Review: Is It Time (King Street Theatre)

emuprodVenue: King Street Theatre (Newtown NSW), May 25 – Jun 5, 2016
Playwright: Martin Ashley Jones
Director: Barry Walsh
Cast: Lauren J. Jones, Denise Kitching, David Luke, Sarah Plummer, Ross Scott, Sylvia White
Image by Thomas Adams

Theatre review
Discussions about end-of-life decisions are invariably dynamic. Each of us has a stake in the topic, and our points of view tend to be fiercely adversarial, even though the matter is contentious precisely for its manifold ambiguities. Martin Ashley Jones’ Is It Time makes a courageous proposition about the way we should be allowed to be in control of our own deaths. It makes a pro-euthanasia argument, but avoids cliché with some of its more radical ideas that are rarely presented in public discourse. Jones’ story is confronting and controversial, with well-crafted characters and vibrant dialogue that will facilitate healthy debate on the subject. The script can be further finessed, especially in passages where diatribes become too obvious, but it is a passionate work that will encourage thoughtful and spirited interaction in its audience.

Direction by Barry Walsh brings excellent lucidity, in emotional and logical terms, to the play’s ideas. There is little doubt as to what Is It Time wishes to say, but the show can often lack nuance in its representations. The issue is a complex one, but we jump to its conclusions almost too easily. Walsh’s pace is admittedly enjoyable, but it also feels rushed at points, and important details become lost in the process. Performances are characterised by clarity and enthusiasm, and even though a greater sense of moral struggle would add drama to the piece, the production succeeds in engaging us by asking important, burning questions. Sylvia White and Ross Scott lead the cast with heartbreaking honesty and beautiful chemistry. Their control over poignant sections of the play is considerably stronger than in moments of comedy, and we do take time to warm up to their personalities, but they get us to an ending that is ultimately very satisfying.

Fighting over the right for a dignified death is problematic for many reasons, including the fact that many who argue against euthanasia have not encountered terminal illness at close proximity. For those who only see death as a distant and abstract concept, taking away a suffering individual’s final cardinal choice is a not a difficult task. Is It Time demonstrates that art has the unique capacity to provide space for the issue to be explored, in a way that is humane and sentimental, but simultaneously objective and pragmatic. There are few opportunities for us to come face to face with our mortality, but at the theatre, where it is secure and sacred, we can interrogate the inevitability to reach a deeper understanding of that sunset we will all see one fateful day.

5 Questions with Keane Fletcher and Ruverashe Ngwenya

Keane Fletcher

Keane Fletcher

Ruverashe Ngwenya: Tell us about your role in We Will Rock You.
Keane Fletcher: My role in We Will Rock You is the Swing, which means I understudy all of the male ensemble members and have to be ready to go on for them at a moment’s notice. I also understudy two of the lead roles in the show, Galileo and Khashoggi.

Tell us about your favourite experience when you were touring the world with the Ten Tenors?
It’s hard to pick just one favourite experience with The Ten Tenors. I spent six years touring the world with them and in that time I got to visit so many beautiful countries and sing in some amazing venues. Performing for Oprah on Hamilton Island’s Whitehaven Beach was pretty amazing, as was singing for 60,000 people at the opening of the UEFA Cup in Warsaw, Poland. My time spent with them was an incredible experience and one I’ll never forget.

If you could invite six people, living or dead, to a dinner party at your house, who would they be?
Amy Winehouse, David Bowie, the writer Lorrie Moore, Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe (they could carpool) and, of course, Freddie Mercury. The world’s best dinner party followed by world’s worst hangover!

What’s your favourite holiday destination?
New Orleans baby! I’ve been lucky enough to go a few times, once for work but mainly for pleasure, and I still can’t get over how otherworldly and exciting it is. So many famous writers, playwrights and musicians have lived there and you can feel the impact the city must have had on them. There’s music pouring out of every corner, amazing food, so much voodoo and superstition, and you can drink on the street. What more could you want?

