Review: Light Shining In Buckinghamshire (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Apr 7 – May 28, 2022
Playwright: Caryl Churchill
Directors: Eamon Flack, Hannah Goodwin
Cast: Arkia Ashraf, Rashidi Edward, Marco Chiappi, Emily Goddard, Sandy Greenwood, Rebecca Massey, Brandon McClelland, Angeline Penrith
Images by Teniola Komolafe

Theatre review
Caryl Churchill’s 1976 play Light Shining in Buckinghamshire is based on what is known as the Putney Debates in England, that had taken place immediately after their civil war of 1647. Churchill frames those discussions in terms of a search for a new democracy, in relation to preconceived ideas that are mainly about religion, and property ownership. In these historical re-evaluations of events leading up to the establishment of the Commonwealth of England, Churchill focuses our attention, not on how a revolution could be won, but what the challenges might be thereafter, to formulate a renewed system for the distribution of resources, and to generate new and improved ideologies.

46 years after its Edinburgh premiere, Churchill’s pre-Thatcher concerns are more pertinent than ever. We have replaced monarchies with oligarchic plutocracies, with the wealthiest men spending unimaginable sums of money to rocket into space for a meagre few minutes, in the middle of a pandemic that continues to destroy incalculable livelihoods. It seems we are still unable to figure out meaningful revolutionaries, only knowing to reinstall one bad system after another.

The verbose play is directed by Eamon Flack and Hannah Goodwin, who convey an air of importance for these philosophical explorations, but clear and detailed elucidations are disappointingly sporadic. Much of the exchanges are muddled and perplexing, sometimes even coming across abstract or detached, when what we need is a political theatre that speaks with considerable force.

Set design by Michael Hankin is appropriately minimal and rustic, for the depiction of post-war purgatory. Ella Butler’s costumes are equally pared down, so that we may perceive realistic bodies at a time of great adversity. Lit by Damien Cooper, imagery in Light Shining in Buckinghamshire is full of melancholy, able to evoke the disappointment that inevitably comes after a war is lost and won. Live music by Alyx Dennison and Marcus Whale is a highlight, and an unequivocal visceral treat, even if their severe percussion is used repeatedly to cause alarm.

The ensemble of eight actors demonstrates an admirable dedication for the material, and although not always able to communicate with great coherence, they are certainly an inviting presence that encourages us to participate in their various deliberations.

Revolutions are still needed, even if we are yet to have real certainties about how a new world should be. Knowing that we have had endless failed attempts, does not negate the fact that many things have improved through the ages. Perhaps we need to contend with the idea, that our efforts, no matter how radical, can only effect minor adjustments within the grand scheme. We should know by now, that overnight rehabilitations are impossible, much as our hearts desire them. Things seem to only get better in small increments, and the price for them are disproportionately high, which explains why the business of systemic change, has always only been for the brave.

www.belvoir.com.au

Review: Wayside Bride (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Apr 2 – May 29, 2022
Playwright: Alana Valentine
Directors: Eamon Flack, Hannah Goodwin
Cast: Arkia Ashraf, Maggie Blinco, Rashidi Edward, Marco Chiappi, Emily Goddard, Sandy Greenwood, Sacha Horler, Rebecca Massey, Brandon McClelland, Angeline Penrith 
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
It was in the mid-1970s that the Methodist minister Ted Noffs was charged with heresy by his own church. Having gone rogue in his efforts to serve the downtrodden in Sydney, through his founding of the Wayside Chapel in King Cross, Noffs was singled out to be made an undesirable, such is the Christian establishment’s penchant for ostracism and condemnation.

In Alana Valentine’s Wayside Bride, we are provided anecdotes from a wide range of sources, as testification for Noff’s incomparable social work. Replete with fascinating narratives and charming characters (many of whom were marginalised women unable to find other ministers willing to marry them), the play honours Noff along with his wife Margaret, with rigour and reverence. A prominent feature of Wayside Bride is Valentine’s own frustrations with the church, which gives additional dimensions of verve to the show, but which also has a tendency to make things feel somewhat alienating to secular audiences. We are after all, half a century lapsed, and the earnestness in depicting religious inanity, can seem outmoded at a time when Christianity is so resoundingly rejected or moderated, and no longer the dominant influence it had been.

