Review: Alice In Slasherland (Last One Standing Theatre Company)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Apr 18 – May 11, 2019
Playwright: Qui Nguyen
Director: Rachel Kerry
Cast: Justin Amankwah, Jack Angwin, Josh McElroy, Bardiya McKinnon, Mia Morrissey, Laura Murphy, Stella Ye
Images by Robert Catto

Theatre review
Lewis is a regular American teenager, who finds his town suddenly overwhelmed by Lucifer and other spirits of the underworld. With people being slaughtered everywhere, Lewis and his friends have to fight their way to survival. Qui Nguyen’s Alice In Slasherland bears all the hallmarks of a B-grade horror flick; an outlandish storyline, predictable characters and lots of blood and gore, along with a very healthy dose of kitsch and bad taste humour that makes the show more than a little tongue-in-cheek in its references to genre.

The production is messy, but also intentionally trashy. Like every low-budget movie ever made, we can identify all the flaws in this staging of Alice In Slasherland, but its imperfections do not preclude us from enjoying the silly fun that it so passionately delivers. Director Rachel Kerry’s vision for the staging is wonderfully vivid, but her ideas are almost never executed to perfection. The cast is remarkable for being able to embrace the clumsiness of their show, to convey a sense of humour that quite miraculously, works with, or perhaps against, the many technical improficiencies. Alice In Slasherland‘s horror aspects do almost nothing for us, but its comedy is certainly a joy.

Actor Bardiya McKinnonis is a spirited Lewis, appropriately over-the-top with the terror that he depicts. The eponymous Alice is played by Stella Ye, who meets the physical demands of the supernatural being, with a persuasive and dynamic athleticism. Lucifer is a vampy creature, as interpreted by Laura Murphy, whose capacity for camp seems to know no bounds. Her musical theatre abilities prove refreshing in a show that cares little about polish. Justin Amankwah is puppeteer for Edgar the bear, barely two feet tall, but huge in personality, thanks to Amankwah’s beautiful animation and extraordinary voice work.

Depending on one’s own tastes, there is a kind of self-deprecating humour to Alice In Slasherland that can be highly amusing. We vacillate between laughing at it, and laughing with it, trusting that none is expected to take any of this seriously. Over the coming weeks, the production will no doubt lose some of its raw edge, but as long as we can all be encouraged to remain playful for the duration, it would mean a job well done.

www.lastonestandingtheatreco.com | www.redlineproductions.com.au

Review: How To Change The World And Make Bank Doing It (Limelight On Oxford)

Venue: Limelight on Oxford (Darlinghurst NSW), Apr 17 – 27, 2019
Playwright: Michael Becker, Ian Warwick
Director: Michael Becker
Cast: Michael Becker, Skye Beker, Laneikka Denne, Jarryd Dobson, Susan Jordan, Barbara Papathanasopoulos, Dominique Purdue, Dashiell Wyndham
Images by Sam Lax

Theatre review
Eve works as a charity fundraiser, one of those whose job it is to accost you at a shopping centre, and guilt you into donating to one cause or another. She meets people of all kinds, whether patrons or colleagues, all of whom contribute to Eve’s development, as a young woman trying to find her way in the world. Michael Becker and Ian Warwick’s How To Change The World And Make Bank Doing It is however, less a narrative surrounding its protagonist, than it is a collection of anecdotes from that microcosm of retail philanthropy. We see facets of suburbia through the eyes of those who open themselves to all and sundry, in a place where most of us have learned to navigate with blinkers on, ignoring as much as possible, in order to get from point A to point B quickly, and hopefully, leave unscathed.

These are amusing stories, a consolidation of identities, that offers a glimpse into who we are as a community. Becker and Warwick put effort into their representation of what happens behind the scenes at those charity stands, but the plot that results from their rendering of those relationships can feel somewhat perfunctory, never really succeeding at having us invest in any of the play’s main characters. Its observational humour however, is delightful, with an authenticity to its representations that resonates, able to have us engaged for its entirety. Actor Barbara Papathanasopoulos is very funny as Eve, taking every opportunity to create laughter, for which we are deeply appreciative. Also effective with his comedy is Jarryd Dobson as Nico, who brings to the stage some thoroughly enjoyable theatrical flamboyance. All members of the eight-strong cast are accomplished, with Susan Jordan and Laneikka Devine especially noteworthy for playing multiple roles, each one considered and energetic.

