Review: Debris (Blood Moon Theatre / LZA Theatre)

Venue: Blood Moon Theatre (Potts Point NSW), Jan 30 – Feb 10, 2018
Playwright: Dennis Kelly
Director: Liz Arday
Cast: Aslan Abdus-samad, Lana Kershaw
Image by Zaina Ahmed

Theatre review
It was only several weeks ago, at the very beginning of 2018, that we first heard about the shocking case of the Turpin family in California, where 13 children were discovered to have been held captive and tortured by their own parents. In Dennis Kelly’s 2003 play Debris, we meet Michelle and Michael, teenage siblings neglected, abused and exposed to horrific conditions at home. Under the care of adults who are perhaps insane, or simply evil, the atrocities that we witness are the stuff of nightmares.

The play is intense and confrontational, possibly exploitative in its relentless depictions of trauma. Director Liz Arday establishes an enticing style and mood for her production, informed by cabaret traditions, complete with microphone stands and tinsel curtains, but there is a repetitious quality to the way its scenes are carried out that can wear thin. Nonetheless, Debris is memorable for excellent design work, with Arday’s own sensitive work on sound and Liam O’Keefe’s adventurous lights, both in collusion to manufacture a sense of electrifying theatricality and macabre decadence.

Two powerful actors bring the characters to life, on a stage that they imbue with frenzied savagery. Aslan Abdus-samad is a captivating presence, delivering spectacle after spectacle, with his penchant for the extravagant. Also very glamorous is Lana Kershaw, who proves herself the consummate storyteller, able to convey depths of meaning and emotion, in addition to her splendid recital of Kelly’s ostentatious words.

Art allows us to delve into the good and bad of humanity, but some behaviour it seems, will forever be beyond comprehension. The best that Debris can do, is to convince us of the depravity that we are capable of, and even though we hunger for an understanding of the origins of these extremities, we should probably be grateful that such abomination exists outside of our personal consciousness. The fact remains that we are capable of terrible things, and societies need to prevent them from occurring, whether or not we know how they come to be. The protection of children, especially, requires no justification. We only need to be aware of the dangers they are susceptible to, and look after them with unflagging vigilance.

www.lza-theatre.xyz | www.bloodmoontheatre.com

Review: Blind Tasting (The Old 505 Theatre / Subtlenuance)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Jan 30 – Feb 3, 2018
Playwright: Paul Gilchrist
Director: Paul Gilchrist
Cast: Sylvia Keays
Image by Liam O’Keefe

Theatre review
To thoroughly experience this mysterious thing called life, we have no real alternative but to dive into it head first. In Blind Tasting, Sophie learns the ropes as she goes along. Unlike her colleague Kirstie, who is determined to control everything, Sophie realises instinctively, the futility of that fussy perfectionist approach. Of course, mistakes are made, and heartache ensues, but there is no doubting Sophie’s self-determined way to a richer and wiser existence.

As we sip the wine that Sophie offers, we notice the thrill of the unknown and observe how essential it is to have an appreciation for the precarious and insecure qualities of our being. The wine may or may not be delicious, but it is only in the tasting of it, that one can be certain. No other opinion can ever take the place of that subjective participation.

Written by Paul Gilchrist, Blind Tasting is potent with its sense of joyful optimism, expressed through the playwright’s penchant for a poetic language that is remarkably luscious and evocative. The one-woman show is performed by Sylvia Keays, a presence that is gentle but persuasive, especially effective in the play’s moments of melancholy. The production is an engaging one, refreshing in its use of wine tasting as situation and analogy, but its delivery of drama requires greater gumption, for us to have a firmer identification with its narrative, and for its point to be made with stronger resonance.

Connoisseurs occupy themselves with the grading and sparring, of every wine bottle that they come across. It is human nature to compare and categorise the things we make contact with, but the deeper we get, into games of “finding the best”, the narrower our perspectives become, and the smaller our worlds devolve. With every label that we put on things, we also cast upon them, the restriction of possibilities. Sophie learns not to accept the pigeonholes that people want for her, and we wish for her to break the rules, as and when they find her.

www.old505theatre.com | www.subtlenuance.com

5 Questions with Claudette Clarke and Diana Popovska

Claudette Clarke

Diana Popovska: Which character do you most relate to in Metamorphoses and why?
Claudette Clarke: I am not sure which character I most relate to in Metamorphoses but I have researched Aphrodite the most because she is the main character I play and some of these qualities are parts of my personality. Aphrodite is mischievous, angry and revengeful to mortals who refuse to fall in love. Goddess of love, sex and procreation; beauty, seduction, pleasure and happiness. Antithesis curses for non-compliance of the laws of love are: Sexual repulsion; Unnatural desires (incest, bestiality, etc.); Love unreciprocated; Ugliness. Some of these curses are played out in Metamorphoses.

