Review: 2071 (Seymour Centre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), May 26 – Jun 10, 2017
Playwrights: Duncan Macmillan, Chris Rapley
Director: Tim Jones
Cast: Lucy Brownlie, John Gaden, Heath Jelovic, Ellery Joyce, Jacqueline Morrison, Sasha Rose, Matthew Simmons

Theatre review
In 2071: a performance about climate change, we have to listen closely to a lesson about the science of our climate. There are projections to look at, and children forming occasional tableaux to help illustrate the point, but it is only the words that we should pay close attention to. Clearly a very serious matter, and for those of us less keen on scientific study, the details are challenging. It is an issue that requires tremendous focus, but when we invest, with determination, to hear what is being said, 2071 is undoubtedly rewarding.

Essentially a monologue, the writing feels no different from a lecture, dense with facts and evidence. The layperson would struggle to absorb every sentence uttered, but there will certainly be pertinent points that resonate for each individual who is present. It contains no surprises, but the production does communicate a sense of urgency to drive home the message. Music by Andrée Greenwell, and actor John Gaden’s delivery, are responsible for the hastened air of impulsion at conclusion.

The science points to an impending ecological disaster. Whether or not one wishes to accept the causes that lead to this state of devastation, every citizen of the world must commit to improving the conditions in which we have to live. Only the most masochistic and nihilistic will choose to persist with the status quo, but it must surely be a very small minority that wants to watch everything come to a painful ruin. Now is the time to be fearful of complacency and inaction.

www.seymourcentre.com

Review: The Wind In The Underground (Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), May 23 – Jun 3, 2017
Playwright: Sam O’Sullivan
Director: Lucy Clements
Cast: Michael Abercromby, Rowan Davie, Whitney Richards, Bishanyia Vincent
Image by Rupert Reid

Theatre review
Wanderlust is meaningful only to those who understand that irresistible urge to travel. Simon returns home from a long trip away, and has to explain to his siblings why he had left them. There is resentment, and a lot of discontentment at home, but the love is nonetheless palpable. Sam O’Sullivan’s The Wind In The Underground is about seeing the world, but all the action lies within a domestic setting. The four characters are a volatile group, but they are not fragile. They fight only because they will always be able to reconcile.

There is little in terms of a compelling narrative that we can hang on to, and dramatic tensions are intermittent, but a superb cast enchants with their extraordinary chemistry. The actors share family secrets that we are only partially privy to. Its characters struggle with disclosures, but the performances leave no room for doubt that something deep and real underpins the exchanges we see on stage. It is a feeling we are all familiar with, and the remarkable talents represent it with an admirable accuracy.

Some people are comfortable with a parochial existence, but others need to explore further afield. This does not have to be about the physical movement that takes place. Our minds are all-powerful, and our beings can be transformed, as long as we wish to seek something higher. The play is about travel, and evolution. For those of us who can sail the seven seas, we will grow that way, but for those who prefer to stay home, every work of literature and art can provide the key to expanding life, far beyond the walls that try to hold us in.

www.oldfitztheatre.com

Review: This Is Not Mills And Boon (Glorious Thing Theatre Co)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), May 23 – Jun 3, 2017
Playwright: Erica J Brennan
Director: Richard Hilliar
Cast: Alison Bennett, Emma Chelsey, Gabe Fancourt, Lynden Jones
Image by Liam O’Keefe

Theatre review
When we first meet Abby, she surprises us with her prudishness. We think of sex as being universally appealing, and in this day and age, talking about sex is certainly de rigueur, if not interminable, so we wonder what problems Abby is struggling with, that makes her so uncomfortable with the topic.

The story unfolds as Abby begins reading, in secret, a collection of erotic stories. Written by her boyfriend’s mother, Nikki Sex’s book is titillating and wild, but also deeply cheesy and frequently nonsensical. We watch as the far-fetched tales begin to unravel the riddle surrounding Abby’s mystifying sexual nature.