Eve wants to do good, but does not really know how. Her conundrum is probably shared by all, although most would scarcely spend more than a fleeting moment to ponder this inordinately big question, of how our efforts for charity can extend beyond the extra dollars we conveniently give away every once in a while. The play also talks about the bad that we do, that necessitates the creation of these organisations in the first place. It makes no sense to invest in undertakings that only seek to undo the effects of our other organisations we know to be harmful. Eve understands that as an individual, her responsibilities extend far beyond the provision of her own sustenance. She leaves us to find a way to attain fulfilment that is honest and virtuous, and we wonder about communities that have no space for her pure intentions.

www.limelightonoxford.com.au

Review: Appropriation (Fledgling Theatre Company)

Venue: Studio Blueprint (Surry Hills NSW), Apr 17 – 27, 2019
Playwright: Paul Gilchrist
Director: Chris Huntly-Turner
Cast: William Bartolo, Damien Carr, Tara Clark, Clay Crighton, Alex Daly, Marcella Franco, Nick O’Regan, Angus Mills, Asalemo Tofete, Alex Rowe, Shannon Ryan, Sonya Kerr

Theatre review
Fortinbras steps into the limelight, now that Hamlet is dead. In Paul Gilchrist’s Appropriation, Fortinbras the Norwegian crown prince, has to work out a strategy so that he can take over Denmark. We learn that the prince likes to think of himself as a ruthless warrior, the type that distrusts the use of words and all things artistic. His wife Gabrielle is on a mission to convince him, that the most efficient way to conquer the Danish is not through violence, but by deception. The narrative of Appropriation is provocative, and passionately conveyed, even if its plot structure is frustratingly tangential. There is philosophy everywhere we look, which can be disorienting, but this is certainly not a piece of writing that can be accused of underestimating its audience.

The production is energised by Chris Huntly-Turner’s exuberant direction. Emotional intensity is built into every scene, with a cast of twelve bringing excellent conviction to the stage. Nick O’Regan is full of vigour as Fortinbras, and convincing as the sixteenth-century brute. Gabrielle is a more complex character, with Sonya Kerr effectively portraying her contradictory qualities, and proving adept at raising the drama to fever pitch, in the play’s final moments when she manipulates the populace into submission. Also noteworthy is the compelling Asalemo Tofete, in the role of Player, refreshingly honest as the persecuted artist fighting for the right to tell stories.

In the era of “alternative facts”, it is no longer expression that comes under fire, but the very notion of truth that is being threatened. We seem to find ourselves in a strange quandary, with consensus trumping evidence, and realities being created out of collective delusion and deliberate ignorance. If we believe that those who shirk their responsibility to tell the truth are not only unpunished, but are in fact rewarded, our social fabric can only deteriorate. We have to be vigilant, not only with the information we receive, but also in the way we defend what we believe to be right. Any way the wind blows, it is always a virtue, to question everything, including and especially the self. It is crucial that we continue to believe in the truth that will set us free, even if the truth seems never to stop shifting.

www.fledglingtheatre.com

Review: A Little Piece Of Ash (Jackrabbit Theatre)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Apr 16 – 26, 2019
Playwright: Megan Wilding
Director: Megan Wilding
Cast: Toby Blome, Luke Fewster, Alex Malone, Moreblessing Maturure, Stephanie Somerville, Megan Wilding
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Lily has just moved on to the next realm of existence, or in Indigenous terms, the Dreaming. Her presence in A Little Piece Of Ash, could be termed spiritual, a ghost perhaps, depending on one’s cultural proclivities. She sits in her comfortable armchair at home, like an angel watching over her daughter Jedda, as though little has changed. Megan Wilding’s play depicts death, of the human body, as a transitional extension of life that we must learn to endure, involving excruciating pain but is nonetheless and ultimately sublime. Jedda is unable to see or hear her mother, but in some ways knows that Lily is still here.

As we watch the grieving process take place, we understand it to be a journey toward enlightenment, trusting in an eventual peace that young Jedda will arrive at. Wilding’s writing is sentimental, occasionally humorous, a concentrated examination on the days immediately following Lily’s passing, honest in its inability to see beyond its all-consuming sorrow. Although somewhat repetitive in its expressions, A Little Piece Of Ash‘s sincerity is undeniable. Wilding is also director and actor (as Lily) in the piece, and it is her exceptional charm that really lights up the stage; one would be hard-pressed to conjure a performer more likeable.

Stephanie Somerville plays Jedda, memorable for the intensity that she sustains for the entire ninety-minute duration. It is a powerful portrayal of loss, effective in communicating the young woman’s state of trauma. A strong support cast is on hand to offer some texture to the show, with Alex Malone particularly authentic with the emotions she displays in the role of Ned, who had regarded Lily a mother figure. Design elements of the presentation are rich although not always executed with elegance. There is a raw quality to A Little Piece Of Ash that can at times seem unintentional, but its overall impact is more than adequate.