Jointly directed by Eamon Flack and Hannah Goodwin, the production is a vibrant one, and an appropriately sentimental tribute to people who have contributed a great deal to this city. Its jokes may not always hit their mark, but the people it showcases are consistently endearing. 

Michael Hankin’s set design conveys both the spiritedness and the struggles, of those who have encountered Wayside Chapel through the years. Ella Butler’s costumes are rendered with a sense of nostalgic warmth, as well as humour. Lights by Damien Cooper and sound by Alyx Dennison are fairly restrained, but certainly effective in modulating atmosphere for every nuanced shift in tension and mood.

Actor Brandon McClelland is a convincing Ted Noffs, taking us back to a simpler time, when being virtuous seemed much less complicated. Sacha Horler is splendid as Margaret Noffs and also as Janice, playing both roles with exquisite timing and a brilliant imagination. Playwright Valentine is given physical omnipresence on the stage by Emily Goddard who demonstrates beautifully, the veneration that permeates all of Wayside Bride. Highly notable is Marco Chiappi in several memorable roles, each one colourful and engrossing, with a joyful sense of mischief yet always imbued with dignity, for these real-life characters.

It is true, that we should all do good for the world, regardless of one’s faith or lack thereof. It is also true, however, that some are simply unable to be good, without the help of religion. Doctrines written by men of faith have inflicted harm, knowingly and unknowingly, on all kinds of people everywhere in every epoch, yet there is no denying the efficacy of religion on those who need it. The Noffs were right, in holding firm to the fundamental belief in love, and in the universality of God’s creations. The mission is always simple, but the distractions are unceasing.

www.belvoir.com.au

Review: Breathing Corpses (Eye Contact Theatre Company)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Apr 8 – 23, 2022
Playwright: Laura Wade
Director:
Jess Davis
Cast: Nisrine Amine, Xavier Coy, Zelman Cressey-Gladwin, Mark Langham, Monica Sayers, Joshua Shediak, Emma Wright
Images by Becky Matthews

Theatre review
A hotel maid discovers a dead body, when she opens the door, to one of the rooms that require her daily attention. Several people die in English writer Laura Wade’s Breathing Corpses, and it is the macabre quality of those lingering presences, that gives the play’s three disparate stories, a sense of danger and tension. Like in real life, there is a certain evasion in attitudes pertaining to the unassailable fact of death, and an inability to look death in its eye, to deal with it honestly, that underscore everything that we see unfold.

Directed by Jess Davis, the production bears an intensity that sustains our engagement, from start to end. Although some of the playwright’s humour seems lost in the staging’s focus on high-stakes drama, the 90-minute journey is nonetheless an enjoyable one. Sam Cheng’s sound design is a noteworthy element, that effectively, and elegantly, amplifies the gravity of situations being explored. Production design by Kate Beere, along with Sophie Parker’s lights, are accomplished with notable restraint, both contributing to a chilly atmosphere, that is characteristic of this staging.

A well-rehearsed cast of seven, deliver strong performances that ensure our investment in all of their narratives. Emma Wright plays hotel maid Amy, with great concentration and sensitivity; she sets the tone beautifully for a contemplative experience. Nisrine Amin and Zelman Cressey-Gladwin are excellent as the abusive couple Kate and Ben, both actors powerful in their convincing depiction of a terrifyingly destructive relationship.

People go about their lives, as though death will never come. So much of what we do, depends upon the certainty of a tomorrow. It is so easy then to devalue the time that we do have today, and leave what really matters for imaginary futures. Today then is only ever comprised perennially of inferior interludes, rarely allowing life to reach their fullest potential. Appreciating death, is to let every second count, which also means that one can finally learn, to live in the moment.

https://www.facebook.com/eyecontacttheatreco/

Review: The Seven Deadly Sins & Mahagonny Songspiel (Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Mar 31 – Apr 23, 2022
Music: Kurt Weill
Lyrics: Bertolt Brecht
Director: Constantine Costi
Cast: Roberta Diamond, Allie Graham, Nicholas Jones, Anthony Mackey, Andy Moran, Benjamin Rasheed, Margaret Trubiano 
Images by Robert Catto

