Review: Expiration Date (Meraki Arts Bar)

Venue: Meraki Arts Bar (Darlinghurst NSW), Apr 27 – May 13, 2023
Playwright: Lana Filies
Lily Hayman
Cast: Lana Filies, Flynn Mapplebeck
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review

A man and a woman are trapped in a lift, and because they had been romantic partners not too long ago, this moment of serendipitous awkwardness imposes upon them, an occasion of confrontation that neither would have volunteered to undergo.

Lana Filies’ Expiration Date is a 50-minute two-hander containing themes that are admittedly of great concern to many of us, but presented with dialogue that is more than slightly tinged with a soap opera style parochialism, the play will perhaps not be to everyone’s tastes.

Direction for the piece is provided by Lily Hayman, who imbues an urgent energy, that insists on our undivided attention. Design work by Tyler Fitzpatrick is minimal in approach, but rendered with an impressive sense of finesse, that gives the staging precisely what it needs, for its story to be told.

Filies plays the woman in Expiration Date, excessively animated in initial scenes, but able to deliver a convincing realism when it matters. Portraying the man, is Flynn Mapplebeck who brings a contrasting effortlessness to the comedy, with a natural charisma and a quirky blitheness, that help with  the show’s entertainment value.

We are at a point of evolution where many can become our own persons, of lives commensurate with our own dreams and ambitions, without having to comply with age old notions of marital relationships. No longer do all of us have to make traditional choices in order to survive, yet there is something maybe biological, or maybe social, that seems to want to turn us into conformist creatures, that makes us pine for all that is pervasive, conventional and ordinary. Circumstances have changed for many, yet only a few will ever take the road less travelled.

Review: Mortel (KXT on Broadway)

Venue: KXT on Broadway (Ultimo NSW), Apr 25 – 29, 2023
Director: Steven Ljubović
Cast: Phoebe Atkinson, Gemma Burwell, Abbey Dimech, Giani Leon, Meg Hyeronimus, Levi Kenway, Aiden Morris, Bella Ridgway, Shannon Thomas
Images by Abraham de Souza

Theatre review
Nine beings emerge from their cocoons, flesh and bone perfectly formed, all muscles ready to fire. Mortel is a work of physical theatre that takes from dance traditions, from experimental art and from performance training, manifesting in a presentation that ranges from the obscure to the obvious, from beautiful to awkward.

Directed by Steven Ljubović, Mortel has a tendency to feel derivative, in a style that is perhaps too demanding of an artist’s capacity for originality. Whether drawing from something more distinct like Bob  Fosse’s “Rich Man’s Frug” or other elements that simply feel instinctively familiar, the staging never delivers much that is truly inventive. It is however, a show that is often captivating, with an evocative and sensual sound design by Kieran Camejo that provides a basis for our emotions to engage. Lights by Clare Sheridan are gently rendered, to best support, and flatter, the dynamic activity taking place.

Performers are dressed exquisitely by Ljubović, in shades and shapes that nod to contemporary pop culture and to the world of fashion. The cast of nine is incredibly cohesive, perfectly well-rehearsed and indefatigably focused, on what they mean to achieve as individuals and as a singular pulsatory organism. The work may not require extraordinary athleticism or technical proficiency, but their demonstration of strength and precision, along with their boundless dedication, is a joy to behold.

There is nothing that quite parallels the enthusiasm for living a good life that emerges, from the unremitting meditations on the nature and inevitability of death.

Review: Metropolis (Hayes Theatre)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), Apr 21 – May 20, 2023
Book and Lyrics: Julia Robertson (based on the novel by Thea von Harbou)
Music: Zara Stanton
Director: Julia Robertson
Cast: Thomas Campbell, Tom Dawson, Sam Harmon, Selin Idris, Dominic Lui, Amanda McGregor, Tomas Parrish, AJ Pate, Joshua Robson, Anusha Thomas, Shannen Alyce Quan, Jim Williams
Images by Grant Leslie

Theatre review

Thea von Harbou’s 1925 novel Metropolis, emerged as a response to the Second Industrial Revolution, when it had become clear that modernity was likely to involve catastrophic consequences, that the powers that be, could very well ignore. In von Harbou’s story, business magnate Joh Fredersen’s ambitions knows no bounds. His efforts to exploit new technologies for unprecedented material gains, turns him blind to the devastating human and environmental costs, resulting from these twentieth century ways of organising labour. There may be a naivete associated with Metropolis, but a century on, it is clear that von Harbou’s early concerns, criticized for being overly simplistic, have now become completely substantiated, and sadly commonplace.

