Review: August: Osage County (New Theatre)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Jun 6 – Jul 7, 2018
Playwright: Tracy Letts
Director: Louise Fischer
Cast: Adrian Adam, James Bean, Kirra Farquharson, Peter Flett, Jake Fryer-Hornsby, Brett Heath, Lynden Jones, Sonya Kerr, Alice Livingstone, Amy Scott-Smith, Helen Stuart, Emilia Stubbs Grigoriou, Emily Weare
Image by Bob Seary

Theatre review
The Westons are a dysfunctional family, of troubled individuals with a penchant for intoxication. There are no real problems that we can deduce, except that their home seems loveless, and each person bears, with great reluctance, a sense of onerous responsibility, where genuine care and affection are often conspicuously missing. There is also the issue of wealth in their story. Unlike the rest of us, these personalities seem to have no cares in the real world. Without any worries about putting food on tables, or securing roofs over heads, it begins to make sense that their anxieties are centred, and inflated, around their dissatisfaction with one another.

Tracy Letts’ August:Osage County is an entertaining work, that offers sadistic pleasures through its flamboyant portrayals, of women suffering emotional torment. Its low stakes give us permission to indulge in their dramatic exchanges, allowing us to watch gleefully, as rich white folk scream at each other, over not very much at all. While not altogether vapid, the play is ultimately lightweight, in spite of the incessant anguish that it endeavours to explore.

Directed by Louise Fischer, the production is appropriately extravagant with its histrionics, and memorable for the intensity it is able to manufacture, for the play’s unique brand of comic depressiveness. There is little in the Weston household that we can easily empathise with, but opportunities for derision abound. Actors Alice Livingstone and Helen Stuart play the bigger parts, both larger than life and very delightful, with the sensational hysteria that they bring to the stage. Also very charming is Kirra Farquharson whose refreshing naturalism introduces a quotient of valuable authenticity to proceedings, and Emily Weare whose nuances are as pertinent as they are captivating.

August:Osage County may not be an instalment of the Real Housewives franchise, but like the best in the tv genre of “scripted reality”, it delivers a series of spectacular conflict that undeniably amuses and enthrals. It may not be at its most satisfying when it attempts to offer depth and insight to the human condition, but the theatrical thrills that it provides, is quite remarkable.

www.newtheatre.org.au

Review: Mut (Motimaru Dance Company)

Venue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Jun 6 – 10, 2018
Direction, Concept, Choreography, Dance: Tiziana Longo
Images by Yvonne Hartmann, Hiroshi Makino

Theatre review
The performance begins with a melange of sound clips from news reports all over the world, in a range of languages, many of which are foreign and incomprehensible, but there is no mistaking the gravity in every voice. Hidemi Nishida’s set design is a grand creation, formed entirely of newspaper and adhesive tape; we are drowned in the stuff, dreadfully familiar yet seductive. A figure starts to move, and a pile of discarded news begins to take human form.

Tiziana Longo’s dance presentation, Mut, can be seen as a discussion about society and culture’s prolonged and incessant attack on womanhood, with particular attention on the female body and its garments. We can also bring an interpretation to the work, that is concerned with information from the media, and the futile struggle in trying to locate truth among a barrage of commercial and political interests from the publishing world. It is a timely work, and as such, Mut touches a nerve.

The music, by Hoshiko Yamane, is sensational, incredibly dramatic in its expressions of a realm that is darkly foreboding in its psyche. Longo’s choreography is liberated, lavishly imagined, with a sense of dystopian glamour that produces breathtaking imagery, rarefied and captivating, although not always sufficiently thought-provoking. As performer, Longo’s presence can seem incongruously ethereal in sections that require something more grotesque, but when the heavy costumes are eventually shed, Longo brings her show to a conclusion that is as affecting as it is unpredictable.

We live in a civilisation where men feel entitled to grab pussies at will, so it should come as no surprise to realise that women are constantly berated for how we look. No matter what kind of body we inhabit, or how we choose to dress, it is always open season on those of the female gender. In a world where we can do no right, it is a wonder that so many of us should remain conditioned in our insatiable need to please.

www.motimarubutohdance.com

Review: Wyrd: The Season Of The Witch (Ninefold / PACT)

Venue: PACT Centre for Emerging Artists (Erskineville NSW), Jun 20 – 30, 2018
Playwright: adapted from William Shakespeare’s Macbeth
Director: Shy Magsalin
Cast: Aslam Abdus-samad, Erica J Brennan, Jessica Dalton, Victoria Greiner, Matthew Heys, Melissa Hume, Paul Musumeci, Gideon Payten-Griffiths, Shane Russon, Brigid Vidler, Tabitha Woo, Luke Yager, Stella Ye
Images by Liam O’Keefe

Theatre review
Wyrd is a reconstitution of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, in which the eponymous character is now a woman. Also, she no longer has a wife to blame her misdeeds on, only a coven of witches that proves to have a more intimate relationship with Macbeth than we had previously known. The conflation of dialogue originally held by the separate entities of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, depicts a new personality that suddenly seems more believable than before. Her duplicitous nature now conveys an honesty that allows us to relate more closely with her circumstances; the ambition and guilt that define her story, increase in pertinence, since we are no longer able to perceive her sins as diffused and shared responsibility.

