Review: Anatomy Of A Suicide (Sugary Rum Productions)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Jun 12 – Jul 6, 2019
Playwright: Alice Birch
Director: Shane Anthony
Cast: Danielle Catanzariti, Jack Crumlin, Andrea Demetriades, Teale Howie, Charles Mayer, Guy O’Grady, Natalie Saleeba, Anna Samson, Kate Skinner, Contessa Treffone
Images by Kate Williams

Theatre review
Suicide always seems just a breath away for Annie, Bonnie and Carol. Alice Birch’s Anatomy Of A Suicide follows the struggles of three women, all of them skating dangerously close to the ultimate act of self-destruction. The play asks very big questions, but it is the way its provocations are dispensed, that makes it remarkable. The three leads exist in independent chronologies, but their stories are told in tandem, often overlapping, for a theatrical experience highly unusual in its plot structure. Parallels are drawn across narratives from different decades, to examine generational implications, in the way things may or may not change over time, in relation to women’s autonomy over their existences.

There is tremendous pleasure in seeing women lead the play, but it can also feel problematic that their neurotic behaviour is consequently associated with their gender. The only people out of control in the story are these women, and we find ourselves tempted to think of the issues being raised as being specifically gendered, when their femaleness should on this occasion, be a secondary concern.

Director Shane Anthony brings a mesmerising urgency to his staging; the stakes always feel high, and we are seduced by the intensity of his dramatic flair. His set (designed in collaboration with producer Gus Murray) is graceful and efficient, and along with Veronique Benett’s dynamically emotive lights, the visuals are sumptuous, for a deeply satisfying aesthetic that is always in dramaturgical harmony. Damien Lane’s music too, is beautifully rendered, memorable for being appropriately sentimental, able to help us access reservoirs of visceral sensations that resonate at every crucial plot point.

The cast is consistently impressive, with all members demonstrating excellent focus and a sense of disciplined precision reflecting consummate preparedness. Anna Samson is a wonderfully idiosyncratic Carol, convincing in her portrayal of mental illness, always rich with nuance and complexity as the subjugated, and gravely despondent, 60’s housewife. Anna, the addict who resorts to motherhood for salvation, is played by a powerful Andrea Demetriades, who delivers a severity for the character that persists in securing our empathy. A more naturalistic approach by Kate Skinner, allows us to relate to her Bonnie as a contemporary, and therefore more immediate, figure. In the singular scene in which she does turn rhapsodic, the atmosphere erupts and none can escape its poignancy.

More than the women before her, Bonnie is conscious of the forces that work to undermine her autonomy. We observe however, that knowing one’s demons does not necessarily spawn the capacities to defeat them. Being human, we almost always know good from bad, but the eternal conundrum of being able to do the right thing is what haunts us. Bonnie’s determination to outsmart her fate seems almost superhuman. She rejects that which seeks to entrap and define her, and in her story we see how hard it can be, to simply be your own woman.

www.facebook.com/sugaryrumproductions | www.redlineproductions.com.au

Review: Sweeney Todd (Life Like Company)

Venue: Darling Harbour Theatre (Sydney NSW), Jun 13 – 16, 2019
Book: Hugh Wheeler
Music & Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim
Director: Theresa Borg
Cast: Anton Berezin, Debra Byrne, Michael Falzon, Jonathan Hickey, Genevieve Kingsford, Owen McCredie, Gina Riley, Daniel Sumegi, Anthony Warlow
Image by Ben Fon

Theatre review
Stephen Sondheim has under his belt, countless celebrated works, and Sweeney Todd is amongst his most popular. It is masterfully crafted, with ample humour and drama to accompany some sensational songs, all guaranteed to please, and to secure bums on seats. The story is macabre, involving a crestfallen old barber trying to murder his way to salvation, and in the process victims are turned into pie fillings fed to an unknowing public. There is meaningful symbolism that could be deciphered, but depending on the quality of a presentation, as on any theatrical occasion, we might prefer to enjoy only the surface, to revel in its song and dance, and ignore any possibility of deeper resonances.

Theresa Borg’s direction may not inspire an experience that is particularly contemplative, but what she assembles is a professional staging showcasing a splendid piece of writing that proves itself virtually fail-safe. Its star Anthony Warlow is certainly a bankable resource, demonstrating his own infallibility, along with an immense likeability, that simply does not allow us to regard anything he offers as less than magical. In the midst of mediocrity, Warlow’s talent is still an exquisite beacon. Mrs. Lovett the baker is played by television icon Gina Riley, whose comedy chops justifies her shared top billing with theatre veteran Warlow; her vibrancy is the saving grace in a presentation needlessly, and strangely, safe and predictable. Genevieve Kingsford and Owen McCredie are the young lovebirds Johanna and Anthony, both performers suitably beautiful in appearance and in voice, able to provide a believable sense of romance to their scenes.

