Review: Dead Time (Lace Balloon)

laceballoon1Venue: 107 Projects (Redfern NSW), May 20 – 29, 2015
Playwright: Fleur Beaupert
Director: Fleur Beaupert
Cast: Paul Armstrong, Lara Lightfoot, Abi Rayment, Robert Rhode, Melissa Kathryn Rose, Eleni Schumacher, Barton Williams
Image by Phyllis Wong

Theatre review
Stories about the underdog hold a tenacious appeal. Fleur Beaupert’s Dead Time is based on the events surrounding Dr Mohamed Haneef’s arrest and subsequent release in 2007, at a time when the Australian government was placing threats of terrorism front and centre in the national consciousness. The post-9/11 era has allowed public life (including politics and media) to encroach upon individual liberties in the name of vigilance, and our collective paranoia is used to justify racist persecutions in place of sound legal processes. The script is partly verbatim, and it makes a conscious effort to depict events with accuracy. Consequently, moments of heightened drama are few, even though tension is effectively manufactured with relative consistency. Haneef’s ordeal is rightly portrayed as institutionalised exploitation, and the play’s purpose is to give voice to the oppressed. In the case of contemporary Australia, people of the Muslim faith are especially relevant to this discussion. Beaupert’s work as writer and director is not always elegant, but what she has created, is a compelling and stirring statement against our gradually increasing acceptance of injustice in the name of national security. It is a touchy subject, and the show elicits our emotional involvement effortlessly, and for many, its protestations are representative of how we feel about the world today, and the passion on display is reflective of our attitudes about the themes at hand.

Performances are uneven, but leading man Robert Rhode is entirely captivating. The actor’s presence and instincts are a real pleasure to witness, and his easy confidence allows us to empathise with his character at every point of his journey. His interpretation of innocence is authentic, and he builds just enough complexity into Haneef’s victimisation so that we identify intimately with his predicament and his fears. The production is a showcase for Rhode’s talent, which seems scarcely trained, but in its rawness, we observe a natural flair that emanates, and recognise in it, a fragility that makes the cruel mistreatment suffered by Haneef all the more upsetting.

Dead Time is not a polished work, but the clarity and importance of its message makes it a standout in a landscape of bourgeois concerns that characterises our lucky country. The land of the fair go has become delusional in its self identity, refusing to come to grips with its evolution into a Western power that has little capacity for compassion. We insist on seeing ourselves as earthy, sincere and wholesome. We think us better than our corrupt siblings of United States and Europe, but in fact our dealings in regional issues are shameful. Our eagerness to vilify, intimidate and abuse those in need is an extension of the way we have maltreated Aboriginal communities since 1788. Australia’s European history refuses to learn from its own mistakes, and we are now in the middle of a new cycle of violence that is heading towards a repeat performance of its very worst.

Review: (Extra)ordinary, (Un)usual Episode III (The Monologue Project)

themonologueprojectVenue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), May 13 – 27, 2015
Playwright: Pete Malicki
Director: Pete Malicki
Cast: Debbie Neilson, Glenn Wanstall, Luke Reeves, Matt Friedman, Raechel Carlsen, Rosemary Ghazi, Tiffany Hoy, Yannick Lawry, Miss Suzie Q

Theatre review
The production comprises eight monologues, all written and directed by Pete Malicki. His writing is mainly concerned with the ordinariness of Australian lives, but he delves into fantastical inventions on occasion, to create stories that aim to entertain and amuse. Malicki finds the small and mundane parts of existence and places them in the spotlight. His characters all seem neurotic, as their solitude allows them to reveal their deepest idiosyncrasies. The programme is a light-hearted one, with little room for gloom or poignancy, but it does offer social observations through sarcastic jabs and slapstick comedy.

Malicki’s direction is not particularly versatile, but he ensures that each segment is energetic and vibrantly quirky. He has a knack for extracting confident and quite wild performances from his cast, all of whom appear to bubble with excitement when placed centre stage. Glenn Wanstall’s performance in That Time Harold Borgenstein Went Speed Dating And Got Taken Over By All Of The Greek Gods, is impressively athletic and irresistibly funny. The actor’s intuition is remarkably precise, and the level of conviction he displays is entirely captivating. The piece is somewhat pointless, but it serves as a secure platform for Wanstall to present some of the most outrageous and flamboyant spectacles one is likely to encounter.

Artists often need boundaries to instigate the creative flow, and in Malicki’s case, the short monologue format is a framework that he is clearly very comfortable in. His ability to find tension and humour within his preferred structure is well-honed, but like the faces in his cast, greater diversity is required. Presenting eight works together is an appealing idea, and as much as it is a showcase of one’s strengths, it is able also to unwittingly expose one’s weaknesses. Malicki may not speak universally, but he is certainly an expert in his chosen field.