This musical adaptation, with book and lyrics by Julia Robertson and music by Zara Staunton, certainly preserves the uncomplicated tone of the original book (and the famous Fritz Lang film of 1927). Its songs are highly enjoyable, with unpredictable orchestrations by Staunton that evoke meaningful contrasts between notions of the natural versus the synthetic. The plot however, is rarely compelling or convincing in a show, directed by Robertson, that is perhaps excessively stylised, ironically unable to convey sufficient humanity, for its audience to invest meaningfully into any of its characters, or its moral intentions.

There are however, many instances of visual splendour, on a set by Nick Fry whose rendering of classic art deco schemes, delivers satisfying imagery commensurate with expectations derived from the cultural landmark that is Lang’s film. Fry’s work on a human-size puppet that depicts a dystopic robot, is especially impressive. Ryan McDonald’s lighting design too is pleasing to the eye, although it can seem too pre-occupied with the manufacturing of beauty, leaving some spatial configurations to look somewhat deficient. Ella Butler’s costumes depict well, the decay of modernity, but some attempts at portraying decadence, are less than adequate.

Joshua Robson plays Fredersen, and along with Shannen Alyce Quan in the role of Maria, offer some of the stronger singing, in a cast memorable for its unwavering earnestness. Tom Dawson brings stage presence to Fredersen’s honourable son Freder, but it is Thomas Campbell as the mad scientist Rotwang who is memorable with a sense of authenticity, albeit in an extravagantly fantastical realm.

Freder repeatedly urges for his father to do better, but it is hard to tell anyone to moderate their behaviour, when they see no incentive to do so; for some people, the idea of “a greater good” simply never resonates. It makes sense therefore, to resort to the language of power, that they evidently believe in above all else. This then requires that the disenfranchised find cohesion and consensus, for the only way for the huddled masses to be able to participate in the discourse of power, is for us to coalesce, in hopes of forming something threatening enough, that will force a change. When our disparities are this severe, we need to wake to the fact that any amelioration, will only come from our steely insistence, and never from the kindness of those whose hearts are determined not to be found. |

Review: Tick, Tick… Boom! (Sydney Lyric Theatre)

Venue: Sydney Lyric Theatre (Sydney NSW), Apr 20 – 26, 2023
Book: Jonathan Larson
Lyrics: Jonathan Larson
Music: Jonathan Larson
Director: Tyran Parke
Cast: Sheridan Adams, Finn Alexander, Hamish Johnston, Elenoa Rokobaro, Hugh Sheridan
Images by Jeff Busby

Theatre review

Jon’s thirtieth birthday is fast approaching, and his anxiety is on overdrive. An artist living and working in New York, his career has yet to take off, even though everyone seems to heap praise on his song writing. Tick, Tick… Boom! is a semi-autobiographical work by Jonathan Larson, first performed in 1990, just six years before his untimely death, at the very young age of 35. Larson’s greatest success finally came with the musical Rent, but he never saw the warm reception of opening night, having passed away just the day before its first preview.

Tick, Tick… Boom! was never conceived for large venues. This staging, directed by Tyran Parke, is based on an adaptation by David Auburn that expanded the work from Larson’s original solo format, and its current iteration in a 2,000 seater auditorium, demonstrates unfavourably the intimate nature of the musical. The drama never grips, and the songs rarely soar. We feel energies dissipating long before they reach us, from a stage that often looks too subdued, and too far away.

Christina Smith’s scenic design encloses the action on the centre third of the proscenium, which helps to concentrate focus, but which also restricts movement, in a way that makes the show look monotonous. Lights by Matt Scott, although adept at providing appropriate illumination, does not deliver much more than its essential functions. Musical direction by Kohan van Sambeeck, while able to imbue some intensity to the plot, is let down by sound engineering that keeps the band distant, and much of their efforts withdrawn and contained within the stage area.