Vanessa Scammell serves as musical director, bringing considerable spirit to proceedings but as a whole, the production never really feels much more than a rudimentary effort. Mrs. Lovett’s customers love her pies. Their satisfaction with her product does not require any explanation about ingredients or methods. Likewise, when art is effective, one is tempted not to ask how things are put together, we simply indulge in the wonder that it delivers, allowing the mystery to wash over us, a transcendental moment likely to be diminished when deconstructed and understood. When art is less than enchanting however, it is perhaps wise to investigate failures, but always remembering to question why anyone should think that they deserve better.

www.lifelikecompany.com

5 Questions with Eden Falk and Charlie Garber

Eden Falk

What’s it like working together?
Eden Falk: I’ve known Charlie for like 15 years, we’ve always been at the same parties and we now both have kids, so now we’re at the same kids parties. But we’ve never really worked together and I’ve always wanted to. And its been super fun, I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed making a play as much. Sometimes rehearsals can feel like a bit of an uphill battle, but this room has felt endlessly playful, partly due to Charlie’s sense of humour and also to the team of wonderful actors he’s assembled. It’s been a real work in progress and the script has grown as we’ve reacted to it as actors, which has also been part of the fun. The show is ultimately an adventure love story, and so playing with the rules of those worlds and developing our characters with Charlie’s insane mind has been a real joy.

Favourite thing about Charlie?
His unashamed delivery of line readings. He knows these characters inside out and could kinda play any of them. Which means his direction is from the inside out and that’s lovely to work with. Seriously though, there was a moment in rehearsals where I thought he was going to act out the entire show as a monologue and I was like yep I’d pay to see that. 

Why did you say yes to the show?
I’ve always admired Charlie as an actor, I wish I was 10% as funny as he is. So when he asked me to be in his funny play I couldn’t say no. I also think he’s written a really clever exploration of identity, love and self belief. It works on many levels, the ridiculous, the comical, the fantastical, the sublime. I can’t wait to share it with people.

What is the biggest challenge when playing your character Dan?
This is the kind of show where the characters don’t always know exactly what’s wrong with them until it’s too late, so one of the big challenges has been not to over think that too much. As actors, we have to live in the moment as it happens, line by line. With Dan, there’s a lot of inner conflict that surfaces later in the show, but it works better if that isn’t played too heavily in the early scenes, which is in some ways different to how I’d usually approach a performance. But it’s also incredibly liberating; there’s a lightness of touch and an ease in the storytelling. You can just let go and let the play do the work.

Do you share any similarities with Dan?
Yikes. There’s a few – which considering he kind of becomes the anti-hero of the play (spoiler alert) is somewhat hard to admit. He’s pretty conflicted. Social media frustrates him and yet he spends all day in front of a computer. I don’t necessarily hate social media but I’m not crazy about it and having spent my early twenties without it I miss the days when we didn’t have so many ways to “connect”. But I can also sympathise with his need to escape these things, he just takes it way too far. It’s all about balance, and maybe Dan is yet to figure out what that is. I feel for the dude.

Charlie Garber

Why did you want to write this play now?
Charlie Garber: This play came about through wanting to write an adventure. A big show. I don’t know if I’ve achieved it at the quite the scale of storytelling I was hoping for but its still pretty big. I wanted to create a comedy epic – ridiculous, yet real. Big ideas, fun ideas, big scenes, big moments, yet funny and all that. to sucker punch the audience with stuff after opening them up with comedy.

Why did you want to write and direct?
I wanted to get the show up with a minimum of bother. If I’d been sitting next to a director who’s making their own mark on the play while I’m also revising the writing in rehearsals it could have been a difficult. Its an independent show – it has enough hurdles already. It’s not an artistic piece, it’s a comedy that needs to be staged simply. I’m not really a director. I’ve devised and co-directed a lot of stuff so I sort of know the ropes (and I’ve been directed by good directors) enough to get the thing up. 

What’s it like working together?
Eden is great to work with. We worked together ten years ago on Summer Folk directed by Eamon Flack which went on in Belvoir’s big rehearsal room for a week. Eden is a secret comedy weapon. He’s got great everyman appeal but with a strong sense of the ridiculous. He also has a lot of theatre experience so there’s a great short-hand. We’ve seen a lot of each other’s work so we sometimes know sooner what the other is trying to achieve.

