Review: A Deal (Chippen Street Theatre)

Venue: Chippen Street Theatre (Chippendale NSW), Aug 22 – 31, 2019
Playwright: Zhu Yi
Director: Shiya Lu
Cast: Paul Chambers, Abigail Coffey, Edric Hong, Suzann James, Simon Lee, Katherin Nheu, Simone Wang, Sally Williams, Susan Young, Shi-Kai Zhang
Images by Kelvin Xu (Luky Studio)

Theatre review
Li Su comes from the middle classes of China, but in her efforts to make it big as an actor in New York, she pretends to be a tragic stereotype, the kind of immigrant that the West likes to think of as a subject of oppression and persecution, victimised by an inferior authoritarian government. When Su’s parents pay a visit, bringing a million dollars in cash to buy her an apartment, the truth becomes a matter of grave inconvenience that she struggles to navigate. Zhu Yi’s A Deal details the experience of a new American, one who chooses to leave the East for the West, at a time when economic power is at an unprecedented equivalence.

The play is a fascinating exploration of timely issues, from a cross-cultural perspective that introduces an unusual complexity to some otherwise hackneyed topics. Directed by Shiya Lu, the production is intellectually engaging, even if pacing does require tightening up at various points. There are compelling performances from its cast, with Shi-Kai Zhang particularly strong as Su’s father, with a combination of heightened drama and understated humour keeping us thoroughly bemused. Also memorable are Susan Young and Edric Hong, both ebullient with the conviction they bring on stage. Su is played by Katherin Nheu, energetic and convincing in the role, although a greater investment into comedy aspects would help provide a more nuanced interpretation of the narrative.

In A Deal, Su’s own desires and ambitions are in constant battle with expectations of her family and those of her new adoptive country. It is almost as if the young woman can never achieve autonomy, even with all that money in the bank. In some ways, we see that she cares too much about external opinion, but we also understand that these are impinging forces that make it difficult for Su to become her own person, on her own terms. Negotiations have to be made, between her authentic self, and the environment in which she lives. If one chooses to pay indiscriminate attention to every source of influence, the demands that can be made of any single person are interminable. Noise that surrounds Su will never cease. It is up to her to recognise which are superfluous, and do away with them.

www.chippenstreet.com | www.flyinghouse.art

Review: An Intervention (The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Aug 20 -31, 2019
Playwright: Mike Bartlett
Director: Erin Taylor
Cast: Jessica-Belle Keogh, Bardiya McKinnon
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
They are best friends, perhaps even soul mates, but we meet them at a point where these unnamed characters begin to diverge, as they start developing in directions that seem to be in mutual conflict. There is no doubt however, that these two, in Mike Bartlett’s An Intervention, are bonded on a level of essence, that they connect on a fundamental level beyond the surprising choices that they now make. How people experience the world can only ever be unique, and friends growing apart seems almost inevitable. Bartlett’s play is keenly observed and irresistibly witty, a truthful work that reveals meaningful aspects of ourselves, able to demystify parts of human nature that we rarely bring articulation to.

Directed by Erin Taylor, the show is jaunty and engaging, sensitive in its rendering of a story about careless friendships. It is an attractive production, with Jonathan Hindmarsh’s set design and Liam O’Keefe’s lights bringing a sense of flamboyant theatricality to the intimate two-hander. Actor Jessica-Belle Keogh is mesmerising as the one who drinks too much, impressive for the exquisite thoroughness with which she attacks the role. Her performance is intelligent and deliberate but never feels forced, consistently thought-provoking while keeping us wonderfully entertained. Bardiya McKinnon holds his own as the one who marries for convenience, convincing in his natural approach, if slightly too simple in comparison. Excellent chemistry between the two sets the stage alight, for 90 minutes of comedy delivered with an unexpected sophistication.

