Review: The Spoils (Flight Path Theatre)

Venue: Flight Path Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Jan 29 – Feb 8, 2020
Playwright: Jesse Eisenberg
Director: Ian Warwick
Cast: Rebecca Abdel-Messih, Michael Becker, Isabel Dickson, Haydan Hawkins, Kabir Singh
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Ben lives in a New York apartment, paid for by his parents. He has dropped out of college, and spends his days pretending to be a film maker; an aimless existence with no responsibilities should mean an easy life, but there is no end to the angst that he experiences. He looks to be jealous of everyone, and as a result behaves terribly to all. Jesse Eisenberg’s The Spoils is critical of over-privileged Americans, but its representations are seldom compelling, and its comedy infrequently funny.

Although not short of conviction or passion, the show struggles to deliver laughs. Directed by Ian Warwick, The Spoils becomes poignant late into Act Two, when Ben shows his true colours, and the escalating drama finally provides a sense of gravity. Actor Michael Becker is committed in the lead role, as are the rest of the cast. Isabel Dickson is particularly strong as Sarah, able to bring a valuable realism to the piece. Set design by Irma Calabrese, along with Roderick van Gelder’s lights are fairly simple in approach, but prove adequate in creating atmosphere for the staging.

There is an insidious quality to the malignity being explored in The Spoils. Ben’s racism is casual, and his misogyny jocular. Those at the receiving end of his insolence, can only turn a blind eye, or risk accusations of instigating disharmony. It has become increasingly obvious to the rest of us, that the powerful can get away with murder. We must learn to respond with intolerance when injustice is apparent, even if it means disrupting the peace.

www.flightpaththeatre.org

Review: Pomona (Kings Cross Theatre)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jan 24 – Feb 8, 2020
Playwright: Alistair McDowell
Director: Anthony Skuse
Cast: Jane Angharad, Kevin Batliwala, Amanda McGregor, Lauren Richardson, Monica Sayers, James Smithers, Dorje Swallow
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
A concrete plot of barren land sitting in the middle of the city, can only raise suspicion. It is simply unbelievable that what appears to be prime real estate is left to languish, as though millions of dollars are left unclaimed, right in front of our eyes. In Alistair McDowell’s Pomona, we are taken underground. In the absence of visible buildings, our cynicism goes into overdrive, as we watch the worst of our capitalistic impulses emerge, through a series of horrific criminal scenarios. The play imagines the most nefarious commercial activities taking place in hidden bunkers, behind closed doors. If business dealings dare be depraved in broad daylight, what more the shady dealings that happen in secret.

Pomona‘s drama involves missing persons, snuff films and more. It is not an exploitative work by any means, but that very tendency of ours to exploit, is placed under scrutiny. Director Anthony Skuse prompts questions about nature and nurture, and the origins of corruption, as we observe characters carrying out unspeakable acts. People seem to be either good or bad, but there is no denying the conditions we all have to operate under, that are in most cases, beyond repair. Lighting design by Veronique Benett is suitably gloomy, for the irrevocably pessimistic world being explored. Music by Nate Edmondson, commanding and tenacious, keeps tensions unrelenting for this foreboding representation of our dangerous lives.

The production is an engaging one, with powerful concepts and a cleverly fractured plot, conspiring to hold our attention. Actors Amanda McGregor and James Smithers depict some very big and genuine emotions, both wonderfully mesmerising with the focus they bring to the stage. Also memorable is Lauren Richardson, who has the unenviable task of inhabiting and portraying the unceasing terror of a woman escaping violence. Moments of innocence by the charming Kevin Batilwala are a delightful reprieve, while Jane Angharad, Monica Sayers and Dorje Swallow play some seriously dubious types who make us confront our own sense of morality.

In a dog eat dog world, good guys finish last. In Pomona, we may want to get rid of the baddies, but there is nothing to stop their positions being usurped by more of the same. Evil runs so much of the world, because of the way things are structured. The way we revere money and power, has allowed bad things to happen again and again. We can no longer afford to imagine that simply placing good people in harmful institutions will fix our problems. We have to move emphasis away from undesirable individuals, to a better understanding of the systems that govern our lives, and begin destroying them, as a first step to improving things for all.

www.secrethouse.com.au

Review: Songs For Nobodies (Sydney Opera House)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Jan 23 – Feb 9, 2020
Playwright: Joanna Murray-Smith
Director: Simon Phillips
Cast: Bernadette Robinson

Theatre review
There are ten women in Joanna Murray-Smith’s Songs For Nobodies, a collection of five stories about famous singers and the ordinary lives they had touched. It is a series of juxtapositions, of diva and goddess, of women on stage and women from other walks of life, all being put through their paces in one form or another. Murray-Smith’s poignant humour works a charm, able to imbue each character with dignity along with a sense of the divine, not only for the celebrities, but also for the women-next-door that it depicts so lovingly. All women can be regarded with reverence, if we know to value them appropriately.

