Review: Pollon (Little Eggs Collective)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Dec 14 – 18, 2021
Creator and Performer: Eliza Scott
Director and Dramaturg:
Craig Baldwin
Images by Yannick Jamey

Theatre review
In Pollon, we witness Eliza Scott attempting to recreate the presence, of someone no longer present. An older man maybe Scott’s father, has fallen critically ill or perhaps died, and the artist, like all who are left behind, has to grapple with the nature of grief and of memory, in ways that are utterly personal. In Pollon, it is that process of mourning that reveals the things that we hold dear, that often do not come into true consciousness until too late.

The memory of a lost love is retrieved, most notably in this staging, through the sense of sound. Scott’s reminiscences are based heavily on old utterances that might have been fleeting or indeed, repeated time and again. That search for yesterday’s intimate moments, are made material by the performer’s various constructions of sonic presentations. Utilising the simple combination of a microphone with two loop stations, impromptu “songs” are created to fascinating effect.

Directed by Craig Baldwin, visual aspects are even more pared back, with minimal costumes and light changes, on a set that looks almost perfunctory by design. The result however is commendably elegant, in its rendering of a kind of essentialist aesthetic. As performer, Scott is irresistibly charming, with an intense vulnerability that makes everything they serve up, seem captivating and important. For an abstract work about presence, Scott’s sheer star quality is a convincing ingredient, that keeps us completely at ease and attentive.

Nobody can remember the days before they were born, but to think that one’s existence on this plane, in the posthumous, might become equally imperceptible and intangible, is unbearable. If we do not wish to contend with the idea that we simply vanish into thin air, it must be true then, that humans are concerned with legacy. Yet, we do so little to ensure that what we leave behind, is good and fair. The remnants of a generation will always inform how subsequent lives will conceive of the world. One can only hope that all the bad that lingers, can somehow be transformed into something better.

www.littleeggscollective.com

Review: Jagged Little Pill (Theatre Royal Sydney)

Venue: Theatre Royal Sydney (Sydney NSW), 2 – 19 Dec, 2021
Book: Diablo Cody
Music: Glen Ballard, Alanis Morissette
Lyrics: Alanis Morissette
Director: Diane Paulus
Cast: Natalie Bassingthwaighte, Tim Draxl, Emily Nkomo, Liam Head, Maggie Mckenna, Grace Miell, Aydan, Josh Gates, Imani Williams, Caleb Jago-ward, Mon Vergara, Baylie Carson, Georgina Hopson, Noah Mullins, Trevor Santos, Isabella Roberts, Marie Ikonomou, Bella Choundary, Jerome Javier, Romy Vuksan
Images by Daniel Boud

Theatre review
The story takes place in upper-middle class suburbia, where Mary Jane, a classic Connecticut housewife hiding a secret drug problem, invests extraordinary energy into making everything at home appear perfect, to all and sundry. A reckoning is forced into being however, when her teenage children’s upheavals precipitate an embrace of the ugly truth. Adopted daughter Frankie is Black and coming of age, and has lost all patience for her community’s pretentiousness, and son Nick is embroiled in a case of sexual assault, that leads us to discover the depths of Mary Jane’s personal struggles.

The book for Jagged Little Pill by Diablo Cody is carefully considered, and admirable in its commitment to incorporating social issues that are of immense concern today. It represents a strong attempt at pushing forward the musical theatre format, in order that entertainment could be combined, with something altogether more substantial in the way we tell stories, in this age of cultural reinvention. The dominant presence of political activists in the show, complete with slogans on placards, is not only a sign of the times, but a real manifestation of the spirit and intention, of this very 21st century musical.

Featuring songs from the seminal 1995 Alanis Morissette rock album of the same name, the show however is not always completely engaging. The flow from dialogue to song is often less than seamless, and choreography of dance sequences feel awkwardly dated, even if we are conscious of the source material’s age. Fortunately, direction by Diane Paulus (implemented by Resident Director Leah Howard) is full of heart, and although not completely finessed, Jagged Little Pill succeeds in making its art say something deeply meaningful, and very probably, enduringly memorable.

Performer Natalie Bassingthwaighte does an excellent job of presenting Mary Jane’s vulnerability, beautifully detailing all her character’s flaws, whilst keeping us firmly on her side. It is a charm offensive of the most convincing kind. Her family is portrayed by Tim Draxl, Liam Head and Emily Nkomo, who offer nuance to challenging relationships, that all can surely identify with. Singing for Morissette’s rock tunes however, are more powerfully delivered by Aydan, Maggie McKenna and Grace Miell, who play Frankie’s friends and lovers from school. Their ability to bridge the considerable gap between rock and Broadway styles of singing, are the crucial ingredient for some of Jagged Little Pill‘s more transcendent moments.