Theatre review
This double-bill comprises century-old short operas, The Seven Deadly Sins and Mahagonny Songspiel by German exiles, Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht. Both are stories concerned with decay and decadence, from artists known for their interest in social justice; the former explores the loss of innocence, while the latter has us enter a space that is already debauched. The passage of time seems to have done little to diminish the resonance of these themes. In fact, it is the awareness of capitalism being more pervasive and permanent than ever before, that influences our appreciation of these works. What were once cautionary tales, are now simply statements of fact.

It is a marvellous accomplishment, spearheaded by director Constantine Costi, to have opera playing in the basement of a pub in one of the world’s most monetised cities, complete with professional performers and a finely tuned orchestra.

Charles Davis’ set design miraculously transforms one of our smallest theatre spaces, in order that upwards of 20 people can be accommodated on stage at any one time. The pure luxury of being in complete sonic immersion, is an indulgence that is certainly unparalleled, at least in these parts of the world. Music delivered by Ensemble Apex and their répétiteur Antonio Fernandez, is an incredible pleasure, in the middle of one of the least likely places and times. It is an historic occasion, for Kings Cross at the height of the Covid era.

Costume design by Emma White is campy and humorous, but always elegantly rendered. Trent Suidgeest’s boldly coloured lights deliver for us a visual sumptuousness, even as we negotiate the seedy underbellies of Brecht and Weill’s collaborative imagination.

The stunning voice of Margaret Trubiano commences proceedings, as Anna I in The Seven Deadly Sins , accompanied by the heavenly nimbleness of dancer Allie Graham as Anna II, both women captivating in their respective areas of expertise. Other singers follow, namely Roberta Diamond, Nicholas Jones, Anthony Mackey, Andy Moran and Benjamin Rasheed, to keep us spellbound for the hour-long duration.

There is no doubt that bringing world class opera to an unexpected place, with unsuspecting audiences, is a mammoth undertaking. One sits in the middle of the ambition and tenacity of these remarkable artists, and wonders if the sad state of our economic lives, is indeed a foregone conclusion. Capitalism has advanced so far, and has infiltrated so much into our existence and consciousness, that we no longer dare hope for its abatement. Seeing opera at the Cross however, reminds us that the human spirit is boundless, until we decide that it is time to surrender.

www.redlineproductions.com.au

Review: Heroes Of The Fourth Turning (Outhouse Theatre Co)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Mar 31 – Apr 23, 2022
Playwright: Will Arbery
Director: Craig Baldwin
Cast: Micaela Ellis, Madeleine Jones, Eddie Orton, Kate Raison, Jeremy Waters
Images by Richard Farland

Theatre review
Four friends are gathered in a Wyoming backyard after a celebration, for their mentor Gina’s induction as president of their Catholic alma mater. Prompted by traumatic events of the 2017 Charlottesville white supremacist rally just two days prior, and with the assistance of alcohol, conversations quickly become passionate, and revealing, between these conservative Americans, at the height of the Trump era.

Will Arbery’s Heroes of the Fourth Turning is an exploration of the political discord that seems to have permeated so much of contemporary life. The unrelenting vilification of the other side, without ever getting to really know any of those adversaries in meaningfully personal ways, has created new societal structures that are increasingly fractured, and that feel dismally irreconcilable. In Arbery’s play, we are given the opportunity to look intimately at those who pride themselves as being conservative. The work is often challenging, especially when it skates close to drawing precarious equivalences between left and right, in efforts to make us find empathy for the enemy. The thorough frankness of Arbery’s writing though, encourages introspective reflections that would at least have us reconsider our own incapacity for generosity, when acceptance of conservative ideology remains appropriately an abhorrent idea.

Directed by Craig Baldwin, the dense and bombastic text of Heroes of the Fourth Turning is translated into unexpectedly entrancing drama, the tension of which is unabating and marvellously delicious. Brilliantly confronting, Baldwin’s staging does the hitherto unimaginable task, of making one find understanding for the other, whilst reaffirming one’s own oppositional convictions.

