Review: Speaking In Tongues (Chippen Street Theatre)

Venue: Chippen Street Theatre (Chippendale NSW), Jun 29 – Jul 7, 2018
Playwright: Andrew Bovell
Director: Jake Ludlow
Cast: Elsa Cherlin, Dale William Morgan, Simon Thomson, Josie Waller

Theatre review
A woman disappears in Andrew Bovell’s Speaking In Tongues, but it is the relationships surrounding the incident that are its focus. It is an unconventionally structured play about ordinary heterosexual people, and through Bovell’s contorting lens, our every day is made strange to reveal the inconspicuous nature of what takes place beneath the surface. Our dysfunctions as individuals and as couples, are brought to light, refreshing but bleak in their honesty.

A team of young actors play the middle age characters of Speaking In Tongues. A noticeable deficiency in maturity is thus inevitable, but there is certainly no shortage of conviction in what they deliver. Act Two commences with the cast performing a series of monologues, proving themselves particularly engaging when working autonomously. Director Jake Ludlow’s attempts at theatrical embellishment are well-intentioned, but his strengths reside more persuasively in the production’s plainer sequences. It is a raw presentation, with a healthy quotient of promise put on clear display.

There are things we pay little attention to, that quietly engineer the way we experience the world. The personalities in Speaking In Tongues are absorbed in all their immediate concerns, but it is us, watching from the sidelines who are able to decipher the deeper implications of their entanglements. There is a missing person in the play who works as a consolidating device, but in this not unappealing piece of drama about the bourgeois, we see that everyone is lost inside their own discontentment, and come to an understanding of the triviality inherent in so much of our own suffering.

www.chippenstreet.com | www.gradco.studio

Review: Toby Schmitz Live (Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Jun 26 – 29, 2018
Playwright: Toby Schmitz
Cast: Toby Schmitz

Theatre review
It is a convention in autobiographies that they involve vignettes of major significance, with important occurrences that have shaped a person’s being, occupying centre stage. Typically, one gives a recount in chronology, from a childhood that reveals background and ancestry, through to career highlights and personal triumphs, always with a healthy dose of trauma placed strategically, to elicit some sort of poignancy from its audience. In Toby Schmitz Live, an actor-slash-playwright talks about himself in a disarmingly casual manner, rejecting the obvious constraints of aforementioned assumptions, to paint a self-portrait using rules of his own determination. We obtain an impression of the artist, entirely accurate and immediate, but secrets remain undisclosed.

There might be no dirty laundry to speak of, but Schmitz’s presentation is not devoid of vulnerability. The complete absence of a fourth wall exposes the performer to intense scrutiny. We watch him manifest a mode of presentation extraordinary with its degree of naturalism; as actor, Schmitz’s ability to render invisible the devices of theatre is deeply fascinating. Early sequences seek to explore the unpredictable nature of the live form. We are reminded of its title Toby Schmitz Live, and the show seems intent on delivering just that; Toby Schmitz is live, and anything can happen. There is a degree of daring and confidence that will no doubt impress, even if Australian audiences are guaranteed to always be excessively polite.

Much of the piece feels no different to genres of stand up comedy, but Schmitz’s penchant for theatricality often rears its head. It is an effective technique, to have us let down our guard in the presence of his spontaneity, then be met subsequently, with a more dramatic approach that he so cunningly, and effortlessly, weaves through unsuspectingly. The yarns that our star spins, are thoroughly amusing, although largely inconsequential. It is his charisma, and undeniable skill, that has us invested in the storytelling, but it is unclear if many of us will find lasting relevance in what he has to share. Ultimately, it is a personal, albeit slightly surface, representation of Schmitz’s life as he knows it. We are invited to come in contact with his world for a confined moment, and we go on our separate ways, none of us transformed.

www.redlineproductions.com.au/underground

Review: Unqualified (Ensemble Theatre)

Venue: Ensemble Theatre (Kirribilli NSW), Jun 22 – Jul 21, 2018
Playwrights: Genevieve Hegney, Catherine Moore
Director: Janine Watson
Cast: Genevieve Hegney, Catherine Moore
Images by Phil Erbacher

Theatre review
Centrelink offices are not generally considered places of serendipity, but when Felicity and Joanne meet, an unlikely and fortuitous union occurs. They join forces to set up a temping agency, creating opportunities for themselves, to leave the past behind and to become gainfully employed in a manner that gives them a new independence. Finding your own feet, however, is never an easy task. The women fly before they walk, and with a hilarity derived from their naivety, we watch them in Unqualified, fumbling and learning to come into their own.

