Review: Chemistry (The Sydney Fringe)

Venue: Erskineville Town Hall (Erskineville NSW), Sep 18 – 22, 2018
Playwright: Jacob Marx Rice
Director: Rebecca Blake
Cast: Amelia Campbell, Erin Louise Taylor
Image by Sam Marques

Theatre review
Two women meet at a psychiatrist’s waiting room; Jamie is seeking treatment for mania, and Stephanie is undergoing a lifetime battle with depression. They fall in love quickly, in Jacob Marx Rice’s Chemistry, each seeming to be the perfect complement for the other. It is an intimate examination of mental illness, with both characters revealing their deepest and darkest, so that we reach new understandings of these increasingly prevalent conditions. The play also offers a fascinating look into the meaning of death and suicide, from the perspective of those who exist precariously close to their own mortality.

It is an intense piece of writing, made captivating by a clever combination of dangerous ideas and amusing dialogue. Director Rebecca Blake’s sensitivity ensures that we endear to the characters quickly, and that we find ourselves embroiled in their ill-fated story from the very start. Changing Jamie from male, in prior productions, to female here, is a stroke of genius that allows us to interpret with more accuracy, issues surrounding mental health. We are unburdened of troublesome gendered implications that could corrupt the essence of what Chemistry wishes to say.

Actors Amelia Campbell and Erin Louise Taylor are very accomplished in their roles; we are convinced of all that they present, and find ourselves impressed by their tenacious dedication to the work (especially when having to fight against portions of sound design that seem determined to counteract and overwhelm what the actors attempt to create).

Things get better for Jamie in time, and she tries hard to support Stephanie, who continues to suffer the crippling effects of her illness. We may be able to get by with a little help from friends and romance, but no one can ever escape being their our own person. Stephanie’s destiny was never an optimistic one, yet our humanity is determined to respond with nothing less than persistent hope.

www.facebook.com/wheelscoproductions

Review: Uz: The Town (The Sydney Fringe)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Sep 17 – 22, 2018
Playwright: Gabriel Calderón (translated by Verónica Barac)
Director: Verónica Barac
Cast: Christie Aucamp-Schutte, Lily Balatincz, Joshua Morel, Cooper Mortlock, Daniel Pollock, Mau Salinas, Lucy Starita, Renae Valastro, Tiffany Wong
Images by Elizabeth Chua

Theatre review
It appears God has done it again. Grace, a Stepford wife type, is charged with the task of killing her own child. Just like Abraham’s celestial conversations all those centuries ago, Grace is a woman of faith who listens to everything that God orders, especially when his voice booms down from the heavens directly into her kitchen. Gabriel Calderón’s Uz: The Town is a subversive work, tackling issues around foolish pietism and the social hypocrisies that derive from religious beliefs. Its premise may seem a tad too familiar, but its humour is scintillating, and defiantly outrageous as it proceeds to demolish all that is held dear.

The production is appropriately hammy in style, with exaggerated performances helping to make the caustic dialogue slightly more palatable. Director Verónica Barac manufactures a wild and enjoyably chaotic energy for the piece, but some of the play’s more dangerous statements might require a clearer sense of irony to prevent misinterpretation. As Grace, actor Lily Balatincz is at her best when the character turns irredeemably maniacal. Her portrayal of religious fervour may not always be sufficiently nuanced, but the actor is certainly well-rehearsed and spirited with what she brings to the stage. Mau Salinas is memorable as Grace’s husband Jack, an absurd and grotesque figure that provides a touch of extravagance to the experience.

We can all have our own nonsensical preoccupations, in fact those are what give colour to the magnificence of life, but when we intrude upon each other’s freedoms, as we so often do, is when life turns dark. People know what it is like to be on the receiving end of transgressions, but we continue to inflict harm on others in spite of our better judgement. We recognise that Grace should know better, but we also understand the weakness that allows us to succumb, to the convenience of surrendering agency. Standing up for one’s own principles is hard, and sadly, many are incapable of it.

www.facebook.com/uzthetown/

Review: Evita (Opera Australia / Sydney Opera House)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), from Sep 13 – Nov 3, 2018
Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics: Tim Rice
Director: Hal Prince
Cast: Tina Arena, Michael Falzon, Kurt Kansley, Paulo Szot, Alexis van Maanen
Images by Jeff Busby

Theatre review
Eva Perón’s legend is one regarding power, at all cost. Charting the meteoric rise of the historical figure from humble beginnings, the musical Evita features a narrator, a character based on the guerrilla leader and famed revolutionary Che Guevara, who takes us through the story of the Argentinian First Lady, from a critical, but widely shared, standpoint. Our female protagonist is not deprived of a voice however. Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s show is often a feud of perspectives, reflective of opposing attitudes pertaining to the controversial personality. It is also often a battle of the sexes that happens on stage, as we see a woman defending herself in the masculine world of politics, and we grapple with the uncomfortable coupling of misogyny and the less than honourable conduct of our heroine.

