Review: A Property Of The Clan (Blood Moon Theatre)

bloodmoonVenue: Blood Moon Theatre (Potts Point NSW), Sep 29 – Oct 17, 2015
Playwright: Nick Enright
Director: Phillip Rouse
Cast: George Banders, Megan Drury, Jack Starkey, Samantha Young
Image by Phyllis Wong

Theatre review
Nick Enright’s A Property Of The Clan first appeared in 1992. It was the precursor to his more famous Blackrock, both of which were written in response to the murder of a 14 year-old Australian schoolgirl. The play is mainly concerned with our youth, and how misogyny becomes an entrenched part of Australian culture through its early permeation into children’s lives at school and at home. It is a serious subject matter that retains its resonance in 2015. The characters are not obsessed with mobile phones and social media, but their desires and prejudices are no different. We observe a group of teenagers finding their place in society, acquiring values, and growing up. The circumstances in which they find themselves are exceptionally traumatic, but we recognise their hardship to be symptomatic of teenage life in general, and are made to consider the ways ideals and beliefs are reinforced at that sensitive age. The play is about what happens in the formative years, and the lifelong repercussions thereafter.

Direction by Phillip Rouse is restricted by a problematic space, with its tiny stage, awkward entrances and restrictive technical facilities, but his inventiveness shines through. Reducing the play to its essentials, but adding visual flourishes where possible, Rouse is able to make personalities and narratives effective, while creating an environment that feels energetic and nuanced. There are significant problems with lighting and blocking that cause distraction, but the powerful sincerity in the piece ultimately wins over its audience. Performances are strong and the cast is evenly pitched. The adult players approach their teenage roles with integrity and a surprising authenticity that allow us to identify with each of them and to sympathise with their experiences. Megan Drury is especially memorable in both her parts as Rachel and Diane. Her transformations from one to the other are fluently executed, and the balance she achieves between the divergent qualities of youth and gravity is beautifully measured.

The kids learn about discrimination at school, but they struggle to recognise the powers at play in their own spheres. We can talk about all the pressing issues of our times, evangelising on education, parenting, domestic violence and feminism, but the challenge is to make changes to the defects in our culture, and to find real solutions for the problems that we have. There is a gender issue we must address, and the way we teach girls and boys about their differences are in need of a revolution.

Review: Bacon And Eggs (Only Children Theatre Co)

baconandeggsVenue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Sep 29 – Oct 10, 2015
Playwright: Chris Edmund
Director: Chris Edmund
Cast: Ryan Jones, Tom Dent, Adrian Mulraney

Theatre review
Two actors down on their luck spend the night drinking too much, and stumble upon the ghost of Francis Bacon. When artists struggle with their work, it is important to consult those who have come before, for wisdom, experience and history. Time spent on analysis and self reflection is crucial to the artistic process, especially at those frustrating, but necessary, moments of failure. Chris Edmund’s Bacon And Eggs is a thirty-minute meditation on the greats of European theatre, from Beckett to Shakespeare. Like any artist in any discipline, we study subjects considered to be exemplary, finding appropriate material to inspire and define our personal approaches. Bacon was by any measure, a fascinating figure, but this manifestation of his apparition is particularly straightforward. The play is a very simple one, and even though it does not bear ambitious pretences, there is a monotony to its rhythm and themes that can be challenging.

Performances are quirky but insufficiently varied. Ryan Jones and Tom Dent are strong with their small sections of comedy, but they sustain a singular mode of confusion for a long duration of the work, revealing an overly simplistic understanding of their parts. Adrian Mulraney plays a Bacon who is predictably flamboyant, but there are insufficient dramatic shifts in temperament and motivation to justify a full-fledged standalone production. It is doubtless that interesting ideas can be found in Bacon And Eggs, but at this early stage of its development, many more ingredients are required before the recipe can sizzle.