What’s your favourite thing about Eden?
My favourite thing about Eden is that he has a daughter of a similar age to mine so we can relate. 

What is the biggest challenge when directing an epic, adventure comedy in the intimate downstairs Belvoir space?
The biggest challenge is treading the fine line of comedy – the epic and the ridiculous, getting performances which make it real yet slightly self aware. But these actors are gung ho masters of the art so we’re all good. Seriously I’m blessed with this cast to make the inherent ridiculousness of the show work. 

Eden Falk and Charlie Garber collaborate in The Astral Plane, by Charlie Garber.
Dates: 12 – 29 Jun, 2019
Venue: Belvoir St Theatre

Review: Collaborators (New Theatre)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Jun 4 – Jul 6, 2019
Playwright: John Hodge
Director: Moira Blumenthal
Cast: Michael Arvithis, Audrey Blyde, Ben Brighton, Elsa J Cherlin, Richard Cotter, Peter Farmer, Dave Kirkham, Madeline MacRae, Dominique Purdue, Joshua Shediak, Andrew Simpson, John van Putten, Annette van Roden, David Woodland
Images by Bob Seary

Theatre review
Near the end of his career, Mikhail Bulgakov wrote a play about Joseph Stalin. In John Hodge’s Collaborators, we examine that relationship between artist and dictator, speculating on the integrity that becomes compromised, when creativity is exposed to politics. From having his work banned, to completing Stalin’s flattering portrait, we observe the ease with which institutional power can infringe upon expression, and how the dissemination of information is always a precarious enterprise when governments and businesses are involved. Hodge’s play is imaginative, and quite dynamic, but the journey that it plots for Bulgakov is predictable; having sold his soul to the devil early in the process, it is a challenge for the narrative to go anywhere surprising.

It is however, a splendidly designed production, with Colleen Cook’s set and Martin Kinnane’s lights offering sumptuous imagery, and Patrick Howard’s luscious sound design adding to the surreal aesthetic being manufactured. The audience is immersed in a stylistic landscape inspired by Bulgakov and by Stalin’s Russia, one that feels accurate in its invocation of a time and space that feels historic, but not too long gone. Director Moira Blumenthal’s calibration of atmosphere for each scene is precise and passionate, but although tone is consistently well rendered for this staging of Collaborators, some of its dramaturgy proves insufficiently thorough, and what should clearly be a poignant experience, leaves us somewhat underwhelmed.

Leading man Andy Simpson brings a rich authenticity to Bulgakov. We believe this rendition of the struggling dramatist, even if his essence can eventually prove monotonous. Although not entirely convincing as a heavyset autocrat, Stalin is depicted by Richard Cotter, whose playful exuberance is an entertaining asset for the production. David Woodland impresses as Vladimir, secret police agent turned theatre director, bringing flamboyance as well as nuance to the show, keeping us riveted to his character, to deliver effective expositions when the story turns convoluted.

We need our art to be pure, but it is unrealistic to expect incorruptibility of our artists. More than anyone, they have to be open to the world, free to absorb anything that appeals to their senses. It is the nature of their vocation to be exposed to influences, but at the same, we need them to know the difference between right and wrong. In Collaborators, we see Bulgakov lose his way, as the propaganda machine gradually takes him over, reminding us that no artist is spared of human fallibility. People will fail, and failure must be acknowledged, so that we can recognise success when it appears.

www.newtheatre.org.au

Review: Gloria (Outhouse Theatre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Jun 6 – 22, 2019
Playwright: Branden Jacobs-Jenkins
Director: Alexander Berlage
Cast: Justin Amankwah, Annabel Harte, Reza Momenzada, Michelle Ny, Georgina Symes, Rowan Witt
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
The story happens at the most innocuous of places. In offices and a Starbucks cafe, characters from Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ Gloria do their best to stay afloat, in what feels like a never ending rat race. These humans are flesh and blood, but we see them caught inside machines, trying to navigate circumstances that are highly unnatural, and failing to do anything with integrity. Almost everyone ends up looking like a bad person, but it is hard for the audience to cast blame on any individual. It becomes clear that it is the environment that is toxic, and collectively we encourage horrible behaviour in one another. Gloria is about culture; the state we are in, and how we are trapped in a quagmire of our own doing, yet unable to figure a way out of it.

Jacobs-Jenkins’ penetrating look at Western civilisation is composed of fascinating dialogue and scintillating diatribes. A passionate expression of the frustrations we experience of city life, Gloria offers in theatrical form, an astute and scathing reflection of the games we play on a daily basis, that only serve to drag us down. The production opens with absorbing exuberance for a first act that portrays regular moments between colleagues at a publishing house. Jeremy Allen’s set design is commendable for its very persuasive insistence on incorporating a conventional proscenium, perhaps as representation of “the establishment”.

