Review: Hir (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Aug 12 – Sep 10, 2017
Playwright: Taylor Mac
Director: Anthea Williams
Cast: Kurt Pimblett, Greg Stone, Helen Thomson, Michael Whalley
Image by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Paige is suddenly emancipated. By a stroke of luck, her abusive husband Arnold has turned invalid, revealing a fortuitous way out of misery. She revels in her new freedom with a maniacal glee, and together with her now transgender son Max, their household is transformed to radically embrace every concept of anti-patriarchy that they come across. Taylor Mac’s Hir is a revenge story, centring on a protagonist who tries to find independence and a better life by subverting prevailing notions of gender, the very thing she identifies to have been responsible for her adversities.

The play is uproarious, with Paige in various states of hysteria, desperately seeking redefinition for her existence. The action begins when her elder son Isaac, having been dishonourably discharged from war, returns to the deliberate chaos at home (set design by Michael Hankin is remarkably mirthful). Unable to come to terms with the shock of the new, Isaac attempts to restore the old order, and things quickly escalate. We watch Paige being confronted by her position as mother and wife, as she persists with the project of queering everything, and are enthralled by the brutal tenacity at which she sticks to her guns, in a face off with a past she is determined to be rid of. It is a wild premise that the playwright establishes, and the ride that he takes us on, is as emotionally powerful as it is entertaining, all the while maintaining a level of intellect that many will find irresistible.

It is a spectacular production, painstaking in the way its progressive, and sometimes obscure, ideas are interpreted with brilliant lucidity, to be presented alongside some thoroughly enjoyable comedy. Director Anthea Williams brings to the piece, a boldness of spirit, that allows its controversial qualities to speak poignantly and persuasively. Hir is political theatre, unapologetic in its desire to make an impact on the way we think.

Playing Paige is the absolutely scintillating Helen Thomson. The actor is gloriously funny, with perfect timing and faultless instincts that have us hopelessly captivated. A portrayal of a woman reclaiming space, strength and sovereignty, Thomson is commanding and, when required, vulnerable. She is called upon to make some very extreme statements about womanhood, and although not to everyone’s tastes, the way she delivers each audacious proclamation, is beyond gratifying.

If Paige finds the answers she wants, she will discover that it is not necessarily happiness, but a heavy burden that she will encounter, when living a life of integrity and enlightenment. When we reject conventions and systems that are unfairly stacked against us, we are guaranteed only honesty and liberation. To not expect hardship is foolish. In the struggle against deceit and inequity, fulfilment when derived, is often more painful than joyous. It is how the bastards keep us dishonest, by issuing modicums of petty bribery that offer an illusory sense of security and comfort, so that we maintain the eternally exploitative status quo. In cases when a straw does break the camel’s back however, a woman scorned will unleash a fury of mythical proportions, to seek redress and to aggravate for a revolution.

www.belvoir.com.au

5 Questions with Charmaine Bingwa and Janine Watson

Charmaine Bingwa

Janine Watson: All five characters in American Beauty Shop are female, ranging from seventeen to eighty. If you were casting the film version, and you could cast any five female actors (dead or alive), who would you cast in each role and why?
Charmaine Bingwa: Great question. I’d cast Viola Davis as Meg, no explanation required. Her back up option in case negotiations went south would be Aunjanue Ellis who can convey unfathomable heaviness without words; one to watch for sure. Hilary Swank as Doll, her rawness and ability to authentically play the underdog has always cemented her as a favourite of mine; would love to see her bring a little Million Dollar Baby magic. Sue, I would cast Julianne Moore, for her sensitivity; that degree of skinlessness is my favourite trait in actors. Meryl Streep as Helen. And Emma Stone as Judy for girlish charm and charisma. That is a pretty damn fine cast if I don’t mind saying so myself!

Your character ends up on the receiving end of some very uncool over-the-counter racism. Have you ever experienced anything like this in real life? If so, do you mind telling us about it?
Yes, sadly. I’ve had people assume I’m the shopkeeper, people call me the help – all sorts. To be honest I actually find the covert incidents worst, as it’s so insipid and hard to pinpoint or call out. But this is what gives my acting ambitions and career purpose. I feel it’s my duty to add to stage & screen diversity. I am often drawn to historical stories about persecution of racial minorities, because as a society I don’t think we have learnt the lessons of the past and it’s important to re-tell these cautionary tales.

