Review: The Cherry Orchard (Chippen Street Theatre)

Venue: Chippen Street Theatre (Chippendale NSW), Jun 6 – 16, 2019
Playwright: Anton Chekhov (adapted by Victor Kalka)
Director: Victor Kalka
Cast: Martin Bell, Garreth Cruikshank, Dominique de Marco, Zacharie di Ferdinando, Suzann James, Craig James, Laurel McGowan, Martin Quinn, Alannah Robertson, Benjamin Tarlinton, Caitlin Williams, Harley Wilson
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
In Victor Kalka’s adaptation of The Cherry Orchard, we revisit Lyubov Andreyevna’s property and the anxieties surrounding its impending transfer of ownership. This story of old money versus new money, as it relates to the evolution of the Russian economic system just over a hundred years ago, bears themes pertaining to social equality that will always be relevant, but Chekhov’s characters and their idiosyncratic concerns, from 1904, seem to have retained little lustre and resonance. We no longer struggle with the notion of work as virtue, as Chekhov seems to present as the work’s integral assertion. In fact, it can be argued that another point of progress has been reached, where we begin to question that very assumption of honourable labour, that has informed so much of our participation in twentieth-century capitalism.

The production allows us to look back at the dawn of these modern times, to observe the naive optimism with which we regarded that model as mechanism for a redistribution of wealth. We had hoped that the new system would once and for all eradicate poverty, that aristocracy would relent and be relegated to the dustbin of history, but we find ourselves in 2019, talking about the top 1% and trying to solve problems of a similar nature. In addition, as an Australian audience we have to confront the concept of land ownership, as beneficiaries of a cruel and ongoing colonisation, and consider the meaning of resource allocation, when rightful owners of all our wealth are routinely kept deprived and subjugated.

Kalka keeps his show moving swiftly, at a pace suited to our contemporary tastes, although we never get to know any of the twelve personalities sufficiently to really care about their individual or collective predicaments. Performances are uneven but it is, on the whole, an adequate ensemble that has us following the narrative and that helps us gather some of its more intellectual aspects. The production is strangely deficient in eliciting any emotional involvement. Even though relatively vibrant in parts, this iteration of The Cherry Orchard struggles to communicate beyond the cerebral.

When we trust in work, we believe in a system of reward that is intrinsically just. Power imbalances however, will always mean that those who provide labour are constantly under the control of those who pay the wages. In order that we may feel fairly rewarded, we need extensive knowledge about resource distribution, but it is precisely this information that is rigorously kept behind closed doors. We are made to believe that we are given what we deserve, and we are taught to accept class and wealth distinctions, so that we accept our lot as somehow natural, and keep working in accordance with rules that only favour those on top. Perhaps the optimism in The Cherry Orchard is indication that big changes do occur, that a revolution, as impossible as it may seem in our indoctrinated minds, will arrive one day.

www.chippenstreet.com | www.virginiaplaintheatre.com

5 Questions with Reza Momenzada and Michelle Ny

Reza Momenzada

Michelle Ny: What is the one piece of advice you’d tell your 10 year old self?
Reza Momenzada: I would tell myself to never give up on my dreams. Never ever. Never lose hope and never stop trying. It’s something that I probably wouldn’t have understood straight away but I would’ve definitely understood later and used for the rest of my life. It’s something I’m still struggling with, perhaps because I didn’t get that advice when I was ten.

You’re stuck on a desert island and you only have three movies to watch for the rest of your desert island life. What would they be?
If you had said a TV show I would’ve said Friends. I’d never get tired of it!

I think the performance that Heath Ledger gave as the Joker in The Dark Knight is something out of this world. Something that’ll never be repeated again. And it just shows what an actor is capable of doing once they’re fully committed to the role.

Django Unchained. Everything about this movie is just perfect, especially the performances DiCaprio and Christopher Waltz give. They’re the kind of actors whose performances just keep getting better and better.

