Review: I’m With Her (Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

Venue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Nov 9 – Dec 1, 2019
Lead Writer: Victoria Midwinter Pitt
Director: Victoria Midwinter Pitt
Cast: Gabrielle Chan, Shakira Clanton, Lynette Curran, Deborah Galanos, Emily Havea
Images by Robert Catto

Theatre review
Named after a prominent slogan from Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, I’m With Her features nine remarkable women, and their tales of resistance in relation to patriarchal structures that have tried to stand in the way of women’s achievements. Indeed these are success stories, representing only those who had made it in spite of immense opposition, but through them we observe not only the struggles that women everywhere encounter, but also how some of us have been able to emerge victorious.

Based on first-hand accounts by some of our favourite Australians, from Julia Gillard to Marcia Langton, as well as some lesser known but equally accomplished others, the work offers valuable inspiration to those who encounter roadblocks everyday on account of our gender. Created by Victoria Midwinter Pitt, the three-hour show is infrequently sentimental, but always powerful with what it says in terms of our capacity to weather storms and overcome obstacles. There is a uniformity in how each monologue unfolds, that reflects the similarity of experiences, and the journeys we have to make, in order to attain fulfilling lives.

Although repetitive in its form, I’m With Her is composed of anecdotes from highly compelling individuals, performed by an exceptionally sincere cast. Shakira Clanton’s emotional intensity, along with a precision in her motivations, give resonance to everything she utters. Similarly affecting is Emily Havea, who brings valuable zeal to the show. The whimsical Gabrielle Chan is memorable for her wonderful sense of humour, and Lynette Curran’s ability to convey vulnerability keeps us on the edge of our seats. Deborah Galanos is robust in her portrayals, and as with all the other actors in I’m With Her, presents an indelible impression of strength and resilience.

Audio-visual design by Mia Holton is noteworthy for delivering breathtaking imagery via a series of cleverly assembled projections. Further enhancing theatricality is sound and music by Tegan Nicholls, punctuating the journey with aural cues that help us absorb nuances as they arrive. Kelsey Lee’s lights are delicately calibrated, to guide us through shifts in mood and attitude, as we traverse these profound testimonies.

Many of these, are women at the top of their game, but it is important we remember that these games are often themselves the problem. One of the personalities we meet is Sister Patricia Madigan, who wishes for women to one day be ordained as priests, but we must not ignore the fact that even if a female pope should eventuate, the church is still Catholic. Having more women in power will certainly improve things for everyone, but we must not pretend that any tactic that retains old systems that thrive on the subjugation of vast numbers of people, is the way to solve our problems. As we continue with trying to get more women replacing men at positions of influence, it is imperative that we think up new ways to organise our lives. Glass ceilings can be broken, but the end game is to have all of us elevated.

www.darlinghursttheatre.com

Review: H.M.S. Pinafore (Hayes Theatre)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), Nov 8 – Dec 14, 2019
Book: W.S. Gilbert
Music: Arthur Sullivan
Director: Kate Gaul
Cast: Katherine Allen, Gavin Brown, Thomas Campbell, Jermaine Chau, Tobias Cole, Sean Hall, Bobbie Jean Henning, Dominic Lui, Rory O’Keeffe, Billie Palin, Zach Selmes
Images by Phil Erbacher

Theatre review
It is all aboard the love boat in Gilbert & Sullivan’s 141-year-old operetta H.M.S. Pinafore. On the naval vessel, we find romances that transcend the English class system, as well as classic tropes of mistaken identities, and raucous sailor buffoonery of the guileless variety. The songs remain delightful, but its narrative is predictably outdated. Under Kate Gaul’s direction however, much of the show is made new again, by her resolute queering of how the story is told.

Genderfucking is the order of the day in this interpretation of H.M.S. Pinafore. A doggedly heterosexual world is radically transformed into something much less binary, where we no longer have to care what’s between the legs, as long as we understand that the heart wants, what the heart wants. With extravagant makeup design by Rachel Dal Santo, uniformly applied on all members of cast, everyone becomes sexually ambiguous. We are born naked and the rest is drag, as the saying goes, and the production is all the better for it. A modern sensibility permeates all of the show, that has suddenly turned refreshing and quite entrancing. Its humour is rejuvenated, featuring a roster of performers that are all very keen, very able and impressively comical in their embrace of a newly mandated approach of subversiveness.

