Review: Transience (Leftofcentre Theatre Co)

leftofcentreVenue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Sep 13 – 18, 2016
Playwright: Clare Hennessy
Director: Clemence Williams
Cast: Julia Christensen, Kate Pimblett, Eve Shepherdson Beck
Image by Charlie O’Grady

Theatre review
Gender has always been a means of policing behaviour. We look at one’s genitals at birth and assign a whole universe of expectations that have nothing to do with the individual’s own nature and desires. The world is split in two halves, male and female, and any deviation that threatens to transgress that dichotomy is traditionally prohibited.

In Clare Hennessy’s pseudo sci-fi Transience, society continues to monitor us through gender expression, but this time only one mode of existence is permitted. The script is rich with modern ideas, and memorable for its progressive and discerning attitude. Although its concepts are deeply contemplated and well articulated, its plot does not develop far enough to create a stronger sense of narrative. A quirky comedy is effectively manufactured throughout, but its character’s emotions are depicted too gently to elicit a more empathetic response.

An accomplished cast of youthful actors is impressively connected with the material at hand. Passionate and accurate with the play’s messages, their portrayals convey an inspiring and firm sense of purpose. There are issues however, with conversational rhythms causing the show’s pace to feel excessively ambling, but proficient work from lighting designer Liam O’Keefe and composer Nick Turton offer valuable variance to the production’s mood that helps retain our attention.

Transience is concerned not only with gender. It is also a discussion on matters of free speech and social cohesion. With the advent of information technology and social media, democracy has evolved into a new beast that demands a constant evaluation on how our voices are heard. As individuals gain ever-increasing access to platforms for their unitary thoughts and politics, it is tempting to see humankind as being fractured and divided. Our egos want to feel special and we want always to be recognised as different from the rest, but in fact, our humanity is only, if ever, slightly divergent. Unity of life is an ultimate truth, but our minds do not easily come to terms with it.

Review: The Measure Of A Man (New Theatre)

gavinroachVenue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Sep 13 – 17, 2016
Playwright: Gavin Roach
Director: Lauren Hopley
Cast: Gavin Roach
Image by Jarrod Rose

Theatre review
The monologue begins with Gavin Roach talking about penis size, a discussion indicative of the inadequacies that men can feel. The Measure Of A Man is not entirely about genitals, but it is about sex, and the effects on one’s emotional well-being when sexual dysfunctions appear. Roach’s writing endeavours to be absolutely revealing, and its vulnerability can be disarming, but for a context of physical and mental health, his disclosures have a tendency to dwell on symptoms rather than a deeper exploration into the causes of his worries. We find out in great detail, many of the issues the unnamed character faces with regard to sexual activity, but there is little insight into the reasons that might let us identify more closely with his circumstances.

Roach is a charming performer, able to present both humour and pathos with excellent conviction. His strong presence has a vivacious energy that provides an essential liveliness to the one-man-show format, but the play’s strong tendency for melancholy misses many an opportunity for scenes of comedy and mirth. Sex is a serious matter, but it is also very funny, and joking about it does not diminish its resonance. We connect more with Roach when he is self-effacing and camp. When performing his distinct style of flirty and transparent frivolity, we sense an ironic but truer depiction of his inner-self than when he shifts into high drama. Perhaps the stakes are too low to match.

Frank descriptions of unreliable body parts and lustful misadventures in The Measure Of A Man represent a progressive sex positive attitude that many will find refreshing and liberating. Queer artists have often faced the problem of having to play to mainstream heteronormative audiences, and in the process, become compromised and misleadingly puritanical in their expressions. As societies become more embracing of diversity and honesty in how we talk about sex, sexuality and gender, queer work can begin to be less pandering. Good taste will always exist, but artists must find a way to let their truths protrude, even if just a few meagre inches.

