Review: Slut (Old Fitz Theatre / Edgeware Forum)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), May 23 – Jun 3, 2017
Playwright: Patricia Cornelius
Director: Erin Taylor
Cast: Julia Dray, Bobbie-Jean Henning, Jessica Keogh, Danielle Stamoulos, Maryann Wright
Image by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
For the girls in Patricia Cornelius’ Slut, nothing is more important than being popular. That hunger to be liked, by all and sundry, is a curious thing that many possess, and in Cornelius’ play, we explore the way teenage girls are socialised to place unparalleled value on attention, admiration and approval. We are at school, and Lolita is the first of five good friends, to bloom. Her breasts develop and the world begins to sexualise her, long before she feels those urges for herself.

She encounters lascivious attention, and learns to reciprocate. There is something powerful in being seen, and the effect of that recognition, and the accompanying scrutiny, becomes all-consuming. Lolita pursues that gaze with a frightful ferocity, quickly learning that her worth resides squarely in her ability to be objectified in that uncompromisingly sexual manner. She comes under attack, predictably, by her peers who consider her a pariah, after having previously marvelled at her new-found power. As a result, she discovers a deep and detrimental shame, and attaches it firmly to her sexual nature.

It is a cruel existence that Lolita has to endure, and director Erin Taylor’s portrayal of that brutality is certainly vivid. The production is rhythmically precise and in its half-hour duration, we are thoroughly captivated by all that it wishes to communicate. All five actors are very strong and the tautness of their performance is highly enjoyable, although it must be said, that the roles are undeniably simplistic. Jessica Keogh’s depiction of Lolita is suitably vivacious yet tragic, perfectly presenting the playwright’s perspective of a victimised and very sad protagonist.

It is unfortunate that Lolita never manages to negotiate between friendships and her sexual dominance. That the play structures the two as being mutually exclusive, is perhaps an accurate observation of what happens in our high schools, but the lack of nuance in this representation creates an impression that can feel overly convenient. The absence of parental figures is also a glaring omission that is never explained. If our young is left in the wild to fend for themselves, we can be sure that disasters will happen, but our society knows its duty of care. Slut talks about the way our girls cause harm to one another, but it is our guidance, not their ignorance, that should be questioned.

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Review: Jatinga (Bakehouse Theatre Company)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jun 9 – 24, 2017
Playwright: Purva Naresh
Director: Suzanne Millar
Cast: Sapna Bhavnani, Karina Bracken, Claudette Clarke, Jarrod Crellin, Faezeh Jalali, Sheila Kumar, Suz Mawer, Bali Padda, Monroe Reimers, Trishala Sharma, Teresa Tate Britten, Amrik Tumber
Image by Natasha Narula

Theatre review
In the north-eastern region of India, a tourist hot-spot exists in the village of Jatinga, known for the mysterious phenomenon of birds plunging to their death, every year after the monsoon season. In Purva Naresh’s play Jatinga, it is the phenomenon of “runaway girls” that takes focus. Journalist Madhumita discovers five young women escaping harrowing fates, and in her efforts to publish a story that draws attention to their plight, she finds herself thinking like villagers hungry for tourism dollars, deciding whether to resort to sensationalism, in order that the greater good can be served.

The play is purposeful, and undeniably powerful. Addressing issues of poverty, Jatinga is relevant to audiences of all nations, at a time when economic inequality is a serious social concern. We may not suffer the same symptoms in the developed world, but the fact that the refugee crisis is unsolved and escalating, and that we continue to obsess over “terrorist threats”, show that persistent disparities, that our first-world systems thrive on, are creating problems that have landed us in a state of emergency. The rich will always want the poor separate and contained, but the poor can often break through the barriers of money. Radical action is always an option, when people have nothing to lose.

The women in Jatinga tell simple stories, but the production is strangely convoluted. Shifting timelines and interweaving narratives provide a sense of theatricality, but unnecessary confusion often gets in the way of our empathy. The show must be lauded however, for not turning to “disaster porn” to keep us engaged. The women are victims, but they are also spirited and strong individuals. Director Suzanne Millar’s resolve in portraying them as such, is certainly admirable.

