Review: Hyperdream (Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), May 15 – Jun 5, 2021
Creative Leads: Adriane Daff and Mikala Westall
Playwrights: Matt Abell-King, Adriane Daff, Nat Jobe, Angela Mahlatjie, Josh Price, Mikala Westall
Cast: Adriane Daff, Nat Jobe, Angela Mahlatjie, Matt Abell-King
Images by David Charles Collins

Theatre review
Hyperdream by Adriane Daff and Mikala Westall, takes us on a sci-fi joyride, in which individuals can visit a facility, where memories are replayed in a sort of virtual reality experience, so that one may be able to relive the past. Characters access best days of their lives, in order that they may escape the disappointments of today. Others reach back to traumatic moments, hoping to bring revisions to their personal histories. More than a mode of entertainment, it uses “total recall” to deliver what looks to be a futuristic psychotherapy, for when being in the here and now, is simply intolerable.

The staging utilises a big projection screen, positioned front and centre, with four performers and an omnipresent video camera, creating scenes in different nooks throughout the space. We find ourselves gradually losing sight of reality, as we watch these people in digital pixels and in the flesh, frantically rollicking in their chaotic green screen fantasia. Buoyed by the adventurous musical stylings of Julian Starr, we all get caught up in an undefinable space, half lucid and half catatonic. It is an effervescent work, derived from an incandescent experimental spirit. Although not always coherent or resonant, the atmosphere being generated is full of wonder, with moments of comedy that truly tickle.

Performer Matt Abell-King is especially funny, able to inspire laughter with a twitch of the eyebrow, and a flamboyant flick of a leg. Angela Mahlatjie too is hilarious, most memorably in a delightful sequence in which she flashes back to a cherished time of romance, for a sarcastic look at women’s relationship with love and marriage. Also thoroughly enjoyable, are Adriane Daff and Nat Jobe, whose bold approaches to Hyperdream‘s humour, offer an opportunity for viewers to revel in a brand of absurd extravagance infrequently seen in Australian theatre.

The way me make sense of today and tomorrow, depends entirely on how we understand the past. If one is given the ability to delve back into old narratives, so that they can be re-examined, and be given renewed interpretations, then returning to the now, could mean a complete revitalisation of being. So much of what is broken today, is a result of memories that have taken us, and continue to take us, down the wrong path. The past cannot be changed, but the ways in which we understand it, should always be evolving, in service of a better tomorrow.

www.redlineproductions.com.au | www.thelastgreathunt.com

Review: Ulster American (Outhouse Theatre Co)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), May 13 – 29, 2021
Playwright: David Ireland
Director: Shane Anthony
Cast: Harriet Gordon-Anderson, Brian Meegan, Jeremy Waters
Images by Richard Farland

Theatre review
Ruth has come to London, from Northern Ireland, to begin rehearsals on her play. Unlike the show’s lead actor Jay, and its director Leigh, Ruth the playwright is not a star of the stage, and neither is she a man. This gendered imbalance of power is apparent right from the start, in fact even before Ruth appears, when the two men involve themselves with political conversations, in the absence of anyone who might understand first-hand, any experience of marginalisation. Ruth’s subsequent entrance proves an unbearable disruption, as we witness the savage implementation of patriarchal violence upon the young woman, at her every attempt to exert her rights, as a supposed equal creator in the artistic process.

All of this happens in David Ireland’s satirical Ulster American, a piercing interrogation of the uncomfortable relationship that the privileged have, with what seems to be a trendy phenomenon, of performative virtue signalling. Both Jay and Leigh believe themselves to be on the right side of history, always consciously using language that demonstrate their purported progressiveness, but it is their action that speak louder. In Ruth’s presence, the men cannot help but operate from positions of power and authority, fiercely protecting their status of dominance, and therefore the status quo.

Irreverent and genuinely funny, Ireland uses searing comedy to make palatable, ideas that are usually conveyed too dry and sanctimonious. It is perhaps an ironic choice to have a white man at its helm, but director Shane Anthony injects excellent nuance to ensure that we are always made aware of meanings and intentions. The production is fast-paced, enjoyably so, and Anthony validates that entertainment does not have to come at the price of a valuable message. Additionally, set design by Veronique Bennett and costumes by Claudia Kryszkiewicz, contribute a sleekness to the staging’s imagery, further convincing us of Ulster American‘s dissections of the contemporary bourgeoisie.

Actor Harriet Gordon-Anderson brings to the role of Ruth, a marvellous complexity that prevents her from devolving into a simple victim of circumstance. There is a confidence to her presence that offers fortitudinous juxtaposition against the two hysterical men railing against her. Oscar winner Jay is played by the highly engaging Jeremy Waters, who once again establishes himself as a storyteller of the highest calibre, in a brilliantly amusing and sarcastic take on the vacuous Hollywood monster archetype. Brian Meegan as English theatre director Leigh, is comically imposturous, and wonderfully authentic in its portrayal of a man who imagines himself a much better person than he actually is.

