Review: Moon Rabbit Rising (25A Belvoir)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Jun 29 – Jul 10, 2022
Director: Nicole Pingon
Cast: Mym Kwa, Jon Lam, Jasper Lee-Lindsay, Monica Sayers, Rachel Seeto
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
The ancient Chinese legend of 嫦娥 Chang’e has been told with many variations, but what is certain about the story, is that it involves her beau 后裔 Hou Yi, an elixir and the moon. Moon Rabbit Rising is a devised work based on that very tale. Without the use of any dialogue, we revisit a myth that has persisted through the ages, and that a billion people memorialise, during annual celebrations of the Mid-Autumn Festival.

What we remember about Chang’e and Houyi is explored through physical theatre in Moon Rabbit Rising, with a delicate sensibility that makes the presentation look more like an abstract dance, than a literal representation of the beloved narrative. Director Nicole Pingon’s creation is one of considerable beauty. It incorporates the story’s inherent naivety for a show able to express a gamut of emotions, from which the audience can form personal interpretations, whether about the immediate story, or tangential departures inspired by what one encounters.

Tyler Fitzpatrick’s evocative lighting design provides for the staging, a hypnotic quality that encourages our minds to simultaneously focus and dream, to use what our eyes see, and travel to mythical and perhaps philosophical spaces within. Christine Pan’s sound and music are wonderfully rich, memorable for the modernity and the sensuality she introduces, to this most traditional of folklore.

Elderly performer Jon Lam delivers untold resonance and profundity, as we delve into an exploration of heritage. Together with four younger members of cast, an exceptionally cohesive ensemble is built, with a shared earnestness that demonstrates a commitment to something that weighs of unmistakeable significance. Their faces reveal an intense connection with the material involved, and we reciprocate by investing sensitively into all that they offer.

On this land, people of colour have had to sublimate our histories, modifying and even burying psychic links to ancestral pasts, in order that we may be allowed to feel at home. That strategy for survival is not just a result of our acquiescence to unfriendly demands, but is in fact a way for many, to deal with difficult situations that had to be left behind. As we emerge from those traumas, it only makes sense to rediscover and embrace parts of what we had escaped. The danger of nostalgia however, is that we forget the bad that had come with the good. The prudent thing to do therefore, is to interrogate and question all that can be inherited, before retaining that which is truly valuable, in our forging of new identities.

www.littleeggscollective.comwww.belvoir.com.au

Review: Top Coat (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Wharf 1 Sydney Theatre Company (Walsh Bay NSW), Jun 25 – Aug 6, 2022
Playwright: Michelle Law
Director: Courtney Stewart
Cast: John Batchelor, Amber McMahon, Matty Mills, Kimie Tsukakoshi, Arisa Yura
Images by Daniel Boud

Theatre review

Many great stories have been told, using the fantasy of switching bodies as conceit, to help us think about what it must be like to walk in others’ shoes. In Michelle Law’s Top Coat, a nail artist and a television executive jump into each other’s bodies, so that we may explore the differences of living on this land, in terms of race, status, and opportunity. It is about the disparities that exist, between being white and not being white, in colonised Australia.

Cleverly imagined, Top Coat challenges longstanding beliefs about meritocracy, by displacing two women from completely divergent backgrounds in the other’s occupation. While it comes as no surprise that Kate fails at providing the simplest of manicures, we are shaken to a realisation that Winnie has little problems playing with the big boys of tv land, simply by looking the part and talking big. The problem of course, is that the only way for Winnie to look the part, that is to become a white person, requires that her narrative be intervened with utter fantasy. Winnie can do the job, she simply will never be allowed to.

Top Coat is entirely outrageous, so it only makes sense to have the story presented as comedy. Laughs however, are few and far between. Law’s writing is wonderfully provocative, but many of her jokes prove less than effective. Director Courtney Stewart struggles to locate a suitable tone and style of farce, resulting in a production that delivers vibrant energy, but that only infrequently lands its punchlines. The moral of the story, and its political point though, are powerfully conveyed, for a show that is ultimately more entertaining with its ideas than for its humour.

