Review: A Letter For Molly (Ensemble Theatre)

Venue: Ensemble Theatre (Kirribilli NSW), May 9 – Jun 4, 2022
Playwright: Brittanie Shipway
Director: Ursula Yovich
Cast: Nazaree Dickerson, Joel Granger, Lisa Maza, Paula Nazarski, Brittanie Shipway
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review
Renee has an accidental pregnancy, and because she lives in modern day Australia, obtaining a termination does not become too big an ordeal. The incident however, does prompt her to reflect on issues of motherhood, family and ancestry. Thinking about where one comes from, and what one is to leave behind, is an important piece in the process of maturation. In Brittanie Shipway’s A Letter for Molly, we watch Renee consider the possibility of motherhood in her future, by looking back at the three generations of women before, and all their bonds as mothers and daughters.

The play is a tenderly funny take on family dynamics. Renee’s Indigenous background is a very charming influence on the show’s style of dialogue. The women speak with extraordinary vibrancy, but deeper issues pertaining to our history of colonialism are only briefly hinted at. Those of us who do not share their heritage, can make our own interpretations, should we choose to do so, about the repercussions of being Black in Australia, simply by observing the lives of the women in A Letter for Molly. We gradually become aware that none of them owe us any expositions, about the trauma and marginalisation they may or may not experience. The fact that some have formed any such expectations of Black writers, is further evidence of how colonisation operates in our artistic landscape. A Letter for Molly is storytelling on one woman’s own terms, and that is always a powerful statement to make.

Director Ursula Yovich brings a light touch, to this story of motherhood through the generations. These are consequential matters that are being discussed, albeit treated very gently. Yovich’s approach is one that feels distinctly simple, but there is not a second that passes, without a sense of real emotional investment being dedicated, to the honouring of motherhood.

In the role of Renee, is playwright Shipway herself, who brings an immense sincerity to the stage. Lisa Maza is flawless with her comedy, and a wonderfully captivating presence as Mimi, the most senior of these women. Next in line is Darlene, played by Paula Nazarski who is as capable at delivering jokes, as she is at delivering breath-taking poignancy. Then comes Linda, with the exuberant Nazaree Dickerson offering gleeful joy to her audience, at every given opportunity. The hilarious Joel Granger plays a wide range of support roles, demonstrating admirable commitment to his craft, and an undeniable knack for humour of a more heightened kind.

The closeness between mothers and daughters, is portrayed with exceptional verisimilitude in A Letter for Molly. We believe all the relationships, and we understand precisely the choices Renee makes. In 2022 it is still refreshing to see a woman take control over her destiny, instead of relenting without questioning, to tradition and convention. No woman should need to subscribe to any notion or definition of what a valid woman is. We are infinitely diverse, and it is that freedom to be, that we should forever embrace.

www.ensemble.com.au

Review: City Of Gold (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Wharf 1 Sydney Theatre Company (Walsh Bay NSW), May 7 – Jun 11, 2022
Playwright: Meyne Wyatt
Director: Shari Sebbens
Cast: Mathew Cooper, St John Cowcher, Simone Detourbet, Ian Michael, Myles Pollard, Trevor Ryan, Meyne Wyatt
Images by Joseph Mayers

Theatre review
Breythe is trying to establish a career for himself as an actor, but when called home to Kalgoorlie, he is reminded that there are far more important things that require his attention. In Meyne Wyatt’s City of Gold, it is that tension between one’s need for personal fulfilment, and their responsibilities to community, that drives the story.

In Breythe’s case, being an Aboriginal man, makes that juxtaposition even more pronounced. For most of us, self-preservation involves compromises, when participating in dominant systems that control resource distribution in the economy. To play with the big boys, we have to obey their rules, and if the big boys are determined to annihilate one’s community, one is destined to never be able to operate with true integrity.