Leading man Hugh Sheridan, while not lacking in verve, has a voice that is excessively raspy and strained, unable to allow his audience to connect with the songs, and therefore losing the essence and soul of his character Jon. Performer Elenoa Rokobaro is the saving grace of the production, confident and delightful in all of her roles, especially memorable in her showstopping tune, “Come to Your Senses”, taking the opportunity very late in the piece, to remind us of the magic, that theatre is capable of.

Artists do not create work in vacuums. It is fundamental to any art practice, that communication between creator and audience is a matter of consideration, but there always comes a point where one can care too much. Jon cares too much, about what people think, not only in relation to his work as a writer of songs and musicals, but also as a man struggling in a contemporary epoch, defined by envy and competition. It is a shame that we have manufactured a world, in which few artists are able to be content simply with the joy of creation, where most are made to involve themselves with an endless barrage of peripheral interferences, that fuel professional jealousy and gratuitous aspiration. Jon is good at what he loves, but it is a real shame that everywhere he seeks affirmation, seems to make him think, that he is not enough.

Review: UFO (Griffin Theatre Company)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Darlinghurst NSW), Apr 18 – 29, 2023
Writer: Kirby Medway
Director: Solomon Thomas
Cast: Matt Abotomey, James Harding, Angela Johnston, Tahlee Leeson
Images by Lucy Parakhina

Theatre review

The show begins with people shooting a stop motion film, involving puppet versions of themselves, on a miniature set. Using two cameras, the results of their animation are shown live on screens, as they voice their respective characters. UFO by Kirby Medway tells a mysterious story about four characters, hired to document the moment-by-moment activities of an appropriately huge Unidentified Flying Object parked on a golf course, stationary but for lights that are constantly flashing.

Thoroughly whimsical, UFO is directed by Solomon Thomas, who infuses a gentle humour, that crescendos to a satisfying comedic peak at its penultimate moments. There is undeniable creativity at play, admirable for the artists’ imaginativeness, and their unwavering commitment to idiosyncrasy.

Set design by Angus Callander is a charming manifestation of the productions’ dual needs, both theatrical and filmic, that allows for the staging’s refreshing imagery. Tom Hogan’s dramatic sound design is exceptionally enjoyable, full of tension, yet fascinatingly kitsch in its rendering of this sci-fi microcosm. Performers Matt Abotomey, James Harding, Angela Johnston and Tahlee Leeson are marvellously precise, and splendid with their timing, in a presentation that never fails to pique curiosity.

In the modern age, we seem always to be on the precipice of of technological advancements, that threaten to annihilate, and move us further into dystopia. UFO expresses this perennial anxiety, but demonstrates the wondrous joy that technology can and does deliver. Humanity and technology are much closer in essence than we care to acknowledge, maybe because we know too well, the resolutely destructive tendencies of our nature. |

Review: New Balance (Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Apr 19 – 23, 2023
Creators: Christopher Bryant, Emma Palackic
Cast: Christopher Bryant
Images by Robert Catto

Theatre review
In the one-person show New Balance, Christopher Bryant declares himself queer and disabled, wearing those labels like one would badges of honour, when returning from fighting for causes of immense consequence. In polite society, those labels of identification are of course discouraged from prominent enunciation, because the cis-white-straight-ableist hegemony would always prefer to deny, that their prejudices are in fact fundamental, to how each of our lives is structured. They want us to subscribe to the convenient notion that all people are the same, in order that so many of the injustices they steadfastly establish and perpetuate, are allowed to operate in stealth.

Their gaslighting, and our cultural delusion, is addressed by New Balance, a brilliantly engrossing 60-minute show created by Bryant and Emma Palackic, to firmly renounce that collective refusal to acknowledge the gremlins in our system, put in place to privilege the few, but that are perversely upheld by the masses. The show asserts otherness from a location that is both queer and disabled, two conceptions of experiences that seem at face value, to be distinct and separate, but through the articulation of a performer who inhabits both identities simultaneously, it becomes clear that the politics of otherness, only ever functions one way. The narrative of routine ostracism, and of persistent exclusion, is powerfully represented by Bryant’s unvarnished performance style, devoid of pretension and of formalist technique, existing only in the space of theatre, to speak intimately and persuasively from human to human.