Designer James Lew provides jubilantly colourful sets that are visually exciting, but that consume inordinately long amounts of time between scenes to establish. Michael Toisuta’s music intercedes to occupy those moments of transition, keeping the atmosphere spirited, and preparing our sensibilities for what is to follow. Lights by a proficient Kate Baldwin ensure our attention is maintained on relevant portions of the expansive stage, and memorable for playful instances making full use of the play’s comical supernatural aspects.

Actor Kimie Tsukakoshi brings great exuberance to the role of Winnie, with unwavering levels of commitment that keep us firmly on side. Amber McMahon is appropriately animated as Kate, able to make believable even the most bizarre of situations.

There is perhaps no real way for any person to know what it must be like to experience the world as someone else, especially when all our lives can be so vastly different. What we are capable of doing however, is to understand the nature of injustice and disadvantage, and to believe that efforts at seeking redress, should always be an ongoing concern in our democratic lives. Where people refuse to acknowledge uneven playing fields, as well as other manifestations of prejudice, those at the losing end need to find the wherewithal to fight for what is right.

For too long, Asian-Australians and other people of colour, have conformed to notions of the model minority, only to find ourselves as permanently subjugated and silenced second-class citizens. New discussions are now ongoing, as instigated by work like Top Coat, from a younger generation that has begun to see the requirements of politeness for the weapon that it is, in preventing us from ever having things our way. Rage brings people to breaking points, and that is where rules are dismantled.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au

Review: Golden Blood (Griffin Theatre Company)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Darlinghurst NSW), Jun 24 – Jul 30, 2022
Playwright: Merlynn Tong
Director: Tessa Leong
Cast: Merlynn Tong, Charles Wu
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Girl, 14 and Boy, 21 find themselves orphaned upon their mother’s suicide. Having only each other to depend on, the two quickly grow closer, in a social vacuum that sees the wayward older sibling exercise increasingly undue influence on the innocent teen. Merlynn Tong’s Golden Blood takes place in late 90s Singapore, where unlawful gang activities, of which Boy was a committed member, were still making the news. In fear of bringing embarrassment to their family legacy, the young pair hatch creative but corruptive plans to make their fortune, on a land that places veneration on all things gold.

Tong’s writing is exciting and exceptionally colourful. Much of the dialogue in Golden Blood is in Singlish, but the “creole” is carefully crafted, in order that standard English speakers are not left behind. The humour in Tong’s work is thoroughly scintillating, with a broad appeal that transcends cultures. Furthermore the incorporation of Australia as a symbol for Girl’s escapism and ambitions, helps position the play at a point that gives psychological access to viewers here. As the stakes escalate in its narrative, Golden Blood turns melodramatic in a way that some might find alienating, but its concluding moments are unquestionably moving.

Directed by Tessa Leong, the show although never sanctimonious, is an intense and urgent exploration of modern youth. Replete with energy and an unmistakeable air of anxiety, we are compelled from the very start to invest in this unusual coming-of-age tale, of good intentions gone bad. There are slight incongruities with the inclusion of smartphones and certain clothing items, that can cause momentary confusion regarding the era being discussed, but they are ultimately a negligible oversight.

Set and costumes by Michael Hankin are efficiently rendered, and appropriately simple. In tandem with Fausto Brusamolino’s exuberant lights, visual aspects of the production are dynamic, and effective at keeping the audience in a state of consistent tension and tautness. Sound and music by Rainbow Chan are similarly spirited, with cross-cultural influences that convey a valuable complexity, in relation to time and place for this story.

Tong herself takes on the role of Girl, profoundly moving as the misguided ingénue, but also disarmingly hilarious with her exquisite comic timing. Boy is played by Charles Wu, fantastic with the animated physicality and incredible voice he brings to the part. Their chemistry as a team is unbelievably flawless. Both actors bring a marvellous sense of depth to the characters they inhabit, allowing Golden Blood to venture into outlandish and wondrous spaces, without compromising even a fragment on authenticity.

