Review: Freud’s Last Session (Clock & Spiel Productions)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Oct 30 – Nov 10, 2018
Playwright: Mark St. Germain
Director: Hailey McQueen
Cast: Yannick Lawry, Nicholas Papademetriou
Images by Alison Lee Rubie

Theatre review
Two men, one atheist and one Christian have an intelligent, and civilised, discussion about the existence of God, in Mark St. Germain’s Freud’s Last Session. A fictional account of Sigmund Freud, approaching the end of life, inviting C.S. Lewis in for a meeting, presumably to help allay inevitable fears of impending death. Everything they talk about is relevant, even fundamental to our very being, but these are ideas we have tossed around in our minds many times, with decisions settled for each individual years ago. Some might be able to see new light on old questions and find the play intellectually stimulating, but for most, the best it can offer is an opportunity to hear the other side of arguments, within its stringently binary presentation of truths.

It is a polished production, with Hailey McQueen’s direction giving the theological themes an elegant and balanced focus. Tyler Ray Hawkins’ work on set decoration is noteworthy for its visual flair, cleverly manufacturing a sense of vibrant theatricality whilst maintaining realism in Freud’s office. Both actors deliver solid performances, with Nicholas Papademetriou particularly convincing as the ailing psychoanalyst, accurate in his portrayal of a legendary figure in his last days, but in a manner that is charmingly playful, to have us engaged and entertained. Lewis is played by Yannick Lawry, appropriately uptight, with an energetic presence that keeps things lively for his audience.

Life is mysterious, so there is no surprise that we often respond by embracing ideas that pertain to the supernatural. Science is in the business of demystification, but our nature seems not to permit an end to human interrogations; for every answer we discover, further questions will arise. The world is determined to be unknowable, yet we desire only to thrive on certainty. God may or may not exist, but if we agree that our time on earth is real, it should then follow that our emphasis must always be concerned with the here and now. The truth however is that, whatever we think is holy up above, has served to divide us. We see ourselves doing unspeakably cruel things to one another in the name of God, yet are unable to disown religious doctrines, refusing to acknowledge the harm that it can cause. The world has never been without Gods, so to imagine ourselves as entirely secular, although an appealing idea, is probably futile. The next best thing would be to trust that each of us can learn to be better persons with each passing day, no matter how ridiculous our personal beliefs.

www.clockandspielproductions.com

Review: Degenerate Art (Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Oct 17 – Nov 4, 2018
Playwright: Toby Schmitz
Director: Toby Schmitz
Cast: Septimus Caton, Guy Edmonds, Giles Gartrell-Mills, Henry Nixon, Megan O’Connell, Rupert Reid, Toby Schmitz
Images by John Mamaras

Theatre review
If it were a painting, Toby Schmitz’s Degenerate Art would comprise a thousand tiny brush strokes, too detailed and too intricate, but they collude to present broad strokes that are imperiously forceful, certain to make an impact. Like other bad boy artists of renown such as Adam Cullen and Damien Hirst, the work is brash and obnoxious, replete with evidence of genius, but unlike white box museums that allow us to glance, gasp and swiftly walk past, Schmitz’s 100 minutes of grandiose cocky art, holds us hostage in our overly snug seats, intimidating us into thinking that some very big meaning lies behind all that is being waxed lyrical in the playwright’s very many excessive diatribes.

The play is ostensibly about Hitler’s relationship with art, and the ironic and incongruous phenomenon of fascist attitudes always seeming to surround the dissemination and consumption of art. We see prominent Nazi figures of the time, arguing over art like any healthy society should, but the way these white men cannot help but escalate their competition of penis extensions into acts of violence, is despicable and telling. Visually sumptuous, the staging is provided a glossy glamour by Alexander Berlage’s diligent lighting design. Schmitz assembles a testosterone fest that begins desirous but eventually turns shrill, with shouty blokes intent on asserting their importance, a reminder that art cannot help but imitate real life.

