Review: Who’s Afraid (25A Belvoir)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Aug 24 – Sep 11, 2022
Director: Brendon McDonall
Cast: Danielle Cormack, Nicole Da Silva, David Franklin, Joshua Shediak
Images by Kasper Wensveen

Theatre review
It is New Year’s Day 2020, Australia is on fire, and a highly contagious virus is approaching. 2 couples are in a very upper class home, making efforts to fall pregnant. Sarah Walker’s Who’s Afraid is a sex comedy of sorts, involving lesbians Georgia and Nikki, trying to make babies with their gay acquaintances David and Marty, at a time when the world seemed intent on burning itself to the ground.

The concept is fiercely satirical,  for a culture that remains staunchly reverential about human procreation, but execution of the idea is ambivalent at best. There is little about the play that feels sufficiently critical of its characters, so the humour resides instead, with the clumsiness surrounding their negotiations and their various attempts at insemination.

Who’s Afraid has its compelling moments, especially when it makes references to Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf and lets the couples get dark with their arguments, but its real focus is on delivering laughs with the comedy, which tends to be broad and obvious. Directed by Brendon McDonnall, who although leans in on the corniness, ensures that the story is told with clarity and a degree of nuance.

Production design by Grace Deacon is visually appealing, but the assemblage of the house’s multiple rooms on one small stage, proves a real challenge. Martin Kinnane’s lights provide a convincing sense of dimension, for the contrasting tone of each sequence, and Pru Montin’s sound design further enhances the show’s comic qualities.

The cast is energetic, and admirably invested in the piece. Danielle Cormack and Nicole Da Silva play Nikki and Georgia respectively, both with captivating presences, and a rambunctious approach that seizes our attention. David Franklin is Marty, similarly intense and almost forceful, in his need to elicit laughter. Joshua Shediak is a more relaxed performer, but no less magnetic as David, impressively demonstrating that restraint is necessary, when everything else is already spelling it all out for the audience.

The play’s hesitancy at making stronger and more rigorous arguments, against people having children, is its own worst enemy. An opportunity to be incendiary and controversial, is given up in favour of creating something frivolous, that ultimately offers little to ruminate on. There is no need for any finality to debates on bringing babies into a messed up world, but impassioned discussions on the matter, are certainly the right thing to encourage.

www.fouroneone.tvwww.belvoir.com.au

Review: Whitefella Yella Tree (Griffin Theatre Company)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Darlinghurst NSW), Aug 19 – Sep 23, 2022
Playwright: Dylan Van Den Berg
Director: Declan Greene, Amy Sole
Cast: Callan Purcell, Guy Simon
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
It was the dawn of colonisation, somewhere on this land now known as Australia. Teenagers Neddy and Ty, mountain mob and river mob respectively, would meet at every moon to exchange information, on what the white man is up to, as indications point to their presence beginning to seem a threatening one. Dylan Van Den Berg’s sensational new play, Whitefella Yella Tree tells a multi-faceted story of great importance, with scintillating humour, extraordinary tenderness, and shattering poignancy. Everything one could possibly ask of a playwright, Van Den Berg delivers, through the greatest of acuity and sophistication.

As a work of romance, Whitefella Yella Tree is likely one of the most moving pieces to encounter. Its narrative ventures into the sweetest terrains of innocent young love, only to deal a devastating blow, when it all goes wrong, for two characters we had fallen hopelessly for, from the very first minute. Furthermore, politically, and socially, what the play is able to articulate, are perhaps some of the most pertinent and urgent messages of our time, presented with unparalleled clarity, yet bears the elegance necessary to make the tough pill easy to swallow.

Van Den Berg demonstrates the real power of theatre, as a communal space of imagination and creativity, capable of creating meaning, understanding and consensus. Away from the grips of capitalism, in auditoriums still deemed to be sacred, we congregate to share vulnerabilities and seek truths, and in the case of Whitefella Yella Tree it all happens in only 90 magical minutes.

