Review: Is There Something Wrong With That Lady? (Griffin Theatre Company)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Darlinghurst NSW), Apr 13 – 24, 2021
Playwright: Debra Oswald
Director: Lee Lewis
Cast: Debra Oswald
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Debra Oswald is a writer who has experienced great successes, but the periods of disappointment in between, are long drawn out and much too frequent. Like most artists, Oswald just keeps persisting, which is probably why she names her autobiographical one-person play, Is there Something Wrong with that Lady? The answer of course is that, it is entirely normal that artists in this country go through extended stints of neglect and even humiliation. In fact it may seem that artists do not require encouragement to be, for we continue to thrive even as conditions worsen in this climate of inescapable economic rationalism. One might be tempted to go so far as to say, that to be an artist in Australia, you will have to be born this way, and a beneficiary of some twisted curse perhaps.

Oswald is unstoppable. She keeps churning out books, plays and teleplays, like her life depends on them, or more to the point, like she has something to say. In her 80-minute solo effort, Oswald is charming, brimming with humour, always affable and delightful. A true blue Australian, she never takes herself too seriously, but it becomes clear that what she stands for, is something worth fighting for. Embracing creatives like Oswald, is crucial in dismantling the old boys club that runs so much of this country. Elevating women of a certain age, will redefine the values we hold as a nation. At the very least, as exemplified by Oswald’s play, we will learn that a person’s worth is not to be measured only by money, but by their imagination, their resilience, and most of all, their capacity to help communities connect.

Lee Lewis’ direction of the work is fairly minimal, demonstrating a sense of confidence that allows the staging to place emphasis completely on the physical presence of Oswald herself. There are minor enhancements in terms of music by Jessica Dunn and lights by Ben Brockman, but it is the inordinate clarity with which we receive the writer’s words that is the most enchanting. Although not the most natural of performers, Oswald is a vibrant personality who holds our attention effortlessly. Her piece may benefit from a slight edit, if only to accommodate our twenty-first century attention span.

Artists work to bring cohesion to society, whether intentional or not. Oswald is a storyteller of the purest kind. Her impulse is to share with the world, the characters and narratives that come through her, as though a sacred duty, so that we can be captivated as groups, to find consensus, instead of thinking incessantly about the divisions in-between. If we understand the importance of finding ways to conceive of the world beyond parameters of money and power, we will understand that those in public office and in private corporations, are not likely to be our answer. Art will set us free, terrifying as it may be.

www.griffintheatre.com.au

Review: Dead Skin (White Box Theatre)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Apr 2 – 17, 2021
Playwright: Laneikka Denne
Director: Kim Hardwick
Cast: Ruby Maishman, Sarah Jane Kelly, Abe Mitchell, Laneikka Denne, Camila Ponti-Alvarez
Images by Jasmin Simmons

Theatre review
When high schooler Andie falls in love, it is not only her new girlfriend Maggie who occupies her mind. Visions of her mother Andrea come flooding relentlessly in. Laneikka Denne’s Dead Skin talks about teenage love, in tandem with the complications of a girl coming of age, without the presence of her mother. Young Andie needs to know what it is to become a woman, and in that transitionary process, the urge to understand a mother she never knew, becomes irresistible.

Much of the story is about the things we suppress, in order that we may survive, and the breaking points that occur, to open the gates for the confrontation of truth. As a child, Andie never received satisfactory information about Andrea’s disappearance, only knowing that life has to go on, imperfect as it may be. Things change however, when she is no longer able to experience the world as a child, and the truth of a woman’s being, must come to the fore.

Denne’s ideas are expressed meaningfully in her piece. Abstract concepts are juxtaposed comfortably against naturalistic scenes, using the theatrical form cleverly to explore curious facets of human psychology. The fragmented nature of the writing’s structure however, has a tendency to work against the audience’s capacity to sufficiently invest in its characters. Dialogue for Dead Skin whilst charming in its authentic representation of contemporary youth culture, can expose a superficiality in its efforts to capture painful aspects of emotional growth.