Erica J Brennan’s This Is Not Mills And Boon is a smart, ambitious piece that deals with a young woman’s sexual awakening, or more accurately, it is about Abby’s self-discovery beyond the indoctrination and traditions that our young are subject to. There is good attempt at depicting sexuality as being individualistic and idiosyncratic, and hence, a fundamentally deviant feature of what we consider to be human nature, but Brennan’s characters remain bound to an ideal of monogamy and heteronormativity, which prevents the play from foraging deeper into its philosophical interests, thus losing an opportunity to be truly subversive, or edifying, with its declarations.

Director Richard Hilliar introduces a wanton sense of humour to fantasy sequences that makes the show very enjoyable, but a tendency to be overly earnest with our protagonist’s central predicament, can make its naturalistic scenes needlessly severe. Abby needs to lighten up, as does the show.

Funny lady Alison Bennett delivers laughs in all of her extravagant guises. Sharply intuitive, and wonderfully campy, it is a very bawdy performance that pushes all the right buttons (look out for some physical work featuring Bennett’s extraordinarily dexterous tongue). Also very comedic is Gabe Fancourt as the endearing boyfriend Sol, whose unabashed approach to the portrayal of sex object, is as refreshing as it is hilarious.

Although Emma Chelsey’s interpretation of a plain and reserved personality can often feel too literal and hence lacklustre, her Abby is dignified and honest, with a sincerity that makes the whole exercise convincing. The troubling relationship between Abby and her father is a crucial part of the narrative, and Lynden Jones is strong in that role. His lines are perhaps not written with sufficient elegance, but Jones demonstrates excellent conviction even when the dialogue turns precarious.

The show makes fun of “Fifty Shades Of Beige”, but is itself shy with its own interrogations. It may not be Mills and Boon, but it is certainly no Marquis de Sade either. There is a naivety in how it thinks about sex, but its fervent need to reject convention in favour of a self-determined experience of sexuality and of identity, must be celebrated.

What makes each person feel good, is rarely the same, but what makes us all the same, is the need to discover the truth that lies within. It is human to want to poke and prod, to find something that feels resolutely at the core of our existence. Whether through art or through fucking, we can get to the thing that resides deep at the centre, that holds the meaning of life.

www.gloriousthingtheatreco.com

Review: Talking To Terrorists (Emu Productions)

Venue: King Street Theatre (Newtown NSW), May 23 – Jun 3, 2017
Playwright: Robin Soans
Director: Markus Weber
Cast: Mathew Costin, David D’Silva, Kira Fort, Zuzi Fort, Tiffany Joy, Alyson Standen, Kyle Stewart, Joseph JU Taylor, Markus Weber
Image by John Keenan

Theatre review
Robin Soans’ Talking To Terrorists premiered in England just 3 months before the London bombings of 2005. Disasters seemed to strike like never before, and we tried desperately to understand the rapidly changing world, post-9/11. The play investigates the psyche of those touched by horrific events, from perpetrators, to hostages and politicians. Composed largely of interviews with people who had experienced those states of trauma, this work of verbatim theatre opens up discussion about the most pertinent of subjects today. We examine the motivating factors behind these unimaginable atrocities, and in the process of seeing extremists as people, we gain knowledge that had been previously hidden. Humanising evil allows us to gain insight into what was once beyond comprehension.

A wide range of personalities take to the stage, but the production does not always make clear, the identities of all its characters. The confusion that arises does not help the show’s cause. The actors offer glimpses of poignancy, but can be impeded by their emphasis on creating cosmetic impressions, rather than always finding resonance through the very meanings of what they say. Actor Alyson Standen is the most consistent of the group, demonstrating conviction in all of her four roles, and through her enactment of emotional accuracy, we are able to access the truths in what her scenes attempt to communicate. There is no lack of passion in the cast, but their approach requires more detail, and greater nuance, so that we obtain something richer, a result that feels less surface.

