Review: Mum, Me & The I.E.D. (Collaborations Theatre Group)

Venue: The Depot Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Aug 15 – Sep 1, 2018
Playwright: James Balian, Roger Vickery
Director: Kevin Jackson
Cast: Matilda Brodie, Martin Harper, Elaine Hudson, Philippe Klaus, Joshua Shediak
Images by James Balian

Theatre review
Mary Ellen has been an avowed pacifist since the Vietnam war, but still she was unable to prevent her son from aspiring to become a soldier. When we first meet them, Rob is undergoing treatment for PTSD, as part of the discharge process upon leaving Afghanistan. Mum, Me & The I.E.D. by James Balian and Roger Vickery, is an uncompromising look at the psychological damage inflicted on those we send away to war. The play’s anti-war sentiments are unambiguous and passionate, almost too blatant with their chastisements. Early scenes can feel repetitive, but its latter half turns dynamic, becoming more emotionally involving, as we tune in to Balian and Vickery’s reflections on casualties and their politics.

Director Kevin Jackson demonstrates creative use of space, in this story about intersecting dimensions. The protagonist’s mind is a convergence of confused realities, that Jackson’s staging renders coherent for our benefit. Lighting design by Martin Kinnane proves invaluable in conveying, with remarkable clarity, the many unusual spacial and temporal transformations required of the production.

Actor Philippe Klaus turns up the intensity for the show’s various points of heightened drama, but his performance of Rob’s trauma and suffering can seem slightly affected. His portrayal of a young man’s severe mental deterioration resulting from experiences in the battlefield, are full of conviction, but it is the authenticity in his depictions of family discord and the accompanying anguish, that we find convincing. Mary Ellen is played by Elaine Hudson who delivers a compelling and meaningful sense of depth to the character’s tribulations. Her work feels honest and accurately realistic, often with a surprising restraint that makes things even more believable.

The disadvantaged and the naive are perennially targeted for carrying out the devil’s work, and the world can be a shockingly dangerous place for those poised for independence. We want our young to understand that life is for taking chances, but we fear the irreversible consequences of their mistakes. Mary Ellen and her fierce conscientiousness were no match for the narrative of heroic patriotism that all nations rely on. The heartache that her family has to endure, is a phenomenon centuries old, that we seem determined to perpetuate.

www.facebook.com/CollaborationsTheatreGroup

Review: Ich Nibber Dibber (Sydney Opera House)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Aug 15 – 19, 2018
Playwrights: Zoë Coombs Marr, Mish Grigor, Natalie Rose
Director: Zoë Coombs Marr, Mish Grigor, Natalie Rose
Cast: Zoë Coombs Marr, Mish Grigor, Natalie Rose
Images by Jacquie Manning

Theatre review
Three goddesses are afloat in white robes, eternal but not quite ethereal. Zoë Coombs Marr, Mish Grigor and Natalie Rose’s Ich Nibber Dibber features quick-fire conversations between old friends, natural and very candid, as though a verbatim recreation of private moments, collated over two or so decades. Confidences between close friends that are never meant for public consumption, bawdy and reckless, occupy centre stage to claim a position of dominance for the oft-neglected notion of female subjectivity. It is an exercise in rejecting the gaze, and of women asserting a perspective that is wholly about self-determined existences.

Audacious in its imagination of a post-feminist era, its accompanying politics are confident but subdued. Instead of overt investigations into meanings of gender, the play emphasises its comedy, and through that brazen attitude of subversive recalcitrance, Ich Nibber Dibber encourages us to laugh on our own terms, and by inference, to laugh at patriarchy. The show is thoroughly amusing, with its creators proving to be highly persuasive presences, as they jubilantly perform their defiance.

The women are unequivocally real, but they are also otherworldly, with a circularity to their experience of time that offers a glimpse into a future universe beckoning us to catch up. Michael Hankin’s set and costumes, along with Fausto Brusamolino’s lights, orchestrate this magical encounter between profane and divine, presenting imagery that reminds us of the transcendence we are all capable of. Music and sound by James Brown facilitate our connection with the storytellers, and then disturb our peace to keep us thinking.

