Review: West Side Story (Opera Australia)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), from Aug 16 – Oct 6, 2019
Book: Arthur Laurents
Music: Leonard Bernstein
Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim
Director: Jerome Robbins
Cast: Christian Ambesi, Matthew Antonucci, Daniel Assetta, Molly Bugeja, Olivia Carniato, Nicholas Collins, Nikki Croker, Paul Dawber, Angelica Di Clemente, Sarah Dimas, Amba Fewster, Anthony Garcia, Sebastien Golenko, Keanu Gonzalez, Paul Hanlon, Zoe Ioannou, Brady Kitchingham, Ariana Mazzeo, Noah Mullins, Natasha O’Hehir, Nathan Pavey, Sophie Salvesani, Berynn Schwerdt, Ritchie Singer, Taylah Small, Joshua Taylor, Blake Tuke, Dean Vince, Lyndon Watts, Daniel Wijngaarden, Jason Yang-Westland, Chloé Zuel
Images by Jeff Busby

Theatre review
It is now 62 years, since the world was first introduced to the Jets and the Sharks, rival gangs from West Side Story, Bernstein and Sondheim’s landmark musical. Its relevance today is startling, as we find the United States in the throes of shocking immigration policies, determined to demonise those hailing from Latin America. The authentic darkness of the piece prevents it from dating, from its experimental musical styles to its thematic explorations into racial vilification, its resonances are timeless, even if the narrative seems to relate specifically to a distant time and space.

The production is highly polished, with director and choreographer Jerome Robbins’ original vision faithfully presented. Design elements no longer feel inventive by today’s standards, but the air of sophistication being conjured is unequivocal.

A tale about white supremacy, West Side Story features a group of white boys called the Jets, who spend their days taunting the Puerto Rican Sharks. Lyndon Watts is an imposing Bernardo, powerful and precise as leader of the Sharks. His nemesis Riff is played by Noah Mullins, a very peculiar casting choice given the performer’s glaringly bookish quality. Leading lady Sophie Salvesani is a suitably wholesome Maria, although rarely inspiring with her renditions of some extremely well-known songs. Daniel Assetta may not deliver a flawless Tony, but we are kept engaged by his likeable presence and surprisingly dulcet tones. The one real star on this stage is Chloé Zuel, whose Anita takes us through every gamut of emotion, impressive from beginning to end, as the proverbial triple threat.

Policing authorities in West Side Story fail to recognise the inherent power imbalance at play, as they attempt to handle the situation as though the feuding parties are equal in strength, unable to identify the victims they should protect. Minorities are routinely subjugated, when a level playing field exists only in our imagination. It is easy to place blame on the juvenile delinquents, who act out these objectionable impulses, but the problems are systemic, deeply entrenched in how we think and how we do things. The cure needs to target the root of the problem, and that will never be less than radical.

www.westsidestory.com.au

Review: 3x3x2 Festival Of New Works (PACT Centre For Emerging Artists)

Venue: PACT Centre for Emerging Artists (Erskineville NSW), Aug 14 – 24, 2019
Images by Samuel James

Freefall
Playwright: Emily Dash
Director: Kip Chapman
Cast: Emily Dash, Alicia Fox, Laura Hobbs, Dean Nash, Liz Diggins

Bring Your Devices In Case You Forget
Creator: Christie Woodhouse
Cast: Christie Woodhouse

Hydraulic Fucking
Creator: Cheryn Frost
Cast: Cheryn Frost

Theatre review
3x3x2 Festival Of New Works presents three separate showings of young women at the helm, all inventive and urgent in their need to talk about some of the day’s biggest issues. Emily Dash’s Freefall is essentially a love story, between a woman of colour and a woman in a wheelchair, in which we investigate the possibility of a union between perspectives of the universe that seem so fundamentally different. Bring Your Devices In Case You Forget by Christie Woodhouse reflects that sense of modern omnipresence, through our participation as multi-identity beings across endless technological platforms, contrasting with her worries about the survival of our species. Yuwaalaraay artist Cheryn Frost makes a stinging statement about capitalist colonisation of Indigenous lands, in Hydraulic Fucking, a no holds barred, highly engaging piece of theatre that is relentless with its politics, yet sensationally entertaining.

