Review: Love, Me (The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Feb 13 – 17, 2018
Playwright: Joseph Brown
Director: Joseph Brown
Cast: Danny Ball, Oliver Crump, Enya Daly, Ariadne Sgouros, Annie Stafford
Image by Jasmin Simmons

Theatre review
Christmas is by any definition, a special day for Australians. It is imperative for many to convene with those who are closest, but with closeness comes a level of trust that seems to allow a certain irregular level of liberty in how we communicate. Fighting at festive seasons is almost de rigueur. We let loose on those we love, knowing that forgiveness is assured. Joseph Brown’s Love, Me sees a group of young adults celebrate Christmas, for the first time, without parents and immediate family. It is their chosen family that has now become priority, even if the way they connect might suggest otherwise.

The five Millennials are, true to form, capable individuals yet to find their footing. Without ambition or responsibilities, their emotions take precedence over pragmatic concerns. The characters in Love, Me, like most of our young, spend too much time and energy seeking affirmation, from friends and lovers, constantly hungry for gratification from vanity. They do little for others, obsessed only with trying to find people that could make themselves feel complete. The playwright captures those experiences and perspectives well, and his dialogue is crafted skillfully, although a more critical or ironic approach would give the work a broader appeal.

There is a peculiar lack of energy to the staging, with much of the portrayals kept too interior and quiet. The actors work hard to present authenticity, but the show requires greater power in the nuances they try to articulate. More memorable are Danny Ball and Ariadne Sgouros who offer exuberance, both to be commended for their gregarious approach to storytelling.

“If you can’t love yourself, how the hell you gonna love somebody else,” the drag icon RuPaul often says. It is completely natural that we seek to be loved, but that desire seems only to operate as a force that projects externally. There is an undeniable feeling of emptiness that compels us to look for fulfilment by others, yet evidence shows that the truer, more enduring form of contentment has to be derived independently. What happens thereafter, can only be delightful.

www.old505theatre.com

5 Questions with Markesha McCoy and Madison McKoy

Markesha McCoy

Madison McKoy: How did you come to be involved in The View Upstairs?
Markesha McCoy: I flew to Sydney to be a part of Trevor Ashley’s new panto The Bodybag. It was a hilarious parody based off of the cult classic The Bodyguard. One of the producers for The View Upstairs, Gus Murray, played our strapping bodyguard and asked me if I wanted to stick around and be a part of the show. I’m so glad he did because I’m having an amazing time.

What’s challenging about bringing this script to life?
Teaching the audience about the tragic events that took place and the inequality we still face today while still making them laugh as well.

How is your character similar to and/or different from you?
We are very similar. We both love hard but keep a stone cold face. Hard to trust but once we do, we’ll do anything for anyone we’ve brought into our lives. The only difference I feel we have is our sexual preference haha.

Without giving anything away, what is your favourite line of dialogue from the show?
“I’m not just a basic bitch, another wannabe nouveau riche tipping toward a breakdown.”

If you had a magic wand, what role/show would you do next?
Aida in Aida.

Madison McKoy

Markesha McCoy: What’s your favourite colour?
Madison McKoy: My fave colour is purple. Yellow is a close second.

If you could have dinner with three of your favourite celebrities, dead or alive, who would it be?
Janet Jackson: I’ve loved her music and performance since primary school.
Barak Obama: I’d love to chat with him about life in general.
Suzanne Vega: The lyrics and melodies to her folk-style music are wonderful. I was turned on to her by a mate back in the 80s. Actually, we probably wouldn’t eat. We’d just sing. ūüôā

What has been your favourite role to play?
I played Jim in the musical Big River some years ago. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience. It’s def a role I’d like to play again.

So you’re originally from America, whats something you miss from the States?
Yes. I’m originally from North Carolina and migrated to Australia in 1994. My family is the main thing I miss. I used to miss Oreo biscuits, I mean, cookies but you can get them in Oz these days. When I first arrived, they were only available in gourmet food stores. Yes, I actually paid $15.00 for a bag of Oreos, ha ha ha.

What can you learn from your character Willie in The View Upstairs?
Willie is a man of the world. He’s definitely seen some things! Some of his top advice is to keep living, keep trying to better yourself, and be kind to others.

