Review: I Walk In Your Words (Blood Moon Theatre)

Venue: Blood Moon Theatre (Potts Point NSW), Dec 7 – 9, 2017
Director: Kristine Landon-Smith
Cast: Lily Black, Yerin Ha, Nicholas Hasemann, Elliot Mitchell, Mark Paguio, Jens Radda, Laila Rind, Nikita Waldron

Theatre review
The performers have headphones on, listening to the very recordings that they present to us. These are interviews with Australians from all walks of life, about culture, identity and belonging. Many of the stories are about the migrant experience, but Indigenous voices bring the show to an end with exceptional poignancy. I Walk In Your Words centres the discussion around those who matter equally, but who are systematically erased, in favour of the dominant colonialist ideology that white Australia tenaciously imposes.

The technique seems an inelegant proposition, but from the very instance the show begins, it becomes clear that the visually awkward headphones serve a unique and quite marvellous purpose, of unparalleled accuracy in the representation of real lives that rarely attract attention. It is not just the words that are spoken, but also the spaces surrounding those sentences, in breaths, chuckles and silence. Actors are prevented from interpretations that would change these personalities to fit standardised narratives. The headphones make it a requisite that we hear the tone, and sense the energy and aura, of the people being featured.

The interviews are compiled deliberately, to provide a picture of Australia’s minorities that is respectful and harmonious. The verbatim format proclaims objectivity, but the politics of I Walk In Your Words are unabashedly subjective. The moment we notice that only the admirable sides of these people are revealed, is when the show becomes less persuasive; the discord between its hyper naturalism and the overblown virtuousness that it poses, turns us sceptical.

The production is however, thoroughly engaging. The cast is uniformly impassioned and well-rehearsed; with every actor coming across convincing and endearing. Kristine Landon-Smith’s precise and minimal direction keeps focus appropriately on the all-important results of the interview process, although a more creative approach to lights and sound could bring valuable enhancement to the experience.

Our community is an unimaginably large one, but we all exist in little enclaves, forgetting or perhaps refusing to acknowledge, the many who are different. We may not see a pressing need to intermingle, but injustice clearly exists in the discrepancies between communities, and silence is misconstrued as consensus. The simple truth is that we cannot allow portions of Australia to suffer while others are prospering. The selfish denial of another person’s well-being, is simply oppression. To witness suffering and then choose to do nothing, is the lowest of sins.

www.bloodmoontheatre.com

Review: The Seagull (The Depot Theatre)

Venue: The Depot Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Dec 6 – 16, 2017
Playwright: Anton Chekhov (adapted by Anthony Skuse)
Director: Anthony Skuse
Cast: Jane Angharad, Paul Armstrong, Matthew Bartlett, Charmaine Bingwa, Alan Faulkner, Deborah Galanos, Tony Goh, Leilani Loau, Abe Mitchell, James Smithers, Shan-Ree Tan
Image by Bob Seary

Theatre review
The characters in Chekhov’s The Seagull seem to become increasingly obscure as the years pass. Our hectic lives are now the antithesis of Konstantin’s circle. Where Chekhov had lamented the futility of Russian lives that sat around talking too much and not doing any work, we are today, a century later, in an age where being busy is glorified, and rarely does anyone take the time to congregate and shoot the breeze. That is not to say that the truths of The Seagull are no longer valid, only that their resonance has inevitably faded.

It is a relief then, that director Anthony Skuse places emphasis on the comedy of the piece. Like the Real Housewives and the Kardashian family of reality television, the high-intensity dramatics of the wealthy are certainly fodder for laughs. Our reality involves so much time worrying about making money, but all these people seem to do, is worry about having nothing to do with their undepletable resources. Chekhov’s love for the representation of angst is however, not trivialised in the production. There are innumerable scenes of depression and anxiety, sensitively formed, often robust in their manifestation.

Skuse’s dramedy is highly enjoyable, with scintillating dialogue and playful, vibrant characters. Konstantin is performed by James Smithers, a genuinely forlorn presence, who introduces a sense of gravity that prevents the show from ever turning frivolously farcical. Deborah Galanos is outstanding as his narcissistic mother Arkadina, flamboyant with exquisite timing and an admirable capacity for nuance. Her sex scene with Abe Mitchell’s Trigorin is the unequivocal highlight, palpably revealing in more ways than one. Mitchell is himself a captivating actor, passionate and convincing. Equally memorable is Charmaine Bingwa whose emotions are as dark as they are fiery, for a viscerally despondent Masha.

