Review: A Girl With Sun In Her Eyes (Red Line Productions)

redlineVenue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Oct 27 – Nov 14, 2015
Playwright: Joshua Rollins
Director: Andrew Henry
Cast: Martin Crewes, Kai Paynter, Gabrielle Rogers, Jeremy Waters, Kate Williams, Ezekiel Simat
Image by Vanessa Wright

Theatre review
Life is not a bed of roses. It is a hard fact to come to terms with, but we live with evil around us, and people make decisions everyday that cause harm to others. In Joshua Rollins’ A Girl With Sun In Her Eyes, we see law enforcers at work, and as they confront the darkest sides of human nature, what they reveal are some of the worst that we are capable of. The filmic script jumps between short scenes to concoct a sense of intrigue and to manufacture a plot that can be placed squarely in the suspense genre. Characters are not created with great complexity, but their narratives are strong. There are sequences that aim to shock, and even though they border on the exploitative, their effects are unquestionably powerful.

Director Andrew Henry focuses on bringing intensity to individual performances, but chemistry between actors is lacking. Leading man is the magnetic Jeremy Waters who puts on a very high energy show, but counterparts do not often meet on his level. The staging and interpretation of scenes are straightforward, with little theatricality involved. The choice for a naturalistic approach is logical, but it seems to prevent the exploration of its quite brutal themes to extend beyond the surface. The production’s literal spacial configurations also create issues with scene transitions requiring an excessive number of blackouts that inevitably cause dramatic tension to dissipate repeatedly. Sound and lights help with a sense of continuity, but the piece struggles to find a coherent and sophisticated theatrical realisation of the episodic writing.

A Girl With Sun In Her Eyes is deeply pessimistic, but its ugliness is recognisable. It exposes the duplicity that we all share, of the possibilities for good and bad that reside in all our decisions. We may not wish to acknowledge personal intentions as ever being purposely harmful, but there is no doubt that people around us act with less than honourable motives, and one can never be too careful about becoming entangled. Innocence is a beautiful thing, especially when out of reach.

Review: Hamlet (Bell Shakespeare)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Oct 27 – Dec 6, 2015
Playwright: William Shakespeare
Director: Damien Ryan
Cast: Philip Dodd, Ivan Donato, Robin Goldsworthy, Josh McConville, Julia Ohannessian, Sean O’Shea, Matilda Ridgway, Catherine Terracini, Michael Wahr, Doris Younane
Images by Daniel Boud

Theatre review
Director Damien Ryan’s rendition of Hamlet takes place in mid-20th century Denmark, with surveillance technology, airport last call announcements, and broadcasts of royal weddings. The prince is deeply upset by the death of his father, and by his mother’s very quick remarriage, but within this modern context, his very well known nervous breakdown seems to also involve the pressures of nobility as we understand them today. Our memory of Diana, Princess of Wales persevere, and the way she had been spoken off as having gone out of control, serves as a parallel to this Hamlet.

Ryan’s ideas are refreshing and plentiful. They can be meaningful, or merely ornamental, but his work is invariably engaging. In our age of collective attention deficit disorder, the production’s ability to retain our interest for over 3 hours is remarkable. Every scene is energetic, whether poignant, comedic, or transitory, Ryan finds a way to deliver entertainment and a quality of intrigue regardless of the text’s intentions. This is excellent directing, that has given rise to a show that can captivate even the most cursory of Shakespeare’s fans. Visual design contributes significantly to its pleasures. Alicia Clements’ versatile set produces dimensions on the stage with minimal fuss, and lighting designer Matt Cox’s nightmarish atmosphere administers a mesmerising effect that takes charge of our gaze.

In its efforts at bringing a newness to Hamlet, it might be argued that some dramatic tensions are unfortunately lost from the plot. The significant subdual of King Claudius’ villainy, along with the decision to play Queen Gertrude as an innocent, might be politically correct moves, but they take away from the power struggles that provide a certain spiciness to the admittedly clichéd foundations, especially in its first half. Nevertheless, the sophisticated and measured performances of the entire cast are enjoyable, and thankfully, easy to follow.

Josh McConville’s interpretation of the title role is a dynamically ranging one that exhibits a daring freedom eager to explore and experiment. McConville is powerful with all that he presents, playing comedy and tragedy equally well, but the distinction between both can appear too drastic. We understand the subject of madness involved, but it is debatable whether consistency of character can be improved in his expression of Hamlet’s state of mind. Ophelia is played by Matilda Ridgway, who shakes off the personality’s obligatory tweeness over the course of the play and puts on an impressive display of sorrow and rage in her concluding moments, for some of the most passionate and compelling scenes of the production. Philip Dodd is memorable and disarmingly funny in his parts as Polonius and Gravedigger. The actor’s confident and nuanced comic timing is a necessary element that helps with the show’s buoyancy, effectively preventing any monotony from setting in.

