Review: An Unseasonable Fall Of Snow (Ewan Productions)

Venue: The Actors Pulse (Redfern NSW), May 30 – Jun 3, 2017
Playwright: Gary Henderson
Director: Giles Gartrell-Mills
Cast: Alex Ewan, Nico Papademetriou, Randall

Theatre review
The setting looks like an office, for lawyers or the police perhaps, but we never really find out where Arthur and Liam actually are, as we witness the aggressive interrogations taking place. Gary Henderson’s An Unseasonable Fall Of Snow involves two deaths, a mystery that takes the form of an intriguing puzzle, challenging its viewer to discover its secrets before everything is laid bare at the end.

Director Giles Gartrell-Mills orchestrates an enjoyable ride, luring us into the enigmatic qualities of the play with a quiet elegance. Sound and lights are underutilised, so we are not quite spellbound by its flirtations with the supernatural, but the plot is nonetheless effectively relayed for an engaging hour of theatre.

Arthur is played by Nico Papademetriou, who makes us believe that there is always more being hidden away, a convincing mastermind of sorts, and we need to know all the cards that he holds close to his chest. Alex Ewan is impressive as Liam, volatile yet operatic in his portrayal of a young man deep in trouble. It is a performance thoroughly considered, and boldly executed, leading to a result that illustrates some of the more obscure facets of human nature, while providing an exciting sense of high drama to the piece.

When snow falls in springtime, nothing is quite what it seems. We wish for life to adhere to expectations, but the forces in control of existence are far greater than any individual’s volition. If we find ourselves walking into a blizzard, when all we had wanted was a garden of green, there is no changing how nature wishes to be, and we must look to our desires for answers on how the inside can be in harmony with outside.

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Review: Only Heaven Knows (Luckiest Productions)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), May 26 – Jul 1, 2017
Music, Book, Lyrics: Alex Harding
Director: Shaun Rennie
Cast: Mathew Backer, Blazey Best, Tim Draxl, Ben Hall, Hayden Tee
Image by Robert Catto

Theatre review
Tim and Cliff’s love story begins in 1944, probably the most dangerous of times for gay men, with many impounded in European concentration camps, and the rest of the world correspondingly paranoid and cruel in their treatment of homosexuality. Alex Harding’s Only Heaven Knows remembers queer life in mid-20th Century Sydney, and the resilient community that persisted to thrive, with a dignified integrity, in the face of unrelenting and brutal persecution.

It is the subplots that captivate. Minor characters who chronicle struggles of a traumatic past, retain their pertinence, proving themselves more resonant than a central romance that seems unremarkable by comparison. The work is flamboyantly sentimental, but is only occasional moving. We are engaged instead by its textual complexity, seduced by an opportunity to analyse its sociopolitical connotations and to examine the degrees of relevance its narratives continue to hold over our existence today.

Production design attempts to address the frequent changes of settings, but scene transitions can often lack elegance. Performers take awkwardly long walks before finding the stage. Entrances and exits notwithstanding, the show is sensitively brought together by director Shaun Rennie, with a warm sincerity that elevates a slightly dated play from 1988, to something that is strikingly urgent. The ghost of Lea Sonia, a drag queen character, has the freedom to travel through time, to make references about marriage equality, and Grindr, so that history is resurrected for good reason.

There are marked divergences in terms of singing ability, but the cast is surprisingly cohesive. In the world of musical theatre, scene-stealing show-offs are almost encouraged, so it is a rare treat to be able to adore every performer equally. Matthew Backer is impressive with the thoroughness of nuance he introduces to all his roles, and is truly unforgettable in a scene that brutally portrays the experience of electroconvulsive therapy inflicted upon “sexual deviants” of the time. Blazey Best and Hayden Tee are excellent with their comedy, both actors sharp and confident, while adhering to the subtle tones of the production. The lovebirds, played by Tim Draxl and Ben Hall, are tender and effortlessly convincing, making the most out of fairly colourless material.