In Freefall, Dash’s poetic writing is made powerful by her own performance as Carmen, an intense personality with an insatiable thirst for truth and honesty. Actor Alicia Fox too, is effervescent in the piece, with excellent conviction making the central romantic relationship believable. Bring Your Devices In Case You Forget features the captivating presence of its creator Woodhouse, along with clever video projections, and an innovative manipulation of its artistic form, to inspire ideas relating to the virtual and non-virtual worlds in which we operate. Darkest and funniest of the minuscule festival is Hydraulic Fucking, a work full of vigour, and subversive to the core. Impolite and transgressive, Frost demonstrates extraordinary vision and nerve, in her unforgettable interrogation of our collective conscience.

In 2019, it would seem that the greatest sin is ignorance. The democratisation of information through the advent of technologies, has allowed voices to break through, that once were routinely subdued and buried. Without traditional gatekeepers making all the rules, we can now hear more clearly, from those who make statements that do not fit the dominant narrative. Dash, Frost and Woodhouse are the latest in a long line of counterculture artists, but today they represent a new normal. The audience has learned to discern power structures that had previously been disguised, and we are waking up to the injustices inherent in old ways of storytelling and of understanding the world. The difficulty now, is to recognise the privilege that one possesses, and then be able to carry out meaningful action that will make our communities more equitable and kind.

www.pact.net.au

5 Questions with Tommy Misa and Annie Stafford

Tommy Misa

Annie Stafford: If you were to be trapped in a room with someone, who would it be? (And you can’t say me.)
Tommy Misa: I spend a lot of time alone and tend to figure things out solo so I would prefer to have a doggo with me! Humans are unreliable.

Betty Breaks Out deals with stereotypes and breaking forth from those roles, what stereotype or role are you currently enjoying breaking out of?
In my own life I am very comfortable in my self. In my acting I am enjoying breaking free of the stereotypes of what masculinity can look like, it comes in so many different expressions and different genders and finding ways to show what exists outside of what society deems “masculine” is freeing and sexy!

Who were the heroes and heroines of your childhood?
Growing up I didn’t see many queer or brown characters on screen or stage so my heroes were those I knew. My mother, my grandmothers and all the strong women who taught me what I know… oh and Queen Latifah.

Through watching silent Films for research and inspiration, what are the top 3 things you’ve taken away that you want to implement into your performance?
1. Physicality was so camp and melo-dramatic! I’m here for that.
2. Show, Don’t tell – We are told this so often but when you have no dialogue you really have to bring it back to basics.
3. The way men/women navigated power dynamics of characters depending on gender, I want to flip all that shit on its head.

Have you ever met someone (famous or not) that you had a perceived idea of what they would be like due to their roles or public persona, and have them either confirm your idea of them or completely dash it? Without naming names. Or name names.
Yes – I had seen you all up in my socials all booked and blessed and I was all like “Who is Annie Stafford she seems so together and friendly” turns out you’re both those things plus more and share my same love of boiled eggs.

Annie Stafford

Tommy Misa: Annie, your grandmother was an actor in the 40s/50s, what has changed since then for women in the industry and what things still need to change?
A voice. On and off the stage I would say. My grandmother was an incredibly headstrong woman, and no doubt would have brought that to any stage, but not all female roles were written as such. Women characters were more often than not merely facilitators of the male characters story, the beautiful detailing around the edges of the pages of their life. I believe we have a long way to go in regards to accurate but also interesting representation (of everyone) for I feel we are still suck in a stereotypical idea of what and how we represent.

Betty is a strong and spirited character who voices struggles of that era. What are some of her obstacles that you resonate with?
Betty is bold and ambitious and I think both those traits even now are tough to navigate which feels absolutely ridiculous. Boldness being seen as entitled , rude or aggressive instead of strong, assertive or impressive (I just rhymed and I’m totally okay with that). Ambition being seen as cold, harsh and selfish, instead of brave, determined and inspired. And so in fear of being seen as dominating or pushy, Betty (and myself from time to time) squash this radiating drive that gives us purpose and a sense of fulfilment just to remain approachable, likeable, accepted. Well to hell with that Betty ol gal. Ambition is hot!

If Betty had a song from the 00’s what would it be?
Oooo Poker Face by Lady Gaga. And yes that was in the 00’s. 2008!!!!!!