Music is cleverly incorporated into many scenes, with Matthew Bartlett’s considerable talents showcased over a variety of instruments. Also noteworthy is Kyle Jonsson’s marvellous set design, providing an unmistakable aura of luxury and crumbling decadence, ably supported by the delicate lighting design of Liam O’Keefe.

The production is a dynamic one, but for all that we are able to see portrayed in its impressive range of emotions, there is a conspicuous lack of poignancy in The Seagull. We find ourselves in a strange situation, engaged but unmoved. Its personalities prove to be fascinating, but we struggle to connect with them. From another time and place, their concerns are not readily identifiable, perhaps irrelevant to the people we have become. Nevertheless, there is an undeniable beauty in the classic, that on this occasion, is splendidly revived. Relics are so called, because they survive, even as their lustre wanes.

www.secrethouse.com.au

5 Questions with Tony Goh and Shan-Ree Tan

Tony Goh

Shan-Ree Tan: So who’s Tony Goh, and how’d he come to be in a theatre in Marrickville with the rest of us?
Tony Goh: Tony is an Australian born Chinese. I was born in Brisbane, grew up in Marrickville, got married, lived in the US for 13 years, started a family – I have two young boys 15 and 13. I have returned to Marrickville through an odd journey and co-incidences. I am currently studying acting and was interested in doing a stage play. Over the past two decades, I dabbled in TV, commercials, and film – including two in the US. So, I have constantly re-inserted acting into my life, perhaps because I am always interested in the lives of others, how others live.

You play a character who’s a big fan of theatre in this play. What’re you a big fan of in real life in that way?
Definitely a fan of movies, but then again who isn’t? I was bitten by the acting bug really young, at age 16, when I went heard they were auditioning for the role of an Asian shopkeeper in a very shortlived TV series called “Arcade” shot in Cremorne shopping arcade. I couldn’t really turn my back away after that even though I never got the part. I’m also a fan of cooking and staying in shape.

We’ve got a pretty diverse cast for a Chekhov, I reckon. Do you feel particularly as an Asian face you’ve got more to prove as an actor? Or does it not really worry you? It worries me…
If I were to enter the entertainment business today, I would feel more pressure to prove myself. Sure there’s still pressure, it comes with the territory. But back in my day…god I sound old, there were fewer parts for Asians, mostly stereotyped roles. I think the Australians are now accustomed to seeing Asians as being well, just Aussies, so there’s little in the way of having to conform to some image. We can just be actors/characters/people. However, I also think there are more roles for Asians nowadays which means there’s a lot more opportunity to showcase the available talent. I think the pressure to prove as an Asian actor could stem from the fact that Asian culture is one of conformity. Conformity and creativity are at odds. It is those Asians or any migrant culture who best absorbs the available culture that will be able to grow and develop as both actors and members of society. I think the issue is one of broader acceptance. We’re lucky in Australia in some respects because we tend to focus on producing drama, which opens the way for dramatic roles, character based. Whereas when I cast my eyes to Hollywood, there tend to be more stereotyped Asian roles. The US is getting better sure with shows like “Fresh Off the boat” but those are few and far between as you’d be hard-pressed to see many Asian actors playing characters as opposed to caricatures.

You’re always a terrifically jovial presence in rehearsal. What have you enjoyed the most about director Anthony Skuse’s process?
I have enjoyed Anthony’s insight, creativity, and patience. He is a great communicator, as a result, you have a clear picture of what is expected of you and what he wants from the scene, the emotion. One of the questions he’s asked us, certainly me, is who is my character, and what do the people around the character mean to my character. Those are questions to shape my own thoughts and bring my own interpretation of the character, yet remain truthful. It is amazing what that has accomplished and the clarity it brings to the preparation process. I also enjoy the cast. We’re a mixed bunch and get along well. We know we have a job to do and we’re not assholes going about it.

What kind of role/project would you want to tackle next, if you had to make a total change from this gig?
A tough question. I won’t go into the personal side of my life, but let’s just say the last four years of my life have been a wild ride, an adventure if you will. I feel I am still trying to find my way in life. I would very much love to pursue further acting endeavours, perhaps as a regular on TV drama series – the typical lawyer, doctor, cop thriller comes to mind. I have long since given up on the dream of making a living in acting, so whatever morsel comes my way I am deeply grateful for.