Review: A Steady Rain (Redline Productions)

Steady Rain by Tim LevyVenue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Sep 22 – Oct 17, 2015
Playwright: Keith Huff
Director: Adam Cook
Cast: Nick Barkla, Justin Stewart Cotta
Image by Tim Levy

Theatre review
We are all flawed beings. Denny and Joey are Chicago policemen who have all their imperfections put on display in Keith Huff’s A Steady Rain. There is a liberal amount of machismo in the way they live their lives, but the play is more interested in their vulnerabilities and in exposing the damage that resides behind tough exteriors. There are dramatic events and cinematic characters to be found, and even though passions run high, there is no guarantee that audiences would respond with the compassion it aims for. We see the humanity of the cops, but whether we relate to their weaknesses and forgive their misdeeds, and hence empathise with their stories, would probably depend on each individual’s own world view.

Adam Cook’s direction works hard to establish the grave pain experienced by the two men, but we never forget that their circumstances are largely self-inflicted. Nevertheless, Cook’s work is thoughtful, energetic and operatic in its sentimental expressions. He brings a grandeur not only to all the explosive emotions of the narrative, but manages to create in the space, an unceasing frenzy that elevates the two-hander to an immensely gripping thriller of a show. Design aspects of the production are superbly accomplished, with Ross Graham’s set and lights providing an atmosphere full of drama and grit. Sound by Jed Silver underscores the entire text with measured tension and outstanding sensitivity.

The centrepiece of the staging are magnificent performances by its two leads. Justin Stewart Cotta plays the fallen Denny, eloquently detailing a moral and bodily descent that is simply fascinating to watch. His aggressive approach gives the show an edge, and his tenacious ability to intimately engage his audience during his many monologues, makes his character’s destructive journey an insightful exploration into the way we can let things spiral out of control. Joey’s experience is less extreme, but Nick Barkla’s work in the role is certainly no less intense. The actor’s extraordinary emotional range is showcased at all its extremes, and the level of authenticity he injects into every moment is wonderfully mesmerising. For those of us who are unable to find satisfaction in the tale being told, the impressive craft that is put on show by these men is more than compensatory.

There is more to A Steady Rain than a buddy cop drama, but what it tries to explore is not wholly convincing. Narratives take predictable forms because our responses are calculable. Innocence and redemption hold a certain sacramental value, and dark stories need them to find resonance. If blame can be squarely attributed to its victims, whatever demise that befalls them stands every chance of leaving us cold. Here, theatrical magic is delivered on many levels, but what is actually being said is ambiguous at best.

Review: Crazy Brave (Cross Pollinate Productions)

crosspollinateVenue: San Telmo Studio (Chippendale NSW), Sep 17 – 27, 2015
Playwright: Michael Gurr
Director: Suzanne Pereira
Cast: Les Asmussen, Rhys Keir, Cecilia Morrow, Sam Trotman, Samantha Ward, Michael Wood
Image by John Ma

Theatre review
Political discourse is often simplistic, with individuals taking on allegiances with left or right wings for a certain convenience necessitated by the traditional structures of governance. Adversarial parties make us take sides, and difficult issues are made easier by adhering to a seemingly sensible spectrum traversing the far left to the far right. Many of us take on political affiliations as identity markers, always ready to align or dissent based on that tribal connection, and deviations are unthinkable. In Michael Gurr’s Crazy Brave, anarchists aim for social unrest with the sole purpose of disruption. They do not wish to replace existing systems and conventions with new propositions, only to dismantle what they view to be pervasive and fundamentally problematic. Gurr’s script is complex and sophisticated. It addresses the personal and the social with brilliant sensitivity, and structures its plot inventively for a surprising and gripping progression, involving both our emotions and intellect.