Declan Greene and Amy Sole are co-directors, marvellous at turning word to flesh, so that we can be thoroughly immersed with all our senses, into the astonishing world of Neddy and Ty, and everything their story represents. Greene and Sole bring incredible detail to the presentation, with resonances to be discovered everywhere our attention resides. The show says so much yet, quite incredibly, Greene and Sole ensure that we are able to absorb it all, helping us form comprehension about each and every issue being raised. Additionally, the show is full of irresistible charm, effortless at eliciting laughter and tears, for an experience as intense with the emotions it provokes, as it does the ideas it inspires.

Designed by Mason Browne, the set evokes our mountainscapes with little fuss, and makes a statement about territories being stolen, through a visual emphasis on the very portion of earth, on which the titular tree stands. Browne’s costumes are a delightful expression of Indigenous youth identities, choosing contemporary garb over speculations on what might have been, ironically brings authenticity to the personalities we meet. Lights by Kelsey Lee and Katie Sfetkidis, along with sound and music by Steve Toulmin, manufacture high drama for key revelatory moments, utilising the theatrical form to full effect, addressing both our instincts and intellect, in a show that requires us to think and feel, at every juncture.

Brilliantly performed by Callan Purcell as Ty, and Guy Simon as Neddy, the pair brings vigorous life to the stage, riotously mischievous at every opportunity. Bringing new meaning to the word “play” in a theatrical context, the two are infectious with their unbridled joy, as they discover the first pangs of passion and lust, in a decolonised tale about boys in love. As the story darkens, the gravity they introduce becomes unequivocally sombre and palpable, with a soulfulness that defies any attempt to disconnect, from all that they wish to impart.

The process of decolonisation may involve a conceptual returning to the times before, but it mostly involves reinvention and imagination. It requires that we interrogate values that are harmful to all who are Indigenous to this land, and seek ways to have them amended, remembering in the process that to address the injustice on Indigenous peoples, will always result in the aggregate progress of all on this land. We simply must no longer accept, that the displacement and disadvantaging of any minority, is a necessary evil for us to sustain a sense of nationhood. A new identity is being forged, and the colonial ways need to be eradicated.

www.griffintheatre.com.au

Review: Tell Me I’m Here (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Aug 20 – Sep 25, 2022
Playwright: Veronica Nadine Gleeson (based on the book by Anne Deveson)
Director: Leticia Cáceres
Cast: Tom Conroy, Deborah Galanos, Nadine Garner, Raj LaBade, Sean O’Shea Ellis, Jana Zvedeniuk
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Jonathan has schizophrenia, but he is not the only one who suffers its consequences. The story is told from his mother Anne’s perspective, who for obvious reasons, has to keep her wits about her, and is therefore extremely level-headed. Tell Me I’m Here is a stage adaptation by Veronica Nadine Gleeson, based on the 1991 memoir of the aforementioned Anne Deveson. We see the chaos created by Jonathan’s illness, along with a certain stoicism that Anne has to cultivate, in order to manage the challenges presented by her son’s condition.

There is a monotony to the hopeless exasperation expressed in the play, as well as an unrelenting frenzy brought on by the mental disorder. The story often feels stagnant, which is probably an accurate representation of Anne and Jonathan’s lives, but director Leticia Cáceres injects a great amount of energy to the staging, so that our attention is consistently engaged, even if our emotions tend to reflect Anne’s impassive pragmatism. Cáceres also ensures that characters are always depicted with dignity, as we explore the vulnerabilities of their difficult existence. The lead performers embody those admirable yet unenviable qualities with great aplomb.

Nadine Garner plays Anne, with an impressive exactitude that offers fine balance to the naturalism that she instinctively delivers, for this tale of parenthood and heart break. Tom Conroy is inventive in the role of Jonathan, and is suitably wild with a performance memorable for its radiant humanity. The unyielding intensity from both, are given moderation by a jaunty ensemble of four performers, Deborah Galanos, Raj LaBade, Sean O’Shea Ellis and Jana Zvedeniuk, who offer a sense of buoyancy, to a show that is at its heart, full of despondency.

