Review: Drift (Two Peas)

twopeasVenue: ATYP (Walsh Bay NSW), Jul 20 – 30, 2016
Playwrights: Tara Clark, Kieran Foster
Director: Tara Clark
Cast: Ayeehsa Ash, Challito Browne, Olivia Jubb, Adam Kovarik, Alex Packard, Lauren Pegus

Theatre review
Six friends, tightly bonded, navigate the challenges of early adulthood together. When one of them is diagnosed with a terminal illness, their lives begin to unravel. Tara Clark and Kerian Foster’s Drift looks at friendship for twentysomethings, and the effect death has on them as individuals and as a group. There is a charming simplicity to the writing that presents the nature of relationships with a graceful honesty. The dynamics between friends, lovers, and siblings are depicted accurately and intimately in a series of small scenes, many of them meaningfully mundane.

The production however, charts a haphazard emotional journey that does not deliver us to its desired conclusion accurately. We struggle to connect sufficiently with appropriate personalities and narratives for a focused enough experience that would arouse the sentiments necessary for what the show tries to achieve. In the absence of lead roles, our attention is spread thin, and unable to find suitable empathy for appropriate characters, we are kept outside of their microcosm. Performances are accomplished, although the players seem to take time to settle, only able to establish chemistry and energy after several minutes of imprecision. Adam Kovarik impresses in the role of Harrison, bringing much needed exuberance and authenticity to a play that is essentially about our raw emotions. The actor’s vigour brings life to the stage, and with a distinct sense of theatricality, relays his part of the story with clarity and ironic humour.

Death is the end of suffering, but is also agony for loved ones left behind. Time is key in the process of mourning. Nothing can speed it up, but one has to find ways to fill that time. Theatre is the most ancient form of time-based art, and in Drift, we spend moments with its characters counting the minutes as they contemplate the future after being inflicted with an abrupt end. For a life well lived, there must be movement forward, but for motion to matter, stillness must be embraced. While we are alive, heaven and hell are the here and now, both inescapable and both requiring our complicity, in order that our brief existences may become rich, and loved.

Review: Betrayal (Ensemble Theatre)

ensembleVenue: Ensemble Theatre (Kirribilli NSW), Jul 16 – Aug 20, 2016
Playwright: Harold Pinter
Director: Mark Kilmurry
Cast: Guy Edmonds, Ursula Mills, Matthew Zeremes
Image by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
In Harold Pinter’s Betrayal, everyone cheats on their spouses. The play first appeared in 1978, with a plot that moves in reverse chronological order, and in some ways, we do have to go back many years in time to find an appreciation of the work. Its drama relies on a sense of scandal and taboo that is no longer scintillating. We may still hold the concept of marriage in high regard, and still be hurt by infidelity, but as a dramatic device, we have clearly become jaded and immune to its effects. Nevertheless, Pinter’s dialogue remains delightful, almost mesmerising in its lexical beauty. His sardonic expressions bear a seductive power that keeps us eager to hear more, if only for the richly evocative, and ironic, words that the characters say to each other.

The production is saturated with tension from the very beginning. Director Mark Kilmurry’s ability to engage our thirst for intrigue is put to good use here, as we find ourselves keenly following the plot, in anticipation of dramatic revelations, which unfortunately, the script does not always deliver. A minimal approach to its staging ensures that all attention is placed on its cast of three very attractive players, each with their own allure, but all skillful and committed in their respective characterisations.

The radiant Ursula Mills plays serial adulterer Emma, conflicted yet libidinous, with an impressive confidence that makes her part in the show powerful and surprisingly believable. Emma’s husband Robert is given excellent nuance by Guy Edmonds, whose dynamic depiction of a man betrayed, is perfectly measured and consistently entertaining. Robert’s best friend Jerry, who sleeps with Emma for seven years, is an energetic and affable presence in actor Matthew Zeremes, whose caddish but sincere approach protects the production from descending into melodrama. Comprised mainly of two-hander scenes, the actors manufacture great chemistry on stage for a cohesive and compelling experience, even if the play’s age does work against them.