An excellent cast, wonderfully cohesive, perform a colourful work replete with vigour and sincerity. Suz Mawer is captivating, and tremendously persuasive, as the journalist Madhumita. Her thorough authenticity holds the piece together, even though the stakes are admittedly lowest for the character she portrays. Also noteworthy is Nate Edmondson’s work on music, transportative and transformative in its effect, from scene to scene.

When the birds take to suicide, we wish for it to be an act of nature, and convince ourselves that things stay in balance with their sacrifice. Murmurs of the birds actually being killed by villagers, are disregarded by the tourists who wish to witness something romantic and extraordinary. We bury the truth, in order that our fabricated realities can be sustained. We want to think that refugees have proper channels to seek asylum, and we want to believe that terrorists are mentally ill. We insist that the poor only need work harder to create better lives, and we sweep the truth under carpets, sit back and watch as towers are burnt to ashes.

www.bakehousetheatrecompany.com.au

Review: I Love You Now (Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

Venue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Jun 9 – Jul 9, 2017
Playwright: Jeanette Cronin
Director: Kim Hardwick
Cast: Jeanette Cronin, Paul Gleeson
Image by Robert Catto

Theatre review
The stage is disguised as a hotel room, and two actors play out a series of infidelities in short episodes. The fragments are unified by the amorous theme, but how they fit together as a complete entity is the creative, and intriguing, challenge it presents to its audience. Jeanette Cronin’s I Love You Now takes conventional stories and puts them in a poetic structure, so that the telling of an ordinary tale, can lead to the discovery of greater meanings in everyday life.

Things happen, forming chaotic and arbitrary moments, but the human mind has an insatiable need for narratives. We make connections between incidents, and are determined to read into things, as though the urge to understand, is as basic and inexorable as breathing. While we attempt to make coherence of the scenes as they unfold in I Love You Now, we find ourselves beginning to fall in love instead, with transience. Sure, it is possible to formulate a whole of the parts, but it is really the fleeting moments of beauty and genius that gives us nourishment. Our impulse is to dedicate our attention to a big picture, but what is of greater satisfaction, are the minute occurrences that can so easily slip away, if we do not let go of the desire to be master of every situation.

Director Kim Hardwick’s task is to find balance and harmony in the storytelling, so that appropriate weight is assigned to each of the play’s divergent intentions and concerns. The writing presents many possibilities, and Hardwick demonstrates great sensitivity and fortitude, in her ability to mine for resonance in the many unexpected corners of I Love You Now, persuading our minds to find appreciation for the layer upon layer of ideas and observations, that constitute this deeply textured work of art.

A remarkably polished production, with Isabel Hudson’s set design creating a very solid first impression (the hotel room is glamorous and incredibly convincing), and Martin Kinnane’s lights speaking softly but intricately, the visuals are sumptuous but never obtrusive. As though providing accompaniment to singers centre stage, music is performed live, by Max Lambert and Roger Lock, whose instincts compel us to remain engaged with the play, even when it veers off to slightly obtuse places.

Cronin herself takes on the female roles, while Paul Gleeson is the masculine counterpart. Both are fabulously accomplished; impressive with the complexities and elegance they bring to the show, and as a couple, their infallible chemistry is the main drawcard. It is always what happens between them that is captivating, and important. We watch how they treat each other, listen to the way they speak to one another, inside this room of secrets, and through a range of characters and their clandestine intimacies, our own fires of curiosity and passion, are stoked back to life.

www.darlinghursttheatre.com

Review: Djuki Mala (Sydney Opera House)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Jun 13 – 18, 2017
Director: Joshua Bond
Choreographers: Nikki Ashby, Joshua Bond, Lionel Garawirrtja
Cast: Wakara Gondarra, Baykali Ganambarr, Watjarr Garmu, Didiwarr Yunupingu
Image by Daniel Boud

Theatre review
Hailing from north-eastern Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory, Djuki Mala comprises a group of Aboriginal men who showcase their proud Yolngu culture through traditional and contemporary dance. Between the live action, video projections featuring interviews with the dancers and their maternal figures, provide background information that help us contextualise the lives being showcased on stage.

As the show progresses, significant influences from American culture, from Michael Jackson to Gene Kelly, become markedly present. Westernisation is a facet that insists on being incorporated into every Australian existence, but the purity of Yolngu heritage remains, even at the dance’s more colonised moments. Joy will persist, regardless of our oppressors’ intentions and efforts.

