Review: Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? (State Theatre Company South Australia)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Jan 13 – 23, 2022
Playwright: Edward Albee
Director: Margaret Harvey
Cast: Jimi Bani, Rashidi Edward, Juanita Navas-Nguyen, Susan Prior
Images by Yaya Stempler

Theatre review
Martha and George are always fighting. The perpetuality of their battles seems to point to a certain masochism that resides at the centre of their marriage, and we discover that perhaps their endless struggle for power, forms the very foundation of their life together. As viewers on the sidelines, we gladly ride that momentum of conflict, knowing that things simply will never get better for the couple, in Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Set in the world of academia, in the New England region of the USA, Albee’s discussions about power, pertain to a kind that is particularly white. Director Margaret Harvey’s decision to cast Black men in the roles of the duelling academics George and Nick, brings greater focus to the whiteness that is being interrogated. The futility of these two men trying to climb the social and professional ladders, within a system built upon the exclusion of people like them, are made mournfully clear by the darkness of their skin.

Although never lacking in energy, the production suffers from a shortage of precision, in the way Albee’s often rambling dialogue is presented. The writing’s abstract qualities has a tendency to become overly ambiguous on this stage, making the experience feel at times, somewhat hollow.

Ailsa Paterson’s set design is an elegant update that provides the story with a present day context, but a strangely domineering centrepiece that makes reference to the white practice of pilfering historical artefacts is, although well-meaning, an unnecessary distraction. Lights by Nigel Levings are effectively chilling, in the cold white box of Martha and George’s home. Sound design by Andrew Howard is sparse, but memorable for its use of drums to rouse tensions.

Actor Susan Prior is suitably nebulous as the heavily intoxicated Martha. Jimi Bani’s bouts of anger as George dials up the drama, but a characteristic cynicism seems to be missing. Nick is played by Rashidi Edward who brings great intensity, and his counterpart Honey is thankfully given some backbone by Juanita Navas-Nguyen.

Martha’s father never appears in the play, but he holds absolute power over the people that we meet. Just like the white patriarchy on this land, it is never the ones who benefit most that do the dirty work, but all the foot soldiers who fight amongst themselves, thinking they are advancing their personal ambitions, when in fact are only serving the purposes of those on top. We are given crumbs, that are designed to gaslight us into believing, that the rules of engagement are fair. That we persist with these rules, is as strange as Martha and George persisting with their marriage.

www.statetheatrecompany.com.au

Review: 44 Sex Acts In One Week (Seymour Centre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Jan 12 – 16, 2022
Playwright: David Finnigan
Director: Sheridan Harbridge
Cast: Priscilla Doueihy, Matt Hardie, Emma Harvie, Rebecca Massey, Keith Robinson  
Images by 

Theatre review
Celina is not making rent, and Australian workplace relations law is allowing her boss to hire her only on a contractual basis. To ensure the clickbaity publisher gives her more work, Celina decides to write a review of a social influencer’s controversial new book 44 Sex Acts In One Week, after trying out all of the book’s recommendations. David Finnigan’s play of the same name however, is not about sex work, even though that is ostensibly what we witness Celina to be engaging in, for the entire duration. Neither is it about the nature of human sexuality in the twenty-first century. The play’s actual concern, is the blind eye we turn, away from ecological disasters that are ongoing in real life.

That link between our frivolous obsessions and life’s real problems, are not always made explicit in Finnigan’s play. He makes us indulge instead, in a plethora of silly sex jokes (ranging from the painfully juvenile to the surprisingly clever), as an allegorical strategy perhaps, to illustrate the point of our wilful ignorance. One has to be grateful that the conservation message is never dealt with in a heavy handed manner, but its dizzying style of humour, is unlikely to be widely appealing.

Sheridan Harbridge’s direction is gaudy and boisterous, with a sense of exhilaration that is perfectly suited to the themes of 44 Sex Acts In One Week. The raucous atmosphere is greatly enhanced by Trent Suidgeest’s colourful lights and glitzy set design. Elements of the show utilise foley techniques, as though for a radio play; Steve Tolumin’s sound design contributes substantially to the madcap quality of the presentation. Sound engineering though, is somewhat a problem for the production, with dialogue occasionally lost in the vast auditorium.

