Review: The Torrents (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Jul 18 – Aug 24, 2019
Playwright: Oriel Gray
Director: Clare Watson
Cast: Emily Rose Brennan, Luke Carroll, Tony Cogin, Gareth Davies, Rob Johnson, Geoff Kelso, Sam Longley, Celia Pacquola, Steve Rodgers
Images by Philip Gostelow

Theatre review
Jenny Milford has barely begun working in a news room, but is already being threatened with the sack. It is the end of the nineteenth century, and the old white men of Koolgalla’s local newspaper simply cannot imagine a woman working with them. In the meantime, agriculture in Koolgalla is at a crossroads, with old interests having to give way to advancements, or the population will have to face extinction. The Torrents was written by Oriel Gray around 1955, and although its themes are undoubtedly pertinent, it comes as no surprise that this is only the play’s second staging in over half a century. Its plot structure is awkward, its dialogue dry, and its narrative too simple.

Director Clare Watson adds to Gray’s work a lot of ornamentation, and the show becomes, fortunately, of satisfactory quality. It is an elegantly designed production, not particularly inventive with any of its renderings, but certainly accomplished with what it sets out to achieve.

Actor Celia Pacquola is spirited in the leading role, able to introduce a modern sense of sass for Jenny to remain likeable. Although crucial to the story, the character often feels insufficiently dominant in the scheme of things, with many sequences seeming to keep her excluded. The play’s title refers to Rufus Torrent, editor of the paper, and his son Ben. The former played by a sturdy, dignified Tony Cogin, and the latter, a kooky Gareth Davies, whose impulsive comedy adds a reliable and welcome invigoration to proceedings.

It is evident that all performers in The Torrents invest in an attempt to fortify their show. There is good effervescent energy, and an admirable precision to their rhythms as an ensemble, and although the staging is ultimately underwhelming, polish of this standard is always impressive.

Like the residents of Koolgalla, we need something radical to wake us up to our impending destruction. It may be narcissism, or simply fear, that keeps us from accepting the truth of ecological and technological disasters that are already in motion. It was not until the old boys club in The Torrents were able to let the first woman in, that significant change was able to begin.

The powerful is almost always conservative. Those at the top are habituated into thinking that they must protect the existing, and are thus unable to conceive of big transformations that would make things better. They keep doing things the old way, to try and reinforce the security they imagine themselves enjoying. They manufacture a supremacy, to be protected at all costs, unwilling to recognise that it is not mother nature who will be obedient, but us, who must abide by nature’s laws.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au | www.bsstc.com.au

Review: The Lady Or The Tiger (Bondi Feast)

Venue: Bondi Pavilion Theatre (Bondi NSW), Jul 16 – 20, 2019
Devised by: Adriane Daff, Claudia Osborne, Eliza Scott, Mikala Westall
Directors: Claudia Osborne, Mikala Westall
Cast: Eliza Scott, Adriane Daff
Images by Phil Erbacher

Theatre review
There is a lady behind one door, and a tiger behind another, and it is pure luck should the accused make the right choice. Using Frank R. Stockton’s 1882 short story of the same name as departure point, The Lady Or The Tiger is inspired by the aforementioned’s device of unresolved storytelling, to create an experimental theatre that takes pleasure in a notion of disrupted narratives. The tiger says to the lady early in the piece, “did you skip a bit?” as though to prepare us for its intentionally fractured plot structure. Little episodes emerge from nowhere, and go nowhere. We can try to formulate cohesive meanings, or to simply stay in the moment, and luxuriate in the pure theatricality of the experience.

A spatial reversal sees the audience contained in a small nook of a room, as we watch the actors take on their roles on the expansive outside. Thomas Houghton’s lights bring glorious enhancement to an already breathtaking sight, not quite palatial but infinitely more grand than any small theatre is usually capable of providing. Sound by Angus Mills does exceptionally well, to help us hear every word of dialogue spoken in the open space, along with music that gently cradles the action taking place.

Performer Eliza Scott’s comedy is based on a charming vulnerability, that she harnesses with confidence and scintillating wit. Adriane Daff is an exacting and vivacious co-star, with a keen sense of comic timing that endears her to all. The pair is amusing, entertaining and inspiring. Even when we fail to make conventional sense of their shenanigans, there is much to indulge in these idiosyncratic presentations.