The production is a faithful recreation of the West End and Broadway original from the late 1970’s, directed by Hal Prince, with a notable addition of the Oscar-winning song “You Must Love Me”, from the 1996 Alan Parker film. Surprisingly fast-paced, the show leaves it to us to formulate more extensive interpretations of Perón’s life and times, but it certainly gives us plenty to chew on. “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” is one of the most well-known Broadway hits, and to have the lyrics “and as for fortune, and as for fame, I never invited them in,” performed in resplendent bejewelled dress (designed by Timothy O’Brien), reveals a complexity to the character that is perhaps impossible to encapsulate in any single theatrical work.

Tina Arena proves herself an unequivocal superstar in the title role, vocally flawless for a splendid rendition of some very famously challenging tunes. She brings an electrifying passion to the stage, creating a feisty character who remains endearing, even when her actions turn dubious. It is tremendously satisfying to see one of Australia’s biggest talents take on a challenge of this magnitude, and emerge victorious. Che is played by Kurt Kansley, a charming presence, but whose diction as the South American can at times, be frustrating to decipher. Paulo Szot is an excellent President Juan Perón, impressive in all aspects, and very alluring, making the entire stint look a mere walk in the park.

The Peróns were loved because they had acted perfectly their part in the public eye. We see them here, in private, absorbed in vanity, hardly ever sparing a thought for their hungry millions. It is a familiar image of politicians, of individuals more concerned with their own careers than the actual responsibilities they have sworn to undertake. Observing the masses of Eva Perón’s devotees, we are warned of being blind to the poor behaviour of those we elect into positions of authority and prestige. The space we allow for leaders to carry out work for the common good, reside behind heavy curtains that form limits to our democracy. They may assume the appearance of kings and lords, but never to be forgotten, is the servitude that they owe.

www.evitathemusical.com.au

Review: The White Spirit Cult (The Sydney Fringe)

Venue: Yellow Umbrella (Potts Point NSW), Sep 13 – 22, 2018
Creator: Joanna Joy
Cast: Anca Frankenhaeuser, Emalyn Knight, Keila Terencio
Images by Emily Contador-Kelsall

Theatre review
Three women in the basement of a house are obsessing over their bodies. They try to resist centuries of objectification, humiliation and commodification, thinking up ways to overcome that sense of inadequacy so fundamentally conditioned into the way we conceive of ourselves. The White Spirit Cult emerges from ideas around shame and purity, an artistic endeavour that frames the feminine experience of virtue, in its many physicalised forms, as being inherently illusory and absurd. Like many modern women who have wised up to forces of oppression, the work attempts to deconstruct those myths that have always tainted our self worth.

The women want to be able to see the cult for what it is, but change is hard, and we witness them resisting their own emancipation, often luxuriating within their own masochistic worship of the false god. It is an ethereal and surreal presentation of ideas, but inexorably realistic. We relate to every word that is being said, regardless of the subject’s age or cultural background. Our adversity unites us, but the suffering sisterhood must be careful not to serve the elevation and advancement of the cult’s objectives. It may ultimately be about rebellion and self-determination, but the show is only able to offer inspiration, as we come to the realisation of our evident incapacity to establish something new.

We may be able to talk about a place outside of the cult, but it is clear that many of us are still on the inside of it. Performers Anca Frankenhaeuser, Emalyn Knight and Keila Terencio are a beautiful embodiment of our dissatisfaction. They are spirited and determined, but also lost in their angst. What they represent is true; we can be joyful, or proud , or indeed, wise, but that disquiet is a sensation hard to abandon.

www.facebook.com/WHITESPIRITCULT

Review: Accidental Death Of An Anarchist (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Sep 10 – Oct 27, 2018
Playwright: Dario Fo (adapted by Francis Greenslade & Sarah Giles)
Director: Sarah Giles
Cast: Caroline Brazier, Julie Forsyth, Bessie Holland, Annie Maynard, Amber McMahon, Susie Youssef
Images by Daniel Boud

Theatre review
It is all over the news that an anarchist had fallen to his death from a Milan police station. The official word claims it a suicide, but there are suspicions of foul play. For Accidental Death Of An Anarchist, Dario Fo took inspiration from an actual incident of 1969, and inserted a Maniac into his 1970 imagination of events following the controversy, essentially accusing authorities of murder and corruption. It was a spectacularly clumsy cover up that required questioning, and Fo’s play has proven itself a timeless piece of writing that can always be relied on to help civilians weather any political storm. It reminds us that we are pawns in the game of the powerful, and that we have to endeavour to see beyond the wool that is constantly being pulled over our eyes.

This new adaptation by Francis Greenslade and Sarah Giles is a refresh, but a faithful one that retains the extravagantly farcical spirit of its original. Dialogue is given a stylistic update, but time, place and characters are left unmarred. Giles’ direction of the work is raucous, vigorously so, for a very broad comedy that might take some getting used to, but laughs are certainly to be had.