Markesha McCoy and Madison McKoy can be seen in The View Upstairs the musical.
Dates: 8 Feb – 11 Mar, 2018
Venue: Hayes Theatre

Review: The View Upstairs (Hayes Theatre)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), Feb 8 – Mar 11, 2018
Book, Music & Lyrics: Max Vernon
Director: Shaun Rennie
Cast: Henry Brett, Thomas Campbell, Nick Errol, Ryan Gonzalez, Martelle Hammer, Anthony Harkin, David Hooley, Markesha McCoy, Madison McKoy, Stephen Madsen
Image by John McCrae

Theatre review
Wes is an obnoxious brat, a twenty-something social media star escaping New York, for the less competitive town of New Orleans. The View Upstairs by Max Vernon imagines a hallucinatory haze, in which our protagonist encounters the inhabitants of a local gay bar circa 1973. It is a musical in which the gay Millennial travels over time and space to meet his cultural forebears, for historical lessons about those whose shoulders he stands on. In 2018 we have finally arrived at a time, when many young queers of Western civilisations are oblivious to the arduous journey required, to attain our current state of equality and tolerance. Wes takes things for granted and lives a reckless life, until he comes face to face with stories he never knew would resonate at such depth.

The View Upstairs is an undoubtedly well-meaning piece of writing, with beautiful sentimentality and a pervasive warmth, but its songs and narrative structure bear a derivative quality that is less than inspiring. Director Shaun Rennie focuses cleverly, on bringing heart and soul to the production, keeping us emotionally engaged in spite of the meandering, lacklustre plot. Isabel Hudson’s colourful set design is appropriately humorous; effective in its recollection of a period remembered for being less than aesthetically sophisticated, but infinitely more genuine in the way communities interact.

A charming cast performs the show, impressively well-rehearsed and with great ardour. Leading man Henry Brett is eminently convincing as Wes, bringing a wonderful intensity to the more dramatic scenes, and consistently bowling us over with some truly sensational singing. Similarly gifted is Markesha McCoy, whose voice is capable of bringing any house down, and on this occasion, we are grateful to be audience to her magnificence. Martelle Hammer and David Hooley are memorable for contributing a dimension of vulnerability to the story, both striking in the authenticity they deliver through their portrayals of the underclass.

Without the knowledge of how things have come to be, so much of daily life can seem meaningless. The immense achievements of the gay rights movement are enjoyed by so many of us in the West today, but it is becoming increasingly evident, that those who benefit most, are least aware of the sacrifices required to arrive at this point of evolution. LGBTQI elders had all wished for brighter futures, but few had imagined that with the eradication of prejudice, comes the blind ignorance of entitlement. The best qualities of humanity, whether compassion, resilience or ingenuity, are often derived from great adversity. When life becomes easy for our children, we have to worry about the virtues they fail to cultivate.

www.hayestheatre.com.au

Review: Metamorphoses (Apocalypse Theatre Company)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Feb 8 – Mar 10, 2018
Playwright: Mary Zimmerman
Director: Dino Dimitriadis
Cast: Claudette Clarke, Deborah Galanos, Jonny Hawkins, David Helman, Sam Marques, Bardiya McKinnon, Diana Popovska, Hannah Raven, Sebastian Robinson, Zoe Terakes
Images by Robert Catto

Theatre review
Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphoses is a retelling of Greek tales; a collection of short stories from ancient times that continue to fascinate, in this epoch of secular pragmatism. Celestial beings and supernatural events that defy explanation, yet instinctively comprehensible, and resonant with our natural appreciation for the magical, conspire as though to impart moral lessons. It is uncertain if we can learn anything new from these antiquated recurring tales, but as a work of art, what Metamorphoses does achieve, supersedes the traditional functions of mythologies.

All the great passions we associate with Aphrodite, Eros, Orpheus, et al. are retained in the production, to serve as vehicle for director Dino Dimitriadis’ exhilarating investigations into themes of gender, sex and beauty. The penises and breasts of performers are ascribed, as though at random, to characters with intractably gendered pronouns, confronting our beliefs about the woman-man binary. When Myrra appears with a penis, and Midas with an ample bosom, we cannot help but question these visions. We know the experience of gender to be real, but Metamorphoses presents them as hallucinatory, urging us to expand our understanding of the relationship between human anatomy and human nature. Its persistent queering of these origin stories, again and again, works with the plasticity of our minds, to help us dismantle and defeat useless and quite harmful restrictions, so that a process of intellectual and intuitive transformation may occur for us all.