Bernadette Robinson is the extraordinary talent who introduces us to all the characters in Songs For Nobodies. When impersonating Maria Callas, Patsy Cline, Judy Garland, Billie Holiday and Edith Piaf, she is impressive not only for the likeness that she quite magically achieves, but also for the very virtuosity she displays in each of the unforgettable standards that she sings. Her portrayals of the every woman too, are commanding, whether American, English or Irish, Robinson is convincing, engaging and gloriously charming, able to elevate forgotten souls, as a reminder that all women are sometimes truly sublime.

Directed by Simon Phillips, the show is elegantly rendered, very subtle in approach, but nonetheless affecting. Orchestrations by Ian McDonald are dramatic and highly evocative, able to seize our imagination in a flash, to transport us through time and space for momentary immersions, that make us feel as though in the presence of legends. Scott Rogers’ lights too are notable, for their romantic warmth, able to take us away from the humdrum and the mundane, that we too often think of as the only reality.

Very few women ever get to see things from the top, but there is no rat race that we should feel compelled to participate in. More than the rich and famous, are the many examples of fulfilling and self-determined existences that are plain to see. Many of us will not know what it is like to influence millions, and to never have succeeded in accordance with stipulations of dominant paradigms, but in this current moment of a new understanding around centuries of relentless destruction, we should more than ever before, appreciate those we think of small people, who have had no power in our collective journey to impending extinction.

www.duetgroup.com

Review: Family Values (Griffin Theatre Company)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jan 17 – Mar 7, 2020
Playwright: David Williamson
Director: Lee Lewis
Cast: Belinda Giblin, Danielle King, Andrew McFarlane, Jamie Oxenbould, Ella Prince, Bishanyia Vincent, Sabryna Walters
Images by Brett Boardman
Theatre review
It is indeed appropriate that white people in Australia should have serious discussions among themselves about immigration, and other matters that require them to challenge their own privileged positions. They are the ones in power, and so much depends on their ability to make concessions in order that all our lives can become more equitable. In David Williamson’s Family Values, we watch rich white people fighting about the right thing to do, ostensibly about Australia’s refugee intake and the worldwide asylum seeker problem, but in fact, the argument that happens in their dining room is much simpler.

The Collins make a lot of noise in Family Values, each of them fired individually by existential angst, but what should have been philosophical and moral debates are embarrassingly reduced to a basic issue of whether seriously ill people should be allowed to stay in Australia, while their refugee status is being considered. The play distracts us with a lot of hullabaloo, misleading us into thinking that privileged North Shore types are actually having broader conversations about immigration and the future of this country, when they are only actually fighting over the destiny of one very sick woman. Needless to say, how we regard people who require serious medical attention, should never be a matter of contention at all, no matter where they come from.

Director Lee Lewis makes sure everyone on stage gets really riled up, and the drama is often gripping over the 90 or so minutes; people are fighting tooth and nail, and there is an inherent pleasure in watching rich people tear each other apart from the sidelines. Dynamics between personalities may be manufactured but there is no denying the intensity of conflict that takes place. The more unrealistic the characters, the more extravagant the performances, which is understandable from the perspective of actors who wish to create something out of nothing.

Jamie Oxenbould and Ella Prince make very bold choices that are frequently jarring, but the alternative of attempting naturalism would clearly make for extremely flaccid interpretations. The one person of colour waiting to be rescued is played by Sabryna Walters, who as Saba, uses her monologue in the second half to deliver a moment of genuine theatrical magic. Her performance of pleading for mercy is powerful and wonderfully emotional, a real treat that reminds us, if only for a few minutes, what we must insist of our artists.