Thinking back as far as you can, what’s the biggest beauty mistake you’ve ever made? Did you ever rock a side pony, for example?
Several! As an adult the extent of my beauty routine mastery is limited to applying foundation, blush and eyeliner – so I probably make several beauty faux pas. But yes, if you must know, in the Nirvana days there was purple lipstick, blue army pants and chokers. Before this I rocked blonde hair, which I’m happy to own. I dyed it black for Doubt: A Parable and have kept it that way ever since.

What’s your favourite thing about working with Janine Watson?
Everything! Her level of commitment, her attentiveness… she even comes to rehearsals she isn’t scheduled for just to observe. She is open, giving and all about the work, which is my favourite trait for collaborators. She can access such depth and uses her instrument masterfully.

Your character Meg has big dreams of starting a hair product line. Other than becoming an incredible actor, (nailed it!) what other big dreams have you had or do you still have?
Absolutely. My dream as an actor is to create incredible work on a global stage.

Janine Watson

Charmaine Bingwa: All five characters in American Beauty Shop are female, ranging from seventeen to eighty. If you were casting the film version, and you could cast any five female actors (dead or alive), who would you cast in each role and why?
Janine Watson: Mmmmm …. the options!!! Charmaine has nailed the casting already!! Lemme see – Jodie foster circa The Accused – Doll, Kate Winslet – Sue, Kerry Washington – Meg, Betty White – Helen, Winona Ryder circa Mermaids – Judy.

Your character Doll has a very sentimental attachment to the children’s story book Good Night Moon. What was your favourite story book as a child and why?
I had a book called The Big Book Of Fairytales and it opened with a really spooky intro of a little girl talking to the old wooden rocking chair that her grandmother used to sit in. She’d say ‘Chair of my grandmother, tell me a story…’ and lean on the rocking chair which would tell her the more obscure, sad and scary fairytales by Oscar Wilde, the Brothers Grimm, and Hans Christian Andersen. I loved the book. I loved all the outsiders in those darker stories.

Let’s do some character analysis. Your character is named Doll. Is that short for Dolores or is it because she was conceived to a Dolly Parton song? If it is the latter, which song was it?
Let’s pretend it’s the latter and of course then it would be “Why’d You Come In Here Lookin Like That?!”. But really I’ve decided Doll’s name is actually from Dorothy… Doll was a popular abbreviation of Dorothy and it has a more mid-west Anglo connotation and we’re in the mid-west, rather than Dolores which would be from Irish or European derivation.

What’s your favourite thing about working with Charmaine Bingwa?
Charmaine is just spectacular. I saw her in Doubt and was bowled over by her emotional access and truth. She has gravitas, and infuses even the tiniest moments with great nuance. Plus she’s funny, very cool and can do a lot of push ups.

Doll’s a bit of a black sheep. Who’s the black sheep in your family?
In truth, in my family we’re all black sheep who found our flock… both blood family and extended and beyond.

Charmaine Bingwa and Janine Watson are appearing in American Beauty Shop, by Dana Lynn Formby.
Dates: 25 August – 16 September, 2017
Venue: Kings Cross Theatre

5 Questions with Mathew Coslovi and Wendi Lanham

Mathew Coslovi

Wendi Lanham: What’s the last risk you took?
The last risk I took was going on a cruise to New Zealand with 6 girls.

Why did you start acting?
I got into acting because acting felt like no job that I have ever felt the same about.

What’s your favourite part of the show?
My fashion, taking off my old clothes and getting into my new, better clothes.

Do you have any pre-show rituals?
No!

Has this show changed you in some way? If so how/why?
I feel like I have learnt a lot about myself and I feel like I have learnt more about life.

Wendi Lanham

Mathew Coslovi: What’s the last risk you took?
The last risk I took was to say yes to full time job, whilst acting. Juggling the two has definitely been a challenge.

If you weren’t an actor what would you be doing?
I wouldn’t feel fulfilled for one. But if I had to do something else I would be a skydiving instructor.

What makes you laugh?
Pretty much everything. I laugh a lot and my witch laugh is renowned.

Do you have any pre-show rituals?
I do yoga before every show. It helps me warm up and focus.

What is the best advice you have been given in regards to acting?
To always use your fellow actors, to listen to them and to react. To direct your focus away from yourself and think about what you are trying to do to the other character. To be confident, be easy to work with and to love what you do!