And The Kite Runner. I’m not gonna tell you what it’s about and why I like it so much. I invite you to watch it, then you’ll know.

Describe your life when you are 60 years old in one sentence.
I’m retired, living with my beautiful wife in a big house surrounded by our children and grandchildren.

What is your favourite food and why?
There’s a dish called Kabuli/Quabili Palaw. It’s the most popular dish in Afghanistan (one might even say it’s the national dish). It consists of steamed rice mixed with fried raisins, carrots, orange peel strips with pistachios and almonds. It’s made with slow cooked lamb that’s placed in the middle of all this delicious mix. My mouth is already watering! Although right now I love anything that my wife makes and I prefer it to anything else.

What is your favourite line in Gloria?
“Why are we like this?” It’s probably the shortest line in the play but I think has a lot of meaning. It’s a question that I think the writer wants us to ask ourselves. Hopefully we can find the answer to it. I won’t say which character says it, when or why do they say it. If you’re reading this, come see the play and you’ll find out.

Michelle Ny

Reza Momenzada: You play two different characters in Gloria. In what ways are these characters similar to you?
Michelle Ny: Okay, Kendra is kind of a mean person who wouldn’t give a second thought to throw someone under a bus to get what she wants, but what I really connect with her ambition. She is highly ambitious and driven, and will do whatever it takes to be successful in her career. She’s also very honest and sometimes can be a bit hurtful. I’ve definitely learnt the hard way about being too honest with people and others reading it as being bitchy, but I’d rather just say what I mean than giving a white lie to make someone feel better. Jenna is a smaller character but, in a sense, much the same as Kendra — i.e. a power bitch.

What’s the most exciting thing for you about this play or the characters you portray?
Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ writing is so incredible; I love discovering more things about it every day. Half of the characters are nasty to each other but I think/hope you fall in love with them because of their desire and ambition of success in their industry. And, also, how good is a spat when you have juicy, well written text? And some side trivia, the play used to have the subtitle after Gloria: ‘Or Ambition’.

And what’s the most challenging?
Definitely the amount of talking I do and justifying taking all this time and space for my opinions. Sometimes I hear myself speak halfway through some big text and I think “IS MY VOICE ANNOYING?”, but that’s probably just my anxiety talking plus my own need to work on justifying my character’s beliefs in what she’s saying and really wanting to make the other characters in the play believe it too.

What’s the rehearsal process been like so far, working with Alex Berlage [the director] and everyone else in the room?
Everyone is so, so, so great; I feel spoilt. Alex is a wonderful director who makes the room feel really safe and super fun as well! I love his process of asking heaps of questions after we’ve run a section of the piece so we’re thoroughly detailing every moment. I also love talking so much shit at Rowan Witt (Dean). It’s so much fun to play an awful character and know we can both berate each other without actually hurting the other actor’s feelings (or so I hope, hehe.)

Is acting something you always wanted to pursue as a career and, if so, when did you realise this? If not, how did you discover your passion for acting?
I actually wanted to become a ballet dancer! I danced ballet for 14 years, so I did drama in high school to help with acting when I was dancing and from there, fell in love with it. I was really lucky to be a part of Long Cloud Youth Theatre in New Zealand where the artistic director, Willem Wassenaar, truly changed my life by really believing in the power of young people telling stories.

Reza Momenzada and Michelle Ny can be seen in Gloria, by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins.
Dates: 6 – 22 Jun, 2019
Venue: Seymour Centre

Review: Necrophilia (Jackrabbit Theatre)

Venue: Limelight on Oxford (Darlinghurst NSW), May 22 – Jun 1, 2019
Playwright: Lincoln Vickery
Director: Lincoln Vickery
Cast: Adam Sollis, Ariadne Sgouros, Jack Scott, Emma O’Sullivan
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Amanda works as an undertaker, preparing the dead for funerals, but because of her peculiar penchant for sex with cadavers, things get complicated. Lincoln Vickery’s Necrophilia is a comedy that capitalises, predictably, on our awkwardness about the subject. Although thankfully not an exploitative work, Vickery’s focus on the idea of Amanda’s repentance and rehabilitation, seems a lost opportunity for a more philosophical or sociological approach to discussing a taboo of which, on the surface, “nobody gets hurt”.