Shan-Ree Tan

Tony Goh: What are you enjoying about working in this play?
Shan-Ree Tan: Ah, everything. Even the challenges of rehearsing on a co-op schedule and all the technical
curveballs that come with any show. Working with Anthony has been brilliant – I’ve really gotten a lot out of his literate, rigorous approach to text and his direction, which is somehow both entirely intuitive yet absolutely precise, and demanding while also being really supportive – and he’s got a great sense of humour. Really enjoying soaking up the learning from our experienced and generous castmates and crew too: serious about the work without taking themselves seriously at all. Definitely feeling like I have to jog very very briskly to keep up, but same, I’m grateful for the chance I’ve got even to share a stage with these folks.

What do you see as the future of acting in a multi-cultural Australia?
Big question! I’m not equipped at all to make any informed predictions – but like you, I’d like to see the performing arts here get to a point similar to where the UK industry seems largely to have gotten to, where it’s largely unremarkable to see culturally diverse actors in almost any production. “Unremarkable” is probably the wrong word. What I mean is that I hope that we can work to make two things happen: one is that we get to an overall much, much better place with “any ethnicity” or colourblind casting where that’s appropriate, and the other is that the appetite for the kinds of Australian stories where an actor’s cultural or ethnic background is an active asset, and can be appropriately provocative, continues to increase. The challenges will be quite radically different for actors from different cultural backgrounds – Indigenous representation or Middle Eastern representation are good examples – so the solutions to perennial hurdles like stereotyping and tokenism will be different.

We’ve seen a quite a few trailblazing Asian arts and media personalities take stage here in recent years and it’s going to be really interesting to see that develop. I’m particularly interested in what’s going to happen in the conversation between media/arts representation reflective of folks like us who grew up in Sydney and are more Aussie than anything else – out in the Hills in my case and in Marrickville in yours – against the popular culture of the beachhead communities of the “new Asia” who are paying attention to a whole other vast entertainment industry. The cultural gulf there alone can be huge, I’m keen to see how it plays out. As far as our production goes: people may wonder why this particular diverse cast was chosen to portray a bunch of ostensible 19th century Russians, particularly with our wildly differing regionalisms, but I like that it adds a new musical range and quite a powerful meta element to it. The play is literally about trying to reinvent theatre in a social context, so I reckon it rewards the approach that Anthony’s taken.

What movie/theatre stars do you admire and why?
Too many, for too many different reasons. A few completely random names from things I’ve seen this year:
Blazey Best. Not reasonable for someone to be able to be that funny and musical while literally standing on her head in the Wharf Review this year. Rob Brydon/Steve Coogan/Michael Winterbottom, the collective team. The Trip was life-changing. Takeshi Kitano. Big fan of his consistent ability to find the darkest, driest laugh possible at everyone’s expense and that he keeps finding new ways to provoke. Kate Mulvany. That lady knows how to Shakespeare. Gary Oldman. He seems to know precisely where to set the dial for whatever movie he’s in. Taika Waititi. What a mad Kiwi wizard. Thanks to my girlfriend for forcing me to sit down to watch What We Do In The Shadows for the first time earlier this year. We’re also at a moment where creatives are using whatever recognition they have to take a stand and speak out on the critical social and political issues that are roiling us right now, even at massive professional and personal cost to themselves. That’s hugely admirable.

What do you think happened (to the characters) after this play?
Is it still possible to spoil the ending of a 120 year old classic? Chekhov’s got a very particular definition of “comedy” – things are just not going to work out well for most of them are they…? Your character, Shamraev, probably makes off all right – I like to think he basically gets left with the estate to do with as he likes. Your wife Polina might have convinced the good doctor Dorn to run off with her before then though. Masha: cirrhosis. Medvedenko: pneumonia, from all that walking through Russian snow.

What don’t your friends know about you, that only your closest, or longest time friends do?
All my vocal impressions of people are now actually just take offs of Rob Brydon doing far superior impressions of those people. To be fair, people work that out pretty fast.

Tony Goh and Shan-Ree Tan can be seen in The Seagull by Anton Chekhov.
Dates: 6 – 16 Dec, 2017
Venue: The Depot Theatre

Review: Knots (The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Dec 5 – 17, 2017
Creators: Gareth Boylan, Kerri Glasscock, Michael Pigott
Director: Gareth Boylan
Cast: Giles Gartrell-Mills, Kerri Glasscock, Michael Pigott
Image by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Jerry likes watching people, as if he has never seen people before. At the theatre, we have the opportunity to look at ourselves as though aliens have just landed. With fresh eyes, we might be able to gain new knowledge about humankind, and perhaps learn to do things better.

