Review: Man With The Iron Neck (Legs On The Wall)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Jan 23 – 26, 2019 | Dunstan Playhouse (Adelaide Festival Centre, South Australia), Mar 8 – 11, 2019
Playwright: Ursula Yovich
Directors: Josh Bond, Gavin Robbins
Cast: Caleena Sansbury, Kyle Shilling, Tibian Wyles, Ursula Yovich
Images by Victor Frankowski

Theatre review
Named after Aloys Peters, a 1930s German stunt performer “who hangs himself and lives to tell the tale,” Ursula Yovich’s play Man With The Iron Neck addresses the issue of suicide among our Indigenous youth. Bear is an aspiring and talented footballer, about to go places, but there are demons that haunt and that threaten to hold him back from all his hopes and dreams. Having grown up with the pain of his father’s abandonment, Bear’s interminable suffering although not immediately evident, reveals itself to be palpable and immutably deep. Yovich’s writing is gentle but deliberate, a moving exploration into a contemporary problem borne out of inter-generational trauma.

Masculinity too, is a resonant theme in Man With The Iron Neck, as we examine a young man’s development in a household without male role models. Bear is required to adhere to traditional notions of his gender, but what is available for emulation, is tainted with tragedy. A substantial amount of physical theatre is introduced by directors Josh Bond and Gavin Robbins, to illustrate Bear’s narrative of late teen maleness, notably involving aerial acrobatics that prove mesmerising. Gratifying work on sound design by Michael Toisuta and Jed Silver, is crucial in the production’s ability to transport us between realms surreal and realist. Performer Kyle Shilling is an engaging presence in the lead role, with an admirable athletic confidence that assists with the show’s dynamism.

Bear’s story is evidence that serious effort into undoing undesirable effects of colonialism, has to take place in tandem with processes of private healing. It is the confluence of both social and personal strategies that is required for our young, especially those of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds, to be able to move toward brighter futures. We have to learn to talk about our lives as groups and as individuals, to ensure that no one is left behind. It is abundantly clear that our Indigenous youth are routinely neglected; there are reports that seven Aboriginal child suicides have taken place in less than four weeks of January, 2019. As a wider Australian community, we remain unwilling to contribute to solutions, choosing to indulge in delusions that the problem is isolated and removed from our non-black daily realities. We all bear the duty of care for these lives, and our failure is not only shameful, it is reprehensible.

www.legsonthewall.com.au

Review: Love And Anger (Griffin Theatre Company)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jan 21 – 26, 2019
Creator: Betty Grumble
Cast: Betty Grumble
Images by Ryan Ammon, Liz Ham, Dean Tirkot

Theatre review
The legendary SCUM Manifesto by Valerie Solanas makes several appearances in the show, but Betty Grumble’s Love And Anger does not try to recruit for the Society for Cutting Up Men. It seeks to unify the human race, and all of the planet, by interrogating (and integrating) the matter from which we are composed. Grumble’s work is about flesh and blood, the only things perhaps that we cannot deny of ourselves. We never fail to imagine our identities to be much more grandiose, and in that process, create endless demarcations and conflicts. The artist devotes her entirety to the demolition of those narratives, making us succumb to the admission and the acceptance of our truest and basest selves, in order that we may renounce the countless structures that ultimately seek to create more harm than good.

Grumble insists that our attention is placed on the here and now, and in a theatre space where all our corporeality is congregated, present and irrefutable, she does marvellous things to her body, with her body, inside and onto her body, so that we may reach an image of ourselves, beyond taboo and outrage, that represents a renewed purity. After Grumble removes all of her clothing, she finds ways to take away all the meanings imposed upon her nudity, and because her words are rarely effective in this exercise, the artist’s strongest statements must be made through physical manipulation. Her performance style almost fits into genres of clowning and cabaret, and as is customary in Australia, difficult messages come in the guise of comedy, and Grumble’s extremely bawdy humour is the bridge that leads us to her subversive epiphanies.

The best thing about Love And Anger, is Grumble herself. When we attempt to isolate the text from the artist, it becomes clear that the persona she has evolved, can offer us everything important irrespective of the context in which we locate her. It is the embodiment of culminated meanings that we come into contact with, that is most virtuous in the performance of Grumble. Those virtues are impossible to condense, but chief components of her expressions include beauty, femininity, masculinity, equality, compassion, joy, peace, and above all, love.