Genevieve Hegney and Catherine Moore’s play contains a suite of excellent jokes, all stemming from a meaningful concept, involving women resisting their societal obligations as wives and daughters. Its general plot is insufficiently taut, but the show is a successful expansion of the skit format, with speedy exchanges between the two designed to provide what seems an endless amount of very clever punchlines.

The writers present their own creation, both impressive with the detail that they bring on stage, along with a sensational display of chemistry determined to hold us captive. Moore is particularly delightful as the jovial Felicity, delivering a comic performance astonishing in its efficacy, precision and inventiveness. Director Janine Watson orchestrates the action so that there is plenty of colour and movement to occupy our attention. Even when the story stagnates, we find ourselves luxuriating in the laughs that come through incessantly, and effortlessly.

Few people seem to be able go through life never having to make any sacrifices; many of us look as though we are never capable of putting ourselves first. Unqualified is a work celebrating the discovery, when it finally dawns upon us, that there is a finite amount to what we can owe, and that true fulfilment requires an individual to understand what it is that will realise their true potential. Felicity and Joanne spent many years cultivating a sense of worth, by following prescribed rules. It is satisfying to witness their moment of self-determination, as they make the decision to break free. Humour can help us through anything, but emancipation is ultimately the biggest reward.

www.ensemble.com.au

5 Questions with Sinead Cristaudo and Rachel Tunaley

Sinead Cristaudo

Rachel Tunaley: What have you learnt about yourself since moving away from home to pursue a career in the performing arts?
Sinead Cristaudo: I learnt first and foremost that no one is going to believe in myself for me. I think having to adapt to being in completely foreign surroundings entirely alone forces you to sink or swim. At some point you have to choose whether or not to back yourself, and there is definitely a hardness in me that I would never have developed without moving away from my home.

What’s your favourite moment to perform in the show?
I love the entire prom sequence, Norma gets to do all of her meddling which is so much fun for me. I also love the opening of our show, the way our very clever director and choreographer has set “In” makes it really meaty and layered so there is plenty to play with each time we run it.

What made you want to audition for Carrie?
I have loved the Stephen King story in its film adaptations and was elated to hear Louis Ellis Productions was auditioning for the musical of which I had always been curious but had never seen. I spent an evening listening to the soundtrack with my housemate Kristy who is also in the cast and we both got decidedly hyped for the auditions. I had also had the pleasure of seeing our director’s previous work of Parade the Jason Robert Brown musical and was in awe of how he presented a show I completely adore. I simply had to audition!

If you could play any role in musical theatre of any age or gender, what would it be?
Without a doubt it would be Mama Rose in Gypsy. Rose is an incredibly complex and flawed character that’s story is told through what I believe to be the best book written for a musical, accompanied with brassy golden age style music. Rose and Gypsy are everything I love about musical theatre, storytelling in a timeless and idiomatic way.

List three women who have inspired you to pursue a career in performing.
Barbra Joan Streisand must be first here, she is the strong, consummate icon I adore. I would sing her arrangements in our tractor shed to my audience of cane for hours, trying to sound exactly like her. Then without a doubt my dance teacher Louise Buljubasich and her mother Carol who cultivated my love for being on a stage from when I was four, exposing me to the wonders of Fosse and time steps and caring for me endlessly while I practically lived out my teens in the studio.

Rachel Tunaley

Sinead Cristaudo: What do you love about playing Chris Hargensen?
Rachel Tunaley: I’ve always been intrigued by villainous characters in shows. There’s just something so fun about playing a character so different from yourself and getting to be super feisty. I admire the way Chris doesn’t let anyone else define her and makes her own rules throughout the show, even though her morale are rather compromised. I also get a killer song and get to belt like no tomorrow which is a win!

Has a mentor or teacher ever given you advice that has shaped the way you approach and view performing, if so what is it?
A teacher I had at NIDA would always get us to look at a text, whether it’s a scene or a song, and he would ask us “what is this?” I loved this approach because there was no falseness to it. It would force us to just look at the act for what it is; “a confession of love”, “a song of mourning”, “an apology”. Asking myself this when approaching a new text forced me to get out of my “artists” brain trying to find a deeper meaning and just accept the text for what it was.