Knots prides itself on being obscure and random; keen to speak but not to explain. There is space travel in the mix, and certainly a lot of exploration into all things weird and wonderful. Just as the earth spins on its own accord, we have to go along for the ride, and figure things out the best we can.

The work is fabulously theatrical, and notwithstanding its minimal set design, very pleasing for the senses. Director Gareth Boylan’s manipulations of atmosphere is magical. He persuades our minds to attend to the poetry of Knots, and to make secondary our usual obsession with logic and narrative. Meaning happens, but not at our demand.

The conscious mind is only one part of our constitution. When we find ourselves wholly present and immersed in a work of art, interaction with it involves more than what can be thought through. Knots disrupts conventional reliance on the standardised language of our storytelling. It seeks to communicate in alternate ways, in order perhaps, that we may attain a level of awareness previously unavailable.

Giles Gartrell-Mills, Kerri Glasscock and Michael Pigott perform the piece with excellent focus and discipline. Occasional smatterings of humour provide a sense of dimension, and emotional volatility that seem to appear unexpectedly, helps us connect.

Most plays can be written down and re-staged, but Knots does not want to work that way. It is hard to imagine that the written word will satisfactorily capture its style and essence; its desire is to go boldly where no person has gone before. What we want from theatre, is vastly different from what a good book can deliver. At its most fundamental, theatre is about community and collaboration. It rejects distance and proxy, so you really had to be there.

www.old505theatre.com

Review: Barbara And The Camp Dogs (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Dec 2 – 23, 2017
Playwrights: Alana Valentine, Ursula Yovich
Director: Leticia Cáceres
Cast: Troy Brady, Elaine Crombie, Jessica Dunn, Michelle Vincent, Debbie Yap, Ursula Yovich
Image by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Barbara has a lot of fun in the city, singing at bars and events, being independent and vivacious. She is a mischievous character, and together with her cousin René, they paint the town red on the regular, determined to devour all that life has to offer, and to escape the troubling roots of their outback origins. Barbara And The Camp Dogs by Alana Valentine and Ursula Yovich, falls into categories of the musical and the epic journey, but it is a consistently surprising ride that defies all manner of expectations.

Barbara does well in life, but as an Aboriginal woman, the scars that she carries are deep, agonising and easier left ignored. When she finds herself having to return home to fulfil her filial obligations, all that she tries to deny, come flooding back to taunt her. The play expresses the nature of that immense suffering, with extraordinary acuity. Barbara and René sing, because so much of Indigenous experience is beyond our usual capacities of speech. In Barbara And The Camp Dogs, we are able to connect with the injustice and pain that have become entrenched in Black Australia. It divulges with power and wit, through its songs and storytelling, the darkest, most hidden of many Indigenous women’s lives.

It is impossible to overstate Jessica Dunn’s achievements as musical director. Barbara’s secret inner world turns intimately palpable, via influences of rock and soul, for a mode of communication sublime in its startling veracity. The songs move us as though a spiritual entity has taken hold. We are guided from scene to scene, with emotional intensity, precise and lush at every juncture.

Director Leticia Cáceres imbues the show with a warm glow, enchanting and irresistibly alluring. Everything about Barbara And The Camp Dogs is designed to have us fall in love with its characters and their narratives, and we endear to it all, readily and completely. There are occasional instances of abruptness in the transition of scenes, that can be slightly disorienting, but the raw aesthetic of the production is a forgiving one. Moreover, any blemishes would be easily shielded by the show’s incredibly charismatic stars.

The sensational voices and effervescent personalities of Ursula Yovich and Elaine Crombie win us over effortlessly, from the very beginning. The harmony forged between the two is a delight to our ears and to our hearts; what they present is wonderfully tender and exceptionally real. Yovich in particular, moves us in the most profound but unexpected ways. Telling us Barbara’s story of intolerable suffering, is not for a moment of catharsis, but a lasting gift of inspiration. We observe and learn, and promise to do better, to do more.