It is important that young ones know our queer histories, and it is important that love stories are made for people who identify differently from the mainstream. In 1944, queer folk had few past lessons to draw upon, and nothing in the future that they could look forward to. Only Heaven Knows allows us to grow with the knowledge that people had been through worse, but things keep getting better. It also serves as reminder the depth of depravity that societies are capable of, and that a sense of moral vigilance must never be taken lightly. The game of endless persecution may shift its focus away from one community to another, but those who had suffered must not be complacent in their newfound emancipation, but continue with a resistance against senseless violence and oppression.

www.hayestheatre.com.au

Review: 2071 (Seymour Centre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), May 26 – Jun 10, 2017
Playwrights: Duncan Macmillan, Chris Rapley
Director: Tim Jones
Cast: Lucy Brownlie, John Gaden, Heath Jelovic, Ellery Joyce, Jacqueline Morrison, Sasha Rose, Matthew Simmons

Theatre review
In 2071: a performance about climate change, we have to listen closely to a lesson about the science of our climate. There are projections to look at, and children forming occasional tableaux to help illustrate the point, but it is only the words that we should pay close attention to. Clearly a very serious matter, and for those of us less keen on scientific study, the details are challenging. It is an issue that requires tremendous focus, but when we invest, with determination, to hear what is being said, 2071 is undoubtedly rewarding.

Essentially a monologue, the writing feels no different from a lecture, dense with facts and evidence. The layperson would struggle to absorb every sentence uttered, but there will certainly be pertinent points that resonate for each individual who is present. It contains no surprises, but the production does communicate a sense of urgency to drive home the message. Music by Andrée Greenwell, and actor John Gaden’s delivery, are responsible for the hastened air of impulsion at conclusion.

The science points to an impending ecological disaster. Whether or not one wishes to accept the causes that lead to this state of devastation, every citizen of the world must commit to improving the conditions in which we have to live. Only the most masochistic and nihilistic will choose to persist with the status quo, but it must surely be a very small minority that wants to watch everything come to a painful ruin. Now is the time to be fearful of complacency and inaction.

www.seymourcentre.com

Review: The Wind In The Underground (Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), May 23 – Jun 3, 2017
Playwright: Sam O’Sullivan
Director: Lucy Clements
Cast: Michael Abercromby, Rowan Davie, Whitney Richards, Bishanyia Vincent
Image by Rupert Reid

Theatre review
Wanderlust is meaningful only to those who understand that irresistible urge to travel. Simon returns home from a long trip away, and has to explain to his siblings why he had left them. There is resentment, and a lot of discontentment at home, but the love is nonetheless palpable. Sam O’Sullivan’s The Wind In The Underground is about seeing the world, but all the action lies within a domestic setting. The four characters are a volatile group, but they are not fragile. They fight only because they will always be able to reconcile.

There is little in terms of a compelling narrative that we can hang on to, and dramatic tensions are intermittent, but a superb cast enchants with their extraordinary chemistry. The actors share family secrets that we are only partially privy to. Its characters struggle with disclosures, but the performances leave no room for doubt that something deep and real underpins the exchanges we see on stage. It is a feeling we are all familiar with, and the remarkable talents represent it with an admirable accuracy.

Some people are comfortable with a parochial existence, but others need to explore further afield. This does not have to be about the physical movement that takes place. Our minds are all-powerful, and our beings can be transformed, as long as we wish to seek something higher. The play is about travel, and evolution. For those of us who can sail the seven seas, we will grow that way, but for those who prefer to stay home, every work of literature and art can provide the key to expanding life, far beyond the walls that try to hold us in.

www.oldfitztheatre.com

Review: This Is Not Mills And Boon (Glorious Thing Theatre Co)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), May 23 – Jun 3, 2017
Playwright: Erica J Brennan
Director: Richard Hilliar
Cast: Alison Bennett, Emma Chelsey, Gabe Fancourt, Lynden Jones
Image by Liam O’Keefe

Theatre review
When we first meet Abby, she surprises us with her prudishness. We think of sex as being universally appealing, and in this day and age, talking about sex is certainly de rigueur, if not interminable, so we wonder what problems Abby is struggling with, that makes her so uncomfortable with the topic.