Revenge speaks to our base desires. A hallmark of advanced societies is the rejection of capital punishment, yet stories about vengeance resonate with no trouble at all. In Hamlet, revenge is a cancer that destroys from within. Its effects are contrary to the emotions that guide it. When enacted, the only ones who win are those from the outside, uninvolved in the eye for eye narrative. It is a profound lesson, one that is deeply, and appropriately for this text, Christian. To forgive and forget is an ideal that is unthinkable for many, but probably the only alternative to our prince’s tragic demise.

5 Questions with Georgia Woodward and Bob Deacon

Georgia Woodward

Georgia Woodward

Bob Deacon: Would you rather have two mouths or four hands and why?
Georgia Woodward: Definitely four hands. There are many occasions in my life where I wish I was able to carry more.

Rove McManus is just about to interview you on Rove Live. He would tell the audience as your introduction “My next guest…”
If fresh off the plane from the US where she was working on the New NBC TV Show “The Waiting Room” with co-star, Amy Poehler.

What’s the best piece of acting or life advice you have received? (please use rhyming couplets where possible)
To define what success means to you. That’s how you will get through. Being true to you.
Don’t change to fit the game. Then if you don’t get the part, you have only yourself to blame.
Accept that the industry is tough and won’t stroke your hair and tell you your good enough.
Accept that you are an actor, with no money, but you are surrounded by art (I want more money) and that’s good enough.

If your co-star, your director and yourself were starving escaped convicts in the Tasmanian wilderness, who would you eat first and why?
I would like them both to eat me first. One, because I would not survive in those conditions and two, they’re better people.

What will the audience enjoy most about this show?
I think the audience will love watching these characters sit in their living room and solve all world problems. Spoiler alert! Alex and I do get pretty down and dirty. We may sing and plan for our future.

Bob Deacon

Bob Deacon

Georgia Woodward: What’s the rehearsal process for Last Drinks been like so far?
Bob Deacon: We have been holding our rehearsals in a pub which is very inspiring for a play set in a pub. We sometimes drink beer in the pub after rehearsals, usually a local draft beer. Sometimes we eat some pub grub. Our director Luke has been strong in resisting urges to turn the play into a pub rock musical. The other actors are Chris whose hobbies include entertaining/creeping us out with his The Joker monologues, and Steve who unfortunately had his script stolen after the first rehearsal.

Who is your character in the show and what qualities do you like about him?
As an acrostic poem… sure!
Daniel runs his suburban family pub ‘The Avalon’
Ask him how it’s going?
No good, he’d probably say
It’s only customers are his two larrikin mates
Everything he does is for those mates and his old man
Last drinks may be called soon

Brave New Word is a theatre company dedicated to new writing, how are you finding working with them?
The team is super! They are very supportive of emerging artists and committed to putting on truthful and thought-provoking local productions. I feel very lucky to be working with them and expect to see big things from them in the future. Before I started working with Brave New Word I used to sit in my room for hours listening to ABBA songs, but since then I haven’t listened to one ABBA song. That’s because working with them is as good as an ABBA song. It’s as good as “Dancing Queen” (please watch Muriel’s Wedding if you missed this reference).

What do you eat for breakfast?
I am ridiculously rigid in my eating habits. Breakfast is two pieces of toast heavily spread with Australia’s favourite yeast extract. If I have no bread in the house, I duck up to the local convenience store and scoff into a blueberry muffin. Breakfast during special occasions like Christmas and birthdays is always enough chocolate to make me feel ill and regret my actions.

Why should we come and see the show?
Audience member 1: “Remember that time we went and watched a double bill of new Australian plays, and one was about a pub that was actually set in a pub, in a pub? Like, literally, the theatre was in a pub?”

Audience member 2: “Yeah that was mad! I loved it! The acting, the story, the whole production… all of it was fantastic!”

Audience member 1: “And remember I found $50 in that bush on the way home?”

Audience member 2: “Yeah, good times!”

Georgia Woodward and Bob Deacon will be appearing in Last Drinks & Two Mouths Four Hands, with Brave New Word Theatre Company.
Dates: 17 – 26 November, 2015
Venue: Exchange Hotel Balmain

Review: Project #Oüahn (Baühs)

bauhsVenue: 46 Foveaux Street (Surry Hills NSW), Oct 21 – 26, 2015
Playwrights: Gabriella Imrich, Christina Marks, Eliza Scott
Director: Christina Marks
Cast: Gabriella Imrich, Eliza Scott
Image by Diana Popovska

Theatre review
On stage are two young women, best described as anxious and frustrated. They speak in symbols, and their art is abstract. What they do is rarely explicitly named, perhaps to avoid things becoming undermined by convenient labels that can never completely address their thoughts. Instead, what we have is a series of physical and verbal enunciations that provide unmistakeable visceral sensations and clear indications about the way we experience our bodies, the construction of identities, and the political forces that dominate and disenfranchise. Project #Oüahn is a subversive work about subversion. The work aims to challenge, and because of our inevitable participation in prevalent ideologies, we do find ourselves in uncomfortable spaces in its 60-minute duration. It is hard to tell if the piece communicates universally, but its intention is not to create an “us and them” dynamic with its microcosm. There are moments of division, but its interest is ultimately about self-determination and self-empowerment. Its message is one of independence, but also of love, even if much of its language is militant and tough.