To pay for his father’s funeral, Breythe has to perform in a problematic television advertisement. To help one’s community, one often has to sleep with the enemy. First Nations peoples, more than any other on this land, understand that subsistence may be permitted, but for the marginalised to thrive, not as exceptional individuals but as whole communities, is nigh on impossible. In fact, like Breythe we find ourselves in positions of pseudo betrayal, when trying to represent and advance causes. The white patriarchy will tempt us with its crumbs, and some of us will pick them up, always hoping that a difference would be made.

Wyatt’s very deep reflections on Indigenous identity are brought to scintillating life by Shari Sebbens’ passionate yet humorous direction. It is political theatre that speaks with a level of authenticity rarely seen; one which prioritises in its viewership, the same minority culture it wishes to represent. Those of us who are not its main concern, benefit from observing through that ajar door, a perspective so kindly made available, so that those of us on the outside who proclaim to be supportive, can feel closer to the nuances of their predicament. Sebbens keeps the discussion in the family, understanding that to care too much about the white gaze, does little to help unearth the truth.

Set design by Tyler Hill makes a literal statement about the outside-inside demarcation of family life, with its left-right split of the performance space. More interesting is its incorporation of hidden scrims to facilitate the depiction of supernatural dimensions, allowing us to draw important connections with the dead and the living, in City of Gold. Verity Hampson’s lights are understated, in complete service of the storytelling, while Rachael Dease’s music gives affirmation to the wide range of emotions being depicted.

As actor, Wyatt’s performance as Breythe is a searing one, filled with a righteous indignation that is satisfying both in terms of its capacity for driving home a message, and for its sheer theatricality. His chemistry with Mathew Cooper, who plays brother Mateo, is invulnerable and effortless; their tumultuous brotherly love is portrayed with great power. Simone Detourbet’s earnest interpretation of their sister Carina is tenderly moving, and Ian Michael breaks our heart as cousin Cliffhanger, beautifully elevating a smaller part to something unforgettable, with his palpably generous approach to characterisation.

The abruptness to the ending of City of Gold seems intentional in depriving us of any catharsis. It provokes us into taking a stand, leaving no room for ambiguity, in how an Australian viewer would position oneself, at the show’s conclusion. It is right, that the situation is framed as a binary one; you are either anti-racist, or you are racist at least by default. You can make contributions to improving the situation, or you can stand on the sidelines and let injustices perpetuate. Feeling bad is not enough, but there is only so much theatre can do for you.

www.bsstc.com.auwww.sydneytheatre.com.au

Review: Tell Me Before The Sun Explodes (Rock Bottom Productions)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), May 4 – 14, 2022
Playwright: Jacob Parker
Director:
Hayden Tonazzi
Cast: Tim McGarry, Joshua Shediak
Images by Philip Erbacher

Theatre review
Even though Andrew and Chris are no longer lovers, their bond continues to be a strong and passionate one. In Jacob Parker’s Tell Me Before the Sun Explodes, we meet the couple at various points of their relationship, flashing back and forth in time, to observe how things change and how things stay the same. It is a portrait of rare intimacy, the kind of which any person would count themselves lucky to have experienced once in a lifetime.

Parker’s dialogue is witty and incisive, revealing an uncanny ability to observe the world with inordinate sensitivity. Director Hayden Tonazzi turns Parker’s words into 70 minutes of short, sharp scenes for which our minds race to put the pieces together, as our hearts feel the involuntary pull of Parker’s ephemerally meaningful musings on desire and death (a significant age gap exists between the characters).

The production feels poetic, with a pretty wistfulness that is quite charming in its delicacy. Soham Apte’s set design is an intriguing manifestation of what our emotions become, after years of wear and tear; it is ambitiously conceived, and accomplished with an admirable eye for detail. Lights by Ryan McDonald do the practical work of moving us through the linear and the circular dimensions of time, whilst keeping us connected to the heart of the story. Sound design by Chrysoulla Markoulli is stunning in its intricacy, and highly effective in guiding us through the complex and vacillating feelings that are being aroused.