It all ends too neatly and too easily, of course. A big musical, it seems, can only ever accommodate “happily ever after”. The lasting imagery from the show involves young people demanding change, and it is that insistence on something better, that extends beyond the convenient conclusion, an ongoing discussion about our future. We think about the conventions that govern parameters in art, and how every production bears the responsibility of invention and improvement. We think about the way we talk to one another, and how we must learn to reach better resolutions, even if it means having to grapple with humility. Jagged Little Pill is about a youthful spirit, and all the potential we can unleash when the idealism of our young, is given a chance. The show is not quite a call to arms, but the awareness it raises about a need for revolution, is hard to deny.

www.jaggedmusical.com

Review: Death of a Salesman (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Roslyn Packer Theatre (Sydney NSW), Dec 3 – 22, 2021
Playwright: Arthur Miller
Director: Paige Rattray
Cast: Callan Colley, Jacek Koman, Josh McConville, Philip Quast, Bruce Spence, Thuso Lekwape, Helen Thomson, Contessa Treffone, Kimie Tsukakoshi, Brigid Zengeni, Alan Zhu
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review
Willy Loman is finally waking up to the fact that so many of life’s promises are bound to amount to nothing. The 63 year-old salesman has worked hard for decades, completely invested in the American Dream, but with the impending certainty of death, comes the realisation that he had been sold a big fat lie. It is now 72 years since Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman had first appeared on Broadway. Much has changed in the ways we live, yet the play’s central ideas seem never to lose their pertinence. Capitalism continues to broaden its grip over the very values with which we navigate existence, and no matter how many times we hear Willy Loman’s story, it appears few of us can avoid his fate. Such is the control, that desire for money and status, has over so many.

In her faithful 21st century rendition, director Paige Rattray has ensured a presentation stunning in its aesthetics, with exquisite design work occupying our attention over the near three-hour duration. The legacy of Edward Hopper in particular, is referenced beautifully in its evocation of 1940’s Americana. Paul Jackson’s lights steal the show, painterly and sublimely dramatic, in their bold manifestations of every tragic scene.

David Fleischer’s set design alters proportions of the proscenium, in order that we may obtain more intimate glimpses into the small lives being explored, whilst conveying the decrepitude of the Loman world view that many of us inevitably share. Costumes by Teresa Negroponte make statements about aspiration and disappointment, as they help transport us to a nostalgia that is more disconcerting than wistful. Music and sound design by Clemence Williams is noir-tinged, almost macabre in its grand invocations of regret and broken dreams.

Aspects of the performance utilises the device of a Greek Chorus, thankfully in an understated manner, which help manufacture a sense of gloom, and to prevent the vast space from falling too frequently into an unbearable emptiness. There is however a certain lack of soulfulness in the staging. Undoubtedly we witness a lot of passion being displayed, most notably by Jacek Koman who plays an irrepressible Willy, but the ensemble is not always convincing in their efforts, to represent the spirit of a play that aims to stand up for the little guy.

As Linda, actor Helen Thomson takes every opportunity to bring levity to a dark tale, but a lack in chemistry between the Loman spouses, has a tendency to make the mother and wife character seem somewhat disconnected. Callan Colley and Josh McConville are the sons, Happy and Biff respectively, both amiable personalities, if slightly surface in their depictions of a collapsing patriarchy. McConville does however, bring the show to a satisfying crescendo, late in the piece, when Biff unravels and exposes the truths about his torment.

Willy Loman’s death is important. We will all go about our lives, finding individual ways to figure out what is true and what are lies, based on all manner of evidence and introspection, but featuring prominently in Arthur Miller’s play is the undeniable centrepiece of a person’s death. The decisions we make, the things we value, and the way we love, should never be divorced from the singular fact of certain death, yet we seem in our American Dreams to forever act as though the self is immortal. “You can’t take it with you” is a common refrain, if only we care to listen.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au

Review: Wil & Grace (Rogue Projects)

Venue: FringeHQ (Newtown NSW), Nov 24 – Dec 4, 2021
Playwright: Madeleine Withington
Director: Erica Lovell
Cast: Suz Mawer, Joshua Shediak, Madeleine Withington
Images by Noni Carroll

Theatre review
Grace is having a hard time. Things are not going well in her personal and professional spheres, so having a big boozy night at home with flatmate Varya, is an understandable and much needed distraction. The two discover on the internet, a spell that can raise the dead, and because Grace is a theatre nerd, she chooses to bring William Shakespeare back to life. Next morning, they wake up to a drunk Brit in the living room, and Grace fixates on him being the Bard resurrected.

Wil and Grace, like its sitcom namesake, features a silly plot and unrestrained performances, to deliver light-hearted laughs in its efforts to entertain. Underpinning all the frivolity and impracticable narrative,  however are certain truths about the human experience. Written by Madeleine Withington, the play can be seen as a tribute to a television genre that has touched lives all over the world, with notable hints of unassailable honesty that help us connect fantasy with reality. Something is bothering Grace, and the more she indulges in the bizarre notion that Shakespeare lives in her home, the more we wish to discover her truth.

The show is involving and funny, and director Erica Lovell’s ability to build nuance into the outlandish premise, extends Wil and Grace beyond the single joke that precipitates all the action. Ambitious music by Chrysoulla Markoulli contradicts the sitcom style of presentation, choosing instead to offer glimpses of what is actually going on, inside Grace’s hidden inner world. Jasmin Borsovszky lights the stage with commendable dynamism, bringing much needed variation to the imagery that we see.

Withington performs the part of Grace, sensitive in her portrayal of a troubled individual. Suz Mawer is rambunctious as Varya, wonderfully confident in her embodiment of the role’s flamboyant comedy. The pivotal character of the English visitor, is played by Joshua Shediak whose easy charm and wide-eyed earnestness, helps us invest in the improbable fantasy.

It is never clearer than in 2021, that humans engage, routinely and habitually, in delusions. A businessman who repeatedly asserts his narcissism, is elected President by millions who interpret his greed as charity. Throngs march the streets to fight for the right, to catch a disease and spread it to the vulnerable, in the name of autonomy. Grace insists that a dead man has returned, and sleeps on her couch every night. We are a disturbed populace. We are also optimistic in our interminable belief that brighter days are ahead, although that optimism often seems no different from delusion.

www.rogueprojects.com.au