Two Rooms (Ledlight Theatre Company)

tworoomsVenue: TAP Gallery (Darlinghurst NSW), Jul 17 – Aug 4, 2013
Playwright: Lee Blessing
Director: Duncan Maurice
Actors: Nick Dale, Laura Huxley, Coralie Bywater, Eli King

Theatre review
This is a story about terrorism and love. It goes into dark territory, dealing with loss and death, and the devastating failings of government. Design elements of the production are appropriately bleak and menacing. Both set and lighting work around the limitations of the space beautifully, creating a mood of foreboding that locates the story in a space of terror all post-9/11 audiences are familiar with. The theatre is totally darkened before the show begins, and members of the audience are given flash lights to navigate the way to their seats. These flash lights also allow an “interrogative process” to take place when we illuminate the actors already positioned on stage, both in states of distress, one with wrists bound and a bag covering his head. The implication of our complicity in the act of terrorism is immediately engaging, and spine-chilling.

Nick Dale’s performance as the captive, Michael, hits many right notes. He is on stage for virtually the entire duration, and the energy he is able to sustain in the portrayal of a disintegrating man gives the show its air of calamity and relentless tension. The actor’s physicality with his overgrown hair, unshaven face, and gaunt body is a manifestation of the level of commitment he brings to the role. Laura Huxley performs the depression and fear experienced by her character convincingly, and the slightness of her stature amplifies that mournful sadness. There is however, a lack of rage, or at least a more energetic edge that she could introduce, to create a more palpable sense of believability.

The play has beautiful moments when the lovers meet, figuratively or metaphysically. Perhaps sound could have been more effectively utilised to make those scenes more extraordinary, but it remains a great strength of the writing, that Lee Blessing is able to meld both worlds together. Two Rooms become one, and they become its other; it is the deconstruction of “us and them” that will always be a crucial element in the discussion of war, politics and (dare we imagine it?) peace.…

The Light Box (Fat Boy Dancing / We Do Not Unhappen)

lighboxVenue: 107 Projects (Redfern NSW), Jul 10 – 28, 2013
Playwright: Natalia Savvides
Director: James Dalton
Actors: Hannah Barlow, Stephanie King, Tom Christophersen, Dean Mason

Theatre review
This is a story about madness and fantasy, set mainly in an asylum. The theme of insanity opens up limitless possibilities for artists, and The Light Box shows just how much is possible in the exploration of our subconscious minds. Natalia Savvides’ script alternates between reality and fantasy, but provides narrative threads that allow for logical readings of the play. Her characters are colourful and fascinating. While their stories are outlandish, they are grounded in humanity, which allows us to connect and empathise.

Director James Dalton relishes in the opportunity presented by a fantastical script, and takes flight with wondrous imagery and some of the most unhinged characterisations one is likely to see. The design elements are terrific. Sound, lighting, costumes and set are transportative, and entirely mesmerising. The production bears the aesthetic of an avant garde installation but is undoubtedly theatrical in its approach. The care taken to utilise all the potentialities of an empty space is impressive, and breathtaking.

Hannah Barlow plays a young patient Ethel, and brings to the role a beautiful fragility, but shocks us with bursts of great strength at several points. She looks like a meek wallflower but delivers high octane drama at the right moments. Stephanie King has impressive range and her performance is multi-faceted, with her comedic scenes leaving a very lasting impression. Dean Mason creates two solid characters, both intriguing and sensitive. He creates a good counterpoint to the frequently rambunctious activity on stage. Tom Christophersen plays three memorable characters, switching comfortably between several modes of performance; naturalistic, surreal, and camp. His “Man Made of Spoons” character is spectacularly funny, while maintaining a frightening aura of morbidity.

At the core of The Light Box lies an interesting story and this production tells it lovingly. More significantly, it is a feast for the senses that provides an experience only small theatres can, immersing its audience in a meticulously constructed space and speaking to it in much more than rational cerebral terms. It is theatre that goes beyond words. It is something a lot like magic.

Certain Men (Encyclopaedia Of Animals)

322708_439295692788974_1011700878_o.jpg  1000×667Venue: Bondi Pavilion Theatre (Bondi NSW), Jul 26-27
Director: Christopher Brown
Actors: Brian Davison, Michael Gwynne, Tamblyn Lord

Theatre review
The audience is seated in a big circle, all facing inwards. The room is large, with no specific focal point and no stage. The actors constantly move around the space, and the audience finds itself in the midst of all the action, almost an intruder into the intimate setting, where three middle-aged men meet for a group therapy of sorts. This is a play about the issues that these men face, and the difficulty in expressing and articulating those issues. Certain Men is fascinating in its theatrical form, which aligns itself with psychological treatments that seek to deconstruct patterns and convention, in order to reach a breakthrough point of enlightenment.

