Review: Macbeth (Montague Basement)

montaguebasementVenue: PACT Centre for Emerging Artists (Erskineville NSW), Nov 29 – Dec 10, 2016
Playwright: William Shakespeare
Director: Saro Lusty-Cavallari
Cast: Travis Ash, Robert Boddington, Hannah Cox, Alex Francis, Barret Griffin, Lulu Howes, Jem Rowe
Image by Zaina Ahmed

Theatre review
It is a story of greed and betrayal, arising from unbridled ambition, but it is also a parable of retribution and punishment. The transgressions in Macbeth reveal dark and buried parts of our psyche, although neglected in much of daily life, we all know to exist beneath our amiable surfaces. Our conscience keeps things in check, but some of us use divine inspiration as permission to carry out less than pleasant deeds. Shakespeare’s characters know that the supernatural forces they conspire with are evil, but in our realities, they are never quite so undisguised.

Saro Lusty-Cavallari’s rendition of the play is a straightforward telling of the story. A few artistic licenses are taken in his effective conflation of characters, but the plot is left soundly, almost radically, unaltered. Good work on music selection by Lusty-Cavallari brings drama to the production, but the frequent use of stage blood has a tendency to look puerile. Flashes of strong acting by Hannah Cox as Lady Macbeth and Jem Rowe as Malcolm, introduce moments of elevation to a cast that is generally underwhelming. Robert Boddington as Macbeth is insufficiently expressive, in body and in voice, neither to entertain nor to provide psychological insight into one of Western theatre’s most infamous characters.

Countless other productions of Macbeth have come before, many of which have been huge successes. Artists have the right to take on any classic, should they think themselves capable, but they must remain conscious of their audience’s relationship with the text in question. It is highly likely that any performance of a work like Macbeth would be compared to memorable versions that have come prior. Young artists can choose between cutting their teeth with challenging material in the public domain, or settle for something more attainable. Impatience usually results in clumsiness, but it is also a valuable quality necessary for us to soar at great heights.

www.montaguebasement.com

Review: Resplendence (Old Fitzroy Theatre)

oldfitzVenue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Nov 29 – Dec 10, 2016
Playwright: Angus Cerini
Director: Nathan Lovejoy
Cast: James O’Connell
Image by Pernilla Finne

Theatre review
A young man walks into the auditorium, dishevelled and distressed. He is incoherent, and remains so for the entire duration of the 50-minute play. Our humanity compels us to connect; our instinct is to reach out for an understanding, but he is elusive, and we must decide how to make sense of his evanescent presence.

Actor James O’Connell’s performance is vulnerable yet confident, full of power and focus. What the play lacks in structural conventionality or narrative logic, O’Connell compensates with outstanding emotional intensity. Adding to the astringent atmosphere is director Nathan Lovejoy’s clever use of lights and sound, delivering an experience memorable for its unrelenting severity.

Angus Cerini’s Resplendence may not communicate well, but it represents with convincing legitimacy, a state, or perhaps, a mode of being, that contradicts how most of us think of life. Fractured, irrational and puzzling, the man reminds us of lost souls who roam the streets, people we might consider vagrant, even insane, but as we get lost in his anguished rhapsodies, we discover parts within our selves that are not dissimilar to the smithereens disseminated onstage.

www.oldfitztheatre.com

Review: Lighten Up (Griffin Theatre Company)

griffinVenue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Dec 2 – 17, 2016
Playwrights: Nicholas Brown, Sam McCool
Director: Shane Anthony
Cast: Katie Beckett, Nicholas Brown, Vivienne Garrett, Julie Goss, Sam McCool, Bishanyia Vincent
Image by AH Imagery

Theatre review
John thinks that he is white, but people keep telling him that he looks Indian. In his efforts to make his appearance fit his sense of self-identity, he scrubs his skin with pumice stone, and owns a collection of contact lenses in green and blue. To make things even more problematic, John is an actor, whose looks are his meal ticket, but also a constant source of judgement and frustration to be endured virtually every day. Nicholas Brown and Sam McCool’s Lighten Up is about racism, that complex and fraught topic of discussion Australians love to fight over. We never seem to be able to agree on what it means to be racist, and every individual’s unwillingness to own up to their prejudices means that we are rarely able to get to the truths of the matter. Often, the best we can do is agree to disagree, which unfortunately fixes none of our problems.

Brown and McCool’s play however, is brutally honest in its social commentary. There are no surprises in its depiction of our culture of colonialism, but what it says about ethnic minorities helping to perpetuate our own subjugation is fascinating. The issues it raises are clearly concerning, but the show is a funny one, often uproariously so. The playwrights’ acerbic wit gives Lighten Up an edginess that is as startling as it is entertaining, and even though several of its plot devices are slightly dubious, the show’s power is undeniable. Its politics may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but its refreshing approach makes for exciting theatre that will amuse any audience type.

As director and dramaturg, Shane Anthony brings excellent illumination to the play’s important nuances. His show is bright and bubbly, but always determined to make its point. In its tenacious effort to drive home its message, the staging can sometimes feel less than elegant, with awkward transitions in terms of mood and character dynamics, but its overall effect is very rewarding indeed.