What is your favourite Queen song and why?
Bohemian Rhapsody, no question. It’s the first Queen song I remember listening to as a kid and so I can’t separate the nostalgia I feel for it from my general love for it musically, but I guess it doesn’t matter. Great music usually marks a moment in time for people and I think that’s why people love Queen so much, because their songs have become ingrained in all of our lives. If you hear Bohemian Rhapsody come on the radio and aren’t singing along by “thunderbolt and lightning, very very frightening” then there’s something wrong with you.

Ruverashe Ngwenya

Ruverashe Ngwenya

Keane Fletcher: Tell us about your role in We Will Rock You.
Ruverashe Ngwenya: My role in We Will Rock You is quite a versatile fun one! I start off the show playing the Gaga teacher/spy for Khashoggi and his “army”. I am very much a part of the law enforcement to ensure the rules and regulations are being followed by the students. I also am a part of the amazing ensemble and sing a lot of amazing music along with the cast. I also get to play the feisty diva, Bohemian Aretha, which is a lot of fun and a huge contrast from the Gaga teacher. I also understudy the role of Killer Queen.

You played the violin as a child. Do you still play in your spare time?
Yes, I did play the violin as a child! Wow thanks for the reminder haha. No I don’t still play – the violin was more like an introduction to music for me. It was how I learnt to read music, pick up the theory side of music and broaden my horizons as a musician, eventually finding my passion in singing and performance.

If you could invite three people, living or dead, to a dinner party at your house, who would they be?
They would have to be my grandmother who passed away when I was 9 along with Nelson Mandela and Michael Jackson.

What is the holiday destination you’ve always wanted to go to?
That is an impossible question to answer! There are so many places in the world I want to and WILL travel to (hahaha) mainly most of Africa. I really want to explore the continent and all its cultures and customs thoroughly. South America is high on the list! Brazil, Peru, Columbia, Argentina, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and definitely India when I’m older later in life – that’s the main list!

What is your favourite Queen song and why?
My favourite Queen song would have to be We Are The Champions – I absolutely love singing it! The song fills you with so much pride and happiness. When you sing it you just feel great! So uplifting!

Keane Fletcher and Ruverashe Ngwenya can be seen in We Will Rock You, the Queen musical.
Dates: 20 Apr – 26 Jun, 2016
Venue: Sydney Lyric Theatre

Dates: 10 Jul – 7 Aug, 2016
Venue: QPAC, Brisane

Dates: 30 Aug – 9 Oct, 2016
Venue: Regent Theatre, Melbourne

Review: The Forest Unyielding (Self Help Arts)

selfhelpartVenue: 107 Projects (Redfern NSW), May 24 – 28, 2016
Director: Margot Politis
Cast: Taryn Brine, Grace Partridge, Margot Politis, Lauren Scott-Young, Claire Stjepanovic, Lucy Watson
Image by Sarah Emery

Theatre review
The Forest Unyielding is a dynamic new study of mental health, set in a dark forest space representing the inside of a brain.” It might be considered a performance art piece, comprising six actors each demonstrating her own isolated corner of dysfunction. Some are in perpetual motion, and others are caught in modes of stasis. No words are spoken, but there is a potency of intent and presence that is inescapable.

Dylan Tonkin’s sensational set design keeps our eyes fascinated with a enigmatic blend of colours (with Emma Lockhart-Wilson’s lights) and textured surfaces providing an affecting approximation of a mystical fairyland, in which we roam and explore. Sound is thoughtfully orchestrated to provide tension to the ethereal environment, with a mixture of drone and spiritual elements by Thomas Smith controlling our visceral responses to the work.

Without the use of a narrative, The Forest Unyielding requires that we interact with its abstract displays instinctively. Each of the women are trapped in a repetitious cycle of activity and emotion. We observe them from a state of initial curiosity to varying degrees of understanding or perplexity, with director Margot Politis’ use of time requiring of us reflection and perseverance before we are able to encounter the depth of what is being represented. The space moves, but is non-changing for its 50 minutes, and it is the audience that experiences a transformation within.