Actor Tim McGarry delivers exceptional technical proficiency in the role of Andrew, with a performance memorable for its precision, both in terms of design and of implementation. As Chris, Joshua Shediak impresses with his presence and his authentic impulses. There is a clarity to his depictions that allow us to understand instinctively, the many internal fluctuations he goes through, so quickly yet so convincingly.

The wonder of love is that it feels eternal. The truth of it though, is that its beauty is completely contingent on the fact that nothing is forever. It is in the knowing that an end will come, that love becomes so precious, and so overwhelming in its allure. The threat of its absence can be so palpably harrowing, that it makes us invest in it, so unfathomably immensely. We are also capable however, of taking people for granted, of forgetting that all our human connections hang by a thread. The union of Andrew and Chris starts, and it ends. That inevitable conclusion only makes their time together even more special.

www.rockbottomproductions.com.au

Review: Son Of Byblos (25A Belvoir)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), May 4 – 21, 2022
Playwright: James Elazzi
Director: Anna Jahjah
Cast: Violette Ayad, Kate Bookallil, Simon Elrahi, Deborah Galanos, Mansoor Noor
Images by David Hooley

Theatre review
Cousins Adam and Clare are queer Australians, but they are also Lebanese. Like many of our LGBTQIA+ compatriots from minority cultural backgrounds, they do not have the luxury to live loud and proud, like the mainstream examples we often see in white media. Instead, they indulge in their sexualities surreptitiously, and rely only on each other, for open and honest companionship. Things begin to unravel however, when Clare decides to marry a man, in a radical attempt to stop being a lesbian once and for all.

James Elazzi’s Son of Byblos exposes the truth about queer life on this land, as experienced by many people of colour. On one hand, it questions the progress that we think we have made as a political movement, and on the other, it challenges traditional ways of life that are still pervasive in enclaves everywhere, that continue to struggle with acceptance. Adam wants to be a good son to his loving parents, but he is never able to reconcile fundamental truths about his sexuality, with expectations at home.

This is by no means a new story. In fact in can be considered an age-old one, but Elazzi’s insistence on discussing the issue, prevents us from looking away. Delusions about social advancement, means that people can be left behind, but a play like Son of Byblos in 2022 reminds us that activism and advocacy should always be about those who are most disadvantaged. LGBTQIA+ progressivism in Australia it seems, has taken its eye off the ball.

The work is directed by Anna Jahjah who anchors the action in that space of conflict and tension, where tradition and rights of the individual, prove dissonant. Performances oscillate in and out of naturalism, but when the cast hits upon moments of authenticity, is when the drama really captivates.

Actor Mansoor Noor brings polish to the production, playing Adam with great nuance and believability. It is admirable that Noor’s portrayal of a difficult existence is one of a man taking it in his stride, rather than only looking tortured. There is a valuable air of dignity given to all the characters in Son of Byblos. Kate Bookallil as Clare is especially moving in her final scene, completely devastating as she tries to deal a final blow to her genuine self. Also very touching and vulnerable, is Violette Ayad who as old friend Angela, stands up for herself and refuses to be a pawn in Adam’s charade. Simon Elrahi and Deborah Galanos play Adam’s well-meaning parents, both warm presences that help us mediate this painful conundrum, of the truth against piety.

Sex in Son of Byblos is never depicted in a positive light. Instead of pleasure, connection and empowerment, it only delivers anguish. When we see that even the most beautiful things, can be turned harrowing, we must come to the realisation that resistance is critical.

www.belvoir.com.au / www.bnwtheatre.com.au

Review: Unqualified 2: Still Unqualified (Ensemble Theatre)

Venue: Ensemble Theatre (Kirribilli NSW), Apr 29 – Jun 4, 2022
Playwrights: Genevieve Hegney, Catherine Moore
Director: Janine Watson
Cast: Genevieve Hegney, Catherine Moore
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review
Felicity and Joanne have progressed from being business partners, to now being housemates. In Unqualified 2: Still Unqualified, the pair is back with more shenanigans, which is entirely unsurprising, as their first outing three years ago at the very same theatre, had proven an unequivocal blast. Creators Genevieve Hegney and Catherine Moore seem a bottomless pit of jokes, and in this sequel we again encounter a barrage of hearty laughter, about a fictitious temping agency, and the desperate ineptitude that sustains it.