Soprano Katherine Allen sings beautifully the part of Josephine, and brings a confident exuberance that transforms her damsel in distress character, into something much more likeable. Her beau Ralph is given irresistible charm by Billie Palin, who adds to her performance of masculinity, a renewed sense of dimension and meaning. Thomas Campbell is unforgettable as a hirsute version of Little Buttercup, with exaggerated gestures conveying an overt femininity for his role, using the art of drag to expose the absurdity of our obsession with gendered behaviour. Tobias Cole and Rory O’Keefe play Capt. Corcoran and Sir Jospeh Porter respectively, for persuasively funny depictions of powerful men, both creative in their camp renderings of otherwise hackneyed archetypes.

Music director Zara Stanton’s arrangements are highly inventive, incorporating a small number of instruments performed on stage by the ensemble, although a lack of percussion and bass does detract slightly from the rowdy mood. Nate Edmondson’s sound design delivers some of the biggest and most unexpected laughs of the production. Choreography by Ash Bee adds to the humour of the piece, although the movement of bodies can seem insufficiently robust at certain points. Melanie Lertz does wonderfully as production designer, for costumes and a set that are whimsical, joyful, and satisfyingly vivid. Fausto Brusamolino’s dynamic lights too are similarly pleasing, memorable for an air of romantic sophistication that they manufacture.

Affairs on the ship are kept underground, because of violations to conventions of class and hierarchy. On the stage, however, it is precisely these violations that we indulge in, so it only makes sense that notions of normalcy are required to go through a process of subversion, in order that we may enjoy H.M.S. Pinafore‘s underlying criticism of our hypocrisy. For centuries, we have thought of romantic love as splendid and almighty, yet societies everywhere have kept it a privilege only for those who fit the straight and narrow. What were once despicable perverts now take centre stage, as we learn to broaden every definition of who we are.

www.hayestheatre.com.au

Review: Water (Fringe HQ)

Venue: Fringe HQ (Potts Point NSW), Nov 5 – 16, 2019
Playwright: Mark Langham
Director: Mark Langham
Cast: Tristan Black, Lib Campbell, Mark Langham, Stephen Lloyd-Coombs
Image by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
It may seem peculiar that an incompetent undercover operative from the First World War should be memorialised, but Carl Hans Lody is certainly not the only mediocre man to have left a mark. Water by Mark Langham is a biographical work about Lody, a somewhat naive man who had inadvertently become a historical figure, for being the first German spy to be put on trial and subsequently executed in the UK. There is little in the story that could elicit emotional investment, but Langham’s humour is nonetheless enjoyable, and Water represents amusing theatre for those in search of light entertainment.

Langham’s own direction of the piece provides a style of comedy that is crisp and confident, featuring a uniformly delightful cast of four. Leading man Stephen Lloyd-Coombs is a compelling presence, able to introduce considerable charisma to what is essentially a diffident personality. Lib Campbell demonstrates great versatility and vibrancy in all her roles, as does Tristan Black, who impresses with an intense and captivating energy that he brings to the stage. As performer, Langham is exacting, able to portray a wide variety of roles with admirable clarity and contrast. Also noteworthy is sound by the aforementioned Black, and lighting by Sophie Pekbilimli, both minimal and unobtrusive in approach, yet effective in helping us navigate the play’s swift spatial transformations.

All Lody really wanted was to sail the oceans and see the world, but he ends up in our history books, completely by accident. It is perhaps true that there is nothing more meaningful than to follow one’s bliss, even when the act can seem entirely selfish and indulgent. Only in the pursuit of something that is authentic to one’s nature, can one ever imagine attaining a state of peace and purity. To understand that which fundamentally constitutes authenticity however, is the inexhaustibly difficult part. Often it is much easier to make an evaluation of what the world needs, and commit to serving those purposes. Ultimately, it is a question of doing good, the definition of which seems always to be contentious.

www.wheresharold.wordpress.com

Review: A Delicate Balance (Chippen Street Theatre)

Venue: Chippen Street Theatre (Chippendale NSW), Nov 7 – 16, 2019
Playwright: Edward Albee
Director: Viktor Kalka
Cast: James Bean, Martin Bell, Alison Chambers, Zoë Crawford, Suzann James, Alice Livingstone
Images by Blake Condon

Theatre review
Agnes and Tobias are rich, white, empty nesters who appear to live the suburban dream, yet not a moment goes by that is not filled with anxiety, in Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance. Everything seems in place so that the couple could go about their business without a care in the world, but there is a terror that permeates. We soon discover that all the characters in their home suffer from an intense and prolonged existential crisis. Albee shows only the manifestations of his characters’ fears, leaving us to find an explanation for their condition.