We may not always be able to intervene when friends make mistakes. Life is often out of our control, and many occasions seem to require that we sit back and watch the unfolding of a car crash. We can however, always be there to help pick up the pieces. The people in An Intervention spend an inordinate amount of time in judgement of each other, but it appears that this constant disapproval amounts to nothing. A life without fuck-ups is no life at all. To have good friends witness every embarrassment, is perhaps a crucial element in the foundation of real love.

www.old505theatre.com | www.facebook.com/LastOneStandingTheatreCo

Review: West Side Story (Opera Australia)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), from Aug 16 – Oct 6, 2019
Book: Arthur Laurents
Music: Leonard Bernstein
Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim
Director: Jerome Robbins
Cast: Christian Ambesi, Matthew Antonucci, Daniel Assetta, Molly Bugeja, Olivia Carniato, Nicholas Collins, Nikki Croker, Paul Dawber, Angelica Di Clemente, Sarah Dimas, Amba Fewster, Anthony Garcia, Sebastien Golenko, Keanu Gonzalez, Paul Hanlon, Zoe Ioannou, Brady Kitchingham, Ariana Mazzeo, Noah Mullins, Natasha O’Hehir, Nathan Pavey, Sophie Salvesani, Berynn Schwerdt, Ritchie Singer, Taylah Small, Joshua Taylor, Blake Tuke, Dean Vince, Lyndon Watts, Daniel Wijngaarden, Jason Yang-Westland, Chloé Zuel
Images by Jeff Busby

Theatre review
It is now 62 years, since the world was first introduced to the Jets and the Sharks, rival gangs from West Side Story, Bernstein and Sondheim’s landmark musical. Its relevance today is startling, as we find the United States in the throes of shocking immigration policies, determined to demonise those hailing from Latin America. The authentic darkness of the piece prevents it from dating, from its experimental musical styles to its thematic explorations into racial vilification, its resonances are timeless, even if the narrative seems to relate specifically to a distant time and space.

The production is highly polished, with director and choreographer Jerome Robbins’ original vision faithfully presented. Design elements no longer feel inventive by today’s standards, but the air of sophistication being conjured is unequivocal.

A tale about white supremacy, West Side Story features a group of white boys called the Jets, who spend their days taunting the Puerto Rican Sharks. Lyndon Watts is an imposing Bernardo, powerful and precise as leader of the Sharks. His nemesis Riff is played by Noah Mullins, a very peculiar casting choice given the performer’s glaringly bookish quality. Leading lady Sophie Salvesani is a suitably wholesome Maria, although rarely inspiring with her renditions of some extremely well-known songs. Daniel Assetta may not deliver a flawless Tony, but we are kept engaged by his likeable presence and surprisingly dulcet tones. The one real star on this stage is Chloé Zuel, whose Anita takes us through every gamut of emotion, impressive from beginning to end, as the proverbial triple threat.

Policing authorities in West Side Story fail to recognise the inherent power imbalance at play, as they attempt to handle the situation as though the feuding parties are equal in strength, unable to identify the victims they should protect. Minorities are routinely subjugated, when a level playing field exists only in our imagination. It is easy to place blame on the juvenile delinquents, who act out these objectionable impulses, but the problems are systemic, deeply entrenched in how we think and how we do things. The cure needs to target the root of the problem, and that will never be less than radical.

www.westsidestory.com.au

Review: 3x3x2 Festival Of New Works (PACT Centre For Emerging Artists)

Venue: PACT Centre for Emerging Artists (Erskineville NSW), Aug 14 – 24, 2019
Images by Samuel James

Freefall
Playwright: Emily Dash
Director: Kip Chapman
Cast: Emily Dash, Alicia Fox, Laura Hobbs, Dean Nash, Liz Diggins

Bring Your Devices In Case You Forget
Creator: Christie Woodhouse
Cast: Christie Woodhouse

Hydraulic Fucking
Creator: Cheryn Frost
Cast: Cheryn Frost

Theatre review
3x3x2 Festival Of New Works presents three separate showings of young women at the helm, all inventive and urgent in their need to talk about some of the day’s biggest issues. Emily Dash’s Freefall is essentially a love story, between a woman of colour and a woman in a wheelchair, in which we investigate the possibility of a union between perspectives of the universe that seem so fundamentally different. Bring Your Devices In Case You Forget by Christie Woodhouse reflects that sense of modern omnipresence, through our participation as multi-identity beings across endless technological platforms, contrasting with her worries about the survival of our species. Yuwaalaraay artist Cheryn Frost makes a stinging statement about capitalist colonisation of Indigenous lands, in Hydraulic Fucking, a no holds barred, highly engaging piece of theatre that is relentless with its politics, yet sensationally entertaining.