This is your second time working with Dino, how is it different?
I worked with Dino many years ago in his very memorable production of To Kill A Mockingbird. Almost the entire season was booked out and people still talk about the production. The plays are both “classics” and here Dino is directing a queer reading of Zimmerman’s modern adaptation of Ovid’s verse to reflect current times. I am really enjoying working with him again. I love the way he pushes boundaries. As an actor of African Caribbean decent, I immediately identified with the topic of black and white in Mockingbird whereas it was interesting for me to think in more depth about gender mixes. Although I have always readily accepted difference, this reading pushed me to think further. This production reinforces my belief that, as humans, all we ask is to be respected and loved for who we are.

What has been your favourite moment in rehearsals so far?
My favourite moment in rehearsals came when Johnny Hawkins joined the cast. He has a way of playing and having fun with the characters, exploring possibilities, which is what is required.

Why do you believe this queer reading of ‘Metamorphoses’ is particularly important for the queer community to see?
I think that it is particularly important for the queer community to see this queer reading of Metamorphoses because these poems from Ovid were probably completed around AD 8. It may be reassuring to learn that stories of broader sexual and gender identities have existed for so long.

What excites you most about the staging of this play?
A cast of 10 actors on a tiny stage the whole time promises to be all-encompassing for an intimate audience to experience. The Old Fitz Theatre is one of the most intimate creative theatre spaces in Sydney.

Diana Popovska

Claudette Clarke: What parts of your personality as a human does your parts bring out?
Diana Popovska: I feel like this production and the parts I have been cast in bring out my playfulness as a human more than anything else. It has been such a beautiful experience introducing ‘play’ into the rehearsal room from day one. This has allowed me to connect with the text, our queer reading of the text and my fellow actors in a way which has been visceral and raw. This production has also brought out my queerness and sensual energy, and highlighted how fabulous I feel as a queer woman making theatre.

How does the “queer reading” of Metamorphoses impact on your interpretation of your parts?
I think it is important to understand that these stories are universal. For me, the several characters that I play in this production all experience various human emotions such as grief, love, heartache, lust and so on… This “queer reading” if anything allows me to celebrate more than ever these characters and their experiences, as well as stand there and fight for them and their right to be represented on an Australian stage.

What made you interested to be part of this production of Metamorphoses?
I have always wanted to work with Dino Dimitriadis as a director and when I found out that he was doing Metamorphoses I wanted in because I was incredibly interested to see what he would do with a text so colossal. As a queer identifying woman, I wanted to represent my community on stage during Mardi Gras. I mostly wanted to do this production because I knew it would be a celebration of queerness, a celebration of ‘difference’ and a celebration of the unwavering and all enduring human spirit in the face of hardship.

What kind of kid were you at school?
I was a little bit of a nerd / a little bit cool. I loved playing cards at lunch time and I was even on the debating team for a while. Drama class was my favourite, but I also really enjoyed playing sport too. I feel like I was super friendly with everyone in my year, we had a pretty tight year. I was pretty confident and ‘cool’, except for when it came to telling my high school crush, Katie that I liked them. I was super bashful around her and other girls I liked, and you know what they say, “you snooze, you lose!”.

How do you envisage theatre changing since ‘same sex marriage’ became legal in Australia?
I am hoping that far more companies will open their doors to allow for queer stories to be staged. I am hoping that this will allow for more queer identifying artists and creatives to create work and to see themselves represented in others work far more rapidly. If anything, the arts in Australia have been behind ‘same sex marriage’ for a long while now, it’s actually our government that has needed to pull their finger out. But now that the horrible plebiscite is over, I hope for love and inclusiveness for all queer identifying people and their allies both on and off stage.