When the definition of success is narrowed down to mean little more than material wealth, the result is an existence that can only ever be empty or exasperating. Girl and Boy were never taught right ways to be, not by their families, and not by the wider communities of which they belong. All they perceive are superficial markers of happiness, designed mostly to obfuscate and not reveal the truth. In Golden Blood we see, that the truth is persistent, even when we try hard to avoid it, and to honour it, is perhaps the only meaningful way to be.

www.griffintheatre.com.au

Review: Lilac (Kings Cross Theatre)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jun 24 – Jul 9, 2022
Playwright: Jackson Used
Director:
Shane Anthony
Cast:  Jack Angwin, Kate Skinner
Images by

Theatre review
Two people fall in love, but one is an addict. In Jackson Used’s Lilac, we encounter a love that does not conquer all, in fact it is quite the opposite. Diana and George are not the lucky ones. Instead of their union helping them become better persons, both experience continual deterioration, yet the forces that draw them together are strong and resolute. This ill-fated relationship is rendered convincingly by playwright Used, through a series of two-hander scenes that fluctuate between compelling and mundane. The dialogue steers clear of sensationalism, which makes for a show that can sometimes feel insufficiently dramatic, but Lilac bears an air of authenticity that invites us to consider its ideas with commensurate circumspection.

Shane Anthony’s direction of the piece too, is reliant on establishing a sense of truthfulness, to appeal to our appetite for examining a deeper humanity. More refinement is needed however, for transitions between scenes, to prevent our concentration from being repeatedly disrupted. Set design by Adrienne Andrews delivers a simple white box that helps our imagination accommodate the many spatial transformations required of this 90-minute play. Melancholic lights by Saint Clair, along with a sensual sound design by Chrysoulla Markoulli, create moments of transcendent beauty, to accompany the intensifying tragedy.

Jack Angwin and Kate Skinner play the lovers, both performers wonderfully intricate and persuasive with all that they bring to the stage. Angwin’s extraordinary level of commitment ensures that we see only characters telling a story, and that the actor’s work is skilfully hidden from sight. Skinner brings power to the role of Diana, able to convey her weaknesses as human vulnerability, to be understood and not to be blamed.

It is true that when one falls in love, so much can simply go out of control. It is not entirely true however, that one cannot help but fall in love. We watch Diana keep getting sucked back into the abyss of a life with George, and each time we will for her to walk away. Perhaps it is easier said than done, to stop oneself from loving. or perhaps these are lessons that one can only learn the hard way, and both Diana and George will one day be able to stay out of trouble, after years of toxic embroilment.

www.sandpaperplane.com

Review: The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Roslyn Packer Theatre (Sydney NSW), Jun 21 – Jul 16, 2022
Playwright: Anne Brontë (adapted by Emme Hoy)
Director: Jessica Arthur
Cast: Danielle Catanzariti, Remy Hii, Tara Morice, Tuuli Narkle, Ben O’Toole, Steve Rodgers, Eliza Scott, Anthony Taufa, Nikita Waldron
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review
It was England in the 19th century, so when Helen Huntington suddenly returns to live in Wildfell Hall without her husband, much consternation arises. Published under the pseudonym Acton Bell in 1848, Anne Brontë’s novel The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall, was an exploration of family abuse considered daring in Victorian times. This stage adaptation by Emme Hoy certainly seeks to place focus, through a contemporary lens, on the gendered disparity in the ways our societies assign power. Hoy says all the right things, in order that her play bears undeniable gravitas, but the plot although creatively structured, struggles to communicate the story with clarity, leaving its audience confused for significant durations.

Jessica Arthur’s direction of the work succeeds at imbuing modern flavours into an old story, so that we may connect more intimately with the concerns of The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall, but the play’s anti-chronology is made further complicated by many of the cast having to play multiple yet somewhat similar characters. The abrupt shifts in time also prevents viewers from sufficiently engaging emotions, whether tragic or joyful. Before we can feel in meaningful ways for any part of the narrative, it pivots elsewhere, making our senses adapt to yet another different place.

Thankfully, the cast is uniformly strong, with lead actor Tuuli Narkle demonstrating impressive authenticity for the wide range of mental states that her complex character experiences. Helen is strong and weak, happy and sad, just like any real woman, and Narkle’s portrayal of all those conflicting qualities, proves to be completely convincing. Helen’s love interests are played by Remy Hii and Ben O’Toole, both highly charismatic and compelling, with Hii excelling at creating a comically adorable personality, and O’Toole shining as the contemptible antagonist. Eliza Scott is memorable in her dual roles of Mary and Millicent, able to introduce idiosyncrasy in ways that encourage audience identification. It is debatable whether Scott’s live singing is incorporated seamlessly enough, but their abilities, as actor and singer, are beyond question.