The story unfolds as Abby begins reading, in secret, a collection of erotic stories. Written by her boyfriend’s mother, Nikki Sex’s book is titillating and wild, but also deeply cheesy and frequently nonsensical. We watch as the far-fetched tales begin to unravel the riddle surrounding Abby’s mystifying sexual nature.

Erica J Brennan’s This Is Not Mills And Boon is a smart, ambitious piece that deals with a young woman’s sexual awakening, or more accurately, it is about Abby’s self-discovery beyond the indoctrination and traditions that our young are subject to. There is good attempt at depicting sexuality as being individualistic and idiosyncratic, and hence, a fundamentally deviant feature of what we consider to be human nature, but Brennan’s characters remain bound to an ideal of monogamy and heteronormativity, which prevents the play from foraging deeper into its philosophical interests, thus losing an opportunity to be truly subversive, or edifying, with its declarations.

Director Richard Hilliar introduces a wanton sense of humour to fantasy sequences that makes the show very enjoyable, but a tendency to be overly earnest with our protagonist’s central predicament, can make its naturalistic scenes needlessly severe. Abby needs to lighten up, as does the show.

Funny lady Alison Bennett delivers laughs in all of her extravagant guises. Sharply intuitive, and wonderfully campy, it is a very bawdy performance that pushes all the right buttons (look out for some physical work featuring Bennett’s extraordinarily dexterous tongue). Also very comedic is Gabe Fancourt as the endearing boyfriend Sol, whose unabashed approach to the portrayal of sex object, is as refreshing as it is hilarious.

Although Emma Chelsey’s interpretation of a plain and reserved personality can often feel too literal and hence lacklustre, her Abby is dignified and honest, with a sincerity that makes the whole exercise convincing. The troubling relationship between Abby and her father is a crucial part of the narrative, and Lynden Jones is strong in that role. His lines are perhaps not written with sufficient elegance, but Jones demonstrates excellent conviction even when the dialogue turns precarious.

The show makes fun of “Fifty Shades Of Beige”, but is itself shy with its own interrogations. It may not be Mills and Boon, but it is certainly no Marquis de Sade either. There is a naivety in how it thinks about sex, but its fervent need to reject convention in favour of a self-determined experience of sexuality and of identity, must be celebrated.

What makes each person feel good, is rarely the same, but what makes us all the same, is the need to discover the truth that lies within. It is human to want to poke and prod, to find something that feels resolutely at the core of our existence. Whether through art or through fucking, we can get to the thing that resides deep at the centre, that holds the meaning of life.

www.gloriousthingtheatreco.com

Review: Talking To Terrorists (Emu Productions)

Venue: King Street Theatre (Newtown NSW), May 23 – Jun 3, 2017
Playwright: Robin Soans
Director: Markus Weber
Cast: Mathew Costin, David D’Silva, Kira Fort, Zuzi Fort, Tiffany Joy, Alyson Standen, Kyle Stewart, Joseph JU Taylor, Markus Weber
Image by John Keenan

Theatre review
Robin Soans’ Talking To Terrorists premiered in England just 3 months before the London bombings of 2005. Disasters seemed to strike like never before, and we tried desperately to understand the rapidly changing world, post-9/11. The play investigates the psyche of those touched by horrific events, from perpetrators, to hostages and politicians. Composed largely of interviews with people who had experienced those states of trauma, this work of verbatim theatre opens up discussion about the most pertinent of subjects today. We examine the motivating factors behind these unimaginable atrocities, and in the process of seeing extremists as people, we gain knowledge that had been previously hidden. Humanising evil allows us to gain insight into what was once beyond comprehension.