The eminently charismatic Emma Harvie is perfectly cast as Celina, with an air of naivety that prevents any sexual content from turning overwrought. Her comedic timing is in a word exquisite, and her ability to appear completely impulsive and present, is a real gift. Rebecca Massey plays two roles, both privileged and irresponsible women, who get lampooned exuberantly through Massey’s vivacious approach.

Priscilla Doueihy too performs double duty, but it is in the huge contrast between both characters, that she delivers the biggest laughs. Celina’s sex partner Alab is depicted by an alluring Matt Hardie, who brings appropriate playfulness to the experience. Finally, Keith Robinson is the narrator, reliably dignified as he takes us through each mischievous scene.

Evidence shows that we care little for the environment, and that human extinction is likely to be, just a matter of time. It is not an exaggeration to say that we are, by and large, a destructive species, yet what is distinctive about our behaviour, is that we seem determined to act as though life is eternal. Even during a pandemic, we go to bed assured that tomorrow will come. Nothing seems to be able to put a damper on our certainty that life will go on, and so we keep doing what we do, thinking only of ourselves, when there is no denying that so much of what we do, is akin to mass suicide.

www.clubhouseproductions.com.au

Review: Triple X (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Wharf 1 Sydney Theatre Company (Walsh Bay NSW), Jan 8 – Feb 26, 2022
Playwright: Glace Chase
Director: Paige Rattray
Cast: Glace Chase, Josh McConville, Christen O’Leary, Anthony Taufa, Contessa Treffone
Images by Brett Boardman, Prudence Upton

Theatre review
Not only does Scotty have a highflying job on Wall Street, he lives in a US$3.5 million Tribeca loft, and is about to marry a Birkin-toting Kymberly. Everything looks to be peachy keen, but on the inside, he is a complete mess. The only saving grace is his secret affair with trans entertainer Dexie, but Scotty relegates the sole joy of his existence to the dark allegorical closet, afraid that the truth will destroy all.

Glace Chase’s Triple X tells an age-old story, but such is the severity of its associated taboo, that it feels like we are taking this conversation to the public domain, for the very first time. Chase’s writing is intricate and insightful, replete with splendid wit and a generosity of spirit that allows her show its wide appeal. The depth of honesty she is able to access for the play, is so confronting it feels almost self-sacrificial. The result of course, is the initiation of a big and necessary discussion, that is crucial to the well-being of trans people everywhere.

The show is given vibrant and taut direction by Paige Rattray, who makes the near three hours of Triple X feel a mere blink of an eye. The comedy is wild and raucous, yet bears an unmistakeable sense of sophistication. The deconstruction and analysis of ideas, are accomplished with admirable thoroughness. For all the irony and sarcasm dripping off of Triple X, there is thankfully no ambiguity to the important message it imparts.

Designer Renée Mulder establishes on the stage, a versatile and highly functional set that provides a wealth of possibilities, whilst making Scotty’s apartment look every bit the million dollar listing that it aims to depict. Costumes are convincingly assembled, with several of Dexie’s more flamboyant outfits demonstrating great style and humour. Light by Ben Hughes too, add colour and texture that wonderfully enhance the mood of each scene.

Chase herself plays Dexie, the scruffy warrior from clubland, and provocateur whose very presence insists the truth be out. The uncompromising authenticity that Chase brings to the role, is the lynchpin of the entire exercise. She makes us fall in love with Dexie, and respond with appropriate outrage, at the injustices that befall her. Josh McConville scintillates as Scotty, with boundless energy, both physical and emotional, to convey the frenzied discontentment that the character goes through in every waking moment.

Similarly full of vigour is Christen O’Leary, whose unforgettable performance as Deborah, proves an unequivocal highlight of the production. Captivating and irresistibly funny, yet able to bring sincerity to her work, O’Leary is truly remarkable. Anthony Taufa and Contessa Treffone both create likeable personalities, who add dynamism and complexity to the story being told. The entire cast is passionate, with an infectious earnestness that really drive home the urgency of all that is being discussed.

