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

Review: Virgins And Cowboys (Motherboard Productions)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Nov 30 – Dec 16, 2017
Playwright: Morgan Rose
Director: Dave Sleswick
Cast: Katrina Cornwall, George Lingard, James Deeth, Penny Harpham, Kieran Law
Image by Ashley de Prazer

Theatre review
The characters in Morgan Rose’s Virgins And Cowboys are in a constant state of struggle. Unable to identify anything authentic in their lives, they go about their days acting upon desires that never seem to come from within. We observe these derivative existences, and wonder how much of our own being, is a result of the control that others exert. The question of self-determination, it appears, is always a tricky one, even though it is clear that narcissism is never in short supply.

The play is a cryptic and therefore challenging one, although the nature of our libido is unquestionably at the centre of its explorations. Sexuality motivates the five personalities, and fuels our imagination. The things we do as a matter of course; the fucking, the procreation, the careers, are put under a microscope, devoid of delusion and romance, so that we may examine our behaviours, with perhaps, some sense of objective accuracy. It is an interrogation into our unconscious masochism, an attempt to locate what it is that we do to ourselves, that makes us so miserable.

Beautiful and quietly surreal, the production is inventively designed by a team of creatives impressive in their artistic rigour. Sound by Liam Barton is edgy, often quirky, in its definition of a space, both fragile and phantasmal. Lisa Mibus’ lights are sensual, surprising, and entertainingly dynamic. The evocative set and costumes establish the tone of the show, succinctly assembled by Yvette Turnbull.

Director Dave Sleswick’s academic approach can be confounding, but his ability to manufacture intrigue, keeps us on tenterhooks. There is a lot to be curious about, and Sleswick does a marvellous job of sustaining our attention without ever damaging the mysterious qualities of Virgins And Cowboys. He never reveals too much, and only very little is explained.

The cast is splendid. Uniformly and cohesively vivacious, each actor brings a sense of luxuriant depth to the discussions that they facilitate. Even when we lose sight of the point being made, the people on stage are full of conviction, infallible with their undisclosed narratives at the heart of Virgins And Cowboys‘ absurdist aesthetic.

We can show each other all kinds of practices and all manners of wanting, but for an individual to discover the essence and truth of their own being, the exercise of introspection is imperative. So much of how we spend each day is reliant on emulation; people will tell us how we should act, and what is required of us, but it is not always clear to the self, when the social and personal are melded, and confused. When we observe the dissatisfaction of characters in Virgins And Cowboys, and recognise our universal conundrum, the impulse is to stop, for a moment of evaluation. Consumed by the world, we rarely take stock of things habitual. We settle for being lesser, when we forget to question.

www.motherboardproductions.com.au