Although little room for nuance, Degenerate Art is a showcase for some remarkable performances, and the rhapsodic peacocking of its six male actors proves to be truly impressive. Megan O’Connell too, is an effective and memorable narrator, despite never really being able to overcome looking like an afterthought. It is frustrating that we are still being subjected to groups of white men talking about Nazism. To some, it might make sense that white male villains can only be played by white men, but for others, this is completely counter-intuitive, and a lazy, even irresponsible way of getting into discussions about fascism. Actions speak louder than words, especially when the words are deafening.

www.redlineproductions.com.au

Review: Pramkicker (Vox Theatre)

Venue: Chippen Street Theatre (Chippendale NSW), Oct 24 – Nov 3, 2018
Playwright: Sadie Hasler
Director: Linda Nicholls-Gidley
Cast: Cecilia Morrow, Vaishnavi Suryaprakash
Images by Jasmin Simmons

Theatre review
Jude is attending anger management support groups, as punishment for having, amongst other things, kicked a pram at a coffee shop. Her sister Suse is assigned to be her companion for this remedial process, and together they fall deep into discussions about motherhood, and in Jude’s case, the rejection of it. Sadie Hasler’s Pramkicker is a marvellously written work about the modern woman, and the choices she is able to make for herself. Using the experience of childbearing as a springboard, we delve into philosophical, as well as practical, ruminations about all that is expected of women, in order that we may examine the freedoms we do and do not have, in defining existence for ourselves.

Dialogue in Pramkicker is deliciously witty, with some truly scintillating perspectives of life that are brutally honest but rarely disclosed. The characters go through wonderful transformations during the course of the play, for deeply beautiful depictions of sisterhood and of female sovereignty. Emotionally robust, the show takes us from ecstatic laughter to exquisite poignancy. Directed by Linda Nicholls-Gidley whose imaginative and sensitive use of space, generates for the staging a variety of dimensions that engage with us effectively at different mental states. A faster pace would deliver a greater sense of exhilaration to accompany its outrageous conversations, but it is doubtless that this is a production that packs a punch.

Actor Cecilia Morrow is powerful as Jude, with an excellent sense of conviction that befits the role’s very appealing dauntlessness. Suse is portrayed with great authenticity by Vaishnavi Suryaprakash, charismatic with a hint of innocence, perfect for the part of younger sister. Jointly, the pair establishes an extraordinary chemistry that forms the soul of the production, and we find ourselves hopelessly enamoured, and invested in their stories.

For eons, we have been told that it is our duty to procreate. Jude is one of increasing numbers, who has refused that responsibility, and in place of parenthood, she has to find meaning for her own life, in ways that are not prescribed and preordained. We see her in moments of confusion, not fully able to grapple with the enormity, of having accepted this radical freedom. With no tethers to ascertain her identity, it becomes a conscious effort to be who she wants to be, and we see that things could have been easier if she had just gone with rules of the normal playbook. Independence is not for the faint of heart, but it is the only option for those who cannot settle for anything less.

www.voxtheatre.com.au

Review: The Director (Active Theatre Productions)

Venue: The Actors Pulse (Redfern NSW), Oct 25 – Nov 10, 2018
Playwright: Nancy Hasty
Director: Simon Doctor
Cast: Josephine Bloom, Simon Doctor, Sarah Greenwood, Emilia Hristov, Brayden Palmer, Alex Rowe

Theatre review
Annie has written a play and wants Peter to direct it, even though Peter has become a pariah of the theatre industry, currently relegated to the position of janitor at a drama school. We soon find out that his ostracism is well founded, as his creative process unravels a series of unethical strategies that cause appalling harm to his team of actors. Nancy Hasty’s The Director talks about the tricky negotiations of boundaries in artistic ventures, especially when collaborative parties are involved, all wishing to invent new paradigms with their expressions. Some of the play’s ideas are exciting, with quite amusing dialogue, but its plot quickly becomes predictable, as the story begins to take on a repetitive configuration.