What are you most excited about audiences seeing in Betty Breaks Out that may be new to audiences?
The fact that we’ve picked up form and thrown it at a wall. And I’m going to leave it there…

What have you enjoyed/struggled with in the rehearsal process?
I’ve really enjoyed the physical work we’ve been doing. As a wise legend once said “Show, Don’t Tell” – Tommy Misa 2019, and I think we’ve found a lot of freedom and inspiration in that. Also having the playwright, Liz Hobart, in the room has been a dream and Ellen Wiltshire (our director) with her divine energy, has given us so much room to play. Struggle… nope. Its been a dream. You’ve been a dream Tommy, especially with your boiled eggs.

Catch Tommy Misa and Annie Stafford in Betty Breaks Out, by Liz Hobart.
Dates: 27 Aug – 7 Sep, 2019
Venue: Kings Cross Theatre

Review: Rainbow’s End (Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

Venue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Aug 10 – Sep 1, 2019
Playwright: Jane Harrison
Director: Liza-Mare Syron
Cast: Frederick Copperwaite, Phoebe Grainer, Lily Shearer, Lincoln Vickery, Dalara Williams
Images by Robert Catto

Theatre review
Jane Harrison’s Rainbow’s End sees three generations of women from the Dear family, living together by the Goulburn River, navigating the challenges of being Aboriginal on colonised land. Things are hard, but these characters are upbeat, as though demonstrating a defiance in their very nature, that refuses to be subdued. The lighthearted quality of Harrison’s play makes for a charming portrait of Indigenous resilience; it resists our desire for a narrative that foregrounds these women in pain, choosing only to show us how they are able to overcome unremitting disadvantage.

Directed by Liza-Mare Syron, the production is full of spirit, with an enjoyable mischievousness that ensures we respond with a sense of admiration, for the Dear women and their people. Lights by Karen Norris are particularly well conceived, a dynamic element relied upon to provide visual variation. Actor Lily Shearer is a cheeky elder as Nan Dear, bringing considerable warmth to the piece. The vivacious Dalara Williams contributes exuberance in the role of Gladys, memorable for the ironic humour she renders as the unlikely monarchist. Teenage Dolly is played by Phoebe Grainer, whose innocence is a defining factor of this story about Yorta Yorta women in the 1950’s. Grainer is a charming performer, effective in making the play feel authentic, thus prompting us to question the progress of race relations in this country, more than 65 years later.

Rainbow’s End is an Indigenous story told by Indigenous Australians. In it, they demand improvements for their communities today, as the Dear women had done a lifetime ago. We are accustomed to the idea that progress is linear, but there is much evidence to show that we do not operate that way. As white supremacy makes a less than taciturn return to fashion, we have to take all precautions to ensure that its racist agenda, is faced with obstruction at every opportunity. It pretends to do good, when in fact it keeps doing bad, always using lying words to restrain us. They talk about intentions to make things better, but their actions only reveal the opposite. We must insist on recognising the truth, and not be swayed by their language. We must not be manipulated into thinking that where Indigenous Australia is today, is anywhere near good enough.

www.moogahlin.org | www.darlinghursttheatre.com

5 Questions with Jess-Belle Keogh and Bardiya McKinnon

Jess-Belle Keogh

Bardiya McKinnon:What is your biggest pet peeve?
Jess-Belle Keogh: This is a great question, which one do I choose? Okay so, I’m a good walker, I’m quick, even when I’m lost, so people taking up the entire pavement and having no spatial awareness grinds my gears. On a larger scale, I’m very passionate about women’s rights, so violations of those rights does an angry Jessie make (frequently vocal about it, proud of that fact, thanks very much).

What is it like working opposite only one other actor?
So the last two plays I did had at least 3-4 other actors in the room. This work has made me really check in with my own practice. It’s made me more passionate about current events. Ultimately, all of this fills me with enormous joy—it’s taught me to be more present and say “yes!” I don’t know, man– I like working with you too, I guess.

How do you put up with me?
Darling, thanks for checking in. To be frank with you, I’ve resorted to extensive periods of monastic silence in community gardens. It’s a spiritual overhaul. How the hell do you put up with me? God, you poor thing.