The show is not always an easy journey, and its ending could be executed with greater flair, but the experience it delivers is unexpectedly satisfying. It relies on our selves to make the most of what envelopes us, and it is that investment of personal energy and thought that leads to an appreciation of the work. Passivity will not get one very far in this forest. We are used to being told what to think at the theatre, but on this occasion, our own devices are put to the test.

5 Questions with Chenoa Deemal and Ildiko Susany

Chenoa Deemal

Chenoa Deemal

Ildiko Susany: What is your dream role to play?
Chenoa Deemal: I’m not African or Egyptian, so this dream will probably never come to pass (and I’m completely ok about it because it’s always better if the correct nationality plays a historical role) but Cleopatra has always been my dream role. I really just hope that one day soon we’ll see a woman of colour play her.

What is the most interesting thing about playing Jessie in A Man With Five Children?
Jessie ages throughout the show from 7 to 35, what’s really interesting and challenging is making the subtle shifts between ages. For example, in one scene Jessie is age 14 and the next she’s 15, what’s interesting and exciting is finding the mental and emotional transition between these two scenes, this happens throughout the play and for me, it’s what makes the rehearsal process much more enjoyable.

If a documentary was made about your life, what aspect of it would you want them to focus on? Why?
I grew up on a remote mine site in Far North Queensland called Cape Flattery, I’d love to do a documentary recreating all the fun/silly things we did as kids. I’d like to show the rest of the country a different perspective of growing up in Australia and show that it doesn’t matter where you start in life, as long as you finish where you want to. Narrated by Morgan Freeman of course. Or would the more interesting choice be Dave Chappelle?

What is your relationship to social media?
I have a love/hate relationship with social media. I like that you can keep in contact with colleagues, family and old friends but more and more I feel that I prefer to not be on social media at all. To put it simply I feel it’s much better for my peace of mind. I think we’re becoming obsessed with following other peoples lives and projecting what we want other’s to see about our lives.

A Man With Five Children is set before the Facebook/social media phenomenon took over the world but it’s so interesting to look at this play in terms of that obsession. Initially the characters have no control over how they’re perceived by rest of the country but as they get older they realise that they want to change the labels they’ve been placed under. It’s the same with social media, we’re constantly projecting what we think is the best version of ourselves and more and more I’m finding it exhausting and boring.

What is your ideal vision for Australia in ten years time?
Very simply, I hope that Australia evolves into a country that is not controlled by fear of the unknown and more into a society that embraces differences with open ears and open hearts. Easy, isn’t it?

Ildiko Susany

Ildiko Susany

Chenoa Deemal: If you could have one superpower what would it be?
Ildiko Susany: It’s so hard to choose just one! I would love telepathy and telekinesis. Although, flying and invisibility would be really advantageous too… I want to be in a superhero movie! I really want to do my own fight scenes and action sequences!

What do you hope the audience will be thinking about as they drive home after the show?
This play is so epic and expansive. I want audiences to have their own debate about whatever themes rouse them to action and conversation. Personally, I am very interested in the evolution, complexities and unravelling of the constructed relationships within the play; the abuse of power; the pursuit of art and at what cost; the desire to leave a legacy. What also sparks my interest – based on the documentary focus of this play – is how we as a technologically advanced society construct our identity and present it to the rest of the world and how in this globalised community where it is so easy to instantly ‘connect’ with one another, we remain some of the loneliest people on this planet – concealed behind a screen with no true sense of purpose or community. What does it mean to have a tangible, mature and unguarded human connection? What is there to gain? To lose? Are we too terrified to be for others the human being we are deep within – the one unfettered by barriers; truthful, open, exposed?

What do you love about your character Annie?
I love Annie’s strength, resilience and generosity of spirit. She’s a tough woman and she’s down to earth. She’s doing all she can to keep her family together and rise above all of the challenges preventing her from pursuing her own aspirations for herself.

What do you dislike about Annie?
I’m probably defending my character too much – but I love her! I think she makes a poor choice in the play but she’s trapped in a very complex, challenging and heart-wrenching of circumstances. She is really trying to do her best to keep her family together and to keep them (and herself) afloat. She is just keeping her head above water when she’s losing the will to keep treading water. Despite her family, she is ultimately isolated, unsupported and alone.

