Review: The Chat (Carriageworks)

Venue: Carriageworks (Eveleigh NSW), Jan 16 – 20, 2019
Creators: J R Brennan, David Woods
Cast: Arthur Bolkas, J R Brennan, Shane Brennan, Ashley Dyer, Nicholas Maltzahn, Ray Morgan, John Tjepkema, Simon Warner, Les Wiggins, David Woods
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review
We are informed that some of those performing in The Chat are ex-offenders from the Melbourne area. The work is a collaboration with artists, including creators J R Brennan and David Woods, reenacting performance workshops centred around a role play scenario, in which an ex-offender plays the part of a parole officer. When the show reaches its concluding episode, the audience finds itself in the position of a parole board, and we have to decide if the role player had revealed enough redeeming qualities in order to be set free.

That responsibility bestowed upon us, although fictitious, carries an undeniably enormous weight, making us think about the nature of justice and rehabilitation in our societies, a topic that most of us have the privilege of circumventing. Being in close quarters with characters whose very lives depend on how our rules concerning incarceration are exercised, turns abstract ideas into a palpably distressing process, as we try to make decisions that bear the most serious of consequences on individuals who we have come to know.

Although much of The Chat is, predictably, not performed with a great deal of skill, an invaluable sense of authenticity is introduced by people who have lived through first-hand, these issues we have to wrestle with. Their presence prevents us from engaging the usual intellectual distancing, that makes answering these questions, inappropriately convenient. The production is given polish by Jenny Hector and Steve Hendy’s lighting design, and by Brennan’s sound design, for a presentation that ultimately leaves an impression that is simultaneously simple and sophisticated.

These difficult circumstances, of punishment and banishment, underlie so much of how we operate, yet matters of law and order are rarely interrogated meaningfully by the general populace. We leave them to experts and tradition, trusting that others know better, when in fact, there probably are no concerns more democratic. Those in need of pardon, work hardest for our compassion, but when we have to determine how compassion is being dispensed, people often forget the universality of our fallibility.

www.carriageworks.com.au

Review: Counting & Cracking (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Sydney Town Hall (Sydney NSW), Jan 11 – Feb 2, 2019
Playwright: S. Shakthidharan
Director: Eamon Flack
Cast: Prakash Belawadi, Nicholas Brown, Jay Emmanuel, Rarriwuy Hick, Antonythasan Jesuthasan, Nadie Kammallaweera, Ahi Karunaharan, Monica Kumar, Gandhi MacIntyre, Shiv Palekar, Monroe Reimers, Hazem Shammas, Nipuni Sharada, Vaishnavi Suryaprakash, Rajan Velu, Sukania Venugopal
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
It was 1983 when Radha first came to Australia, escaping persecution in Sri Lanka during the racial riots of Black July. With her husband killed in the midst of unrest, Radha was left with no choice but to flee alone and pregnant, arriving in Sydney to put down new roots in a foreign land. S. Shakthidharan’s Counting & Cracking is a very big play, ambitious and benevolent, rhapsodic in its attempts to uncover the whole truth about a woman, observed as a maternal figure from the playwright’s vantage point. Shakthidharan’s work is warm and witty, generous in its seismic attempts to explain everything, taking us through half a century of untold stories to reach an understanding about the people we are today.

It is often a gripping production, directed by Eamon Flack who renders marvellously the play’s more domestic and romantic scenes. Relationships are beautifully cultivated, between powerful characters, with a convincing sentimentality that encourages the audience to invest deeply, our attention and our emotions, right from the very beginning. Political dimensions are communicated less lucidly, but we are able to gather sufficient information for the narrative drive to maintain interest.

Designer Dale Ferguson’s transformation of Sydney Town Hall’s colonial interior, into a festively radiant Sri Lankan space of congregation and celebration, is a sight to behold. Majestic and monumental, it embraces our bodies and psyches, holding us firmly inside its milieu, to have us luxuriate in all its extravagant expressions. Contrastingly, acoustics are a sore point for the production, with sound engineering unable to overcome the echoey vastness of the old building, thus resulting in occasional dissipation of dialogue. There are however auditory delights to be had, in the form of Stefan Gregory’s score, performed live by a trio of musicians (Kranthi Kiran Mudigonda, Janakan Raj and Venkhatesh Sritharan) whose expert accompaniment provides us with unparalleled sensuality and soulfulness.