It is believed that male desire in all its forms, have determined how we conceive of ourselves, but what had seemed inescapable, can now be put through a process of reconditioning. To extricate our own desires from those of the other, is likely an inexhaustible task, and because a woman’s work of resistance is never done, it is that ongoing project of continual redefinition and ever new formations of identities that can lead us to greater autonomy.

www.postpresentspost.com | www.sydneyoperahouse.com

Review: Moby Dick (Sport For Jove Theatre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Aug 9 – 25, 2018
Playwright: Orson Welles (based on the novel by Herman Melville)
Director: Adam Cook
Cast: Danny Adcock, Rachel Alexander, Mark Barry, Badaidilaga Maftuh-Flynn, Jonathan Mill, Wendy Mocke, Thomas Royce-Hampton, Francesca Savige, Vaishnavi Suryaprakash, Bryden White-Tuohey
Images by Marnya Rothe

Theatre review
Ahab’s war on nature in Moby Dick seems altogether too familiar yet tragic. The eternal discord between humankind and our environment, is the site on which we can examine the disquiet of who we are as a species, especially in relation to our curious inability to be at one, and in peace, with nature. We are determined to extricate ourselves, always asserting a superiority that can never be. Orson Welles’ adaptation of Herman Melville’s classic, is abstract, often impenetrably so, but its concerns about our adversarial relationship with nature lay appropriately at its centre.

It is essentially a fight with the self that Ahab has to go through, and our vantage point allows his story to function as a sort of introspective interrogation, in order that we may recognise that futile struggle that we too, resolutely participate in. Director Adam Cook’s show is a vibrant cornucopia of activity that brings to energetic life, the whaling obsession that Ahab and his crew of sailors embark on. Their dialogue may confuse, but the production is a rich tapestry from which our creative minds can detect symbols, decipher language and find meanings.

A very accomplished merger of design talents help sustain a sense of magical fascination. Set and costumes by Mark Thompson are handsome, evocative and grand. Lights are industriously assembled by Gavan Swift, who manufactures a surprising beauty for the story. Sound designer Ryan Patrick Devlin keeps things lively with exciting music, much of which is thrillingly performed on stage by percussionist and actor Tom Royce-Hampton.

Danny Adcock leads the cast, suitably rhapsodic as Ahab, with an impressive presence that proves to be highly persuasive, in this mad man’s tale. Rachel Alexander is compelling as Pip, particularly memorable in a powerful scene with Ahab discussing things political and esoteric, then proclaiming with theatrical histrionics, “death to whiteness”. The role of Queequeg is beautifully portrayed by Wendy Mocke, who introduces valuable glimpses of emotional authenticity to a slightly too distant universe.

We send rockets out into the ether looking for life, trying to find points of connection with all that we deem to be alien. Back on earth, we go to great pains to alienate ourselves, in a never-ending project of division and of segregation. We have convinced ourselves that we are inexorably distinct from flora and fauna, and further, have formed an interminable habit of creating power structures and hierarchies within all our human societies. The albino whale swims in peace; its violence is only ever a result of provocation.

www.sportforjove.com.au

Review: Nell Gwynn (New Theatre)


Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Aug 8 – Sep 8, 2018
Playwright: Jessica Swale
Director: Deborah Jones
Cast: Lloyd Allison-Young, Kate Bookallil, Debra Bryan, Steve Corner, Aimee Crighton, Susan Jordan, Simon Lee, Naomi Livingstone, Steven Ljubovic, Peter Mountford, Genevieve Muratore, Rupert Reid, Eleanor Ryan, Shan-Ree Tan, Adam Van den bok, Bishanyia Vincent
Images by Chris Lundie

Theatre review
Jessica Swale’s Nell Gwynn tells the rags to riches story of its eponymous 17th century English actress, charting her rise from common prostitute to becoming one of the first women to ever take to the professional stage, and eventually finding her way into the courts as King Charles II’s most favoured mistress. It was a short but eventful life, that Swale takes great care to frame as a modern feminist parable, featuring a young woman who uses beauty and brains, to battle against all odds, and make it all the way to the glass ceiling. Fascinating biographical information is transformed into effective drama, placed alongside contemporary observations and commentary about womanhood.