In a movie about your life, who would play you?
I would really love a postmodern rendering of my life where different actors play me at various points in my life: Ilana Glazer, Idris Elba, Mary Louise Parker, Ray Chong Nee, Mariska Hargitay, Chiaki Kuriyama and maybe a cameo from Amal Clooney (although she’s not an actor)… and perhaps myself even! I would definitely want actors of colour in my biopic – no one is going to whitewash my story!

Chenoa Deemal and Ildiko Susany can be seen in A Man With Five Children by Nick Enright.
Dates: 3 – 26 June, 2016
Venue: Eternity Playhouse

5 Questions with Lauren J. Jones and Martin Ashley Jones

Lauren J. Jones

Lauren J. Jones

Martin Ashley Jones: What are the best and worst aspects of playing Rosie?
Lauren J. Jones: Rosie is quite confident and sassy at times and she also has a lot of love to give. I love the dynamic of her character. However, I’m finding that the greatest challenge is getting back into the mindset of a 19 year old who, whilst being quite mature is still young.

What do you love about Rosie?
I love that at 19 years of age Rosie handles such an intense, sad and conflicting emotional experience with such grace and maturity. She is a fun loving girl who really does want the best for the people she loves.

What have you loved about this process?
I’ve loved working with older actors and dealing with a subject matter that is not something I have ever had to really think about with before. It’s been eye opening and thought provoking to say the least. The cast and our director Barry Walsh have all been such a joy to work with too!

What have you been doing previous to this?
From 2009-2013 I lived in London where I went to drama school and worked as an actress. Since then I have continued acting but am also currently in my final year of a BA in TV and Film Production at JMC Academy. Whilst continuing acting I am beginning to branch out into directing and writing, mainly for film which has been fun!

What do you prefer, acting or directing?
I love them both… equally I think! In regards to acting I love being able to explore a character, really working out their characteristics and mannerisms etc. As a director though I love being able to look at all of the characters and the world as a whole and really being able to have my own interpretation on a whole script as opposed to just one character.

Martin Ashley Jones

Martin Ashley Jones

Lauren J. Jones: What’s been your favourite role and why?
Martin Ashley Jones: I have thoroughly enjoyed the challenges and rewards that I have experienced in all of the roles I have been privileged to be able to play but Macbeth was a sensational role and I think that the time of my life in which it came along was very special in so many ways. I’d love the opportunity to play him again at some stage.

Have you always written?
Pretty much yes. I have always been doodling and scribbling away at something. Just finishing Is It Time has been a real accomplishment for me as I’ve got quite a few unfinished projects floating around so I am stoked for the play to get from my head to the page, to the stage!

Where do you see yourself in the future within the arts?
I’ll continue to perform and write. I’d like to direct some more and I’m not sure whether it’s my age or my frustration with the abandonment of the arts by the government but who knows, I may even get a bit political!

Why did you choose not to direct or act in Is It Time?
At various stages I was always going to do one or the other or maybe even both but because of the scheduling and another personal commitment that arose I was unable to do either. I’m very excited though to now watch the play not having anything to do with the production. I feel it’s in safe hands and I now get to see totally from the perspective of the audience.

There are some very challenging themes in the play how do you think the audience will react to these?
I haven’t concentrated on how the audience will react to any aspect or theme within the play. I have written a story about family, friends and some of the complexities and challenges that we all face in one way or another throughout our lives. I realise that there is subject matter that may polarize people but then so do stories in the news everyday.