Simon Doctor directs the production, and stars in it as Peter, the titular director of the show within a show, for a fascinating confluence of truth and fiction. Doctor is at least adequate as director, but as actor, his abilities are breathtakingly poor, which delivers results that are quite surprising. Actors in the play struggle with their director Peter because of his questionable methods, whilst in our real life, we witness the cast going through a parallel struggle, having to find ways to accommodate Doctor’s sorely deficient acting sharing their stage. It is obvious however, that even though our cast is up against it, they are not in an adversarial relationship with their director/leading man. In fact, they are considerate and generous, proving able to overcome a significant hurdle, and eventually emerging with dignity intact. Actor Alex Rowe is particularly memorable as John, making the right decision to play up the comedy of the piece, to help his audience through the show, so that we feel secure about laughing with, and not laughing at, the performance.

The work of Jerzy Grotowski is referenced frequently in The Director, to represent a concept of unconventionality in the art of theatre making. Peter wishes his work to go against the established, which in his mind, requires an essential redefinition of the audience’s passivity. In some ways, we see these principles manifest in the current production. As actor, Simon Doctor unnerves us, and intentionally or not, he disallows us to engage with the show on the level of a regular dramatic experience. We hear Nancy Hasty’s writing unfold, but observe metatheatre taking place, one that thoroughly interrogates our position as viewer. We should not expect to be spoon fed on every occasion, but when left to our own devices, how we approach an oddity reveals so much of who we are, and how we function as part of this community’s artistic landscape.

www.activetheatreproductions.com.au

Review: Margaret Fulton Queen Of The Dessert (Bondi Theatre Company)

Venue: Bondi Pavilion (Bondi NSW), Oct 12 – 27, 2018
Book: Doug MacLeod (based on Margaret Fulton’s autobiography I Sang For My Supper)
Music: Yuri Worontschak
Director: Ruth Fingret
Cast: Manon Gunderson-Briggs, Clare McCallum, Alexander Morgan, Brett O’Neill, Jasmine Sands, Rebecca Spicer
Images by Lightbox Photography

Theatre review
Australia’s original celebrity chef, Margaret Fulton may be known to have provided culinary lessons to generations, but in the musical Margaret Fulton Queen Of The Dessert, we observe her to be a trailblazer who has, ironically, led women out of their kitchens and into the workforce. The story tracks Fulton’s rise to prominence in mid-20th century, through a combination of verve and luck, culminating in the publication of her hugely successful cookbooks. Helping to broaden the concept of an Australian cuisine, at a time when the White Australia Policy was still in place, her career is a significant landmark that many still hold dear today.

It is a wholesome show, perhaps too polite in tone, but the narrative is structured effectively for an entertaining, often amusing experience, featuring charming insights into our heroine’s story. Music by Yuri Worontschak is beautifully melodious, for a slew of catchy tunes that keep our feet tapping along. Sound design however, is a major sore point, as are most of its visual elements. Nevertheless, Ruth Fingret’s direction ensures that her cast takes every opportunity to deliver energy and merriment through their vibrant performances.

Leading lady Manon Gunderson-Briggs plays a gregarious Fulton; feisty and exuberant at centre stage, keeping us charmed and firmly attentive to the vignettes being shared. Equally likeable is Rebecca Spicer, whose sparkly confidence in a variety of supporting roles makes her a memorable presence. Brett O’Neill proves himself an adventurous performer, as he playfully invents one character after another, always with a tongue-in-cheek sense of extravagance that many will find irresistible.

A person’s legacy relates to their contribution to society. It is a measurement of how many lives are made better, even in the tiniest of ways, by the actions of individuals or groups that endeavour to bring progress to the world. The Margaret Fulton Cookbook has sold a million and a half copies, offering inspiration to young and old for 50 years and counting. Our achievements do not have to be of that scale, but mere mortals too, need to try to leave this a better place than when we had found it. Knowing that every thought, intention and action, has the potential to leave an indelible mark, we must simply always try to do good.

