Review: I Hope It’s Not Raining In London (Bearfoot Theatre)

Venue: PACT Centre for Emerging Artists (Erskineville NSW), Jun 26 – 29, 2019
Playwright: Nicholas Thoroughgood
Director: Riley McLean
Cast: Daniel Cottier, Cassie Hamilton, Nicholas Thoroughgood, Zoe Walker
Images by Riley McLean

Theatre review
It begins with two young people in a mysterious room, both of whom are not quite sure who or where they are. The amnesia gradually fades away, as they proceed to recollect memories explaining how they got here. We learn soon enough, that Nicholas Thoroughgood’s I Hope It’s Not Raining In London is about these protagonists’ relationships with their parents. They look back at the warm and the chilling, and try to figure out, where to from here. It is a sensitive piece of writing, well considered but perhaps not quite as powerful as it wishes to be. The structure elicits a healthy dose of intrigue, although we find ourselves arriving at its climax with insufficient dramatic tension.

Directed by Riley McLean, the production is elegantly styled, with an emphasis on chemistry between actors that keeps our attention on the story. Daniel Cottier and playwright Thoroughgood perform the central characters, both persuasively naturalistic, with an ease and familiarity with the material that allows them to bring sizeable confidence to the stage. Also noteworthy is McLean’s lighting design, simple but varied, efficient with the management of scene transitions, and effective in conveying atmospheric transformations.

Some say that heaven, hell and purgatory are not about the afterlife, but are allegorical concepts for the here and now. Indeed, it is helpful to always think about today as a consequence of yesterday, in order that we may learn to make improvements. In our storytelling too, causation, of one thing leading to another, shapes all our narratives. We can however, disconnect from the past, or at least, formulate new beginnings, so that we can experience radical reconstructions, when so desired. What’s done cannot be undone, but what we do with the future is only restricted by imagination.

www.facebook.com/bearfoottheatreaus

Review: The Astral Plane (25A Belvoir)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Jun 12 – 29, 2019
Playwright: Charlie Garber
Director: Charlie Garber
Cast: Eden Falk, Emma Harvie, Julia Robertson, Imogen Sage, Ella Scott Lynch, Michael Whalley

Theatre review
Charlie Garber’s The Astral Plane happens in that space one arrives at before attaining nirvana, where imagination easily turns into reality, or to be more accurate, material. It is all very strange. Depending on personal inclinations, Garber’s sense of humour can be appealing, even in an adventure featuring talking rats and social media influencers that proves to make no sense whatsoever. It is a comedy about nothing, that can leave one feeling quite empty by its end, but there are certainly laughs to be had in every one of its wacky scenes.

An energetic cast, full of conviction, takes us on a spirited ride. They are determined to entertain, and their presence is consistently infectious. In the role of Romi is Imogen Sage, who brings to the stage, an exaggerated effervescence and more than a hint of quirkiness. Julia Robertson is impressive as Deborah, very powerful with an artistic approach that is always daring and robust. Emma Harvie and Michael Whalley are the rats, both performers extraordinarily charming, able to convince us of anything, no matter how farfetched their story.

There is tremendous creativity in The Astral Plane, but its idiosyncrasy will only find appreciation from some. Art can hope to be universal, but it must originate from a personal place if we require it to be honest. Thinking that people are all the same is dangerous, for we are only equal and never replicants of each other. There must be generous allowance for artists to express their individuality, no matter how off-kilter, as long as we are prepared for it to land where we do not predict.

www.facebook.com/theastralplane | www.belvoir.com.au

Review: The Happy Prince (Little Ones Theatre)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jun 25 – Jul 6, 2019
Director: Stephen Nicolazzo
Cast: Catherine Davies, Janine Watson
Images by Robert Catto

Theatre review
It is the perfect symbiotic relationship, when the swallow meets the statue and they see deep into each other, not through some mutually obsessive infatuation, but by a shared fervour for bringing peace unto others. In this adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s short story The Happy Prince, we observe selflessness as the ultimate joy and fulfilment. Independently, each entity can do little, but together, they are able to help people in need, and it is only in bringing happiness to strangers, that they themselves are at their most exultant.