Music by composer Clemence Williams is thoroughly beautiful, and atmospheric in all the appropriate ways, able to place our sensibilities somewhere between the historical and the present, so that we may perceive Helen’s period drama from a decidedly current position. Trent Suidgeest’s lights are at their best when sultry, offering deliciously moody visions that speak on the story’s dangerous aspects. An ambitious set design by the very accomplished Elizabeth Gadsby ensures that our need for spectacle is suitably addressed, and Renée Mulder’s costumes meld theatricality with accuracy, so that Victorian values are never far from our minds.

Whether or not one regards that epoch as part of one’s own history, to live on this land, is to have to contend with the remnants of that English past. Helen’s problems, of having to survive in a man’s world and not on one’s own terms, can however be seen as commonplace and universal. Most of us come from backgrounds, where our mothers (and their mothers) have had to suffer indignity and injustice. Most of us have seen our mothers (and their mothers) struggle to live up to their fullest potentials. It is true that every new generation will inherit those abhorrent conditions, but it is also true that we are capable of learning from the past, even if our evolution can seem forever at snail’s pace.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au

Review: M.Rock (ATYP)

Venue: The Rebel Theatre (Sydney NSW), Jun 21 – Jul 17, 2022
Playwright: Lachlan Philpott
Director: Fraser Corfield
Cast: Valerie Bader, Milena Barraclough Nesic, Bryn Chapman Parish, Masego Pitso, Darius Williams
Images by Tracey Schramm

Theatre review
Before beginning her stint at university, young Tracey decides to live a little, and follows a hot DJ to clubland in Berlin. Meanwhile, her grandmother Mabel is sick of being worried about Tracey’s sudden disappearance, and promptly leaves Sydney for a worldwide trip, in search of the intrepid teenager. Lachlan Philpott’s M.Rock is thankfully less about family, and more about a part of humanity that is constantly in search mode. It is a humorous work, full of wonder and inspiration, that explores the meaning of life, in terms of its interminable thirst for something better.

Directed by Fraser Corfield, this new production of Philpott’s 2014 play is zestful and mischievous, replete with imagination, and brimming with jubilant spirit. There is perhaps no need for awkward updates that attempt to bring the story to 2022, involving the pointless incorporation of covid on one hand, and the conspicuous absence of social media on the other, but the show is nonetheless a tremendously enjoyable one, certain to resonate with audiences of all kinds.

The captivating Valerie Bader plays Mabel the older lady who surprises everyone including herself, when she stumbles upon an entirely new life, during what should have been the twilight of her years. Bader eloquently depicts all the meaningful nuances of her character’s uplifting narrative, having us simultaneously amused and enlightened. Milena Barraclough Nesic as granddaughter Tracey is effervescent with an innocent charm, and impressive with her faultless delivery of some very wordy soliloquys. 

An additional ensemble of three marvellous actors, share a big roster of smaller roles. Darius Williams is especially memorable as DJ Messerschmitt and as Lucky the cab driver, demonstrating exquisite timing and unparalleled magnetism, no matter who he portrays. Bryn Chapman Parish is detailed in working with both his physical and vocal capacities, consistently convincing whether playing silly or serious, and quite literally amazing when playing against type, in bringing Tracey’s mother to life, without so much as a wig for disguise. The exuberant Masego Pitso is a ball of energy that livens up her every scene, often with unpredictable choices that keeps the viewing experience surprising and fresh.

Production designer Melanie Liertz manufactures distinct segments for the stage, so that performances can take place effectively and clearly in different times and spaces. Lights by Jasmine Rizk work with an abundance of very dark surfaces, to convey some visual interest and variation. Introducing great vibrancy is the music of Jonny Seymour, forming a techno soundscape that tells a tale of youthful vigour, at all stages of life.

