Review: The Mystery Of Love & Sex (Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

darlotheatreVenue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Feb 10 – Mar 12, 2017
Playwright: Bathsheba Doran
Director: Anthony Skuse
Cast: Deborah Galanos, Thuso Lekwape, Nicholas Papademetriou, Contessa Treffone
Image by Steven Siewert

Theatre review
We have told many “coming out” stories over the last several decades. The agonising process of revealing one’s own queerness to inevitably heterosexual parents and a correspondingly straight world, is a mainstay of queer art. In Bathsheba Doran’s The Mystery Of Love & Sex however, we are concerned with how individuals come out to themselves.

Charlotte’s parents are open-minded, savvy individuals who are relaxed about homosexuality, yet she finds herself in a state of crisis when discovering that she might be gay. Her closest confidante Jonny, too, is taken by surprise. Even with all the intimacies that they had shared through the years, the assumption of heterosexuality never goes away. Best friends can tell each other everything, but when it comes to any possible deviation of sexual preferences, those remain a deep, dark private secret.

The play is about society’s persistent inability to makes structural adjustments, that will allow our children to grow into adults with sexual idiosyncrasies, without fear of discrimination or persecution. Doran’s approach for this political issue is subtle, very cleverly handled. It is an intriguing plot, with dialogue that amuse, resonate and challenge. Its ideas are not new, but they are presented in a manner that makes us feel only their relevance and urgency.

Directed by Anthony Skuse, the show has an enchanting warmth that appeals to our sentimental selves. These may not be our families and friends who tell their stories on stage, but Skuse makes us feel as though they are part of our lives. The production has a tendency to be overly polite and placid, but all its messages are relayed with clarity and a beautiful deliberateness.

Charlotte is played by Contessa Treffone, effervescent in personality and comic timing, for a central character impossible to dislike. Best friend Jonny is sensitively crafted by Thuso Lekwape who brings wonderful depth and complexity to a young man trapped between tradition and modernity. Nicholas Papademetriou as Howard is a loving father, almost too sweet for several of his more combative scenes, but we believe all the relationships he fosters. The fiery Lucinda is a memorable presence in actor Deborah Galanos who contributes an excellent vitality, and whose artistic instincts are relied upon for much of the staging’s authentic sense of time and space.

It is a real privilege when the greatest obstacle for social acceptance comes from one’s self. Many of us who will see The Mystery Of Love & Sex, live in progressive communities who have learned about our LGBTQ neighbours, and the diverse expressions of love, sex and gender of all peoples, yet many of us struggle to face our personal desires and sexual experiences with honesty, and without shame. The things we are taught as children stick with us tenaciously. Values and beliefs that have long expired can retain their grip on how we think of ourselves. Each of us has to come to a full realisation that these old ideas have outstayed their welcome, and have them banished.

www.darlinghursttheatre.com

Review: Blink (Stories Like These)

storiesliketheseVenue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Feb 9 – Mar 4, 2017
Playwright: Phil Porter
Director: Luke Rogers
Cast: James Raggatt, Charlotte Hazzard
Image by Robert Catto

Theatre review
It is a love story between a simple man and a complicated woman. Phil Porter’s Blink is a work of fantasy that magnifies the experience of infatuation, to sometimes inappropriate levels of obsession. We can choose to see Jonah as a creepy stalker, even though the play tries to show him only as naive and sweet. His actions are clearly harmless, but that of course, is what most men will say about their fixations. Sophie is made mastermind of Jonah’s actions, and although there is something gratifying in having a woman orchestrate her own experience of romance, the reprehensible fact that Jonah is a Peeping Tom who follows her everywhere, thinking that the object of his desire is completely oblivious, cannot be discounted.

Ultimately though, the characters do develop mutual feelings, and what the play does with their relationship is wistful, and very whimsical. Anna Gardiner’s set design corresponds with the quirkiness of the text, for a performance space imaginatively conceived to provide an enchanting sense of innocent wonder. Director Luke Rogers brings good coherence to a piece of unfettered mosaic-like writing, and his ability to balance upbeat energy with a daydream quality, gives the production its charming, and distinct style. In the role of Jonah is James Raggatt, awfully adorable and convincingly wide-eyed in his Tim Burton-esque interpretation of a young man smitten. His gentle but animated approach almost makes you believe his trespasses to be no more than a little innocuous skylarking. Sophie is a much more complex character, played by Charlotte Hazzard who portrays a woman’s need to be seen, with vital delicate care.