Review: Decay (Eclective Productions)

eclectiveVenue: Old 505 Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), May 19 – 24, 2015
Playwright: Melissa Lee Speyer
Director: Rachel Chant
Cast: Joel Horwood, Rosie Lourde
Image by Pamela Amores

Theatre review
The act of storytelling can sometimes be more interesting than the actual content being shared. This is an important feature of theatrical experiences, because original stories are hard to come by, but finding new ways to relay old tales is what keeps us challenged and excited. Melissa Lee Speye’s Decay experiments with timelines and plot structures, using very little words, to create a work that depicts the human condition in a truthful but unusual light. The context involves death and disaster, but the production is not particularly moving. Instead, it connects with our curiosity and intellect for a seventy-minute journey that is more cerebral than visceral. It interacts with us by prompting a series of questions that may be about the characters on stage, but mostly, of the world in general.

Centre stage is Joel Horwood, who takes on the challenge of portraying extreme emotions but without the indulgence of a conventional narrative flow. The actor manufactures tension well, and it is clear to see that he invests heavily into the role’s emotional arc. Horwood is dynamic and focused, but the mysterious nature of the play prevents us from getting too caught up with the protagonist in all his drama. Direction by Rachel Chant gives the production a tautness in pace and atmosphere, and her commitment to an unconventional and sometimes surreal theatrical form is refreshing and quite courageous. Nate Edmondson’s sound design is cleverly imagined, and beautifully realised. Without many spoken lines to occupy our minds with, Edmondson’s contribution takes on greater importance than usual. More than any other element of the show, it is the sound that provides us with the information required to help make sense of the intriguing chaos that unfolds.

Toying with conventions is always risky, and in the case of Decay, it ticks many boxes but leaves us cold. It does not entertain sufficiently, but it satisfies in other ways. With a defined artistic vision, we are impressed by the way it bends rules and negotiates boundaries. There is good work to be admired herein, and like most daring ventures, it will unsettle a little, and at times, it might even disappoint, but we can be certain that what is served is not rehashed rubbish rolled in glitter or painting by numbers, which is very comforting indeed.

5 Questions with Pete Malicki‏

petemalickiWhat is your favourite swear word?
Cunt. Sorry, it’s a terrible word, but it does the job.

What are you wearing?
I wouldn’t even know if I didn’t look down. I’m clothes blind.

What is love?
Depends who you ask. Semantics etc.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
Take the fifth!

Is your new show going to be any good?
It’s going to be fantastic, actually. The Monologue Project has been growing rapidly since its formation two years ago and now runs dozens of workshops, courses, shows and tours each year. Our pool of talent is growing and we’ve been fortunate enough to find the most suitable actors for the pieces we’re staging. The monologues have won 15 major awards between them and the cast are incredible. We’ve been working on this for close to half a year and it’s going to be epic.

Pete Malicki is writer, director and producer of (Extra)ordindary (un)usual III .
Show dates: 13 – 27 May, 2015
Show venue: New Theatre

Review: The House Of Ramon Iglesia (Mophead Productions / Red Line Productions)

mopheadVenue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), May 12 – Jun 6, 2015
Playwright: José Rivera
Director: Anthony Skuse
Cast: Christian Charisiou, Deborah Galanos, Nicholas Papademetriou, Ronny Jon Paul Mouawad, Stephen Multari, Eloise Snape, David Soncin
Image by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
No man is an island. We need to feel a sense of belonging, not only with other people, but also with places. José Rivera’s The House Of Ramon Iglesia investigates the significance of ancestry and roots, through the experience of Puerto Rican migrants in 1980 New York. The Iglesia family is dislocated in a space between San Juan and Holbrook, and its two generations illustrate the complexity of human attachment to a sense of country and home. In our modern times, populations are in constant flux, and the arbitrariness of borders is negotiated to allow for opportunities and interested parties to collide. The matter of nationalities is no longer a straightforward concept for many, and Rivera’s work questions its importance and indeed, its relevance to individual lives.

Anthony Skuse’s direction of the piece is a passionate rendering that delivers an engaging and energetic theatre, but our empathy for its characters only arrives several scenes after it begins. Early sequences feel distant, perhaps a result of their estranged temporal and geographic contexts. Its themes take time to connect, and even though many of its ideas can be universal, we only recognise them after some investment of imagination and patience, but when the show shifts into a gear of high drama, the play becomes a dynamic one, with performances that impress with emotional depth, and a compelling cast chemistry that creates an extraordinarily believable family unit.