In Freefall, Dash’s poetic writing is made powerful by her own performance as Carmen, an intense personality with an insatiable thirst for truth and honesty. Actor Alicia Fox too, is effervescent in the piece, with excellent conviction making the central romantic relationship believable. Bring Your Devices In Case You Forget features the captivating presence of its creator Woodhouse, along with clever video projections, and an innovative manipulation of its artistic form, to inspire ideas relating to the virtual and non-virtual worlds in which we operate. Darkest and funniest of the minuscule festival is Hydraulic Fucking, a work full of vigour, and subversive to the core. Impolite and transgressive, Frost demonstrates extraordinary vision and nerve, in her unforgettable interrogation of our collective conscience.

In 2019, it would seem that the greatest sin is ignorance. The democratisation of information through the advent of technologies, has allowed voices to break through, that once were routinely subdued and buried. Without traditional gatekeepers making all the rules, we can now hear more clearly, from those who make statements that do not fit the dominant narrative. Dash, Frost and Woodhouse are the latest in a long line of counterculture artists, but today they represent a new normal. The audience has learned to discern power structures that had previously been disguised, and we are waking up to the injustices inherent in old ways of storytelling and of understanding the world. The difficulty now, is to recognise the privilege that one possesses, and then be able to carry out meaningful action that will make our communities more equitable and kind.

www.pact.net.au

5 Questions with Tommy Misa and Annie Stafford

Tommy Misa

Annie Stafford: If you were to be trapped in a room with someone, who would it be? (And you can’t say me.)
Tommy Misa: I spend a lot of time alone and tend to figure things out solo so I would prefer to have a doggo with me! Humans are unreliable.

Betty Breaks Out deals with stereotypes and breaking forth from those roles, what stereotype or role are you currently enjoying breaking out of?
In my own life I am very comfortable in my self. In my acting I am enjoying breaking free of the stereotypes of what masculinity can look like, it comes in so many different expressions and different genders and finding ways to show what exists outside of what society deems “masculine” is freeing and sexy!

Who were the heroes and heroines of your childhood?
Growing up I didn’t see many queer or brown characters on screen or stage so my heroes were those I knew. My mother, my grandmothers and all the strong women who taught me what I know… oh and Queen Latifah.

Through watching silent Films for research and inspiration, what are the top 3 things you’ve taken away that you want to implement into your performance?
1. Physicality was so camp and melo-dramatic! I’m here for that.
2. Show, Don’t tell – We are told this so often but when you have no dialogue you really have to bring it back to basics.
3. The way men/women navigated power dynamics of characters depending on gender, I want to flip all that shit on its head.

Have you ever met someone (famous or not) that you had a perceived idea of what they would be like due to their roles or public persona, and have them either confirm your idea of them or completely dash it? Without naming names. Or name names.
Yes – I had seen you all up in my socials all booked and blessed and I was all like “Who is Annie Stafford she seems so together and friendly” turns out you’re both those things plus more and share my same love of boiled eggs.

Annie Stafford

Tommy Misa: Annie, your grandmother was an actor in the 40s/50s, what has changed since then for women in the industry and what things still need to change?
A voice. On and off the stage I would say. My grandmother was an incredibly headstrong woman, and no doubt would have brought that to any stage, but not all female roles were written as such. Women characters were more often than not merely facilitators of the male characters story, the beautiful detailing around the edges of the pages of their life. I believe we have a long way to go in regards to accurate but also interesting representation (of everyone) for I feel we are still suck in a stereotypical idea of what and how we represent.

Betty is a strong and spirited character who voices struggles of that era. What are some of her obstacles that you resonate with?
Betty is bold and ambitious and I think both those traits even now are tough to navigate which feels absolutely ridiculous. Boldness being seen as entitled , rude or aggressive instead of strong, assertive or impressive (I just rhymed and I’m totally okay with that). Ambition being seen as cold, harsh and selfish, instead of brave, determined and inspired. And so in fear of being seen as dominating or pushy, Betty (and myself from time to time) squash this radiating drive that gives us purpose and a sense of fulfilment just to remain approachable, likeable, accepted. Well to hell with that Betty ol gal. Ambition is hot!