Directed by Stephen Nicolazzo, the show is correspondingly generous. Its messages are earnest, fiercely so, and it stringently disallows any room for our customary cynicism. A profound sense of melancholia works almost as its guiding light, taking us down a journey of meditative reflection, to facilitate an examination of the values we use to navigate this thing called life. The swallow and the statue exist in a concurrent state of joy and pain, and we feel every nuanced articulation of emotion depicted by this extraordinary staging. Poetic, with a sublime beauty that transcends all manner of convention, The Happy Prince speaks its truth with remarkable clarity, to deliver an hour of theatre that is as moving an experience as any fairy tale could wish to be.

Music by Daniel Nixon holds us tight, keeping us firmly in the grasp of a show determined to connect with the best of our humanity. Nixon’s work is tender, tremendously stirring, and we respond only with an attitude of pure benevolence. Katie Sftekidis’ lights have a similar effect, drawing us into a sentimental dreamscape, gently pushing away inhibitions so that our capacities know to welcome all the warmth, and wistfulness, of Wilde’s story.

Catherine Davies and Janine Watson are our players, both enchanting and majestically impassioned, full of soul in their performance of a piece that all our broken hearts need to encounter. Watson is the statue, the eponymous Happy Prince who shows us that glory means nothing when left enshrined and static. The actor communicates powerfully, the best of human nature, with a stylistic restraint that barely contains the urgency of what she wishes to convey. Davies takes flight as the swallow, giving us comedy and pathos in equal potent measure, precise at every point in the illustration of her character’s vacillating transformation, from apathetic to spirited. The robust couple is inventive, with an extraordinary charisma that demands our attention. Their sensuality adds a dimension of eroticism to the work, that operates to enhance the theme of compassion, as the play’s central concern.

It is easy to think of sacrifice in terms of loss. In The Happy Prince however, we are reminded that the purpose of sacrifice is to attain something greater, that more often than not, paying a price will lead us to a reward. We watch the statue and her swallow go through considerable suffering, but we are left without doubt as to the immense satisfaction they experience as a result of their pain. Pleasure does not always involve the sting of its cost, but when one is compelled to give until it hurts, what returns is usually from the realms of the divine.

www.littleonestheatre.com.au

Review: Trevor (Outhouse Theatre Co)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jun 14 – Jul 6, 2019
Playwright: Nick Jones
Director: Shaun Rennie
Cast: Di Adams, Jemwel Danao, Garth Holcombe, David Lynch, Ainslie McGlynn, Jamie Oxenbould, Eloise Snape
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Sandra owns a pet chimpanzee, who in Nick Jones’ Trevor, fancies himself a professional performer, having appeared as a younger primate, on stage and screen. Work has dried up, and Trevor is increasingly restless about his career’s downward trajectory. This of course, is all in his own mind, with Sandra completely oblivious about the turmoil that is brewing inside of the animal. Trevor is given his own voice by the playwright, but he talks as though in a monologue, never expecting any of the humans to understand, thus setting up for the play an inter-species disconnect that figures heavily as its ultimate raison d’etre.

Actor Jamie Oxenbould is persuasive as the chimp, with animalistic energy emanating from all of his being, without excessive reliance on physical mimicry. We believe his ambitions and his frustrations as Trevor, and appreciate the dramatic escalations being presented, through every plot development. Similarly convincing is Di Adams as Sandra, whose own problems are revealed at a slower pace, although no less powerful. There is however, a significantly stronger emphasis on Trevor’s experience than there is on Sandra’s, and considering our predictable affinity with the human character, it is a strange choice that prevents us from a closer empathy with the story.

In allowing Sandra to be somewhat subsumed in the production, director Shaun Rennie risks a distance that could result in a degree of emotional detachment for the audience, but it is a show that is relentless lively, and we find ourselves consistently involved, if not always invested. In a similar vein, Garth Holcombe and Eloise Snape both play larger than life, and very flamboyant personalities, who amuse us at every appearance, but who do little in engaging us on more profound levels. Their costumes though, are notably striking, humorously assembled by Jonathan Hindmarsh, who also solves spatial challenges as set designer, with demarcations of the stage that are, by and large, surprisingly effective. Lights by Kelsey Lee and sound by Melanie Herbert too, are accomplished, for an overall theatrical impact that proves gratifying.

