Review: Maggot (The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Sep 27 – 29, 2018
Cast/Creators: Freya Finch, Angela Fouhy, Elle Wootton

Theatre review
Known collectively as Scungebags Theatre, the trio of Freya Finch, Angela Fouhy and Elle Wootton prove themselves an irresistible hoot in their subversive show Maggot. An introduction informs us that the pop group The Baby Girls have decided to abandon their commercial interests, for the infinitely more prestigious pursuit of high art. This of course, is all a ruse for a series of antics, inspired by clowning principles, to deliver some seriously funny scenes of iconoclastic chaos.

Our institutions, authorities and other sacred cows, are satirised by the three women determined to reject every misplaced sense of reverence that is demanded of them. Mocking the powerful and the traditional, the show falls quite conveniently into a category of feminist performance, but feminism itself is not safe from being lampooned; even the #MeToo movement is exposed to the group’s acerbity, in an unforgettable sequence involving modern interpretive dance and sexual harassment.

Finch, Fouhy and Wootton are distinct personalities, with each performer bearing an individual style, but their cohesiveness as a team is remarkable, for a presentation that impresses with the invulnerable chemistry that they exhibit. Even more rewarding of course, are the many laughs, hysterical and euphoric, that Maggot delivers. Sometimes discerning, sometimes completely nonsensical, their comedy is idiosyncratic, fearless and therefore, thoroughly enjoyable.

It is at our own peril, that we take our feminist selves seriously, when so much of what we should be doing, is to laugh at, and to ridicule, those who wish to dominate. Nothing deflates an erection quicker than derision. Finding ways to pour scorn on those who thrive on exclusionary structures, is a strategy that we must learn to embrace, even just for our own amusement and sanity.

www.facebook.com/maggotshow | www.old505theatre.com

Review: Scarecrow (Blood Moon Theatre)

Venue: Blood Moon Theatre (Potts Point NSW), Sep 25 – 29, 2018
Playwright: Don Nigro
Directors: Deborah Jones, Naomi Livingstone
Cast: Gemma Scoble, Romney Stanton, Blake Wells
Image by Lauren Orrell

Theatre review
Cally and her mother Rose, live an isolated life in the cornfields, somewhere in North America. Having turned 18, Cally is experiencing a libidinal push that is making her wander from the house, into the nefarious grasp of a mysterious stranger. A scarecrow stands on the farmland, protecting its harvest and the two lonely women. In Don Nigro’s play Scarecrow, we are unsure if its mystical powers are doing good or harm, as we watch the women’s miserable lives unfold. Semblances of a family curse in the story give it a surprising complexity, as we observe the cyclical effects of trauma overwhelm the household’s two generations.

Romney Stanton is spectacular in the role of the deranged and very dramatic matriarch, using the character’s obsessive vigilance to deliver some deliciously operatic moments, full of flamboyant intensity. Stanton is mesmerising, wonderfully convincing as the mad rambling Rose. The vivacious young Cally is played by Gemma Scoble, whose portrayal of naive rebellion is memorably passionate, especially effective when called upon to demonstrate the unimaginable anguish of a teenager having to tolerate an invisible existence. Blake Wells is suitably seductive as the testosteroned stranger who instigates discord between the women, subtle but solid in his support of the leading ladies.

Directed by Deborah Jones and Naomi Livingstone, the production is elegantly assembled, for a no frills staging of a fascinating play. As we watch the women disintegrate, we question their circumstances and their capacity for agency within those circumstances. In Nigro’s narrative, fearful women channel their strength into cruelty. A cautionary tale perhaps, reminding us of the contradictory truth, that our strength, far from causing harm to other women, actually keeps us from self-destruction. Strong women know to lift each other up, because we know the forces determined to keep us down, are perennial, pervasive and persistent.

www.bloodmoontheatre.com

Review: Genderification (The Leftovers Collective)

Venue: Surry Hills Library (Surry Hills NSW), Sep 27, 2018
Director: Curly Fries
Cast: Mara Aplin, Andrew Guy, Dr. Jessica Kean, Sophie Kelly, Kipp Lee, Ladonna Rama, Rosie, 2 Boys in Saris

Theatre review
An ancient text from the Jacobean era is presented seven times, in vastly different ways, with Dr. Jessica Kean appearing like a master of ceremonies in between to facilitate discussions around the gender that we had observed each time. Although not always obvious, the performers in separate instalments have something individual to say about identity, and we are encouraged to consider the phenomenon of gender as a kind of social exchange, involving not only interpretation but also intent. Genderification is an exercise in respect, of understanding the boundaries between what we think to be female and male, and the infinite ways that each person might conceive of themself in those gendered terms.