Jerry’s wife and best friend both fail him, but he sticks around, accepting the betrayals with little resistance. Keeping calm and carrying on, the British gentleman is dejected but does not seem to demand more of life; it is not the end of the world, after all. His tolerance is perhaps not uncommon. We imagine married couples to be monogamous, but what happens behind closed doors is anyone’s guess. Jerry has to keep up appearances, because everyone else does. We maintain a certain image required of us by society, even when under great hardship, because there are few things as painful as ostracism. We see the characters in Betrayal live their own lies, and think about the price of truth. An authentic existence is an extravagance that many do not wish to pay for, but what we are left with at the end, will only be tainted with regret.

Review: Low Level Panic (Thread Entertainment)

threadentertainmentVenue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Jul 12 – Aug 12, 2016
Playwright: Clare McIntyre
Director: Justin Martin
Cast: Geraldine Hakewill, Amy Ingram, Kate Skinner
Image by Julia Robertson

Theatre review
Three young women share a home, and in their interactions within the intimate setting of a shared bathroom, we come to understand their desires and insecurities, along with the obstacles they encounter in daily life that shape their respective sense of self. Jo, Mary and Celia are different in many ways, but they are all subject to the male gaze. Their heterosexuality locks them further into complicated entanglements with the opposite sex, and allows Claire McIntyre’s Low Level Panic to unpack issues of politics and misogyny for a look into the modern woman’s relationship with the world, and more particularly, with sex, and with her own body. The statements made in the play are nothing new; it is after all, close to three decades old, having first appeared in the late 80’s, but the experiences it portrays still feel accurate and its revelations remain raw.

Director Justin Martin’s production is innovative and exuberant, with bold staging devices that assist in making the play’s concepts more lucid and powerful. The introduction of social media as an instrument of oppression brings the story up to date, offering a frame of reference that we relate to readily. A team of seven men are positioned around the stage dressed like stagehands, but are in fact part of the show, always watching, and always insisting that their masculine presence not be dismissed. They purport to be invisible but are actually a menacing force that fuels the subtext of the women’s conversations. Martin’s theatrical embellishments are a pleasure; sensitive, intelligent and often witty, but being much more pronounced in the first half, later sequences feel suddenly stark, almost too plain to meet our heightened expectations.

Performances are passionately vivid. The marvellous Amy Ingram leaves a remarkable impression with her impeccable timing and disarming authenticity as Jo, a character with endearing vivacity who nonetheless suffers from the unfortunate, but all too common, obsession with her self-determined physical inadequacies. The actor brings a valuable dignity to a discussion that tends to present her role as a victim of circumstance, and her brilliant sense of humour is the spoonful of sugar that makes the caustic medicine go down. Geraldine Hakewill and Kate Skinner provide excellent support with contrasting portrayals of femininity that gives the text’s argument a complexity, by challenging our preconceptions of gender representation.

In Low Level Panic, we are witness not only to the fact of sexual objectification, but also the reinforcement of that prejudice against women, by the three housemates onto themselves. The Stockholm syndrome as applied to the reprehensible male gaze is a truth rarely spoken. Segregation and subjugation based on gender is one of the most entrenched foundations of patriarchy, even the enslaved is unable to recognise her own debasement. Bringing us to this realisation is where the play becomes radical, but how it leaves off is of great importance. In our individual and collective feminisms, the problem of the male gaze is addressed in divergent ways. None reigns supreme, but it is our very action of living feminist lives that is meaningful.

5 Questions with Lucy Clements and Brandon McClelland

Lucy Clements

Lucy Clements

Brandon McClelland: As a writer, which piece of literature or drama do you most wish could have had your name in place of the author’s? Conversely, which are you most glad your name is absent from?
Lucy Clements: To have my name on: Hamilton, Wicked or My Fair Lady. I’m such a fan girl for the great musicals. I’d get writing on my own, but my ridiculous lack of music knowledge and taste makes me nervous to try… but hey, why make excuses, I should get writing! And absent from… I’ll go Mao’s Little Red Book. Pretty glad my name’s not on that.