Claudette Clarke and Diana Popovska are appearing in Metamorphoses, by Mary Zimmerman.
Dates: 8 February – 10 March, 2018
Venue: Old Fitz Theatre

Review: Darlinghurst Nights (Hayes Theatre)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), Jan 4 – Feb 3, 2018
Book: Katherine Thomson (based on the book by Kenneth Slessor, and original concept by Andrew James)
Music: Max Lambert
Director: Lee Lewis
Cast: Baylie Carson, Andrew Cutcliffe, Natalie Gamsu, Abe Mitchell, Billie Rose Prichard, Sean O’Shea, Justin Smith
Image by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
For many who reside in Sydney, the Darlinghurst area marks the heart of our city. It may not be the official “central business district”, but its spirit represents how we think of home, at our most wistful moments. Darlinghurst Nights, the musical and the locale alike, are a little tawdry and decadent, always seedy but romantic, full of melancholic nostalgia. The story by Katherine Thomson, based on Kenneth Slessor’s 1933 book, is a bittersweet embodiment of the bohemian essence we love associating with Sydney and the Kings Cross area, inventively devoid of the bourgeoisie.

Colourful characters and their dramatic stories are brought to the stage by Lee Lewis’ passionate direction, offering dreamy and ghostly tribute to lives that continue to gloriously disgrace the area. Historical tales are accompanied by Lee’s modern sensibility, allowing for a convergence of past and present, so that we relate intimately with the action unfolding before us. The production is cleverly designed by Mason Browne, whose set and costumes help to tell the story with remarkable sophistication and minimal fuss. Lighting designer Trent Suidgeest is especially noteworthy with his very thorough and imaginative work, in introducing a sense of poetic evanescence to all that we see, persistently exploring ideas for emotional landscapes that keep us firmly engaged with the show.

The cast is strong, a well-rehearsed bunch admirable for their restrained approach to the musical format. Each personality is convincingly portrayed, and whether raspy voiced or vividly sparkling in tone, every song is performed with great conviction. There is exceptional beauty in Max Lambert’s music for Darlinghurst Nights. Crossing over from classical to jazz and pop, Lambert has the intricately conceived entirety blended into one seamless work, that feels so marvellously accurate in its sonic representation of this city.

Ultimately, it is all illusory of course, our sentimental fantasy of this Sydney that has no big business, no bureaucracy and no black history. In Darlinghurst Nights, the truth is not allowed to get in the way of a good story, but as this nation strives to move towards a stronger future, a greater honesty needs to inform the way we think and talk about ourselves. We can no longer afford to leave buried, all our hard and inconvenient truths.

www.hayestheatre.com.au

Review: Mother (Belvoir St Theatre / If Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Jan 24 – Fe 11, 2018
Playwright: Daniel Keene
Director: Matt Scholten
Cast: Noni Hazlehurst
Image by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Christie’s misfortune is deeper than any we have ever encountered. Having lost everything, she is on the streets with only memories of trauma, to while the days away, like a waking recurring nightmare. Daniel Keene’s Mother is about the hardest life a person can bear, a shocking Greek tragedy made real and salient for our times. It goes beyond an examination of mental health deterioration, to create a portrayal of the person underneath the illness, with all her humanity intact.

Keene is fascinated by the monster or, more accurately, the social pariah, but is interested in reaching a compassionate understanding of what we usually and conveniently regard as abhorrent. Mother insists that we connect with its subject. Countless moments of disarming poignancy, make us identify with this strange creature. It rejects our impulse to think of Christie as alien and disposable, insisting that we walk a mile in her shoes.

The role is magnificently performed by Noni Hazlehurst, who proves that perfection in art, is attainable and not just an abstract construct. She presents her one-woman show with flawless technical brilliance, leaving us in awe of the superhuman feat that is under way, whilst keeping us firmly locked into the narrative of Christie’s utter destitution. Hazlehurst being at the top of her game, allows us to see so clearly, what it is like for a woman languishing at the very bottom of the heap. The actor’s capacity for persuasion is extraordinary. The sense of authenticity that Hazlehurst is able to convey, feels boundless; there seems no delineation between the suffering of actor and character. She tells a tale of pain, and we are shaken by it, no matter where we think the anguish comes from.

It is an exceedingly elegant piece of direction by Matt Scholten, whose minimal approach is impressive in its confidence, but it is questionable if the staging adequately addresses Belvoir’s comparatively large auditorium. The production is a dynamic one that oscillates deftly between states declarative and poetic, with the quieter scenes tending to wane slightly in the big hall. Sound design by Darius Kerdijk is inventive and effectively evocative, and Tom Willis’ lights add an ephemeral beauty to the potent melancholy he establishes for the space. Costume designer Kat Chan ensures that Christie looks every bit the vagrant we pretend not to see in every Australian city.