Director Alexander Berlage’s rendering of a bitchy workplace, communicates with a mischievous familiarity that many will find irresistible; we laugh at how mean-spirited we can be, with people we see every day, who should be our closest allies and compatriots. Acts 2 and 3 turn much darker, and the show’s energy dissipates slightly. Where it should begin to speak more stirringly, as we get closer to the crux of the issue, the staging struggles to maintain a focus on the essence of what is being said, leading us to a conclusion that feels somewhat cool.

Enjoyable performances include Michelle Ny as Kendra and Jenna, both roles sassy and strong, with the actor’s beaming confidence holding us captive, and head-over-heels dazzled. Rowan Witt is very funny as Dean and Devin, and highly impressive with the inventiveness that he is able to summon in bringing them both to life. Georgina Symes as the diametrically opposed Gloria and Nan, proves herself effective at each end of the hierarchy, powerful whether playing high or low on the social scale.

Like nature documentaries with predictable predator-and-prey patterns of behaviour in all manner of species, Gloria shows us to be a tribe engaging in ruthless activity, as though free will is but a figment of some crackpot imagination. The truth however, is that although there is no question of our causing harm to one another, many of us do think and try to do better. The argument therefore, is about how much control we believe ourselves to possess, and how much each person is able to manoeuvre themselves to try evade these narratives to which we seem to be condemned. If we understand ourselves to have been indoctrinated, we must believe that deprogramming is possible. The nature of culture is that it is pervasive, but history shows that it is never insurmountable. Change happens all the time, and it might as well begin with the self.

www.outhousetheatre.org

Review: The Cherry Orchard (Chippen Street Theatre)

Venue: Chippen Street Theatre (Chippendale NSW), Jun 6 – 16, 2019
Playwright: Anton Chekhov (adapted by Victor Kalka)
Director: Victor Kalka
Cast: Martin Bell, Garreth Cruikshank, Dominique de Marco, Zacharie di Ferdinando, Suzann James, Craig James, Laurel McGowan, Martin Quinn, Alannah Robertson, Benjamin Tarlinton, Caitlin Williams, Harley Wilson
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
In Victor Kalka’s adaptation of The Cherry Orchard, we revisit Lyubov Andreyevna’s property and the anxieties surrounding its impending transfer of ownership. This story of old money versus new money, as it relates to the evolution of the Russian economic system just over a hundred years ago, bears themes pertaining to social equality that will always be relevant, but Chekhov’s characters and their idiosyncratic concerns, from 1904, seem to have retained little lustre and resonance. We no longer struggle with the notion of work as virtue, as Chekhov seems to present as the work’s integral assertion. In fact, it can be argued that another point of progress has been reached, where we begin to question that very assumption of honourable labour, that has informed so much of our participation in twentieth-century capitalism.

The production allows us to look back at the dawn of these modern times, to observe the naive optimism with which we regarded that model as mechanism for a redistribution of wealth. We had hoped that the new system would once and for all eradicate poverty, that aristocracy would relent and be relegated to the dustbin of history, but we find ourselves in 2019, talking about the top 1% and trying to solve problems of a similar nature. In addition, as an Australian audience we have to confront the concept of land ownership, as beneficiaries of a cruel and ongoing colonisation, and consider the meaning of resource allocation, when rightful owners of all our wealth are routinely kept deprived and subjugated.

Kalka keeps his show moving swiftly, at a pace suited to our contemporary tastes, although we never get to know any of the twelve personalities sufficiently to really care about their individual or collective predicaments. Performances are uneven but it is, on the whole, an adequate ensemble that has us following the narrative and that helps us gather some of its more intellectual aspects. The production is strangely deficient in eliciting any emotional involvement. Even though relatively vibrant in parts, this iteration of The Cherry Orchard struggles to communicate beyond the cerebral.