These are sophisticated ideas, embodied by all the actors who bring fascinating dimensions to the overarching discussion. Performer Sophie Kelly’s bold approach makes a sensational statement about femininity, within oscillating contexts of time and class, to confront our petty bourgeois attitudes. Ladonna Rama extends reflections to something futuristic, almost post-human in their rendering of a theme that is often too binary in our estimations. Not everything is dealt with a satisfactory level of rigour in Genderification, but we certainly do encounter important questions that seek to broaden our minds, and expand our hearts.

It might be easy to imagine a world without gender, and hold dear those ideals, but to navigate real life, we require daily strategies, both conscious and unconscious. We have to deal with prejudice, with how others react to the self, based on shorthand information that can only ever be cosmetic and shallow. Sexism wants us to attribute to people, qualities that are ultimately unjust and erroneous; strong or weak, good or bad, respectable or shameful, these presumptions that force people into categories that will enable an oppression that is ultimately of benefit to no one. To debunk gender, is to help us be rid of that sexism, but in the meantime, we can all be wiser, and kinder, in how we treat each gendered subject.

www.theleftoverscollective.com

Review: Pinocchio (The Sydney Fringe)

Venue: The Sydney Fringe Warehouse (Alexandria NSW), Sep 25 – 29, 2017
Director: Julia Robertson
Cast: Max Harris, Mathew Lee, Oliver Shermacher, Annie Stafford, Grace Stamnas, Laura Wilson
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Set in 1940 Italy, at the height of Mussolini’s rule as Prime Minister and leader of the National Fascist Party, this version of Pinocchio sees our poor woodcarver Geppetto in his work room alone with his marionettes, trying to keep to himself, as he shuts out the ugliness of the world outside. Wordless but vivaciously animated, the show utilises techniques from the disciplines of mime, dance, music and singing, to tell a story of the individual versus the state, of the personal and the political. Our current sensitivity regarding the rise of nationalist ideologies, gives this incarnation of Pinocchio a quiet but unyielding resonance.

Its serious themes notwithstanding, this modern reiteration, directed by Julia Robertson and choreographed by Georgia Britt, is a wonderfully enchanting take on the old tale. Geppetto’s fantasy land, innocent and pure, provides the platform for a performance that appeals to our childlike sensibilities. Set and lighting designer Nick Fry manufactures a nostalgic beauty for the unusual, and enormous, venue, containing the action and our attention, with a clever understanding of space and atmosphere.

The crucial element of tenderness is brought to the stage by Mathew Lee, who shines in the role of Geppetto. His depiction of naivety allows us to see with unequivocal clarity, evil forces that try to engulf. The scene-stealing Annie Stafford displays an irrepressible presence even when playing an insentient doll, especially captivating when given an opportunity to show off her divine soprano. Harmonies in this Pinocchio are ethereal, often exquisite, performed with marvellous acoustic effect by a cast of six, inside the surprising elegance of a repurposed concrete warehouse.

We thought everything had been finalised and decided, when the fascists lost the war. Not a century has passed, and we again hear those despicable murmurs beginning to resurface, trying for a second attempt at its tyranny. There are no elongating noses in Geppetto’s studio, because this time, the lies are on the outside. The artist’s efforts to hide and disengage are futile. He is required to fight back, if his dignity is to remain intact.

www.facebook.com/littleeggscollective | www.facebook.com/theclariboys

Review: Aphrodite And The Invisible Consumer Gods (The Sydney Fringe)

Venue: Kings Cross Hotel (Kings Cross NSW), Sep 25 – 29, 2018
Playwright: Sam Donvito
Director: Christopher Bond
Cast: Sam Donvito, Ellen Graham

Theatre review
The goddess of all things beautiful and fecund, Aphrodite arrives in Sydney, and even she is no match for the misogyny that rules this town. Guided by unbridled desire, Aphrodite finds herself vulnerable and exposed to the pervasive commodification of everything that relates to femininity and sex. From chocolate and selfies, to beauty pageants and cosmetic surgery, Aphrodite’s attempts at experiencing life as an earthling in Sydney, all involve attempts to degrade and humiliate her, and in Sam Donvito’s Aphrodite And The Invisible Consumer Gods, we watch the very thing we consider to be normal everyday life, determined to put the goddess through a relentless process of self-loathing.

It is an exuberant presentation, featuring two spirited performers, Donvito and Ellen Graham on a bare stage, with only their bodies occupying our gaze. Their communication style is admirably bold, for the urgent and unequivocal message that they wish to convey. As Aphrodite, Donvito is seductive and mischievous, and as Paige Burn beauty pageant cum reality show host, Graham is beguilingly malicious. Aphrodite And The Invisible Consumer Gods may not be a subtle work, but what it has to say, is substantial and pertinently consequential.