Mathew Coslovi and Wendi Lanham can be seen in Dignity Of Risk devised by Shopfront’s Harness Ensemble and ATYP.
Dates: 9 – 26 Aug, 2017
Venue: ATYP

Review: Dignity Of Risk (ATYP / Shopfront Arts)

Venue: ATYP (Walsh Bay NSW), Aug 9 – 26, 2017
Dramaturg: Jennifer Medway
Director: Natalie Rose
Cast: Mathew Coslovi, Holly Craig, Teneile English, Caspar Hardaker, Riana Shakirra Head-Toussaint, Steve Konstantopoulos, Wendi Lanham, Brianna Lowe, Sharleen Ndlovu, Jake Pafumi, Dinda Timperon
Image by Tracey Schramm

Theatre review
11 performers take to the stage, each with intimate revelations, for a discussion about the personal versus the social, from a perspective of individual lack and disadvantage. Not all of the cast is disabled, but Dignity Of Risk requires that human inadequacies are laid bare, for an examination of how each person navigates the world, with their own sets of imperfections. Through a display of weakness, it is the image of strength, previously imperceptible, that persists. The human spirit is everywhere, but it can only be brought to view by the expression of vulnerability.

The production takes a gentle tone, but it speaks with great power and a sublime beauty. The nonchalant delivery of lines, coupled with the unassailable authenticity the personalities invariably portray, initiates a slow burn that eventually, and surprisingly, overwhelms. Natalie Rose’s direction and Jennifer Medway’s dramaturgy, are consciously resistant of a sensationalist approach. They build poignancy through sensitivity and nuance, without a reliance on conventional narrative structures, and their trust in a universal benevolence pays off. A highlight is Holly Craig’s solo dance sequence, incredibly elegant and sensual, made even more moving later in the piece, when she explains the meanings that dancing holds for her, as a person with vision impairment.

In a show that talks a lot about our bodies, Margot Politis’ choreography plays a significant role, and what she does with movement, gesture and positioning, is nothing short of inspiring. Set to the wonderfully rousing electronic music of James Brown, the many non-verbal sequences of Dignity Of Risk are masterfully manufactured for our visceral response, involuntary yet hugely enjoyable. The production is visually sumptuous, with Melanie Liertz’s set and Fausto Brusamolino’s lights offering a range of ethereal dimensions that juxtapose delightfully against the very earthy, corporeal concerns of its players.

All of us have shortcomings but not everyone has the privilege of being able to hide them. For some, identity is intrinsically linked with their deficiencies, while others are allowed to be known only for their successes. No matter the faults we have, as defined by society or by the self, we all wish to be regarded with respect, and we all deserve to be seen for our capacity to contribute, as people who share in the earth.

www.atyp.com.au | www.shopfront.org.au

Review: After The Dance (New Theatre)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Aug 9 – Sep 9, 2017
Playwright: Terence Rattigan
Director: Giles Gartrell-Mills
Cast: Tom Aldous, Callum Alexander, Lloyd Allison-Young, George Banders, John Michael Burdon, Sandra Campbell, Rowan Davie, Peter Flett, Matt Ford, Valentin Lang, Lauren Lloyd Williams, Amelia Robertson-Cuninghame, Alyssan Russell, Claudia Ware
Image © Bob Seary

Theatre review
It is England in the 1930s. David is fabulously wealthy, and dreadfully miserable, living a life with no aim and purpose. Terence Rattigan’s play is about a writer who has everything, including two women vying for his affections, but who remains obstinately unfulfilled. Time has not been kind to After The Dance, which feels sorely irrelevant, with its archaic, although honest, worldview. We no longer despise work, and we no longer tolerate the representation of women as accessories for the libido and vanity of men. We have thankfully moved beyond Rattigan’s depiction of a failed existence, as exemplified by his protagonist’s persistent disquiet.

Director Giles Gartrell-Mills shows us the emptiness of David’s days, through the inconsequential and foolish ways personalities in his household spend their time. There is a worthwhile discussion to be had about the overindulgence of alcohol that is perhaps the only thing in the show that retains some resonance, but we are never able to really empathise with those who appear onstage. When we see Helen and Joan fighting over David, we question his appeal, having seen only evidence of his shortcomings, and the narrative’s persuasiveness begins to suffer.