In spite of the inherently morbid theme, Vickery’s direction gives us a show that feels like a regular romantic comedy. In the absence of intellectual rigour, we are offered instead, some depth of emotion by actor Ariadne Sgouros, whose depiction of Amanda’s struggles brings valuable dimension to the production. Sgouros’ comedy can be slightly obvious at times, but her conviction as performer is admirable. Playing love interest is Adam Sollis, whose ability for nuance in a simple part is noteworthy, able to introduce a quotient of sophistication to the experience. Jack Scott and Emma O’Sullivan round up the cast, both performers effortlessly funny, and confident, in their respective supporting roles.

There seems always to be something unusual about each person’s sexual proclivities; we are all unique beings with individual quirks. Of course, we draw the line at consent, and it is in our incessant arguments about the nature of consent, that the real drama occurs. A dead person is unable to give consent, but a corpse is clearly not the same as a human being. If we think of it as an object, we have to confront the idea that at some stage, it could be treated as less than sacred. We then come to an analysis of whether sex can be anything other than sacred or profane, in these dissections of libidinous activities and body parts. That we can be so uptight and hung up on these subjects only reveals the parts of ourselves that are as yet unevolved, but if we let art do its job, we can be hopeful that it will show the way to enlightenment.

www.jackrabbittheatre.com | www.limelightonoxford.com.au

Review: Normal (The Uncertainty Principle / The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), May 29 – Jun 15, 2019
Playwright: Katie Pollock
Director: Anthony Skuse
Cast: Chika Ikogwe, Alexandra Morgan, Cecilia Morrow, Finley Penrose
Images by James Balian

Theatre review
Teenager Poppy’s eyes begin to twitch one day, and before too long her entire being spasms, to the extent that she passes out in public without warning. It appears a disease has taken hold, one of a mysterious nature that compels all around her to formulate narratives, to impose judgement upon the young woman’s body. When the same symptoms are seen in her school friends, this spreading of an unexplained phenomenon, fractures Poppy’s community, with people seeing only difference of opinion, and not what binds them together. Katie Pollock’s Normal is an intriguing work, because it allows for ambiguity, even though its expressions are passionate. Poppy’s resistance of definition, of not wanting to be pinned down, is a tale about female bodily integrity. It refuses to fit into a structure that would make us comfortable, for its autonomy comes before our conventional stipulations.

Normal‘s politics are never obvious, but director Anthony Skuse makes sure that it speaks with an incontrovertible urgency. The ensemble of four conspire to deliver something quite intense, with Alexandra Morgan’s turn as Poppy bringing a satisfying mix of youthful innocence and exuberance to the play. Chika Ikogwe is wonderful in a variety of roles, always a striking presence, yet marvellously persuasive with her naturalistic style of presentation. Cecilia Morrow and Finley Penrose too are effective in the show, both infectious with their zeal and conviction.

The production is cleverly designed, with Kelsey Lee’s lights monitoring proceedings through a combined sense of dynamism and sensitivity, and her set providing an elegant visual cohesion to the many short scenes that comprise the plot. Sound by Cluny Edwards is imaginative, with a distinctive kooky edge, able to facilitate unexpected dimensions for the story and its characters.