What do you think people love about the story of Carrie that sees it remade in film and revamped in theatre?
Well if you found the movie(s) too scary, I think you’ll find the musical is a little easier to watch. It’s still bloody and there’s still a lot of dark elements but it’s just hard to be scary
while singing show tunes to be honest. The musical also re imagines the characters Stephen king has created and sheds a different light on them that audiences may not have seen before.

What is your favourite part of the rehearsal process? What has it been so far in Carrie?
Definitely getting to do the blocking of ‘The World According To Chris’. I get to have my Regina George Mean Girls moment standing at the point of a triangle with my posse behind me and I’ve just never felt more powerful in my entire life.

What performances or pieces of theatre have inspired you most?
Gosh that’s a hard question because most theatre excites me and inspires me to be a better performer and to want to create something great. The first time I saw Rent the musical really struck a chord with me though. I guess I was used to musicals being super camp and glitzy so when I first saw it I was completely blown away. It depicted a certain honesty and tragedy in such a beautiful way which I wasn’t used to in musicals, plus the music is so damn catchy.

Sinead Cristaudo and Rachel Tunaley can be seen in Carrie the musical.
Dates: 25 Jul – 4 Aug, 2018
Venue: The Depot Theatre

Review: They Divided The Sky (Daniel Schlusser Ensemble)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Jun 13 – 30, 2018
Playwright: Daniel Schlusser (from the Christa Wolf novel)
Director: Daniel Schlusser
Cast: Stephen Phillips, Nikki Shiels
Images by Patrick Boland

Theatre review
Adapted from Christa Wolf’s novel Der geteilte Himmel, Daniel Schlusser’s They Divided The Sky tells the story of Rita and Manfred, lovers in East Germany, just before the 1961 erection of the Berlin wall. Like pieces of demolished concrete scattered in the aftermath, romantic fragments constitute the play, as we wade through a recollection of events, trying to piece together truths of the past.

Politics of that era is central to the piece, but resonance is derived instead, from the personal relationship between its two characters. With mid-century German ideologies taking a backseat, we focus on the dynamics of the pair, examining the intricacies of love at a time of social unrest.

They Divided The Sky is challenging, but ultimately fulfilling, work. Schlusser’s writing and direction require of us, a deep concentration, in order that its transcendental beauty can take effect. Incisive lighting design by Amelia Lever-Davidson helps us tune in, with a degree of meditative attention, in order that we may approach the staging with a heightened sensitivity. James Paul’s sound design manipulates our emotions so that we respond accurately, on a visceral level, even when our minds are yet to figure out what it all means.

Stephen Phillips and Nikki Shiels are the wonderful actors charged with the responsibility of keeping us intrigued and invested. With an usual approach to plot structure, the play is slow to draw us in, but we are captivated from the start, by the strong presence of its cast. Individually, Phillips and Shiels are precise and cerebral with what they bring, and as a couple, their chemistry is unusually powerful. Whether subtle or intense, their energy is able to fill the stage, and in every shade of light and dark that they manufacture, we discover something special in their ephemeral theatricality.

A love is never more devastating than when it ends prematurely. In a week that has seen migrant children torn away mercilessly from their parents, we can easily imagine what it feels like to have a heart be broken, not by the object of desire, but by cruel external forces. In a world increasingly adversarial, the dreaded history of Germany in two halves serves as cautionary tale, for what could result from our appetite for strife and disunity. We can all have our own principles, but to let them get in the way of peace, is our biggest offence.

www.belvoir.com.au | www.danielschlusser.com

Review: Wyrd: The Season Of The Witch (Ninefold / PACT)

Venue: PACT Centre for Emerging Artists (Erskineville NSW), Jun 20 – 30, 2018
Playwright: adapted from William Shakespeare’s Macbeth
Director: Shy Magsalin
Cast: Aslam Abdus-samad, Erica J Brennan, Jessica Dalton, Victoria Greiner, Matthew Heys, Melissa Hume, Paul Musumeci, Gideon Payten-Griffiths, Shane Russon, Brigid Vidler, Tabitha Woo, Luke Yager, Stella Ye
Images by Liam O’Keefe

Theatre review
Wyrd is a reconstitution of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, in which the eponymous character is now a woman. Also, she no longer has a wife to blame her misdeeds on, only a coven of witches that proves to have a more intimate relationship with Macbeth than we had previously known. The conflation of dialogue originally held by the separate entities of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, depicts a new personality that suddenly seems more believable than before. Her duplicitous nature now conveys an honesty that allows us to relate more closely with her circumstances; the ambition and guilt that define her story, increase in pertinence, since we are no longer able to perceive her sins as diffused and shared responsibility.

