Review: Jess & Joe Forever (Sugary Rum Productions / 25A Belvoir)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Mar 13 – 30, 2019
Playwright: Zoe Cooper
Director: Shaun Rennie
Cast: Nyx Calder, Julia Robertson
Images by Kate Williams

Theatre review
The children are on a mission to tell their story. It takes place in Joe’s hometown of Norfolk, where Jess had begun spending her summer holidays at 9 years-old. The two become fast friends, and go through thick and thin together. In Zoe Cooper’s Jess & Joe Forever, they find a way to recount seminal events of their young lives, like an informal kind of psychotherapy, not because there is anything wrong with them per se, but because the world seems intent on inflicting a very hard time on them both. Cooper’s writing is extraordinarily tender, beautifully authentic in the way these young voices are rendered. Its structure is suspenseful and intriguing, for a narrative that does much more than entertain.

Director Shaun Rennie takes great care to manufacture a sensitive atmosphere in which we can only receive Jess and Joe with hearts wide open, and in the process, come to an intimate understanding of how children respond to the bigger world, and all the the difficult things we cannot shield them from. The emotional crescendo Rennie is able to build into the plot of Jess & Joe Forever, is representative of theatre at its most captivating.

It is a wonderfully designed production. Isabel Hudson’s playground is perfectly proportioned for the small auditorium, with quaint illustrations along the backdrop reflecting an innocence so crucial to the play. Lights by Benjamin Brockman help to amplify the emotions of both characters and audience, so that none of the sentimentality escapes us. Ben Pierpoint’s work on sound provides for the mind’s eye, an evocative picture of what that small English seaside town must look like, and his music gives the show a sense of elevation, with its unmistakable sophistication.

We fall in love right away with the very excellent cast, both actors adorable and completely believable as our little hosts. As Jess, Julia Robertson brings to the role a strength and defiance that absolutely charms. Her effervescence is infectious, and even though her penchant for machine gun speed recitation of lines can sometimes be a challenge, the precision of her approach is unequivocally affecting. Nyx Calder is perfect as Joe, disarmingly poignant but also effortless and delightful in their depiction of youthful purity. The extraordinary vulnerability that Calder is able to convey, fills the gaps purposefully left behind by the playwright, impeccably addressing parts of Joe’s story where words can prove inadequate.

Watching these kids, we feel compelled to protect them, but we also know that their struggles will make them into resilient and wise adults. It is true that there is much sadness in the world. The societies we manufacture often seem to be endlessly flawed, and the thought that those who have done no harm, would still be subject to injustice and inequity, is devastating. Some of us will respond with resignation, but some will fight for things to be better. Jess & Joe Forever is bittersweet, because its anguish is palpable, but it also provides inspiration, so that we can know to always do the right thing.

www.facebook.com/sugaryrumproductions | www.belvoir.com.au

Review: Russian Transport (Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

Venue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Mar 9 – 31, 2018
Playwright: Erika Sheffer
Director: Joseph Uchitel
Cast: Ryan Carter, Rebecca Rocheford Davies, Nathan Sapsford, Hayley Sullivan, Berynn Schwerdt
Images by Jeremy Ghali, Nino Tamburri

Theatre review
The lives of a Russian family in Brooklyn are turned upside down, when a relative comes to stay. Ex-crim Boris’ arrival leads us to question if turning a new leaf can ever be a simple proposition, for those who have spent all their lives exposed to immorality. Erika Sheffer’s Russian Transport is a slow burn, with drama that starts to engage late in the piece. Its themes are intriguing, but the promise of philosophical resonance is subsumed by a narrative that can feel somewhat hesitant, with perspectives that are inadequately critical. The characters we encounter are fiery, but the play is oddly short of passion.

Designed by Anna Gardiner, the production bears a striking appearance, with a robustness that keeps our eyes active and involved. Joseph Uchitel’s direction ensures an energetic, quite raucous stage, but struggles to achieve meaningful cohesion between his actors for their story to really captivate. Rebecca Rocheford Davies and Berynn Schwerdt play mother and father, both actors imposing and dynamic, but are ultimately insufficiently convincing with their portrayals of two very complex personalities. Troublemaker Boris is on the other hand, a more obvious role, given appropriate vigour by Nathan Sapsford. The show is stolen by Ryan Carter and Hayley Sullivan, who bring life to teenage parts in Russian Transport. Sullivan’s ability to inject nuance into her 14 year-old Mira is commendable, and Carter’s exceptional fastidiousness and intensity as Alex, is responsible for the show’s most powerful moments.