Production design by Soham Apte conveys authenticity for place and characters, with quiet but detailed renderings that serve well to tell the story. Lucia Haddad’s lights are similarly understated, effective in placing us in the right time and atmosphere, to connect with the play’s less than charming personalities. Baldwin’s own sound design offers elegant solutions to sustain our attention, and to keep it firmly focused on the show’s complex dialogue.

An exquisite ensemble of five actors, individually compelling, and powerful as a collective, conspire with great cohesiveness to take us through this tumultuous but highly satisfying examination, of tribes and factions. Madeleine Jones’ flawless recitation of some spectacularly wordy and convoluted alt-right diatribes, as the exasperating Teresa, proves to be maddeningly impressive. Kevin’s crisis of faith as a Catholic with compassion, is conveyed with dazzling fervour and excellent humour, by Eddie Orton. Micaela Ellis’ oscillations between soft and stern, for the role of Emily, provide much needed moments of relief for the audience.  The strong, silent Justin is played by Jeremy Waters with a beautiful restraint, leaving us plentiful room to cast judgement however we wish. Woman of the moment Gina, is given a splendid sense of grace by Kate Raison, who also does us a great favour of putting terrible Teresa in her place.

Humanising one’s foe is necessary, if only to keep our eye on the ball, and not be distracted by endless other conflicts that serve little to advance the cause. Heroes of the Fourth Turning does well to aide us in understanding how these American conservatives think and behave. It is true that the very mechanics of our humanity do not vary much; our need to fight for what is right, seems to be universal, and how our circumstances push us to grow vehement with our beliefs, also looks to run parallel. Any ideology, no matter why they come about, whose flourishment requires the subjugation of large categories of people however, simply cannot be allowed to thrive.

www.outhousetheatre.org

Review: Stay Woke (Darlinghurst Theatre Company / Malthouse Theatre)

Venue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Mar 26 – Apr 17, 2022
Playwright: Aran Thangaratnam
Director: Bridget Balodis
Cast: Rose Adams, Brooke Lee, Dushan Philips, Kaivu Suvarna
Images by Phoebe Powell

Theatre review
Sai is joining his brother Niv at a snow resort. The two have always had a difficult relationship, but introducing Sai’s girlfriend Kate to the mix for the first time, is only making things worse. The young men are Asian-Australian with roots in Sri Lanka, and Kate is white, with very little familiarity about cultures beyond her ethnocentric existence. Niv has no tolerance for ignorance, so even though Kate means well, her social illiteracy causes incessant altercations to occur inside the chalet.

Aran Thangaratnam’s Stay Woke brings focus to the current process of reckoning, as we find ways to understand and undermine the white supremacy that has faced scant opposition these last few centuries. The comedy places one white character in tight quarters with three people of colour (including Niv’s romantic partner Mae), who now know better than to just let things slide. It is a challenging time, and the play helps make tangible, the difficult conversations that are taking place, as minorities devise strategies to confront the hegemony.

Thangaratnam’s writing is generous in spirit (there is no real vilification of Kate or any other white people), but its passion is unmistakable. The politics in Stay Woke are carefully considered, and its humour is well rendered, although some of its dialogue could benefit from being more conversational. Direction by Bridget Balodis too, lacks a convincing naturalism in early scenes, but as the stakes escalate, tensions are marvellously harnessed, in this mesmerising theatrical work about race relations and familial connections.

Production designer Matilda Woodroofe delivers a stunning set, complete with oversized windows revealing falling snow. Rachel Lee’s lights are invitingly warm, beautiful and nuanced, as they quietly transform with the show’s oft shifting moods. Sound design by Daniella A Esposito is ambitious, and perhaps too detailed in what it tries to establish for the staging, frequently drawing undue attention to itself, instead of providing gentle enhancement to the story being told.