Barbara is not a social justice warrior. She is not a conscious activist, but she has to fight every day of her life, to defend herself against structural forces determined to keep her down. Australia’s shameful history of genocide, originating from the illegitimate claim of terra nullius in 1788, has reverberations that remain cruel and potent in the twenty-first century. A semblance of equality is not sufficient to heal these dreadfully severe wounds. Meaningful reparations will cost, but they must be made.

www.belvoir.com.au

Review: Andrew Henry’s Vertical Dreaming (Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Dec 5 – 15, 2017
Director: Andrew Henry
Cast: Andrew Henry
Image by John Marmaras

Theatre review
For Andrew Henry’s Vertical Dreaming, its eponym is for 50 minutes, onstage with songs and poems that have proved significant to his healing process, earlier in the year, at a mental health facility. Depression and bipolar disorder are discussed alongside addiction and lost loves, through a compilation of works by male poets, presented in the form of a monologue. Musical interludes by an accomplished band of four, add colour and breathing space to the production.

Henry reveals that the struggle of psychological disorders is an isolating one, with patients unable to extricate themselves from the constant torment of interminable introspection and self-flagellation. Unable to shift his attention away, meaningfully, to the outside world, that incessant examination of the self becomes perniciously despairing and narcissistic. The show attempts to engage our empathy, but it is our logical responses that are initiated, and we leave with a better understanding of our humanly dysfunctions.

It is a very strong performance by Henry, whose compelling presence and admirable skill as actor, has us spellbound to his adroit storytelling. The vulnerability he puts on display is immense, and it represents the most valuable element in this instance of live drama, but for all the anguish that we do witness, the message it ultimately imparts, is comparatively lacklustre.

Pain can only ever be subjective, but in art, it becomes communicable. To turn one’s suffering into a matter of relevance for another, is not often a straightforward exercise. Each can only perceive existence from their own vantage point, which the artist must negotiate with savvy and ingenuity. Everyone is susceptible to mental illness, but until we experience things firsthand, the chasm between sympathy and actuality, requires the greatest of sensitivity.

www.redlineproductions.com.au

Review: Wasted (The Kings Collective)

Venue: The Factory Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Dec 1 – 9, 2017
Playwright: Kate Tempest
Director: Elsie Edgerton-Till
Cast: Jack Crumlin, David Harrison, Eliza Scott
Image by Robert Catto

Theatre review
Charlotte, Danny and Ted live in England where, like in all developed nations, opportunities abound. It is never easy though, to get ahead, to carve out a life, even when all the fruit is ripe for one’s picking. We stand in our own way, with psychological barriers that exist mainly as a result of social conditioning, or maybe the competitive nature of our economies are determined to make losers out of some, in order that the rich can get richer.

Kate Tempest’s Wasted does not take a strong stance on the external factors that affect English youth, but makes a case for personal responsibility. These are able-bodied, heterosexual, white people after all. Tempest is frustrated with the way these twenty-somethings jeopardise their own lives, when they clearly know better. This generation is given all the information and resources they require, yet many are unable to create a meaningful existence, choosing instead to languish in drugs, alcohol, in a state of perpetual purgatory.

The play’s message is simple, but Tempest’s writing is extraordinary. The passion with which her ideas are articulated, and the emotive use of language, go for the jugular, and we are held captive by the sheer intensity that the playwright builds into every line of dialogue. Directed by Elsie Edgerton-Till, the production is correspondingly powerful. Choreography for several of its more theatrical moments could be improved, but there is no question that Tegan Nicholls’ music is a source of energy that adds a great deal of excitement to the show.

Most memorable of all, is the trio of actors that bring scintillating life to the piece. We are shaken by Eliza Scott’s compassion as Charlotte, whose purity of spirit shines through, amid the despondent confusion of her pessimistic narrative. Together with Jack Crumlin’s convincingly crestfallen Danny, the couple’s love story moves us, in spite of the carelessness with which they regard each other. Ted is played by the charming David Harrison, who entertains us with an inexorable ebullience. The three strike the perfect balance in providing amusement, along with a sincerity and a sense of urgency that keeps us heedful of the work’s pertinence.

For those who have the privilege of access, the only real definition of failure, is when they ignore the opportunities that have been made available. There is no need to subscribe to how the concept of success is generally construed, but one has to understand the destructiveness that can be self-inflicted. When we have the freedom to decide for ourselves, what is good and bad, values can be poorly judged, and individual lives can turn to waste. Not everyone should aspire to be a millionaire, but we must all try to give more than we take, and to leave the world a better place.

www.tkcaus.com