As long as we regard terrorists as animals and monsters, we will never be able to convince them of our perspectives. If we can only think of them as absolute enemies, we will never be able to convert them to our way of life. When people are shut out, excluded and ostracised from our existence, then our security means nothing to them. Terrorists will continue to cause us harm, if they know nothing of us. In humanising the foe, we can both begin to see ourselves in the other, and so it is only in the talking that we can hope for a change.

www.kingstreettheatre.com.au

Review: Mr Burns (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), May 19 – Jun 25, 2017
Playwright: Anne Washburn
Music: Michael Friedman
Lyrics: Anne Washburn
Director: Imara Savage
Cast: Paula Arundell, Mitchell Butel, Esther Hannaford, Jude Henshall, Brent Hill, Ezra Juanta, Jacqy Phillips
Image by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
There are three distinct acts in Mr Burns: A Post-Electric Play. First, we discover that the world has gone to hell in a handbasket; it is the apocalypse, and we have run out of electricity. A small group of survivors huddle together, trying to keep themselves sane by retelling episodes of The Simpsons. They each contribute fragments, but memory, like all human ability, proves to be considerably less than infallible.

Over the next decades, this compulsion to hark back to when things were better, grows in magnitude. The act of storytelling becomes grander, so do the increasingly fabricated remembrances of how things had been, back in the day. Eventually, we see that The Simpsons is turned into a kind of origin story that no longer accurately recreates the real thing.

Anne Washburn’s play is wildly imagined, but not always successful in its ability to aid our suspension of disbelief, as is necessary for all styles of science fiction. At each step of the narrative, we are bothered by questions left unanswered, that create an expanding sense of implausibility to the narrative. It is appropriate then, that the show turns progressively extravagant, until in Act Three, where we are presented with something that looks no different from standard Broadway musical fare.

The production begins dour, perhaps understandably so, but its long and enduring dullness marks a disappointing start for a crowd that has clearly amassed for that very particular Simpsons sense of humour. Satisfaction eventually arrives with Act Two, as the tone turns quirky and playful, and stimulating philosophy is introduced to its existentialist explorations.

The first musical number appears, quite unexpectedly, weaving American pop references into a kind of campy postmodern mash-up, to excellent effect. We see the characters desperately trying to hold on to all things bright and shiny from the past, much like the conservatives in our real life, unable to come to terms with their new circumstances. Entertainment continues to be dispensed henceforth, but we discover that the show had reached its peaked too soon. It all comes to a somewhat underwhelming conclusion.

It is a proficiently designed production. Mr Burns’ black sequinned catsuit by Jonathon Oxlade is very fabulous indeed, an unforgettable vision for the theatrical annals. Oxlade’s sets are appropriate to each sequence, but the show offers only a few surprises with its imagery, presumably restrained by its context of resource depletion.

Mitchell Butel leads an endearing cast of enthusiastic and colourful performers. As Mr Burns, Butel’s gangly limbs attempt to steal the show with their incredible animated dexterity, but the actor’s comedic capacities are impressive, and a real asset to this tenaciously serious creation.

It really is no joke, that we refuse to adequately address our energy crisis. Those with a stake in industries that are bringing devastation to the environment, like the villainous Mr Burns, continue to be allowed to plunder and destroy. We have to keep optimistic in order to be of any effect as opposition to their corruption, but the prevailing state of confused democracy seems to be getting us nowhere. Knowing right from wrong, is no longer sufficient in mobilising power and generating action, in our current climate of fake news, alternative facts, and insatiable greed. If history teaches us anything, it is revolution that will shift paradigm, but there is no hint even of burgeoning insurgency, in this age of despondent complacency.

www.belvoir.com.au

Review: The Ham Funeral (Siren Theatre Company)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), May 17 – Jun 10, 2017
Playwright: Patrick White
Director: Kate Gaul
Cast: Andy Dexterity, Eliza Logan, Carmen Lysiak, Johnny Nasser, Jane Phegan, Sebastian Robinson, Jenny Wu
Image by Lucy Parakhina

Theatre review
At the centre of The Ham Funeral is a Young Man without the certainty of a name. Unsure of his own identity, interpretations of what goes on around him is correspondingly ambiguous. Patrick White’s surrealist work is not one to rely on for narrative pleasure, but as a platform for theatrical delight, it swells with possibilities.