If you could travel in time, but only in one direction and with no possibility of return, when would you travel to and why?
I’d definitely go forward, I think the unknown is so much more exciting than all the stuff we already know about from the past. But probably only one century max… as too much more and I’ll probably find myself in a global warming destroyed world and be consumed by man eating plants that have taken over the planet. And only if I could take you with me!

Fracture is a piece that has gone through extensive development, transformation and is a completely different iteration than its original Perth production. Since the first draft of Fracture to now, what has been the most significant change in your own life?
Meeting you of course! Because of our relationship I have moved out from my family home in Perth and am now living with you in the midst of the vibrant art scene of Sydney, I’m debuting my first work with you as my lead actor and co-producer… and I will soon be following to you to New York on your Broadway tour of STC’s The Present! If someone had told me that all of this was going to happen three years ago I never would have believed them.

Do you believe a playwright’s voice should be neutral (non-partisanal, apolitical, objective) or should they have a singular opinion that they back unreservedly? In relation to this, which of these do you think dominates the Australian theatrical landscape?
I don’t believe there is a “right” or “wrong”. There are many successful opinionated and neutral-voiced plays. My personal taste goes towards a voice that gives you both perspectives and lets you decide… so, a neutral voice. I recently read Night of January 16th by Ayn Rand. Although Rand is quite well known for her opinionated works, this particular play, set in a courtroom where the audience becomes the jury, plays on our own personal biases and how this can manipulate our judgment. The play does nothing to prove who is “good” or “bad”, but presents both sides of the story and challenges audiences to cast from this our own opinions. I loved this play. I find it much more challenging to have to find my own opinion with all the facts presented to me, rather than having one side of the story drummed into me as opinionated pieces can do. I believe Fracture has a neutral voice. It simply tells a story, and lets audiences decide what is good and what is truth within it. I think we’ve got both sides pretty covered in Australia, particularly with 44% of our programing being international scripts (which is also a very saddening statistic!).

You originally planned to be a nurse, so do you believe your earlier career aspirations have had an effect on who you are as a writer/artist?
Definitely! I’ve always been quite an empathetic person – hence my drive to become a nurse. I think all the characters I write are created from the same drive. In Fracture, my leading character (who you are playing) has abandoned his life partner without a goodbye or word of warning. But why do people make these choices? What’s going on inside them that from the outside can make them seem cowardly or cruel? Was it even in their control? What perspective can I tell this story from that could make audience’s understand, to question other people’s circumstances one more time before casting judgement? These are all the questions that Fracture interrogates – which are the questions that drive all of my plays.

Brandon McClelland

Brandon McClelland

Lucy Clements: Here’s a million bucks to put on a production in Sydney next year. What play, which venue, and do you have anyone in mind to direct and/or co-staring beside you?
Brandon McClelland: Well, a million dollars is a ridiculous amount of money. I’d most likely split it up and try to program a full season of independent shows from a range of different young writers and directors. Although if, like Highlander, there can be only one, then I would love to put that money towards a production of The Weir by Connor McPherson in a smaller theatre. I don’t know who’d direct it. Maybe I’d hold auditions just to turn the tables.

What’s the best and worst thing about dating your director?
Best thing is that we already have a shorthand in regards to communication and we can talk about the play pretty much round the clock. The worst thing is that there’s no excuses when it comes to doing my ‘homework’ as it were. You know everything about me. Example: I didn’t read the new addition to the scene because I was watching Mythbusters again.

What excites you most about realising Fracture?
It’s a show I’ve followed since its premiere in Perth. Being involved in the development and progression of the play over the past year it’s clear that it is a completely different beast and I think it’s an exciting project. The conversation it enables regarding mental health is particularly poignant and personally relevant. I’m fascinated to discover how audiences will react.