It does not surprise anyone, spoiler alert, that the father of the household Roger eventually steps up and does the right thing, and of course gets celebrated for it, as though he is the true hero in this asinine effort. Powerful people seem to only do good things when they are rewarded disproportionately. Even when innocent lives are at stake, there has to be a profit motive to spur action, and worse, they see no shame in that. Roger Collins wants to be honoured and revered for following the rules set up by those who were just like him, that had come before him. We need to identify the damage that they cause, and establish new ways to get rid of them.

www.griffintheatre.com.au

Review: The Visitors (Moogahlin Performing Arts)

Venue: Carriageworks (Eveleigh NSW), Jan 22 – 26, 2020
Playwright: Jane Harrison
Director: Frederick Copperwaite
Cast: John Blair, Damion Hunter, Colin Kinchela, Nathan Leslie, Leroy Parsons, Glenn Shea, Kerri Simpson
Images by Jamie James

Theatre review
Seven men gather on the shore of Gadigal land, debating whether to welcome or to repel those arriving on ships from overseas. It is 1788, but in Jane Harrison’s The Visitors, these Aboriginal leaders are dressed in three-piece suits, and they speak an English that sounds more like characters from Reginald Rose’s Twelve Angry Men, than even any of us would today. Indeed, Harrison’s writing assumes not only the style of classic white theatre, its narrative structure is modelled after the conceit of that 1954 play, involving a council being disrupted by the doubts of a single cautiously deliberative soul.

As though purposefully addressing a Western audience, The Visitors pulls out all the stops so that there is no mistaking the Aboriginal work’s intent to question and to confront. With both content and form shaped in a way that is unequivocally understandable to colonisers, we watch these Indigenous characters painstakingly discuss an appropriate response for what they had imagined to be temporary entrants. Their compassionate struggle with the matter is only made more moving, by the enormity of the fallout that remains unbeknownst to them, that is to become the daily lived experience of all their descendants.

Directed by Frederick Copperwaite, the staging is as polished as it is passionate, with important arguments delivered in ways that are precise and affecting. Visually satisfying, with Lisa Mimmochi’s exacting set and costumes, along with Chloe Ogilvie’s elegant lights, providing a sense of sophisticated dynamism to the story. Sound design by Phil Downing, with additional music by Tim Gray, too are instrumental in transporting us deep into the psyche of rightful land owners past and present.

The ensemble is marvellously cohesive, unwavering in their dedication to this powerful tale. John Blair and Glenn Shea are particularly memorable for their exquisite timing, both performers turning on the charm, having us absolutely captivated by their effortless humour. An impressive gravity is contributed by Leroy Parsons, very convincing and engrossing as Walter, the brave one who dares go against the tide. The show is brought to an intense conclusion by Damion Hunter’s disarming soliloquy as Gordon, who in the crucial moment reveals emotions that are just as raw today as they were at the dawn of this catastrophe.

It may seem that our Indigenous are always meeting us halfway. In The Visitors, they dress and speak like their oppressors, almost like a last-ditch attempt to get people hearing. Characters in the play fail to understand why the whites feel the need to steal; that basic question so many continue to evade today. Colonisation in Australia has been a ruthless project ongoing for over two centuries, and its pace only ever gets more ferocious. One of the men in the play expresses bewilderment at the felling of just one tree in the hands of the whites. Little did he know the true depth of destruction that was to come.

www.moogahlin.org

5 Questions with Rebecca Abdel-Messih and Kabir Singh

Rebecca Abdel-Messih

Kabir Singh: What do you love about your life as an actor?
Rebecca Abdel-Messih: I looooove how you’ll never play the same person twice. I say that acting is like travelling in a time machine, it takes me all over the world. I’ve recently been in Coram Boy, a world set in the 1800’s England and now The Spoils is set in 2015 New York and I’ve just learnt so much about the history of the countries. I’m yet to play an Aussie! That’s probably my next project.

What are the similarities between you and Reshma and what drew you towards the character?
I definitely can relate to her culturally, being a first generation Aussie myself, I understand sometimes being caught in two different worlds. Growing up with strange foods and a different language to people I went to school with. But my God, I love how badass she is! Something I’m definitely not haha but I admire her determination and passion not only in her career, but when standing up to Ben. I wish I could just kick him honestly.

What is your favourite part of the rehearsal process?
I love everything about it. The crew and cast are so fun, we can be serious one minute and having a laugh the next. I also love learning about my character and what makes her tick.

What does Kalyan bring to the table for you in this relationship?
He’s a sweet guy who wants the best for Reshma. Every woman’s dream. He brings security, goofiness and loyalty. Also damn how good’s that man bun and facial hair!

If you had to meet an actor dead or alive , who would it be and why?
Robin Williams! I honestly just want to give him a hug.