Directed by Janine Watson, the show is relentlessly exuberant, and extremely light hearted. Its sense of humour comes from a profound understanding of grace; ambitious women are given little room to fail, but in Unqualified 2, we delight in the knowledge that none of us need to be superwomen, to feel deserving. Design aspects of the production are accomplished in unassuming ways, with video projections by Morgan Moroney playing an integral part, in taking us from one unlikely place to another, as the women try to earn a buck.

Watching Hegney and Moore on stage, is an absolute treat. Both performers have commanding presences and an unassailable confidence, that make us putty in their hands. The chemistry between these two powerhouses, is a rare gift, and a reminder that theatre at its best, is about an ephemeral magic that is often hard to pinpoint, and impossible to replicate.

It almost becomes irrelevant what the story is, that Hegney and Moore are telling, but it is certainly apt that the essence of what they present, is a statement about friendship. Dynamics between women often involve a sense of competition. We observe that spaces for women can be scarce, and are taught tacitly, that only one of us can rise, which means celebrating other women often becomes complicated and challenging. In Unqualified 2 however, we see that success only comes when both (Felicity and Joanne, as well as Hegney and Moore) are completely in support of each other. Moreover, one comes to the realisation, that a success that cannot be shared, is not success at all.

www.ensemble.com.au

Review: An American In Paris (Theatre Royal Sydney)

Venue: Theatre Royal Sydney (Sydney NSW), 29 Apr – 12 Jun, 2022
Book: Craig Lucas (inspired by the Motion Picture)
Music & Lyrics: George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin
Director: Christopher Wheeldon
Cast: Leanne Cope, Robbie Fairchild, Jonathan Hickey, Ashleigh Rubenach, Sam Ward, David Whitney, Anne Wood
Images by Darren Thomas

Theatre review
Jerry is a World War II veteran, experiencing art and love in a foreign land, a few short years after arms have been laid down. More than ever before, freedom seems a phenomenon not to be taken for granted. The stage musical An American in Paris is based on the legendary 1951 Vincente Minnelli film of the same name, known for its visual splendour and inventive use of music by the Gershwin brothers. This adaptation, although replete with nostalgia, is tailored for a more contemporary sensibility. Beautifully positioned between past and present, it connects us with the genius of a bygone era, delivering divine inspiration to a generation at risk of losing artistic treasures that had been gifted decades before.

Gene Kelly’s original choreography is transposed to perfection by Christopher Wheeldon, whose re-creation of mid-century modern ballet proves to be nothing short of sublime. Spellbindingly performed by a cast that is at once whimsical yet disciplined, the audience is impressed and dumbfounded, capable only to gawk and lose ourselves in the theatrical magic being presented. Robbie Fairchild and Leanne Cope are the leads, individually swoonsome but as a pair, their extraordinary synchronicity is flabbergasting, in a series of breathtaking pas de deux that are simply unforgettable.

Gershwin’s iconic score is given wonderful revitalisation by Rob Fisher, who provides for the production a taut rendition of familiar evergreen melodies. Musical direction by Vanessa Scammell is dynamic and spirited, interpreted by a fastidious orchestra that moves us to spaces rarefied and hopelessly romantic. Visual design aspects are somewhat restrained, and not particularly lavish, but sonic dimensions of An American in Paris induce a sense of grandeur that insists on our luxuriation.

The danger of nostalgia is its inherent denial of negative aspects, in our wilful idealisation of the past. Longing for a history that never really existed, undermines the progress that time has achieved. When we say that things used to be better, we imply a rejection of improvements that have been made, and that continue to be made. The fact is, so much of what he have today, is better than how they used to be. In stolen moments however, lingering briefly in fantasies of a different world, is a respite all humans require.

www.americaninparis.com.au