Review: Young Pretender (New Theatre)

newtheatreVenue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Sep 13 – 17, 2016
Playwright: E. V. Crowe
Director: Mark G Nagle
Cast: Ryan Bown, Shaun McEachern, Madelaine Osborn
Image by Caitlin Hodder

Theatre review
Bonnie Prince Charlie plays a significant part in the Scottish psyche. His failed Jacobite rising of 1745 is a representation of the problematic relationship many perceive to exist between Scotland and the United Kingdom. E. V. Crowe’s Young Pretender is a re-imagined account of the young man at his most memorable. It is a play that relies on an audience’s assumed knowledge, if not a shared passion for the legendary figure. A regular Australian crowd is at best indifferent about the show’s protagonist, and many of us would be forgiven to be completely ignorant about his legacy and indeed, eighteenth century Scottish history.

Without sufficient initiation into its context, the production can prove disorienting. No great effort is made to adapt the work for its dislocated audience, and we struggle to find relevance in any of its drama. The cast is attractive and energetic, but characters being portrayed remain distant, even though good focus is displayed on stage. It is noteworthy however, that Caitlin Hodder’s costumes are cleverly designed, flattering, and the sole visual element that aims to provide the production with a sense of style.

We all love a rebel. We spend must of our lives adhering to rules and regulations, only to find discontentment as compensation. In our stories, we look to those who dare to resist the constraints and encumbrances of society, to walk their own paths so that we may follow in their footsteps, if only in our fantasies. Making art in today’s state of advanced capitalism, is often an act of great defiance. Only a select few are rewarded appropriately, while the rest spend their time creating with little hope of considerable support or approval. We cannot base all our decisions on reward and accolades; some wars are to be be fought even when defeat is anticipated, for the meaning of life lies somewhere beyond the sovereignty of money and power. True artists will do what they have to do regardless of the oppressive nature of our environment, and only pretenders will ever be hampered by the will of others.

Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Sydney Theatre Company)

stcVenue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Sep 12 – Oct 22, 2016
Playwright: William Shakespeare
Director: Kip Williams
Cast: Paula Arundell, Matthew Backer, Rob Collins, Honey Debelle, Emma Harvie, Jay James-Moody, Brandon McClelland, Josh McConville, Robert Menzies, Susan Prior, Rose Riley, Rahel Romahn, Bruce Spence
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Characters get up to a lot of mischief in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but what can be construed as humorous, can also be seen as menacing. The play features deception, sabotage, humiliation and misogyny, subversively, and surreptitiously, framed within a category of conventional comedy, leaving the depths of its darkness unacknowledged. One of Western theatre’s most well-known pieces, it is often regarded as light and frothy, fun for the whole family, with themes of romance and fantasy taken to their greatest extremes for hours of harmless entertainment.

Centuries on, it can be argued that much of Shakespeare’s comedy is no longer funny. Some insist that everything Shakespeare had penned can stand the test of time, but others will hold a more objective attitude. Kip Williams looks at the text with modern eyes, judging it with today’s values, and in exposing all that is archaic in the piece, creates something imaginative, powerful and irreverently spectacular. Turning A Midsummer Night’s Dream into a twisted nightmare, it is suddenly mesmerising. Williams’ concept might seem basic, but his detailed execution of a macabre and provocative utopia/dystopia is as sensitive as it is scandalous. Consistently fascinating, and frankly eye-opening, this is some of the most astonishing and iconoclastic theatre, full of spirit; adventurous, brave and ostentatious.

Actor Paula Arundell is unforgettable as Titania, queen of the fairies, via Donatella Versace. Regal, austere and decadent, her creation is strikingly sensual, full of danger and drama, compelling and beguiling in every moment. Arundell attacks her role with a fierce solemnity, resolutely playing against the comedy that we have become used to, in order that a fresh theatricality may be delivered; poetic, surreal, and irrevocably powerful. Also deadly serious are all the production’s design aspects. Chris Williams’ music and Nate Edmondson’s sound design hold us firmly in their dictatorial insistence for dramatic tension, and Alice Babidge’s costumes dare us to look away from the grotesque glamour reminiscent of Leigh Bowery and Cindy Sherman’s brutal legacies.