One of the most dangerous things that could happen to society as we know it, is for women to reject any attempts to control our bodies. The radical notion that we can do what we want with our lives and with our corporeality, goes against so much of what constitutes the fundamental building blocks of what we are. Old religions and other old patriarchies require our subjugation and capitulation, so to have women take charge of our own destinies, can only mean devastation to life as we know it, which is absolutely a future to look forward to.

www.old505theatre.com

Review: Mercury Fur (Kings Cross Theatre)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), May 24 – Jun 8, 2019
Playwright: Philip Ridley
Director: Kim Hardwick
Cast: Janet Anderson, Danny Ball, Lucia May, Romy Bartz, Meg Clarke, Party Guest, Jack Walton, Michael McStay
Images by Jasmine Simmons

Theatre review
Civilisation is all but wiped out, in Philip Ridley’s Mercury Fur. Out of the rubble are remaining humans trying to get on with things, holding on to memories of more coherent times, so that they can try to make some sense of the meaningless now. Brothers Elliot and Darren are party planners, for a sordid event about to take place. The host’s requirements are absolutely immoral, but at a time like this, nothing should matter anymore. Yet a struggle remains, as we watch the siblings unable to come to terms with what they had agreed to undertake.

Surreal and very dark, Ridley’s play seems intent on shocking its viewer, as is typical of British “in-yer-face theatre” two decades ago. Director Kim Hardwick’s approach is more considered, for a staging that abhors cheap effects, working instead to find, within a conceit of extreme depravity, only the truth about our humanity. Early portions of the show are, as a result, perhaps too sedate, but there is no doubt that when the stakes are raised, the story becomes effortlessly gripping.

The actors are excellent, all of them distinctive and memorable in their respective parts. Josh McElroy is particularly impressive as Party Guest, the worst kind of bad guy, completely despicable, but made thoroughly entertaining by McElroy’s uninhibited portrayal. Also remarkable is Meg Clarke, luminous as the painfully innocent Naz, caught up in a filthy world, desperate for acceptance, and ending up in a treacherous crossfire.

Most of us go about our daily lives, pretending that evil does not exist. We have to believe in the best of people, if we wish for an opportunity to thrive. Evil is real however, and in Mercury Fur we see the way it manifests when untethered. In an apocalyptic aftermath, there is momentum for destruction to keep its pace, until one meets utter annihilation. Resilience is also real, and many of us will know to pick up the pieces, and build again. The extinction of our species is entirely possible, although our instinctual rejection of that truth, might be able to keep us hanging on for some time longer.

www.hbrcreatives.com.au | www.whiteboxtheatre.com.au

Review: Extinction Of The Learned Response (Glitterbomb / 25A Belvoir)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), May 7 – 25, 2019
Playwright: Emme Hoy
Director: Carissa Licciardello
Cast: Tel Benjamin, Sarah Meacham, Eddie Orton, Jennifer Rani
Images by Jasmin Simmons

Theatre review
Duncan and Marlow are running an unauthorised, and unethical, experiment. They have two mysterious subjects held captive in their laboratory, undergoing a gruelling training regime to appear more convincingly human. Rachel and Wells have problems mastering the most basic of social skills, and we are kept wondering about their natural form; they may look human, but the playwright Emme Hoy wants us to look deeper into who these people are inside, or if indeed, they are people at all. Essentially a work of science fiction, Extinction Of The Leaned Response does ultimately ask some worthwhile questions, but its intrigue is too mild, and its plot too hesitant, to be sufficiently provocative.

The show is moody, and adequately suspenseful, thanks in large measure to Ben Pierpoint’s genre specific sounds and Kelsey Lee’s adventurous lights. There is however a circumvention of the bizarre and absurd, in favour of naturalism, by director Carissa Licciardello, that seems a missed opportunity. An air of placidity provides sophistication to proceedings, but the story’s cruel circumstance calls for something more heightened that could make for a more satisfying theatricality.

Actors Sarah Meacham and Eddie Orton are fascinating as the test subjects, both effective in engaging our imagination. Undeterred by the abstruseness of their material, Meacham and Orton find ways to vitalise their parts, making Rachel and Wells memorable, and strangely charming. Tel Benjamin and Jennifer Rani play the dubious researchers, with excessive restraint perhaps, but are nevertheless entertaining performers with excellent conviction.