Featuring an impossibly attractive cast, including David Helman and Hannah Raven who beguile us with their extraordinary physique and sensational burlesque expertise, adding an unexpected dimension of decadent performativity to an atmosphere that is already disarmingly sensual. Deborah Galanos and Jonny Hawkins bring us some very big personalities, so deeply satisfying in this rare occasion of exquisite flamboyance. Sam Marques, Diana Popovska and Sebastian Robinson deliver memorable sequences of dramatic poignancy, utilising both god-given and cultivated talents to connect with our desire for meaning and inspiration. Claudette Clark, Bardiya McKinnon and Zoe Terakes are soulful presences with delicate vulnerabilities that draw us in. These heavenly bodies are positioned on stage, inviting us to embrace all the wonder and horror that we are, in the most liberating, poetically earthy way.

Extravagantly imagined, and expertly manifested, the design of Metamorphoses offers a level of aesthetic engagement that is at least as thrilling as the text from which it germinates. Jonathan Hindmarsh’s work on set and costumes represents a lethal combination of resourcefulness and sophistication that is as fabulously enchanting as it is impressive. Lighting designer Benjamin Brockman really goes to town for this show, with a fervent sense of creative freedom irrepressibly evident in every change of illumination, subtle or vivid. Some of Brockman’s images are truly breathtaking. Music may not always be playing prominently, but Ben Pierpoint’s compositions are crucial to how our attention is brought to focus for each scene. The quality of transcendence he is able to introduce to these otherworldly spaces, is thoroughly remarkable.

The language of beauty is being spoken in Metamorphoses. Much of what the show communicates, resides beyond the capacity of words, and its success as an entity of fine art, makes it an exemplary work of modern Australia theatre. We gather in these communal spaces to address a need, but we rarely know the nature of that appetite. Often, we find ways to verbalise the results, but when we see great art, the gravity of what is left unsaid, must never be underestimated, and on this occasion, it is the complex feelings that keep evading explanation, that hold its true value.

www.apocalypsetheatrecompany.com

Review: Visiting Hours (Kings Cross Theatre)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Feb 7 – 17, 2018
Playwrights: John Harrison, Constantine Costi, Michael Costi
Directors: John Harrison, Michael Dean
Cast: Keiren Brereton, Tara Clark, Rose Costi, Laura Djanegara, Sarah Evans, Cheyne Fynn, Jasper Garner Gore, Richard Hilliar, Derbail Kinsella, Sheila Kumar, Yannick Lawry, Kianah Marlena, Suz Mawer, Tom McCracken, Jim McCrudden, Joshua McElroy, Rebecca Claire Moret, Mansoor Noor, Heather Prowse, Monica Sayers, Katherine Shearer, Emma White, Elijah Williams, Nicole Wineberg, Arisa Yura
Image by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
The people who work in hospitals are among some of the best human beings we have, but the experience of visiting medical institutions is often harrowing. We are at our most vulnerable, quite literally putting our lives in the hands of others. The immersive theatre production Visiting Hours, written by John Harrison, Constantine Costi and Michael Costi, investigates that very notion of having to submit to health experts and authorities, of being in a situation where one’s mortality is constantly under threat and question. We venture through ten or so spaces, guided by strange or menacing personalities, never knowing what is to come.

The experience is often terrifying, but in a humorous, often childlike way, where we engage in the sensation of fear, understanding that no real danger is ever present. The spaces are marvellously designed to deliver a sense of nightmarish foreboding, whilst stimulating all our senses in a range of unexpectedly pleasurable ways. Benjamin Brockman’s lights are almost inappropriately sexy, in their many spectacular evocations of tension and anxiety. Production design by Anna Gardiner offers spatial configurations that constantly surprise and amuse. Tegan Nicholls’ sounds are powerfully hypnotic, in how they coax us into strange realms of fantasy.

Visiting Hours is a thrilling show, and its demands of us as active participants in the story, are rich enough to elicit genuinely complex reactions, without ever crossing any lines. The first half involves a high level of interactivity, delivering intensely fascinating sequences that captivate all our senses and intellect. As it progresses however, we are released into more conventional and passive modes of audienceship, and even though we continue to be gripped by its continual atmospheric fluctuations, our minds struggle to focus on the show’s sudden reliance on spoken text. Our minds and bodies remain preoccupied with the multidimensional appeal of spaces, and can only listen sporadically to the words being said. Nonetheless, there is no question that the work is beautifully performed, by a huge cast of 26 actors, all convincing, charming and playfully provocative with their individual roles.