This is your second time taking on the dual role of producer and performer. What draws you to this combination?
I’m a sucker for punishment. I don’t know really. It’s a tough ask to take on both roles and I think you have to be a very special kind of mind to successfully operate and fulfil your duties equally. I don’t know how I’d do it without you. I really don’t.

You’re elected as Prime Minister of Australia. What’s your first call of action?
Treaty with the Indigenous, First Peoples with full recognition in the constitution. No hesitation.

Lucy Clements and Brandon McClelland are co-founders of New Ghosts Theatre Company, presenting Fracture in Sydney after a successful season in Perth last year.
Dates: 2 – 12 August, 2016
Venue: Old Fitz Theatre

Review: Cristina In The Cupboard (The Depot Theatre)

depottheatreVenue: The Depot Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Jul 13 – 30, 2016
Playwright: Paul Gilchrist
Director: Julie Baz
Cast: Nyssa Hamilton, Teale Howie, David Jeffrey, Emily McGowan, Tasha O’Brien, Sarah Plummer, Lucy Quill, Rachael Williams
Image by Katy Green Loughrey

Theatre review
We hear of people going on therapeutic retreats, travelling to the countryside, away from everyday city life, to find themselves. Some sound like lavish holidays disguised as spiritual endeavours, while others seem too challenging for mere mortals to even imagine, such as those who require individuals to be shut off from the world, speaking to no one at all for weeks on end. Cristina locks herself up in her cupboard, compelled to look inward, rejecting efforts to intervene from family and friends. She is determined to withdraw from the noise, and listen only to her own heart.

In Paul Gilchrist’s exceptional and very contemplative play Cristina In The Cupboard, we join a girl on her journey of self-discovery, as she asks all of life’s big questions and takes it upon herself to provide the answers. Like Cristina, the script is charming, intelligent and brave. It is an invaluable expression of the universal but private experience of introspection, giving form to something that is usually subconscious, so that our hidden and buried realities comes to light, and that we may begin to have a better understanding of our minds, along with a warmer regard for our souls.

The vibrant and imaginative production under Julie Baz’s direction works effectively at enhancing the ideas of the play, bringing lucidity to the many deep meditations therein. There are powerful and oftentimes complicated concepts that require the physical dimensions of theatre to put to effect, and Baz negotiates them successfully. Sections of the show could be dealt with with a lighter touch, but the overall impression it leaves is dynamic and surprisingly entertaining. Each of the production’s characters are well considered and delightfully detailed, for a stage that is consistently abuzz with adventure and life. It is a strong cast, featuring Emily McGowan in the title role portraying the demanding duality of girlish innocence and a remarkable wisdom. McGowan’s confident presence allows us to connect with her character’s unusual circumstances, and the precision at which she delivers her performance turns the show’s context of magical realism into something quite profoundly authentic.

Life is hard, and art alleviates suffering by letting us know that we are not alone. As we relate to Cristina’s struggles, we are consoled by the mutuality of all our concerns and anxieties, and in the process come to a re-acquaintance with humanity and its inevitable vulnerabilities. Without art, we are sold only false representations of life that tend only to make things even harder. It is no wonder that we have to hide away, to retreat into spaces of safety that can only be provided by the self, the truth, and everything we trust to be real art.

Review: Proof (Freefall Productions)

freefallVenue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Jul 14 – 30, 2016
Playwright: David Auburn
Director: Derek Walker
Cast: Alex Brown, Julia Christensen, Peter Flett, Ylaria Rogers
Image by Michael Snow

Theatre review
Catherine has not lived up to her considerable potential as a mathematics prodigy because of sacrifices that have had to be made for her family. Also, her talents are constantly being underestimated and undermined in the patriarchal worlds of academia and maths, who insist on perceiving her as an insignificant shadow of her genius father. David Auburn’s Proof does not explore sufficiently the sexism experienced by his protagonist, even introducing a male love interest to help Catherine realise her dreams, but the narrative is nonetheless a fascinating one, with twists and turns that ensure a gripping experience.