Lauren J. Jones can be seen in

Review: The Taming Of The Shrew (Sport For Jove Theatre)

sportforjoveVenue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Mar 19 – 28, 2016
Playwright: William Shakespeare
Director: Damien Ryan
Cast: Robert Alexander, George Banders, Angela Bauer, Michael Cullen, Barry French, Terry Karabelas, George Kemp, Danielle King, James Lugton, Lizzie Schebesta, Christopher Stalley, Christopher Tomkinson, Amy Usherwood, Eloise Winestock
Image by Marnya Rothe

Theatre review
The Minola sisters are the very antithesis to each other’s being. Bianca is sugar, spice and everything nice, while Katharina is outspoken and rebellious. In Shakespeare’s The Taming Of The Shrew, we witness patriarchy at its worst, exposed through the way women are idealised and diminished, made to conform to rules that apply only to their gender. Bianca is perfect, but Katharina is flawed, never mind that Katharina’s behaviour, although vilified, is much closer in essence to the menfolk’s than the anomalously agreeable personality of Bianca. Women are not allowed the same liberties. Like the men in the story, Katharina is too loud, she complains too much, and is uninterested in marriage, but she alone is a figure of contention, and the world resolutely inflicts upon her, that same subjugation and suppression virtually all women have had to endure.

Damien Ryan’s direction does not provide the answer to how we can subvert Shakespeare’s writing for a feminist interpretation, but it is a thought-provoking work nonetheless, sensitive to modern sensibilities regarding representation and politics of gender. The highly controversial speech by Katharina that concludes the play, and that demonstrates the successful vanquishment of her spirit, is orchestrated not with a celebratory tone as originally intended, but with an aura of tribulation. The words are offensive but they are not censored. Ryan does his best to convey the problematic nature of ideologies that underpin the play, but it is ultimately a reverential work that asks many right questions without actually hitting back at its master’s sins. Politics aside, the production is highly entertaining and wildly inventive, leaving no stone unturned for a theatrical experience rich with spectacle and wonder.

If the most significant trait of live performance is the very liveness of its reality, then The Taming Of The Shrew is a triumph of energy and impulse. Although tightly rehearsed, the ensemble is doggedly present and full of vitality. Danielle King is the shrew in question, unapologetically feisty in her portrayal of delicious recalcitrance. Playing the softer sister, but no less powerful, is Lizzie Schebesta, impressive with her physical agility and humour. Both actors bring to the stage passion and strength, creating characters independently admirable, shifting slightly the text’s repugnant power imbalance of genders. Also memorable is Terry Karabelas as Hortensio, full of dramatic exuberance, enthralling in all his scenes and irresistibly funny with every deliberate gesture.

The production begins with an announcement of thanks to supporters of independent theatre, but we soon discover that our associations of independence with smallness has no bearing at all on the scale of talent displayed here. Design aspects of the show are uniformly superb. Anna Gardiner’s set design is charming, surprising and gloriously innovative. Lights by Sian James-Holland are boundlessly dynamic and sophisticated, and sound by Tom Allum is replete with instinctual accuracy. We are treated to a thing of great beauty, marvellously polished and thoroughly delightful with its aesthetic explorations.

With patriarchy reinforced by Katharina’s transformation and her eventual discovery of love and happiness, the audience is left in two minds. If we believe in happily ever after, then our protagonist’s debasement is to a certain degree, justified. We can acknowledge that playing by the rules of the boys’ club has its rewards, but it does not take extraordinary incisiveness to perceive the immorality that is at play. Authenticity is compromised, and the cards are stacked against half of us, in a game that we all have trouble avoiding. Shakespeare’s persistence in our cultural landscape is a reflection of the maleness that flaunts its dominance. Unable to help ourselves, we keep going back to the Bard and all his archaic ideas, that we insist on perpetuating for all time.

5 Questions with Maria Angelico and Simon Corfield

Maria Angelico

Maria Angelico

Simon Corfield: In Bad Jews it is their grandfather’s heirloom that they fight for. What would be the thing that would send you into battle against a family member?
Maria Angelico: I love that the question is worded as to assume I’ve never gone into battle with a family member before! Being one of three sisters with Sicilian background; unfortunately we have. That being said though, we’ve never gotten to the level that this play does. If there were something though, it I would have to be if one of us did something to damage our closeness. It may sound strange but my family work hard to be close, so if one of us went against that, we’d fight fiercely to fix it… so I guess we’d go against each other to not be against each other if that makes sense ha!