Friendship is the ongoing theme in An Intervention, how do your real world experiences feed this role?
The women I’ve surrounded myself with consistently operate with authenticity. The group consists of two sets of twins, and me. We’re all very different. They’re good people who keep me honest, and I love them a great deal. They’re my ride-or-dies, it isn’t shallow territory. We aren’t afraid to show each other love or say “hey, you’re being an asshole.” Wouldn’t trade them for anything. They’re my family. Likewise, I’ve got some incredible friends from a myriad of places who I love to the moon and back, like yourself. So that’s my approach to friendship. Does that answer your question?

What do you think the biggest message of this show is?
Look, not to sound woo-woo, but life has a funny way of making us feel like we’re alone in all of this. The world is in turmoil, after all, and we’re lonelier than ever watching atrocity after atrocity on our smartphones. Or, we’re Instagram distracted in other ways and unaware. We’re rendered inactive all of a sudden; self-conscious voyeurs. Don’t fall for it: apathy or cool indifference is a waste of your time. Be passionate about the big stuff. Do something. Lean into looking silly. Fail gloriously. Risk buggering it all up. But show up, look around, do something. Even if it’s scary or inconvenient or doesn’t suit your Instagram aesthetic. Show up for each other and for life. People are there to meet you. You aren’t alone and damn the thing that makes you feel that way. Lean in. I promise you won’t regret it.

Bardiya McKinnon

Jess-Belle Keogh: Bardiya, I think you’re great. Sorry, that wasn’t a question. Right. Bardiya, what do you like about Mike Bartlett’s An Intervention?
Bardiya McKinnon: I love the simplicity of it all. This show does everything in its power to draw audiences into the relationship between these two best friends. It strips away props, set, bells and whistles to focus on the beautiful space between these two “best” friends. In doing so it creates a very real, honest and genuine portrayal of life and 2 damaged people standing up for what they believe is right. I love it for that.

An Intervention involves spirited debate about socio-political matters on a global scale. We go head to head about these issues, often in bombastic ways. What cause do you feel strongly about at the moment?
This is a tough question to answer because I have never really been one for specific “causes”. I believe in the values that what I was brought up with – that all people no matter their skin colour, orientation, gender or belief system are entitled to love whoever they want, work in whichever field they so choose and believe in whatever cause they choose to as long as it doesn’t impede or harm anyone else. I know that sounds like a cop out answer but my belief system is completely inclusive and I’m sick of hearing about person/s or groups who use their power as a way of regulating how people should exist in their own skin.

We’ve been friends since 2017 (I know, don’t lose it). Perhaps tell the people about how we met? And who is Erin Taylor?
Holy crap 2017…so much has happened in my life since then. You and I met under circumstances that mirror our current situation quite closely. We worked on a show at the Old 505 in 2017, the Outhouse theatre company production of BU21 by Stuart Slade directed by our incredible director Erin Taylor. That show was an absolute highlight for me and every single member of that team was so so wonderful. After working with our wonderful director Erin Taylor on that show I knew exactly who should helm An Intervention once I had read it. Her voice and ability to tap into the fine human details that are easy to miss really make this production really special.

What have you seen recently that literally (or figuratively) knocked your socks off?
Apart from you crushing it in this show? Yeah, have you seen the wonderful promo video we made for this show where we asked a bunch of people in the street about certain events that affected their relationships. It’s super beautiful and super honest and captures our show really well. Now apart from that shameless plug my real answer is: That video of the raccoon dipping the fairy floss into a puddle… love that shit.

Right, let’s do the damn thing. Five words to describe the show— aaaaand go!:
Defiant, Flawed with Love and Wine. (I know that’s 6 but “and” is barely a word…)

Catch Jess-Belle Keogh and Bardiya McKinnon in An Intervention by Mike Bartlett.
Dates: 20 – 31 Aug, 2019
Venue: Old 505 Theatre

Review: Te Molimau (25A Belvoir)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Aug 7 – 24, 2019
Playwright: Taofia Pelesasa
Director: Emele Ugavule
Cast: Lesina Ateli-Ugavule, Malia Letoafa, Tommy Misa, Iya Ware

Theatre review
Fatia has flown back to his mother’s hometown, the Pacific nation of Tokelau, where the island state is only days away from being completely submerged beneath the ocean. Taofia Pelesasa’s Te Molimau tells the heartbreaking story of a country lost, in the not too distant future, to the devastating effects of climate change. It is a deeply emotional work, made resonant by the inclusion of some very hard truths, about the way we stand on the sidelines, doing nothing to prevent disasters from consuming our neighbours. Incorporating generous doses of Tokelauan language and dance (with exquisite choreography by Sela Vai), Te Molimau represents the art of storytelling at its most potent, able to use the theatrical form to turn abstract concepts into something immediate, palpable and urgent.

