Review: Aspects Of Love (Hayes Theatre)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), Nov 22 – Dec 30, 2018
Book: Andrew Lloyd Webber (based on the novella by David Garnett)
Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics: Don Black, Charles Hart
Director: Andrew J. Bevis
Cast: Finn Alexander, Hugh Barrington, Caitlin Berry, Ava Carmont, Annelise Hall, Christopher Hamilton, Jonathan Hickey, David Hooley, Stefanie Jones, Megan Kozak, Wendy Lee Purdy, Michaela Leisk, Matthew Manahan, Sam Marques, Grant Smith
Images by David Hooley

Theatre review
Rose and Alex have an unconventional romance, with each other as constants, but also involving several other people who weave through over the years, to test traditionally held notions of love. David Garnett’s 1955 novella Aspects Of Love is a seductive work, with intentions for a refreshed sense of modernity, but Andrew Lloyd Webber’s clumsy adaptation turns the story into an absurd one, with abrupt renderings that in effect, ridicule its characters and alienate its audience. The opening song “Love Changes Everything”, a legitimate hit from the composer’s heyday, is characteristically schmaltzy, but other tunes are even less appealing, in a show that disappoints from the very beginning.

Although unable to surmount the astonishingly poor writing, this production, directed by Andrew J. Bevis, is assembled with an admirable polish. Tim Chappel’s costumes and Steven Smith’s set design are particularly charming, with John Rayment’s lights helping to provide a visual sophistication to the bewildering goings on. Performers are similarly accomplished, with leading lady Caitlin Berry introducing a high level of professionalism as Rose, to keep us secure in her unwavering and impeccable stage savvy. Alex is played by Jonathan Hickey, convincing as the 17-year-old ingénue, but who gradually loses his grip on the material as the role progresses into maturity. Stefanie Jones is memorable as Giulietta, spirited and alluring in a role that otherwise makes little sense.

At the heart of Aspects Of Love is a wonderful tale that challenges the way we look at our world. Its women are free, able to fall without explanation, time and time again, for friends and lovers all through their lives. They experience marriage, but remain unencumbered. Rose chooses the right husband, who helps her grow beyond the prescribed and parochial, never ceasing to flourish, forever expanding, in both professional and personal terms. The musical however, fails to encapsulate that majesty, instead it deflates and diminishes, with an insistence that all should yield to a perspective that is ultimately pedestrian, and incapable of inspiration.

www.hayestheatre.com.au

Review: Marbles (Crying Chair Theatre)

Venue: The Actors Pulse (Redfern NSW), Nov 21 – Dec 1, 2018
Playwright: Kate Wyvill
Director: Christine Greenough
Cast: Richard Cotter, Emma Dalton, Melissa Day, Sarah Plummer, Tricia Youlden
Images by Ben Prats

Theatre review
Stanley’s Alzheimer’s disease has advanced to a stage where he is completely incoherent and no longer able to communicate. His original intentions, made in no uncertain terms, of wishing to undergo euthanasia, is of course highly contentious in a country where assisted dying remains illegal. In Kate Wyvill’s Marbles, Stanley’s three daughters wrestle with the prospect of having to fulfil an agreement that now seems too hard to contemplate. Unlike issues around birth, topics dealing with death are rarely spoken of. Australians gladly own up to being less than delicate, and although not generally a prudish culture, bereavement is certainly not a subject we are comfortable with.

Wyvill’s play offers a point of discussion that our society needs. Some of the writing requires a little refining, but the questions that it prompts are urgent ones that affect us all deeply. Directed by Christine Greenough, it is an appropriately thought-provoking production, even if its rendering of humour often feels underwhelming. Actor Richard Cotter brings dignity to the ailing Stanley, along with a quirky vibrancy that proves appealing. Caregiver Natasha is played by Sarah Plummer, who offers a valuable accuracy to the complicated emotions that are at stake. Her convincing portrayal of the long suffering daughter injects heart and soul, to a story that benefits from its sentimentality.