When actors are focused and psychologically accurate, we surrender our trust and follow their journeys without hesitation. Deborah Galanos’ intensity gives her Dolores an admirable strength and although quite flamboyant in her approach, we do not question the authenticity of what is being presented. The melodrama Galanos introduces is delightfully entertaining, and allows the actor to expand her characterisation beyond the scripted lines, so that who we meet is greater than an archetypal maternal figure. In the smaller role of Charlie is David Soncin, whose memorable performance is coloured with a natural exuberance and an effortless magnetism. He plays his role with clear and simple intentions, but always discovers powerful subtleties that add surprising dimension to his work. Stephen Multari’s conviction and emotional sonority is a highlight in many scenes of confrontation and feuding. Javier’s inner world is central to the effectiveness of the play, and Multari’s depiction of it is beautifully resonant. The actor’s vigour and earnestness however, can seem out of place in the show’s more tranquil moments, and opportunities are missed that could allow the character to be more endearing, so that we care more about the lead and all the people surrounding him.

When we think of identity, we inevitably go to beliefs about bloodlines and origin. Place is important, but how we manufacture meaning between lived experience and geography is idiosyncratic and personal, yet collectivism is always a part of the discussion. We talk of nations of peoples, and we talk of partners and kins. Rivera’s story is about that conundrum, not just of how we use identity labels, but also how these labels intersect between friends and family. Each person can have an intimate and private understanding of their own space in the big scheme of things, but arbitration will always exist, even for the strongest. |

Review: The Dream (The Australian Ballet)

ausballetVenue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Apr 29 – May 16, 2015
Choreographer: Frederick Ashton (reproduced by Francis Croese)
Image by Daniel Boud

Theatre review
Frederick Ashton’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream distils all the magic and fantasy of Titania and Oberon’s Fairyland, and uses the ethereal qualities of ballet to provide lyrical expression. Familiar characters are vividly brought to life in dance form, with performers from The Australian Ballet investing in their roles surprising colour and fitting charm. Particularly engaging is Chengwu Guo as Puck, whose powerful and nuanced work is an effervescent highlight of the production.

Retaining original visual design elements for the programme is perhaps unexpectedly effective, especially for Ashton’s Symphonic Variations, which is presented as a prelude to The Dream. Sophie Fedorovitch’s delightful set and costumes for the 1946 piece looks as modern today as it must have seven decades ago, with a stunning backdrop reflective of the early emergence of post modern design at the end of the second World War and in the wake of the Art Deco movement. Ashton’s work features six dancers, all of whom remain on stage for its entire duration, and although adventurous and dynamic by nature, its presentation on this occasion seems too aloof, and energy levels too consistent, to portray the multi-dimensional qualities of its choreography.

The first (of three) Ashton works in the schedule is Monotones II, created in the mid 1960’s to the music of Erik Satie. With just three dancers and a disarming starkness to its visual language, the piece is absolutely unforgiving, and requires of its performers, the utmost in precision, focus and cohesion. When moments coalesce, we obtain the kind of sublime beauty that we seek of the art form, and as inevitable imperfections reveal themselves, one is reminded of the “wabi-sabi” philosophy from Japanese aesthetic principles. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, but it also gives greater meaning to the rest that are present. Perhaps more than any other discipline, ballet’s incessant pursuit of perfection is fundamental to its very meaning and existence. For those of us who deny the possibility of perfection (and hence probably not possess the traits required of professional dancers), it is that very act of pursuance that appeals. The spirit is always willing and pure in our best performers, so even if the body can never live up to our abstract fabrications, what we witness in good theatre is always that passionate belief in something greater, something borne of the brave hearts of our most courageous idealists.

5 Questions with Sri Sacdpraseuth

srisacdpraseuthWhat is your favourite swear word?
“Fuck off”.

What are you wearing?
Jeans, t-shirt, baseball cap, and ugg boots.

What is love?
All you need is love!

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
Seeing Unseen at the Old 505 Theatre. A self-devised piece. Loved it! The hour flew by, 4 stars.

Is your new show going to be any good?
I love boxing! I used to box as a kid. Bitch Boxer came along and I knew I had to direct this amazing one woman show, Five characters, one actor. Although the title is Bitch Boxer, the play is not just about boxing! It’s about love. It’s about chasing the dream! The script is amazing, here is our interpretation. Come and check it out.

Sri Sacdpraseuth is directing Bitch Boxer, by Charlotte Josephine.
Show dates: 26 – 31 May, 2015
Show venue: The Old 505 Theatre