Whether the segments are choreographed to be quiet or rambunctious, this magnetic cast of five, bring a sense of celebratory spiritedness to all that they present. It is an enthusiasm that is tremendously infectious, and never fading. The greatest beauty of Djuki Mala lies in the luminous optimism of the people being represented, and the resilience that we witness. Successful Indigenous lives are evidence of a resistance that is ongoing and untameable, and these carefree dancers demonstrate that the best revenge is a life well lived.

www.djukimala.com

Review: Oedipus Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (ATYP)

Venue: ATYP (Walsh Bay NSW), Jun 7 – 24, 2017
Playwright: Daniel Evan (after Sophocles)
Director: Fraser Corfield
Cast: Caitlin Burley, Jeremi Campese, Mia Evans Rorris, Joshua McElroy
Images by Tracey Schramm

Theatre review
The story of Oedipus and his mother/wife Jocasta has remained in our consciousness over the centuries. The resonance that it provides, whether emotional, moral or simply shocking, is unquestionably deep, but in Daniel Evan’s rendition, it is the tangents departing from the classic narrative that are its real concern. In Oedipus Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, the familiar tale of taboo and tragedy, provides the framework for a passionate and somewhat erratic theatrical experience. Less drama, more experimentation, Evan’s elaborate embellishments reflect a barrage of contemporary ideas that give an unmistakable impression of rejuvenation, although the sense of turmoil so characteristic of Sophocles’ creation is certainly missed.

Director Fraser Corfield uses the intricacies of the text, to formulate a dynamic staging memorable for its quick and vibrant episodes, featuring a host of colourful and surprising characters. The cast of four demonstrates extraordinary focus and conviction, along with an exciting inventiveness that gives their show texture, dimension and depth. Caitlin Burley and Jeremi Campese are confident players who connect effortlessly with the audience, both actors charming and entertaining with the diverse range of personality types they put forth. Mia Evans Rorris and Joshua McElroy provide stable grounding to the production, sensitive and considered in their approach to the many roles they inhabit.

The show is remarkably well designed. The formidable set, evocative of urban dilapidation is as dazzling as it is dangerous; Melanie Liertz’s transformation of the challenging space is quite an achievement. Emma Lockhart-Wilson’s lights address the play’s unrelenting movement of time and space, with excellent certitude and power. Sound by Steve Francis and Chrysoulla Markoulli’s music, give the show a splendid sophistication and cohesion.

It is not a particularly poignant retelling of Oedipus’ life, but we certainly come away gratified by the evidence of a successful collaboration, that showcases some very significant talent.

www.atyp.com.au

Review: The Village Bike (Cross Pollinate Productions)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Jun 7 – Jul 8, 2017
Playwright: Penelope Skinner
Director: Rachel Chant
Cast: Kate Bookallil, Sophie Gregg, Jamie Oxenbould, Rupert Reid, Gabrielle Scawthorn, Benedict Wall
Image by Andre Vasquez

Theatre review
Becky is unable to get laid because her husband has irrational fears regarding the baby in her womb. Increasingly frustrated, she finds herself seeking gratification elsewhere. Penelope Skinner’s very riveting The Village Bike makes a powerful statement about marriage and monogamy, and the ways in which these age-old institutions and ideologies continue to form restraints, allowing society to control the lives of individuals, women especially, from the most intimate levels.

It plays almost like a revision of the Aga saga; that genre of slightly camp, English middle-class country life drama. The characters are familiar, and their stories are set, invariably, in an unassuming domesticity. Certainly, the work is critical of the way we conceive of a respectable woman. It challenges the unquestioned rules dictating what is acceptable, and objectionable, of a woman’s sexuality, and also the language we use that gives definition, and weight, to those restrictions.

In mocking that romantic and pedestrian style of storytelling, we see the wildness of Becky’s narrative resist the confines of form. Our protagonist is not playing by the rules, so the rules quickly become visible. In breaking the illusion of happily ever after, we are compelled to study her situation, and because we can relate to Becky’s desires so completely, we have to interrogate the systematic failures that we all have to operate under.