Set design by Stephen Curtis features an imposing bookcase, stuffed with exemplars of breeding and sophistication, as though a reminder that all the refinement in the world, cannot prevent a person from the trauma that life will invariably dispense upon them. Costumes by Ella Butler bear a whimsical charm, that firmly positions all the personalities we encounter, in a realm that straddles perfectly, between theatricality and authenticity. Veronique Bennett’s lights are dynamic, almost busy, in their attempt at providing visual flourish, to accompany a narrative of the disturbed mind. Sound and music by the duo of Alyx Dennison  and Steve Francis are beautifully accomplished, able to convey nuanced textures for an emotional landscape that can otherwise feel too static.

Nature is cruel. The gift of life, comes with the surety of death, and in the process it seems no one leaves unscathed. Even those who are perceived to be awarded a charmed life, must think that the challenges that they do face in private, to be the hardest thing. To witness the torment of those in Tell Me I’m Here however, is a sobering reminder that there are indeed worse spaces to find oneself.

www.belvoir.com.au

Review: The Comedy Of Errors (Bell Shakespeare)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Aug 17 – Sep 17, 2022
Playwright: William Shakespeare
Director: Janine Watson
Cast: Joseph ‘Wunujaka’ Althouse, Julia Billington, Giema Contini, Skyler Ellis, Felix Jozeps, Alex King, Leilani Loau, Ella Prince, Lauren Richardson, Maitland Schnaars
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
In Shakespeare’s The Comedy Of Errors, two sets of twins cause mayhem in the Greek city of Ephesus, through a series of events involving mixed identities and wild premises. It may be a relic of a play, but centuries on, it still provides an opportunity for theatre makers to present something frolicsome and mirthful, for audiences of any description. In the right hands, it may even demonstrate the changes that have occurred in our cultures over this half a millennium, for it is through adaptations and interpretations, that we may observe our evolution, reflected in the artistic choices being made today.

On this occasion, director Janine Watson applies a correspondingly frivolous 1970s disco aesthetic to the staging, but it is the queering of characters and relationships in the story, that forms a constant reminder, that we are indeed living in the twenty-first century. There is an unmistakeable vigour to Watson’s work, with a love for the immediacy of the live format, that truly shines. 

The cast is given plentiful space to wreak havoc, and their mischievousness is resolutely centre stage. Skyler Ellis and Felix Jozeps are the twins named Antipholus, both performers energetic, passionate and effortlessly charismatic. The two servants named Dromio, also twins, are played by Julia Billington and Ella Prince, both inventive and captivating, who turn their parts resoundingly non-binary, for a show memorable for its subtext of gender dismantlement. Giema Contini and Joseph ‘Wunujaka’ Althouse are flamboyant siblings Adriana and Luciano, eliciting some of the biggest laughs with a wonderful camp approach to their humour.

Hugh O’Connor’s set and costume designs are pop infused, colourful manifestations of a lurid fantasy world, in which common sense takes a back seat. Along with lights by Kelsey Lee, this production of The Comedy Of Errors is relentlessly vibrant, in a way that proves visually satisfying. Music and sound by Pru Montin too are not particularly subtle, prominently featuring hits from the disco era that remain gloriously euphoric.

Beneath all the rambunctious activity, lies a central guiding principle of authenticity. The production’s theme is declared with great pride in neon, “Find Yourself”, which must certainly refer to the discovery of one’s purest identity. Even if Shakespeare represents the diametric opposition to one’s own values, it can never be discounted that it is sometimes the very notion of an antithesis, that helps one uncover the truth.

www.bellshakespeare.com.au

Review: Albion (Seymour Centre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Jul 27 – Aug 20, 2022
Playwright: Mike Bartlett
Director: Lucy Clements
Cast: Jane Angharad, Joanna Briant, Claudette Clarke, Alec Ebert, Deborah Jones, Mark Langham, Rhiaan Marquez, Ash Matthew, Charles Mayer, James Smithers, Emma Wright
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review

After making a fortune from her retail business, Audrey decides to revive a stately home, located some distance away from her usual London residence. What initially looks to be a noble enterprise, soon reveals itself to be a project that is more problematic, than Audrey had ever imagined. Mike Bartlett’s Albion explores the meanings of conservative values in the twenty-first century. In a literal way, characters play out the repercussions of one rich woman’s desire to preserve a relic. Wishing to hold on to the past, can be thought of as part and parcel of being human, but in Albion it becomes evident that to resist change, is perhaps one of the most extravagant indulgences, that only the privileged can afford.