Directors Claudia Osborne and Mikala Westall assemble a fantastical range of ideas, full of whimsy and mischief, for a version of The Lady Or The Tiger that will appeal to the adventurous and sophisticated. They make a theatre that is anything but ordinary, shifting the emphasis away from “the moral of the story”, to an exploration of the means and purposes of communication. We have to connect in new ways, if the old is broken. We sit here each with our independent interpretations of the show, but a joyful harmony descends upon us, as though a kind of consensus has been reached.

www.kleinefeinheiten.com | www.bondifeast.com.au

Review: Relative Merits (El Rocco Room)

Venue: El Rocco Room (Potts Point NSW), Jul 10 – 25, 2019
Playwright: Barry Lowe
Director: Porter James
Cast: Isaac Broadbent, Samuel Welsh
Images by Joseph Issa

Theatre review
Clay has come to Sydney looking for his brother, just when Adam announces his retirement from footy stardom. It is not a convenient time, made even more difficult by Clay’s over-the-top homophobia, as he discovers Adam to be in the process of coming out as gay. Relative Merits by Barry Lowe describes some of the hardest experiences for LGBTQI people, when we have to deal with conflict between family members who are almost always ignorant of our challenges. The story takes place 30 years ago, and even though much of our social contexts have changed, what happens at home can still feel much the same.

Young Clay has to go through an extensive learning process over a short period, to undo a lifetime of programming. He is presented with a situation that goes against bigoted values he had inherited, but the love for his brother compels a process of rehabilitation, like many families have had to experience. Actor Isaac Broadbent convincingly portrays that transformation in Clay, with co-star Samuel Welsh adept at expressing Adam’s various states of torment. Performances often feel exaggerated, as a result of some very unsubtle writing, but director Porter James ensures that the narrative is conveyed with clarity, for an hour of nostalgic theatre that is not without its charms.

Queer babies are born everyday to straight parents. This is our history, and will continue to be our reality, as long as that binary of straight and queer persists. It is however possible to imagine a future in which people are not defined thus, that sexuality rejects those categories, so that we will no longer be able to be segregated by useless notions of difference. If we do preserve those differences, we must better appreciate the equality that exists within those differences, that we may be diverse and unpredictable, but human lives should not be ranked in arbitrary hierarchies that prioritise some over others. It may not always be our natural impulse to love all, but if there is anything that is worth indoctrination, it is that message of love thy neighbour that we must insist to come above all else.

www.lhe-agency.com

Review: Omar And Dawn (Apocalypse Theatre Company / Green Door Theatre Company)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jul 12 – 27, 2019
Playwright: James Elazzi
Director: Dino Dimitriadis
Cast: Maggie Blinco, Antony Makhlouf, Lex Marinos, Mansoor Noor
Images by Robert Catto

Theatre review
Dawn is 80 years of age, and a passionate foster carer. Omar is her latest ward, a wayward teenager who has little but frustration and anger to fill his days. Omar often joins Ahmed on a bridge, unwillingly selling sex to local closet cases. The two boys share an intimate relationship, bonded by homelessness, and similar cultural backgrounds that relegate them as outsiders. James Elazzi’s Omar And Dawn tells the story of gay teens from Lebanese-Australian and Muslim sections of our community. Along with its simultaneous focus on the ageing population of white Australians, the play brings together these two neglected groups, for an unexpected theatrical juxtaposition that reveals a facet of our national identity usually kept under wraps. There is a lot of shame here, but none of it is of our protagonists’ doing. The invisible character in Elazzi’s play is Australia, the part of us that is ignorant, heartless, and wholly responsible for the suffering that people like Omar and Dawn have to endure.

Elazzi’s writing is deeply insightful, exquisite in its ability to put to action, and to words, parts of life that we habitually avoid. There is a fearlessness in its interrogation of the taboo, that makes Oman And Dawn so fascinating; although it sits right under our noses, real talent is required to make us see it properly. Directed by Dino Dimitriadis, the show is extraordinarily tender, and even though sentimental in its rendering, it communicates succinctly, bringing to light with little fuss, that which we have long needed to acknowledge. The production offers an emotional experience, but there is no mistaking the coldness upon which our empathy is drawn. Lights by Benjamin Brockman and sound by Ben Pierpoint portray the steely and pitiless qualities of being Australian, with Aleisa Jelbart’s stage design of grey gravel further asserting the needlessly harsh conditions that some of us are subjected to.