Marble‘s explorations into end of life decisions are made even more complex by Stanley’s energetic disposition. We are confronted with the vision of a very sick man unaware of his own suffering, and as he goes about blissfully ignorant of his own dementia, we have to think about the right thing to do on his behalf. It is evident that achieving consensus on the matter right now is unlikely, but to talk about death, and to build structures as a community that will support that inevitability, is absolutely necessary.

www.cryingchairtheatreco.com

Review: Broadway Bound (New Theatre)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Nov 13 – Dec 15, 2018
Playwright: Neil Simon
Director: Rosane McNamara
Cast: Les Asmussen, Patrick Holman, Brett Heath, Suzann James, Susan Jordan, Simon Lee
Images by Chris Lundie

Theatre review
Brothers Eugene and Stanley are comedy writers on the brink of commercial success, close to leaving home for the bright lights of New York City. Their parents’ marriage however, is disintegrating, and in Neil Simon’s Broadway Bound we see members of the Jerome family growing up, including Kate and Jack, who have to come to terms with major transformations taking place in their mature years. The semi-autobiographical play provides a glimpse of America in the middle of last century, with all its post-war optimism and nostalgic charm, but the work has not aged well. Although written only in 1986, its humour already proves tired, and where its themes can seem timeless, the drama is unfortunately lacklustre.

Rosane McNamara’s direction does however, provide us with a prudent amount of theatrical vitality. There is little to be excited about in the writing, but onstage activity is determined to keep us engaged. Actor Simon Lee is especially animated with his performance as Stanley, providing a necessary vigour that wills us into sharing in his character’s idealism. The innocence of younger sibling Eugene is made convincing by wide-eyed Patrick Holman, who demonstrates himself a reliable anchor for the family’s increasingly unstable dynamics. Their long-suffering mother Kate, is elevated by Suzann James’ impressive capacity for nuance, in a rich portrayal that is remarkably well-observed and accurate.

We meet the Jeromes at a moment of chaos, when big changes are underway for each individual. The turmoil signals that life is in motion, that although stability is required for us to thrive, occasional upheaval is necessary, to prevent us from complacent stagnation. Age is only a number, but our mortality is inference that growth and progress are essential to the human experience. If everything stays the same, time bears little meaning. Whether one thinks of time as limited or abundant, there is no denying that to waste it, is an irrevocable blunder.

www.newtheatre.org.au

Review: Company (Limelight On Oxford)

Venue: Limelight on Oxford (Darlinghurst NSW), Nov 14 – Dec 1, 2018
Book: George Furth
Music & Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim
Director: Julie Baz
Cast: Heather Campbell, Maree Cole, Grace Driscoll, Emily Dreyer, Lincoln Elliott, Jacqui Greenfield, Michele Lansdown, Michael McPhee, Alexander Morgan, Bridget Patterson, Brendan Paul, Ileana Pipitone, Marcus Rivera, Richard Woodhouse
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Bobby is celebrating his thirty-fifth birthday, with friends who all appear to be married couples, unable to resist badgering him into finding a wife of his own. Stephen Sondheim’s Company is approaching half a century old, and although its conceit seems archaic, we know that the experience it depicts remains resolutely accurate. People are often unwilling to accept single life as a valid and healthy option, and even though the musical does not portray marriage to be comprehensively wonderful, its insistence that Bobby comes to an acquiescence, in spite of his quite fabulous New York City bachelor existence, is representative of our narrow definitions of identity.

George Furth’s book for the 1970 creation might bear an exasperating plot that does not stand the test of time, but Sondheim’s songs continue to be sublime. Directed by Julie Baz, the production is entertaining and spirited, on a very busy stage that although not always visually appealing, is consistently ebullient, with an ensemble cast full of beans. Leading man Brendan Paul does an adequate job of his singing, but it is his radiant high-wattage smile that really charms. Heather Campbell is deeply impressive as Amy, delivering a rendition of the notoriously difficult “Getting Married Today” at an exceptional standard. Another memorable tune, “The Ladies Who Lunch” is performed by the commanding Michele Lansdown, whose interpretation of the socialite lush Joanne, is a delightful contrast to a lot of the squeaky clean goings on. Also noteworthy are the jubilant musicians that make up a sensational six-piece band, led by Antonio Fernandez whose music direction brings us a great deal of class, through his faithful interpretation of a now nostalgic score.

When Bobby finally admits to his loneliness, we question the veracity of his proclamations, wondering if it is a case of peer pressure leading our protagonist, to invent feelings that are not entirely authentic. Sondheim came out as gay in 1998, at the age of 68. Company is essentially a work he had written about the confirmed bachelor, at a time when his sexuality was in the closet, in which the protagonist’s friends are confounded by his refusal to settle with a woman. The incessant nagging leads to Bobby eventual relenting, not by actually marrying a woman, but by performing a ruse of regret and embarrassment, that many gay people have had to carry out, as a strategy in dealing with the heteronormativity that they inevitably have to contend with. Like many LGBTQ people, Bobby probably feels no need to satisfy those traditional expectations, but a big song and dance is always useful in getting them off our backs.

www.limelightonoxford.com.au

Review: Love (Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

Venue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Nov 17 – Dec 9, 2018
Playwright: Patricia Cornelius
Director: Rachel Chant
Cast: Rose Riley, Anna Samson, Hoa Xuande
Images by Robert Catto

Theatre review
In a polyamorous relationship and loved by two, Annie can sometimes feel like the happiest girl in the world. Often, however, things can get very rough for this nineteen year-old. Both her lovers are addicts, and money from Annie’s sex work seems to go only toward their drug habits. Patricia Cornelius’ Love is a portrait of broken lives failing to find salvation from romantic union. It dispels the myth that love will save the day, revealing instead the way we bring our damage into relationships, more likely to tarnish the other, than to attain a miraculous harmony that we all crave.