The production is wonderfully moody, with Liam O’Keefe’s lights and Melanie Herbert’s music providing a waking nightmare in which the action takes place. Director Shy Magsalin’s work with the ensemble is intricate and dynamic, not always elegant, but certainly very exciting at moments of high energy and sheer terror.

The trio of witches, performed by Aslam Abdus-samad, Erica J Brennan and Paul Musumeci, are thoroughly delightful, impressive with the taut cohesiveness of their offering. Gideon Payten-Griffiths appears late in the piece as Hecate to steal the show, completely mesmerising with the bold avant-garde sensibility that he brings to the stage. The inventiveness with his physicality and voice is quite extraordinary, and the show is elevated at a crucial moment, to give us some very special theatre. Macbeth, known only as Our Lady, is played by Victoria Greiner, not quite as flamboyant, but with more than enough conviction to make invigorating, this centuries-old story.

The Western patriarchal canon so powerfully instilled in us, refuses to be ignored. We can try to pretend to forget everything and foster some sort of replacement, or we can look for means of subversion that can assist with our progress. Reshaping Shakespeare to suit our times, will always contribute to the reaffirmation of his position of dominance, but when we are resolved to decipher the myriad problems of our indoctrination, we can begin to introduce meaningful transformation to how we see the world. Our master’s voice is hard to eliminate, but finding ways to expose his faults, can help set us free.

www.ninefoldensemble.com

Review: Snap*Click*Shot (Karul Projects)

Venue: PACT Centre for Emerging Artists (Erskineville NSW), May 25 – Jun 2, 2018
Choreographer and composer: Thomas E.S. Kelly
Cast: Jessica Holman, Thomas E.S. Kelly, Libby Montilla, Amalie Obitz, Taree Sansbury, Kassidy Waters

Theatre review
Accompanying the dance, is a recorded narration about ecology. It provides an Indigenous perspective on our relationship with the environment, particularly memorable for its musings about our responsibilities as custodians of the planet. The message in Thomas E.S. Kelly’s Snap*Click*Shot is sombre, but unifying.

The bodies in motion are simultaneously human and animal, soil and vegetation; the false points of demarcation that separate us are dissolved, for an expression of our existence that is all-encompassing. This is a summation of events that sounds excessively romantic, but when immersed, the show feels authentic, convincing in its depiction of nature as wholistic and incontrovertibly linked to the human experience.

Kelly’s work, as choreographer and composer, is sensitive yet disciplined, elegant yet dynamic. His ability to place in tandem opposing qualities, the hard with the soft, creates a sense of drama that keeps us engaged. It is a strong team of dancers, extraordinarily cohesive, and impressive in their familiarity with Kelly’s idiosyncratic physical language. Their presentation is confident, and very well-rehearsed, with an inexhaustible vigour that fills the auditorium. Costumes and lights are however, inadequately conceived, resulting in imagery that is needlessly monochromatic and repetitive.

At the production’s conclusion, we congregate in a circle, eyes closed, sharing in a moment of silent meditation. Our insecurities from being exposed thus, reach for reassurance, and we find camaraderie in that unusual instance of connection. We often think of independence as a virtue, but it is a falsehood to conceive of any life detached. It is vanity that separates, and narcissism that fuels oppression. The simple exercise of acknowledging others as equals will solve many problems, but we rarely rise to that challenge.

www.karulprojects.com

Review: Arthur & Marilyn (Dinosaurus Productions)

Venue: Blood Moon Theatre (Potts Point NSW), May 29 – Jun 2, 2018
Playwright: Jasper Lee-Lindsay
Director: Danen Young
Cast: Meg Hyeronimus, Alec Ebert

Theatre review
Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller, both legends in their own right, are significant not only for the work they had left behind, but as is typical of bona fide celebrities, their personal stories, whether real or fabricated, determine how we remember them generations on. The couple fell in and out of love, against the romantic backdrop of Hollywood in the 1950s. In Jasper Lee-Lindsay’s Arthur & Marilyn, each party is risen from the dead, and the consummate storytellers are called upon to give us their version of that famous love affair.

Dialogue is scintillating in the two-hander, with an admirable authenticity to its depiction of a lulling time and space that has us fascinated and seduced. Actors Meg Hyeronimus and Alec Ebert are an enchanting pair, accurate in voice and physicality for a convincing portrayal of mid-century America. Hyeronimus is wonderful as Marilyn, conveying not only the iconic vulnerable glamour that most of us are familiar with, but also adding a dimension of wilfulness and confidence that makes this iteration seem, perhaps strangely, even more genuine than the original.

The plot of Arthur & Marilyn is imperfect, unable to cultivate an emotional journey with enough potency that can live up to the sentimental value we hold for its subject matter, but levels of intensity for the production, is cleverly controlled by director Danen Young, and our attention is sustained to the end.