The loss of innocence is eternally fascinating. In migrant families, that process of a teenager having to emerge into adulthood is additionally complicated, with influences and expectations coming from disparate sources, all simultaneously insisting on adherence. Alex and Mira are American kids, but Russia is in their blood. The play allows us to see the extent to which cultural heritage can dominate the development of our young. Even when we have the privilege of choosing where to raise your children, it seems inevitable that the baggage we had intended to leave behind, can so easily return to materially affect future generations. We have ghosts that are both good and bad. The challenge is our own ability to discern, before having them unleashed on our nearest and dearest.

www.fishyproductions.com | www.darlinghursttheatre.com

Review: Every Brilliant Thing (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Mar 8 – 31, 2019
Playwrights: Duncan Macmillan, with Jonny Donahoe
Directors: Kate Champion, Steve Rodgers
Cast: Kate Mulvany
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
The narrator began compiling a list of brilliant things, when her mother first attempted suicide. In trying to understand why one should go to such extremes, the narrator, at the time a seven year-old child, focused her thoughts instead on all that is good about the world, whether they be ice cream, things with stripes, opening presents, or watching things grow. The list is then used as a vehicle for communication with her mother, who continues to struggle with depression, in the narrator’s efforts to connect, and to heal. Initially intended to be itemised at a thousand, the number keeps growing as our narrator herself grows up. We witness the list assume a bigger life, as it transforms into a basis on which the narrator deals with her own life.

Duncan Macmillan and Jonny Donahoe’s Every Brilliant Thing is full of sincerity, in its discussions about suicide, and the inter-generational effects of depression in families. The piece feels authentic with its explorations, and offers a theatrical intimacy for its sensitive subject matter. There is little however, that is unexpected, and it alternates frequently between poignancy and banality, in its attempts at informing and entertaining its audience. The themes are extremely delicate, and as such, we approach them sensibly, for a play that never turns very dramatic.

House lights are on for the entirety, during which performer Kate Mulvany addresses us directly. Many members of audience are given cards denoting an item from the narrator’s list, and are invited to read them out loud when asked. More extensive interactions are required of luckier attendees, who take to the stage briefly to play several small roles in the story. Mulvany’s charm proves boundless, as she opens herself up to a swarm of unpredictability in this theatre-in-the-round configuration. Her confidence and preparedness is thoroughly impressive, but pacing of the production can suffer in moments when she has more to manage than to simply tell a story. The show runs very long on opening night. Even though there is much to enjoy in watching live theatre do its magic, we do experience the disruption of plot tension, for better or for worse, at many points.

In the production and consumption of theatre, we form communities that must hold each other in mutual care. Sat face to face, Every Brilliant Thing gives us the opportunity to look at each other, and learn to look after each other. It reinforces the understanding that parts of us are frail, that we all have weaknesses behind our smiling faces. There may be a million wonderful things to encounter, but there is no denying that life is hard. The only way we can make it through, is to do it together.

www.belvoir.com.au

Review: Monty Python’s Spamalot (One Eyed Man Productions)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), Mar 6 – Apr 13, 2019
Book & Lyrics: Eric Idle (based on the film Monty Python And The Holy Grail)
Music: John Du Prez, Eric Idle
Director: Richard Carroll
Cast: Marty Alix, Blake Appelqvist, Cramer Cain, Rob Johnson, Josie Lane, Aaron Tsindos, Bishanyia Vincent, Jane Watt
Images by John McRae

Theatre review
Hard to believe that it has been half a century, since Monty Python began its influence on British comedy and entertainment. Since first appearing in 1969, their distinct style of irreverent humour has helped define laughter for generations, all over the globe. With a particular interest in lampooning figures of authority, the Monty Python brand has been a force in counter-culture, allowing us to use its absurdity to investigate what is considered polite and normal in many of our societies. Monty Python’s Spamalot is a characteristically iconoclastic and rambunctious take on musical theatre, adapted from their now legendary Monty Python And The Holy Grail, the 1975 film centring on the misadventures of King Arthur and his knights.

Under Richard Carroll’s direction, these old jokes prove to be funny as ever, with liberal updates making the show feel unexpectedly immediate. The production appeals to fanatics, but also caters to a general contemporary audience. We are all there for a good time, and the laughter it delivers is fast and furious. Performer Cramer Cain is solid as King Arthur, with an effortless strength to his presence that keeps our attention on the lead role, in the middle of a lot of hullabaloo. Josie Lane is a tremendous delight as Lady of the Lake, an unrelenting diva who refuses to let her audience forget who the real star should be. Her sensational combination of self-effacing hilarity and vocal prowess, is truly remarkable. The brilliant ensemble is tirelessly goofy, and highly inventive. It is a group completely dedicated to creating a high-octane electrifying experience, determined to pull us out of the mundane, for two hours of unbridled lunatic pleasure.