As humans, we are eternally enthralled by our own nature. Always seeking to define humanity, we constantly find new ways to understand ourselves, not only because of an indubitable narcissism, but also as a means to interact with the larger universe. When one wishes to make the world a better place, it is necessary to know deeply the self, before one should begin imposing on others. In their efforts to discover bigger truths however, the researchers in Extinction Of The Leaned Response commit transgressions that are horribly egregious. There can be no end to knowledge, but to recognise right from wrong, is a fundamental principle that must not be compromised.

www.dasglitterbomb.com | www.belvoir.com.au

Review: Blood On The Cat’s Neck (Montague Basement)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), May 22 – Jun 1, 2019
Playwright: Rainer Werner Fassbinder (translated by Denis Calandra)
Director: Saro Lusty-Cavallari
Cast: Alex Chalwell, Jack Crumlin, Jemwel Danao, Deng Deng, Laura Djanegara, Deborah Galanos, Alice Keohavong, Emma Kew, Brendan Miles, Annie Stafford
Images by Zaina Ahmed

Theatre review
Phoebe Zeitgeist is an alien. She arrives disguised as a human, infiltrating what we might consider normal life, and learns to assume our behaviour. Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Blood On The Cat’s Neck from 1971 might also be seen as a work about artificial intelligence, with Phoebe Zeitgeist a kind of technology, a robot perhaps, who disrupts our existence, gradually forming sentience within our midst, and eventually able to outsmart us. There is undeniable anxiety in Blood On The Cat’s Neck, whether relating to a certain perilous quality of our social interactions, or that increasing unease about being overcome by technology.

The abstract nature of Fassbinder’s writing provides a basis on which director Saro Lusty-Cavallari builds an immersive experience for his rendition of Blood On The Cat’s Neck. In the decadent surrounds of a bordello themed bar, we find ten performers scattered, as we are, floating in space with no designated stage and few allocated seats to keep us anchored. Scenes unfold one at a time, and we trace the action, eavesdropping in plain sight as though we too are aliens, scrambling to make heads and tails out of information dispensed mid-conversation, with little context for convenient comprehension.

The 70-minute show does however bear a coherent structure; a beginning, a middle and an end for a familiar flow that offers a sense of security. Hints of drama throughout help to sustain our interest, but its middle section feels repetitive and long, and we find ourselves occasionally disengaging from the artists, perhaps choosing instead to observe the more general goings on. As Phoebe Zeitgeist examines one character after another, we are on the outside, secretly scrutinising fellow audience members, as though all are curious.

A strong cast is assembled for the piece, with each personality bearing a distinct individual essence that accrue an air of gravity, that gives fortification to the production’s experimental style. Sophie Pekbilimli’s lighting design is a highlight, sensual and stealthy, rendered with a light touch that demonstrates artistic confidence. Costumes by Grace Deacon are cleverly coordinated, to depict character types, and to deliver charming imagery. Lusty-Cavallari’s sounds keep us on the right track, so that our interpretations are kept within parameters, as is our visceral experience of his unique kinetic theatricality.

Phoebe Zeitgeist’s convincing otherness is derived from her fictitious-ness. Technology on the other hand, cannot be divorced from its creator; it and us are one. The post-human story contained in Blood On The Cat’s Neck is frightening, because we know the worst of ourselves, and it requires no great stretch of imagination to see it manifested in robots. If artificial intelligence does eventually overwhelm us, we will recognise ourselves in them, and perhaps come to an understanding that evolution will take us on its natural course, and move us beyond a biology that will conceivably turn defunct. Mainstream culture has little appreciation for notions of everlasting life, but maybe we will grow smarter, and develop a new consciousness where we can find heaven, even if it lives inside a machine.

www.montaguebasement.com