Although political and intellectual, the production is equally stimulating on other fronts. Rachel Chant’s direction ensures each personality we meet is distinct and vividly manifested, so we know exactly what it is that makes them tick (and how they contribute to the play’s tragic circumstances). Sequences oscillate between comedy and drama effortlessly, with moments of breathtaking sexual tension giving an excellent sense of texture and dimension to what we see, hear and feel. Persistent issues with spacial use however, detract from an otherwise polished and very well-rehearsed presentation that is as engaging as it is titillating.

Gabrielle Scawthorne stars as the woman who fucks up. Honest and vulnerable, she keeps us in love with Becky through every transgression. Scawthorne is sensational in the part, thoroughly psychological and physically detailed, turning a confronting role into a beautifully empathetic creature full of charm and disarming authenticity. Supporting actors too, are impressive, each one complex and humorous, all bringing a delicious, and rare, boldness to the telling of an uncompromisingly sexual tale.

By play’s end, Becky is rendered powerless. Entrapped by a world that permits only narrow definitions of motherhood and marriage, she has nowhere to go, but to accept her subjugation. Some have said that bicycling had contributed immensely to the emancipation of women in the 1890s, but today, calling a woman a bike, is to call a woman a harlot, whore, slut, skank; a common and convenient means of suppressing female sexuality, in order that the myth of the weaker sex is perpetuated. There is no greater threat to the patriarchy than a sovereign womanhood that rejects the Madonna/Whore dichotomy. When our sex is no longer tethered to imagined virtues in concordance with family, society and culture, is when a greater liberty can be found, for all the genders.

www.crosspollinate.com.au

Review: The Clean House (New Theatre)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Jun 6 – Jul 8, 2017
Playwright: Sarah Ruhl
Director: Rosane McNamara
Cast: James Bean, Colleen Cook, Mary-Anne Halpin, Alice Livingstone, Keila Terencio
Image © Bob Seary

Theatre review
In Sarah Ruhl’s The Clean House, sisters Lane and Virginia are exemplary women who spend their days obsessing over having to do the right thing. One pursues a fabulous career in medicine, and the other indulges in an irresistible urge to clean houses. Both live in accordance with values our societies deem admirable and righteous, but neither are rewarded with enduring happiness. In fact, the only incidents of true elation in the play, are accompanied with certain death.

The perpetual state of tension between order and chaos, is a succinct way of describing all of human existence. In our desire to put things into structures of subjective logic, we come into conflict with nature, or a conception of nature, that is separate and external to the supreme beings we think ourselves to be. It seems we are the only creations of Mother Earth that insist on agendas that run contrary to the will of all else that makes up the universe.

Ruhl’s magical realism has a feeling of unassuming banality, delivered through its unmitigated look at our relationship with domesticity, yet its imaginative explorations into the often overlooked quirks of simply being, turn the everyday into something endlessly fascinating. The greatest purpose of art, is that it can re-contextualise humanity, so that the unseen is made visible, in order that we may gain new knowledge of the infinitely mysterious self. The Clean House places us firmly inside normalcy, and then reveals what lies beyond its superficial veneers.

The writing is gloriously funny, and under Rosane McNamara’s direction, Ruhl’s humour, along with an undeniable poignancy, are given full illumination. Rich with meaning and amusement, the play is captivating, thoroughly inquisitorial, and McNamara’s subtle approach with its messaging, keeps us keenly intrigued.

The actors tell the story with excellent clarity and conviction, but performance rhythms require finessing for their presentation to communicate at a tighter pace. The impressive Dr Lane is played by Mary-Anne Halpin, focused and decisive with motivations, but slightly lacking in complexity with the interpretations brought to her character. Alice Livingstone is delightful as the decidedly sad Virginia, outstandingly acerbic, and scintillating with irony. The cleaning lady, and aspiring comedian, Matilde is a vivacious presence in Keila Terencio, who delivers impressive theatrical energy, and a powerful sense of purity essential to the work’s ideology.

The personalities in The Clean House are shown for their flaws, but we know that these people cannot help themselves. We can try, and we should try, to be better people, but there is nothing that can turn us invincible. Feelings will be hurt, mistakes will be made, no matter how much we dream up safeguards and assurances. We make it a habit to act as though we are the sole determinants of fate, but there is no certainty to be found in how life wishes to pan itself out. There is however, tremendous satisfaction to be had in the experience of kindness, as we see at the show’s end, and the way acts of compassion are always able to defy regret, is one comfort we can hold on to.

www.newtheatre.org.au