We all have to live inside power structures that keep us subjugated. Being at the bottom of the pile is sometimes involuntary, sometimes complicit. Visiting Hours challenges us to think about compliance and choice, and to examine the meaning of free will, when society seems to have a persistent appetite for deception and oppression. False gods in white coats can often appear to be all we have, but the ability to think for oneself and the courage to obey one’s own intuition, are always on hand.

www.kingsxtheatre.com

Review: Fucking Men (New Theatre)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Feb 6 – Mar 10, 2018
Playwright: Joe DiPietro
Director: Mark Nagle
Cast: Jackson Blair-West, Michael Brindley, Stanley Browning, John Michael Burdon, Anthony Finch, Ray Mainsbridge, Tom Marwick, Nick Pes, Anton Smilek, Pete Walters
Image by Bob Seary

Theatre review
Replace all the women with men in Arthur Schnitzler’s 1897 play La Ronde, and we have Joe DiPietro’s Fucking Men, about men having sex with other men. It is now the 21st century of course, and although the concept of monogamy is still an interesting matter of discussion, there is something awkwardly regressive about watching gay men struggle with sexual conformity, at a time when their rights are finally being protected at equal measure by the law. With hackneyed issues of fidelity and coming out as its main areas of concern, the work can easily be mistaken for being of an earlier era of gay liberation, some thirty years or so ago.

Fucking Men is strictly about gay culture in the West, and this production features a big cast of white men speaking in Australian accents, in case we misinterpret its intentions and try to imagine the action taking place in some third-world nation. It is true, that these stories remain real to gay men in developed countries, but audiences would be hard pressed to find anything new in DiPietro’s depiction of gay identities that have not already been represented time and time again.

Mark Nagle’s direction of the work has some exuberance, and its embrace of the play’s frequent requirements of partial nudity is inevitably entertaining, but the show fails to escape the fundamentally prudish essence of the text. It wants our feathers to be ruffled by all the promiscuous goings on, but it all grows tiresome quickly, without a more radical or refreshing approach to discussing sex. Performances are uneven, with a big range of acting abilities, from the obviously amateur to some quite accomplished, but the cast shows a good sense of dedication to the staging, in spite of the unfortunately banal material.

It is valuable to have art talk about minority issues, to its own communities. There are no women, and no straight men in Fucking Men. It centres everything on the gay experience, and addresses its audience from that particular perspective, without concessions or compromise. There is integrity in a theatre that chooses an audience that is less mainstream and less commercial, for we all need to be reminded that our place in the world does matter.

www.newtheatre.org.au

Review: Jack Data (The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Feb 6 – 11, 2018
Playwright: Ruth Bell
Director: Ruth Bell
Cast: Richard Cotter, Christine Greenough, Elly Hirani Clapin, Mathias Olofsson, Julian Rumandi, Amelia Tranter

Theatre review
Exasperated by their daughter’s persistent independence, Alice’s parents decide to buy her a robot. Jack is not only a sex machine with the ability to help women procreate, he is a passionate housekeeper, a slave to Alice’s every need. Ruth Bell’s Jack Data imagines a future where artificial intelligence has well and truly penetrated the inner sanctum of human existence. Predictably, the play takes a technophobic position, with the well-worn attitude of deep scepticism about radical progress, that is unfortunately under examined. Alice’s resistance of a creation that is by all accounts “the perfect man”, requires greater exposition. In today’s climate of intimacy via smartphone, Alice’s unqualified dismissal of Jack, can be regarded as too convenient. The idea that humanity and nature are necessarily and unquestionably better than anything synthetic, has long been proven to be false.

The futuristic premise of robotic lovers is a deeply appealing one. Jack Data creates a fantasy in which we meditate on the meanings of love, relationships and families, in a way that forces our rationality to escape the cliché. It helps us interrogate our very existence, through concepts as far reaching as the delusion of our anthropocentrism. We begin to wonder if we can even conceive of humans as anything other than the very supreme occupants of earth, a clearly erroneous idea that we have become so used to. It is indeed a challenging but rewarding exercise, to try and not see our place on this planet as preeminent, to look square in the face at all the damage we cause, and come to an honest judgement on this humanity that we want to only think of as sacred.

The production is rough around the edges, with performances that are only occasionally convincing. There is some troubling illogic that gets in the way, such as, the complete plot inconsistency of having robots widely available to all of the public, yet having characters act like they had never seen robots before. Actor Mathias Olofsson is however, very delightful as Jack, with fabulous physical expressions that communicate with great dynamism. He makes us see robots as superior beings, as technology invented precisely to address the many faults of our organic selves. There needs a revision to our prejudices as they pertain to the increasingly arbitrary divisions between synthetic and organic, natural and technological. For those more religiously inclined, “for in Him all things were created,” and for the rest of us, we all are one.

www.old505theatre.com