The cast is wonderfully accomplished, and tremendously likeable, with writer Brown taking on the lead role and inhabiting perfectly the essence of John and his story, proving himself to be a precise and dynamic performer who communicates with surprising depth and impressive charm. Similarly compelling is supporting player Julie Goss, memorable for an alluring exuberance that fluctuates playfully, and provocatively, between sincerity and sarcasm. Bishanyia Vincent is an outrageous presence whose every entrance is greeted with sparkling laughter. Her ability to find comedy in every line is a major contribution to the show’s deceptive but pertinent congeniality.

The worst people in Lighten Up are the ones who hate themselves the most. We often explain racism to be a hatred of others, but in the play, it is clear that that compulsion arises first for the self. When we are unable to accept perceived flaws or weaknesses in ourselves, we often turn that disdain outwards, scapegoating convenient targets to manufacture a kind of psychological and emotional balance. When the world tells us that we are not enough, it is easy to use that same barometer to chastise others. Compassion is our hope to better communities, but it needs to begin with a greater internal kindness. Love can only be true, if the one who gives it knows it well.

www.griffintheatre.com.au

Review: Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? (The Greek Theatre)

Venue: The Greek Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Nov 25 – Dec 17, 2016
Playwright: Edward Albee
Director: uncredited
Cast:  Christian Charisiou, Deborah Galanos, Nicholas Papademetriou, Adele Querol
Image by Rocket K Weijers

Theatre review
Martha and George have a sado-masochistic relationship, one that requires a heavy dose of exhibitionism to function. Edward Albee’s play does not put their sex life on display, but the couple’s existence is a chaotic one, in which joy and pain are intensely experienced, with little in terms of boundaries differentiating between the two. George’s emasculation is at the centre of all the action, along with Martha’s anguish under the glass ceiling. Finding herself without opportunities to live up to her father’s professional eminence, she resents George for failing to reach those heights on her behalf. There are very big problems in their marriage, and they find resolution through ruthless arguments, but only in the presence of other people.

The masterpiece says a lot about human nature, and it is through the immense complexity of Albee’s characters that we gain access to some very deep truths about ourselves. The roles are hugely challenging, and performances garner mixed results in this production, which incidentally comes with uncredited directorship. Nicholas Papademetriou does a respectable job as George, believable as the pussy-whipped, deflated middle-aged academic, but lacking in the toxic bitterness that is required to drive the play. The character is weak, but also full of anger, and the actor never quite convinces us of George’s dangerous sides. Martha is much bolder, as interpreted by the dynamic Deborah Galanos. Wild, volatile and carnal, it is an energetic performance that the production relies on for its vigour. Christian Charisiou and Adele Querol are memorable as the show’s supporting players, both charming and considered in their approach, demonstrating a strong level of conviction that makes their work persuasive.

In Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? men are supposed to look, act and think a certain way. The rules may not be explicitly stated, but we know what they are, and in these characters’ suffering, we see that those standards are unrealistic, and in fact, harmful. They all busy themselves with roles assigned by society, but no one is fulfilled. We spend much of our lives carrying out expectations that come from the external. Like any other social creature that walks the earth, it is impossible to extricate oneself from the herd. We can try to turn introspective and find desires that seem to be only personal, but we can never be sure of its authenticity. What is doubtless, is our ability to change society. In Albee’s dark universe, lie the clues for letting the light come in.

www.facebook.com/thetheatrongroup

Review: Relatively Speaking (Ensemble Theatre)

ensembleVenue: Ensemble Theatre (Kirribilli NSW), Nov 18, 2016 – Jan 14, 2017
Playwright: Alan Auckbourn
Director: Mark Kilmurry
Cast: Jonny Hawkins, Tracy Mann, Emma Palmer, David Whitney
Image by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
It is a very serious case of mistaken identities in Alan Ayckbourn’s Relatively Speaking, and the hilarity that ensues is rarely surpassed. It is about Ginny leaving one lover for another, but the story is hardly important in how the play is remembered. There is no throwaway line of dialogue, with each word calibrated to a staggering precision in order that we may experience the greatest amplitude of comedy possible. The 50-year-old work may not bear any trendy trimmings or indeed, political relevance to how we now live, but its theatrical structure and language specificity still remains outstanding in our age of perpetual mobile amusement.

The four riotous roles are performed flawlessly by a cast that can only be described as magnificent. Cohesive in tone and style, but each one idiosyncratic and independently captivating, their creations are all unforgettable, but it is the chemistry they manufacture for this ensemble piece that really delivers the goods. Ginny is played by the vivacious Emma Palmer, exuberant and dignified in her interpretation of a young woman in the swinging sixties. Jonny Hawkins is her adorable beau Greg, unbelievably animated and entirely compelling. David Whitney is the other man, spectacularly charming, knowing and droll as Philip, while his wife Sheila is brought to life by the truly extraordinary Tracy Mann with understated flair and impressive confidence.