The main thing that Triple X says, is that although there is nothing wrong with Dexie, and that she lives her life to the fullest of her abilities, the world around her is constantly trying to pull her down. Even when she finds love unexpectedly, the embarrassing predictability of a man’s cowardice, is determined to replace pleasure with misery, joy with anguish. Of course Dexie deserves love, but more than that, she deserves dignity, and the well-founded wisdom of knowing better.

For Scotty, the affair means much more than it does to Dexie. Trans women of a certain age have seen it all before, and there will always be plenty more fish in the sea, should one choose to partake in a never-ending revolving door of fleeting romances. On the other hand, for men like Scotty who know that intimacy with a trans woman, is part of their journey to true happiness, to lose a love could easily be an irrevocable error. Those who remain cowards shall find no peace, and those who relish in bravery certainly deserve no cowards.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au

Review: Girl From The North Country (Theatre Royal Sydney)

Venue: Theatre Royal Sydney (Sydney NSW), 6 Jan – 27 Feb, 2022
Book: Conor McPherson
Music & Lyrics: Bob Dylan
Director: Conor McPherson
Cast: Tony Black, Peter Carroll, Tony Cogin, Laurence Coy, Terence Crawford, Helen Dallimore, Blake Erickson, Callum Francis, Elizabeth Hay, Peter Kowitz, Lisa McCune, Samantha Morley, Zahra Newman, Christina O’Neill, Grant Piro, James Smith, Greg Stone, Chemon Theys, Liam Wigney
Images by Daniel Boud

Theatre review
Characters of Girl from the North Country weave in and out of a Minnesota house, in 1934 when the Great Depression was in full force. Their stories are written by Conor McPherson, whose flair for sentimental nostalgia is put to good use, in this musical set to the songs of Bob Dylan. A kind of specific Americanness, found in its themes as well as in its style, might make the show feel somewhat distant to Australian sensibilities, but a transcendent beauty so present in all its creative considerations, almost bridges that cultural gap.

Although not always engaging, the work is certainly transportative. Directed by McPherson, Girl from the North Country takes us to another time and place, with a level of elegance rarely seen on our musical theatre stages. Mark Henderson’s lighting design, in collaboration with Rae Smith’s sets and costumes, offer up lush vistas that meld so wonderfully with musical director Andrew Ross’ reworking of Dylan’s songs. Lucy Hind’s sensitive choreography too is memorable, in a production that feels so confident yet remarkably understated.

The languid aesthetic is brought to manifestation by an endearing cast, including Peter Carroll, Lisa McCune and Zahra Newman, who deliver captivating personalities, in a show that is otherwise fairly resistant of our need to identify with its people and situations. Sublime singing from the likes of Callum Francis, Elizabeth Hay and Christina O’Neill pull us in, so that we can regard the heart and soul of these artistic renderings, at close proximation.

There are many moments of theatrical magic in Girl from the North Country, but there are also many instances where it leaves us unexpectedly cold. It includes an abundance of exquisite elements that amount to something best described as mellow. One would not be surprised to discover that the songs connect more than the stories do, in a work that stands most importantly, as a tribute to the legend that is Bob Dylan.

www.northcountry.com.au

Review: Pollon (Little Eggs Collective)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Dec 14 – 18, 2021
Creator and Performer: Eliza Scott
Director and Dramaturg:
Craig Baldwin
Images by Yannick Jamey

Theatre review
In Pollon, we witness Eliza Scott attempting to recreate the presence, of someone no longer present. An older man maybe Scott’s father, has fallen critically ill or perhaps died, and the artist, like all who are left behind, has to grapple with the nature of grief and of memory, in ways that are utterly personal. In Pollon, it is that process of mourning that reveals the things that we hold dear, that often do not come into true consciousness until too late.

The memory of a lost love is retrieved, most notably in this staging, through the sense of sound. Scott’s reminiscences are based heavily on old utterances that might have been fleeting or indeed, repeated time and again. That search for yesterday’s intimate moments, are made material by the performer’s various constructions of sonic presentations. Utilising the simple combination of a microphone with two loop stations, impromptu “songs” are created to fascinating effect.