It is perhaps inevitable that wisdom comes with age, yet so much of convention wants us to think of age as only restrictive and calamitous. The most significant difference between early and later stages of Mabel’s story, is the ways in which she perceives herself, and how easily that transformation occurs. It is a matter of course that others would underestimate her, but it is the gaslighting that has held her back for years, that rings most poignantly about her story. Parenthood is a saintly occupation, but it should only define a person momentarily. Mabel had believed that being a parent was the final and ultimate of her achievements, but in fact it was just a precursor to the many grander things that lay ahead.

www.atyp.com.au

Review: Bonnie & Clyde (Hayes Theatre)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), 17 Jun – 17 Jul, 2022
Book: Ivan Menchall
Lyrics: Don Black
Music: Frank Wildhorn
Director: Sam Hooper
Cast: Teagan Wouters, Blake Appelqvist, Carlo Boumouglbay, Jonathan Chan, Darcy Fisher, Lewis Francis, Deborah Galanos, Milo Hartill, Kieran McGrath, Lucy Miller, William Motunuu, Sarah Murr, Caity Plummer, Sam Richardson, Luisa Scrofani, Jim Williams
Images by Grant Leslie

Theatre review

Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow lived a century ago in the United States of America, where they had become notorious robbers who killed a total of thirteen people through their exploits. Their names continue to hold cultural meaning today, thanks mainly to the 1967 Hollywood film Bonnie and Clyde, remembered for glamourising that historical entanglement, of crime and romance. This musical version first appeared in 2009, and ran for just 69 performances on Broadway in 2011.

On stage, the scandalous couple’s story seems to lose all its lustre. Their personalities become too nice, and their lawlessness is portrayed too innocently. The book by Ivan Menchall feels uninspired, demonstrating that little about the legendary narrative remains captivating. Directed by Sam Hooper, who brings along an unmistakeable earnestness to this revival, but struggles to make the show deliver enough thrills and spills, even with the presence of firearms throughout the piece.

The general look of the production is accomplished with a minimalist approach, that can feel somewhat unimaginative, and sparse. The songs in Bonnie and Clyde however, are enjoyable. Music direction by Zara Stanton keeps things classic and tight, with neat but lively instrumentations that help to sustain our attention. Vocals by lead performers Teagan Wouters and Blake Appelqvist are powerful ; both offering technical brilliance that successfully elevate these lesser known tunes. Characters in the show, however, never feel convincing, and the audience is never really able to invest meaningfully into any relationship or narrative.

It may seem that we have finally lost interest in old criminals like Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, but the truth is that we have simply shifted our admiration for the outlaw, to a different kind. In 2022, it is the billionaire maverick that has captured our attention. He does not have to wield guns or get his boots dirty. He simply fires off irresponsible tweets, and watch legions of fanboys fawn over his reckless behaviour. He uses his wealth and influence, to manipulate markets, bringing untold volatility to our economies. All because of his insatiable need, to look important and to feel virile.

www.hayestheatre.com.au

Review: Horses (25A Belvoir)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Jun 16 – 25, 2022
Playwright: Ian Sinclair
Director: Tait de Lorenzo
Cast: Justin Amankwah, Tom Dawson, Caitlin Doyle-Markwick, Nathaniel Langworthy, Charlotte Otton, Brontë Sparrow
Images by Robert Catto

Theatre review
The story takes place barely a century ago, during the Great Depression. Several hundred people gather to participate in a dance marathon, in hopes of winning a cash prize of $1,500. They are only allowed ten-minute breaks every 2 hours, and we hear early on, that previous contests had gone on each time, for over a thousand hours. It is a perverse reality show, that is part Big Brother and part ancient Roman blood sport, capitalising on the human’s insatiable thirst for exploitative entertainment. Based on Horace McCoy’s 1935 novel and Sydney Pollack’s 1969 film They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, this new adaptation by Ian Sinclair moves the action from California to Sydney, and is concisely retitled Horses.

Although retaining the macabre qualities of the original, Sinclair’s vision is decidedly humorous, in this very modern transposition to the stage. Indeed, the bizarre conceit lends itself to a dark comedy, which director Tait de Lorenzo does not hesitate to use to her advantage. Instead of relying on the tragedy’s undeniably sad dimensions, de Lorenzo provokes us into thought, by making us laugh. The result is a surprisingly funny show, that also cares to be poignant enough for the important questions, about who we are and why we are, to emerge.