We all want to be acknowledged, for to be invisible is intolerable, but we are not always ready to pay the price for a bit of attention. Sophie wants to be on Jonah’s mind, but is unwilling to offer anything in return. Relationships do not always fit definitions or expectations. People can connect in unexpected ways, but convention can be agonising, and if we let it, can pull us apart. What a happy ending looks like, is familiar to everyone, but when destiny takes us in different directions, we may have to modify our beliefs, and see an alternate image of fulfilment.

www.storieslikethese.com

Review: BU21 (Outhouse Theatre Co)

outhouseVenue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Feb 8 – 25, 2017
Playwright: Stuart Slade
Director: Erin Taylor
Cast: Jessica-Belle Keogh, Skyler Ellis, Emily Havea, Bardiya McKinnon, Whitney Richards, Jeremy Waters
Image by Rupert Reid

Theatre review
In Stuart Slade’s BU21 a terrorist attack occurs in London, but it is not a work of documentary, and the event being investigated did not happen on the public transport system, 7 July 2005. The play presents as fiction, focusing on the aftermath as experienced by the humans of collateral damage, following the horrific incident of a plane crashing into an area where people live and work. The stories may not be true, but the trauma is real. Slade’s writing feels thoroughly researched, and his subjects are explored at extraordinary depth. A sense of theatricality is built around the main concern to provide greater structural complexity, but the value of BU21 is in the intimacy at which it allows us to observe unadulterated human responses to catastrophe.

Direction by Erin Taylor brings a certain minimal elegance that keeps our minds attentive only to what is important at each moment. There is great sensitivity to her storytelling that protects us from ever feeling alienated, no matter how the phenomenon of pain is expressed. The messy business of dealing with emotional devastation is often ugly, but Taylor is always able to let humanity emerge, and our empathy cannot help but connect with it. Atmosphere is calibrated gently, but brilliantly, by Christopher Page’s lights and Nate Edmondson’s sound and music. Both demonstrate acuity and artistic maturity with their respective disciplines, contributing significantly to a show that communicates with precision and confident ease.

The cast of six is exceptional. Each distinct character is brought to life with great vividness (and convincing London accents), by a team of talented and charming actors, all conspiring with a beautiful stylistic cohesion, to take us through a mesmerising journey of agony and truth. They are spirited, colourful, dramatic, but also honest and disarmingly vulnerable. Jessica-Belle Keogh is particularly moving as Ana, distressed with injuries inside and out, in a constant state of disorientated struggle, but she delivers the most life-affirming speeches, perhaps without herself being aware of their profundity. Keogh plunges deep, to reveal something raw and brazenly soulful, that makes the entire harrowing experience of BU21 a meaningful one.

When disaster strikes people like us, we have the burden of getting back to business as usual, in lightning speed. Unlike war-torn countries where daily survival demands that one must sink or swim, our privileged existence forces troubles to be repressed, and in the face of apparent normalcy within a solitude of debilitation, all the wounds are made to subsist out of sight, and out of control. The people in BU21 seek salvation in different ways, but none of them believes that complete emancipation is possible, such is the power of hatred and terror.

www.outhousetheatre.org

Review: The Little Dog Laughed (New Theatre)

newtheatreVenue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Feb 7 – Mar 4, 2017
Playwright: Douglas Carter Beane
Director: Alice Livingstone
Cast: Sarah Aubrey, Brett Rogers, Charles Upton, Madeline Beukers
Image © Bob Seary

Theatre review
It all feels a bit last century, with a movie star struggling to come out of the closet, and his agent seeming to model herself after the cutthroat antics of Wall Street corporate cannibal Gordon Gekko. Douglas Carter Beane’s The Little Dog Laughed is not the trendiest of plays, but its old fashioned structure delivers all we want from a good night out; lots of laughs and a few patronising observations about people we look down upon.

The story is not particularly interesting, but Beane’s dialogue is never short of wit. Diane (the aforementioned agent) is a manic personality with one-liners to die for. Performed by the show-stealing Sarah Aubrey, who ignites the stage with every entrance, the actor leaves a marvellous impression with an approach full of acerbic intensity and scintillating comic timing. Her chemistry with Brett Rogers, who plays Mitchell the movie star, produces extraordinarily precise and delicious scenes of comedy that ensure entertainment value for any viewer.

Alice Livingstone’s direction is trim and taut, for a fun show that asks questions about our values, even if its plastic Hollywoodness feels a world away (Tom Bannerman’s glamorous set design is quite remarkable). We all exist in a commercial reality where honesty and integrity are constantly tested in every social exchange. The Little Dog Laughed looks at the ease with which we make psychological and spiritual compromises for selfish gains, not only preying on others but also eating into our own sense of self-worth. Diane and Mitchell work hard to make their dreams come true, even when their lives turn miserable, they persist, blinded by an unexamined promise of something that cannot exist outside of their imagination.

www.newtheatre.org.au

Review: Losing You (Twice) (King Street Theatre)

kingsttheatreVenue: King Street Theatre (Newtown NSW), Feb 7 – 11, 2017
Playwright: Kate O’Keefe
Director: Paul Gilchrist
Cast: Kate O’Keefe
Image by Liam O’Keefe

Theatre review
Kate O’Keefe learned about her brother Daniel’s depression shortly before he disappeared. The anguish in losing a loved one, and the feelings of guilt, are immense, but there is little one can do that is constructive, except to talk. O’Keefe’s Losing You (Twice) is a manifestation of grief. It is conscious of the effect it could have on its audience, and does incorporate elements of activism and public service, but the work’s real concern is catharsis.