It is absurd that a creature like Trevor should ever be kept as a pet. Human environments are barely feasible for our own survival, yet we insist on removing animals from their natural habitats, to put up with what we know is completely impracticable for them. This is the extent of our arrogance and narcissism. We see nature as a resource to be plundered, and fail to consider the consequences of our incessant exploitation. Trevor is about nature fighting back, and a timely work that opens up discussions about extinction, of the human race.

www.outhousetheatre.org

Review: Things I Know To Be True (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Jun 8 – Jul 21, 2019
Playwright: Andrew Bovell
Director: Neil Armfield
Cast: Miranda Daughtry, Tom Hobbs, Matt Levett, Tony Martin, Anna Lise Phillips, Helen Thomson
Images by Heidrun Löhr

Theatre review
Fran and Bob suddenly find themselves in their sixties, and although both have worked hard, there seems little to show for. After having put everything into raising a family, the couple is starting to have to confront their twilight years. With four adult children still struggling to find their own feet, and a marriage that has long lost its lustre, years of sacrifice seems to have delivered little contentment. Andrew Bovell’s Things I Know To Be True is a portrait of one family, in some ways typical of the Australian experience, but certainly not representative of our myriad diversities. More bitter than sweet, this family drama contains excellent humour and a great deal of sentimentality, as though trying to mask the pessimism that it fundamentally contains.

The Price family presents an admirable facade. There is undeniable love, very well depicted by director Neil Armfield, but we are encouraged to question the choices Fran and Bob had made, or more precisely, to question the options they had perceived to be available when deciding to follow the straight and narrow. Fran concedes that she had adopted others’ expectations as her own, that she believed her destiny was to be a mother and nothing else. Now observing her legacy, we see her constantly trying to find satisfaction, usually tenuous at best, with all that she had manifested. The thing about parenthood is that room for regret is virtually non-existent.

The production is incredibly well-crafted, with every faculty operating at levels of excellence, keeping us enthralled from beginning to end. Armfield magnifies all the comedy and drama, for a show determined to entertain, even if its emotional resonances tend to feel highly romanticised. Lights by Damien Cooper warmly lull us into a daze of tenderness, making us a forgiving audience for Things I Know To Be True, almost oblivious to its characters’ flaws and frequent moments of stupidity.

Terribly ordinary people are turned captivating, by a cast of actors brimming with charm. Tony Martin is especially charismatic as Bob, beautiful with the vulnerability that he so effectively depicts, alongside a convincing rendering of archetypal suburban masculinity. The very funny Helen Thomson, who never misses any opportunity to create laughter, plays Fran, a wonderfully complex character, able to sustain our empathy even after some very unkind behaviour. Miranda Daughtry is notable as youngest daughter Rosie, whose unyielding innocence sets the tone from curtain-up, allowing us to see the story with her eyes, often too pure for our own good.

Things I Know To Be True does not intend to be a cautionary tale, but one could be tempted to interpret it as such. Aside from Fran who had worked tirelessly for decades as a nurse, there is no evidence of any great contribution to society or to humanity, in these small, albeit painful, existences. The Prices think about nothing but themselves, and are perhaps unsurprisingly, overwhelmed with frustration and anguish. Fran and Bob were committed to being the best parents, but never found a way to impart a sense of fulfilment to their offspring. If we return to the initial unexamined notion of procreation as an obligatory social and personal imperative, we might be able to draw from Fran and Bob’s story, the consequences of doing things without thinking them through.

www.belvoir.com.au

5 Questions with Maggie Blinco and Lex Marinos

Maggie Blinco

Lex Marinos: What is your earliest performing memory?
Maggie Blinco: Earliest memory was in Russell Lea Kindergarten where I was cast as Mary Mary Quite Contrary which I think was a bit of early typecasting. The rest of the class sat as flowers in a row and I watered them and made the mistake of actually getting a drop on my best friend. She glowered and I knew what was in store for me.