When goddesses unravel, we remain goddesses. Betty Grumble’s act explores the notion of ugliness in her efforts to redefine social and anti-social, but it is impossible that she would be perceived in any other way than benevolent and divine, even in the midst of (simulated) excretion. In Love And Anger, we discover that beauty is much more than skin deep. It exists through the skin and beyond it. We receive her beauty because of who she is, but it is probably a greater truth, that we receive her beauty because of who we are.

www.griffintheatre.com.au

Review: Nosferatu: A Fractured Symphony (Montague Basement)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Jan 8 – 19, 2019
Director: Saro Lusty-Cavallari
Cast: Lucy Burke, Jeremi Campese, Lulu Howes, Annie Stafford
Images by Zaina Ahmed

Theatre review
The play is structured around title cards of its 1922 silent film forebear, so Nosferatu: A Fractured Symphony is more than a little indebted, not only to that German classic, but also to its legitimate point of origin, Bram Stoker’s Dracula. It is an update of sorts, but also a kind of demystification of the greatest vampire story ever told, for a 2019 audience. Themes of horror, lust and survival, converge with very contemporary concerns that include xenophobia, the me too movement, capitalism, wealth disparity and property ownership, resulting in a new version stripped of old world romance, revealing a more utilitarian dimension of the supernatural tale.

Director Saro Lusty-Cavallari demonstrates artistic innovation alongside an enthusiastic intellect, for this creative, albeit slightly clinical, reinterpretation. The production is at its most mesmerising when allowed to venture into the bizarre. When proffering the political, its approach has a tendency to be obvious. Detailed work on lighting design by Veronique Benett helps to manufacture a sense of visual dynamism, and Justin Gardam’s music brings excellent atmospheric transformations to each surprising scene change.

A motley crew of characters are played by four engaging actors, including Jeremi Campese whose remarkable conviction as the Count, delivers a realistic portrayal of evil that turns the walking dead into a living, breathing rendition of one of the world’s richest men. Lulu Howes’ intense presence gives complexity to the naive Hutton, cleverly resisting our urge to conveniently underestimate her, as we traditionally do all the women in this story. A very enjoyable flamboyance is introduced by Annie Stafford who excels in the show’s more comical and absurd dimensions, and Lucy Burke is relied upon to provide a warmth to this otherwise entirely inhumane milieu.

There is very little that could be done to hold the extremely rich to account; Dracula and Nosferatu are our 1% and they literally get away with murder. In our fantasies, they can be destroyed with a stake through the heart, a reflection of how we are never able to accept their invincibility. Humans are incurably hopeful, for life is in many ways synonymous with hope, but much of our truth, as is evidenced in the pessimism of Nosferatu: A Fractured Symphony is beyond repair. To exist however, requires that we continue searching for answers and solutions, even if we never really get anywhere, it is this motion of endeavouring that makes us virtuous.

www.montaguebasement.com

Review: The Weekend (Moogahlin Performing Arts)

Venue: Carriageworks (Eveleigh NSW), Jan 18 – 23, 2019
Playwright: Henrietta Baird
Director: Liza-Mare Syron
Cast: Shakira Clanton
Images by Jamie James

Theatre review
Lara is trying to do the right thing, by working hard in Cairns, trusting that her partner is taking care of their children back home in Sydney. When one of her sons phones up to notify her of their father’s disappearance, Lara takes the first plane home to save the day. The real drama happens after her kids are fed, when she is compelled to go looking for Simon, even though it is not the first time that he makes an unexplained exit from his responsibilities.

Henrietta Baird’s The Weekend is a one-woman action-packed comedy, that sees our heroine brave the enigmatic public housing towers of Redfern, to encounter the lower classes of her Indigenous community, and the harrowing socio-economic challenges that they face. Baird’s writing is full of thrills, brimming with keenly observed humour, and a modern attitude that boldly pushes Australian playwriting into exciting new realms.

Actor Shakira Clanton takes on all ten characters in the play, each one vibrant and richly manifested. Her mischievous approach is deeply delightful, as she turns us into putty in her hands, taking us through every peak and trough of this amazing journey. It is an unforgettable experience, to see and hear hidden facets of our beloved city, to vicariously revel in Lara’s extraordinary weekend of discoveries. Clanton’s is a performance replete with artistic detail, endlessly intricate and dynamic, thoroughly enjoyable.

