Review: Godface (Matriark Theatre)

matriarkVenue: 107 Projects (Redfern NSW), Jun 28 – Jul 10, 2016
Playwright: Robert den Engelsman, Murray Lambert
Director: Scott Parker
Cast: Murray Lambert, Emily McGowan, David Molloy, Jesse Northam, Sam Flack
Image by Alinta Haydock-Burton

Theatre review
In Godface we find a familiar reflection of our scepticism and distrust of government and the adversarial political system. There is an accuracy to the way Robert den Engelsman and Murray Lambert’s writing represents our feelings about politicians and their operations, but its insights and perspectives on the subject are hardly unusual. It shares our disillusionment with all things political, featuring characters that need little introduction, for a simple tale of corruption and exploitation.

Scott Parker’s enthusiastic direction brings to the stage a liveliness that many will enjoy, using puppetry and techniques of commedia dell’arte to spark our imagination as it forms a commentary on the state of the world. Delightfully performed by a unified cast of actors, the production is memorable for its sense of variety, established by a keen interest in a non-naturalistic mode of expression. Sam Flack leaves a remarkable impression in a range of characters including the head of the New God Party, a wolf gangster and a pair of opinionated giraffes. The actor is vibrant and humorous, with excellent charisma that gives each of his transfigurations considerable appeal. Designer Aleisa Jelbart’s work on puppets, props and set is especially noteworthy, with an exceptional eye for detail and refinement that provides touches of stylistic elevation to the production.

At the 2013 elections, 739,872 informal votes were recorded. There is little hope to be found in Godface, for good reason, and we see clear as day, the alienation felt by many of our population. Modern democracy is deeply flawed, but remains the only system we deem acceptable. It is a conundrum that we learn to live with, and on occasions such as this weekend’s federal elections, we have no alternative but to indulge in a moment of delusion that the world might just be ready to make a change for the better.

5 Questions with Helen Dallimore and Lucy Durack

Helen Dallimore

Helen Dallimore

Lucy Durack: What did you enjoy most about playing Glinda in the original London production of Wicked and do you ever miss it?
Helen Dallimore: Going on stage in front of two thousand people a night, in a show you know they will love, in a role you love to play. It doesn’t get much better than that.

If the Sydney Symphony Orchestra let you sing one non-witch related song, any song in the universe, just for fun, in a karaoke-with-a-symphony-orchestra kind of way, what would it be?
Actually, we are doing my number one karaoke song in the show! What are the chances? I won’t ruin the surprise…

Of all the iconic witches out there, who is your favourite and why?
I love Elphaba. She’s so strong, yet vulnerable and fierce and loving. A brilliant role model for aspiring witches.

If you were given the option of flying or travelling by bubble as your preferred mode of transport in real life, what would you choose?
Look, the bubble has that element of theatricality about it, which to a showgirl is very appealing. But sometimes you just want to pop down to Coles in your trackies and not necessarily have to put on the whole crown and gown scenario. It’s a lot of pressure. Flying allows for a more casual look, you can dress it up or down – it’s a bit more versatile.

Do you think you might bring some of those amazing tube cakes you are so famous for making to rehearsals? Asking for a friend.
Ah yes, the caneles. Tell your “friend” I think I can rustle some up. Don’t forget to remind her about the bespoke gowns we have to fit into though.

Lucy Durack

Lucy Durack

Helen Dallimore: What is the difference in your process as a performer when approaching a concert rather than role in a show?
Lucy Durack: Preparing for a role in a show for me means getting in the head of that character, figuring out their voice, their walk, what they want, how they go about getting (or not getting) what they want and mapping out their character arc within the story of the show whilst trying to make it all as truthful as possible. In a concert, while you are sort of playing a heightened version of yourself, you also have to ask those questions and figure out those thoughts separately for each song as often the songs are all sung by different characters and then work out how to put them all together in the one show. On top of that, seeing as you are being a version of yourself, it’s about figuring out the ratio of how much ‘you’ you bring to the piece and how much ‘character’ from wherever the song is originally from and that will most probably differ from song to song. For both a concert and a show, I like to start by learning all my words and harmonies as much as possible before the first rehearsal so I can really play in the rehearsal room, in the hope that the playing helps me find some of the answers to the above questions that I haven’t figured out yet.

Do you have a bucket list role that you haven’t yet played?
It would be very lovely to voice some awesome character in a Disney Pixar film or any great animated film, if it was a musical that would be a bonus.