Actor Dushan Philips brings great intensity to Niv, with a brand of overwrought expressiveness that feels entirely appropriate for the bombastic character. Kaivu Suvarna is a more subdued presence, but effective in cultivating an air of authenticity for the stage, as the more diplomatic Sai. Playing Kate is Rose Adams, who can be exaggerated with some of her comedy, although excellent at providing a clear interpretation of her role’s qualities. Brooke Lee is perhaps the most convincing of the cast, able to convey a sense of truthfulness for all their moments, whether comical or dramatic.

Stay Woke makes good points about who we are and how we should evolve, but there is a politeness to its pronouncements, that feels strangely conservative. For our art to be politically effective, it is necessary that we have the capacity to accommodate chaotic disruptions and unpleasurable assertions. We live in an awkward time, when so much of normalcy is being interrogated and deconstructed. For those who are used to experiencing big changes, we know that discomfort is a sensation that needs to be embraced, for without it, the old status quo remains triumphant.

www.darlinghursttheatre.com | www.malthousetheatre.com.au

Review: Blithe Spirit (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Mar 21 – May 14, 2022
Playwright: Noël Coward
Director: Paige Rattray
Cast: Courtney Act, Matt Day, Nancy Denis, Bessie Holland, Tracy Mann, Megan Wilding, Brigid Zengeni
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review
Ruth and Charles are a wealthy couple who have run out of earthly pleasures to occupy themselves with, and are now toying with paranormal phenomena, for shits and giggles. What was originally meant to be the Condomines’ moment of disingenuous flirtation with the netherworld however, turns into a living nightmare when Charles’ ex-wife Elvira returns from the dead to haunt the household. Noël Coward’s 1941 comedy Blithe Spirit is a bit of harmless nostalgic English fun, the usual appeal of which resides almost entirely with its writer’s extraordinary wit.

With the passage of time, it is unsurprising that Coward’s work, now almost 80 years old, might have waned in its ability to tickle. Fortunately, the transcendental magic of theatre is ageless, and under the directorship of Paige Rattray, we find a renewed appreciation of the old play, and even though her contemporary production may not share very much in common, in terms of methodology, with the original creation, there is no denying that rapturous laughter was always the central intention.

It is a tremendously successful rendition, that relies upon Rattray’s uncanny ability to parody not only what Coward found worthy of satire, but also to lampoon old English sensibilities, such as those of Coward’s own, that represent so much of what many Australians today wish to establish distance from. Blithe Spirit has always made fun of the bourgeoisie, but now it is additionally useful in aiding in the ridicule of our colonial history.

Indeed it is that familiar English pomp that forms the basis of Rattray’s sarcastic and camp humour. Production design by David Fleischer involves conspicuous display of white money and class, for a sardonic rendering of the Condomines’ home and attire that look every bit the epitome of rich people nonsense. Sound design by Clemence Williams memorably adds to the cheekiness of attitude, as does Damien Cooper’s lighting design, which is additionally called upon to enhance the show’s cartoonish moments of supernaturality.

Performer Courtney Act brings excellent presence to the phantasmal role of Elvira, although a lack of nuance and depth in interpretation, tends to result in a regretful vapidity for the prominent part. Charles is played by Matt Day, admirably sure-footed and detailed with his contributions. The housemaid Edith is made larger than life by Megan Wilding’s creativity, the nature of which is undeniably inventive and mischievous. The wonderfully robust Brigid Zengeni portrays the clairvoyant Madame Arcati, as simultaneously kooky yet dignified. Nancy Denis and Tracy Mann are whimsical as family friends the Bradmans, both bringing considerable charm to the staging.

All theatre productions are collaborative efforts, but rare instances do occur, where a single star on the stage shines so bright, everything else can only settle for being mere witness to that magnificence. Playing Ruth, is actor Bessie Holland, who delivers nothing short of a masterclass, in a performance that exceeds even the greatest of expectations. It is a fearless embodiment of a great love for live comedy, replete with faultless instincts and exhaustively considered manoeuvres. Not only does Holland offer us crystal clarity with regards character and story, she has an ability to connect with her audience as though through a direct link to our viscera, so that an impossible joy is emitted, with every aural and visual punchline she precisely, and spiritedly, executes. It is a marvel that such talent is real, and an even greater miracle that we can attest to its existence in this very lifetime, with our own eyes.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au