Men have always sought to control our bodies and our very existence. Industrialisation has channelled that ancient chauvinism into the creation of endless superfluous wants that have overwhelmed and contaminated our lives, by selling to us, an interminable sense of inadequacy. We respond by living in a constant state of commercial consumption, acquiescing to the every demand of capitalism as shaped by its sexist foundations. We spend money to feel better about ourselves, but that money circulates and returns as a further haunting that tells us, we are as yet incomplete. When the goddess concedes her power, a vacuum is formed that nefarious parties will seek to fill. Most of us however, can reclaim that magic at any time, and make ourselves whole again.

www.samdonvito.com.au

Review: Inner West Side (Seymour Centre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Sep 18 – 22, 2018
Book: Jake Bayssari
Music: Tom Cardy
Lyrics: Jake Bayssari, Tom Cardy, Lucille MacKellar
Director: Jake Bayssari
Cast: Amy Bennett, Georgia Britt, April-Rose Desalegn, Elouise Eftos, Lincoln Elliott, Britt Ferry, Alexandra Gonzalez, Freddy Johnston, Roy Joseph, Grant Loxton, Rhianna McCourt, Laura McDonald, Lily O’Harte, Gautier Pavlovic-Hobba, Ruby Teys
Image by Christopher Dinh

Theatre review
Andrea is leaving the parochial suburbia of affluent northern Sydney, to find a more grounded, but glamorous, existence in the city’s inner west. She sets out to denounce the shallow values of her birthplace, determined to create for herself something new and meaningful, only to duplicate old ills at a new locale. Inner West Side is a new musical, centred around the community of Newtown, where the dissonance of things earnest and ironic can coincide, and where million dollar apartments are dressed up to look shabby and resolutely anti-establishment. Featuring observational humour at its most scintillating, the show is as vibrant as it is incisive, enormously entertaining from the very start.

Directed by Jake Bayssari, whose rigour and talent shines through in every scene, the production offers an ingenious representation of our young, with all their contradictory concerns forming the basis of a most amusing work. Tom Cardy’s music is refreshingly varied in style, performed with admirable enthusiasm by a five piece band, although sound engineering does leave a lot to be desired. Antony Robinson’s set design is a simple solution that sets the tone with accuracy and efficiency, and costumes by Adrienne Dell deliver playful interpretations of archetypes that help us identify so distinctly the milieu being examined.

A wonderfully cohesive cast of energetic performers take to the stage, for an unforgettable venture into the formidable task of creating an original musical. Leading lady Laura McDonald is a spirited presence, splendidly funny and tremendously likeable as Andrea, the Collaroy rich bitch in exile. Elouise Eftos leaves a remarkable impression as sultry Monica, vampy queen of the hive, powerful in her depiction of a privileged woman believing herself to be a born ruler. Chameleon entertainer Ruby Teys is delightful in a myriad guises, displaying extraordinary skill, in each of her hilarious and scene-stealing incarnations.

Those of us who get to choose where we live, must count ourselves exceptionally lucky. The world is often an ugly place, but when one comes across a tiny pocket that seems perfect in every way, it is the greatest of fortunes to be able to call it home. Whether an address is ideal, however, depends so much on how we are, on the inside. Newtown and its surrounds, are not for everyone, but for those who love it, the inner west is a beacon of beauty, peace and joy. Its characteristics are distinct, but the nourishment it provides, it must be noted, is by no means unique. The best town in Australia, is in fact, everywhere.

www.facebook.com/innerwestside | www.ultracult.com.au

Review: Stalker The Musical (The Depot Theatre)

Venue: The Depot Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Sep 19 – Oct 6, 2018
Music: Andy Peterson
Book and lyrics: Alex Giles, David Russell
Director: Kaleigh Wilkie-Smith
Cast: Melody Beck, Levi Burrows, Steph Edmonds, Luke Lamond, Michele Lansdown, Peter Meredith, Haji Myrteza, Harrison Riley, Emma Taviani
Images by Grant Leslie

Theatre review
The story takes place in a town ruled by the heartbroken, where all physical contact is forbidden, but where its inhabitants are encouraged to police and lust after each other, using only their eyes and binoculars. In Stalker The Musical by Alex Giles, Andy Peterson and David Russell, a fantasy world is created out of dejection, with a great deal of palpable ambition, but neither its creativity nor its imagination prove convincing enough, to entice us into its outlandish manifestations. We observe it to be an oddity, a strange concoction of ideas, that struggles to find resonance on any level.

Every song sounds overly familiar, as though a paint-by-numbers take on the musical theatre genre, unoriginal and painfully predictable. Problems with sound engineering on opening night, certainly do not help with the experience.

The cast, although likeable and committed, struggle with the production’s attempts at comedy and drama, unable to make any meaningful or lasting impact with the material. There is an abundance of energy and conviction on stage, with Zoe Ioannou’s clever choreography bringing some visual coherence to the show, but the performers are consistently let down by the writing’s deficiencies.

Love is a bad word in Stalker, and those who have denounced romance, however momentary, will understand the necessity of being able to see one’s own existence as independent and sovereign, before the joys of life can be truly appreciated. Characters in the show may or may not find their romantic match, but more important is their capacity to love, whatever the objects of desire turn out to be.

www.stalkerthemusical.com