Production design by Cris Baldwin draws attention to the event as a spectacle for amusement, whilst ensuring that we never lose sight of the difficult times during which it had occurred. Benjamin Brockman’s lights convey the sorrowful heart of the story, even when offering bedazzling concoctions that fascinate our eyes. Similarly sophisticated, is sound design by Zac Saric offering an intricate and complex landscape, often telling us more than the dialogue does, about all that we need to know about Horses.

An excellent ensemble of six players, individually idiosyncratic, but wonderfully cohesive as a whole, take us on a revelatory and ultimately brutal vaudeville, about our worst selves. Nathaniel Langworthy and Charlotte Otton are effortlessly comical, with mischievous presences that insist on our mirthful responses. Tom Dawson and Caitlin Doyle-Markwick bring whimsy to the production, with a sense of experimental freedom, that helps us broaden our minds, as we form meanings from a theatre that speaks more in terms of symbols than it does in words. Justin Amankwah and Brontë Sparrow deliver the sentimental aspects of Horses, both captivating, and effective in engaging our empathy, for this hideous moment of self-reflection.

Watching Horses today, we need to be conscious of the difference in circumstances, between now and then. Although poised for a period of recession, we must not interpret the story in too similar a way from when it had been written. It is crucial that the truth about extreme wealth disparities in the twenty-first century, should play a significant role in modern interpretations of the story.

Like the competing dancers in Horses, we often find ourselves fighting one another, thinking that that is the only way to get ahead. Convinced that there can only be one winner in so many of our circumstances, we have been trained to not only act ruthlessly, but to submit to humiliation and self-blame. We have grown accustom to the top ten percent owning virtually everything in the world that is commodifiable, and we let them manipulate our lives to serve their purpose, of worsening that unforgivable discrepancy.

There is no reason, especially today, for any of us to demean ourselves in the name of entertainment, in order to make a buck, yet that seems to be par for the course. In so much of today’s idea of amusement, from television to TikTok, people put themselves through all manner of debasement, so that they can become winners of little consequence. The ones who benefit most, do not have themselves shown. They might shoot the horses, but they show us no mercy. They simply send in the clowns and reap all the rewards.

www.belvoir.com.au

Review: A Doll’s House (Ensemble Theatre)

Venue: Ensemble Theatre (Kirribilli NSW), Jun 10 – Jul 16, 2022
Playwright: Henrik Ibsen (adapted by Joanna Murray-Smith)
Director: Mark Kilmurry
Cast: Chantelle Jamieson, James Lugton, Lizzie Schebesta, David Soncin, Tim Walter
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review
Nora has committed a victimless crime, in efforts to rescue her family from financial ruin. With her husband Torvald installed as the unequivocal head of household, Nora can only operate furtively, even though her actions are anything but selfish. The themes in Henrik Ibsen’s 1879 play A Doll’s House demonstrates that things may improve with time, but meaningful change occurs at a painfully slow pace. This new modern day adaptation by Joanna Murray-Smith is a concise revisiting of the classic, updated for audiences with reduced attention spans, but retains all the essences of the original. It is alarming, how little the story needs to change, to bring Nora convincingly back from a century-and-a-half ago.

Mark Kilmurry’s direction bears the formalness of a period piece, even though letters have been replaced by emails, and ostracism is now partly evidenced as a fall from grace on social media. Design aspects are minimally, and slightly unimaginatively, rendered, but there is a passionate urgency, especially at the conclusion, that makes this version of A Doll’s House a memorable experience. Kilmurry’s sincere commitment to making heard, the play’s central point of gender equality, keeps it resonating long after curtain call.

Lead actor Chantelle Jamieson’s commanding presence is responsible for the vivacious energy of the entire production. She brings a valuable acuity that Nora lacks, so that we may gain important insights, including ones that her character is yet to understand. Jamieson begins her performance with an abundance of manic intensity, appropriate for a woman with secrets to hide, but it is after the truth comes out, when a stillness takes over, that we truly see the depths of this actor’s abilities.

Torvald is played by a generous James Lugton, who is suitably patronising and patriarchal in his depictions of an antiquated being. He becomes increasingly despicable as the show progresses, culminating in a chilling moment in which he calls his dark-skinned wife “genetically doomed”, for a moment of dramatic danger that reminds us of the racial dimensions of this new retelling of an old tale. Lizzie Schebesta, David Soncin and Tim Walter are the remaining cast members, all impressive with the level of professional dedication they bring to their roles, delivering a great sense of believability to Nora’s little world.