If Betty had a song from the 00’s what would it be?
Oooo Poker Face by Lady Gaga. And yes that was in the 00’s. 2008!!!!!!

What are you most excited about audiences seeing in Betty Breaks Out that may be new to audiences?
The fact that we’ve picked up form and thrown it at a wall. And I’m going to leave it there…

What have you enjoyed/struggled with in the rehearsal process?
I’ve really enjoyed the physical work we’ve been doing. As a wise legend once said “Show, Don’t Tell” – Tommy Misa 2019, and I think we’ve found a lot of freedom and inspiration in that. Also having the playwright, Liz Hobart, in the room has been a dream and Ellen Wiltshire (our director) with her divine energy, has given us so much room to play. Struggle… nope. Its been a dream. You’ve been a dream Tommy, especially with your boiled eggs.

Catch Tommy Misa and Annie Stafford in Betty Breaks Out, by Liz Hobart.
Dates: 27 Aug – 7 Sep, 2019
Venue: Kings Cross Theatre

Review: Rainbow’s End (Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

Venue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Aug 10 – Sep 1, 2019
Playwright: Jane Harrison
Director: Liza-Mare Syron
Cast: Frederick Copperwaite, Phoebe Grainer, Lily Shearer, Lincoln Vickery, Dalara Williams
Images by Robert Catto

Theatre review
Jane Harrison’s Rainbow’s End sees three generations of women from the Dear family, living together by the Goulburn River, navigating the challenges of being Aboriginal on colonised land. Things are hard, but these characters are upbeat, as though demonstrating a defiance in their very nature, that refuses to be subdued. The lighthearted quality of Harrison’s play makes for a charming portrait of Indigenous resilience; it resists our desire for a narrative that foregrounds these women in pain, choosing only to show us how they are able to overcome unremitting disadvantage.

Directed by Liza-Mare Syron, the production is full of spirit, with an enjoyable mischievousness that ensures we respond with a sense of admiration, for the Dear women and their people. Lights by Karen Norris are particularly well conceived, a dynamic element relied upon to provide visual variation. Actor Lily Shearer is a cheeky elder as Nan Dear, bringing considerable warmth to the piece. The vivacious Dalara Williams contributes exuberance in the role of Gladys, memorable for the ironic humour she renders as the unlikely monarchist. Teenage Dolly is played by Phoebe Grainer, whose innocence is a defining factor of this story about Yorta Yorta women in the 1950’s. Grainer is a charming performer, effective in making the play feel authentic, thus prompting us to question the progress of race relations in this country, more than 65 years later.

Rainbow’s End is an Indigenous story told by Indigenous Australians. In it, they demand improvements for their communities today, as the Dear women had done a lifetime ago. We are accustomed to the idea that progress is linear, but there is much evidence to show that we do not operate that way. As white supremacy makes a less than taciturn return to fashion, we have to take all precautions to ensure that its racist agenda, is faced with obstruction at every opportunity. It pretends to do good, when in fact it keeps doing bad, always using lying words to restrain us. They talk about intentions to make things better, but their actions only reveal the opposite. We must insist on recognising the truth, and not be swayed by their language. We must not be manipulated into thinking that where Indigenous Australia is today, is anywhere near good enough.

www.moogahlin.org | www.darlinghursttheatre.com

5 Questions with Jess-Belle Keogh and Bardiya McKinnon

Jess-Belle Keogh

Bardiya McKinnon:What is your biggest pet peeve?
Jess-Belle Keogh: This is a great question, which one do I choose? Okay so, I’m a good walker, I’m quick, even when I’m lost, so people taking up the entire pavement and having no spatial awareness grinds my gears. On a larger scale, I’m very passionate about women’s rights, so violations of those rights does an angry Jessie make (frequently vocal about it, proud of that fact, thanks very much).

What is it like working opposite only one other actor?
So the last two plays I did had at least 3-4 other actors in the room. This work has made me really check in with my own practice. It’s made me more passionate about current events. Ultimately, all of this fills me with enormous joy—it’s taught me to be more present and say “yes!” I don’t know, man– I like working with you too, I guess.