As performer, Denne is intense in the role of Andie. Very believable, if slightly monotonous, in her depiction of the awkward teenager; we never question the authentic voice she brings to the stage. Her new love is played by Ruby Maishman, charismatic and confident as the comical Maggie. Camila Ponti-Alvarez leaves a strong impression as Audrey, an unlikely maternal figure, especially captivating in moments of heightened drama. Sarah Jane Kelly and Abe Mitchell are mother Andrea and father Harry, respectively, both demonstrating excellent commitment, for somewhat perfunctorily conceived personalities.

Production design by Angus Consti offers clean lines on a very black stage, to denote a space that is about accuracy in the mind, rather than somewhere more tangibly material. Lights by Martin Kinnane provide much needed variation to atmosphere, but Chrysoulla Markoulli’s near constant drone for sound design, proves challenging.

Much of the show, directed by Kim Hardwick, feels like a dream state. We fluctuate between different levels of lucidity, with resonances that hit and miss. Dead Skin ebbs and flows, more interested in its own discoveries, than in driving home a point. Let artists do their art, and be grateful in our participation from the perimeters, as we observe and glean what we can. Together at the theatre, let us delight in curiosity, and hold each other safe, in an inevitable evolution of our species, whichever direction it may take us.

www.whiteboxtheatre.com.au

Review: Half Time (Hayes Theatre)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), Apr 1 – May 2, 2021
Book: Chad Beguelin, Bob Martin
Lyrics: Nell Benjamin
Music: Matthew Sklar
Director: Helen Dallimore
Cast: Zoe Carides, Gabrielle Chan, Dolores Dunbar, Deni Gordon, Jaime Hadwen, Chaska Halliday, Nancye Hayes, Stefanie Jones, Donna Lee, Joy Miller, Coby Njoroge, Wendy-Lee Purdy, Eric Rasmussen, Monica Sayers, Tom Sharah
Images by David Hooley

Theatre review
The title of Half Time refers to the bit of song-and-dance that typically occurs in the middle of American sporting events. It is a tradition involving professional performers, who as we find out in the show, have an inordinately premature use-by date of 27 years old. As a marketing gimmick the New Jersey Cougars, a basketball team, assemble a group of seniors to present a surprising version of that mid-game entertainment. A noble idea on the surface, it is soon exposed to be an exercise based on the humiliation of our old.

Half Time the musical however, is a loving showcase of elders in the arts industry. The eight central roles are filled by our community’s most advanced, in an ensemble piece that tackles ageism head on. Director Helen Dallimore does an admirable job of keeping us emotionally invested, in stories that are perhaps much too cliché-laden and almost embarrassing in their predictability. Music by Matthew Sklar is sufficiently enjoyable, but it is the infectious earnestness harnessed by Dallimore that holds our attention.

Strong vocals by Dolores Dunbar-Joanne and Deni Gordon, provide their respective songs with a sentimentality that many will find deeply moving. Idiosyncratic personalities created by Zoe Carides, Gabrielle Chan and Nancye Hayes are memorable, and genuinely funny, in a production that endeavours to challenge our preconceived notions of the ageing process. Stefanie Jones gives a highly polished rendition of Tara, the old folks’ choreographer and coach, whilst Chaska Halliday and Coby Njoroge waste no opportunity to steal the show, whenever their breath-taking talents are positioned centre stage.

As the Chinese saying goes, “the older the ginger, the spicier it gets.” It is an incontrovertible truth that wisdom comes with age, yet the elderly (especially elderly women) are routinely shunned from so much of our lives. The tendency for the young to think of them as inconvenient, difficult and slow, and therefore exclude them from decisions on how things are run in the Western world, can only be of detrimental effect. To only value youthful qualities, is to risk repeating mistakes, as evidenced by so much that has been in written of history.

If we commit to honouring our elders the way so many Indigenous cultures do, we will have to shift our values, in a way that changes priorities in politics and economics. Resources will have to be regarded differently. We may even begin to see our relationship with nature, and ergo with the planet, in a radically different way. To place attention and care on the process of how each of us dies, instead of obsessing over an unattainable eternal youth, is likely the key, ironical as it may seem, to much better ways of life.

www.hayestheatre.com.au | www.nineteen98productions.com.au