Accordingly, direction by Suzanne Pereira appeals to her audience’s desire to be satisfied on those visceral and cerebral levels. Challenging ideas are presented provocatively, and passions are explored with great potency. It is a mesmerising theatrical experience, with adventurous use of space (beautifully aided by Stephen Moylan’s sound and Tim Hope’s lights) and impressively accurate portrayals of relationships and personalities. Lead characters are powerfully performed. Alice, the ardent agitator with big hopes and even greater determination, is played by Samantha Ward who delivers difficult fanatic speeches with amazing clarity and an almost intimidating conviction. Ward’s toughness in the role is awe-inspiring, and her ability to demonstrate vulnerability alongside that immense strength of character, gives the play its credibility and a dramatic quality of urgency. Sam Trotman’s interpretation of Nick is intense and thoroughly studied, and the actor’s marvellous ability to establish chemistry with co-actors makes for compelling scenes that demand our attention. Some of the show’s most moving moments come from Les Asmussen as Harold, who provides a soulful voice of reason with a flair for bringing elucidation and gravity to the subtler, but wise, sections of the text. Asmussen’s delivery of an anecdote in the concluding scene is utterly sublime storytelling.

Broken marriages can be dealt with in several ways including, as is in the play, abandonment and divorce. Defective economic and political systems are contrastingly resilient, where rot is allowed to persist because change does not benefit the powerful. Cosmetic alterations are made to appease the public, but internal deterioration remains. Revolutions require vision, and a populace that understands its own deprivation, both of which are easily concealed by misinformation and deception. Unhappy relationships can be resolved, either by collusive delusion, or a brutal annihilation, but the choices for society are less simple.

Review: Where’s My Money? (Seeker Productions)

seekerVenue: Erskineville Town Hall (Erskineville NSW), Sep 23 – 27, 2015
Playwright: John Patrick Shanley
Director: Laura Pike
Cast: Amelia Beau Kaldor, Eli King, Chris Miller, Jacki Mison, Monica Sayers

Theatre review
Marriage is one of the most traditional customs of any civilisation, and its long established relationship with money and property distribution remains a crucial part of social systems today. In cultures like ours, love and romance are usually the driving force of unions, but the actual and pragmatic experience remains intrinsically tied with financial matters. John Patrick Shanley’s Where’s My Money? is a boisterous comedy about female-male relationships, and the problematic intertwining of love, sex and money. The characters in the play engage in complex and passionate diatribes, always in the mode of a fight, whether or not they are dealing with their partners. They also have to contend with ghosts that make regular appearances to disrupt their attempts at logic, reminding us all of the constant presence of less tangible things like guilt, regret and love.

This production, directed by Laura Pike, is energetic and funny, with charming performances that deliver consistent laughs. A less naturalistic approach could give the text’s ideas greater elucidation, but the pace of Pike’s show is enjoyably brisk. Even though costumes leave a lot to be desired, character types and relationships are clearly defined with interesting dynamics always at play. The cast of five shows excellent conviction, and an enthusiasm for comedy that guarantees a satisfied audience. There is a subversive spirit in Shanley’s writing that encourages a more adventurous, or less straightforward style of presentation. The show is a well-rehearsed one, but greater nuance could be introduced for a more philosophical rendering of the text.

Making relationships work, can be a lot like making art work. We try to identify all its components and then apply our best efforts to ensure that an ideal result eventuates. There are less administrable forces at play that need attention, but flair and other ephemerals require a sophistication that comes from time and sensitivity. Where’s My Money? is appropriately loud and humorous, and like other people’s marriages, it offers up a pleasing veneer, but we wonder what lies beneath the cheerful surface.…

Review: Ivanov (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Sep 19 – Nov 1, 2015
Playwright: Anton Chekhov (adaptation by Eamon Flack)
Director: Eamon Flack
Cast: Fayssal Bazzi, John Bell, Blazey Best, Airlie Dodds, John Howard, Ewen Leslie, Zahra Newman, Yalin Ozucelik, Helen Thomson
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
The word is not explicitly mentioned in Eamon Flack’s adaptation, but his Ivanov shows all the signs of a modern man deeply depressed. He is unable to work, and everything seems to be a source of anxiety. As an educated man of some social standing, Nikolai Ivanov is expected to do better, and everyone waits for him to get his act together. Nikolai himself blames no one else for his predicament, although it is clear that his disdain for things are beyond the personal.