Bryant and Palackic’s text, which includes first-person contributions from Jamila Main, Rebekah Robertson, Anthony Severino and Jacqueline Tooley, is a deeply evocative expression of life on the outside. Video projections by Justin Gardam, along with sound recordings of confessional voices, offer meaningful enhancement to all the sensitive divulgements, that are surprising yet familiar, in their honest encapsulation of a diverse humanity. Lighting design by Chris Milburn add sensuality to proceedings, to make us feel a certain palpable corporeality, that keeps these thoughts being so staunchly shared on stage, to link resolutely to our own bodies.

New Balance seeks to dismantle that which has long been instituted as pristine, and reconstitutes that which is deemed immaculate, to refute the many exclusionary tendencies of how we organise our lives. It reminds us fervently, that much as we experience challenges differently, our humanity can only ever be uniformly perfect.

Review: Julia (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Mar 31 – May 20, 2023
Playwright: Joanna Murray-Smith
Director: Sarah Goodes
Cast: Jessica Bentley, Justine Clarke
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review
We know that Julia Gillard, our 27th Prime Minister, is made of some truly formidable stuff, simply for being the first woman to attain that coveted position. In Joanna Murray-Smith’s play simply named Julia, evidence of all her incredible grit and gumption, is consolidated into a 90-minute piece, telling a story not only of Gillard’s virtues, but also of the immense culture of sexism and misogyny, so fundamentally entrenched in Australian life. Holding office from 2010 to 2013, Gillard’s experiences as the most high-profile woman on these lands, meant that she had to navigate some of the worst abuse ever witnessed in the public sphere, at a time even more hostile to female leaders than today,  before the prior to the 2016 watershed #MeToo movement.

Murray-Smith’s writing is undeniably powerful, valuable both as documentation of a deeply significant moment of our history, and as a feminist work that proves enormously inspiring. Julia can at times feel excessively deferential, and can be charged with having minimised Gillard’s weaknesses and faults (in particular, her handling of issues pertaining to asylum seekers and to marriage equality), but its theatricality, structured around the celebration of a genuinely consequential personality, is one of rare exaltation.

The show is directed by Sarah Goodes, whose judicious sensitivity ensures that we see beyond the personal achievements of a remarkable woman, to consider the wider meanings of Gillard’s prominence. Goodes makes us think about the contexts of the ex-PM’s relentless mistreatment, along with the trails she had blazed, so that Julia becomes more than a tribute to one. 

Set design by Renée Mulder features mirrored surfaces that remind us of the infinitely far-reaching effects of Gillard’s accomplishments. Lights by Alexander Berlage are gently rendered to keep unwavering focus on the protagonist. Video projections by Susie Henderson offer elegant augmentation, to the simple imagery being presented. Music and sound by Steve Francis, enhance the gravitas being explored, in the feminist themes that are so intrinsic to how we understand the story of Julia.

Actor Justine Clarke is electric as our national hero, exceedingly precise with her delivery of every line, and resolutely present, in every moment of her compelling embodiment of this much-loved character. Vigorously poignant, yet dazzlingly splendid with her humour, Clarke’s is a faultless performance on technical levels, but more importantly, a marvellously enchanting creation, that reminds us of what it means to lead with morality and integrity.

Jessica Bentley plays a subsidiary role, as a person of few words, but nonetheless omnipresent as a woman of lower status, to whom Gillard’s efforts are dedicated, and without whom Gillard was unable to rise. This incorporation of a secondary personality,  one performed by a person of colour reveals quite importantly, an awareness around issues of racism in representations of Gillard’s legacy. Narratives of this nature frequently fall into traps of “white feminism”, and whilst this theatrical device is clearly well intentioned, there is a persistent discomfort in witnessing Bentley occupying various positions of silent servitude, all through the production.

It was certainly a momentous occasion when Gillard demonstrated that women too, are capable of ascending to the very pinnacle of positions. Whether or not it was a revolutionary event, is however debatable. If we concede that Gillard was an exception to the rule, we admit that little has changed, in the systems that we allow to run the world. On the other hand, to say that Gillard has not left behind permanent improvements, is manifestly inaccurate. Relying on any singular effort to change the world, is naïve and absurd. Heroes are gratifying as objects of admiration, but their greater purpose is to spur bigger numbers into action, when they have shown without ambiguity, what can be done when we believe in the good of our species. |