The written word will gather dust, with many having faded away with time, forgotten and forever buried. The nature of theatre compels us to make everything new again. No matter the origins of a text, those who take it upon themselves to bring the past onto the stage, must find ways to connect the old with the here and now, so that art can do its job and not be a meaningless relic. The spirit of Monty Python is shown here to be eternal. For as long as we believe in venerating kings and gods, its humour will cut them down to size, to offer a reality check that can only be healthy. Laughter eases pain, and by helping us see through the nonsense, Monty Python is able to make real life that little bit more bearable.

www.oneeyedmanproductions.com | www.hayestheatre.com.au

5 Questions with Nicole Pingon and Mike Ugo

Nicole Pingon

Mike Ugo: If you were about to embark on a journey on the deep blue seas, what two things would you take with you and why?
Nicole Pingon: A waterproof notebook and stationery set. I don’t think this has been invented yet, (at least not that I know of), but I’d love to be able to write and doodle, without worrying about the risk of losing them to the ocean!

Why do you think this story is relevant today?
The ideas Coleridge lamented back in 1798, like reciprocity with the natural world, guilt and existentialism frankly couldn’t be more relevant today, as we live in a time where things aren’t exactly looking bright for our future – socially, politically or environmentally. Not only have Coleridge’s ideas have persisted over time because we are still flawed humans, I think the reason this particular story continues to resonate with us, is due to its exploration of these big scary ideas through a philosophical and moral lens. It deals with fundamental human concerns in a way that feels magical and otherworldly, yet undeniably human and close to home. This story continues to remind us that like the natural world around us, we are creatures of this earth and perhaps don’t have as much control over the future as we may believe we do. Because without Mother Nature, where does that leave us? This is a question Coleridge asked, and a question we will continue to ask ourselves until – I suppose until something changes.  

Working on this production, how has it impacted you?
I’m a firm believer in the fact that we’re constantly learning and growing, and being a part of this production has absolutely been a testament to that! I’m continuously growing throughout this process, both as an artist and a human. I’m so grateful to create with some of the most wondrous, generous and talented creatives, and am constantly inspired by them. Every moment in the room has honestly been such a joy. The excitement I feel is a reminder of how much I love being on the floor, collaborating, discovering and creating. As a human, it’s really encouraged me to read further, watch more and helped me deepen my own worldview, particularly surrounding environmentalism and the language we use to discuss it. It’s also ignited a spark in me to continue exploring new ways to communicate big ideas through performance.

Little Eggs Collective in a sentence?
A collective of passionate, ambitious and diverse storytellers, creating new work and new modes of storytelling, who also happen to be the most wonderful eggs you will ever meet!

Which country would you like to visit that you haven’t been to and why?
I’d really love to visit Iceland some time soon! Not only is it absolutely beautiful, it’s a country that genuinely puts the environment at the forefront. I’d love to immerse myself in their sustainable way of living, and see how it all works. Otherwise Antarctica would be super cool, because Antarctica!

Mike Ugo

Nicole Pingon:What is your favourite bird?
Mike Ugo: Favourite bird would have to be an eagle. My surname actually means eagle of God in my native language (Igbo). Shoutout to my dad, he is late now but I always carry him with me in my heart everywhere I go.

Why do you think this story is important to share?
As a society we can often place significance on the wrong things, whether that be on social media, an excessive indulgence in material goods, celebrity gossip/culture, standards of beauty, the list goes on. These things tend to be glorified in society; but when someone is dying, suddenly all of that becomes trivial.

What type of life did I live?
How did I treat people?
Did I travel enough?
Did I get to experience all the jewels of this beautiful earth?

This story urges you to look within yourself and ask yourself what it means to be human because at the end of the day we all bleed the same. But not only that, realising that it is a gift just to breathe fresh air and that it’s really in all of our best interests to protect and preserve our environment.

What would you love to see in the future of the Sydney theatre scene?
Well as well as having a brother, I have two sisters. If you add my mother, that’s three women in the household (lol) and I would love to just see more female related stories. That would be cool to see. When women win, we all win!!! There’s more than enough room for everyone to shine, so us as men shouldn’t ever feel threatened in any way, shape or form.

What have you learnt/enjoyed about the process of creating this show?
Everything. This type of theatre-making is new to me so just being patient with the whole process. I won’t disclose any gems haha because that stays in the room, but I will say I’m forever indebted to Julia Robertson because she’s the first person to give me an opportunity in the Sydney independent theatre scene. She’s a real genuine soul and you want to be around people like that. I’m still early in my development in terms of acting so every rehearsal has been a gift. It has been challenging because I’ve never been in this type of environment before and the level of excellence amongst everyone is high. But the energy is amazing and everyone is so warm.

What does it mean to be a person of colour in the arts in Sydney?
Well, thank God for my parents raising me with love and affording me with so much. This is why I’ve always loved who I am and translating that positive energy into stories for younger generations is something I find invigorating.