Actor Antony Makhlouf is an energetic presence, and although repetitive with his expressions of Omar’s angst, an unmistakable sincerity in his performance keeps us sympathetic to his plight. Maggie Blinco plays a very dignified Dawn, to provide an elegant, and deceptively quiet, study of a self-assured woman determined to do what is right. Effervescence is brought by Lex Marinos, who is convincing, and wonderfully entertaining, as Dawn’s mechanic brother Darren. It is surprising perhaps, that the most poignant moments come from supporting actor Mansoor Noor, whose powerful depiction of Ahmed’s turmoil, has us spellbound and devastated. The authenticity in Noor’s display of despondency shows remarkable skill, and although profoundly heartbreaking, delivers some seriously delicious drama.

When people become homeless, our impulse is to question the individual, as though our lives are so conveniently detached. Many of us have faced abandonment, by people whose duty it is to love and care for us. How we move from a broken nest, to find a new space of security, will only ever be hard. Omar is always on the verge of giving up, but Dawn has enough resilience for the both of them. She understands that to give of herself, is the only way to escape emptiness. It looks very much like unconditional love, but the reciprocity of that relationship is unequivocal, even if it is not immediately evident.

www.apocalypsetheatrecompany.com | www.greendoortheatreco.com

Review: Cool Pool Party (Bondi Feast)

Venue: Bondi Pavilion Theatre (Bondi NSW), Jul 16 – 18, 2019
Playwrights: Antoinette Barbouttis, Scarlett Beaumont
Director: Riley Spadaro
Cast: Antoinette Barbouttis, Gary Brun, Andrew Fraser, Liam Nunan, Emily Richardson, Shannon Ryan, Jack Scott, Riley Spadaro, Alex Stamell, Alana Stewart, James Thomasson
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Antoinette Barbouttis says that Cool Pool Party was written in collaboration with 11 year-old Scarlett Beaumont, after the two had struck up a relationship from Barbouttis being hired as Beaumont’s babysitter. The play is predictably childish, inane even, as we see the narrative entirely from Beaumont’s very juvenile eyes. A group of rich teenagers congregate at a pool party, they play truth or dare, and hilarity ensues.

That, fortunately, is only half the story. The production begins with a lengthy pre-show panel, in which Barbouttis and director Riley Spadaro attempt to have a discussion about the show, and about the nature of theatre in general. We quickly discover that the two are not getting along well at all, with Spadaro’s passive aggression coming up against Barbouttis’ obstinate resistance, creating extraordinary tension, and making us respond with cringing laughter. This dramatic conflict, of course, is a ruse that allows us to explore the processes and meanings of the art form, made even more salient by Barbouttis’ highly autobiographical approach, in which she exposes the most vulnerable states of artistic creation. Getting to the truth is, after all, the name of the game.

As performer, Spadaro brings an acerbity that alarms with its honesty, and his irrepressible zeal for causing mischief translates to excellent entertainment value. Barbouttis is a compelling presence, with an anarchic spirit that ensures her audience is kept on their toes at all times. Of the ensemble pretending to be kids, Liam Nunan is a stand out, extravagant and very funny with the multi-layered farce that he presents.

Barbouttis has not found life as an artist to be easy, and she makes no bones about it. There is no disguising the difficulties behind a finished product in Cool Pool Party; there is figurative scaffolding everywhere, and seams are coming apart all the time. The work is unnerving in its modernity. Some will find it unbearably awkward, and others will find it a gleeful delight, but the show insists that everyone who sees it, will have to be intellectually engaged on some level. It talks about the human condition, as the best of art does, but further, its creator puts herself completely on the line, turning her personal condition into the exhibit from which we must observe, appreciate, and learn from.

www.bondifeast.com.au

Review: This Bitter Earth (New Theatre)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Jul 11 – 27, 2019
Playwright: Chris Edwards
Director: Riley Spadaro
Cast: Mitchell Bourke, Michael Cameron, Matthew Predny, Elle Mickel, Sasha Simon, Ariadne Sourgos
Images by Bob Seary

Theatre review
Comprising six scenes, This Bitter Earth by Chris Edwards is essentially a series of short plays about being young, queer and white in Sydney. Although not particularly profound, Edwards’ writing is ultimately insightful, with an absorbing balance of light and dark to keep us intrigued and entertained. A refreshing addition to the legacy of queer playwriting, This Bitter Earth deviates from the tradition of torment and trauma, for a theatre that presents the hardship of coming-of-age as humorous and strikingly natural. The oppressive closet is conspicuously missing in action.