A tremendous sadness permeates the play, and we are moved to consider our relationship with the homeless. Whether or not we wish to make personal connections, it is of fundamental importance that we are cognisant of our responsibilities regarding all the neighbours who surround us, no matter how they reside. Humanity is worth nothing, if we choose not to care for those in need. Christie, like any human being, is not blameless, but the moment we give up on trying to bring improvements to her life, is when we have to seriously interrogate our priorities as a first-world society.

www.belvoir.com.au

Review: Sorting Out Rachel (Ensemble Theatre)

Venue: Ensemble Theatre (Kirribilli NSW), Jan 19 – Mar 17, 2018
Playwright: David Williamson
Director: Nadia Tass
Cast: Chenoa Deemal, Glenn Hazeldine, John Howard, Jenna Owen, Natalie Saleeba
Image by Heidrun Lohr

Theatre review
Bruce is an old man with a lot of money, sixty million dollars to be exact, and a life with no troubles except in deciding what to do with it all when he dies. David Williamsons’ Sorting Out Rachel is clearly not a story for the “ordinary Australian”, although some of its scenes where family members connive and fight over inheritance would resonate with many. It is also a “father knows best” story where the patriarch interferes with his daughter Julie’s life, and manages to solve all her problems over a few days quite miraculously, as though a knight in shining armour had descended upon her household, out of the blue.

The play never feels very realistic, with Julie’s unexplained ineptitude particularly conspicuous, but the conflicts that arise from Williamson’s depictions of a feuding family, are nonetheless entertaining. The eponymous Rachel is played by the very compelling Jenna Owen, who impresses with an energetic, if slightly too histrionic, portrayal of a recalcitrant teenager. John Howard is suitably august as her grandfather Bruce, and Natalie Saleeba becomes increasingly believable, as Julie gradually gains strength through the later half.

Glenn Hazeldine is a mischievously charming presence, and probably the most convincing of the group, even if his ploys as Julie’s husband Craig, are far too transparent to hold water. Chenoa Deemal is memorable as Bruce’s illegitimate daughter Tess, the Indigenous personality brought into the story, not only as inspiration for Bruce to think about his wealth as a vehicle for benevolence, but also for us to understand the cultural dimensions of the middle-class crises we encounter.

Ideas about inheritance in Sorting Out Rachel seem in many ways, to be borne out of the family’s European heritage and the individualism that whiteness extols. Wealth, and property, are essentially personal, almost never communal, to the extent that even family members are routinely refused access. Bruce’s prosperity comes from real estate, but in Australia, issues of land ownership remain gravely contentious.

www.ensemble.com.au

Review: Three In The Bed (Birdie Productions)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Jan 11 – 26, 2018
Book, Music & Lyrics: Jonathon Holmes
Director: Jonathon Holmes
Cast: Adin Milostnik, Daniella Mirels, Caroline Oayda, Alicia Rose Quinn, Aaron Robuck
Image by Douglas Frost

Theatre review
It is not the first time we come across a work of fiction, about three women falling crazy in love with one very unexceptional man. These stories never make any sense, of course, and because we are in this supposedly “woke” year of 2018, it is understandable if many were to find that tired narrative a particularly painful one to have to tolerate. Jonathon Holmes’ Three In The Bed is infuriating for the feminist viewer, and the number of us who will not accept that kind of unimaginative and inconsiderate writing, is increasing by the legions.

Its women are completely objectified, and none of the characters bear any sense of complexity or even attempt to be in any way remotely realistic. It is astonishing that songs about “why doesn’t he like me?” and “let me clean your room” are being unleashed on Australian audiences, in this day and age.
Sexually exploitative scenarios (the production’s unabashed selling point) are manufactured, just for laughs, but in the absence of verisimilitude, humour simply becomes impossible. When people do laugh, it is in response to the purposely uncomfortable sexuality being portrayed. The show tries repeatedly to tickle, but we can only cringe in response.

There is however, real talent in Holmes’ musical ability, and his hopeless passion for the Broadway genre is evident. The cast is undoubtedly skillful and their exuberance, quite miraculously, carries the show, with Caroline Oayda eminently memorable in the role of Emma, bringing exceptional flair and prowess to the stage. The performers work hard, and smart, but they are powerless in trying to redeem these deeply unfortunate depictions of womanhood.

www.threeinthebedmusical.com