On stage is a morbid world, resplendently manufactured to satisfy our need for an art that is carnal, wild and audacious. It must be noted however, that the show closes with an abruptness that betrays its fundamental and delicious sophistication. The final transition from a scene of brilliant black humour to its concluding gravitas occurs with surprising carelessness, leaving us disoriented and prematurely awoken from what had been a deeply luscious reverie. Nevertheless, what is achieved here is an instance of magic rarely witnessed, and unlikely to be seen very soon again. Wonderful for its uniqueness, and its gutsy approach to the most time-honoured of classics, this is excellent theatre that reminds us how good it is to be alive, at a time when the ephemeral art form can thrive so brilliantly, and we are here to catch it.

Review: Metamorphoses (Montague Basement)

montaguebasementVenue: Erskineville Town Hall (Erskineville NSW), Sep 13 – 17, 2016
Creators: Imogen Gardam, Lulu Howes, Saro Lusty-Cavallari (based on the poem by Ovid)
Dramaturg: Pierce Wilcox
Cast: Lulu Howes, Saro Lusty-Cavallari
Image by Zaina Ahmed

Theatre review
Turning Ovid’s two thousand year-old poem into a work for the theatre in Sydney today, is an exercise in adaptation full of possibilities. Every choice is a reflection of the interpreters’ relationship with the world, and with the art form itself. The very decision to take on a project of this nature, is indicative of a desire to experiment with the social aspects of both; theatre, and that immortal classic being interrogated. Imogen Gardam, Lulu Howes and Saro Lusty-Cavallari explore what a work represents when it refuses to be forgotten, and what it means in contemporary society when individuals meet at the theatre to relive it.

Each scene that corresponds to Ovid’s fifteen books, is given its own distinct identity and stylistic genre. Even though there is a conscious effort in manufacturing something quite erratic as inspired by the original, the use of only two actors with infrequent alterations to their appearance limits our ability to perceive the staging with as much variety as is evidently attempted. Our minds give in to a habitual need to create a sense of consistency with the faces we see before us, and the big range of characters is often conflated into a simplification of understanding involving one man and one woman. Perhaps the performers bring along a passion to their performance that has a tendency to appear homogeneous. It can also be said that although energetic in their approach, an ambiguity to their engagement with the work delivers an experience that can be elusive and frustrating. We wish for greater finesse either in the poetic nature of what is being created, or in the meanings that it is able to evoke.

There is abstract beauty to be found in this version of Metamorphoses, as well as political ideas that hold importance and relevance, but neither is willing to become concrete enough for us to grasp with a greater sense of enthralment. If a work aims to alienate, it should keep our feelings at bay but our minds captivated. Art is not always about earning likes, but it should secure attention, especially when it actively rejects the conventional and banal. Little of what we do can endure millennia, but the promise of a resonant instant is all it takes to keep us striving.

Review: Tammy & Kite (Montague Basement)

montagueVenue: Erskineville Town Hall (Erskineville NSW), Sep 13 – 17, 2016
Creators: Hannah Cox, Caitlin West
Cast: Hannah Cox, Caitlin West
Image by Zaina Ahmed

Theatre review
We are at home with two very funny sisters. Kite is in year three, and although Tammy is seven years older, the siblings are extremely close, spending almost all of their stage time making each other, and their audience, laugh with joyful glee. We watch the playful pair weather thick and thin, and when things get rough, Tammy & Kite shows us that life can be cruel even for the very young. Hannah Cox and Caitlin West’s play is remarkably sensitive in its portrayal of childhood and innocence, with an impressive authenticity that lets any person, of any age or background, relate to its characters and all its situations. Their feelings are real, and we cannot help but share in them, happy or sad.