No matter what we believe happens after a person dies, it is how we as the living, manage deaths, that truly matters. How we honour those who pass, determines the people we are in the here and now. How we remember the deceased, informs the way we conceive of our future. The more we are able to recognise that the past is inextricable from the future, the greater respect we will be able to muster for all that surrounds us. When we imagine the dead to simply cease to exist, or that they progress onto completely disconnected dimensions, we run the risk of causing interminable damage to the present. The soul is eternal, whether or not we are kind to it.

www.jackrabbittheatre.com

5 Questions with Tara Clark and Asalemo Tofete

Tara Clark


Asalemo Tofete: What are the pleasures and challenges you’ve found in performing this new work?
Tara Clark: The pleasures and the challenges have been one in the same. It’s a pretty huge cast of twelve, and I’ve never worked with any of the other actors before. That’s been a real treat. At the same time, it’s a cast of twelve and I think we’ve only all been in the same room on one or two occasions!

The play is about the power of stories, in the political sphere and in our personal lives. What stories do you fill your head with?
Pure filth, Asa. Nothing I could repeat in polite company. In seriousness though, I’m trying to read more novels this year and fewer plays. I recently finished We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. It’s absolutely harrowing. Notwithstanding, it’s an incredible read. I’ve seen the film and the novel still managed to surprise me. Highly recommended.  

What’s the last thing you do before you step out on stage and why?
Question all my life choices until that moment, swallow my self-loathing and throw a few air punches. 

If you had the chance to play any role in any show, what would it be and why?
Asa! What are you doing to me? How long have we got?  My dream is to play Sylv in Berkoff’s East… because… because… Sylv’s speech of longing. Enough said. 

Lastly, this show is a dark comedy, other than yourself and me, who in the cast is the funniest person in real life?
Well, it’s certainly not me. I never get to the play the funny girl. Largely because most often girls aren’t written to be funny, but let me step down off my soap box to answer your question… Everyone is great to have a laugh with… but I would have to say that Will Bartolo is one who I laugh at the most. He’s laughs on legs. No pressure Will. 

Asalemo Tofete

Tara Clark: In a classic example of art imitating life, you play an actor known as The Player. How has The Player’s career trajectory differed from yours? Are there any similarities? 
Asalemo Tofete: There are similar circumstances that The Player and I share like trying to convince others that he’s good. Also the love of performing in front of crowds and the swapping of troupes depending on the situation. So very similar.  We both are pretty passionate about what we do, performing, sharing stories, sharing experiences. I think the only difference would be that in the end… well people will just have to come and see what happens to The Player in the end.

Did you always want to be an actor? If acting wasn’t an option, what would you be instead? 
I started off at university, training to become a teacher. A friend of mine suggested the Theatre course and, well, the rest is history. I guess if I hadn’t had the curiosity to try the theatre course I would have become an educator shaping the minds of our future geniuses (or that’s what I like to think I’d be doing).

Appropriation picks up where Hamlet leaves off. If you could write the sequel (or prequel) to any great story (play, novel or film) what would it be and how would it play out?
Ooooohhhhh! That’s a good one. If I were to stick to a Shakespeare play, I would probably like to write the sequel to Much Ado About Nothing… following Don John’s escape. Where DJ would gather an army and return to march on Messina where he would in the end be killed by the waiting woman Margaret who then marries the night watchman Verges and because everyone is dead becomes the Queen of Messina – of course, with a whole lot of twists and turns along the way.

What has been the highlight of working on Appropriation for you?
Working with this very talented cast. Everyone has their own particular skills set that they bring with them. Especially leading the music, as the #fakemusicguy, this cast has blown my mind, with what they’ve come up with. Also being a part of this new work gives me the chance to be the first to speak these words, the first person to bring The Player to life. That in itself is pretty exciting.

Please translate the following sentence into Shakespearean English: “Check out Appropriation, playing at Studio Blueprint from April 17th to 27th.
The year of our Lord two thousand nineteen,
The Fledgling troupe presents a tale for you,
A tale that fish would sooner fly than swim,
Appropriation is the name forsooth,
It playeth at the play house of Blueprint,
From seventeen to twenty seventh moon,
Of April it shall play. Come one come all.
Checketh us out, before we checketh out!