So much of art education, involves a certain inculcation of humility. Whether in the making of, or in the appreciation of it, one learns that the ego, is almost always a destructive force. In Ulster American, we watch egos get in the way, and observe how a person’s sense of aggrandized selfhood, prevents the creation of anything good. This manifests as a fight for space in David Ireland’s play, with the implication that those with privilege can only conceive of justice as a zero-sum game. When under threat, Jay and Leigh scramble to win back lost ground, always thinking in terms of deprivation, instead of dreaming up possibilities of more for everyone. Ruth has to fight tooth and nail, even resorting to unscrupulous means, but that is only because no real recourse is available to the oppressed.

Greed is not good, yet it remains central, in the pursuit of what so many of us perceive to mean success. Our lives need redefinition. Priorities and values need to be adjusted so that justice can prevail. It is debatable if a revolutionary overhaul is the answer, or if small steps and big words can count towards improvement, but to do nothing is without question, reprehensible.

www.outhousetheatre.org

Review: A Room Of One’s Own (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), May 6 – 23, 2021
Playwright: Virginia Woolf (adapted by Carissa Licciardello, Tom Wright)
Director: Carissa Licciardello
Cast: Anita Hegh, Ella Prince
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
It was almost a hundred years ago, when Virginia Woolf had given her lectures espousing the importance of championing women writers. Subsequently compiled and published in 1929 as an extended essay, A Room of One’s Own has since become a prominent work of twentieth-century feminist literature, providing language and concepts that have helped advance the cause.

Woolf’s meditations on liberation are, of course, much further-reaching than its immediate academic concerns. Finding ways to empower women writers, as we have discovered, involves an interrogation of how power is fundamentally distributed in our lives. These analyses about the people who do, and those who do not, have the space to think and write, generate a political discourse whereby women can contextualise their experience of freedom, or more likely lack thereof.

Adapted into a theatrical format by Carissa Licciardello and Tom Wright, we discover that Woolf’s words remain potent, even if her approach to these persistent issues can at times seem dated. We also observe that although much of how she had conveyed her thoughts, bear a passion that translates well to the stage, some of her writing is probably more effective when encountered in a book.

Performer Anita Hegh demonstrates a baffling super human memory, completely at ease with the enormous barrage of words she has to deliver. Her graceful gravitas creates for us, a version of Virginia Woolf who is engaging and persuasive, a formidable force of nature that lives up to our imagination, of what the legendary agitator could have been like in the flesh. Hegh’s work is extremely detailed, able to sustain our fascination with the intensity of her depictions, even in moments when one’s intellect falters at trying to keep up.

Licciardello’s direction of A Room of One’s Own introduces a substantial element of abstraction, to provide the show with a sense of elevation. In addition to what remains a lecture by Woolf, is a second performance space, a smaller cube in which a second actor Ella Prince is housed, as she manufactures physical augmentation to what is said and heard. These brief sequences are perfectly conceived, to add much needed theatricality, and to aide digestion of Woolf’s dense words.

David Fleischer’s work on set and costumes, are technically proficient but also surprisingly sensual. Lights by Kelsey Lee too, are soft and almost romantic in quality. The visuals offer a valuable counterpoint, to the understandably militant tone of the text. Music by Alice Chance is luscious, maybe even dreamlike, and along with Paul Charlier’s uplifting sound design, our mind is maintained in a mode of inspiration, as we welcome Woolf’s passionate call for progress.

“500 pounds a year” is the author’s unmissable refrain, reflecting a way of looking at equality that places emphasis on giving to women, what men possess. In the new century, we learn that what men possess, is no longer that which represents a better way of being. Woolf implies that to be rid of menial tasks, is the only way for women to think, but she was wrong. Many of modern feminism’s greatest thinkers were/are never able to leave the trenches of patriarchal oppression.

It is appropriate that both performers in the show are white women. Although much of what Woolf has written is valuable, it comes from a position of privilege that the author was evidently unwilling to confront. There is a deceptive simplicity to her message, and a strong tendency to preserve structures that should be called thoroughly into question. All she wants it seems, is to swap male for female, in these old ways of running things. What we need is to admit that these very systems of running things, are a problem, no matter who occupies positions within.

www.belvoir.com.au

Review: Goddess: The Elizabeth Burton Story (Old Fitz Theatre)


Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), May 4 – 8, 2021
Co-creators and Performers: Elizabeth Burton, Betty Grumble, Aaron Manhattan
Images by Joseph Mayers

Theatre review
Striptease artist Elizabeth Burton’s career began in the late 1960’s. When she discovered Go-go dancing, doors opened for Burton to travel the world, allowing her to meet people of all kinds, and to put her stamp on an artform that never ceases to be subversive. Now at the grand age of 73, Burton continues to create, and in Goddess: The Elizabeth Burton Story, takes to the stage once again, not only to usher us into the indulgent realm of exotic performance, but also to share anecdotes and wisdom, in a way only someone who has truly lived, can do.

Fearless and boundary-breaking, Burton’s stories are not all triumphant. Instances of tragedy and misfortune are many, as is the case with people who take roads less travelled, but these recollections are told with an astounding sense of objectivity, almost counter-theatrical in approach. Burton is wistful for sweet memories, but it is with a sense of duty, and sometimes humour, that she brings up trauma. There is little wallowing, and certainly no performative pensiveness for dramatic effect. It is clear that the show is intended to uplift, but there is no denying its capacity to devastate. The truth resonates powerfully, no matter how the storyteller wishes to present her account of events.