The staging is polished, elegant and very attractive, assembled by an excellent design team, who all but steal the show with their remarkable sense of style. Set and costumes by Grace Deacon are inventive and sophisticated, beautifully considered in each of its spatial transformations between scenes. Phoebe Pilcher and Morgan Moroney’s lights are sensual and poetic. There is a passion in their practice that proves to be quite captivating.

Riley Spadaro’s confident direction gives This Bitter Earth a gravity that helps it sing with purpose. His ability to convey nuance prevents the show from turning flimsy, even at moments when the narrative shifts to frivolous concerns. The show is performed by a charming cast, including an effervescent Elle Mickel whose comic timing is a real asset to the production. Matthew Predny introduces palpable vulnerability to his characters, along with a dynamism that is satisfyingly disarming. Also impressive is Mitchell Bourke, whose portrayal of the classic but tricky combination of camp and despair, resonates with surprising authenticity.

Generations of LGBTQI people have worked hard for today’s social and legal advancements; the equality that we do have are hard-won, to say the least. Watching our young, privileged ones in This Bitter Earth go through their 2019 version of rites of passage, is a joyous exercise, even as we watch them suffer through their growing pains. Coming out stories have dramatically changed, as we had hoped. Our tribe can now begin to experience early adulthood in a way that is no longer exponentially harder than their straight counterparts. Their challenges remain different from the mainstream, but the additional labour of having to deal with structural prejudice, is quickly vanishing. Understanding sex will never be easy, but there is no need for the process to be made more difficult by anyone’s ignorance.

www.newtheatre.org.au

Review: The Cripple Of Inishmaan (Mad March Hare Theatre Company)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Jul 11 – Aug 10, 2019
Playwright: Martin McDonagh
Director: Claudia Barrie
Cast: Josh Anderson, Sarah Aubrey, Alex Bryant-Smith, Laurence Coy, Jude Gibson, John Harding, Megan O’Connell, William Rees, Jane Watt
Images by Marnya Rothe

Theatre review
It is the Great Depression, and in the small Irish town of Inishmaan, we meet Billy who has grown up an orphan and with a disability. He is cared for by aunts, and by the town folk who are always in each other’s pockets, but the prejudice that he suffers, although fairly benign, is constant and unrelenting. When Hollywood comes calling, he takes no time at all to pack up and go, certain that greener pastures await. Martin McDonagh’s The Cripple Of Inishmaan is a witty examination of parochial rural societies, looking at the way we can be, when there is little to do but to occupy oneself with other people’s business. In the tension between staying and leaving, Billy demonstrates who we are, as dreamers always seeking something better. Hope is our way out, even if hope does on occasion prove itself empty.

Actor William Rees contributes a gentle innocence to the show. As Billy, his performance is unpretentious, relying only on honest impulses to tell the story. It is an accomplished ensemble. Although not quite as funny as the writing seems to require, there is certainly no lack of authenticity in the personalities they aim to portray. Jude Gibson and Laurence Coy are memorable as a mother-and-son team, with a wicked streak to their dynamic that unnerves and delights. Sarah Aubrey and Megan O’Connell are the aunts, captivating at each appearance with their marvellously sardonic approach, for a couple of sullen pessimists.

Claudia Barrie’s direction depicts a bleakness that accurately conveys the environment under scrutiny, but its lack of vibrancy makes compromises to the play’s humour that can cause the experience to feel underwhelming. Set design by Brianna Patrice Russell is effective in transporting us to a distant time and place, while Benjamin Brockman’s lights bring valuable visual variety to the narrative. Sound and music by Kailesh Reitmans is restrained, with a subtlety that adds a sense of tranquil beauty to the piece.

Sleepy towns are both idyllic and frustrating. They allow us to be slow with nature, but the peace that it promises tends to be short-lived. The corrupting forces so commonly found in urban existences, are not absent when we escape to rustic locales, they simply take on a different form. People will find trouble with one another, no matter where we structure our lives. As long as ignorance persists, and people are unable to recognise their bigotry, or see the consequences of their cruelty, we will struggle to find harmony. We care for Billy, but for him to be well, the world needs to change.

www.madmarchtheatreco.com | www.redlineproductions.com.au