Directed by Craig Baldwin, visual aspects are even more pared back, with minimal costumes and light changes, on a set that looks almost perfunctory by design. The result however is commendably elegant, in its rendering of a kind of essentialist aesthetic. As performer, Scott is irresistibly charming, with an intense vulnerability that makes everything they serve up, seem captivating and important. For an abstract work about presence, Scott’s sheer star quality is a convincing ingredient, that keeps us completely at ease and attentive.

Nobody can remember the days before they were born, but to think that one’s existence on this plane, in the posthumous, might become equally imperceptible and intangible, is unbearable. If we do not wish to contend with the idea that we simply vanish into thin air, it must be true then, that humans are concerned with legacy. Yet, we do so little to ensure that what we leave behind, is good and fair. The remnants of a generation will always inform how subsequent lives will conceive of the world. One can only hope that all the bad that lingers, can somehow be transformed into something better.

www.littleeggscollective.com

Review: Jagged Little Pill (Theatre Royal Sydney)

Venue: Theatre Royal Sydney (Sydney NSW), 2 – 19 Dec, 2021
Book: Diablo Cody
Music: Glen Ballard, Alanis Morissette
Lyrics: Alanis Morissette
Director: Diane Paulus
Cast: Natalie Bassingthwaighte, Tim Draxl, Emily Nkomo, Liam Head, Maggie Mckenna, Grace Miell, Aydan, Josh Gates, Imani Williams, Caleb Jago-ward, Mon Vergara, Baylie Carson, Georgina Hopson, Noah Mullins, Trevor Santos, Isabella Roberts, Marie Ikonomou, Bella Choundary, Jerome Javier, Romy Vuksan
Images by Daniel Boud

Theatre review
The story takes place in upper-middle class suburbia, where Mary Jane, a classic Connecticut housewife hiding a secret drug problem, invests extraordinary energy into making everything at home appear perfect, to all and sundry. A reckoning is forced into being however, when her teenage children’s upheavals precipitate an embrace of the ugly truth. Adopted daughter Frankie is Black and coming of age, and has lost all patience for her community’s pretentiousness, and son Nick is embroiled in a case of sexual assault, that leads us to discover the depths of Mary Jane’s personal struggles.

The book for Jagged Little Pill by Diablo Cody is carefully considered, and admirable in its commitment to incorporating social issues that are of immense concern today. It represents a strong attempt at pushing forward the musical theatre format, in order that entertainment could be combined, with something altogether more substantial in the way we tell stories, in this age of cultural reinvention. The dominant presence of political activists in the show, complete with slogans on placards, is not only a sign of the times, but a real manifestation of the spirit and intention, of this very 21st century musical.

Featuring songs from the seminal 1995 Alanis Morissette rock album of the same name, the show however is not always completely engaging. The flow from dialogue to song is often less than seamless, and choreography of dance sequences feel awkwardly dated, even if we are conscious of the source material’s age. Fortunately, direction by Diane Paulus (implemented by Resident Director Leah Howard) is full of heart, and although not completely finessed, Jagged Little Pill succeeds in making its art say something deeply meaningful, and very probably, enduringly memorable.

Performer Natalie Bassingthwaighte does an excellent job of presenting Mary Jane’s vulnerability, beautifully detailing all her character’s flaws, whilst keeping us firmly on her side. It is a charm offensive of the most convincing kind. Her family is portrayed by Tim Draxl, Liam Head and Emily Nkomo, who offer nuance to challenging relationships, that all can surely identify with. Singing for Morissette’s rock tunes however, are more powerfully delivered by Aydan, Maggie McKenna and Grace Miell, who play Frankie’s friends and lovers from school. Their ability to bridge the considerable gap between rock and Broadway styles of singing, are the crucial ingredient for some of Jagged Little Pill‘s more transcendent moments.

