Review: Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? (State Theatre Company South Australia)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Jan 13 – 23, 2022
Playwright: Edward Albee
Director: Margaret Harvey
Cast: Jimi Bani, Rashidi Edward, Juanita Navas-Nguyen, Susan Prior
Images by Yaya Stempler

Theatre review
Martha and George are always fighting. The perpetuality of their battles seems to point to a certain masochism that resides at the centre of their marriage, and we discover that perhaps their endless struggle for power, forms the very foundation of their life together. As viewers on the sidelines, we gladly ride that momentum of conflict, knowing that things simply will never get better for the couple, in Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Set in the world of academia, in the New England region of the USA, Albee’s discussions about power, pertain to a kind that is particularly white. Director Margaret Harvey’s decision to cast Black men in the roles of the duelling academics George and Nick, brings greater focus to the whiteness that is being interrogated. The futility of these two men trying to climb the social and professional ladders, within a system built upon the exclusion of people like them, are made mournfully clear by the darkness of their skin.

Although never lacking in energy, the production suffers from a shortage of precision, in the way Albee’s often rambling dialogue is presented. The writing’s abstract qualities has a tendency to become overly ambiguous on this stage, making the experience feel at times, somewhat hollow.

Ailsa Paterson’s set design is an elegant update that provides the story with a present day context, but a strangely domineering centrepiece that makes reference to the white practice of pilfering historical artefacts is, although well-meaning, an unnecessary distraction. Lights by Nigel Levings are effectively chilling, in the cold white box of Martha and George’s home. Sound design by Andrew Howard is sparse, but memorable for its use of drums to rouse tensions.

Actor Susan Prior is suitably nebulous as the heavily intoxicated Martha. Jimi Bani’s bouts of anger as George dials up the drama, but a characteristic cynicism seems to be missing. Nick is played by Rashidi Edward who brings great intensity, and his counterpart Honey is thankfully given some backbone by Juanita Navas-Nguyen.

Martha’s father never appears in the play, but he holds absolute power over the people that we meet. Just like the white patriarchy on this land, it is never the ones who benefit most that do the dirty work, but all the foot soldiers who fight amongst themselves, thinking they are advancing their personal ambitions, when in fact are only serving the purposes of those on top. We are given crumbs, that are designed to gaslight us into believing, that the rules of engagement are fair. That we persist with these rules, is as strange as Martha and George persisting with their marriage.

www.statetheatrecompany.com.au

Review: 44 Sex Acts In One Week (Seymour Centre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Jan 12 – 16, 2022
Playwright: David Finnigan
Director: Sheridan Harbridge
Cast: Priscilla Doueihy, Matt Hardie, Emma Harvie, Rebecca Massey, Keith Robinson  
Images by 

Theatre review
Celina is not making rent, and Australian workplace relations law is allowing her boss to hire her only on a contractual basis. To ensure the clickbaity publisher gives her more work, Celina decides to write a review of a social influencer’s controversial new book 44 Sex Acts In One Week, after trying out all of the book’s recommendations. David Finnigan’s play of the same name however, is not about sex work, even though that is ostensibly what we witness Celina to be engaging in, for the entire duration. Neither is it about the nature of human sexuality in the twenty-first century. The play’s actual concern, is the blind eye we turn, away from ecological disasters that are ongoing in real life.

That link between our frivolous obsessions and life’s real problems, are not always made explicit in Finnigan’s play. He makes us indulge instead, in a plethora of silly sex jokes (ranging from the painfully juvenile to the surprisingly clever), as an allegorical strategy perhaps, to illustrate the point of our wilful ignorance. One has to be grateful that the conservation message is never dealt with in a heavy handed manner, but its dizzying style of humour, is unlikely to be widely appealing.

Sheridan Harbridge’s direction is gaudy and boisterous, with a sense of exhilaration that is perfectly suited to the themes of 44 Sex Acts In One Week. The raucous atmosphere is greatly enhanced by Trent Suidgeest’s colourful lights and glitzy set design. Elements of the show utilise foley techniques, as though for a radio play; Steve Tolumin’s sound design contributes substantially to the madcap quality of the presentation. Sound engineering though, is somewhat a problem for the production, with dialogue occasionally lost in the vast auditorium.

The eminently charismatic Emma Harvie is perfectly cast as Celina, with an air of naivety that prevents any sexual content from turning overwrought. Her comedic timing is in a word exquisite, and her ability to appear completely impulsive and present, is a real gift. Rebecca Massey plays two roles, both privileged and irresponsible women, who get lampooned exuberantly through Massey’s vivacious approach.

Priscilla Doueihy too performs double duty, but it is in the huge contrast between both characters, that she delivers the biggest laughs. Celina’s sex partner Alab is depicted by an alluring Matt Hardie, who brings appropriate playfulness to the experience. Finally, Keith Robinson is the narrator, reliably dignified as he takes us through each mischievous scene.

Evidence shows that we care little for the environment, and that human extinction is likely to be, just a matter of time. It is not an exaggeration to say that we are, by and large, a destructive species, yet what is distinctive about our behaviour, is that we seem determined to act as though life is eternal. Even during a pandemic, we go to bed assured that tomorrow will come. Nothing seems to be able to put a damper on our certainty that life will go on, and so we keep doing what we do, thinking only of ourselves, when there is no denying that so much of what we do, is akin to mass suicide.

www.clubhouseproductions.com.au

Review: Triple X (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Wharf 1 Sydney Theatre Company (Walsh Bay NSW), Jan 8 – Feb 26, 2022
Playwright: Glace Chase
Director: Paige Rattray
Cast: Glace Chase, Josh McConville, Christen O’Leary, Anthony Taufa, Contessa Treffone
Images by Brett Boardman, Prudence Upton

Theatre review
Not only does Scotty have a highflying job on Wall Street, he lives in a US$3.5 million Tribeca loft, and is about to marry a Birkin-toting Kymberly. Everything looks to be peachy keen, but on the inside, he is a complete mess. The only saving grace is his secret affair with trans entertainer Dexie, but Scotty relegates the sole joy of his existence to the dark allegorical closet, afraid that the truth will destroy all.