Who is your idol and why?
Ok, there are a few. My mum and dad are in so many ways, they are great, fun, hard working people that always keep our family and our family values at the core of everything they do. Robyn Butler and Wayne Hope are also great influences in my life, they work so hard and make intelligent, hilarious, uplifting, poignant television and films that I love and they manage to always do everything with such kindness and humour. They never make anyone working with them feel excluded and have a real focus on gender equality. I have never met Amy Poehler or Tina Fey but they are also my idols, they are so funny, smart and seem to be people with their heart in the right place. If I could have a dinner party with all 6 people that would be really, really awesome.

If you were a real witch, what would be your signature spell?
I would love to have a spell to be able to make people feel peaceful, happy and contented, not in a ‘block your feelings’ way but to speed up times of depression, anxiety, grief and sadness to get to that lovely fulfilling feeling where you have worked through it all and come out the other side and can appreciate life and laugh about things again.

Who do you think would win in a fight between the four of us witches?
It depends what it was over, if was over the last salted caramel macaroon in the world, I think it would play out like this: Amanda would be a contender, she only has to think about arm muscles to get them, but I feel she would tire of the idea fastest, just get bored with it and really she prefers savoury food. Physically Jemma is probably the strongest, she runs many kilometres a day and she has a sporting mentality, but I feel she is too peaceful and again, has less of a sweet tooth and an iron will to stay that way. I think you Helen, have the core and inner strength as well as unequalled old fashioned gumption to really seal the deal but I possibly have the strongest sweet tooth of all so it would be down to the two of us. I think Amanda and Jemma would have gone home by now and you and I would have decided not to fight but rather share the last macaron whilst getting our nails done and dreaming up a fun new show for us all to star in.

Helen Dallimore and Lucy Durack can both be seen in Witches, with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.
Dates: 15 – 16 July, 2016
Venue: Sydney Opera House

Review: No Exit (Throwing Shade Theatre Company)

throwingshadeVenue: The Factory Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Jun 23 – 25, 2016
Playwright: Jean-Paul Sartre
Director: Andrew Langcake
Cast: Harley Connor, Courtney Powell, Darcie Irwin-Simpson

Theatre review
Sartre’s 1944 play No Exit is about three people coming to grips with their new existence post-mortality. The famous line “hell is other people” is heard late in the piece, and like the myriad ways in which it can be interpreted, the play is abstract, to be given meaning as one wishes. The concept of hell is a powerful one, considering its uncompromising permanence. Life may not be much more pleasant than hell for some, but hell’s eternal inescapability is truly terrifying.

The staging, directed by Andrew Langcake, is a simple rendering that attempts to bring realism to the absurdist piece, with an emphasis on finding character coherence over philosophical expression. Sound and lighting are strangely neglected, resulting in a supernatural realm that is unfortunately devoid of atmosphere. Performances are committed, and each personality is distinctly shaped by a cast of spirited actors, but chemistry is often lacking. Relationships are key in No Exit, and unable to portray them with enough clarity and dynamism, the production struggles to communicate beyond the superficial.

Individuals experience life from perspectives we know to be personal, but it is debatable if anything is ever unique in how we each see the world. We can only understand things from our singular positions, but in every transaction that we inevitably conduct with other beings, we become transformed, objectified and absorbed into another consciousness. The self is unable to remain separate, and meaning can only come from that act of concurrence, voluntary or involuntary. If other people will give you hell, they are also your only source of pleasure. How much the self can do to manipulate the other will always be limited, but happiness is always best managed within one’s own hermitage.

5 Questions with Danielle Baynes and Pip Dracakis

Danielle Baynes

Danielle Baynes

Pip Dracakis: What are the similarities between Lady and Danielle?
Danielle Baynes: I’m similar to who the Lady becomes at the end of the play. At the beginning I share her curious, romantic and cautious side. She’s very naïve though, I’m much more cynical. After a certain experience she has in the middle of the show we definitely become kindred spirits. She’s more talented than me but we’re both hilarious. We sort of look the same, except her face is much bigger.

What do you enjoy most about performing in live theater?
If it can only be one thing, then I’d say the audience. The shared experience, the instant feedback, the mixture of being completely in control and totally out of control at the same time. Nothing compares.

What is the most ridiculous thing a director has asked you to do in rehearsal?
Look I won’t name and shame, BUT Michael Dean once had a group of us running around a dodgy, empty car park late at night in Parramatta yelling “red alert”.

Who inspired you in the creation of the mysterious male character in Bicycle?
Oh Pip, the question you’ve been dying to ask all this time… I won’t go into detail about the personal inspiration, but I was inspired by an author named Bram, and a little bit inspired by Mads Mikkelson.