It all ends too neatly and too easily, of course. A big musical, it seems, can only ever accommodate “happily ever after”. The lasting imagery from the show involves young people demanding change, and it is that insistence on something better, that extends beyond the convenient conclusion, an ongoing discussion about our future. We think about the conventions that govern parameters in art, and how every production bears the responsibility of invention and improvement. We think about the way we talk to one another, and how we must learn to reach better resolutions, even if it means having to grapple with humility. Jagged Little Pill is about a youthful spirit, and all the potential we can unleash when the idealism of our young, is given a chance. The show is not quite a call to arms, but the awareness it raises about a need for revolution, is hard to deny.

www.jaggedmusical.com

Review: Death of a Salesman (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Roslyn Packer Theatre (Sydney NSW), Dec 3 – 22, 2021
Playwright: Arthur Miller
Director: Paige Rattray
Cast: Callan Colley, Jacek Koman, Josh McConville, Philip Quast, Bruce Spence, Thuso Lekwape, Helen Thomson, Contessa Treffone, Kimie Tsukakoshi, Brigid Zengeni, Alan Zhu
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review
Willy Loman is finally waking up to the fact that so many of life’s promises are bound to amount to nothing. The 63 year-old salesman has worked hard for decades, completely invested in the American Dream, but with the impending certainty of death, comes the realisation that he had been sold a big fat lie. It is now 72 years since Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman had first appeared on Broadway. Much has changed in the ways we live, yet the play’s central ideas seem never to lose their pertinence. Capitalism continues to broaden its grip over the very values with which we navigate existence, and no matter how many times we hear Willy Loman’s story, it appears few of us can avoid his fate. Such is the control, that desire for money and status, has over so many.

In her faithful 21st century rendition, director Paige Rattray has ensured a presentation stunning in its aesthetics, with exquisite design work occupying our attention over the near three-hour duration. The legacy of Edward Hopper in particular, is referenced beautifully in its evocation of 1940’s Americana. Paul Jackson’s lights steal the show, painterly and sublimely dramatic, in their bold manifestations of every tragic scene.

David Fleischer’s set design alters proportions of the proscenium, in order that we may obtain more intimate glimpses into the small lives being explored, whilst conveying the decrepitude of the Loman world view that many of us inevitably share. Costumes by Teresa Negroponte make statements about aspiration and disappointment, as they help transport us to a nostalgia that is more disconcerting than wistful. Music and sound design by Clemence Williams is noir-tinged, almost macabre in its grand invocations of regret and broken dreams.

Aspects of the performance utilises the device of a Greek Chorus, thankfully in an understated manner, which help manufacture a sense of gloom, and to prevent the vast space from falling too frequently into an unbearable emptiness. There is however a certain lack of soulfulness in the staging. Undoubtedly we witness a lot of passion being displayed, most notably by Jacek Koman who plays an irrepressible Willy, but the ensemble is not always convincing in their efforts, to represent the spirit of a play that aims to stand up for the little guy.

As Linda, actor Helen Thomson takes every opportunity to bring levity to a dark tale, but a lack in chemistry between the Loman spouses, has a tendency to make the mother and wife character seem somewhat disconnected. Callan Colley and Josh McConville are the sons, Happy and Biff respectively, both amiable personalities, if slightly surface in their depictions of a collapsing patriarchy. McConville does however, bring the show to a satisfying crescendo, late in the piece, when Biff unravels and exposes the truths about his torment.

Willy Loman’s death is important. We will all go about our lives, finding individual ways to figure out what is true and what are lies, based on all manner of evidence and introspection, but featuring prominently in Arthur Miller’s play is the undeniable centrepiece of a person’s death. The decisions we make, the things we value, and the way we love, should never be divorced from the singular fact of certain death, yet we seem in our American Dreams to forever act as though the self is immortal. “You can’t take it with you” is a common refrain, if only we care to listen.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au

Review: Wil & Grace (Rogue Projects)

Venue: FringeHQ (Newtown NSW), Nov 24 – Dec 4, 2021
Playwright: Madeleine Withington
Director: Erica Lovell
Cast: Suz Mawer, Joshua Shediak, Madeleine Withington
Images by Noni Carroll

Theatre review
Grace is having a hard time. Things are not going well in her personal and professional spheres, so having a big boozy night at home with flatmate Varya, is an understandable and much needed distraction. The two discover on the internet, a spell that can raise the dead, and because Grace is a theatre nerd, she chooses to bring William Shakespeare back to life. Next morning, they wake up to a drunk Brit in the living room, and Grace fixates on him being the Bard resurrected.