Glace Chase’s Triple X tells an age-old story, but such is the severity of its associated taboo, that it feels like we are taking this conversation to the public domain, for the very first time. Chase’s writing is intricate and insightful, replete with splendid wit and a generosity of spirit that allows her show its wide appeal. The depth of honesty she is able to access for the play, is so confronting it feels almost self-sacrificial. The result of course, is the initiation of a big and necessary discussion, that is crucial to the well-being of trans people everywhere.

The show is given vibrant and taut direction by Paige Rattray, who makes the near three hours of Triple X feel a mere blink of an eye. The comedy is wild and raucous, yet bears an unmistakeable sense of sophistication. The deconstruction and analysis of ideas, are accomplished with admirable thoroughness. For all the irony and sarcasm dripping off of Triple X, there is thankfully no ambiguity to the important message it imparts.

Designer Renée Mulder establishes on the stage, a versatile and highly functional set that provides a wealth of possibilities, whilst making Scotty’s apartment look every bit the million dollar listing that it aims to depict. Costumes are convincingly assembled, with several of Dexie’s more flamboyant outfits demonstrating great style and humour. Light by Ben Hughes too, add colour and texture that wonderfully enhance the mood of each scene.

Chase herself plays Dexie, the scruffy warrior from clubland, and provocateur whose very presence insists the truth be out. The uncompromising authenticity that Chase brings to the role, is the lynchpin of the entire exercise. She makes us fall in love with Dexie, and respond with appropriate outrage, at the injustices that befall her. Josh McConville scintillates as Scotty, with boundless energy, both physical and emotional, to convey the frenzied discontentment that the character goes through in every waking moment.

Similarly full of vigour is Christen O’Leary, whose unforgettable performance as Deborah, proves an unequivocal highlight of the production. Captivating and irresistibly funny, yet able to bring sincerity to her work, O’Leary is truly remarkable. Anthony Taufa and Contessa Treffone both create likeable personalities, who add dynamism and complexity to the story being told. The entire cast is passionate, with an infectious earnestness that really drive home the urgency of all that is being discussed.

The main thing that Triple X says, is that although there is nothing wrong with Dexie, and that she lives her life to the fullest of her abilities, the world around her is constantly trying to pull her down. Even when she finds love unexpectedly, the embarrassing predictability of a man’s cowardice, is determined to replace pleasure with misery, joy with anguish. Of course Dexie deserves love, but more than that, she deserves dignity, and the well-founded wisdom of knowing better.

For Scotty, the affair means much more than it does to Dexie. Trans women of a certain age have seen it all before, and there will always be plenty more fish in the sea, should one choose to partake in a never-ending revolving door of fleeting romances. On the other hand, for men like Scotty who know that intimacy with a trans woman, is part of their journey to true happiness, to lose a love could easily be an irrevocable error. Those who remain cowards shall find no peace, and those who relish in bravery certainly deserve no cowards.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au

Review: Girl From The North Country (Theatre Royal Sydney)

Venue: Theatre Royal Sydney (Sydney NSW), 6 Jan – 27 Feb, 2022
Book: Conor McPherson
Music & Lyrics: Bob Dylan
Director: Conor McPherson
Cast: Tony Black, Peter Carroll, Tony Cogin, Laurence Coy, Terence Crawford, Helen Dallimore, Blake Erickson, Callum Francis, Elizabeth Hay, Peter Kowitz, Lisa McCune, Samantha Morley, Zahra Newman, Christina O’Neill, Grant Piro, James Smith, Greg Stone, Chemon Theys, Liam Wigney
Images by Daniel Boud

Theatre review
Characters of Girl from the North Country weave in and out of a Minnesota house, in 1934 when the Great Depression was in full force. Their stories are written by Conor McPherson, whose flair for sentimental nostalgia is put to good use, in this musical set to the songs of Bob Dylan. A kind of specific Americanness, found in its themes as well as in its style, might make the show feel somewhat distant to Australian sensibilities, but a transcendent beauty so present in all its creative considerations, almost bridges that cultural gap.

Although not always engaging, the work is certainly transportative. Directed by McPherson, Girl from the North Country takes us to another time and place, with a level of elegance rarely seen on our musical theatre stages. Mark Henderson’s lighting design, in collaboration with Rae Smith’s sets and costumes, offer up lush vistas that meld so wonderfully with musical director Andrew Ross’ reworking of Dylan’s songs. Lucy Hind’s sensitive choreography too is memorable, in a production that feels so confident yet remarkably understated.

The languid aesthetic is brought to manifestation by an endearing cast, including Peter Carroll, Lisa McCune and Zahra Newman, who deliver captivating personalities, in a show that is otherwise fairly resistant of our need to identify with its people and situations. Sublime singing from the likes of Callum Francis, Elizabeth Hay and Christina O’Neill pull us in, so that we can regard the heart and soul of these artistic renderings, at close proximation.

There are many moments of theatrical magic in Girl from the North Country, but there are also many instances where it leaves us unexpectedly cold. It includes an abundance of exquisite elements that amount to something best described as mellow. One would not be surprised to discover that the songs connect more than the stories do, in a work that stands most importantly, as a tribute to the legend that is Bob Dylan.

www.northcountry.com.au