Actors Nadie Kammallaweera and Vaishnavi Suryaprakash share the lead role, both captivating and extremely likeable, allowing us to fall under Radha’s spell for the show’s entire duration. Their combined dynamism gives Counting & Cracking complexity and authenticity, and we find ourselves moved by a tale that is at once unique, yet spiritually universal. Sukania Venugopal is memorable as Aacha, the vivacious matriarch who brings colour and effervescence to the stage with every exhilarating entrance. Radha’s son Siddhartha provides the cultural anchor for this Australian story, performed by a very compelling Shiv Palekar, whose luminous confidence proves to be as impressive as it is alluring.

It is always demanded of migrants that we prove our worth. Counting & Cracking is in some ways an exercise in showing the establishment that we contribute at least as much as the others; it makes a statement about our Australianness, arguing against incessant lies about immigration being nothing but a burden on this society. More valuable is the play’s reclamation of identity, in its insistence that the portrayal of Australian lives must include histories and origins that are routinely excluded and denied. As humans, we must always strive for unity, but cohesion must bear the unequivocal acceptance of difference, hard as it may be.

www.belvoir.com.au | www.co-curious.com

Review: Since Ali Died (Griffin Theatre Company)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jan 8 – 19, 2019
Playwright: Omar Musa
Director: Anthea Williams
Cast: Omar Musa (with guest vocalist Sarah Corry)
Image by Robert Catto

Theatre review
Omar Musa imagines himself travelling down a river with Muhammad Ali, both men outsiders, connected by experiences of ostracism. Musa’s Since Ali Died provides insight into how people of colour survive the dogged exclusions of white society. Through poetry, prose and hip hop phraseology, Musa’s extraordinary writing provides access to intense and complex emotions, that relate to a sense of displacement, in an Australia struggling to think of itself as anything other than an illegitimate monolith. It is a work about home, but on how it can disown you, presented in a theatrical context that sees a remarkable talent confront an audience comprising adversaries and allies, all of us relevant and implicated.

As performer, Musa is charisma personified. We are won over effortlessly, by a stage presence naturally confident yet vulnerable, one that showcases an honesty that many will find utterly disarming. Masculinity is portrayed in a delicate light, with director Anthea Williams carefully preventing any sense of alienation that could arise from the motivating fury of Musa’s expressions. It is an exercise in compassion that results, an occasion that welcomes all, one that encourages us to think about the parts we play, as individuals and as collectives, in Musa’s personal stories.

Melancholic and incredibly moving, Since Ali Died is a timely meditation on contemporary Australian life, an undeniable summation of all our unique challenges, whether spiritual, social or political. Black and brown people endure discrimination by white structures that lay fake claim to this land, just as Muslims are relegated impudently, to a status of religious inferiority. Omar Musa’s very body and soul, right before our eyes, is evidence of those injustices that insidiously constitute our harmful way of life. He is thriving, but he suffers. In his music, simultaneously celebratory and indignant, we are able to understand the strength that is required of people like Musa. It is dark but uplifting, refusing to give in to destruction. His energy is ample and indomitable, and although painful to see it expended on coping mechanism, there is plenty left for orchestrating a change.

www.griffintheatre.com.au | www.riversideparramatta.com.au

Suzy Goes See’s Best Of 2018

Welcome to my Best of 2018. After reviewing 188 shows this year, I once again put myself through the extremely painful task of creating a list of names, trying so hard not to expand beyond the 5 winners per category. I keep telling myself that the number is arbitrary, and that I should just bloody well add all the names I want, but eventually it is invariably revealed, that I’m undeniably a sucker for rules and boundaries. So I hold my breath and click delete on amazing people, in order that this personal selection becomes a digestible summary of the year, and not a documentation of each and every wonderful memory that I have retained. I love you all… those who make the shows, those who see the shows, and those who care enough to come read what I have to say. So, here’s what I think…

Suzy x

 Avant Garde Angels
The bravest and most creative.

 Quirky Questers
The most colourful characters.

♥ Design Doyennes
For sound, lights, sets and costumes.

♥ Musical Marvels
Outstanding performers in musical theatre.

♥ Best Supporting Actors

♥ Best Ensembles

♥ Best Actors (Comedy)

Best Actors (Drama)

♥ Best New Writing

 Best Directors

♥ Shows Of The Year
The mighty Top 10.