We are present to witness and to assist in O’Keefe’s healing, captivated by the authenticity of her revelations, along with the emotional power that she embodies. As performer of the piece however, O’Keefe can tend to push too hard with what she wishes to convey. Director Paul Gilchrist is aware of the show’s effectiveness when the story is seen at its most honest, but how we experience truth can become diluted when we see a person in pain indulge excessively in their sorrow. In real life, we have to suppress emotions in order that trauma can be made verbal. On this bare stage where every effort is made to strip off theatricality and pretence, the performer’s ability to be without embellishment is key, and very demanding, even if it is a real story.

Ultimately we never for one second, question any of the suffering, or the validity of O’Keefe’s efforts at turning it into art, which are sublime. In Losing You (Twice), we come face to face with the fragility of existence, and the meaning of empathy for us as individuals and communities. Not all of us will encounter such horrific events, but we have to be mindful of people who walk next to us with their own wounds. Life often seems to be easier for others, but the truth is that everybody hurts.

www.kingstreettheatre.com.au

Review: A Strategic Plan (Griffin Theatre Company)

griffinVenue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jan 27 – Mar 11, 2017
Playwright: Ross Mueller
Director: Chris Mead
Cast: Briallen Clark, Matt Day, Justin Smith, Emele Ugavule
Image by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Andrew works at a nonprofit organisation that brings new music to the young. On the surface are noble intentions, but bureaucracy and ulterior motives threaten its existence every day. Andrew finds himself in a sink or swim position, trying to protect his job, along with his sanity. Ross Mueller’s A Strategic Plan is an angry play for our angry times, a diatribe that pits integrity against exploitation, art against money, with little nuance in between.

Its characters are familiar well-worn stereotypes, some with a heart of gold, and others simply despicable. We never warm up to any of them or to their stories, but the actors who play these roles are certainly dedicated. There is a lot of screaming and shouting, presumably to stop our attention straying away from the predictable and lacklustre plot. Justin Smith and Matt Day play their parts with a lot of conviction, and not much else, as the writing provides little that would allow their personalities any complexity. There is a good level of professionalism in all production aspects, that keeps us sticking around until the end, but the resulting aftertaste is regrettably bland.

There is much to hate in how our corporations operate, and in government bodies that disappoint us repeatedly. It is admirable that A Strategic Plan looks into these failings, but it has a hard time getting us to share in its anger. Malfeasance and injustice occur often, and we have become increasingly disillusioned. We should expect more of community, but the state of the world overwhelms us with all its deficiencies, and to resist a descent into bitter apathy is a challenge we have to face.

www.griffintheatre.com.au

Review: Intersection (ATYP)

atypVenue: ATYP (Walsh Bay NSW), Feb 1 – 18, 2017
Playwrights: Peter Beaglehole, Angela Collins, Thomas De Angelis, Isabella Jacob, Suzannah Kennett-Lister, Louis Klee, Laura Lethlean, Isabelle McDonald, Kevin Ngo, Charles O’Grady, Eliza Oliver, Farnoush Parsiavashi, Zoe Ridgway, Anita Sanders, Michelle Sewell, Jordan Shea, Brenden Snow, Lewis Treston, Mark Tripodi, Jackson Used, Honor Webster-Mannison
Director: Katrina Douglas
Cast: Tamara Bailey, Asha Boswarva, Alex Chalwell, Alex Chorley, Sonia Elliott, Elliott Falzon, Rebecca Gulia, Monica Kumar, Steffan Lazar, Ingrid Leighton, Hudson Musty, Kurt Pimblet, Esther Randles, Iris Simpson, Adam Stepfner, Ilai Swindells, May Tran, Darius Williams, Jackson Williams
Image by Tracey Schramm

Theatre review
Somewhere in the background there exists a high school formal, but what we see on stage are ten stories written and performed by young people, about young people who may or may not be connected with each other. Intersection is an earnest and wholesome collection of personalities, reflecting interests and concerns of today’s middle-class Australian youth.

Jordan Shea’s Little Differences is perhaps the most consciously political, in its passionate investigation of teenagers negotiating differences in religious and cultural backgrounds. Also significant is Charles O’Grady’s subtle depiction of queer identities in Pray 4 Mojo, whereby two lonely souls form a charming bond of friendship through their shared ostracism. Actors Kurt Pimblet and Adam Stepfner prove themselves sensitive and intelligent, offering up great insight into adolescence with their very charming tale.

Excellent performances can be found in Lewis Treston’s Starlight Plaza, in which romantic leads Ingrid Leighton and Steffan Lazar establish spectacular chemistry, transforming a sweet love story into the most engaging vignette of the production. Eminently memorable comedian Monica Kumar brings the laughs in Cassie And Saoirse by Suzannah Kennett Lister, a quirky piece involving an urn and the tricky business of mourning. Asha Boswarva is equally impressive with her delicately balanced portrayal of the recently bereaved.

There is an unmistakable warmth that comes through every one of the show’s segments. Director Katrina Douglas instils a soulful quality that translates as a sense of truth for the audience, even when the stories turn obscure. Creativity materialises in an infinite number of ways, and in Intersection we witness different dispositions and approaches, all finding their way to voice the things that matter. We may not always connect or indeed, agree on all of those things, but to be able to meet at a space of artistic expression, is a moment of harmony that is undeniably precious.

www.atyp.com.au