Review: North By Northwest (Sydney Lyric Theatre)

Venue: Sydney Lyric Theatre (Sydney NSW), Mar 9 – Apr 3, 2022
Adaptation: Carolyn Burns
Director: Simon Phillips
Cast: David Campbell, Amber McMahon, Bert Labonté, Genevieve Lemon, Berynn Schwerdt, Dorje Swallow, Kaeng Chan, Lachlan Woods, Nicholas Bell, Sharon Millerchip, Tony Llewellyn-Jones, Wadih Dona 
Images by Daniel Boud

Theatre review
Alfred Hitchcock’s 1959 masterpiece involves espionage, mistaken identities, and an innocent fugitive on the run. It is however, not the story of North by Northwest that is responsible for it being regarded as one of cinematic history’s greatest instalments, but Hitchcock’s virtuosic manipulation of form, that had made the film a monumental achievement.

Transposing to the stage, a movie experience known for its visual trickery, is a formidable task. and this 2015 creation, by director Simon Philips and writer Carolyn Burns, is certainly ambitious. With a heavy reliance on video projections throughout the production (designed by Josh Burns), this theatrical reinvention of North by Northwest begins very much like a tribute to the great Hitchcock, with a tone of reverence that almost drowns out the parodic quality, of both the original and the intentions of this new iteration.

An abrupt shift occurs midway, when the humour becomes decidedly more pronounced. The show gets gradually funnier, as things get more farcical. The pastiche of North by Northwest can range from the very clever to the slightly misguided, but by its second half, the hilarity is undeniable.

Set design by Philips and Nick Schlieper feels more an object of function than of beauty, although Schlieper’s very dynamic lights are definitely an aesthetic pleasure. Together with Esther Marie Hayes’ costumes and Ian McDonald’s soundscapes (based on Bernard Herrmann’s original soundtrack compositions), design aspects of the staging take us back, effectively and pleasurably, to a much more elegant time.

Performer David Campbell is characteristically brimming with charisma, and demonstrates admirable agility for the physical requirements of playing a version of Roger Thornhill without the benefit of close ups, but he never quite delivers the nostalgic sensibilities that we crave. Memories of Cary Grant’s unrivalled suavity remains out of reach.

Leading lady Amber McMahon however is every bit the Hitchcockian femme fatale. As Eve Kendall, she is enigmatic and alluring, but also strangely believable, in this heightened revision of an iconic story and its archetypes. The supporting cast playfully tackle an endless number of small parts, along with manufacturing comically awkward visual gags for the video element. The energy that they emanate, in all their hustle and bustle, is invaluable in sustaining our attention.

It is now 7 years since this work of theatre first appeared in Melbourne, and it seems already to have  been superseded slightly by technocultural advancements. The increased reliance of multi-screens in everyday life, and the proliferation of drone technology, are but two examples of how quickly our senses have grown in sophistication. The simplicity of video in this rendition of North by Northwest, although a fundamental aspect, can seem too quaint and slightly twee. The majesty of Hitchcock’s 63-year-old original persists however, and being able to recall those sensations at this live event, is a real thrill.

www.northbynorthwesttheplay.com

Review: Nearer The Gods (Ensemble Theatre)

Venue: Ensemble Theatre (Kirribilli NSW), Mar 4 – Apr 23, 2022
Playwright: David Williamson
Director: Janine Watson
Cast: Violette Ayad, Jemwel Danao, Rowan Davie, Gareth Davies, Sean O’Shea, Sam O’Sullivan, Claudia Ware
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review
It was the age of Enlightenment, and the beautiful mind of Isaac Newton held volumes of pivotal information, if only they could all be transformed into ink on paper. David Williamson’s Near the Gods pays particular attention to Newton’s seminal Principia, and the arduous three-year process by which the astronomer Edmund Halley had to coax the book into materiality. A somewhat quirky work of theatre, Williamson’s narrow focus on that singular historical incident, is unexpectedly idiosyncratic, although unlikely to be widely appealing.