 

End

Best of 2017 | Best of 2016 | Best of 2015Best of 2014Best Of 2013

Review: Ned (Plush Duck Productions)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Dec 18 – 22, 2018
Book: Anna Lyon, Marc McIntyre
Music & Lyrics: Adam Lyon
Director: Miranda Middleton
Cast: Erin Bogart, Denzel Bruhn, Rowan Brunt, Siobhan Clifford, Sinead Cristaudo, Lincoln Elliott, Martin Everett, Jacqui Greenfield, Jodie Harris, Rob Hartley, David Hov, Josh McElroy, Courtney Powell, Marcus Rivera, Georgia Rodgers , Carmel Rodrigues, Cypriana Singh, Guy Webster
Images by Shakira Wilson

Theatre review
For many Australians of European descent, the legend of Ned Kelly is a crucial element in the way identity is imagined. An outlaw with a heart of gold, the anti-authoritarian myth has helped create a notion of selfhood, that persists even in these days of bourgeois ubiquity. In the new musical Ned, old stories are resurrected once again, to reinforce ideals that are at once romantic and subversive, reflecting perhaps a longing for more innocent times, or simply to offer a reminder of the kind of people Australians have, for a long time, prided ourselves to be.

The work is in many ways derivative and predictable, with form and content both proving to be risk averse, for this Broadway-style biographical drama. There might be little that feels inventive, but its ambition is certainly laudable. Peter Rubie’s lighting design provides a sense of grandeur and polish, for captivating imagery that help elevate the simple tale. Conductor Hamish Stening puts passion into the music, keeping proceedings lively and entertaining.

Leading man Joshua McElroy is suitably moody as Ned Kelly, with an imposing physical presence that comfortably seizes the limelight. Jodie Harris is excellent as the hero’s mother Ellen, strong in voice and in personality, for a powerful characterisation of the early migrant woman. The cast is generally well-rehearsed, although choreography has a tendency to be unflattering and therefore distracting.

Ned Kelly keeps returning to our consciousness, because we have a fondness for thinking that he is a good representation of who we are. It is more likely however, that Kelly stands for values we wish to possess, but that we can no longer lay claim to. Over a century has past, and we are a world away from the rough and tumble of Van Diemen’s Land. In today’s highly materialistic existences, rebels are quashed, not by ideological compromises, but by the imperious might of money.

www.plushduckproductions.com.au

5 Questions with Caitlin Berry and Jonathan Hickey

Caitlin Berry

Jonathan Hickey: How are you different/similar to your character in Aspects Of Love?
Caitlin Berry: Rose is a wonderfully complicated character and I think, through playing her, I’ve seen some of her qualities rub off on me. Rose has striking confidence and tenacity, which are characteristics that don’t come as naturally to me. I’ve enjoyed inhabiting someone who acts on gut feeling, and I’d like to be as bold as Rose more often! I can relate strongly to her desires as a performer, and also her vulnerability in her professional and personal life.

What is your best/favourite love story of all time?
You can’t go past the smart and stubborn Ms Lizzy Bennet meeting her match, Mr Darcy, in Pride And Prejudice. It didn’t hurt that Colin Firth was added to the imagining of this story in the movie adaptation of the book. The meeting of great minds is very romantic.

Who/when was the first time you fell in love?
I probably felt the full, horrible, wonderful and scary force of love when I was with my high-school sweetheart of three years. We met on a musical (go figure). He was a wonderful man and I did all the stupid things you do when you are in the throes of first love. Many songs and movies suddenly made sense.

Any pre-show rituals or superstitions?
I’m embarrassed to say that I have a few pre-show rituals. They serve as a comfort, but can get in the way of being flexible. I like to arrive quite early, I have certain vocal warm-ups I make sure I do, and I have a butter menthol before I go on stage. I’ve been forced to run around the Hayes building three times because I accidentally said ‘The Scottish Play’– so, I’ve learned my lesson in terms of superstitions.

Where and who will you be spending your Christmas with this year?
My older sister is hosting Christmas for the first time. The baton has changed from my mother. I have nephews and nieces now, so Christmas has become about the little ones and just enjoying precious time together as a large bunch of Berrys. I’ve only missed one Christmas with my family, and I hope I can keep it that way.

Jonathan Hickey

Caitlin Berry: How are you different/similar to your character in Aspects Of Love?
Jonathan Hickey: I see quite a few similarities between myself and Alex – We have both experienced the joy of being in love and also the pain, betrayal and sadness of losing love. When I was younger it was easy to fall in love – now that I’ve experienced heartbreak it stays with you, very much like Rose with Alex. 
 
Who/when was the first time you fell in love?
First time I thought i was in love or said ‘I love you’ was when I was in second year uni. Unfortunately the relationship didn’t last all that long but we’re still friends and keep in touch. But yes I’ve been in love and experienced heartbreak – both of which have helped me in playing Alex. 