What’s your guilty pleasure?
At the moment it’s binge watching crime shows in bed until 3am. I also indulge in too much soft cheese. But Nigella Lawson said, “I don’t feel guilty about any pleasure. I think you should only feel guilty if you don’t feel pleasure”, and I try to take on that attitude as well.

Pip Dracakis

Pip Dracakis

Danielle Baynes: If you and I were musical instruments, what would we be?
Pip Dracakis: You would be a Steinway and I would be a Stradivarius.

You are a brilliant Actor Musician, what’s unique about this type of performer and how did you approach your role in Bicycle?
I see my role in Bicycle as a storyteller and try to serve the story and text in all my musical and physical choices. It’s great to be able to work on a show where you can think as an actor and communicate through music.

What’s the strangest thing someone has said to you after a performance (any performance)?
During one of our post-show Q&A’s for Merchant of Venice with Sport for Jove, we were asked how we all knew each other. The kid was in year 7. I think he was struggling with all the other questions about dealing with a racist play in the 21st century.

What was the process in creating the score for Bicycle?
I listened to a lot of different repertoire but most of my musical ideas were inspired by the text and born out of the organic rehearsal process. Lots of trial and error, seeing what enhanced the script and what moments were best left without any musical underscoring. In some scenes, the music is totally improvised and in others, there are prescribed excerpts by Bach or Bartok, for example.

And finally, if someone was to make a movie of your life, who would play me?
Fran Fine.

Danielle Baynes and Pip Dracakis can both be seen in Bicycle.
Dates: 21 June – 2 July, 2016
Venue: Old Fitz Theatre

Review: Away (Sport For Jove Theatre)

sportforjoveVenue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Jun 22 – 25, 2016
Playwright: Michael Gow
Director: Damien Ryan, Samantha Young
Cast: Angela Bauer, George Banders, James Bell, Michael Cullen, Danielle King, Berynn Schwerdt, Georgia Scott, Lizzie Schebesta, Christopher Stalley, Christopher Tomkinson, Eloise Winestock, Amy Usherwood, Sarah Woods
Image by Marnya Rothe

Theatre review
Michael Gow’s Away is about ordinary lives and their hidden struggles. The action takes place in 1967 Australia, but the problems faced by its characters are of a personal nature and therefore eternal in their resonance. Social turbulence evolves with each era, and although we think of the world as being a different place with different challenges through time, Gow’s play demonstrates the constancy of our inner struggles. We can imagine ourselves existing in any period, but human mortality is the basis of how we conceive of ourselves; the awareness of death’s inevitability tells us what we want from each day and what we wish to leave behind.

Away is not essentially of an operatic scale, and its many intimate qualities are lost in the very vast theatre space. The production is attractively designed, sleek and refreshing in its simplicity, but the set has an asymmetry that causes the play to project to approximately two-thirds of the auditorium, leaving remaining seats cold. Direction is similarly negligent of this spacial imbalance. Actor Sarah Woods is a clear stand out for her deliberately exaggerated performance, gripping the audience with an over-the-top entrance, and keeping us engaged with her dramatic flourishes as her character Gwen proceeds to reveal her surprising complexities.

The text has an interest in the dark and messy sides of life but the show has a sterility that disconnects from its intentions. The story might be conveyed well to the better seats in the house, but its message is not delivered with sufficient power. We congregate at the theatre to listen, and those on stage have the responsibility to reach out to all who have made the effort to participate. The room can be packed full through commercial brilliance, but the night proves to be fruitless if people leave with emptiness.

Review: Back At The Dojo (Belvoir St Theatre)

belvoirVenue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Jun 18 – Jul 17, 2016
Playwright: Lally Katz
Director: Chris Kohn
Cast: Fayssal Bazzi, Dara Clear, Catherine Davies, Harry Greenwood, Brian Lipson, Natsuko Mineghishi, Luke Mullins, Shari Sebbens
Image by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Lois lays in a hospital bed, with her husband Dan by her side waiting for her to gain consciousness. Their granddaughter Patti appears unannounced and drugged out, after disappearing for two years working on her gender transition. Dan and Patti take time to mend their bond, and in the process we witness parallels between Dan’s life in the late sixties, becoming his own man through the discovery of karate, and Patti’s own frustrations in her journey into womanhood. Back At The Dojo by Lally Katz is an emotional work, but gently so. It does not create big scenes of heightened family drama, taking its time instead to build on our involvement with its characters and their stories. Through excellent humour and a moving depiction of relationships, we gradually become invested in the people before us, although its slow burn may prove to be too demanding of some audiences. Katz’s writing is amusing and colourful, with an undeniable poetic beauty, but the play takes a long time to get to its point, resulting in a plot that can feel somewhat aimless before we arrive at its later, more poignant sequences.