Bartlett’s writing is irrefutably magnetic, replete with confrontational ideas and delicious scorn. The staging on this occasion, as directed by Lucy Clements, gleams with emotional authenticity, although its humour feels needlessly subdued, and its politics ultimately shape up to be somewhat muted in effect. A reluctance to cast explicit and pointed judgement over Audrey, diminishes the dramatics that the story should be able to deliver.

Actor Joanna Briant is a very convincing leading lady, with a performance that looks and feels consistently genuine, but other elements of the production bear a certain uncompromising earnestness that detracts from her work. Briant makes excellent choices at creating a personality who only thinks of herself as sincere and well-meaning, but other forces can work harder to create a sense of opposition to Audrey’s behaviour.

Thankfully, Briant’s is not the only strong performance from the cast. Claudette Clarke’s spirited defiance as Cheryl the ageing house cleaner, is a joy to watch, with an edgy abrasiveness that thoroughly elevates the presentation. Also highly persuasive is Charles Mayer, who plays Audrey’s ride-or-die lover Paul with a lightness of touch, humorously portraying the complicity of bystanders who have every opportunity to intervene but who choose to ride passively with the tides.

Imagery from this staging too, has its moments of glory. The collaboration between production designer Monique Langford and lighting designer Kate Baldwin, is a fairly ambitious one, able to invoke a grand landscape on foreign lands, with only the power of suggestion. Music and sound by Sam Cheng provide a gravity befitting the stakes involved, reminding us of the wider impact of these personal narratives.

Romantic nostalgia, the kind that Audrey is so invested in, represents a longing that those, for whom the system works, is bound to have. Of course Audrey is able to look back with rose-tinted glasses, now that she has her millions. There are others who simply cannot look at those symbolic structures, without having to wish for improvements. We do not regard icons with the same reverence, or indeed irreverence, because they mean different things to different people. The way in which we live our lives, have hitherto relied upon power discrepancies and injustices. Of course Audrey and her ilk will want to retain old things, but unless they can afford to make up for all the sacrifices, that the lower classes are no longer willing to submit to, then they too will have to move on with the times.

www.seymourcentre.com

Review: How To Defend Yourself (Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Aug 11 – Sep 3, 2022
Playwright: Liliana Padilla
Director: Claudia Barrie
Cast: Georgia Anderson, Madeline Marie Dona, Brittany Santariga, Jessica Spies, Jessica Paterson, Michael Cameron, Saro Lepejian
Images by Phil Erbacher

Theatre review

Two men raped a woman, at an American university campus one night. The student body convulses in response, trying to do its best to make sense of the violence, but finds itself unable to come to terms, with life after the abhorrent episode. In Liliana Padilla’s How to Defend Yourself, we see a group of young people congregating at a dojo, ostensibly taking classes for self-defence, but is in fact finding solace in one another, and hoping for emotional emancipation, following the devastating attack on an institution that had hitherto felt safe and secure.

Padilla’s 2019 play is appropriately cynical and pessimistic, written at a time when the meanings of gender (and its injustices) are rapidly collapsing. We watch characters in the show desperately finding ways to mend their individual lives, within a system that clearly needs an overhaul. Thankfully there is surprising humour to be found throughout the piece, although the production seems hesitant about its implementation. Directed by Claudia Barrie, How to Defend Yourself is certainly well-intentioned, but the way in which its discussions are conducted, often feels surface and perfunctory. A lack of vulnerability, prevents us from reaching deeper into the issues at hand.