We do not find a conventional narrative structure, but the two actors Gabriella Imrich and Eliza Scott begin by setting up a visual reference to the madonna-whore complex. Their surfaces appear to be different as day and night, but as they wage war and undertake torment on each other, we soon discover that they are two of the same. It is a representation of the internal dialogues that we have and the socially complicit nature of how we monitor and police our own thoughts and behaviour. There is a precision to the performers’ motivations, that makes sense of the work’s abstractions in spite of their deliberate ambiguity. Chemistry between Imrich and Scott is flawless, and the production forges ahead with a confidence that is assertive and powerfully convincing. Christina Marks’ direction balances mystery and revelation, for a show that intrigues at every point, but is satisfying throughout. Sound design by Enola Gay is to be noted for adding a sophisticated yet dramatic dimension to proceedings.

The final section of the production is as memorable as any theatrical moment can hope to be. A mesmerising sequence that expresses divine beauty and tranquil strength, embodying an affirmation of life, lived with wisdom and courage. The art that we make is never worth more than when it is progressive. Project #Oüahn is a selfless exploration into the meaning of freedom that will touch anyone whom it is able to connect with, but freedom, like all that is worthwhile, will only discharge its magical prowess for those who know to receive it.

Review: Nine (Sydney University Musical Theatre Ensemble)

museVenue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Oct 21 – 24, 2015
Book: Arthur Kopit (based on the Italian by Mario Fratti, after Federico Fellini’s )
Music & Lyrics: Maury Yeston
Director: Jonathan Rush
Cast: Mikhaila Chaplin, Anna Colless, Hannah Cox, Genevieve de Souza, Rielly Dickson, Doug Emery, Jacinta Gregory, Bridget Haberecht, Bronwyn Hicks, Jane Hughes, Gabi Kelland, Lisa-Marie Long, Jos Markerink, Rose McClelland, Olga Solar, Nicole Toum, Stephanie Troost, Sam Wood

Theatre review
Based on Federico Fellini’s 1963 semi-autobiographical film , this is a musical about a man’s passion for life, work and women. The central character in Nine is Guido Contini, the superstar director under pressure to create a new work. He escapes, procrastinates and reminisces, but we do not see the film being made. His artistic process is not a straightforward one, and we learn that genius manifests itself in unexpected ways.

The songs in Nine are melodic and extravagant, powerfully orchestrated by ten musicians under the supervision of Alexander Norden, who breathes life into Maury Yeston’s 42-year-old compositions. The show is directed with flair and energy by Jonathan Rush, and choreographed intelligently by Natasha Heyward. It is a production that successfully expresses the exuberance of Fellini’s Italy, with all elements finding cohesion in the decadence and wildness of that romanticised world.

There are accomplished performances in the show, most notably Hannah Cox’s turn as Liliane La Fleur, completely stealing the show in her sensational Folies Bergère number, with perfectly pitched humour, rambunctious sex appeal, and a stunning sense of joy. There are major problems with sound in the production, but stronger singers, including Anna Colless and Bronwyn Hicks do manage to overcome them with sheer vocal power. Less fortunate are the show’s leads Doug Emery and Bridget Haberecht, the Continis who find themselves consistently drowned out by musical accompaniment. Nevertheless, their committed and eloquent performances leave a strong impression, and help to deliver a fascinating narrative that is ultimately very satisfying.

This might be a minimal staging, but its imperfections are few. Nine stands the test of time, and this small revival demonstrates the potentialities and pleasures it contains. Inspiration is invaluable, and artists especially must be able to identify them. Fellini’s magnificence is emulated in Yeston’s musical, and this production is clearly touched by the muses, but we do not have to wait for the calling of divinity to be spurred on to create something special; as we see in Guido’s story, greatness is to be found in la dolce vita.