Kabir Singh

Rebecca Abdel-Messih: What do you love most about playing Kalyan Mathema?
Kabir Singh: Kalyan is a tender, innocent soul who has come this far on a scholarship to NYC because of his own hard work. What I love most about Kalyan is how proud he is of his Nepalese culture and shows it off constantly through his cuisine. I think he has very strong roots embedded in him but also has the openness to learn about other cultures and accept them for what they are. He is a hustler and a hard worker. A place like New York City will eat you alive if you don’t hustle and I think he doesn’t need to be told that, it is already embedded in his being from the get go .

How important is it to Kalyan to find someone like Reshma?
Although Kalyan is an independent man, having a partner alongside him is important. He has found that with Reshma who is successful, smart and strong minded. She voices her opinions about Ben which at times, Kalyan does not. The two compliment each other and even though Kalyan is somewhat a genius and will go through life doing great and important things, he has other ideas about how life should go and that is to settle down and have a family. For that reason Reshma is very important to Kalyan. Yes he loves her and wants to start a family with her at some point and the fact that he has found her, and she is close to his heritage, is from New York and is a doctor has a lot of draw points.

Is there hope for Ben?
There is always hope. Ben is a misguided soul with past traumas and just hasn’t healed, so he keeps pushing them on other people, especially Kalyan. Maybe because he comes from money and has a deluded sense of film making you may think there is no hope for Ben, but he has redeemable qualities at times and if he chooses to focus on those positive qualities then maybe there is hope for Ben just yet.

What would your ideal dinner party look like?
My ideal dinner party would consist of my closest friends and I would cook for all of them, take shots of vodka with every bite (Russian style) and be plastered before dessert.

What do you love about acting the most?
The idea to be able to explore your emotions and your opinions and ideas in a safe space. What I love the most is that it gives you a platform to really explore a characters mentality, physicality and emotional availability. These three things make a human being and to explore someone else so different from yourself, that you really have to dig deep and find emotions and experiences within yourself and draw parallels that you never thought was possible. Acting is doing the impossible sometimes and that’s what attracts me the most.

Rebecca Abdel-Messih and Kabir Singh can be seen in The Spoils by Jesse Eisenberg.
Dates: 29 Jan – 8 Feb, 2020
Venue: Flight Path Theatre

Review: Bran Nue Dae (Opera Australia)

Venue: Riverside Theatres (Parramatta NSW), Jan 15 – Feb 1, 2020
Book: Jimmy Chi
Music and lyrics: Jimmy Chi, Kuckles
Director: Andrew Ross
Cast: Czack (Ses) Bero, Marcus Corowa, Adi Cox, Ernie Dingo, Damar Isherwood, Taj Jamieson, Tehya Jamieson, Teresa Moore, Andrew Moran, Tuuli Narkle, Callan Purcell, Bojesse Pigram, Ngaire Pigram, Tai Savage, Danielle Sibosado
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review
Bran Nue Dae is the semi-autobiographical story of Aboriginal music star Jimmy Chi, who as a teenager in the 1960’s, hitchhiked from his mission school back home to Broome. A musical of the coming-of-age variety, the work features splendid songs written some thirty years ago by Chi and his band Kuckles, now beautifully nostalgic and sentimental, with strong country and soul influences that move us evocatively to the Western Australia outback.

Musical direction by Patrick bin Amat and Michael Mavromatis provide an emotional dimension to the show, effective in conveying a sense of the Australian bush, and of Indigenous cultures through their sensitive arrangement of each and every tune. Directed by Andrew Ross, the comedy is a sleek one, but insufficiently humorous, often lacking in the energy required to fill the large auditorium.

Performer Ernie Dingo leaves a strong impression, with an easy charm and confidence as Uncle Tadpole that sustains our interest. Protagonist Willie is played by an equally likeable Marcus Corowa, who lights up the stage with his vocal cords whenever they get a workout. The ensemble is a nimble uplifting group, with the four women proving particularly memorable, when singing their bright and resonant choruses.

Being the very first Aboriginal musical, Bran Nue Dae is undoubtedly significant in theatrical history. What is more important however, are the subsequent shows that should follow, but examples are scarce. Of course, Indigenous peoples continue to practise other art forms that are culturally specific, and the wider community must always provide support when invited to, although the dream remains, where Western institutions can be much more inclusive, that more Indigenous participation can be seen in what has become this nation’s dominant platforms. The fact that our black sisters and brothers continue to be missing from so much of our cultural activity, is a seismic problem that we cannot afford to take lightly.

www.brannuedaemusical.com.au