges deep, to reveal something raw and brazenly soulful, that makes the entire harrowing experience of BU21 a meaningful one.

When disaster strikes people like us, we have the burden of getting back to business as usual, in lightning speed. Unlike war-torn countries where daily survival demands that one must sink or swim, our privileged existence forces troubles to be repressed, and in the face of apparent normalcy within a solitude of debilitation, all the wounds are made to subsist out of sight, and out of control. The people in BU21 seek salvation in different ways, but none of them believes that complete emancipation is possible, such is the power of hatred and terror.

www.outhousetheatre.org