The soporific subject matter of Near the Gods may not feel a natural fit for the modern stage, but director Janine Watson’s detailed and nuanced handling of the play, helps ensure that the audience is able to stay the course, whether or not we are ever able to really invest, in any part of the antiquated story.

Hugh O’Connor’s production design is extremely restrained, with the rejection of any faithful-to-period renderings, proving to be a wise and elegant decision. Lights by Matt Cox, along with Clare Hennessy’s sound design, too are conceived with an appropriate sense of minimalism, able to help move the narrative along effectively, with only slight embellishments introduced during opportune moments.

Actor Gareth Davies is amusing as the mad genius Newton, adept at bringing valuable liveliness to proceedings, even though the role is written with an excess of dry reverence. Halley is played with admirable commitment by a very passionate Rowan Davies, whose determination to entertain helps keep us engaged. Also noteworthy are Violette Ayad as Mary Halley, who offers flashes of genuine emotion in an otherwise distant and stolid affair, and Sean O’Shea’s flamboyance as King Charles II is an irresistibly funny element, if not always cohesive with the rest of the show.

It is arguable that creative people are only worth their salt, when something actually comes to be, as a result of their talent. Newton was at risk of having all the brilliance kept only on the inside of his mind. So many of us hold within ourselves, great insight and perspectives, that could benefit and inspire others, if only we knew how to make tangible, all that remains mere potential. Having written well over 50 plays, the writer Williamson is clearly not lacking in capacity for expression; if only this proficiency was available to more of us.

www.ensemble.com.au

Review: Destroy, She Said (25A Belvoir)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Mar 2 – 19, 2022
Original Author: Marguerite Duras
Director: Claudia Osborne
Cast: Gabriel Alvarado, Adriane Daff, Andreas Lohmeyer, Tommy Misa, Grace Smibert
Images by Phil Erbacher

Theatre review
Elisabeth is convalescing, in a hotel some distance from the city. There are mysterious guests observing her, and an equally mysterious forest nearby, that seems to cast a spell over everyone in its vicinity. Marguerite Duras’ book and film Destroy, She Says from 1969 tells a story about the convergence of loss and obsession, in between competing worlds where Elisabeth must eventually find a state of surrender.

In this stage adaptation by Claudia Osborne, the surreality of Duras’ mise-en-scène is made immediate and material, preserving the sinister beauty of the original, but with an addition of a very theatrical sense of humour, that makes the viewing experience both fascinating and amusing. There is so much to be curious about, in Osborne’s take on Destroy, She Says and so much that engages, but not necessarily through intellect. We too, have to find a way to surrender to its visceral allure, and trust in things that we know so little about. The result is sublime, however strange the ride can be.

Production design by Kelsey Lee and Grace Deacon melds old-world affluence with a decidedly contemporary sensibility that is both sensual and ironic, for a presentation memorable for its visual impact. Lee’s lights, together with a sound design by Angus Mills, usher the audience into a dream frequency, where we connect with impulses rather than logic, remarkable in being able to make us find coherence within the bizarre, and thoroughly enjoy it. 

Adriane Daff and Grace Smibert are the mesmerising leads, as Alissa and Elisabeth respectively, both invulnerably confident in their experimental approach, and unassailably impressive with their commanding presences. The women are individually captivating, but absolutely riveting when working as a single unit; we feel as though privy to a magical secret language that they have devised. Supporting players Gabriel Alvarado, Andreas Lohmeyer and Tommy Misa, are no less effective in their contributions, all bringing surprising and quirky elements to the stage, delivering bouts of laughter whilst provoking us with their interminably quizzical choices.

Destroy, She Says is challenging, but it is kind. It reaches out with an unusual vocabulary, in order that we may communicate differently, and perhaps attain something altogether more exalted, in this moment of congregation in an artistic space. We are left wondering why all that makes this show unusual, is not more usually encountered in our theatres, but we understand that anything normalised, simply ceases to be special. Art in this city needs to dare to embrace unconventionality. If we want only to interact with the familiar and the safe, the accountant’s office might be a better option. In this particular theatrical occasion though, we celebrate the best of human creativity, and revel in the boundless capacity of our imaginations.

www.belvoir.com.au / www.fervour.net.au