The chemistry between the players feels solid, but the characters do not communicate well with each other. They talk about themselves, play lego, clean windows, sing, rap and dance; they try but do not form a strong connection. What takes place in this work is abstract and makes for challenging viewing, but it feels like witnessing real life. A sadness permeates these beings, and we get hints of their individual stories, but the main concern here are questions and not answers. Perhaps the intent of their therapy is only to ask, and not to conclude. In its artistic form, Certain Men seeks to create its own language. While not instantly gratifying, it is a commendable and necessary development away from theatre that is facile and obsolete, moving towards something fresh and intelligent.

Short Plays #3 (Tamarama Rock Surfers)

1010847_607684252597522_1882182589_n.jpg  960×640Venue: Bondi Pavilion Theatre (Bondi NSW), Jul 19 & 26
Playwrights: Kate Mulvany, Finegen Kruckmeyer, Kit Brookman, Phillip Kavanagh
Directors: John Kachoyan, Jessica Tuckwell, Pierce Wilcox, Jo Turner
Actors: Akos Armont, Danielle King, Yalin Ozucelik, Huw McKinnon, Joshua Anderson, Jonny Pasvolsky, Zak Ynfante

Theatre review
When writing a play, one should think of the stage and its audience. It is good to have a story, a message, or an idea, but writing for the theatre requires awareness of the various senses that are engaged in the act of “watching a play”, and also the various disciplines involved in the collaborative nature of the theatrical arts. Feast and Heart Of Glass are two of the short plays in this collection with distinct similarities. They both feature one male actor, and a great deal of verbiage. Akos Armont and Joshua Anderson are committed actors but are left on an empty stage with nothing more than pages and pages of words. Their stories are not uninteresting, but it is a tall order to perform without involving other elements of the live stage. Unfortunately, these two works come across too much like talented actors reading out chapters from great books, but this does not deliver the best theatrical experience.

Conversely, the two other plays provide dynamism and intrigue to the evening’s proceedings. Wolf imagines the last moments in the life of the boy who cried wolf.  Jonny Pasvolsky plays the wolf (in human form) with great confidence and delicious cunning. The showman delivers an entertaining yet dark performance, positioning himself somewhere between menace and comedy, while cleverly avoiding unpleasant territory in the presence of a child actor.

The Last Bell exploits the short form perfectly, Tension and intrigue is skilfully maintained throughout the piece, with the actors keeping their audience at the edge of its seat. Yalin Ozucelik’s enigmatic gravitas grounds the play. It is his character’s impending doom which is at the centre of the story, and he conveys powerfully that state of being with a minimum of words and movement. Kate Mulvany’s script bears a narrative structure that is thoughtfully designed, able to create dramatic impact without explicit details of horror, and emotional tangibility without being tediously sentimental. Really enjoyable theatre in the mystery/thriller genre.

I’m Not Pale, I’m Dead (Lydia Nicholson)

Im_Not_Pale_cropped.jpg  810×540Venue: Bondi Pavilion Theatre (Bondi NSW), Jul 26-27
Playwright: Lydia Nicholson
Actor: Lydia Nicholson

Theatre review
Lydia Nicholson is a ghost in I’m Not Pale, I’m Dead. She tells us what it’s like being dead, and what she misses about being alive. This is a simple premise, but one which provides the perfect starting point to our immortal quest for the meaning of life. Of course, there are elements in this 50 minute work that are deadly serious, but Nicholson is careful to pepper comic elements from start to finish. The contrast between the lighthearted sections and the melancholic moments gives the piece delightful texture and unpredictability. Along with its life and death “big messages”, the script is a thoroughly enjoyable and deeply moving one. The material here is wonderful, and the universality of its themes gives the script great potential to travel far and wide.