Directed by Emele Ugavule, the show grows gradually, from its initial delicate tone to eventually forceful, all the while ensuring that the plot is built upon a solid foundation of sincerity. Lighting design by Amber Silk is noteworthy for its sensitive coherence with the text’s varying degrees of sentimentality, always subtle but precise in it calibrations of atmosphere. An extraordinarily likeable cast draws us into the action, including Tommy Misa as Fatia, striking in the simplicity of his approach, able to lay bare all that is so engaging and important about the play. In the role of Vitolina is Malia Letoafa, ethereal and truthful, for a supremely understated performance surprising in its impact. Lesina Ateli-Ugavule and Iya Ware demonstrate flawless chemistry, as a couple of mismatched acquaintances who form a friendship remarkable for its genuine warmth.

It is the ultimate cruelty, to see a small neighbouring country sink into the ocean, and choose to do nothing. Even if we are unable to agree on the causes of these calamities, our humanity should know to find ways to help, but it appears that we are more than comfortable to sit back and watch people go through the worst imaginable scenarios. It may be true that we feel helpless, but it is also true that we use ignorance as an excuse, in fear of having to make personal sacrifices for the benefit of others. Nature however, will never understand our demarcations of us and them. Rising sea levels will not end at the Pacific Islands just because they hold less political and economic power. Our delusions tell us that wealth is a shield from every harm, but it is only a matter of time, that this intractable inaction will catch up on us.

www.black-birds.net | www.belvoir.com.au

Review: The Grapes Of Wrath (New Theatre)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Aug 6 – Sep 7, 2019
Playwright: Frank Galati (based on John Steinbeck’s novel)
Director: Louise Fischer
Cast: Matthew Abotomey, Peter David Allison, William Baltyn, James Bean, Ted Crosby, Shayne de Groot, Simon Emmerson, Angus Evans, Peter Irving Smith, Brittany Johnson, Caroline Levien, Madeline MacRae, Ryan Madden, Kirsty McKenzie, Rowena McNicol, Matthew Raven, Andrew Simpson, Lily Stirling, Loki Texilake
Images by Bob Seary

Theatre review
It is the Great Depression, and the Joad family is on the road, having left Oklahoma, in search of opportunities for a better life. John Steinbeck’s The Grapes Of Wrath details economic hardships of barely a century ago, that seem so far removed from our twenty-first century realities. We can however, discern that although the conditions in which we operate have drastically transformed, the challenges and threats to our mortality remain. It may look like life has become easier, but to be human, it seems, will always involve a struggle for survival.

This stage version is a fairly concise adaptation by Frank Galati, and under the direction of Louise Fischer, its scenes move along swiftly, for a historical drama that does not demand too much of its audience. Tom Bannerman’s set design is notable for its elegance and efficiency, and along with Sharna Graham’s understated work on costumes, a visual authenticity is achieved for this American tale of adversity. David Cashman’s songs are a highlight, each one rich and evocative, often outshining the actual scenes that they are placed between.

The show is performed by a very big, and very strong, cast. Each character is lively and convincing, and as a team, they manufacture a sense of time and space effective in having us feel virtually transported. Actors Matthew Abotomey and Rowena McNicol are particularly impressive in scenes together as mother and son, both energetic and detailed, able to communicate the urgency of their situation, for moments of entrancing drama.

As with many other old stories, one could struggle to find the relevance in The Grapes Of Wrath, but the kind of fear that it encapsulates, is quite eternal. We worry about poverty and unemployment, afraid of being left behind. We see the destitute on our streets, and pray that our loved ones be spared from ever having to experience that calamity. One difference that can be observed in our narratives, after the 80 years since the publication of Steinbeck’s novel, is that his characters have each other to rely on, to suffer with. Their fears, unlike ours, do not include abandonment and isolation. We are never guaranteed absolute safety from the tides of time and natural chaos, but they at least had each other.

www.newtheatre.org.au