Our protagonists find it difficult to express their emotions through words, but the play accurately depicts their inner world through imaginative means. The show’s creators assemble precise and powerful manipulations of atmosphere to communicate through signs and symbols, helped by excellent work from lighting designer Saro Lusty-Cavallari and sound designers Josephine Gibson and Alexis Weaver. The audience’s instincts are called upon to find an understanding of the sisters’ story beyond what is being said to one another. In Tammy & Kite, important information is conveyed through everything that happens in the room, not just the words that manage to find their way out of the girls’ mouths.

Some things you can never be prepared for, no matter how old you may be, but to witness children deal with deep losses is truly heartbreaking. It must be noted that the production makes it a point not to wallow in the story’s dark sides, but the delicate glimpses of sorrow it does provide, are very moving indeed. We discover a love in Tammy & Kite that is wonderfully pure, uplifting and life-affirming. The special moments of togetherness enacted by Cox and West, are a reminder of the most important kind, but also the very simplest; to cherish and to hold, everything else can wait.

Review: Keep Calling (PACT Centre for Emerging Artists)

keepcallingVenue: PACT Centre for Emerging Artists (Erskineville NSW), Sep 13 – 17, 2016
Playwright: Chelsea Ingram
Director: Herman Pretorius
Cast: Chelsea Ingram, Luke Edward Smith
Image by Isabelle Munhos

Theatre review
Chelsea Ingram’s Keep Calling is about an unusual relationship, and the agony of existence when taboo becomes an integral element to one’s identity. The play presents a valuable opportunity to take a rare look at something deemed objectionable, and even though it stops short of advocating any specific ethical perspective, it nonetheless confronts the way we think of the themes being portrayed. For some, the material might prove controversial, but for others, its depictions can seem coy; it is a delicate balance that Ingram tries to maintain, but an edgier approach would make the show more memorable.

There is an undeniable mystery built into the plot, even though the production struggles to effectively manufacture a sense of intrigue. Its characters are vulnerable, but Keep Calling‘s immersion in their suffering is insufficiently convincing for us to respond with empathy. The style of presentation is wild and loud, allowing us to access the emotional upheavals taking place, but we rarely make contact with an authentic foundation on which the drama should be built upon, and the play leaves us feeling somewhat detached.

We can all understand Stacey and Sam’s desolation even though few of us have experienced their circumstance. Their story is unique, but only a flimsy membrane away from our realities. How we formulate rules for living is often arbitrary, and Keep Calling</em is a reminder of the ambiguity that can exist in what we wish to be incontrovertibly true. Societies have come to accept that love can take many forms, but there are limits to what they can accept. What is considered illicit in a particular time and place, is legitimate in another. It is easy to say "as long as nobody gets hurt," but how we define and detect damage is yet another quandary.

5 Questions with Gavin Roach

Gavin Roach

Gavin Roach

Gavin Roach: Hi Gavin, thanks for joining me today. Right, I’m going to jump straight in, what is The Measure Of A Man?
Gavin Roach: Um ok well, The Measure Of A Man is my latest one man show. It is the second instalment of the Anxiety Trilogy and it deals with my own fears and insecurities as I plunge deep into the heart of my own sexual anxieties and dare to ask , “If you’re a gay man who can’t have sex, what worth do you have?”

Hmmm deep. So audiences can expect a draining 50 minutes of exhausting, over emotional acting?
Eh no, I’m funny too. I mean the show is funny. It has a lot of light moments too. I think it’s a healthy mix of light and shade and really takes the audience through some pretty personal experiences that are both funny and tragic.

Right, right, I see. So you are performing at the New Theatre in Newtown and, if I am right, you debuted your very first one man show, Confessions Of A Grindr Addict there in 2011. Are you excited to be coming home, so to speak.
I am super excited to be performing at the New Theatre again. It’s been five years since I stepped onto that stage and three years since I performed in Sydney, so I am really excited to see some new and friendly faces looking back at me.

