Review: This Boy’s In Love (Red Line Productions)

TBIL 1Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), May 26 – 31, 2015
Playwright: Adriano Cappelletta
Director: Johann Walraven
Cast: Adriano Cappelletta
Musical Director: Daryl Wallis

Theatre review
With any luck, Adriano Cappelletta’s This Boy’s In Love is going to be the last great play about gay life in Australia before same-sex marriage is made legal. Ado’s experiences and perspective as a gay man in Sydney are beautifully, and extremely honestly, documented in this one-man show reflecting life for thousands of individuals from a city in its final throes of inequality and bigotry. Ado is hungry for love like everyone else, but his desires face obstacles unique to metropolitan gay lives. Emerging from periods of oppression and persecution, Ado’s community suffers from dysfunctions, tragic and funny, many of which are fluently articulated in the work.

The piece breaks from conventional monologue formats to provide a theatre that is full of variety, in order to engage, entertain and indeed, educate. It takes frequent detours into sub-genres like cabaret, stand up and dance, and adopts hints of the absurd, so that its ninety minute duration never loses a moment of vibrancy. Director Johann Walraven identifies brilliantly, the many nuances in the text to create moments of surprising poignancy, and to make us fall for the protagonist more and more as the show progresses. As its performer, Cappelletta is generous in spirit, and unbelievably warm, striking a rapport with his crowd so solid, that we cannot help but be enthralled. The level of dynamism in his work is astounding at points, and we get completely absorbed into all his stories, silly or serious.

This Boy’s In Love is as perfect as a monologue can get for small theatre. The only way one can envision this production improved, is with greater investment and imagination into its design elements. Technical enhancements can make the show even stronger, but with what this team is able to assemble, it conveys its intentions perfectly. Love is hard to define. It can mean many different things, but starving anyone of it is cruel and certainly evil. For centuries, love has been defined in narrow heteronormative and religious forms, and in that process, many of us have suffered senselessly. Times have changed, and everyday, more are able to find emancipation. May the day come when sexual bigotry of all kinds in all places be eradicated.

www.oldfitztheatre.com

Review: Neighbourhood Watch (Illuminate Educate)

illuminateVenue: Bondi Pavilion Theatre (Bondi NSW), May 28 – Jun 6, 2015
Playwright: Lally Katz
Director: Susanna Dowling
Cast: Skyler Ellis, Gertraud Ingeborg, Steven Kreamer, Odile Le Clezio, Andrew Lindqvist, Linden Wilkinson, Anne Wilson

Theatre review
In Lally Katz’s Neighbourhood Watch, two women find a special but unexpected connection, and their bond helps them grow into individually stronger persons. The relationship gives their lives greater meaning, and their story is a reminder that the social aspects of our being is crucial to the way we evolve and progress. Ana and Catherine are women who have needed time to find independence and self-worth, and Katz’s writing makes no bones about using them to inspire girls and women. We often define ourselves in relation to men, in fiction as well as in reality, and the play brings focus to how we let that transpire, and then how we can find emancipation.

Direction of the work by Susanna Dowling is very polite. There is a quietness to the production that hinders the wit of the writing, but although energy levels are low, its main characters are vivid enough for the audience to absorb all that the show wishes to impart. The play is set in many different locations, so scene changes are tricky, and not always handled with enough elegance. Spacial use requires greater inventiveness to prevent distractions and plot confusion. On a brighter note, music is beautifully utilised in the production, with composer Steven Kreamer’s work adding a sophisticated and emotional dimension to proceedings

Lead characters are performed well, although disappointingly restrained. The story is about intimacy, but there is insufficient vivacity between personalities, and they never feel close enough for the narrative to become poignant. Ana is played by Gertraud Ingebors, whose dry sense of humour charms the audience. Her work is convincing and evocative, but the actor seems to have trouble finding enough chemistry with colleagues. Anne Wilson is a likeable Catherine, with a warm and tender presence, but some of her depictions of heavier emotions call for greater authenticity. Like Wilson, Skyler Ellis is immediately endearing in the supporting role of Ken. The part is considerably lightweight by comparison, but Ellis steps up to the mark at every opportunity to showcase his excellent comedic abilities.

