Review: Lighten Up (Griffin Theatre Company)

griffinVenue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Dec 2 – 17, 2016
Playwrights: Nicholas Brown, Sam McCool
Director: Shane Anthony
Cast: Katie Beckett, Nicholas Brown, Vivienne Garrett, Julie Goss, Sam McCool, Bishanyia Vincent
Image by AH Imagery

Theatre review
John thinks that he is white, but people keep telling him that he looks Indian. In his efforts to make his appearance fit his sense of self-identity, he scrubs his skin with pumice stone, and owns a collection of contact lenses in green and blue. To make things even more problematic, John is an actor, whose looks are his meal ticket, but also a constant source of judgement and frustration to be endured virtually every day. Nicholas Brown and Sam McCool’s Lighten Up is about racism, that complex and fraught topic of discussion Australians love to fight over. We never seem to be able to agree on what it means to be racist, and every individual’s unwillingness to own up to their prejudices means that we are rarely able to get to the truths of the matter. Often, the best we can do is agree to disagree, which unfortunately fixes none of our problems.

Brown and McCool’s play however, is brutally honest in its social commentary. There are no surprises in its depiction of our culture of colonialism, but what it says about ethnic minorities helping to perpetuate our own subjugation is fascinating. The issues it raises are clearly concerning, but the show is a funny one, often uproariously so. The playwrights’ acerbic wit gives Lighten Up an edginess that is as startling as it is entertaining, and even though several of its plot devices are slightly dubious, the show’s power is undeniable. Its politics may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but its refreshing approach makes for exciting theatre that will amuse any audience type.

As director and dramaturg, Shane Anthony brings excellent illumination to the play’s important nuances. His show is bright and bubbly, but always determined to make its point. In its tenacious effort to drive home its message, the staging can sometimes feel less than elegant, with awkward transitions in terms of mood and character dynamics, but its overall effect is very rewarding indeed.

The cast is wonderfully accomplished, and tremendously likeable, with writer Brown taking on the lead role and inhabiting perfectly the essence of John and his story, proving himself to be a precise and dynamic performer who communicates with surprising depth and impressive charm. Similarly compelling is supporting player Julie Goss, memorable for an alluring exuberance that fluctuates playfully, and provocatively, between sincerity and sarcasm. Bishanyia Vincent is an outrageous presence whose every entrance is greeted with sparkling laughter. Her ability to find comedy in every line is a major contribution to the show’s deceptive but pertinent congeniality.

The worst people in Lighten Up are the ones who hate themselves the most. We often explain racism to be a hatred of others, but in the play, it is clear that that compulsion arises first for the self. When we are unable to accept perceived flaws or weaknesses in ourselves, we often turn that disdain outwards, scapegoating convenient targets to manufacture a kind of psychological and emotional balance. When the world tells us that we are not enough, it is easy to use that same barometer to chastise others. Compassion is our hope to better communities, but it needs to begin with a greater internal kindness. Love can only be true, if the one who gives it knows it well.

www.griffintheatre.com.au

Review: Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? (The Greek Theatre)

Venue: The Greek Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Nov 25 – Dec 17, 2016
Playwright: Edward Albee
Director: uncredited
Cast:  Christian Charisiou, Deborah Galanos, Nicholas Papademetriou, Adele Querol
Image by Rocket K Weijers

Theatre review
Martha and George have a sado-masochistic relationship, one that requires a heavy dose of exhibitionism to function. Edward Albee’s play does not put their sex life on display, but the couple’s existence is a chaotic one, in which joy and pain are intensely experienced, with little in terms of boundaries differentiating between the two. George’s emasculation is at the centre of all the action, along with Martha’s anguish under the glass ceiling. Finding herself without opportunities to live up to her father’s professional eminence, she resents George for failing to reach those heights on her behalf. There are very big problems in their marriage, and they find resolution through ruthless arguments, but only in the presence of other people.

The masterpiece says a lot about human nature, and it is through the immense complexity of Albee’s characters that we gain access to some very deep truths about ourselves. The roles are hugely challenging, and performances garner mixed results in this production, which incidentally comes with uncredited directorship. Nicholas Papademetriou does a respectable job as George, believable as the pussy-whipped, deflated middle-aged academic, but lacking in the toxic bitterness that is required to drive the play. The character is weak, but also full of anger, and the actor never quite convinces us of George’s dangerous sides. Martha is much bolder, as interpreted by the dynamic Deborah Galanos. Wild, volatile and carnal, it is an energetic performance that the production relies on for its vigour. Christian Charisiou and Adele Querol are memorable as the show’s supporting players, both charming and considered in their approach, demonstrating a strong level of conviction that makes their work persuasive.

In Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? men are supposed to look, act and think a certain way. The rules may not be explicitly stated, but we know what they are, and in these characters’ suffering, we see that those standards are unrealistic, and in fact, harmful. They all busy themselves with roles assigned by society, but no one is fulfilled. We spend much of our lives carrying out expectations that come from the external. Like any other social creature that walks the earth, it is impossible to extricate oneself from the herd. We can try to turn introspective and find desires that seem to be only personal, but we can never be sure of its authenticity. What is doubtless, is our ability to change society. In Albee’s dark universe, lie the clues for letting the light come in.

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