The production is wonderfully moody, with Liam O’Keefe’s lights and Melanie Herbert’s music providing a waking nightmare in which the action takes place. Director Shy Magsalin’s work with the ensemble is intricate and dynamic, not always elegant, but certainly very exciting at moments of high energy and sheer terror.

The trio of witches, performed by Aslam Abdus-samad, Erica J Brennan and Paul Musumeci, are thoroughly delightful, impressive with the taut cohesiveness of their offering. Gideon Payten-Griffiths appears late in the piece as Hecate to steal the show, completely mesmerising with the bold avant-garde sensibility that he brings to the stage. The inventiveness with his physicality and voice is quite extraordinary, and the show is elevated at a crucial moment, to give us some very special theatre. Macbeth, known only as Our Lady, is played by Victoria Greiner, not quite as flamboyant, but with more than enough conviction to make invigorating, this centuries-old story.

The Western patriarchal canon so powerfully instilled in us, refuses to be ignored. We can try to pretend to forget everything and foster some sort of replacement, or we can look for means of subversion that can assist with our progress. Reshaping Shakespeare to suit our times, will always contribute to the reaffirmation of his position of dominance, but when we are resolved to decipher the myriad problems of our indoctrination, we can begin to introduce meaningful transformation to how we see the world. Our master’s voice is hard to eliminate, but finding ways to expose his faults, can help set us free.

www.ninefoldensemble.com

Review: Dresden (Bakehouse Theatre Company)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jun 15 – 30, 2018
Playwright: Justin Fleming
Director: Suzanne Millar
Cast: Thomas Campbell, Renee Lim, Yalin Ozucelik, Dorje Swallow, Jeremy Waters, Ben Wood
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Wagner’s first success was Rienzi, an opera about the rise and fall of a medieval Italian populist leader. Hitler fell in love with the work, years after Wagner’s death, and in Justin Fleming Dresden we see the unexpected and formidable ways in which art can inspire behaviour, good and bad. It also looks at Hitler as a failed artist, and proffers a chicken and egg scenario; questioning the relationship between that infamous abominable nature and his own deficiencies at artistic creation. Even though information about contemporary fascistic regimes seem to remain prominent in our consciousness, the play does not feel immediately relevant, but Fleming’s writing exceeds the story he tells. Against a backdrop monumental and historic, his words sing with an enchanting beauty, imparting observations that are succinctly constructed and very wise indeed.

Opera and a world war, give the play a sensibility that is unavailingly grand, but the small auditorium is ambitiously converted by set designer Patrick Howe to convey the sophistication associated with Wagner’s discipline, as well as the aesthetic severity of Hitler’s Germany. Benjamin Brockman’s lights are relentlessly theatrical, with incessant transformations that move us through dimensions, from miscellaneous days of yore, to those that are even more ephemeral and fantastical. Director Suzanne Millar very deftly negotiates the weaving realms of the play, taking us from real to imaginary, across terrains and timelines, for an impressively lucid telling of tales.

Yalin Ozucelik and Jeremy Waters are the leading men, both enthralling with their respective stage presences, and splendid with the dialogue that they are master of. As Wagner, Waters is spirited yet delicate, and as Hitler, Ozucelik’s depiction of cruel imbecility strikes a perfectly balanced act of dramedy. Also memorable are Dorje Swallow and Thomas Campbell, each supporting player demonstrating excellent versatility, proving themselves to be eminently watchable in any guise.

We often hear, that all publicity is good publicity. If all Hitler had wanted from his extreme brutality, was to be remembered, then the confounding actions of people in power everywhere, can begin to make sense. Most of us wish to leave behind some semblance of a legacy, no matter how minute, so that our time on earth can be seen to be of some value. Some want their names to last, but others prefer that what they had tried to generate in their own lifetime, is able to make permanent improvements into the future. Bad people exist, and as we negotiate existence around them, we must try to stop ourselves from fighting fire with fire. Good can turn into evil in the blink of an eye, when we let our guard down and start to emulate those who wish to trespass against us.

www.bakehousetheatrecompany.com.au