Under Viktor Kalka’s direction, the 53 year-old play retains its pertinent bite. Although the production lacks visual flourish, Kalka is able to manufacture a disquiet that rings with authenticity. Ryan Devlin’s restrained sound design helps us locate dramatic tension, as the plot moves through waves of dilemma.

The show is demanding of its cast, and can at times seem under rehearsed. Agnes is played by Alice Livingstone, who brings an appropriate sense of loss and bewilderment to proceedings. Martin Bell as Tobias has a tendency to be subdued in approach, but occasional emotional outbursts make for excellent drama. Their daughter Julia is made compelling by Zoë Crawford, and Suzann James as Agnes’ sister Claire, offers a persuasive portrait of an alcoholic escapist. James Bean and Alison Chambers leave a strong impression as family friends Harry and Edna, both actors invigorating with the precise humour that they bring to the stage.

Agnes and Tobias adhere to all the rules, and even though their cookie-cutter existence appears perfect on the outside, there is nothing right about how they feel on the inside. Every day we are told what achievement and success looks like, but if we follow every prescribed route, without sufficiently interrogating their true purposes and consequences, we risk using up our time only on the wishes of others.

The characters in A Delicate Balance spend all their energies wrestling frustrations, but fail to identify what they need that will deliver peace, or even a modicum of joy. They are in constant struggle with the expectations of those they do not like, refusing to disengage with the familiar, as though addicted to the comfort of their pain. It is true that people care too much about all the wrong things, but to shift focus to where the good things are, is always easier said than done.

www.chippenstreet.com | www.facebook.com/SydneyClassicTheatreCo

Review: The House At Boundary Road (The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Nov 5 – 16, 2019
Playwrights: Violette Ayad, Thomas De Angelis, Chika Ikogwe, Jordy Shea
Director: Jessica Arthur
Cast: Violette Ayad, Henrietta Amevor, Monique Calarco, Jemwel Danao, Nancy Denis, Felino Dolloso, Adam Di Martino, Jessica Phoebe Hanna, Mark Paguio, David Soncin, Angela Sullen, Mike Ugo
Images by Phil Erbacher

Theatre review
It is in Western Sydney’s Liverpool, that we find The House At Boundary Road, and the families who had lived in it over the years. Written by Violette Ayad, Thomas De Angelis, Chika Ikogwe and Jordy Shea, the work comprises four short plays, each featuring a migrant family. De Angelis writes about Italians in the 50s, Shea on Filipinos in the 60s, followed by Ayad’s Middle Eastern sisters who grew up there in the 80s, and finally Ikogwe presents today’s Nigerian inhabitants. Each segment is compact but powerful, for a meaningful encapsulation of our recent history.

The stories are an emotional tribute to difficult times, all of them offering intimate insight that pertain to the migrant working class. Truths about our economic system are revealed, along with the persistently inequitable nature of our nationhood. Directed by Jessica Arthur, the production is appropriately sentimental, presented in a simple style that conveys poignancy for every moment. A deeply evocative set by Keerthi Subramaniam, recalls interiors of modest homes that form the inner sanctum for so many Australian battlers. Kate Baldwin’s lights and Clemence Williams’s sound keep us in a beautiful melancholy, for an intimately resonant representation of both the past and the present.

Actor Felino Dolloso is especially moving as Jovy, the despondent father of the Filipino household, helping us see the pain of displacement in the most sobering way. The captivating Henrietta Amevor plays Chioma, a 14 year-old Nigerian obsessed with boys and selfies, bringing to the role exquisite humour and phenomenal star quality. Nancy Denis absolutely charms as Chioma’s mother, and their neighbour Ugo is portrayed by Mike Ugo, who impresses with an unexpected tenderness, and the effortless warmth he brings to the stage.