Derek Walker’s direction of the piece brings a good amount of tension for drama to take hold, and although enjoyable for most of the duration, a stricter hand over actors’ choices would give the show a better sense of polish. Playing Catherine is Ylaria Rogers, a dynamic performer who delivers each scene with a thoughtful diligence, but there are inconsistencies in her interpretation that make her character feel slightly distant. Alex Brown leaves a strong impression as Hal, charming and authentic, with a natural sense of timing that serves to make his role effortlessly convincing. Also memorable is Jeremy Allen’s set design, beautiful in its rustic realism, and bold in the way it dominates and transforms space.

It is an entertaining production that will satisfy audiences who want a good story. Proof has got tragedy, comedy and a lot of intrigue, but the moral of its tale is uncertain. This show does not have a strong message that it wishes to advocate, leaving us instead to absorb what we can from its staging of a very popular play. Making theatre is essentially political. It involves strangers talking to each other. The artistic act in today’s pragmatic economies is by nature one of subversion, even if the work itself is polite to the degree of being nondescript. As long as artists remain dedicated, as they appear to be here, there is hope for the world.

Review: Resident Alien (Seymour Centre)

seymourVenue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Jul 12 – 23, 2016
Playwright: Tim Fountain
Director: Gary Abrahams
Cast: Paul Capsis

Theatre review
Quentin Crisp is the original and quintessential queer icon of our modern times. Wildly flamboyant and tenaciously outsider, he has left behind a legacy not only of words, but also an attitude and perspective of life that remains cutting edge and inspiring for subsequent generations that continue to be oppressed by the bourgeoisie and its prejudicial values. Tim Fountain’s Resident Alien is eighty minutes of extraordinary wit, unparalleled wisdom and genius observational comedy. Many of the standout lines are familiar to Crisp fans, whether lifted verbatim from his writing and interviews, or simply an accurate representation by Fountain of our memory of the hero. The monologue however, is more than a piece of nostalgic resurrection. It introduces shades of human emotionality to a character who was resolute in presenting a frosty and severe image. The British gentleman is given an opportunity to reveal his tender and vulnerable sides in Resident Alien, so that we can find an even deeper connection through the ever reliable mechanism of sentimentality.

It is a gorgeous production, designed by Romanie Harper (costumes and set) and Rob Sowinski (lights) who provide us with all the visual cues necessary to imagine the decrepit bedroom in which Crisp dwelled, while creating a sense of decadent drama that befits our protagonist, and bringing to sharp focus the physical subject of this monologue presentation. Paul Capsis is the star, captivating, glamorous and alluring with a kind of magnetism that we all desire but rarely encounter. There are efforts at mimicry, but we quickly give up on analysing the impersonation, and delve instead into the glorious essence that Capsis presents on stage, operatic in scale with his bodily and facial gestures, along with a bewitching voice that turns every syllable into song.

We see both Capsis and Crisp, or perhaps more than that, we see ourselves in Resident Alien. It is the meanings that become important. Director Gary Abrahams understands that personality and style are the weapons of seduction, but they play second fiddle to the words that attack with fierce resonance to shake us out of our drear realities. We came to be close to a legend, but are gifted instead a profound and subversive confrontation of our selves, as was Crisp’s very principle for his own existence. His facade was extravagant but flimsy, perhaps intentionally so, so that we can access the truths behind, that his mighty erudition was so generous to offer. Abrahams does the same. His cosmetics are delightful but transparent, allowing us to leave not only with insight into a celebrity’s biography, but the greatest lessons Crisp had learned through 91 years on this earth. His was a theatrical life that always had room for an audience, and the performance was about the alleviation of suffering and a disruption to prejudice. It is the most noble kind of theatre we can hope for, and in Resident Alien, his work lives on.