Actor Bishanyia Vincent is marvellous in the title role, spirited and intelligent, for an interpretation that is as inspiring as it is entertaining. There is a lightness to the character that endears, but Vincent takes every opportunity to imbue complexity and depth, offering insights that are emotional, or sometimes political, making Nell Gwynn a tale that is unmistakably relevant to our times. Equally memorable is Lloyd Allison-Young as the king, wonderfully flamboyant in his comical expressions that represent perfectly, our perspectives of the aristocratic classes. Both are deeply charming personalities, who insist on keeping us delighted at every turn. It is a strong cast overall, with each performer proving themselves accomplished and inventive in their individual parts.

Musical aspects of the show are whimsical and amusing; Laura Heuston as musical director and Clare Heuston as music consultant, bring a gratifying effervescence to their interludes. Virginia Ferris delivers lively but simple work as choreographer, in clever accompaniment to direction by Deborah Jones that focuses earnestly, on the craft of acting. Visual elements are raw, slightly too basic, or perhaps too straightforward, in configuration and imagination.

As a woman of the lowest class, Gwynn was able to rise through the ranks, with a serendipitous combination of talent and luck, to reach heights that had allowed her a taste of greener pastures. She was never liberated of course, from that dependence on men and their libido, and ultimately succumbed to syphilis, but there is no denying that she was able to ensure wealth and status for all her subsequent generations. Womanly wiles are still a currency today, but for most of us, how we transact is now chiefly a matter of our own discretion.

www.newtheatre.org.au

Review: King Of Pigs (Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Aug 1 – Sep 1, 2018
Playwright: Steve Rodgers
Director: Blazey Best
Cast: Mick Bani, Wylie Best, Christian Byers, Ashley Hawkes, Ella Scott-Lynch, Kire Tosevski
Images by John Marmaras

Theatre review
Actor Ella Scott-Lynch plays several characters, in this work about men’s violence against women. She embodies different personalities, but what they encounter in Steve Rodgers’ King Of Pigs, are essentially the same. The current climate of fervent interrogation into matters relating to gendered abuse, requires the male of our species to confront hard truths about their behaviour. It is a time of reflection and re-evaluation, and the play speaks directly to their conscience, asking them to examine the imbalances inherent in heterosexual dynamics.

It is an earnest work, perhaps too simplistic and obvious in style, but the urgency to make a point is certainly evident. Stories in King Of Pigs are very familiar, and although predictable, they still are able to have an impact. Direction by Blazey Best is suitably grave in tone, with a meticulousness to its naturalism that holds our interest. Isabel Hudson’s set and Verity Hampson’s lights collude to offer a sense of theatricality for the intimate situations under scrutiny, both effective in conveying a quality of ominous danger to the plot.

Scott-Lynch is convincing in all of her roles, each one thought-provoking, with little reliance on sentimentality. Kire Tosevski and Wylie Best provide strong partnership in family scenes that offer momentary consolation, through their warm rendering of a loving home, placed precariously alongside damaging relationships. Mick Bani, Christian Byers and Ashley Hawkes play the three perpetrators, each with memorable instances of character vagaries that point to pertinent questions about masculinity.

It is never easy to have those who hold power understand the depravity that results from their dominance. For sexism to be quelled, men have to participate in the feminist project, which although ultimately benefits all, many will perceive to be a threatening relinquishment of power. A world without the problems of gender requires a great number of processes, all of which can only be initiated by epiphanies derived from opportunities like King Of Pigs.

www.redlineproductions.com.au

Review: Torch Song Trilogy (Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

Venue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Aug 1 – 26, 2018
Playwright: Harvey Fierstein
Director: Stephen Colyer
Cast: Hilary Cole, Simon Corfield, Imraan Daniels, Tim Draxl, Stephen Madsen, Kate Raison, Phil Scott
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
It is the perfect time to revisit Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song Trilogy. The play premiered in New York 1982, right before the AIDS crisis crippled the LGBT community. Fierstein’s vision was full of hope, daring to see queer people break into the mainstream, with portrayals of gay men in serious monogamous relationships, thriving in family units that incorporate legally adopted children.