Where and who will you be spending your Christmas with this year?
I’m going back to Brisbane for Christmas for a couple of days – my family and I will be spending it with my cousins up in Maleny in the Sunshine Coast hinterland. It’s become a bit of a Christmas tradition to have lunch up there. 
 
Does love change everything?
Love does change everything – to love someone and be loved is beautiful, you become a part of a team – you share your life with that person, support each other. One of my friends told me you’re a “witness of that persons life” which I thought was pretty special. Although it can make you irrational at times, the happiness and well-being of that person you love is more important than your own.

Have you met a famous person, if so who?
When I was in London late last year, I bumped into David Mitchel at Primrose Hill and had a very brief chat – told him I loved his work in Peep Show and various other TV shows and got a quick snap. He was lovely.

Caitlin Berry and Jonathan Hickey can be seen in Aspects Of Love , by Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Dates: 22 Nov – 6 Jan, 2018
Venue: Hayes Theatre

5 Questions with Marcus Rivera and Cypriana Singh

Marcus Rivera

Cypriana Singh: If you had to play another character in Ned who would it be and why?
Marcus Rivera: I’d be interested to play Fitzpatrick because I’m drawn to what you’d call the “villainous” character who, on the surface, won’t catch your attention, but as the story unfolds, you realise, was incredibly instrumental in the (tragic) fate of the lead. I also want to make Fitz even more sinister!

Has rehearsals and getting to know the Kelly story changed your opinion of the Kelly’s and Australian bush ranger folklore?
Absolutely. I think it’s fantastic that Hamish, Miranda and the team have taken on this momentous project because it will help more people realise the complexity of the Australian bushland stories of the past. I developed an appreciation for it for sure! Although I wonder how the story would have unfolded if Ned had a wifi and a million Instagram followers to share his story!

What is Superintendent Hares’ most endearing quality?
He’s a stickler for the rules and, unlike Fitzpatrick, has a lot of integrity. Okay, it’s a bit of a stretch to say he is the equivalent of Atticus Finch from To Kill A Mockingbird in trying to get to the truth but the audience will know what I mean when they watch one of the scenes I have with Fitzpatrick. I think he’s trying to act tough because he’s got a big job to do but deep inside, he’s a softie.

You’ve played a few villains in your career. Can you rank your previous roles from evil to most evil? Where does Hare rank?
Ohhh, I’d like to use the descriptions “had terrible role models” or “misunderstood” instead of straight up “evil” but Hare is up there with The Engineer, the ‘pimp’ role I played in Miss Saigon. He is above the ‘could have been evil’ role that I played in The King And I. I was the understudy for The Kralahome in that musical. As for Sweeny Todd, Hare was very much a square and very virtuous in the role that I played there.

If you could be any Disney Princess who would be and why?
I’d have to say Ariel. No other Disney princess can say they battled a villain who is half-woman, half-Octopus! Ariel was the ultimate outsider. She was half-fish for goodness sake! That’s some serious fairy tale ending there.

Cypriana Singh

Marcus Rivera: What is your favourite scene from Ned and why?
Cypriana Singh: Ned deals with difficult time in Australian history and there are a lot of ‘heavy’ plot points. I really enjoy the lighter moments in the show and the cast always has a lot of fun when we have the chance, but my favourite scene leans more toward the serious side. Maggie has a really fun moment with Constable Fitzpatrick, I won’t spoil anything but it involves flowers, potatoes and a knife.

How can the theatre community benefit from diversity?
The more diverse the stories, actors and creatives are on a project the more varied the perspectives are. Diversity makes theatre more accessible and inclusive of wider audiences. Art encourages empathy; diverse stories allow for relevant, interesting content while unifying the community through a shared experience.

If you could play a character in Game of Thrones, which character would you like to play?
I’d love to be Jon Snow; so handsome so likeable… but if we are being realistic in this casting process then I’d probably be one of the Sand Snakes or a White Walker.

Drama or comedy, pick one. Why.
Comedy. It’s good to laugh.

Favourite Broadway musical and why?
I can’t pick my favourite flavour of ice cream let alone my favourite musical. Today let’s go with a triple scoop cone of Bridges Of Madison County, The Light In The Piazza and Fiddler On The Roof.

Marcus Rivera and Cypriana Singh can be seen in Ned: A New Australian Musical.
Dates: 18 – 22 December, 2018
Venue: New Theatre