Review: Dead Centre | Sea Wall (Red Stitch Actors Theatre)

redstitchVenue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Oct 20 – Nov 14, 2015
Playwrights: Tom Holloway, Simon Stephens
Director: Julian Meyrick
Cast: Rosie Lockhart, Ben Prendergast
Image by Jodie Hutchinson

Theatre review
The more we hurt, the more difficult it is to find expression for our internal struggles. We compartmentalise pain, and with time, become more adept at denying their existence, but their effects do not fade. Tom Holloway’s Dead Centre and Simon Stephens’ Sea Wall are two half hour monologues that deal with sorrow and depression. We encounter the protagonists in traumatic states, and see them fumbling through life trying to find a way out of their anguish. Holloway’s piece is vividly descriptive, with evocative fragments that softly, but actively, fire up our imagination. Stephens’ work is equally poetic, but takes a completely different tone. Focussing on the grieving process, he uses the difficulties in articulating painful experiences as a basis for the text, and creates a quiet work that escalates suddenly at the end to deliver a powerful revelation.

The two pieces are presented one after another, but visual elements suggest an entwinement between both stories. Design of the production is understated, but elegant and sensual. Matthew Adey’s lights and Katie Cavanagh’s video projections, along with Ian Moorhead’s sound design, establish an understated but concentrated atmosphere in which the actors offer their very delicate tales. Direction by Julian Meyrick gives a beautiful cohesiveness to the two halves, with a sensitive approach that highlights the similarities between each character’s experiences. We witness the fragility in our humanity, and realise the importance of accepting and understanding the weaker moments of our personal lives.

Rosie Lockhart plays Helen in Dead Centre, fleeing England for Uluru, in search of an answer to her indescribable troubles. The actor’s engaging presence grips us from the start, but it is her ability to communicate a wealth of emotion with a seemingly minimal mode of performance that truly impresses. Helen never tells us what her problems are, but Lockhart leaves us in no doubt about the depth of her torment. Also remarkable are the flashes of humour that emerge, brief but effective, and key to installing a solid connection between actor and audience. Alex in Sea Wall is played by Ben Prendergast, whose portrayal of loss and bewilderment resonates with an intimate familiarity. The evasiveness and fear of sentimentality that he exhibits is a perceptive interpretation of how we deal (or do not deal) with immense emotions, but concluding moments see outbursts of intensity that appear too suddenly, and we question the accuracy of those dramatics.

Catharsis frequently occurs through the artistic process, but not usually at the same degree for all involved. Artists can indulge boundlessly in their excavations of private feelings, but the inspiration brought to their audience must not be ignored. In Dead Centre | Sea Wall, emotions run high, but they tend to stay safely on stage. The poignancies that it imparts are muted, but they are also real. We do not get embroiled too closely with Helen or Alex, but we study them intently and learn about the nature of suffering. The stories are theirs, but the way they help us explain and comprehend life, becomes universal.

Review: Blood Bank (Ensemble Theatre)

ensembleVenue: Ensemble Theatre (Kirribilli NSW), Oct 16 – Nov 22, 2015
Playwright: Christopher Harley
Director: Anthony Skuse
Cast: Meredith Penman, Gabrielle Scawthorn, Tom Stokes
Image by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
At a hospital, death is everywhere, but characters in Christopher Harley’s Blood Bank experience life while the palpable presence of time hangs over each of their heads. The script is tender and sensitive, with humour always close at hand in its explorations into our darkest moments of illness. It is an imperfect script, with dubious relationship dynamics and a plot structure that requires further refinement, but each scene is charming, and beautifully rhythmic. Its themes keep the play firmly in a space that is thoughtful and profound. We can all relate to the narratives that unfold; whether light or heavy, its ideas appeal to our deepest feelings relating to the biggest of concerns, love and death.

Blood Bank is a consistently engaging work, buoyed by strong performances. Gabrielle Scawthorn is powerful at both ends of the emotional spectrum. She is an effective comic who identifies every opportunity for laughter, keen to bring a joyous energy to the stage, and does not hesitate to plunge into her character Abbey’s guilt and grief, with a resonant authenticity that can be quite touching. Her counterpart Tom Stokes takes a more subtle approach, but is no less convincing in his portrayal of psychological truths. The part is a sorrowful one, and it is to the actor’s credit that there is little self-indulgence to be found. Instead, Stokes’ honest interpretation creates moments of poignancy, and establishes a brilliant chemistry in the cast that is often the highlight of the production. Director Anthony Skuse magnifies all the nuances of the script so that our experience of the show is a rich and vibrant one. He holds our attention by tapping into our intimate fears, and makes believable what could have been tenuous at best.

There are things that we sweep under the carpet, so that life can move on. It is true that no matter how much philosophising we put it through, death must be, but it is also the awareness that all things come to an end, that gives us the desire to cherish them. Art about mortality therefore serves an important function. In shining a light on the end, we become acutely mindful of the now. Blood Bank talks about the choices we make, when we have little time left. It also reminds us, that time is always scarce, whether we are living or dying. To quote Kurt Vonnegut, “Of all the words of mice and men, the saddest are, ‘It might have been.'”