Daphna is a force to be reckoned with, what kind of natural disaster do you think she would be?
Great question! Tornado. She’d be a lone freakish Tornado that you see coming but can’t look away. She approaches slightly and it’s almost exciting, then all of a sudden you can’t escape and she sucks up all your world, energy and cookies, leaving nothing but mess and exhaustion…. yet she’s still kind of cool and exciting. So yeah, she’d be a tornado.

Have you found it difficult playing Daphna each night? If so, what in particular?
Playing a role that thinks and speaks at three times the pace that I do is incredibly difficult. It takes a lot of energy! Sometime I feel like I’ve run a marathon after the show and I have to keep looking after myself. That’s not too difficult though, it’s satisfying. The hardest thing would have to be how cruel she is. It is so much fun getting to be a bitch on wheels every night, it really is, but getting into Daphna’s bitterly lonely psyche every night can feel a bit heavy. I have to make sure I spend lots of time in-between shows, laughing, relaxing and spending time with puppies and people I love. I wouldn’t have it any other way though! I’m thrilled and grateful to get to be Daphna, Joshua Harmon did such a wonderful job of writing such a dynamic, smart, witty and deep role for a woman and I cherish the opportunity!

You have written and starred in your own acclaimed comedy web series, Movement. Who tickles your funny bone?
So many people do! I’m a big fan of SNL Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph in particular, I also LOVE Louis CK and Larry David, oh and Julia Louis- Dreyfus, Jenny Slate, Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson of broad city and Lilli Tomlin, Woody Allen, Gilda Radner! Oh god the list could go on and on and on! That being said, I actually think I find my funny bone most often ticked by strangers and moments I witness in my day to day activities, from little things I over hear or awkward moments that happen even to myself or friends. Life to me is more than often hilarious. We humans are funny awkward creatures!

Any tips for those wanting to access their inner manipulative bitch?
1. No one is your friend. You can be anyone’s but choose not to be.
2. You are superior.
3. People are amusingly stupid.

Simon Corfield

Simon Corfield

Maria Angelico: What do you like most about the play?
Simon Corfield: That when you walk on stage each night you never know if the audience are going to laugh, gasp, or both. *added bonus is people coming up to you in the foyer telling you how much they hated you.

What do you dislike most about the play?
That it’s only 90 minutes. Once I have jumped into the world of Bad Jews, I really could keep going. It’s too much fun being a self-entitled, smug little f&@k.

How would you describe the cast in three words or a phrase?
A cast that laughs together, farts together.

What TV or film is the play most like?
The comedy in the play reminds me of early Woody Allen, or Curb Your Enthusiasm, but the fight between Liam and Daphna reminds me of the awesome 80’s film The War Of The Roses.

What have you learnt from the play?
When playing a character like Liam, to never be afraid of your audience disliking you. You cannot control what personal experiences and beliefs an audience member walks in with. Bad Jews delves into the fight between different belief systems about religion, a timely conversation that needs to keep being had, and I have learnt that in such a piece if someone hates you onstage, they are going to walk away and think or talk about why. The conversation will continue beyond watching the show, and that’s what every theatre maker wants.

Maria Angelico and Simon Corfield can be seen in Bad Jews by Joshua Harmon.
Dates: 18 May – 14 June, 2016
Venue: Seymour Centre, Sydney

Dates: 13 July – 31 June, 2016
Venue: Queensland Performing Arts Centre, Brisbane

Dates: 9 – 14 Aug, 2016
Venue: Regal Theatre, Subiaco

Review: Bad Jews (Vass Theatre Group)

badjewsVenue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), May 18 – Jun 4, 2016
Playwright: Joshua Harmon
Director: Gary Abrahams
Cast: Maria Angelico, Simon Corfield, Anna Burgess, Matt Whitty

Theatre review
Joshua Harmon’s Bad Jews explores authenticity of the self in relation to religion, ethnicity and history. At opposite ends of a spectrum are the religiously observant Daphna and her atheist cousin Liam, both Jewish by genealogy but each relating to their backgrounds in vastly different ways. They fight over what constitutes right and wrong, constantly and fervently berating each other for their conflicting life choices. At its best, Harmon’s writing is deliciously cutting, with characters verbally attacking each other at the most vicious degrees imaginable. The words are brutal, but they ring true, even as they emerge in contradiction from opposing sides of the argument.