Almost immediately after the completion of this work, the LGBT movement experienced a setback of at least thirty years, finding itself in a new fight, in many ways even harder than before, with the world laying the blame of AIDS entirely on us. What had been a burgeoning era of equality post-Stonewall was all but decimated. Today’s revival is an appropriate resumption of progress; much of the West has now succumbed to the demand for marriage equality, and that discussion about marginalised identities gaining parity not only of rights, but also respect, can now once again be sincerely salient.

Actor Simon Corfield plays Arnold, a gay Jewish New Yorker, whose resilience forms the centrepiece of this saga. Corfield’s performance is often very moving; his depictions of suffering are absolutely enthralling, ensuring that the show’s politics remain foregrounded. Comedy aspects, however, are less consistently rendered. Kate Raison offers a redemptive energy boost, with her potent entrance in the third act as Arnold’s mother, restoring lustre to the play’s humour. Incidental songs are magnificently presented by Hilary Cole and Tim Draxl, accompanied by Phil Scott’s exquisite piano playing. Both singers use music to their magical advantage and leave remarkable impressions, enhanced by strong acting in their roles as Laurel and Ed.

The production can at times be insufficiently ebullient, but an authentic soulful quality permeates, and sustains, all the action. It is a visually sumptuous staging, boldly lit by Benjamin Brockman, whose extravagant approach for Torch Song Trilogy imbues it with a captivating sense of theatricality. There is a beautiful melancholy to director Stephen Colyer’s style that adds a richness to the play’s concerns; Arnold never dwells on his pain, but Colyer insists that we see all of it.

Back in the day, the idea that gay men could start their own normative family lives, was a completely subversive notion. Today, it can still be a surprising thought, although some of us are more taken aback, by the fact that any queer person would choose an existence that seems so ordinary. For LGBT people in places with adequate legal protection, our choices are broader than ever before. Some want to emulate their parents, others wish to break new ground, and most would probably find their peace somewhere in between the extremes. The whole point of this long battle, is so that people can become whomever they desire. Love thy neighbour as you love thyself, no matter how different they appear to be.

www.darlinghursttheatre.com

Review: Hell’s Canyon (The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Aug 1 – 11, 2018
Playwright: Emily Sheehan
Director: Katie Cawthorne
Cast: Isabelle Ford, Conor Leach
Images by James John

Theatre review
Caitlin and Oscar are close friends, but things have been challenging lately and their relationship is suffering a moment of discord. When they meet to patch things up, the friction in between instigates a flurry of unexpected activity, revealing the troubles that are consuming each of the young characters. Hell’s Canyon by Emily Sheehan is an intriguing representation of our youth, particularly memorable for the authenticity of its dialogue. Speech patterns, as well as the psychology that it showcases, bear an admirable sense of accuracy, but the story can feel deficient in parts, as we try to find explanations for their behaviour. There is a whimsy to its approach that appeals, and an interest in the supernatural that gives the play an added dimension of theatrical flamboyance.

Actors Isabelle Ford and Conor Leach are engaging personalities, both absolutely persuasive and likeable, in this portrait of teenage angst. Ford demonstrates a strength that gives substance to Caitlin’s rebellious edge. Leach’s blend of vulnerability and ebullience makes for a charming Oscar. There is a sadness to the story that seems elusive in their performance, but the splendid chemistry that they harness, keeps us attentive. There is an enjoyable intensity and vigour to director Katie Cawthorne’s work, even when it falls slightly short of the emotional depths required of Hell’s Canyon‘s depictions of trauma.

We all know how it is to feel misunderstood, but the real danger is when we begin to believe in other people’s fabrications about ourselves. When Caitlin and Oscar find themselves ostracised, that rejection is all-consuming, and they lose sight of themselves, hence unable to find a way to arrive at a sense of peace. The two are intimate but there is no harmony, only confusion and self-doubt. Reaching self-acceptance can be a huge undertaking, one that requires at least as much introspection as it does an understanding of one’s environment. Caitlin and Oscar have to wade through the noise, to get to something real. This can happen in an instant, or it can be a lifetime’s drudgery.

www.old505theatre.com