It may all seem deeply familiar, but director Mark Kilmurry’s realisation of Relatively Speaking feels as though we had never actually seen a show of this genre executed with quite as much panache. His thorough engagement with the material and its particular form, ensures that the laughs are ceaseless for all of its two hours, and that we never tire of whatever he chooses to present. Life is never this much fun, but at the theatre, we sparkle eternal.

www.ensemble.com.au

Review: The Days And Nights Of BeeBee Fenstermaker (Phable Productions)

phableVenue: The Factory Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Nov 29 – Dec 3, 2016
Playwright: William Snyder
Director: Candice Story
Cast: Jack Berry, Eileen Camilleri, Ryan Madden, Lauren Orrell, Bronte Sparrow, Helen Stuart, Charles Upton, Chantelle Von Appen
Image by Lauren Orrell

Theatre review
When we first meet Beebee, she is a young woman full of optimism and ambition, poised to conquer the world. We soon find out that although she has the ability to envision a bright future, our protagonist is ill-equipped to make her dreams come true. William Snyder’s play is about the lessons that we need for a good life. It makes us consider if all the knowledge that we inherit, from family and from school, can ever protect us from falling. Beebee takes a great big tumble, in spite of all her smarts and confidence, and we are surprised that her story is not of the fairy tale ilk, but understand simultaneously, that she can always pick herself up again. No matter how battered and bruised life leaves us, for those of us who are still here, we know that hope always remains.

Candice Story’s direction of the piece is effective in its more melodramatic sections. The stage is ignited by big, vivid emotions when characters get into fierce altercations, but the production is less resonant in scenes that require humour or melancholy. Nevertheless, it is an engaging story relayed with sufficient clarity to comfortably sustain our attention for its two-and-a-half hour duration.

Actor Chantelle Von Appen keeps us invested in Beebee’s misadventures. Her passion drives the play, and even though a more technical and precise approach would give her portrayal a greater sense of psychological accuracy and hence allow us to identify better with her adversity, we never lose interest in how the character evolves. A trio of sisters, played by Eileen Camilleri, Lauren Orrell and Helen Stuart, sends sparks flying with their depiction of complex family dynamics. All the love and hate we experience at home is never easy to articulate, but these sisters, and their understated but potent chemistry, allow us to reflect on how we act and how we feel, when dealing with the nearest and dearest.

In a world determined to tell us what we cannot do, it is the brave and resilient who will get the most out of life. Nothing special comes from an easy ride, and the ones who refuse to accept defeat, will always emerge greater. Beebee may not have begun her journey with every privilege to make everything run smoothly, but the hard knocks that she endures, will provide what is necessary for her to survive and thrive. It may not be that she will end up where she had wanted at the play’s beginning, but with some luck, she will discover peace of mind and happiness, as we should all hope for, for ourselves, before too late.

www.facebook.com/PhableProductions

Review: Morgan Stern (Company Of Rogues)

companyofroguesVenue: Blood Moon Theatre (Potts Point NSW), Nov 23 – Dec 3, 2016
Playwright: Gina Schien
Director: Goldele Rayment
Cast: Graeme Rhodes
Image by Chrissie Ianssen

Theatre review
The Gent awakes in 1972 after a deep slumber. The Edwardian era is now long gone, but there is unfinished business still to be taken care of. He returns to this mortal coil, to find resolution, as a ghost and as guardian angel to a certain Morgan Stern, who faces a set of problems not unlike the ones our Gent had had to deal with, when taking care of his own daughter, back in those less than halcyon days. It was early 19th Century when he last found himself in these challenging circumstances, and it appears very little has changed after two hundred years.

Complex and incredibly rich, Gina Schien’s imaginative writing offers extraordinary insight into the human condition and the glitches in our lives that so often surprise and derail. The language is beautiful, with sensitive attention paid to rhythms and imagery that makes the play an involving one. Dramatic tension can sometimes be lost in its poetic approach, but director Goldele Rayment’s manipulations of atmosphere and spacial configurations are cleverly calibrated, with only one actor and one swivel chair sustaining our concentration. Tegan Nicholls’ work on sound and Roderick van Gelder’s lights are both noteworthy in their efforts to transform and transport our consciousness through the production’s mystical qualities.

Graeme Rhodes delivers an astonishing performance for the one man show, completely captivating with a presence full of conviction and a mental focus impressive with its precision. His voice and physicality are both commanding, both exactingly channelled in each of the play’s sequences, to impart meaning and enthralment. We are amazed by the way his memory is able to contain so much text, seemingly effortlessly, but more importantly, his airtight authority over the material’s depths and expanses, and his ability to exercise inventiveness along with elucidating the writing’s trickier ideas, have us flummoxed, in awe.

When art talks about reality, it does so differently from science. Morgan Stern is about contradictory realities, and how it is necessary for us to be able to encompass things that are not subjectively logical into existence. The world is infinite, in scale and in possibilities, and much as we think that the stuff we know is all there is, art will tell us that the opposite is true. The stuff we know, and the stuff that is knowable, will always and forever be infinitesimal, and every life must count, however inconvenient the other may be.

www.companyofrogues.com