The play’s comedy is not always refined but director Gary Abrahams injects a confident energy into the production to ensure that chutzpah makes up for the occasional shortcomings of the text. Abrahams’ eye for detail delivers a very tight production that insists on being compelling at every moment, and rich with thrilling resonance whenever it delves into more meaningful proclamations.

Excellent performances by the cast of four make Bad Jews a memorable night at the theatre. Daphna is played by Maria Angelico with extraordinary gusto. Dangerous, funny and vulnerable, she goes through the gamut of human emotions for a portrayal of what seems an oddity but in fact translates with intimate accuracy. We may not be able to identify with her world of religious righteousness but her very human expressions of desperation are universally accessible. In the role of Liam is Simon Corfied, animated and passionate with great conviction, giving life to an uptight scholarly type who although represents the voice of reason, is comically unable to quell his shortness of temper for his adversary. Supporting actors Anna Burgess and Matt Whitty are both accomplished and precise with their depictions. Burgess in particular, impresses with her capacity to turn every brief opportunity in the limelight into a delightful showcase for her comedic genius.

For all its talk about religion, and the varying extents to which its individuals practise the beliefs that they inherit, Bad Jews makes a convincing point about love being the overriding factor that helps determine how we live. We cannot decide who we truly fall in love with, much like we do not choose who we are born to. Liam is accused of sacrilegious desecration by the pious Daphna, but the play makes us understand that anything that would come between real love to be erroneous. Liam revels in the purity of his romantic relationship, while Daphna experiences purity in her religious orthodoxy. They are concurrently right, even if in a state of war.

Review: 7 Days In The Life Of Simon Labrosse (Théâtre Excentrique)

theatrerexcentriqueVenue: Creative Space 99 (Darlinghurst NSW), May 18 – 29, 2016
Playwright: Carole Fréchette (translated by Kris Shalvey)
Director: Anna Jahjah
Cast: Cassady Maddox, Steve McGrath, Gerry Sont
Image by Emma Lois

Theatre review
Simon Labrosse is a talented man, but he has trouble making a living out of his many skills. He tries hard to market himself, giving out samples of the services he can provide, and although he convinces everyone of his abilities, none are willing to pay for his expertise. Labrosse is an artist of sorts; what he does is not strictly scientific, mathematical or easily commodifiable, but he has much to contribute to society. The economy, however, does not recognise his unquantifiable efforts and rejects him, judging him worthless and a burden. Carole Fréchette’s play is about the problems we face as communities of modern capitalism, unable to embrace parts of our humanity that cannot be monetised.

The production is beautifully designed, with the audience situated inside Labrosse’s home. His bed is in the middle of the space, and action takes place all around us. Our view can get obstructed at times, but the constant relocation of activity is exciting and an effective mechanism for maintaining high energy levels. Anna Jahjah’s direction is free and humorous, delivering a work that feels unrestrained and exhilarating. The short scenes are punchy and surprising, full of whimsy with lively characters each appealing in their own way. It is a tightly rehearsed cast, cohesive in style and delightfully engaging. Gerry Sont plays Labrosse, wistful but optimistic, with a pleasing vibrancy that elicits our curiosity and empathy. A greater dose of melancholy would probably give the show a little necessary gravity to have its themes resonate stronger, and for its ideas to stay in our minds longer. Supporting players Cassady Maddox and Steve McGrath create a range of eccentric personalities that make the show unpredictable and give it a consistent buoyancy, while in the process leaving excellent impressions for their versatility and comic timing.

7 Days In The Life Of Simon Labrosse is a light-hearted take of a sad situation. The privatisation of everything in Australia seems boundless, with every annual budget revealing less and less support for those of us whose talents are incongruous with the reductive demands of capitalism. Simon Labrosse shows us all that he is capable of, but he is situated inside an economy that wants him to be simpler and more ordinary so that they can provide a place for him just like everybody else’s. It is the job of capitalism to turn everything and every person into a measurable and sellable unit, and in the process, risk the removal of everything that we know to be the best of human nature. In the seven days that we meet our protagonist, he keeps on trying but does not give up his true essence; we see him fail repeatedly and wonder how he can make things work. We have a collective part to play in allowing his potentials to blossom, but we wonder if what he can give in return will cost too much.