The characters in the story connect, but the production feels distant. There is enough lucidity for everything to make sense, but in a cool and slightly detached manner. The shattered dreams and broken hearts in Neighbourhood Watch do not translate with great passion and urgency. Although we hear the message, we want also to understand how it feels to be the people on stage. The live medium of theatre bears the right circumstances to affect its captive audience like no other art form can, and it needs to use that rare and uniquely exciting proximity to spark something visceral, so that its revelations can impress even deeper.

www.illuminateeducate.com.au

Review: Shivered (Mad March Hare Theatre Company)

madmarchVenue: PACT Theatre (Erskineville NSW), May 7 – 30, 2015
Playwright: Philip Ridley
Director: Claudia Barrie
Cast: Josh Anderson, Joseph Del Re, Rhonda Doyl, Libby Fleming, Andrew Johnston, Brendan Miles, Liam Nunan

Theatre review
Illusory contours “are perceived where there is no physical luminance, colour or texture difference,” referring to our ability to see things that are not actually there. In the case of Philip Ridley’s Shivered, we form narratives and create meanings from a series of scenes that do not immediately relate to each other, almost as though in a state of delusion. Our human nature is explored not only in the stories being told, but also in the way the audience is encouraged to makes sense of all that is put on stage. Looking at our propensity to interpret events in a way that never strays far from “cause and effect”, it is an examination of logic, which the play suggests is sometimes insufficient, and indeed, futile. Ridley’s work deals with many of the worst things in life, and makes us wonder if we can ever think of our darkest moments as inevitable, and the ethical implications of being embroiled in disappointments and disasters that we do not have direct control over.

These are big philosophical considerations, but individual scenes are melodramatic, almost operatic, in nature. Director Claudia Barrie invests heavily into that duality of intellect and emotion, with a fierce dedication to her stagecraft, and her work here is effective on both those levels. We get caught up in intense family drama not unlike those favoured by tabloid journalism, but the work is unrelenting in placing us at a conceptual distance so that we are always analysing the catastrophic consequences from an abstract perspective, in addition to experiencing the anguish that is being performed. The text is an edgy one, and Barrie takes great care in having Ridley’s words articulated with excellent clarity, but with all the taboo subjects involved, the production often feels tame in its expression when compared to the controversies being discussed.

Light and set design by Benjamin Brockman delivers a sophisticated space that is able to portray abstraction or realism as required, sometimes simultaneously. It accommodates the haphazard timeline of the plot beautifully, and the starkness of his aesthetic matches the brutality of Ridley’s writing very well, but at over two hours, scene transitions become repetitive and predictable later in the piece. The economy of technology Brockman experiments with, though slightly restrictive, is a success story that signals a significant evolution in lighting for Sydney stages.

The cast is detailed and powerful. Every character in the show touches us, despite the outrageous contexts we find them in. Libby Fleming alternates between quite campy humour and palpable rawness, for an enthralling performance that is as fascinating as it is moving. Her impressive ability to portray depths of despair provides a solid core of empathy that keep us anxiously attentive. The connection Fleming establishes with her sons in the play is the crucial ingredient that secures the gravity for its various threads of turmoil. Also wonderfully engaging is Liam Nunan whose presentational style effervesces with extravagance, but with a surprisingly convincing focus that keeps us engaged. Josh Anderson plays the damaged young Ryan with quiet sensitivity, but the threatening intensity he produces teeters close to eruption, and we are fascinated by the complexity he consistently works into his role.

There are horrors around us, and they are by nature absurd, for if they were fathomable, they would also be preventable. Humanity necessitates that we make sense of things, but life often insists on defying logic to demonstrate its dominance over humans. Life is hard, but we are resilient. All the characters in Shivered struggle, and their persistence with survival means that in order to overcome, they have to figure things out, whether possible or not. No one in the play gives up, and that is the moral of the story.

www.madmarchtheatreco.com

5 Questions with Cloé Fournier and Ryan McGoldrick

cloefournier

Cloé Fournier

Ryan McGoldrick: How have you found working in the arts in Australia compared to France?
Cloé Fournier: I must say I really started my professional career here in Australia. But in general, I feel like in Australia we have a quarter of the time to develop a work, a lot less funding too as well. But, somehow, Australian artists make it work. At the end of the day, it is hard everywhere. The main difference would be in the work process and how people interact with each other. In France, we are very direct. If something is shit or if you are not doing what is asked of you, the person will just tell you it is crap. Blunt, cut throat but straight to the point. Here, it is much more polite. People are more encouraging or perhaps not as honest!

Dining [Uns]-table deals with family relationships, how do you approach including personal material in your work?
I am very interested in social behaviours and specifically human interactions. I guess that is one of the reasons I started developing this work. I often use my personal experience when I start working on a project. Then it expends but somehow I need a personal connection to the subject matter to deliver an honest work. I also think there is always something tragic present in every family story. And I like to make fun of everything that is not necessarily funny.

When did you start dancing and what made you want to make a career out of it?
From what Mum told me, I came home one day and simply said to her that I wanted to enrol in dance classes. I have no recollection on why and Mum never pushed me to become a dancer. She was far from the “ballet mum” stereotype. I was 4. I never stopped. I did not choose to make a career out of dance. The truth is I just wanted to dance so I made it happen. But it now goes beyond. I have other interests such as theatre and technology. Dance is always present in the work I create but not in its purest form.