Many of us were allowed in, because difficult jobs needed to be done. We are built on the backs of economic migrants, yet they are routinely demonised by those who benefit most, from the smooth functioning of this capitalist way of life. Those at the top of our hierarchies understand that their positions are only tenable for as long as there are people at the bottom holding things up, yet they never fail to take every opportunity to vilify and demean those who are newer to this land, and darker in skin tone. The characters in The House At Boundary Road may look disparate to suspicious eyes, but there is little that separates them besides. The powerful will insist that we are never the same, so that they can keep trampling over us, but as soon as we reject those notions of difference, we can begin a revolution to erase these despicable disparities.

www.bontom.com.au

Review: First Love Is The Revolution (Griffin Theatre Company)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Nov 1 – Dec 14, 2019
Playwright: Rita Kalnejais
Director: Lee Lewis
Cast: Amy Hack, Rebecca Massey, Bardiya McKinnon, Sarah Meacham, Guy Simon, Matthew Whittet
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Basti and Rdeca meet one momentous night, and quickly fall for each other. What makes Rita Kalnejais’ rom-com First Love Is The Revolution unusual, is that its female lead is a fox, literally. Kalnejais’ play takes the star-crossed lovers trope to new heights of absurdity, for a story about nature and our interactions with it. The young rebels must walk away from their respective backgrounds, to establish for themselves entirely new ways of being, should they wish to find happiness. The writing is imaginative and daring, extremely mischievous in its flirtations with notions of bestiality, but delicate sensibilities can rest assured that there is never any doubt about sexual consent from any of its characters.

Passionate and joyous, the zesty production is directed by Lee Lewis, who leaves no stone unturned, in her explorations of this idiosyncratic text, to deliver an experience full of tension and intrigue. Funny, intelligent and highly captivating, First Love Is The Revolution is as entertaining as it is meaningful. Designer Ella Butler’s work on set and costumes is remarkable for its exuberance and refreshing use of colour. Lights by Trent Suidgeest, along with music by David Bergman, are memorable for their flamboyant flourishes, appropriately and enjoyably exaggerated in intensified moments of romance as well as comedy.

The luminescent Sarah Meacham plays Rdeca, with exceptional verve and faultless instinct; an astounding talent able to convey thorough authenticity for even the most bizarre, in her portrayal of an adolescent fox. Fourteen year-old Basti too is made very likeable by Bardiya McKinnon, an intricate performer who brings depth and conviction to the role. Rebecca Massey is powerful as the fox’s mother Cochineal, deftly oscillating between silly and serious, convincing from start to end. Amy Hack and Matthew Whittet each play three roles, all of them deeply amusing, with Whittet’s surprisingly poignant turn as Basti’s father Simon leaving a particularly strong impression. A magnetic Guy Simon alternates between fox and hound in two separate parts, wonderfully humorous in both, but terrifying as the bloodthirsty dog Rovis.

When a child grows up to become their own person, apron strings should have to be cut, before a true self can be said to have actualised. Young love is often a precipitating factor that urges one to examine one’s background, in a process that involves rethinking and re-contextualising of circumstances, to attain a more individualised world view. Basti and Rdeca need each other, in order that a destination can be identified for their inevitable departure from home. Growth is painful at any age, but stagnation, although comfortable at times, is a fate worse than death.

www.griffintheatre.com.au

Review: Good Dog (Green Door Theatre Co)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Nov 1 – 16, 2019
Playwright: Arinzé Kene
Director: Rachel Chant
Cast: Justin Amankwah
Images by Jasmin Simmons

Theatre review
Good Dog by Arinzé Kene, details the life of a young black man in working class England. We watch him from childhood, an innocent boy like any other who dreams of owning a bicycle, but who learns instead, the harsh realities of poverty. It is a story about race and class, and how people can be depleted of patience and naivety, in the face of unremitting injustice. Years of deprivation sets our unnamed protagonist on a course of rebellion, that the play appropriately depicts as a valid response to systematic failures of modern economies.

Kene’s writing is intriguing, in a linguistic style faithful to the cultural contexts from which it emerges. Directed by Rachel Chant, the production is sensitive, and dignified, in its portrayals of prejudice and disparity in a foreign land. Sound design by Melanie Herbert is particularly subtle in how it conveys psychological shifts for the one-man show. Kelsey Lee’s lights are an elegant feature, and a set by Maya Keys provides just enough visual cues to spark our imagination. Actor Justin Amankwah is extraordinarily charismatic, but insufficiently inventive and overly naturalistic in the role. Good Dog requires a more expository approach to speak to an Australian audience, and at over two hours long, a stronger sense of theatricality is necessary to sustain our interest.

The power of white supremacist capitalism lies in the way it is able to subjugate so many, for so long. Those of us who are oppressed, not only buy into their myths about hard work and meritocracy, we further sympathise with their prescriptions of politeness and civility. They keep us asking for better, over generations, knowing that their continual denials are only met with perpetual compliance. Once in a blue moon however, a revolution will arise, with people tired of waiting, finally pressed to claim back their due by force. How and when this is going to happen, is as always, anyone’s guess.

www.greendoortheatreco.com