Review: Xanadu (Matthew Management / Hayes Theatre)

xanaduVenue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), May 12 – Jun 12, 2016
Book: Douglas Carter Beane
Music & Lyrics: John Farrar, Jeff Lynne
Director: Nathan M. Wright
Choreography: Leah Howard, Nathan M. Wright
Musical Direction: Andrew Bevis
Cast: Dion Bilios, Francine Cain, Catty Hamilton, Kat Hoyos, Jaime Hadwen, James Maxfield, Ainsley Melham, Josh Quong Tart, Jayde Westaby
Image by Frank Farrugia

Theatre review
1980 is not exactly a great many lifetimes ago, but we have certainly lost a considerable measure of innocence since then. The Xanadu stage musical is a recent incarnation of the now cult classic film that materialised at the very dawn of the 80’s, and judging by the thoroughly farcical approach now taken, twenty-first century life seems to be very cynical indeed. Gone are all the naive idealism and whimsical romance that had accompanied Electric Light Orchestra’s bubblegum pop for the original, replaced by post-modern campery so sardonic, Liberace and Mae West are blushing in their respective graves (maybe with jealousy, but hard to know for sure).

The Xanadu film was never well regarded by critics, and its box office takings were disappointing, but it retains a significant place in pop culture history chiefly for the hugely successful music that it features. It makes sense that Douglas Carter Beane would re-write the piece exposing all the silliness of the story so that we can laugh with his version, instead of laughing at it as was often the case with its predecessor, but there is a compromise to the substantial presence of the original songs that does not always find harmony. Beane can subvert everything in the book, but shoehorning his comedy into the perfectly constructed pop masterpieces often feels antipodal and frankly, a waste of opportunity. Instead of improving the storytelling around the euphoric compositions of passion, he tries to re-engineer them for his comedic purposes with mixed results. Nonetheless, the show is by and large, a very funny one, in the style of a “children’s show for 40 year-old gay people” as one of its character states.

Director Nathan M. Wright rises to the challenge of bringing a tenacious and flamboyant vibrancy to the work, never missing a beat with his show’s unrelenting hammy humour. Always engaging and always in jest, every weakness of the 1980 film is turned into a knowing joke, as are the few effective poignancies from the original. The love story takes a back seat, making way for amusing and frivolous characterisations taking centre stage, performed almost vaudevillian in style, by an impressive cast that seems to have no limits to their abilities. It is not every day that we see people singing, dancing, acting and making us laugh, all at once, and on roller-skates no less. Jaime Hadwen is perfect for the role of Kira, sent from the heavens to raise Xanadu from its ashes. Hadwen’s comedic skills win us over from her first appearance, and while the tender warmth that she is able to inject surreptitiously, is easily overlooked in a mélange of frenzy, it is that quality of sweetness that keeps us endeared and quite miraculously, invested in. Her singing is exuberant and accomplished, but more creative sound design is required to live up to Olivia Newton-John’s legendary recordings. Xanadu may not be perfectly conceived, but its execution is top-notch, especially by the performers who give it their all on stage.

Kira discovers that the reason for humans striving hard for art, is linked inextricably to our mortality. As daughter of Zeus, her life is eternal, but the only way for us to live beyond the last breath is to establish legacy. The fact that Xanadu has endured against all odds through the decades, serves as inspiration to all of us who suffer from lapses of confidence in our work and indeed, other parts of life. We may not always receive affirmation and recognition for the things we do, but it is important to realise the ripple effect of even the smallest of our efforts. We cannot see every tomorrow, but the ones we touch will carry something of us into the days ahead, like “where Alph, the sacred river, ran / Through caverns measureless to man /
Down to a sunless sea.” (Kubla Khan by Samuel Taylor Coleridge)