Wil and Grace, like its sitcom namesake, features a silly plot and unrestrained performances, to deliver light-hearted laughs in its efforts to entertain. Underpinning all the frivolity and impracticable narrative,  however are certain truths about the human experience. Written by Madeleine Withington, the play can be seen as a tribute to a television genre that has touched lives all over the world, with notable hints of unassailable honesty that help us connect fantasy with reality. Something is bothering Grace, and the more she indulges in the bizarre notion that Shakespeare lives in her home, the more we wish to discover her truth.

The show is involving and funny, and director Erica Lovell’s ability to build nuance into the outlandish premise, extends Wil and Grace beyond the single joke that precipitates all the action. Ambitious music by Chrysoulla Markoulli contradicts the sitcom style of presentation, choosing instead to offer glimpses of what is actually going on, inside Grace’s hidden inner world. Jasmin Borsovszky lights the stage with commendable dynamism, bringing much needed variation to the imagery that we see.

Withington performs the part of Grace, sensitive in her portrayal of a troubled individual. Suz Mawer is rambunctious as Varya, wonderfully confident in her embodiment of the role’s flamboyant comedy. The pivotal character of the English visitor, is played by Joshua Shediak whose easy charm and wide-eyed earnestness, helps us invest in the improbable fantasy.

It is never clearer than in 2021, that humans engage, routinely and habitually, in delusions. A businessman who repeatedly asserts his narcissism, is elected President by millions who interpret his greed as charity. Throngs march the streets to fight for the right, to catch a disease and spread it to the vulnerable, in the name of autonomy. Grace insists that a dead man has returned, and sleeps on her couch every night. We are a disturbed populace. We are also optimistic in our interminable belief that brighter days are ahead, although that optimism often seems no different from delusion.

www.rogueprojects.com.au

Review: Three Fat Virgins Unassembled (Kings Cross Theatre)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Nov 24 – Dec 4, 2021
Playwright: Ovidia Yu
Director: Tiffany Wong
Cast: Denise Chan, Sabrina Chan D’Angelo, Happy Feraren, Caroline George
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
In Ovidia Yu’s 1992 play, characters are referred to as virgins, mostly because they have been stripped of their sexuality, conceptually de-sexed, in a Confucian society that sternly refuses individuals of their idiosyncratic potentialities. The stories of Three Fat Virgins Unassembled take place in Singapore where women, like those of the West, are divided into madonnas and whores, except in this Eastern colonial city, the notion of women being sexually permissive or simply sexually autonomous, is so unthinkable and preposterous, that they are almost always reduced and relegated to a singular celibate stereotype.

By inference therefore, Singaporean women can often be thought of as beings without agency. The same restrictions that curb sexual expression, are extended to all other aspects of identity. Socially, economically and politically, they can only ever place nation and family before self, becoming cogs in the machine that serve a larger purpose, with no space left for personal fulfilment. Deviations are stringently prohibited.

Yu calls these women fat, because their lives are bound to a certain mode of passivity, as a result of the tight limitations they face in virtually every moment of existence. They become versions of “ladies who lunch”, gorging on high tea and consumerism, always with their mouths stuffed with food that function not as nourishment, but as silencing devices. Like fetishistic “feeders”, Singapore systematically fattens up their women, so that they may lose agility, consequently unable to escape their master, and his instruments of oppression.

Directed by Tiffany Wong, this Sydney production preserves all the humour and poignancy of the 29 year-old original. Wong does wonderfully to bridge cultural and temporal distances, so that we may perceive the relative foreignness of a play that comes from another time and place, yet apply its ideas to contemporary Australian experiences. Also noteworthy is Esther Zhong’s costume designs, blending hard and soft aspects of femininity, for beautiful representations of modern Asian women. A set by Sarah Amin addresses effectively, the frequent scene transitions of Three Fat Virgins Unassembled, as well as providing tongue-in-cheek visual cues to the “exotic” nature of staging such a work in colonised Australia.

Four very committed and charismatic actors play these fat virgins, and their antagonists, with splendid aplomb.  Denise Chan, Sabrina Chan D’Angelo, Happy Feraren and Caroline George are all funny women, able to convey both comedic and tragic aspects of the storytelling. The gravity they bring to the stage, often with an undeniable sense of melancholy, emphasises the point being made, but the ubiquitous air of irony the team is able to harness, gives their show its subversive and very pleasurable theatricality.