How do you put up with me?
Darling, thanks for checking in. To be frank with you, I’ve resorted to extensive periods of monastic silence in community gardens. It’s a spiritual overhaul. How the hell do you put up with me? God, you poor thing.

Friendship is the ongoing theme in An Intervention, how do your real world experiences feed this role?
The women I’ve surrounded myself with consistently operate with authenticity. The group consists of two sets of twins, and me. We’re all very different. They’re good people who keep me honest, and I love them a great deal. They’re my ride-or-dies, it isn’t shallow territory. We aren’t afraid to show each other love or say “hey, you’re being an asshole.” Wouldn’t trade them for anything. They’re my family. Likewise, I’ve got some incredible friends from a myriad of places who I love to the moon and back, like yourself. So that’s my approach to friendship. Does that answer your question?

What do you think the biggest message of this show is?
Look, not to sound woo-woo, but life has a funny way of making us feel like we’re alone in all of this. The world is in turmoil, after all, and we’re lonelier than ever watching atrocity after atrocity on our smartphones. Or, we’re Instagram distracted in other ways and unaware. We’re rendered inactive all of a sudden; self-conscious voyeurs. Don’t fall for it: apathy or cool indifference is a waste of your time. Be passionate about the big stuff. Do something. Lean into looking silly. Fail gloriously. Risk buggering it all up. But show up, look around, do something. Even if it’s scary or inconvenient or doesn’t suit your Instagram aesthetic. Show up for each other and for life. People are there to meet you. You aren’t alone and damn the thing that makes you feel that way. Lean in. I promise you won’t regret it.

Bardiya McKinnon

Jess-Belle Keogh: Bardiya, I think you’re great. Sorry, that wasn’t a question. Right. Bardiya, what do you like about Mike Bartlett’s An Intervention?
Bardiya McKinnon: I love the simplicity of it all. This show does everything in its power to draw audiences into the relationship between these two best friends. It strips away props, set, bells and whistles to focus on the beautiful space between these two “best” friends. In doing so it creates a very real, honest and genuine portrayal of life and 2 damaged people standing up for what they believe is right. I love it for that.

An Intervention involves spirited debate about socio-political matters on a global scale. We go head to head about these issues, often in bombastic ways. What cause do you feel strongly about at the moment?
This is a tough question to answer because I have never really been one for specific “causes”. I believe in the values that what I was brought up with – that all people no matter their skin colour, orientation, gender or belief system are entitled to love whoever they want, work in whichever field they so choose and believe in whatever cause they choose to as long as it doesn’t impede or harm anyone else. I know that sounds like a cop out answer but my belief system is completely inclusive and I’m sick of hearing about person/s or groups who use their power as a way of regulating how people should exist in their own skin.

We’ve been friends since 2017 (I know, don’t lose it). Perhaps tell the people about how we met? And who is Erin Taylor?
Holy crap 2017…so much has happened in my life since then. You and I met under circumstances that mirror our current situation quite closely. We worked on a show at the Old 505 in 2017, the Outhouse theatre company production of BU21 by Stuart Slade directed by our incredible director Erin Taylor. That show was an absolute highlight for me and every single member of that team was so so wonderful. After working with our wonderful director Erin Taylor on that show I knew exactly who should helm An Intervention once I had read it. Her voice and ability to tap into the fine human details that are easy to miss really make this production really special.

What have you seen recently that literally (or figuratively) knocked your socks off?
Apart from you crushing it in this show? Yeah, have you seen the wonderful promo video we made for this show where we asked a bunch of people in the street about certain events that affected their relationships. It’s super beautiful and super honest and captures our show really well. Now apart from that shameless plug my real answer is: That video of the raccoon dipping the fairy floss into a puddle… love that shit.

Right, let’s do the damn thing. Five words to describe the show— aaaaand go!:
Defiant, Flawed with Love and Wine. (I know that’s 6 but “and” is barely a word…)

Catch Jess-Belle Keogh and Bardiya McKinnon in An Intervention by Mike Bartlett.
Dates: 20 – 31 Aug, 2019
Venue: Old 505 Theatre