Tara Clark and Asalemo Tofete can be seen in Appropriation, by Paul Gilchrist.
Dates: 12 – 24 Apr, 2019
Venue: Studio Blueprint

Review: Gruesome Playground Injuries (Queerspace)

Venue: The Actors Pulse (Redfern NSW), Apr 12 – 14, 2019
Playwright: Rajiv Joseph
Director: Mackinnley Bowden
Cast: Ricki Jade, Laura Morris

Theatre review
Kayleen and Doug should think of themselves as soul mates, but they make no promises to each other, never talking about a future beyond today. Having first met as children, with the accident-prone Doug always getting into trouble, and Kayleen on hand to offer assistance, the two set up a pattern of random encounters, based on mishaps and adversity, that would see them through thirty years. Rajiv Joseph’s Gruesome Playground Injuries is quirky, a funny piece of writing about friendship, or a kind of love that defies categorisation. If we believe that death can occur at any moment, each meeting could well be the last, with a goodbye that is absolute in its finality.

The production is simply assembled. Set designer Steve Stafford’s no frills presentation is memorable for its inclusion of two naked Barbie dolls, crucified and resonantly flanking centre stage. The show is performed by two young women, effectively turning the narrative queer, especially in romantic sections of the play. Ricki Jade and Laura Morris are raw talents yet to communicate rich nuances for their characters, but they are energetic in presence, able to bring some vibrancy to the staging. Director Mackinnley Bowden’s work is spirited, if slightly lacking in depth with what he wishes to convey.

When we try to get plays right, we often forget to be playful. The personalities in Gruesome Playground Injuries are full of mischief, reminding us that being able to find joy in what we do, must always be maintained a priority. Humour especially, is a force that we must harness. It only works when people connect. Where we are able to laugh, lies evidence of consensus and unity, and that uplifting sensation it provides, is one that we know unequivocally, to be able to offer soothe for every ache and ailment.

www.queerspacearts.com.au

Review: Mosquitoes (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Apr 8 – May 18, 2019
Playwright: Lucy Kirkwood
Director: Jessica Arthur
Cast: Annie Byron, Jason Chong, Mandy McElhinney, Jacqueline McKenzie, Angela Nica Sullen, Louis Seguier, Nikita Waldron, Charles Wu
Images by Daniel Boud

Theatre review
The two sisters could not be more different. Alice is a high-achieving scientist, and Jenny is an anti-vaxxer; it would seem that all the brains had gone to one sibling, leaving the other quite the imbecile by comparison. Lucy Kirkwood’s Mosquitoes sets up a dynamic that tempts us to think in binary terms, but guides us away from forming false equivalences in our estimation of its characters. Although we see good and bad, smart and stupid, the play is able to convince us that people are people, that to determine some life as more valuable than others, would always be tenuous and quite indecent.

After one very big mistake, Jenny’s messy life appears to be going resolutely downhill. The reverberations of her self-destruction are felt by Alice, whose own existence begins to unravel, perhaps as a result of her sister’s chaotic proximity. Playwright Kirkwood sets the family drama against a backdrop of science and nature, with Alice’s career in physics providing context for us to ruminate on both the separateness and inseparable-ness of things. We isolate things to understand them, but forget their indissolubility in the bigger scheme. Our minds are able to conceive of distinct particles, but none exists in absolute detachment. Families are made of individuals, who are at once autonomous and conjoined.

Mosquitoes‘ small domestic scenes are not an easy fit on this vast stage, and although production designer Elizabeth Gadsby and lighting designer Nick Shlieper do not always succeed at containing and concentrating our vision, there is an alluring quality in the elegance that they do achieve. Some very big acting by Annie Byron, Louis Seguier and Charles Wu in supporting roles, are risky choices that prove helpful, and satisfying, in getting us involved. Director Jessica Arthur brings excellent amplification to personal emotions for the characters we meet, but her show is insufficiently provocative, able to communicate effectively only on surface levels. We want more insight into our contemporary times, and more philosophy in general, from a piece of writing that seems to promise so much intellectual rigour.

Jenny is played by Mandy McElhinney, whose humour is a striking feature, full of confidence and impressive verve. Jacqueline McKenzie’s Alice is appropriately high-strung, with an admirable intensity, although slightly one-note in her approach. Their work is assisted by James Brown’s music and sound design, who does marvellous work when tensions are rising, but is occasionally deflating, when in contradiction with the comedy being presented by the cast.

When we find Alice at the end of her tether, rationality turns her ironically monstrous, almost fascistic in attitude, as she tries to put order back into life. At that moment, the shiny appeal of her intelligence and sophistication, reveals something inhumane, and we begin to perceive Jenny’s prior weaknesses with disarming empathy. It is a magical instance of equalisation that transpires, if only in our irresistible urge to place judgement. At these times of extraordinary factiousness, there is perhaps no greater need than the urgency to look for similarities in between. In our efforts to make things better, we identify problems, and relegate them to imagined groups of others, and forget the ultimately inextricable culpability of the self. It is easy to think of the cosmos as one, but to prevent it from falling to pieces, in this day and age, looks to be impossible.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au