To have a living legend at close proximity, especially one who seems incapable of pretension or any hint of defensiveness, is to come in contact with the divine. In a culture that persistently celebrates youth, the meaning of time is lost on us. We are taught to cultivate desirous visions of ourselves at half our age, rather than think about what we could be when twice our age. Burton can reminisce about things sordid or wholesome, extraordinary or mundane; there is no end to the details she can offer up, in this attempt to encapsulate an existence too immense, but of greatest value is to look into her eyes, and to see with absolute certainty, that dark as this world can be, everything is simply going to be all right.

Providing on stage support are Betty Grumble and Aaron Manhattan, both looking like faithful disciples to the esteemed one, on hand not only to prompt for stories and to help illustrate them, but also to represent meaningfully, a sense of community. The image being created is anti-establishment and queer. Goddess is about a woman who breaks the rules in the most profound manner. It talks about a person’s worth, not in ordinary terms of success and status, but through the re-framing of one woman’s radical definition of selfhood, Goddess dismantles our priorities as a culture, and adjusts our social values, to one that more accurately reflects the important things in life. We also learn that there is nowhere more edifying, than from our queer elders, especially those emancipated from so many pointless pursuits of conventionality, that we can uncover those very important things in life.

Hierarchies are only of benefit to those on top. This is painfully obvious, yet we live as though unaware, completely invested in systems that exploit our participation at the lower rungs. We are required to endlessly obey, in the faith that rewards are assured, and that those on top are playing by the same rules. Both are empirically false. Goddess provides inspiration, for each of us to search for ways to exist on the outside. Fulfilment can never be dictated, it must only be discovered independently. Elizabeth Burton discovered a love of herself, and today altogether, we bask in her divine glory.

www.redlineproductions.com.au | www.performinglines.org.au

Review: Fun Home (Sydney Theatre Company / Melbourne Theatre Company)

Venue: Roslyn Packer Theatre (Sydney NSW), Apr 27 – May 29, 2021
Book and Lyrics: Lisa Kron (based on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel)
Music: Jeanine Tesori
Director: Dean Bryant
Cast: Gilbert Bradman, Ryan Gonzalez, Emily Havea, Mia Honeysett, Lucy Maunder, Jensen Mazza, Maggie McKenna, Adam Murphy, Marina Prior
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review
In the American musical Fun Home, based on the autobiographical graphic novel by Alison Bechdel, we observe the cartoonist hard at work on her drafting table, looking back at memories of her difficult father. Bruce was a baby boomer, and like many queer people of that generation, never came to terms with being gay. Even as Alison began to come out as lesbian, his personal anguish never diminished, struggling even to offer support to his own daughter at a time when she had needed him most.

Clearly intended to be an emotional theatrical experience, the show’s reliance on an unlikeable character is risky, and even though the music is predictably and relentlessly sentimental, it is doubtful if audiences could ever feel the full impact of the hardship that this family had gone through. Alison goes to considerable lengths to find forgiveness and understanding for her father, but it is arguable if the musical provides sufficiently for us to respond with deep compassion, or even to care enough for these characters, to be able to invest adequately into their story.

The staging is a polished one, with Alicia Clements’ design facilitating efficaciously, the need for frequent oscillations of time and space. Matt Scott’s lights are beautiful, especially when depicting illusory moments during which we see characters suspended in the undefined abyss of Alison’s imagination. Director Dean Bryant introduces an excellent sense of pizzazz to the production, making sure that we are entertained to the fullest of the show’s potential. He ensures that the story is told with clarity, including the unsavoury revelations relating to Bruce’s life.

We see Alison at three periods of maturity, from childhood and her college years, to the grown woman she is today. Child star Mia Honeysett is fantastic as Small Alison, wonderfully nuanced and authentic, in her portrayal of a child navigating complicated family dynamics, as well as her own blossoming homosexuality. Medium Alison is performed by Maggie McKenna whose singing voice proves a divine pleasure, and Lucy Maunder is captivating as Big Alison, bringing a palpable tenderness that underpins the show. The striking Adam Murphy does his best to honestly depict Bruce, warts and all, but it is Marina Prior who leaves a strong impression playing his wife Helen. When she finally breaks her silence and delivers a faultless solo number, Prior’s technical prowess brings momentary elevation to the production, inviting us to luxuriate in the sheer genius of her singing.

It should come as no surprise that humans are sometimes much more troubling, than a 100-minute Broadway musical can accommodate. The formulaic nature of these creations, requires a form of storytelling that follows many rules, and we discover that truth can sometimes become its nemesis. Bruce’s sexual encounters with underaged boys, is not forgivable, especially in this space of commercial theatre. Fun Home requires us to regard Bruce’s past sins with generosity, the way his daughter has to, in order that our emotions may become engaged in accordance with the traditional peaks and valleys of a conventional musical. Bruce’s transgressions however, are much too severe, at least for the old-fashion song-and-dance format.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au