Nicholson addresses her audience directly, playing a guide of sorts to the newly-dead, only to discover that we are in fact still alive and that she is being presented with a rare opportunity to communicate with the living. As with most cases where “audience participation” is involved, a sense of ticklish glee is created, and Nicholson uses this dynamic well, keeping her audience on its toes, and establishing a good rapport from very early on. She is however, best at performing the sadder aspects of the story, especially in the passages that explore the longing she feels for the living. The intensity of that sadness is palpable, and incredibly touching.…

Moving Parts (Will O_Rourke)

Colin-FrielsVenue: NIDA Parade Theatres (Kensington NSW), Jul 25 – Aug 10, 2013
Playwright: David Nobay
Director: Steve Rogers
Actors: Colin Friels, Josh McConville

Theatre review
Moving Parts begins with the image of a lonely old man in a small but upscale watch dealership. Intrigue quickly follows when a second, younger man comes into the picture enquiring about a very large, expensive watch. A strange tension permeates from the start in this seemingly mundane scenario, and the audience is drawn into its irresistible allure. Soon, a series of revelations appear like little explosions, producing sequences that surprise not only with the trajectories of its narrative but also with the emotional depths it explores. This is a story about family dysfunction and love, told in the most honest way through two white male characters. The process of deconstructing these apathetic, unemotional archetypes involves the transgression of fundamental truths in family dynamics, resulting in a level of intense emotionality that any theatre-goer would relish.

Technical aspects of the production are highly accomplished. Every aspect is rendered virtually imperceptible to be in service to the actors and the story. Lighting design in particular is sensitive and meaningful, never drawing focus unto itself but always effectively assisting with the emotional fluctuations of the narrative.

Josh McConville plays Sean, with great internal fortitude. His depiction of a damaged, insecure man at the end of his tether is easily recognisable and indeed, heartbreaking. Even without the benefit of a filmic close-up, the audience is able to witness through his eyes, the inner devastation from which his character suffers.

One cannot overemphasize Colin Friels’ brilliance in the role of Roy. The psychological complexity that he brings to this man, is the crux of the show. All the contradictions of being human, and all the difficulty of life itself is displayed in his very corporeality. His mental jostles in dealing with the meaning of love, fleshes out for the audience the core concern of the script. Friels surprises with the amount of physical activity he introduces into his work, embellishing his lines with so much attention to gestural detail, which not only is a tremendous joy to watch but also amplifies beautifully the emotive qualities of the play.

In spite of a somewhat rushed and unexpected conclusion, Moving Parts is a great work that investigates the universal theme of family ties deeply and truthfully. Steve Rogers’ direction and David Nobay’s writing is a potent combination, creating theatre that is passionate and enthralling. Along with the best actors in the business, they have on their hands, something very memorable and actually, very moving.

Short Plays #1 (Tamarama Rock Surfers)

shorts1Venue: Bondi Pavilion Theatre (Bondi NSW), Jul 17 & 24
Playwrights: Jessica Tuckwell, Chris Summers, Mark Rogers, Nakkiah Lui
Directors: Kate Gaul, Corey McMahon, Phil Spencer, Matilda Ridgway
Actors: Sandie Eldridge, Lorna Munro, Huw McKinnon, Madeleine Levins, Simon Corfield
Image from Facebook

Theatre review
Four plays with different themes, styles and ideas, all with its own appeal. The opportunities a short play presents is manifold, but chiefly, it allows for the exploration of a single idea with minimal distraction from sub-plots, secondary characters and other auxiliary elements.

Dessert is a macabre story about marriage and death. Sandie Eldridge’s performance of a middle-aged widow impressively positions the play in a delusional psychological space but carefully presents her character with empathy and sadness.  The balance between shock value and sensitivity in this work is exquisite.Washer Woman also features a lone female character. Jessica Tuckwell’s script is poetic and abstract, and Madeleine Levins brings to the piece enough tension and drama to create a semblance of narrative to keep its audience engaged.

The Buck tackles mateship and Aussie bloke culture. The piece creates a formidable air of violence in the theatre, effectively focussing on the dark side to contemporary Australian lives. Similarly working with danger and brutality is Ideginaiety, which presents a harrowing perspective of revenge and colonialism. This is an interesting exploration into indigenous culture through a prism of metaphysicality and crime. The structure of the script and the brave choices it makes is original and powerful, and definitely warrants an extended rendering.