We watch as flaws of the three compound, each person bringing increasing misery to the others, with Annie’s suffering especially severe as a result of this toxic merger of lost souls. Magnificent direction by Rachel Chant turns this desolate tale into incredibly compelling theatre; even if the personalities feel far removed from our middle class realities, Chant’s exhilarating rigour from beginning to end, insists on our engagement. Design elements are cleverly imagined, by the wonderfully concordant trio of Ella Butler (set), Nate Edmondson (sound) and Sian James-Holland (lights), for a production rich and sophisticated in its impact.

Actor Rose Riley is sensational as Annie, bold and very powerful in her depiction of premature womanhood. No longer naive but still heartbreakingly innocent, Riley’s ability to convey dignity for a character suffering piteous circumstances, is remarkable. The morally confused Tanya is given palpable complexity by Anna Samson, who convinces us quite astonishingly, of a destructive nature that seems unaware of its own capacity for evil. Lorenzo is a user with no real redeeming features, a simpler role performed with brilliant exuberance, and made thoroughly entertaining, by Hoa Xuande. Timing and chemistry between all performers, whether as a “throuple” or in assorted pairs, are marvellously harnessed for a relentlessly provocative show.

There is no right way to be in love, no matter what religions or other experts might say. We watch Annie, Tanya and Lorenzo go about their painful business, wondering if they had been better off separate, but we arrive at no conclusive answer. As the saying goes, “hurt people hurt people,” and when we think nothing good can come out of dysfunctional partnerships, we have to remember that loneliness is by definition unbearable, and most of us will enter into arrangements against better judgement, for no other reason than that we are human. The mind is rarely a match for the heart, or to coin another cliché “the heart wants what the heart wants”. Romance will make us suffer its consequences, but to deprive oneself of it, is no less tormenting.

www.darlinghursttheatre.com

Review: The Serpent’s Teeth (Kings Cross Theatre)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Nov 9 – 24, 2018
Playwright: Daniel Keene
Director: Kristine Landon-Smith
Cast: Danny Ball, Bernadette Fam, Phoebe Grainer, Nicholas Hasemann, Lisa Huyhn, Badaidilaga Maftuh-Flynn, Steven Menteith, Jillian Nguyen, Angela Sullen, Jens Radda, Joseph Raggatt, Saleh Saqqaf, Chloe Schwank, Louis Segeuir, Ross Sharp
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
The two very distinct halves of Daniel Keene’s The Serpent’s Teeth, contrast the repercussions of war and violence, as characterised by their distance from actual conflict. The play begins close to the action, and later takes us away from the borders, for a sensitive examination of human responses to trauma. Appropriately fractured, the writing bears an inherent chaos that understands our impulse to create cohesion out of disorder. We form narratives out of the rubble, to see both the familiar and the unfamiliar, although it is arguable if much of it proves to be satisfying.

In a small space that effectively magnifies creative intentions, the large cast of fifteen endeavour to represent the complexities and diversity of war-time experiences, by conveying nuanced portrayals usually absent from mainstream reportage of disaster and strife. Director Kristine Landon-Smith elicits contemplative performances from her actors, for a show though not always engaging, is dignified in its determination to maintain a restrained, rather than sensationalist, approach. Rare dramatic outbursts therefore become memorable, with Phoebe Grainer and Jillian Nguyen particularly strong in their theatrical moments, offering us a taste of something slightly indulgent, and therefore emotionally accessible.