Oh so you’re an attention whore then, cute. So, is there anything you are looking forward to doing while you are in Sydney?
Well besides the show, I’m really looking forward to seeing how the city has changed while I have been away. Sydney is one of those cities that feels like it is a constant state of change, which I find really interesting. But I think what I am mostly looking forward to is the many, many, many…..many bowls of laksa I am going to have. I have been craving a chicken laksa with extra bean curd from Happy Chef in Newtown ever since I moved to Melbourne, so I can see myself hanging out there quite a bit while I’m in town.

Fascinating. Well one last question, do you have a process when you are preparing for a show?
I’d like to be one of those performers who has a really profound process and relationship to the work, but really my approach consists of day drinking gin while I stress eat peanut M&M’s and try my hardest to remind myself that I am talented as I wonder if it is too late to be the hairdresser my mother always wanted me to be…

Gavin Roach’s one-man show The Measure Of A Man is presented as part of the Sydney Fringe 2016.
Dates: 13 – 18 September, 2016
Venue: New Theatre

Review: This Modern Coil (Upper Crass Theatre Company)

moderncoilVenue: Erskineville Town Hall (Erskineville NSW), Sep 9 – 10, 2016
Playwright: James Hartley
Director: James Hartley
Cast: Atlas Adams, Tom Green

Theatre review
Two soldiers are trapped on a minefield, forced to confront death and each other’s beliefs about death. Intelligent, humorous and charming, James Hartley’s This Modern Coil explores our relationship with mortality, through a process that is inevitably philosophical, for an existentialist work that is simultaneously universal and challenging.

The writing operates at several levels of intellect, with some moments proving to be more accessible than others, but even at its most demanding, performers Atlas Adams and Tom Green are able to provide a sense of authenticity that keeps us engaged in their cerebral drama. Both men are gregarious and charismatic, effortlessly funny in a show that is almost always entertaining. Their impressive chemistry secures not only our attention, but also our empathy. They are very likeable characters that never fail to let us see ourselves reflected in all their anxieties and fantasies.

Hartley’s own direction of the work is accomplished, with effective manufacturing of tension through much of the piece, although the show is quite clearly more gripping in its first half. Set and costume design by Ara Steel is creatively and proficiently rendered, but the dim lighting does take away from some of the actors’ more subtle efforts.

There is a depth to This Modern Coil that is very admirably courageous, and balanced with a confident sense of comedy and storytelling, we are lured into a meaningful exchange about the biggest and hardest questions of life, only without the usual feelings of intimidation and alienation. No two people are the same but it is the certainty of death that reveals our individual, fervent pursuits of disparity to be futile. We may wish to be special, but at the humble juncture before turning to dust, there is no denying the simple essence of humanity that binds us all.

Review: Reflections Of A Cause (On The Cusp Productions)

onthecuspVenue: The Depot Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Sep 7 – 10, 2016
Playwright: Sage Godrei
Director: Joy Roberts
Cast: Ivan Chew, Macushla Cross, Emma Dalton, Benjamin Hanly, Chris Miller, Anthony Yangoyan

Theatre review
It is a simple story that looks at a pair of lovers as they begin their relationship, and also at their deteriorated state twenty years later. Made more substantial by a wide range of ideas, the play unfortunately becomes a complicated one that struggles to find focus and clarity. Scenes vary from the very basic, to the very obtuse, and although the show’s experimental spirit is commendable, it suffers from appearing hesitant and irresolute in what it wishes to achieve.

There are certainly passionate assertions to be found, especially in Chris Miller’s performance, but the message of Reflections Of A Cause is largely lost. Its characters’ experiences might appear familiar, but a weak narrative structure prevents us from connecting with any of its drama, and the tenuous inclusion of social issues into the couple’s journey only serves to confuse and alienate.

The play contains elements that could certainly be made interesting. It may be too raw and immaturely presented, but it is neither mindless nor frivolous. In any of the art that we make, it is crucial that we identify what it is we wish to say, and then do all we can to communicate those ideas. There will always be noise that interfere, but it is the artist’s discipline that makes sure what they consider most important, be the most indelible of each experience.