We think about depression today increasingly as a medical condition pertaining to the individual. Circumstances and environment are diminished in importance, and one is required simply to find ways and means to weather the harsh realities surrounding themselves, or to accept the inherent deficiencies of one’s constitution. We no longer talk about the problems of society and their effect on persons. In Flack’s Ivanov, we are encouraged to examine the world in which Nikolai lives, and in our impatience for him to buck up, to also consider if there is anything indeed that would make his life truly worthwhile. Flack’s version is authentically pessimistic, but full of comedic power. Its laughter comes from the sad and absurd elements of life, with attention paid closely to the elements that control us. It discusses government and the economy, money and property, marriage and family, and the strain of masculinity, all troubling aspects that Nikolai has to deal with, and that are perversely familiar to us.

The show’s tone is surprisingly farcical, with a unique sensibility that straddles both Australia and Russia. It is a make believe time and space, with language that freely traverses geography and genre, but it rings true at all points. The places might be strange and the characters equally foreign, but we know the themes, and the play speaks sensitively and coherently through Chekhov’s now antiquated scenarios. The production is designed with intelligence, sophistication and flair. Michael Hankin’s set is immediately evocative, but also cheeky with symbols that add significantly to its overall and ubiquitous social commentary. As director, Flack’s ability to make every scene come to life ensures that the show is as emotionally engaging as it is thoughtful. Each character is exuberant and distinctive, and their exchanges are frenzied with fire and chemistry. Their stage is a thoroughly playful one, and we cannot resist pouring ourselves into their carousal, even if it is mad and miserable. Music and songs by Steve Toulmin and Francis Merson are party to much of that delirious energy.

It is a formidable cast, with memorable performances from all nine actors. The title role by Ewen Leslie is suitably angsty and frustrating, and he rumbles with extravagant drama at each of his key revelatory moments. The actor is also able to tame his darkness for many of the show’s amusing sequences, for a finely balanced portrayal of a man disintegrating in the middle of a riotous comedy. Blazey Best and Helen Thomson play obnoxious women of means, taking the opportunity to present offensively loud personalities in brilliant displays of sublime but exaggerated humour (wonderfully supported by Mel Page’s outrageous costuming). John Bell and John Howard turn up the charm with characters that are as flawed as they are endearing, transforming significant imperfections into figures of palpable humanity. The superb quality of acting in Ivanov is theatrical magic. Inspiring, uplifting and poignant, it takes Chekhov from history to tangible, and in this rare episode, provides an interpretation that exceeds our expectations of the master’s bequeathed words.

Chekhov had a definite interest in firearms and suicide. In any reflection of life, its opposite will always be implicated. In thinking about death, especially suicide, we are made to consider the decisions to remain alive. If that discovery of life’s meaning is elusive, then the mystery of how we stop from killing ourselves becomes potent. Nikolai reads a lot, and the more that he knows, the closer his gun is held. In Ivanov‘s world, ignorance is bliss, and pessimism struggles to find relief. Fortunately, hope is independent of reason, and we persist albeit devoid of certainty and replete with insecurity.

Review: Hedda After Hedda Gabler (Robot Sparrow Theatre Company)

robotsparrowVenue: Kings Cross Hotel Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Sep 22 – 27, 2015
Playwright: Zach Beavon-Collin (after Henrik Ibsen)
Director: Zach Beavon-Collin
Cast: Alice Birbara, Charles Jones, Victor Kalka, Adam Marks, Christie New

Theatre review
In Zach Beavon-Collin’s Hedda After Hedda Gabler, actors and characters try to escape their fates. Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler is one of the Western world’s most celebrated plays, performed and read the world over every day, with its shocking ending repeated on every occasion. Its characters are miserable, and the playwright’s message is bleak, so it makes good sense to want to formulate a rescue plan that holds brighter promise. Beavon-Collin explores the tension between circumstance and consequence in his radical retelling, along with a fluctuating adherence to the original that negotiates the very nature of adaptation. His script is a charming one, but requires of its viewers a familiarity with Ibsen’s version or not much will make sense. It is an interesting dialogue, with only one side presented.