When we trust in work, we believe in a system of reward that is intrinsically just. Power imbalances however, will always mean that those who provide labour are constantly under the control of those who pay the wages. In order that we may feel fairly rewarded, we need extensive knowledge about resource distribution, but it is precisely this information that is rigorously kept behind closed doors. We are made to believe that we are given what we deserve, and we are taught to accept class and wealth distinctions, so that we accept our lot as somehow natural, and keep working in accordance with rules that only favour those on top. Perhaps the optimism in The Cherry Orchard is indication that big changes do occur, that a revolution, as impossible as it may seem in our indoctrinated minds, will arrive one day.

www.chippenstreet.com | www.virginiaplaintheatre.com

5 Questions with Reza Momenzada and Michelle Ny

Reza Momenzada

Michelle Ny: What is the one piece of advice you’d tell your 10 year old self?
Reza Momenzada: I would tell myself to never give up on my dreams. Never ever. Never lose hope and never stop trying. It’s something that I probably wouldn’t have understood straight away but I would’ve definitely understood later and used for the rest of my life. It’s something I’m still struggling with, perhaps because I didn’t get that advice when I was ten.

You’re stuck on a desert island and you only have three movies to watch for the rest of your desert island life. What would they be?
If you had said a TV show I would’ve said Friends. I’d never get tired of it!

I think the performance that Heath Ledger gave as the Joker in The Dark Knight is something out of this world. Something that’ll never be repeated again. And it just shows what an actor is capable of doing once they’re fully committed to the role.

Django Unchained. Everything about this movie is just perfect, especially the performances DiCaprio and Christopher Waltz give. They’re the kind of actors whose performances just keep getting better and better.

And The Kite Runner. I’m not gonna tell you what it’s about and why I like it so much. I invite you to watch it, then you’ll know.

Describe your life when you are 60 years old in one sentence.
I’m retired, living with my beautiful wife in a big house surrounded by our children and grandchildren.

What is your favourite food and why?
There’s a dish called Kabuli/Quabili Palaw. It’s the most popular dish in Afghanistan (one might even say it’s the national dish). It consists of steamed rice mixed with fried raisins, carrots, orange peel strips with pistachios and almonds. It’s made with slow cooked lamb that’s placed in the middle of all this delicious mix. My mouth is already watering! Although right now I love anything that my wife makes and I prefer it to anything else.

What is your favourite line in Gloria?
“Why are we like this?” It’s probably the shortest line in the play but I think has a lot of meaning. It’s a question that I think the writer wants us to ask ourselves. Hopefully we can find the answer to it. I won’t say which character says it, when or why do they say it. If you’re reading this, come see the play and you’ll find out.

Michelle Ny

Reza Momenzada: You play two different characters in Gloria. In what ways are these characters similar to you?
Michelle Ny: Okay, Kendra is kind of a mean person who wouldn’t give a second thought to throw someone under a bus to get what she wants, but what I really connect with her ambition. She is highly ambitious and driven, and will do whatever it takes to be successful in her career. She’s also very honest and sometimes can be a bit hurtful. I’ve definitely learnt the hard way about being too honest with people and others reading it as being bitchy, but I’d rather just say what I mean than giving a white lie to make someone feel better. Jenna is a smaller character but, in a sense, much the same as Kendra — i.e. a power bitch.

What’s the most exciting thing for you about this play or the characters you portray?
Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ writing is so incredible; I love discovering more things about it every day. Half of the characters are nasty to each other but I think/hope you fall in love with them because of their desire and ambition of success in their industry. And, also, how good is a spat when you have juicy, well written text? And some side trivia, the play used to have the subtitle after Gloria: ‘Or Ambition’.

And what’s the most challenging?
Definitely the amount of talking I do and justifying taking all this time and space for my opinions. Sometimes I hear myself speak halfway through some big text and I think “IS MY VOICE ANNOYING?”, but that’s probably just my anxiety talking plus my own need to work on justifying my character’s beliefs in what she’s saying and really wanting to make the other characters in the play believe it too.

What’s the rehearsal process been like so far, working with Alex Berlage [the director] and everyone else in the room?
Everyone is so, so, so great; I feel spoilt. Alex is a wonderful director who makes the room feel really safe and super fun as well! I love his process of asking heaps of questions after we’ve run a section of the piece so we’re thoroughly detailing every moment. I also love talking so much shit at Rowan Witt (Dean). It’s so much fun to play an awful character and know we can both berate each other without actually hurting the other actor’s feelings (or so I hope, hehe.)

Is acting something you always wanted to pursue as a career and, if so, when did you realise this? If not, how did you discover your passion for acting?
I actually wanted to become a ballet dancer! I danced ballet for 14 years, so I did drama in high school to help with acting when I was dancing and from there, fell in love with it. I was really lucky to be a part of Long Cloud Youth Theatre in New Zealand where the artistic director, Willem Wassenaar, truly changed my life by really believing in the power of young people telling stories.

Reza Momenzada and Michelle Ny can be seen in Gloria, by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins.
Dates: 6 – 22 Jun, 2019
Venue: Seymour Centre