Review: Jack Of Hearts (Ensemble Theatre)

ensembleVenue: Ensemble Theatre (Kirribilli NSW), Jan 29 – Apr 2, 2016
Playwright: David Williamson
Director: David Williamson
Cast: Paige Gardiner, Christa Nicola, Peter Mochrie, Brooke Satchwell, Craig Reucassel, Isabella Tannock, Chris Taylor
Image by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
It is probably a common fantasy to have multiple lovers vying for one’s attention, so it is understandable that David Williamson would use the idea to spark his new play Jack Of Hearts. The quirk is that lead character Jack is a thoroughly ordinary man, with no substantial talents, wealth or looks to speak of. He is not a particularly kind or caring man, and as a middle-aged divorcee, it is quite a mystery that he thinks that three very attractive women would be desperate for his affections. Except, the play is not a mystery at all, not in the conventional sense at least. It is a straightforward and very old-fashioned comedy about Jack’s ridiculous delusions. Often unintentionally laughable, and frequently offensive to audiences with even the slightest of feminist sensibilities, this is certainly not a show for everyone.

Nevertheless, it is without question that there are those who will enjoy the confident and energetic rhythm of the production’s humour. Its thorough and determined need to entertain will be pleasing to some, especially those who are able to leave political correctness and intellect outside of the auditorium. Theatre should have no rules. It can be frivolous, shallow and rude if it chooses to be, and in fact, millions have been made from entertainment of this description. Jack Of Hearts is the kind of work that will have many detractors, but also many fans. It can be described in many words, but boring is not one of them.

The cast of comedians is well-rehearsed and spirited. Characters do not make much psychological sense, but the actors are able to convey a good level of authenticity in individual scenes to keep us engaged. Jack is played by Chris Taylor, whose energy sustains the surprisingly lengthy show. His charisma shines through in sections in which he performs stand-up comedy (to adversaries who attend on multiple nights, voluntarily subjecting themselves to humiliation for no good reason). It is a very animated performance by Taylor, and although a healthy dose of naturalism would help us identify better with his story, there is a remarkable clarity achieved in his quite nonsensical circumstances. Craig Reucassel is similarly vivid in his portrayal of Stu, the stereotypical Sydney cad who also finds himself in the middle of two women with mystifyingly low levels of self-esteem. Reucassel is naturally charming, with a quality of mischief that makes Stu as engrossing as he is intolerable. Brooke Satchwell does her best with the role of Denys, almost disregarding the complete illogic of all the character’s decisions, to deliver a performance that is consistently funny and very amusing. The actor’s irresistible flair is one of the show’s few highlights.

There are no likeable personalities in the play. These Australians are at worst repugnant, and at best, banal. Theatre is often a reflection of real life, but on this occasion, it is fortunate that nothing seems believable, and we can allow ourselves to think of the people in Jack Of Hearts as entirely fictitious and thus form a disassociation. It however, cannot be overlooked that women continue to be accessories in many of our stories about men, even very unremarkable men. The women here exist only in relation to their husbands and lovers, but incredulous as it might seen to some, this is not how we are in reality, and the reflections offered here are profoundly stupid.

www.ensemble.com.au

Review: The Poor Kitchen (Subtlenuance / The Old 505 Theatre)

subtlenuanceVenue: Old 505 Theatre @ 5 Eliza St (Newtown NSW), Feb 2 – 6, 2016
Playwright: Daniela Giorgi
Director: Paul Gilchrist
Cast: Mark Langham, Samantha Meisner, Katrina Rautenberg, Randa Sayed, Benjamin Winckle

Theatre review (of a preview performance)
Elle inherits a farm in Italy, so she flies there with plans to sell up and return with cash for a piece of the Sydney property market. To our Australian sensibilities, the proposition is straightforward, but what Elle experiences is a set of unforeseen and complicated circumstances involving a foreign culture, to which she is intrinsically entwined, by blood and history. Modern life for most of us holds a strange and contradictory duality. We identify with the place and culture that we immediately belong, but are aware also of ties to other faraway places. We think of ourselves as one thing, but are really much more internationally connected than we care to admit. Geographical boundaries are real, but also arbitrary. This is an inconvenient and problematic truth that challenges our inevitably parochial ways of living, one that confronts how we think about migration, ecology and politics, all topics that The Poor Kitchen is keen to tackle. It shatters the “us and them” oppositions set up to justify our capitalism, so we keep it under wraps, choosing to subscribe instead to nationalistic notions of being that our small minds find manageable.

Daniela Giorgi’s script is both thoughtful and insightful. Its narrative can be structured more engagingly, but its attempts at bringing big ideas into a realm of domesticity, and hence intelligibility, are successful. There are colourful characters that keep us entertained, and even though performances are of a good standard, chemistry between actors is sometimes lacking, causing the show to lose tension at various points. Randa Sayed is thoroughly charming as Anna, with an energy and dynamism that light up the stage each time she makes an appearance. In the role of Carlo is Benjamin Winckle, who impresses with a consistent and precise approach in his creation of what is perhaps the most convincing character in the production. Leading lady Katrina Rautenberg is strong when emotions gets intense, but is less effective in portraying the more light-hearted parts of Elle. We take some time to warm up to her, so the events surrounding our protagonist can feel slightly distanced in earlier scenes.

The production’s minimal design is appropriate for the rustic quality it depicts, but sections that take us through dramatic shifts in time require greater atmospheric support from the team of creatives. Paul Gilchrist’s direction makes excellent use of space, and he often finds the best to showcase in each performer, allowing individuals to find their own captivating moments and to deliver a certain level of depth from each personality. The story of The Poor Kitchen is an interesting one, but in its resistance of conventional melodrama, our emotions are kept in check. It is true that family matters can easily cause aggravation, and soap operas all over the world exploit that indulgence, but level-headedness is probably the only means to rid us of those heartaches, so that we may begin to see the bigger picture.

www.subtlenuance.comwww.venue505.com/theatre