Staging of the work lacks refinement, but there is a quirky flair that holds the piece together. Performances are mostly adequate, although the greenness of its players is evident. Alice Birbara plays Hedda with excellent concentration, but the intensity of her interpretation communicates little. The actor seems to work hard at the psychology of her role, but not enough is being articulated in her overly introspective approach. Chemistry between actors is mild and hesitant, resulting in a show that offers little beyond artifice and concepts. There are strong passions and wild exploits in the text, but their resonances remain buried.

If we believe that all life is predestined, each with its own inevitable conclusion, then depression could be the only response. Hedda is deeply troubled, but in this rendition, we see her attempting to re-write her fate. The notion of a great heroine fighting for survival is a powerful one, and the uncertainty of her aftermath is equally seductive.

Review: All The Difference (Subtlenuance Theatre)

subtlenuanceVenue: Old 505 Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Sep 22 – 26, 2015
Playwright: Paul Gilchrist
Director: Paul Gilchrist
Cast: Kathryn Schuback

Theatre review
We go about our daily business making small decisions at every juncture, and every now and again, we come to key moments that require a choice be made that might alter the course of life significantly. In the Western world, we are accustomed to thinking that our own destinies lie within our own hands, that we are the masters of our own circumstances. In Paul Gilchrist’s All The Difference, we see Felicity (or Flick) before key events are about to occur, and participate in the thought and emotional processes that take place at those critical times. We examine the quality of chance, the extent of control, and the fallout of decision. Provocative questions are raised about the way we conceive of our part in the progression of time, the futility of our ego, and the sometimes unknowable relationship between choice and result. Gilchrist’s script is reminiscent of “choose your own adventure” books, with Flick asking her audience to vote yes or no, when difficult situations arise. Not every consequence is a profound one, but when helping to answer her major life questions, we certainly share the nervous thrill that Flick experiences.

Kathryn Schuback’s performance of the monologue is emotionally charged and often heavy with melancholy. There is an admirable fortitude that shines through when presenting the darker sides of the story, but the show needs greater exuberance, especially in its early sections, to match the playfulness of its format, and to guide us into familiarity with Flick. The work is tightly paced and holds our attention well, but more philosophical portions of the text requires stronger emphasis, so that our thoughts can process their complexity more satisfyingly.

There are two attitudes that can be taken when it comes to the idea of “choice”. If we think that “choice” is a fallacy, and that we are but a tiny speck in the scheme of things, a scheme that proceeds at its own will, then we can free ourselves of the infinite shackles that make life unbearable. If we think that “choice” is the most innate of our qualities in being human, then we are empowered to do good at every opportunity. Chances are that the truth vacillates in the spaces between.

Review: Slut (New Theatre)

newtheatre2Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Sep 22 – 26, 2015
Playwright: Patricia Cornelius
Director: Natarsha Wrensted
Cast: Ashley Avci, Christopher Broadbent, Brigitta Brown, Jordan Keyes-Liley, Sophie Mccrae, Rowan McDonald, Felicity Mckay, Eliza Scott, Zoe Tomaras, Jane Watt

Theatre review
Sex is one of the most natural and fundamental of all human experiences, yet it is tainted by endless negative connotations and meanings, informed by cultural and religious thought that aim to control behaviour in all our societies. Women especially, struggle to embrace and celebrate their sexual selves without having to deal with stigmas of all kinds rearing their ugly heads. Patricia Cornelius’ Slut talks about a Lolita who fails to recognise her power. Instead of valuing her attractiveness appropriately, she uses it to earn indiscriminate affection. We witness her being taken advantage of, and the chastisement that follows. This realm of discussion should be a complex one full of ambiguity, but the play seems simplistic in its attitude, and the powerlessness of its Lolita is concerning and unfortunate. Certainly weak people of all genders exist everywhere, but the juxtaposition of strong sexuality with low intelligence as a central subject matter seems too convenient and obvious.