What interests you in audience participation in performance?
The challenge, the thrill of having to improvise every night depending on who your audience is.

Who are you tipping to win the flag this year? (AFL)
Unless the players decide to play naked, I really do not care about AFL!

ryanmcgoldrick

Ryan McGoldrick

Cloé Fournier: You used to dance. In a bathtub. In public. Naked. Myth or Reality?
Ryan McGoldrick: ‘Dancing’ might be a stretch, but I did spend some time bathing with other actors in the lounge room of an ex-nunnery-turned-sharehouse in Marrickville for a sell-out season at Woodcourt Art Theatre. Yah. Reality. #freethearts

What is the best memory you have of your childhood?
Playing soccer on crisp, wintery Saturday mornings.

How does the use of technology influence your daily life?
I’m a news junkie, so I’m quite attached to my digital news subscriptions.

Do you identify as an “Arty-Nerd” specimen?
Yes. I was living a lie for so many years, but now I’m finally at peace with it, and it feels great.

With the big news about the change of funding for the Arts, do you think we are mad to be artists?
Nope.

Why should I come to see your show? (OMG, that’s six questions! #rebels – Suzy)
Because I’ve got a fucking great story to tell you.

Afterglow – 2 emerging performance makers, 2 new works, 2 weeks.
The Great Speckled Bird by Ryan McGoldrick 17 – 20 June, 2015
Dining [Uns]-Table by Cloé Fournier 24 – 27 June, 2015
Show venue: PACT Theatre

Review: Educating Rita (Ensemble Theatre)

ensembleVenue: Ensemble Theatre (Kirribilli NSW), May 21 – Jun 28, 2015
Playwright: Willy Russell
Director: Mark Kilmurry
Cast: Catherine McGraffin, Mark Kilmurry
Image by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Willy Russell’s Educating Rita makes a case for aspirations, but not in capitalistic terms or in the form of the all too common middle-class pipe dream. He talks about the importance of culture and choice in all our lives, and suggests that the greatest value of life resides in the active pursuit of self-betterment. The very act of finding greater meanings and knowledge, is the key to enriching one’s existence. The effectiveness of Russell’s narrative relies on the obstructions that we face, especially repressive forces in our surrounds that hold us back and prevalent apathetic attitudes of our communities. Frank is an alcoholic, who is all but resigned from hopes, dreams and ambitions. He has removed the clock from his office wall and hides it along with the secret bottles of booze that occupy the back of bookshelves, so that he can deny the fact that time is passing him by, while he drinks his days away. Through his education of Rita, we observe all that Frank has to offer the world, but he does not acknowledge his own talents, and lets himself flounder and descend towards oblivion.

Direction of the work by Mark Kilmurry is beautifully executed, and very moving. Both characters are engaging and solidly established, so that we feel an instant familiarity that helps us become quickly invested in their stories. Kilmurry has created an environment where both actors collaborate intimately with little ego in the way of storytelling, and what they present often resonates with extraordinary authenticity, and we relate to the play from very personal and deep perspectives. As a performer, Kilmurry is lively and multifarious. His work is vivid, with remarkable clarity in intention and expression, but his character evolution as Frank is insufficiently dramatic in latter scenes for tensions to sustain beyond the show’s very exciting first half. Catherine McGraffin is an effervescent Rita, with the right variety and amount of charisma to let her role translate powerfully and emotionally. Through her heartfelt approach to the material at hand, we are able to examine our own lives, and to think about the parallels between Rita’s experiences and the choices we have made for ourselves. McGraffin’s intuitive and unrestrained style of performance takes hold of our empathy at will, but Rita’s progression later in the piece becomes unnecessarily subdued, resulting in the play seeming to lose steam over time.

Rita’s thirst for knowledge and her eagerness to lift the veil on secrets of the big, wide world is an inspiration, and Frank’s tragedy is a cautionary tale perhaps, of the increasingly parochial ways we live. Interaction with culture requires broad minds, but affluent societies are complacent. We spend time and energy chasing pleasures, but neglect the more challenging and meaningful parts of life. As we make our communities more wealthy and stable, interesting ideas become dangerous and we shut them out. It is difficult to be progressive in 2015 Australia, where fear is becoming a virtue, and we become increasingly protective against enemies real and imagined. The theatre might be a safe and sometimes conservative space where risky thoughts are contained, but at least they (theatre and risky thoughts) are both still thriving, and patrons can always leave with some degree of choice as to the freedoms they will allow themselves.

www.ensemble.com.au

5 Questions with Gareth Reeves

garethreevesWhat is your favourite swear word?
I really can’t go past Fuck. It has some kind of instant, guttural Norse power that I love. I’ve read some research about how swearing can actually be an effective painkiller and having been front row seat at a couple of births, I attest to its power in that regard. I now have a 14 month old so I’m weaning myself off Fuck so I go to my next favourite, Bollocks, which I think was born out of a childhood diet of British comedy.