Siberian Hot Toddy (Siberian Hot Tododians)

toddyVenue: Bondi Pavilion Theatre (Bondi NSW), Jul 24-25
Playwright: Cait Harris with cast improvisations
Director: Cait Harris
Actors: Cait Harris, Libby Ahearn, Mark Sutton, Tiffany Hulm

Theatre review
A small group of funny performers, presumably friends, come together to make people laugh. This might sound like the simplest of propositions, but not only has Cait Harris been able to have her crew commit to this project with minimal resources and get it included in the Bondi Feast festival programme, they have devised a modern absurdist comedy that is truly hilarious. It only takes a minute or two before the audience recognises the group’s style of humour, and laughter starts. Ranging from ticklish giggles to raucous guffaws, every moment of this hour-long play is met with laughter. The cast’s ability to impart their daring and mindless silliness like an infectious laughter is an unusual talent. This is probably the first time a crowd finds the curling of a rodent’s tail to create a disguise for a pig, to be so side-splittingly amusing.

Mark Sutton plays three characters, all with a casual but riveting sense of fun. Along with cast member Tiffany Hulm, the “Siberian-accented” speech is well utilised if slightly politically incorrect. The female performers all present variations of “the bimbo” with glee; it must be noted that both genders are portrayed with equal stupidity. Harris plays American Bondi girl Toosh (Fanny’s best friend) who is delightfully frivolous and also charming in her innocence. Her sense of timing creates the biggest laughs, and it is her unique sense of humour that takes this crazy little show into a space where laughter conquers indiscriminately.

The Hansard Monologues (Seymour Centre)

hansardVenue: York Theatre, Seymour Centre (Sydney NSW), Jul 23, 26 & 27
Playwright (Verbatim): Katie Pollock, Paul Daley
Director: Tim Jones
Actors: Camilla Ah Kin, Tony Llewellyn-Jones, David Roberts

Theatre review
This work encapsulates the last three years of the Australian parliament in two hours, utilising its most memorable and powerful speeches to create a series of snapshots, of political and social life in contemporary history. These are important moments that have guided recent public discourse, and as such The Hansard Monologues: A Matter Of Public Importance is a theatrical work that possesses uttermost relevance to all our lives.

Performances in the piece are thoroughly interesting. The players make different choices at different times, moving from plain matter-of-fact reading of transcripts, to mimicry of recognisable voices and gestures (Llewellyn-Jones’ take on Christopher Pyne is a crowd-pleaser), and passionate renditions of moralistic arguments. With these parliamentary speeches transformed into “scripts” for actors, the text surprises with its frequent use of highly-charged, emotive language, and how it translates so readily from a political space to a theatrical one, if in fact they are all that different. The actors must be praised for having not just a good handle on the speech rhythms of each different MP, but also for their understanding of all the material, which delivers coherence and lucidity to what is essentially a montaged creation by very clever playwrights.

Hansard presents issues that affect us, its themes concern us, and its re-enactments familiar to us all. At this crucial point in time as we approach our next federal election and become more aware of our part in the democratic process, watching this production is an incredibly intense experience, with our senses so heightened and our minds so alive. The stakes are not only high, but also irrefutably real. While some of the characters may appear bizarre, this is far from fictional stuff.

This Is Beautiful (The Public Studio)

The Public StudioVenue: Tower Theatre at Malthouse (Southbank VIC), Jul 19 – Aug 3, 2013
Playwright: Ming-Zhu Hii
Director: Ming-Zhu Hii
Actors: Jing-Xuan Chan, Pier Carthew, Terry Yeboah

Theatre review
Expecting experimental work in any art form to entertain is usually a lost cause, and performance art pieces are rarely crowd-pleasers. This Is Beautiful is composed of three performers spouting endless existentialist questions about the arbitrariness of life’s big meanings. There is no obvious context, and clearly no narrative for which to situate these characters and their constant inquisitions. The small amount of movement and facial expressions they produce seem to be guided by those big questions, giving the impression that the entire 50-minute piece is about one idea.

These questions are not frivolous ones, in fact, one could argue that they are fundamental and relevant to all lives. Only problem is, you would either have already thought about them a thousand times and are quite happy to leave them behind, or they are simply of no interest to you and a night at the theatre would take a lot more than three strangers’ declarations to change your mind.

A big element of this production is the video that plays throughout, which adds dimension to the activity in the space. They provide an interesting abstraction to the repetitive themes, and are visually captivating in their own right, providing variation and colour to the austerity of what is unfolding in the flesh.

It is interesting to note that the three performers are of different ethnicities, and that it takes an experimental work of this nature for this multi-cultural amalgamation to materialise onstage. They make a beautiful picture together, creating a landscape of purity and unison. It also conjures up the notion that this combination of skin colours seems to face constant resistance in mainstream Australian narrative-based storytelling, in theatre or otherwise.