We do not hear very much of what Lolita has to say, but learn about her exploits from the mouths of her vicious peers. Natarsha Wrensted’s direction illustrates all the hearsay and makes real what could have been only rumours. We see Lolita make mistakes, but she is rarely given the opportunity to speak for herself. We are a society that is capable of using the term “slut” as insult for any woman, and although it is not the play’s intention to label Lolita’s behaviour as reprehensible, there is a troubling disquiet in witnessing a character described only in sexual terms. We want to see the young woman’s worth, but they are reduced, and although we catch glimpses of her personal feelings, they do not offer sufficient balance for the text’s emphasis on her sexuality. The message it wishes to impart seems to be about the danger that we can put ourselves in when desperate for love, but the production needs to take greater care not to imply that aggressive feminine sexuality is in itself problematic.

Politics aside, there is much to enjoy in the 35-minute show’s standard of performance. The cast is uniformly strong, and the predominantly chorus format of presentation is sensitively choreographed and the actors are well-rehearsed. There is a cohesion to the group that is fascinating to watch, and their work is even more effective when individuals are able to bring unexpected flashes of nuance and variation to their parts. Energy and conviction is never an issue in the production, but scene transitions require greater support from lighting and sound.

Criticising any person’s sexuality is without doubt, archaic and senseless. Using the word “slut” as a derogatory term only exposes an inability to communicate with intelligence, and a severe lack of sophistication. We have exhausted the culture of “slut-shaming”, but young people must continue to be taught to value their own bodies, and the bodies of others. We should always try to become better persons, and in that process, how we think about our sex lives is crucial.

Review: Britannia Waves The Rules (New Theatre)

newtheatre1Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Sep 22 – 26, 2015
Playwright: Gareth Farr
Director: Deborah Mulhall
Cast: Vincent Andriano, Jane Angharad, Patrick Cullen, Alan Faulkner, Nick Rowe

Theatre review
This is a tale about the transformation of a poet into a soldier, but it is not a romantic journey that addresses our deluded need to see heroes emerging from wars. Gareth Farr’s Britannia Waves The Rules is quite the opposite. It talks about the ruling class’ persistent use of young men in poverty through generations, and the innocent lives sacrificed for the insatiable need of Western forces to invade. More than an anti-war piece, Farr’s writing is subversive and bold in its approach, and his protagonist Carl is a creation marvellously imagined and thorough in its embodiment of experience and truth. The distillation of the phenomenon of war into the private plight of a singular character is powerfully realised by the intimate nature of its speeches, dialogue and monologue, that seem to hail from a place of brutal and rare honesty.

Deborah Mulhall’s adventurous direction embraces the text’s poetic machismo to deliver a work that is wild and emotional, but also deeply sensitive in the way characters and relationships are established. In the role of Carl is Vincent Andriano, a turbulent presence that depicts anger, anxiety, fear, and sorrow with remarkable accuracy and energy. His highly dramatic interpretation is a beautiful accompaniment to the often introspective voice of the script, and we are transfixed from the very start to the bitter end. Also memorable is Nick Rowe, who plays Bilko with a dynamism that matches the lead’s. The chemistry between the two is intense and convincing, and the heartache that transpires is as authentic as it can get at the theatre. Performances are excellent in the production, all cleverly conceived and fluently executed.

As a collective, we understand things from an abstract perspective, and details are neglected, often deliberately hidden. Mainstream discourse does not reveal the personal losses that occur every day, but we must not stop talking about the ravages of war. Britannia Waves The Rules does not present any surprising facts. We already know that death is the currency of conflict and victory, but the way it tells the age old story of destruction is unusually poignant. It wants us to see that every young person sent to the battlefield is a son and daughter, and our brother and sister. As long as this keeps happening, the voices that oppose it must be heard.