A wide range of personalities take to the stage, but the production does not always make clear, the identities of all its characters. The confusion that arises does not help the show’s cause. The actors offer glimpses of poignancy, but can be impeded by their emphasis on creating cosmetic impressions, rather than always finding resonance through the very meanings of what they say. Actor Alyson Standen is the most consistent of the group, demonstrating conviction in all of her four roles, and through her enactment of emotional accuracy, we are able to access the truths in what her scenes attempt to communicate. There is no lack of passion in the cast, but their approach requires more detail, and greater nuance, so that we obtain something richer, a result that feels less surface.

As long as we regard terrorists as animals and monsters, we will never be able to convince them of our perspectives. If we can only think of them as absolute enemies, we will never be able to convert them to our way of life. When people are shut out, excluded and ostracised from our existence, then our security means nothing to them. Terrorists will continue to cause us harm, if they know nothing of us. In humanising the foe, we can both begin to see ourselves in the other, and so it is only in the talking that we can hope for a change.

www.kingstreettheatre.com.au

5 Questions with Damien Bermingham and Glaston Toft

Damien Bermingham

Glaston Toft: Tell us about your character, Tony, in The Bodyguard?
Damien Bermingham: Tony is the loyal, well meaning bodyguard who has all the best intentions without necessarily all the skills required for such a big job as dealing with a crazed stalker.

Do you have a dressing room or other performance ritual?
My character doesn’t get to sing which is a new experience for me in a musical and even though at times it feels like more of a play than a musical for my character I still stick to my routine of doing a very thorough vocal warm up. Doing gentle vocal exercises in a steaming hot shower work best to get my voice warmed up.

What do you do in your downtime during the show?
I moonlight as an independent theatre producer so spend a lot of my downtime working on various theatrical endeavours.

What’s your favourite Whitney Houston song and why? Do you sing along while you’re off stage?
‘Run To You’ is my favourite Whitney song but I’ve had the Bodyguard soundtrack since 1993 so it’s fair to say I’m a fan of all of her work. I never realised until rehearsals started just how many Whitney songs I know all the words to. You can’t help but sing along.

What’s your dream role in musical theatre?
My bucket list of musical theatre roles would be Sweeney Todd or Don Quixote. If no one offers me those roles before I die I might just have to produce the shows myself to make sure it happens 😉

Glaston Toft

Damien Bermingham: Who is Glaston Toft and where did that unusual name come from?
Glaston Toft: I’m an actor currently performing in the musical The Bodyguard. I’m often told how unusual my name is. I think my parents were fans of the boardgame Scrabble. You should see what they came up with for my siblings!

Is it strange being cast in a musical and playing an acting role, not actually singing?
Certainly the rehearsal process was strange, having no time with the music department. But now that we’re up and running it’s not that different. I think in most musicals I’ve spent my time acting through song and text. I’m just doing it all in the latter category at the moment.

What’s it like hearing all those Whitney Houston songs night after night?
Paulini is a machine and a superstar… so listening to her breathe life into those great songs is a real treat. They are infectious songs, you can’t not lip syncing to them every night. The finale goes off!

How do you decorate your dressing room?
I don’t really decorate my dressing room as such. I do like to keep some mementos. Currently my door is pinned with notes from a fellow cast member reminding me that as an FBI agent I fail to do my job every night. It’s my motivation to keep looking!

What’s your dream role in musical theatre?
I find most people’s ‘dream roles’ are what they would be perfectly suited for. I’d love to play Judd Fry (Oklahoma), Bill Sykes (Oliver) or Sweeney Todd. I know the type of roles I’m suited to but I find it interesting to perform roles that are a bit against my ‘type’.

Damien Bermingham and Glaston Toft are appearing in The Bodyguard, the musical.
Dates: 21 Apr – 2 Jul, 2017
Venue: Sydney Lyric Theatre