Directed by Liza-Mare Syron, the show is often edge-of-your-seat exhilarating, and pure unadulterated fun. Supported by a marvellous team of creatives, including lighting designer Karen Norris, and composers Nick Wales and Rhyan Clapham (Dobby), it is a smart production that provides just enough embellishment, so that we can luxuriate in The Weekend‘s colourful dialogue and personalities, to enjoy the best storytelling that the theatrical arts can facilitate.

Much of The Weekend is about the problems that we inherit. When our behaviour is disappointing, or when we simply find ourselves to be lacking in some way, and we try to reason with these dysfunctions, it is necessary that we go back in time, in order that we can locate explanations for deficiencies. For Lara, Australia’s history of colonisation informs a substantial portion of her misadventures, and on a personal level, archaic notions of womanhood too, are crucial to how she had been able to tolerate mistreatment. When we arrive at an understanding of our baggage, tangible and intangible, is when the hard work has to truly begin.

www.moogahlin.org

Review: The Chat (Carriageworks)

Venue: Carriageworks (Eveleigh NSW), Jan 16 – 20, 2019
Creators: J R Brennan, David Woods
Cast: Arthur Bolkas, J R Brennan, Shane Brennan, Ashley Dyer, Nicholas Maltzahn, Ray Morgan, John Tjepkema, Simon Warner, Les Wiggins, David Woods
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review
We are informed that some of those performing in The Chat are ex-offenders from the Melbourne area. The work is a collaboration with artists, including creators J R Brennan and David Woods, reenacting performance workshops centred around a role play scenario, in which an ex-offender plays the part of a parole officer. When the show reaches its concluding episode, the audience finds itself in the position of a parole board, and we have to decide if the role player had revealed enough redeeming qualities in order to be set free.

That responsibility bestowed upon us, although fictitious, carries an undeniably enormous weight, making us think about the nature of justice and rehabilitation in our societies, a topic that most of us have the privilege of circumventing. Being in close quarters with characters whose very lives depend on how our rules concerning incarceration are exercised, turns abstract ideas into a palpably distressing process, as we try to make decisions that bear the most serious of consequences on individuals who we have come to know.

Although much of The Chat is, predictably, not performed with a great deal of skill, an invaluable sense of authenticity is introduced by people who have lived through first-hand, these issues we have to wrestle with. Their presence prevents us from engaging the usual intellectual distancing, that makes answering these questions, inappropriately convenient. The production is given polish by Jenny Hector and Steve Hendy’s lighting design, and by Brennan’s sound design, for a presentation that ultimately leaves an impression that is simultaneously simple and sophisticated.

These difficult circumstances, of punishment and banishment, underlie so much of how we operate, yet matters of law and order are rarely interrogated meaningfully by the general populace. We leave them to experts and tradition, trusting that others know better, when in fact, there probably are no concerns more democratic. Those in need of pardon, work hardest for our compassion, but when we have to determine how compassion is being dispensed, people often forget the universality of our fallibility.

www.carriageworks.com.au

Review: Counting & Cracking (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Sydney Town Hall (Sydney NSW), Jan 11 – Feb 2, 2019 | Ridley Centre (Adelaide Showgrounds, South Australia) Mar 2 – 9, 2019
Playwright: S. Shakthidharan
Director: Eamon Flack
Cast: Prakash Belawadi, Nicholas Brown, Jay Emmanuel, Rarriwuy Hick, Antonythasan Jesuthasan, Nadie Kammallaweera, Ahi Karunaharan, Monica Kumar, Gandhi MacIntyre, Shiv Palekar, Monroe Reimers, Hazem Shammas, Nipuni Sharada, Vaishnavi Suryaprakash, Rajan Velu, Sukania Venugopal
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
It was 1983 when Radha first came to Australia, escaping persecution in Sri Lanka during the racial riots of Black July. With her husband killed in the midst of unrest, Radha was left with no choice but to flee alone and pregnant, arriving in Sydney to put down new roots in a foreign land. S. Shakthidharan’s Counting & Cracking is a very big play, ambitious and benevolent, rhapsodic in its attempts to uncover the whole truth about a woman, observed as a maternal figure from the playwright’s vantage point. Shakthidharan’s work is warm and witty, generous in its seismic attempts to explain everything, taking us through half a century of untold stories to reach an understanding about the people we are today.