An all-female cast is charged with the joyful task of lampooning men in power, with Amber McMahon occupying the central role, exhibiting extraordinary verve and inventiveness as the irrepressible Maniac. Julie Forsyth is genuinely hilarious as Inspector Bertozzo, distilling masculinity to its ugliest components, for a cutting study in physicality and speech that conspires flawlessly with her remarkable theatrical timing. Also delivering uproarious hijinks is Bessie Holland, whose Inspector Pisani is a breathtaking invention of caricature at its finest, astute and acerbic in her observations of repugnant boys club behaviour.

The media landscape feeds us endless morsels of information that fight for our attention and outrage. An unexplained death today, is replaced by a racial slur tomorrow; even with the best intentions, we are unable to decipher the truth, much less find the wherewithal to contest the wrongs of the world. Those in power understand this, so they disseminate frivolous scandals that seem so important in the moment, and absorb all our time and bandwidth, until there is no way we can hold them to account.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au

Review: Next Lesson (New Theatre)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Sep 13 – 22, 2018
Playwright: Chris Woodley
Director: Alex Bryant-Smith
Cast: Michael Brindley, Sonya Kerr, Jens Radda, Kat Tait

Theatre review
In 1988, when Margaret Thatcher was UK Prime Minister, Section 28 was introduced, stating that a local authority “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” or “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”. Quite unbelievably, this piece of homophobic legislation was active until 2003, and for that period of 15 years, schools were in effect, encouraged to discriminate against LGBTQI students and staff, even though homosexual acts had been officially decriminalised since 1967.

Scenes in Chris Woodley’s Next Lesson take place in an English secondary school, featuring chronological vignettes beginning at the installation of Section 28, through to the passage of the Civil Partnership Act in Dec 2005, when same-sex unions were finally recognised. It tracks the evolution of LGBTQI experiences, children and adult, through tumultuous years, with predictably depressing accounts of institutionalised oppression. It is not a particularly imaginative work, but the authentic representation of emancipated queer lives, is certainly valuable.

The production is simple but impassioned, an earnest rendition that speaks from the heart. Performers Michael Brindley and Sonya Kerr bring a sense of gravity to their roles, encouraging us to respond with empathy. Jens Radda and Kat Tait are memorable with their humour, both spirited and playful when called upon to make us laugh.

It would be a mistake to think that the fight is over. The gay rights movement has delivered great advancements, but the work is not done for LGBTQI people in countless developing countries, and in ethnic minority communities within our own Western nations. Laws have changed, but attitudes are often still lagging behind. The recently appointed Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, in his second week of taking office, demonstrated a disdain for gender variance, by tweeting that “we do not need ‘gender whisperers’ in our schools” in reference to professional assistance being made available to students who are encountering personal challenges, in relation to their gender identities. As long as forces that work against justice are persistent, there can be no room for complacency. Fighters who win will only grow stronger, and hard won freedoms must be guarded at all cost.

www.newtheatre.org.au

Review: Luna Gale (Ensemble Theatre)

Venue: Ensemble Theatre (Kirribilli NSW), Sep 7 – Oct 13, 2018
Playwright: Rebecca Gilman
Director: Susanna Dowling
Cast: Michelle Doake, Lucy Heffernan, Georgie Parker, Scott Sheridan, Ebony Vagulans, Jacob Warner, David Whitney
Images by Phil Erbacher

Theatre review
A baby named Luna is being held under state care, while her teenage parents attempt to clean up their act. Social worker Caroline does her best to do what is right, but faces opposition from her manager and from Luna’s overly religious grandmother. Luna Gale by Rebecca Gilman is a classic piece of American drama, compelling, moving and incredibly taut; it discusses private lives under the interference of church and government, alongside timely stories of child abuse that are unequivocally pertinent. Both emotional and thought-provoking, Gilman’s play is wonderfully engrossing, and thoroughly satisfying.

Susanna Dowling’s persuasive direction ensures that we are wholly invested in Caroline’s ordeal, keeping us riveted and entertained for the entire duration of this thrilling production. Set design by Simone Romaniuk is appropriately staid in style, but highly efficient in the way it addresses the many scenic transformations as required by the text.

Performances are stellar, with actor Georgie Parker leading the cast in brilliant form. She does not always sound convincingly American, but as Caroline, the complexities she brings is exceptional, and the power of her delivery is entirely mesmerising. Parker’s work is intense, astute and inventive, always impeccably elegant no matter how operatic the action turns. The baby’s young mother Karlie is played by Lucy Heffernan, unforgettable with the vulnerable authenticity she puts on stage. Remarkably sensitive and nuanced, it is a poignant depiction of a girl in trouble trying hard to improve her circumstances, allowing even the most jaded of audiences to relate to those experiences.

When damaged children grow up, they can either perpetuate harm, or they can endeavour to amend inter-generational problems. Even though Karlie had given birth to new life, she proves herself incapable of caring for Luna, placing the baby in grave danger as a result of neglectful behaviour. Caroline chose not to be a mother, committing instead to the thankless task of saving children from their failing parents. No one escapes childhood completely unscathed, but most are able to imagine better ways forward. The ones who are trapped in cycles of violations, will need help in trying to break free. How our communities are willing to offer remedy, is testament to the quality of people we are.

www.ensemble.com.au