All the people in The Serpent’s Teeth are acutely affected by wars taking place, whether in their own backyards or in foreign lands. The rest of us, although implicated in our nation’s battles, are often ignorant of those operations. It is this very ignorance that allows atrocities to be carried out on our behalf; we are culpable but are either blissfully unaware, or simply intimidated and turned helpless in the face of its enormity. Stories about war are careful to avoid its glorification, so the message is always unambiguous and predictable, yet our shared acknowledgement about these ravages, seem to do nothing to make this world a better place.

www.hbrcreatives.com.au

5 Questions with Harry Milas and Jordan Shea

Harry Milas

Jordan Shea: What makes Cascadia different to all your other work?
Harry Milas: It’s surreal and it’s got a narrative. It’s also got a director (who I adore and deeply respect) and he’s keeping me focused on what’s important, what’s real and what’s valuable. Orson Wells said that the problem with magicians is they try to do everything alone. I can count on one hand magic shows that have had a director. Also I hate magic shows that are just “Look how clever I am” or god forbid making birds appear to music. There’s no connection to the audience at all. No contact. Cascadia follows a journey I took with a fascination for making things vanish from childhood to present day and the audience feature heavily in that every step of the way.

What animal would you like to study in depth if you had the money and time?
That is a very difficult question and I really had to think about it, and I think my answer is the Bonobo. They are incredibly good at forward rolls, and general movement. They’re also our closest living relative and are deeply interesting. They also need help as their numbers are dwindling. I’ve been to The Democratic Republic of the Congo briefly and I’d love to go back and really soak it up. 

Magic is timeless. It’s been around or thought about since people have co-existed. This new show, how does it appeal to a theatre-going audience?
Because it’s theatre. It’s theatre that happens to be a magic show. Magic seems steeped in tradition and stuffed with clichés but there are always new ideas and breakthroughs coming to the surface. People who call themselves magicians comprise a wide range of styles and personalities. I’ve written the show from the perspective of a writer and performer who happens to be a magician. But let’s be honest the appeal is mostly going to be people wanting to see how I’m going to make a volunteer vanish in that dark basement of a theatre.

What was the first piece of music you ever heard that really said something to you?
I remember my brother giving me a copy of Boards Of Canada’s Music Has The Right To Children when I was about 11, and the track “Telephasic Workshop” just kinda fucked me up in the best way. I remember I got so excited when I listened to that song for the first time that I did a forward roll and my headphones came off! That is an incredible album that’s overflowing with wildly creative and brilliant electronic music. 

Have you ever met Don Rickles? If so, give me a brief run down of how it happened? 
So strange you ask me that. I have met Don Rickles, yes. On my first trip to New York I went to see the debut production of A Behanding In Spokane, then Martin McDonagh’s newest work. It had Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken in the two main roles. It was my first broadway play and I was very excited. The play was fantastic and the production was amazing (Walken did some of the best non-acting acting I’ve ever seen) and after it finished I was expecting everyone to run out to the stage door, but instead they were all milling around in the stalls talking to someone. Turns out it was Don Rickles, who I have loved since I was a little kid. He was a total mensch and was shaking everyone’s hands. I managed to have a quick interaction with him as he left the theatre, and the most amazing part was instead of getting in a car he just did a forward roll and was somehow really far away at the end of it. I’ve never seen anyone move that quickly and he was really old at the time!!

Jordan Shea

Harry Milas: Do you know how Harry is going to make the audience member disappear?
Jordan Shea: I don’t. But that might be a lie. Harry’s practice, to me, is about the possibility he might be making all of this up. I won’t know until we’re there, present, in the moment, as to how he will make this person disappear. All I know is he will do it, and probably make you have a good laugh and maybe be a little scared doing it. I don’t think a lot of conventional plays or performances can do that-but Harry and his magic can.

Cascadia is a wildly different direction for you. What drew you to the work and why is it important?
Because it’s a challenge. I don’t know if I’ll ever do something like this again. As a director and maker, it’s important to challenge yourself and just do different things. It’s weird. It’s important because it is in no way preachy but at least it’ll make you think for a while after. I like one man shows as well, I think if you can find someone who can intimately hold an audience for 30 plus minutes, you should collaborate with them-because you can learn a lot.

What is a film you think is massively overlooked?
The Swedish film As It Is In Heaven. We saw it around my 12th birthday at the Orpheum and it is a film of such nuance. Go download/buy/google it. 

What do you reckon about… I don’t know…the lockout laws?
I think most decisions by NSW Liberals since their election in 2011 (including the lockout laws) are the most poorly thought out pieces of legislation in the history of our state. I don’t understand the government’s tact or ethos because they don’t really have any at all, and I think they are just blindly ruining this state year by year.

When was the last time you actually took a break pal? You’ve been working real hard for a long time now.
I went on extended holidays in June/July and it made me realise I need to do that more. I’m training as a school teacher next year, and hopefully I can afford to take at least two weeks somewhere. I try to go once a year, somewhere. I think everyone working should. No matter where you are, there’s more to see. 

Harry Milas and Jordan Shea collaborate in Cascadia: A Magic Show.
Dates: 23 – 25 November, 2018
Venue: Old Fitz Theatre