What are you wearing?
Ha. A weird mixture of my own clothing and a couple of items our designer brought in today. It’s always a great treat when you get the shoes, especially when they’re quite different to your own.

What is love?
I read an interview recently with the guy that created the TV show Will And Grace back in the day. Asked where the names came from he said “The Will to give and The Grace to receive.” I thought that pretty much summed it up. Acting too for that matter.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
I saw Bell Shakespeare’s As You Like It in Melbourne and I give it 4 out of 5. I was pumped because I didn’t know the play well and I felt like I really heard it. What a masterpiece. Zahra Newman was amazing and that speech coming out of John Bell at this time in his life? The word Oblivion rang out like a bell I can still hear.

Is your new show going to be any good?
Look, it’s an amazing play. I confess I underestimated it on first read. It’s seriously clever. Anna and I are a couple of neurotics, if we can remember to have fun and not get lost down the rabbit hole, we should have something pretty special to show you. If you can, see it, see it again, read it, then see the Polanski film. Or if you hate it the first time go to hell and I won’t see you in the bar.

Gareth Reeves will be appearing in Darlinghurst Theatre’s Venus In Fur, by David Ives.
Show dates: 29 May – 5 Jul, 2015
Show venue: Eternity Playhouse

Review: The School For Scandal (New Theatre)

newtheatreVenue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Apr 29 – May 30, 2015
Playwright: Richard Brinsley Sheridan
Director: David Burrowes
Cast: Tel Benjamin, Richard Cotter, Sasha Dyer, Peter Flett, Emma Harvie, Rhys Keir, Chantel Leseberg, Moreblessing Maturure, Lillian Silk, Marty O’Neill, Nick Rowe, Billie Scott, Eleanor Stankiewicz, Samantha Ward, Jacob Warner, Madeleine Withington
Photography © Matthias Engesser

Theatre review
Money makes the world go round, but it is also the root of all evil. No ordinary person is able to escape the claws of modern economy, and we all have to define our existences in, at least, partially monetary terms. The School For Scandal is about greed, and our ability to be blinded by wealth. Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s script is a wickedly funny one, and his outstanding wit has ensured that his story about deception and decadence is still well-regarded 238 years later.

Direction by David Burrowes is ambitious and visually striking, with a very contemporary rendering that draws inspiration from the nouveau riche of Australia’s more brazen social set. The work is wildly energetic, and comedy is always being created around the text, but less attention is paid on the nuances of the writing. The resultant work is flamboyant and amusing, but the actual story is often a secondary aside. Plot is sacrificed for effect, and while the experience is not always satisfying, there certainly is a lot that is remarkable in terms of the generous amount of creativity being featured. Isabella Andronos’ set and costume designs are mischievous and refreshing, adding to the Sydney theatre landscape an exciting aesthetic that is reflective of a particular generational and cultural segment. The representation of dominant social tribes is important in the understanding of our selves, and Andronos’ contribution is an acute study of the way things are, for some of us, in the absolute now.

All performances in the show are strong. The cast is committed to Burrowes’ vision of creating something extravagant, and to keep us entertained. Rhys Keir as Charles Surface is a quirky combination of sex appeal and clownish tomfoolery. The actor’s larger than life presence is determined to captivate, and his comedy is quite irresistible. Keir’s sharp instincts and confident timing make his joyful showmanship a real pleasure to witness, and his ability to manufacture chemistry with colleagues demonstrates a natural flair of someone born for the stage. Equally gifted is Madeleine Withington who plays Lady Teazle, a shrewd young lady with an impetuous, ditzy edge. Withington’s style feels unfettered, but there is an exacting focus to her manoeuvres that help provide a clarity to a plot that often gets lost in the incessant pandemonium. There is noteworthy work by two of the show’s smallest roles, played by Emma Harvie and Moreblessing Maturure, but it must be said that there is more than a little discomfort in watching the only actors who are not of Caucasian appearance, take on the parts of servants.

Theatre can do many things, but an audience will always concentrate on story if one exists, and treat other elements as subordinate. This production of The School For Scandal has a fierce experimental spirit that resides in every corner, but although undeniably passionate in approach, much of the effort does not translate as anything more than embellishment. Sheridan’s work is solid, and it resists obfuscation. There is much to admire in the show, but what we crave is something deeper and more substantial, something quite the opposite of surface.

www.newtheatre.org.au