Director Kate Gaul identifies the extremities in the play, whether they be comedic, dramatic, grotesque or celestial, and turns them into sequences of sheer and intense pleasure. There is a cohesive whole, but the primary enjoyment of this staging is in the savouring of all its deeply fascinating moments. A vague logic does exist, but our senses, beyond those that comprise the rational mind, are fired up and called upon to engage, in a visceral way that can only happen within a live setting.

It is a waking dream in which we find ourselves immersed. Nothing looks real, but we know that everything points to something authentic. We are gripped by its mystery, and the hypnotic ambience so expertly manufactured by its team of daring creatives. Hartley T A Kemp lights the space so that everything seems to float in an abyss of subconsciousness, and Nate Edmondson’s sensational sounds of ringing and rumbling take over our nervous system, directly manipulating our moods and responses.

Gleefully infectious, the wonderful cast looks and feels to be made up of all those voted most likely to run off and join the circus. Idiosyncratic and profoundly eccentric, we are persuaded to relate to the show in a manner that is perhaps unusual for many. Eliza Logan is the magnificent leading lady, completely enthralling as Alma Lusty; wild, depraved and primal, yet impressively precise with the design and execution of all her choices. Intelligent and inventive, Logan’s performance in the flamboyant, mad world of The Ham Funeral is truly unforgettable. The nameless Young Man is played by Sebastian Robinson with a physical proficiency that adds exceptional beauty to the production’s visual emphasis. Also remarkable is Johnny Nasser, deliciously exaggerated while maintaining a measured sensitivity, in both of his contrasting roles.

A century has past since the dawn of Dada, and all things surreal or absurd may no longer be thought of as immediately relevant, but art must never shy away from conversations that exist at the outer limits of rationality and reason. If we talk only about the things we know, the chance of us meaningfully expanding consciousness is meagre. To break free from incessantly repetitious dialogue that has become a habit of modern living, it can only be beneficial to indulge in something radically new, especially when getting to the point, is not the point of it.

www.sirentheatreco.com

Review: Guru Of Chai (Indian Ink / Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), May 16 – Jun 4, 2017
Playwright: Justin Lewis, Jacob Rajan
Director: Justin Lewis
Cast: Jacob Rajan
Image by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
The story begins at the Bangalore City railway station. We meet Kutisa at a street stall selling chai, a vivacious man who cannot help but tell us a wondrous story about himself, a parrot, and a family of orphaned sisters whom he adopts into his care. Supernatural beings and high drama ensue, accompanied by extravagant emotions surrounding birth, death and betrayal. Guru Of Chai is gripping, made even more compelling by the work of a masterful performer full of drive, and magnificently skilled.

Jacob Rajan is scintillating in this one-man show. Almost like magic, his presence takes over the theatre, and we fall under his spell. Playing what seems to be an endless number of characters, Rajan is crystal clear with each manifestation, weaving the most vivid of narratives through his immense talent and artistry. It is a real pleasure to be able to submit to an expert guiding hand, and perceive the confidence in the actor and in ourselves, that the play can only progress flawlessly.

Direction by Justin Lewis ensures that the story is told at great detail and precision, with great care put into showcasing the best of his actor’s abilities. Gentle assistance from Cathy Knowsley’s lights and David Ward’s music, provide us with deeply evocative suggestions that transform a black box into the busy, sweltering streets of India. It is a small production that unfolds before us, but what we are made to see in our minds, is infinitely bigger.

There is something about Guru Of Chai that feels like a fairy tale, even though its characters encounter only the brutal realities of hardship and poverty. By removing us from the here and now, into a space far away, experiencing Kutisa’s world is as though we have stepped into a dream. When art meets us in reverie, the capacity of our minds turn boundless, and we can learn great things about the universe that are unimaginable in our insular everyday. We connect with other lives, no matter how dissimilar from what we are used to, and discover that which is unambiguously human, or perhaps something like a soul, that keeps us from feeling isolated, that gives us a glimpse of the eternal.

www.belvoir.com.au