Actor George Banders faces the grim task of making David a likeable figure, and even though his attempts are doubtlessly confident, the battle seems to be ill-fated from the start. More impressive is Amelia Robertson-Cuninghame as Joan, the vivacious wife who, although rudimentarily written, is memorable for the performer’s conviction at delivering surprising complexity, and a refreshing sense of panache. Also noteworthy are Brodie Simpson’s costumes for the show’s female characters, each outfit beautifully fitted and thoughtfully assembled.

David connects with nothing, and finds himself in a painful abyss of solitude. Loneliness is universal, but as we discover in After The Dance, how we talk about it changes with time and space. We can invent endless concealments so that the plague of loneliness can be diminished, but finding true release from it, requires that the self must go through the most genuine of reflections, and the most brutal interrogation. David suffers from writer’s block, unable to find expression for what he knows to reside within, yet he looks only outward, hoping for respite to come from others. A large mirror sits in the drawing room where all the action takes place, but in spite of his vanity, David takes not one look into his own eyes.

www.newtheatre.org.au

5 Questions with Brianna Lowe and Sharleen Ndlouv

Brianna Lowe

Sharleen Ndlouv: What’s the last risk you took?
Brianna Lowe: Going to Japan without my parents.

What’s your favourite part of the show?
Talking on stage for the first time.

What makes you laugh?
Funny movies and having fun with other people.

What’s great about rehearsing and performing at ATYP?
The great atmosphere and feeling welcome.

If you could have any superpower, what would you choose and why?
To have the ability to move things with my mind, to cause mischief and be naughty.

Sharleen Ndlouv

Brianna Lowe: What’s the last risk you took?
Sharleen Ndlouv: Abseiling down a 50m waterfall.

Do you have any pre-show rituals?
I have quite a few but I give myself a pep talk and a victory dance.

Who do you think should see this show?
Everyone, for all those areas in life that need a bit of audacity, bit of re-mapping and just a little fun and loosening up, for that person we all know we can be.

Favourite silly joke?
What did sushi A say to sushi B? Wasabi!

What’s it like to play yourself on stage?
The most beautiful thing I have experienced so far.

Brianna Lowe and Sharleen Ndlouv can be seen in Dignity Of Risk devised by Shopfront’s Harness Ensemble and ATYP.
Dates: 9 – 26 Aug, 2017
Venue: ATYP

Review: The Telescope (Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Aug 4 – 12, 2017
Playwright: Brooke Robinson
Director: Carissa Licciardello
Cast: Tel Benjamin, Alison Chambers, Cecilia Morrow, Nicholas Papademetriou

Theatre review
Fighting technological progress is a futile exercise, but we can be certain that not all efforts at advancement are worthwhile. In this short play by Brooke Robinson, a family of four is being forced out of their home, because a giant telescope for the purposes of detecting alien life in space, is scheduled to be installed. Lenny has been fighting hard to prevent the loss of her home, but when the government’s generous compensation arrives, we discover that she is the only one who wishes to remain. Her parents and brother have decided to take the money and run, leaving Lenny to grapple with the fact that she has been abandoned, replaced by cold hard cash.

Replete with cynical wit, the humorous dialogue of The Telescope leads us into a delightful, and misanthropic, probe of the modern family. Kinship is no match for money and technology, but there is little melancholy in this staging, directed by Carissa Licciardello, who pushes her actors to extraordinary lengths of camp and slapstick. It is a marvellous cast, in a tightly rehearsed, exhilarating performance.

Alison Chambers and Nicholas Papademetriou are very charming as parents who cannot wait to fly the coop, both impressive with the accuracy at which their comic instincts are implemented, in this piece of absurdist theatre. There is a lot of exaggeration, but the points it makes ring true. Cecilia Morrow is the sentimental Lenny, and we recognise her helpless devotion to a hopeless cause. Her agoraphobic brother Daniel is portrayed with a goofy exuberance by Tel Benjamin, who brings to mind a generation unable to engage with life outside of the electrical.

It is much too late to lament the proliferation and impact of technology. Our trajectory is fixed, and we must sink or swim. The characters in The Telescope choose between love and realities of the times, but truth is that we have both. On the other hand, we must acknowledge the ridiculous spending of billions in space, while continents of people are left to languish in poverty. No matter how far we evolve, the morals of humanity’s story rarely change. In the discussion of tech and morality, we must always return to the simple idea, that selfishness, in whatever guise, is wrong.

www.oldfitztheatre.com