Women everywhere, it seems, are all humans, united by a very particular form of oppression. So much of our lives exist in relation to patriarchies, that rob us of our agency, our desire, our sovereignty. Those patriarchies may on occasion appear to celebrate and elevate us, but what they are championing, are  invariably only qualities of their determination. Moreover in their endorsement of particular females, it is clear that their habit of picking one above the rest, is a reinforcement of their modus operandi; through which we learn that we will forever feel comparatively inadequate, and that we are to be divided and separated, if we are to be properly handled.

Singaporean patriarchy is always shrouded in a deceptive benevolence. It talks about duty, framing its impositions in familial and communal terms, whether wistfully or staunchly, and it will deny any attempt to redefine the status quo; the powerful will never concede. One hopes that three decades on, conditions would have improved since the initial conception of Three Fat Virgins Unassembled, but the work’s resonances remain, and everything still looks convincing, real and truthful.

www.slantedtheatre.com

Review: The Boomkak Panto (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Nov 20 – Dec 23, 2021
Playwright: Virginia Gay
Director: Richard Carroll, Virginia Gay
Cast: Deborah Galanos, Virginia Gay, Rob Johnson, Billy McPherson, Hamed Sadeghi, Mary Soudi, Zoe Terakes, Toby Truslove
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
The show begins with a big city property developer descending upon the Australian country town of Boomkak, threatening to alter the way of life forever, in that archetypal sleepy village. Residents join forces, thinking that raising funds from staging a pantomime, would help them fight the evil mogul. Things make little sense in The Boomkak Panto, but the creators make no bones about finding inspiration from traditional children’s entertainment. Their presentation is loud and joyous, an appropriate awakening from 18 months of a pandemic induced slumber. It is celebratory in tone, and certainly feels quite frivolous to start, but Act 2 takes a more meaningful, if abrupt turn, to discussions about immigration and colonisation, along with gender and sexual politics.

One of the characters, Zoe is in the process of coming out as non-binary, and their storyline becomes increasingly prominent, over the course. It is commendable that The Boomkak Panto chooses to deviate from its initial frothiness, to involve itself in important social discussions, but one wonders if a more cohesive approach could have been found, for an improved sense of harmony for the show’s various trajectories.

Writer Virginia Gay’s jokes are plentiful, ranging from corny to genuinely hilarious. A handful of songs by Eddie Perfect give the production a touch of class, although its use of classic pop tunes are no less effective. The clash between earnestness and irony in The Boomkak Panto can make for an awkward  theatrical experience, but is also necessary, in its explorations of white identity in this day and age. Whiteness is thankfully self-aware on this stage, but is also evidently unable to relinquish its persistent dominance. 

Directed by Richard Carroll and by Gay herself, the work offers great amusement, with energy levels sustained at an admirable height throughout the duration of 2.5 hours. Visually captivating, with sets and costumes by Michael Hankin, and lights by Jasmine Rizk giving us lots of bedazzling colour and movement. Zara Stanton’s musical direction, along with Kellie-Anne Kimber’s sound design, combine to deliver a rich auditory experience. Hamed Sadeghi’s live accompaniment on Persian instruments is a notable highlight, valuable in providing a “countercultural” dimension to what is deemed classic Australian music.

The aforementioned Zoe is played by Zoe Terakes, who brings impressive presence, and an enjoyable air of recalcitrance to their performance. Virginia Gay is very strong as Alison, especially in two big scenes where she occupies centre stage, memorable for her remarkable ebullience. Stealing the show is Rob Johnson who, as the central (property developer) villain and as local idiot Butch, uses toxic masculinity in its various guises to generate unremitting laughter. Johnson’s timing and sense of mischief, are an absolute joy.

In the pantomime world, everything is old and predictable. Young minds are shaped in traditional ways, to make sense of the world in accordance with the values of previous generations. In Boomkak, storytellers are trying to flip the script, not to cause havoc, but to make things right. We have made a habit out of marginalising one another, constantly finding ways to denigrate some, so that others might reap advantages. It is unclear if we can ever reach a point of true justice and fairness, but it is in that unrelenting pursuit , in that active search and insistence on doing better, that we can find ways to live with integrity. 

www.belvoir.com.au