www.bonditheatrecompany.com.au

Review: Julius Caesar (Bell Shakespeare)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Oct 23 – Nov 25, 2018
Playwright: William Shakespeare
Director: James Evans
Cast: Jemwel Danao, Maryanne Fonceca, Ghenoa Gela, Neveen Hanna, Emily Havea, James Lugton, Kenneth Ransom, Nick Simpson-Deeks, Russell Smith, Sara Zwangobani
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review
Some things never change, and Shakespeare’s Julius Ceasar could just as well be a story about Canberra in 2018. A controversial leader gets knifed, and all hell breaks loose, in this tale of a mutiny that does not go quite as planned. Cassius and Brutus conspire to have their leader extinguished, in order that a better system of government can be installed, but after Caesar’s death, they find themselves quite inadvertently shot in the foot. This is the story of Malcolm Turnbull, of Tony Abbott, of Julia Gillard, and of Kevin Rudd; a tradition of the Australian government that seems a recent phenomenon, but is in fact centuries old. Even after the chief takes a brutal fall, discontent among the ranks refuses to dissipate, and the process of elimination keeps repeating.

An appropriately modern tone is injected by director James Evans, who assembles for the production, a satisfyingly cinematic look and feel. Music by Nate Edmondson is particularly noteworthy. Luscious, bold and flamboyantly epic, sound proves itself this staging’s most reliable element, whenever we begin searching for explanations to the goings on.

Actor Kenneth Ransom is an unusual Caesar, statuesque but with a subdued presence. Cassius and Brutus are played by Nick Simpson-Deeks and James Lugton respectively, both delivering entertaining and rich characterisations, as well as impressing us with their marvellous ability at harnessing chemistry. In the role of Mark Antony is Sara Zwangobani who all but steals the show in Act III, when her disarming luminosity is given opportunity to occupy centre stage. The actor is intense and authentic, with a visceral power in her performance as the Roman leader that truly dominates.

A healthy democracy requires that we go the polls every few years to cast a ballot on who we wish to have representing us. This does not happen every time the tide changes or every moment we feel disillusioned by those whom we had given office. It is certainly not dependent on how private media companies and other interests wish to exercise their influence. There will always be people who think they know better than the populace, and seek to subvert our electoral rights. We can only hope that those who reject the universal rights all citizens are equally entitled to, like Cassius and Brutus, will in real life, suffer every consequence of their corruption.

www.bellshakespeare.com.au

Review: Two Hearts (The Anchor Theatre Company)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Oct 19 – Nov 3, 2018
Playwright: Laura Lethlean
Director: Jessica Arthur
Cast: Phoebe Grainer, Damon Manns, Eliza Scott
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Girl meets boy at an inner-city house party, and they quickly fall in love. What follows is predictable, in an inevitable way perhaps, with things between the young couple taking shape like all the romantic narratives before, as though human connections can never stray far from established repetitious forms. In Laura Lethlean’s Two Hearts, love and sex are an exhilarating phenomenon, yet simultaneously, nauseatingly benign, except for the inclusion of a mysterious figure roaming the periphery, occasionally interjecting for gentle disruptions to the very ordinary story.

Tranquil and delicate, director Jessica Arthur’s approach makes for a show distinctively ethereal in tone, with an endearing cast helping to sustain our interest. Leading lady Eliza Scott’s playful exuberance and impressive lack of pretension, are valuable components to her engaging presence. Damon Manns brings outstanding ingenuity to his role, cleverly creating unexpected dimensions, to elevate a character that could otherwise be awkwardly pedestrian. The tricky part of the hallucinatory third-wheel is played by Phoebe Grainer, whose quiet concentration and honest impulses, provide an elegant solution to the play’s surreal aspects.

Two Hearts is in some ways a work about regret, a painful state of being, involving intense emotions that refuse to dissipate. We are held hostage, suspended in time but heavy with irreconcilable memories, partially paralysed and acutely embittered. It endures, because we fear the duplication of those grave mistakes, unable to trust that lessons have been learned. To let go of regret, is a simple idea, but being human is seldom a convenient exercise; the journey between inspiration and fruition is almost never the straightest and shortest distance between two points. We can only try to visualise the destination, and try to move ourselves in the right direction. Success may or may not come to pass, but stagnation is the only failure we must avoid.

www.facebook.com/AnchorTheatre