The decision to cast a male actor in the role of Patti is a distasteful one that reflects a surprising callousness, given the impressive level of sensitivity evident throughout the rest of the production. Patti’s is one woman’s story, but due to the rarity of transgender representation in our theatres, it is also every trans person’s story, and no trans woman would ever want to see herself portrayed by a man, on any stage or screen. We do not see Patti’s early days in masculine expressions of gender, so to choose a male actor over a female one (trans or cis), only goes to demonstrate the production’s inability and refusal to accept Patti’s gender as she now presents. To be misgendered is one of the most appalling things any trans person could experience, and Back At The Dojo‘s misgendering, deliberate or unintentional, is an unacceptable transgression.

It must be said however, that Luke Mullins’ performance as Patti is a captivating one, and very powerful. He is obviously unable to convincingly depict the physical transformations that his character has had to endure, but there is a beautiful psychological accuracy in his work, in addition to the passionate yet nuanced drama that he sustains in every stage moment. Director Chris Kohn extracts very believable performances from all his actors. It is essentially a simple tale, with few opportunities for a more ostentatious approach, but every personality and relationship feels meticulously refined, with a palpable omnipresence of truthfulness and vulnerability that gives the show an enchanting soulful quality. The role of Dan is played by Brian Lipson, a gentle giant, full of strength and tenderness in his mesmerising interpretation of an older man dealing with immense loss, that will touch the hardest of hearts. Natsuko Mineghishi steals many scenes as the dojo Sensei, a real-life action hero with thrilling karate showmanship, lethal comic timing and a spectacular singing voice.

A profound connection exists between generations, but modern life seems to prevent many of us from experiencing and reaping its rewards. The disintegration of the family unit, and the ever rising regard for individuality means that few of us maintain significant intergenerational relationships. In Back At The Dojo, a distraught woman finds purpose and meaning by learning about her grandfather’s own obstacles in life, and by recognising her kinship responsibilities. We come to a realisation that both Patti and Dan are sinking under the weight of loneliness, and that the frailty of their existences are to be salvaged by the perennial tie that binds. They are fortunate to have one another, like we all have our own families, but how we value them is what the play brings into question.

Review: Bicycle (Lies, Lies And Propaganda)

liesliespropagandaVenue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Jun 21 – Jul 2, 2016
Playwright: Danielle Baynes
Director: Michael Dean
Cast: Danielle Baynes, Pip Dracakis

Theatre review
It is one woman against the world in Danielle Baynes’ Bicycle. The odds are stacked against our 19th century protagonist as she discovers not only her life’s passion, but also the injustices that women face when trying to carve out a self-determined existence. Coming of age in Baynes’ play means realising the discrimination that is systematically entrenched in a world that had previously seemed innocent. An awakening of desires demands that her eyes are open to truths, and her story of tragic enlightenment is told in a way that disallows us from denying its persisting relevance. The nameless Lady’s feelings and experiences, her perspective of the world, and her hunger for what is right, all find connection with our 21st century sensibilities, and shock us into seeing the intimate parallels between what we had considered to be bygone history and what we continue to retain. It is a passionate piece of writing, insightful and brilliantly elucidating through a narrative that is at once personal and universal. At the core of its many colourful permutations of form, is its unmistakeable feminist advocacy that many will find irresistibly inspiring.

Baynes plays the Lady in the hour-long monologue, with Pip Dracakis providing an added female omnipresence with her person and violin. Space is restrictive, and the production relies squarely on the leading lady’s ability to keep our attention and imagination engaged, which she accomplishes remarkably well. Scenes are thoughtfully demarcated and given distinct flavour by director Michael Dean, but some sequences are more effective than others, resulting in a plot trajectory that can feel uneven in its resonance. Dracakis’ live music gives the show a dynamism that works seamlessly alongside Baynes’ actorly endeavours for a powerful statement about art, and the struggles in its creation.

Sex and art are linked in Bicycle, both are appetites ferocious in nature and indomitable. The Lady’s liberties are completely usurped by a patriarchy that is determined to diminish her wishes and talents. We live in a world where powerful people go to great lengths to maintain the status quo, for their position necessitates the subjugation of many. This seems to be part of human nature, never to change, but processes where disenfranchised groups work to destabilise and subvert oppressive forces are always ongoing. Not all will succeed, but the battle continues for the human spirit is at its most potent when the downtrodden are left with nothing else to lose. Her rights as a sexual being and an artist, are a threat to her father and his conspirators, who do all they can to disempower her, but we are glad to see her fight to the end, whether or not she comes out on top.