Nicole Pingon and Mike Ugo can be seen in The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner.
Dates: 2 – 13 Apr, 2019
Venue: Kings Cross Theatre

Review: Seed Bomb (Subtlenuance / The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Mar 5 – 9, 2019
Playwright: Daniela Giorgi
Director: Paul Gilchrist
Cast: Matthew Abotomey, Kate Bookallil, Lindsey Chapman, Sonya Kerr, Julian Ramundi
Image by Matthew Abotomey

Theatre review
Kat dreams of moving out to the country, so that she can escape the ugly rat race of city life. Upon meeting guerrilla gardeners Gridlock and Pax however, her mind changes, as she begins involvement in a political movement that helps her feel an integral part of community. Daniela Giorgi’s Seed Bomb talks about the responsibility of individuals, in an environment where the power to influence our own destinies, is routinely made to feel diminished. Kat discovers that she is not helpless in her home, and to leave it for greener pastures is in some ways a selfish act.

Giorgi’s benevolent writing is idealistic but not naive. Although its didacticism has a tendency to turn obvious, the immediacy of its concerns bear a pertinence that keeps us engaged, with Kat’s awakening bringing a sense of hope to our humdrum passivity. Directed by Paul Gilchrist, the show is tender and earnest, insufficiently dynamic but certainly authentic with its representations. Actor Sonya Kerr is particularly genuine in her convincing portrayal of Kat, our mild-mannered protagonist who learns to carve her own niche in micro activism.

Other cast members are similarly accomplished. Matthew Abotomey and Kate Bookallil bring conviction to their roles as provocateurs of the piece, both distinct and specific with their respective interpretations of the modern social justice warrior. Excellent comedy by a very cheeky Lindsey Chapman, who plays an ignorant financial adviser, leaves a lasting impression. The frustrations of Kat’s partner Toby are conveyed persuasively by Julian Ramundi, whose depiction of the one left behind, serves as caution against political apathy.

Whether we like it or not, to exist is to be political. We can choose either to participate or withdraw, but there is never neutrality in any of our decisions. Everything we say and do, causes reverberations, like dominoes toppling in all directions. Kat does not become radical, but her new awareness of things beneath the surface, has sparked a fundamental shift in how she behaves. We can never be sure if knowledge will necessarily improve lives; after all, ignorance is bliss. There is however, no possibility for reversal, once the truth is out. This is only the beginning of Kat’s story, what is to follow is a test of our optimism and faith.

www.subtlenuance.com

Review: Exit The King (Théâtre Excentrique)

Venue: Chippen Street Theatre (Chippendale NSW), Mar 7 – 16, 2019
Playwright: Eugène Ionesco (translated by Anna Jahjah, Kris Shalvey)
Director: Anna Jahjah
Cast: Clay Cruighton, Kirsty Jordan, Leof Kingsford-Smith, Josef Schneider, Gerry Sont, Alison Windsor
Images by Mansoor Noor

Theatre review
The king is informed that he is to die by the time the play ends. It is absurd that we are shocked by this notion, as death remains one of our only certainties. In Eugène Ionesco’s Exit The King, the protagonist is given 90 minutes to reflect on what he leaves behind, and what he is about to encounter. An exploration of existential angst, it attempts to anatomise the meaning of life, by looking closely at impending death.

Apart from Ionesco’s intentions, an alternate reading could be applied to Exit The King, whereby the monarchy is being taken down by those determined to have him vanquished. We see him being told repeatedly that his death is inevitable, and that he is no longer needed. The play has a new pertinence in our Time’s Up era, able to resonate with our thirst for stories featuring the demolition of traditional hierarchies.

Actor Kirsty Jordan plays Queen Marguerite, a strong almost ruthless personality who leads the charge in guiding the king to his demise. It is a robust performance, of great conviction, that provokes us into the formulation of hidden narratives that would make her story a more politically enticing one. Leof Kingsford-Smith is an excellent King Berenger, powerful with the vulnerability he introduces, an energetic presence capable of sustaining our interest through the production’s thick and thin. Ionesco’s densely surreal dialogue requires more detailed attention for the show to speak incisively, but director Anna Jahjah does good work with atmosphere and tone, allowing us access to poetic dimensions that appeal to parts of ourselves that are perhaps more visceral than logical.

None is immortal, yet we often carry on as though life is forever. We leave loose ends unattended at the end of every day, and we postpone pleasures to the future, believing that there will always be tomorrow. The old saying, “never go to bed angry” seems to imply that resolutions, permanent or temporary, must be reached, because there is every chance that slumber can turn eternal. If we understand that life is short, it would mean making the most of our days, and also to make the best of all our potentials, right here and right now.

www.theatrexcentrique.com