It is often a gripping production, directed by Eamon Flack who renders marvellously the play’s more domestic and romantic scenes. Relationships are beautifully cultivated, between powerful characters, with a convincing sentimentality that encourages the audience to invest deeply, our attention and our emotions, right from the very beginning. Political dimensions are communicated less lucidly, but we are able to gather sufficient information for the narrative drive to maintain interest.

Designer Dale Ferguson’s transformation of Sydney Town Hall’s colonial interior, into a festively radiant Sri Lankan space of congregation and celebration, is a sight to behold. Majestic and monumental, it embraces our bodies and psyches, holding us firmly inside its milieu, to have us luxuriate in all its extravagant expressions. Contrastingly, acoustics are a sore point for the production, with sound engineering unable to overcome the echoey vastness of the old building, thus resulting in occasional dissipation of dialogue. There are however auditory delights to be had, in the form of Stefan Gregory’s score, performed live by a trio of musicians (Kranthi Kiran Mudigonda, Janakan Raj and Venkhatesh Sritharan) whose expert accompaniment provides us with unparalleled sensuality and soulfulness.

Actors Nadie Kammallaweera and Vaishnavi Suryaprakash share the lead role, both captivating and extremely likeable, allowing us to fall under Radha’s spell for the show’s entire duration. Their combined dynamism gives Counting & Cracking complexity and authenticity, and we find ourselves moved by a tale that is at once unique, yet spiritually universal. Sukania Venugopal is memorable as Aacha, the vivacious matriarch who brings colour and effervescence to the stage with every exhilarating entrance. Radha’s son Siddhartha provides the cultural anchor for this Australian story, performed by a very compelling Shiv Palekar, whose luminous confidence proves to be as impressive as it is alluring.

It is always demanded of migrants that we prove our worth. Counting & Cracking is in some ways an exercise in showing the establishment that we contribute at least as much as the others; it makes a statement about our Australianness, arguing against incessant lies about immigration being nothing but a burden on this society. More valuable is the play’s reclamation of identity, in its insistence that the portrayal of Australian lives must include histories and origins that are routinely excluded and denied. As humans, we must always strive for unity, but cohesion must bear the unequivocal acceptance of difference, hard as it may be.

www.belvoir.com.au | www.co-curious.com

Review: Since Ali Died (Griffin Theatre Company)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jan 8 – 19, 2019
Playwright: Omar Musa
Director: Anthea Williams
Cast: Omar Musa (with guest vocalist Sarah Corry)
Images by Robert Catto
Theatre review
Omar Musa imagines himself travelling down a river with Muhammad Ali, both men outsiders, connected by experiences of ostracism. Musa’s Since Ali Died provides insight into how people of colour survive the dogged exclusions of white society. Through poetry, prose and hip hop phraseology, Musa’s extraordinary writing provides access to intense and complex emotions, that relate to a sense of displacement, in an Australia struggling to think of itself as anything other than an illegitimate monolith. It is a work about home, but on how it can disown you, presented in a theatrical context that sees a remarkable talent confront an audience comprising adversaries and allies, all of us relevant and implicated.

As performer, Musa is charisma personified. We are won over effortlessly, by a stage presence naturally confident yet vulnerable, one that showcases an honesty that many will find utterly disarming. Masculinity is portrayed in a delicate light, with director Anthea Williams carefully preventing any sense of alienation that could arise from the motivating fury of Musa’s expressions. It is an exercise in compassion that results, an occasion that welcomes all, one that encourages us to think about the parts we play, as individuals and as collectives, in Musa’s personal stories.

Melancholic and incredibly moving, Since Ali Died is a timely meditation on contemporary Australian life, an undeniable summation of all our unique challenges, whether spiritual, social or political. Black and brown people endure discrimination by white structures that lay fake claim to this land, just as Muslims are relegated impudently, to a status of religious inferiority. Omar Musa’s very body and soul, right before our eyes, is evidence of those injustices that insidiously constitute our harmful way of life. He is thriving, but he suffers. In his music, simultaneously celebratory and indignant, we are able to understand the strength that is required of people like Musa. It is dark but uplifting, refusing to give in to destruction. His energy is ample and indomitable, and although painful to see it expended on coping mechanism, there is plenty left for orchestrating a change.

www.griffintheatre.com.au | www.riversideparramatta.com.au