Who has influenced you most?
Rex Cramphorn… I did not become “professional” till I was in my late thirties and for some years was cast on my comic and loud brash persona. For some reason I have never plumbed, Rex cast me in a very serious role in Edward Bond’s Summer, down in Melbourne at Playbox Theatre. It was the beginning of an awakening and a fruitful collaboration with that wonderful man.

What do you pursue when not acting?
I knit a lot. Complicated Kaffe Fasset patterns, A variety of stuff. I find it soothing and very good for the grey matter, working out patterns. I love cooking and getting friends around a table, actors mainly I suppose.I have a lovely family and spend time with them as much as possible. I shop and cook and keep house just like any old fashioned woman.

How many grandkids do you have?
3 granchildren. Over the years I have been very involved with them and minded them all a great deal when they were young. I had fun with them and I dearly love them.

Are you married? Are you wealthy? Answer second question first.
Unfortunately I am a poverty stricken actress who only occasionally makes any reasonable money, despite my long experience.If you were not already married to that lovely wife you have I might have grabbed you years ago.I do love working with you on this play. A sense of humour is a vital element in any man and you are loaded with it.

Lex Marinos

Maggie Blinco: Why do you balk at answering questions?
Lex Marinos: Um …

What do you enjoy most in life?
Waking up, realising I haven’t died in my sleep, it’s always on my bucket list. Then it’s family. I’m blessed with wife kids, grandkids, brother, aunts, cousins nieces nephews, in laws outlaws… all with interesting lives. We laugh as our default setting and cry when necessary.vI remember my Papou: “My child’s child is twice my child”

Can you remember why you wanted to be an actor/entertainer?
To find fame, fortune, and a girlfriend. Admittedly 1 out of 3 is not a great return, but I’ve kept on keeping on. Did’t want to work in the café. Didn’t want to work in an office. Didn’t want a regular job. Wanted to create shows like Omar And Dawn. Wanted to meet interesting people like you. Wanted to travel to exotic places like Tasmania and Qatar.

What is your simple guiding philosophy for dealing with this crazy world?
I just try and get through the day, aware of how capricious life is and that people can be dangerously dumb and brilliantly smart.

Do you cook?
I reheat and make salad and toast… Sometimes I do lamb shanks or a curry. I’m surrounded by brilliant cooks and am happy to serve as their taster.

Maggie Blinco and Lex Marinos can be seen in Omar And Dawn by James Elazzi.
Dates: 12 – 27 Jul, 2019
Venue: Kings Cross Theatre

5 Questions with Chelsea Needham and Cassandra Sorrell

Chelsea Needham

Cassandra Sorrell: Did you always want to be an actor and musician?
I always wanted to be loud and untameable. There is nothing more exciting than sitting across from other humans an expressing yourself in the rawest way possible. Nothing more exciting for both parties.

Why do you think it’s important that these characters are both women?
I think it’s more important that these two figures identify similarly. The play is a universal exploration of the gray area between truth and lies that is essential to functioning human interaction and relationships.

What has been most challenging about this play?
Leaving rehearsals with an adjusted idea of what your truth is.

What’s your favourite line in I (Love) You?
‘It tastes like spinach but chunky.’

If you could design a piece of technology for the future what would it be?
An endless plant based goats cheese growing machine!

Cassandra Sorrell

Chelsea Needham: So I hear you write and act and do all sorts of amazing things, is there one thing that draws you in the most?
Cassandra Sorrell: Acting had always been my main drive until I discovered a confidence in my writing. Now the two ebb and flow in regards to what serves me more as an artist at any given time.

What’s the best and worst thing about being in a play set in the future?
The best thing is having the luxury to create a world in the room, throw around ideas and explore what could be possible. The worst thing is not having definitive facts to rely on.

Would you implant a ‘truth chip’ in your brain to stop you from lying?
Potentially. I would like to know who that person is and how I would relate to the world. I feel like I would be more authentic. At the same time…would it be to the detriment of creative license, as an artist?

What do you think is most important message about I (Love) You?
That truth must first be discovered in oneself before demanding it from another.

Is it true that the playwright’s dog comes to rehearsals?
No comment.

Chelsea Needham and Cassandra Sorrell can be seen in I (Love) You by Eliza Oliver.
Dates: 18 – 29 Jun, 2019
Venue: Old 505 Theatre