In the space of ten minutes, we watch Nora grow exponentially, as everything around her falls apart. It is true that life will give us many pivotal moments, but these are really only opportunities that could ultimately mean nothing, unless one finds the courage to make them consequential.

www.ensemble.com.au

Review: Cleansed (Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Jun 9 – 25, 2022
Playwright: Sarah Kane
Director: Dino Dimitriades
Cast: Danny Ball, Stephen Madsen, Tommy Misa, Jack Richardson, Charles Purcell, Fetu Taku, Mây Trần
Images by Robert Catto

Theatre review

It is uncertain where the action takes place, but in Sarah Kane’s Cleansed, we see a man named Tinker torturing several individuals, in a manner that implies somewhere utterly and devastatingly fascistic. Tinker is presented as all powerful, able to commit the most heinous of acts without being reprehended, or perhaps his horrific atrocities are indeed sanctioned, by an authority that remains unidentified. Tinker’s victims display no violent and criminal tendencies, only forms of sexual and gender expression that deviate from what some of us might call, the heteronormative.

It is a ghastly thing to witness, this incessant agony being inflicted on characters, in a theatrical presentation obsessed with pain. In truth, moments between the brutality, are filled with depictions of a loving nature, but the suffering is never distant enough, for anything sweet or nice, to sufficiently emerge. We know with hindsight, that Cleansed offers a window into the psyche of a tormented soul. Originally created less than a year before playwright Kane’s suicide, it gives us access to a darkness rarely seen, in any of our communal settings.

Direction by Dino Dimitriadis explores that space of terror, without mitigation. The intensity with which Kane’s writing is transposed on this occasion, is uncompromising, and quite shocking in its effect. The concept of body horror, figures prominently in the staging, to communicate with veracity, not only the level of anguish experienced by those devoid of hope, but also to depict the psychological consequences of homophobia and transphobia, in some of our everyday existences.

Dimitriadis appropriately manufactures for us, a sense of escalating dread and revulsion, refusing to give in to any need for reprieve. There is no room for politeness, when matters are truly urgent. The audience is left to its own devices, to access mental fortitude wherever it can, in order to get to the end of Cleansed, should they choose to stay. Exiting prematurely, in this case, is also an understandable and valid cause of action.

Sound design by Benjamin Pierpoint is relied upon to strike fear into our hearts, and its efficacy cannot be understated. If your worst nightmare can be represented in an audio recording, Pierpoint has accomplished it here. Jeremy Allen’s set design is black, hard and stony, to convey the cruelty that our species is capable of inflicting on one another. Lights by Benjamin Brockman and Morgan Moroney are similarly icy, offering only the most explicit perspective of the inhumanity being exposed. Costumes by Connor Milton are aesthetically understated, but the way injury and decapitation is represented, is cleverly achieved, and suitably gruesome.

Actor Danny Ball is marvellous as Tinker, deadpan but terrifying, full of ambiguity in his portrayal of pure evil. The quietness of Ball’s performance disallows us to undermine the severity of his character’s barbaric deeds; it is the absence of dramatics in Tinker’s cruelty that makes us see it exactly for what it is. Mây Trần as Grace, delivers some of the most affecting emotional authenticity one could hope to see in the flesh. To be able to muster such a visceral and accurate presence for a character at the very depths of despair, is evidence of an artist of the highest calibre at work. The unforgettable Stephen Madsen shakes us to the core, with spine-chilling screams and a ravaged physicality that tragically deteriorates over time. It is a splendid cast of seven incendiary types, determined to say something devastating, in an extremely powerful way.

Cleansed may not be about a universal experience, but the harrowing nature of its story is contingent on our ability to all feel the same pain. Tinker knows how to inflict pain, because he too knows what it is to suffer. There is a dissonance that always exist perhaps, in our ability to do unto others what we wish not to have done to ourselves. It may seem that a constant in being human, involves a need to perceive difference. To be able to think of some as more deserving than others, allows for power to manifest. To be able to think of some as inferior, allows for abuse to take place. Tinker is no different from the rest; understanding how he gets to exercise such power, is the key to dismantling so many of our ills.

www.redlineproductions.com.au