Relationships can be kept beautiful, if we are able to concede when their time is up. Longevity of marriages are venerated in polite society, but like so much of life, we learn ultimately that it is the quality, and not quantity, of things that should be valued. Monroe and Miller never had a “happily ever after”, but the many sweet moments that they did have together, represent their very best days on earth.

www.bloodmoontheatre.com | www.facebook.com/DinosaurusProd

Review: Twilight (Motimaru Dance Company)

Venue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), May 29 – Jun 3, 2018
Direction, Concept, Choreography, Dance: Motoya Kondo, Tiziana Longo
Image by Johan Planefeldt

Theatre review
The initial image is of one organism, but our logic soon determines that there are two human bodies on stage. Although nothing is explained by Motoya Kondo and Tiziana Longo, it is probably inevitable that we should interpret their work as a representation of the human experience. We connect with the flesh on display, instinctively thinking that the expressions are about us. Strange as they may be, the movement and shapes evoke a familiarity, perhaps talking about the universal sensation of internal conflict that can arise at any moment within any person, or the eternal difficulties of maintaining relationships.

What we think about Twilight is informed, of course, by what we see. The two bodies convulse and glide, they tear apart, or they cling on for dear life. We may find ourselves forming meanings as a voluntary response to the dance, but it is when we are lured into meditation, observing with no appraisal, that the show is at its most potent. Transcendence on this occasion, is a collaborative art form, with Hoshiko Yamane’s music playing a vital role, alongside Kondo and Longo’s choreography and lighting design. The mesmerising juxtaposition of dynamism and stillness, a hallmark of the Butoh discipline, casts a spell and keeps us engaged throughout the piece.

It is an illusion of separateness that is distinct in Twilight. Quite literally joined at the hip, Kondo and Longo have made themselves appear exactly the same, yet they depict a sense of resistance toward one another, so that harmony is only ever a temporary notion. We wish for unity, but our appetite for discordance seems as natural as breath. It is as though, peace had always existed, but we fail to recognise it, and we make all go to war to find it.

www.motimarubutohdance.com

5 Questions with Alison Bennett and Kate Walder

Alison Bennett

Kate Walder: What is your favourite aspect of devising theatre?
Alison Bennett: A bit like when we had lunch today. We peer into each other’s hearts and it’s so pure and it’s the best and the worst of people. I can honestly say that the best moments of my life happen in a rehearsal room. More than performance. I fall in love with the artists and it hurts when it ends. I discover what I think and what I feel and I learn to humbly listen. I know I sound ridiculous but it’s true.

What inspired you and Hurrah Hurrah to create this show?
The Roomba Robotic vacuum cleaner I saw at my brother’s house. More broadly I guess it’s the driving question I have about how do average people, you and me, change the world? That literally keeps me up at night. So when I see an image that I find fascinating, in this case it was my brother introducing his daughter to the Roomba, I just dig in deep and all roads lead back to a similar question which is how do WE – you and I – face ourselves.

Where do you think we go when we die?
Oh my. I don’t know. This show has made me genuinely conflicted about my own beliefs. I don’t know if we continue or if we simply end. I might say however that heaven and hell… nonsense.

Do you think humans will always be able to control AI?
Nope. Without being grim, I think our ego has set us up for self-destruction.

What is the most ridiculous thing you have ever done for the sake of convenience?
That might be ordering dinner from an Uber so I didn’t have to walk the take away home. OMG. It’s awful.

Do you think robots will take over the world?
I think robots will infiltrate our everyday, in the sense that they will become an accepted aspect of our existence. We already know that many industries will become automated, but what will be interesting is whether Artificial Intelligence runs away with itself and surpasses our ability to control it.

Kate Walder

Alison Bennett: Would you ever buy a Roomba Robotic vacuum cleaner?
Kate Walder: Would now because they have so much personality! Not only do they clean your house, they basically double as automated waiters for light objects like beer or your toothbrush. They would also be quite useful as transport for recalcitrant infants.

Why do you think clowning is an exciting performance style?
I adore clown. The whole concept of being brave but fallible, playing with the audience but accepting the flop, being vulnerable and yet a complete idiot is so freeing and honest. It also allows the actors to address a complex issue with the beautiful simplicity of a child, which is often where the most acute observations are made.

How would you describe your attitude to death in 3 words?
Mildly avoidant. Flabbergasted. Metaphysical. Oops that’s 4.

Are you afraid of dying?
I find it hard to answer that question. I can’t imagine what it must be like to face your own death. I don’t think anyone can know until they get there. I wonder about the circumstances and hope it won’t be tragic. I hope I won’t be alone. I hope I will be taken care of. I accept there will be pain but I hope there will be dignity. For now, the fear is not knowing.

Alison Bennett and Kate Walder are appearing in Roomba Nation.
Dates: 4 – 21 July, 2018
Venue: The Old 505 Theatre