Chemistry between cast members too, are insufficiently vigorous, for a story that relies on explosive revelations and overwhelming poignancy. There are strong performances to be found, from the likes of Brittany Santariga and Jessica Spies, who bring emotional intensity, and from Georgia Anderson and Saro Lepejian, with their captivating idiosyncrasies, but not all are able to connect meaningfully with one another. Perhaps it is that disjointed communication, that is at the core of our social problems. No matter how fervent we are, it is an inability to find consensus that hinders progress.

Set design by Soham Apte, along with Emily Brayshaw’s costumes, transport us to the world of American colleges, with accuracy and concision. Lights by Saint Clair have a tendency to be overly enthusiastic, but are effective in bringing visual variety to the imagery that we encounter. Sound design by Samantha Cheng on the other hand, is conservatively rendered but able to manufacture surges of energy when required.

Much of sexual violence springs from our conceptions of gender; what it means to be a man, a woman, and how the two are supposed to converge. We teach our young to take these notions as gospel, and then watch as they relate to everything from their assigned vantage points, as they place themselves in positions of power and subjugation accordingly. We expound to women that the world is kind, and that people nurture one another, while we drill into men that the world is for their taking, and that fortune favours the brave.

To undo that indoctrination, not just for individuals, but for entire societies, has proven a long and arduous road. We are however, in a moment of acceleration, as we awaken from false binaries, and begin to reshape our understanding of being, and of communities. As gender begins to disintegrate, we are forced to reckon with all that it touches, which in essence, is all and everything. We can no longer tolerate prejudice of any kind, which means that we must no longer allow barriers and disadvantage of any description to remain. How we accomplish this pipe dream however is, as Padilla indicates in How to Defend Yourself, quite the mystery.

www.redlineproductions.com.au

Review: Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Roslyn Packer Theatre (Sydney NSW), Aug 6 – Sep 10, 2022
Playwright: Robert Louis Stevenson (adapted by Kip Williams)
Director: Kip Williams
Cast: Matthew Backer, Ewen Leslie
Images by Daniel Boud

Theatre review
There is something very queer about Utterson’s obsession, over having to uncover the truth about Mr Hyde. In Kip Williams’ version of the 1886 novella by Robert Louis Stevenson, it is not the relationship between Jekyll and Hyde that occupies the majority of our attention. Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is, on this occasion, more concerned with Utterson’s fervent investigations, showing his indefatigable determination at getting closer and closer to the mystery of Hyde. The audience watches from a vantage point of feeling as though, we already know all there is to the Jekyll and Hyde story, but new revelations in WIlliams’ adaptation emerge, that surprise us much as they do Utterson.

On stage with the actors, are large video screens, up to 6 of them at any one time. Our attention resides with the projected image for virtually all of the duration, yet the live quality of the presentation is unmistakeable. Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is cinematic but also certainly theatrical. We have a visceral connection with the energy that emanates from all corners of the stage, but our eyes are kept fixated on oversized monitors that seem to be constantly floating, into all manner of configurations. David Bergman’s video design is gloriously imagined, mostly in vintage film monochrome, and although not flawlessly executed, its ambition is nothing short of breathtaking. A sequence involving staircases is particularly wondrous, able to manipulate space in the most whimsical ways, for a new theatrical experience that feels completely linked with technological ingenuity.

Kip Williams’ adaptation and direction of the piece is relentlessly vigorous in tone. At the centre of the old story, is an exploration of pharmaceuticals, and for the entire show, we too feel as though on artificial stimulants, almost manic in how we have to respond to the work. It is a rich and intense journey that Williams takes us on, as he pushes gregariously at the boundaries of the art form, but it is ultimately the reframing of meaning, that stays with the viewer. Stevenson’s writing is remembered to be about pietistic notions of good and evil, but Williams reminds us that the longevity of the tale and its famous characters, are due largely to our very basic and eternal desire, to understand the nature of truth.

The space, designed by Marg Horwell, positions us as though peering from the backlot of a film studio, with flats wheeling in and out, but facing away from the auditorium. Horwell’s costumes aim for period authenticity, and are fitted immaculately to maximise the appeal of the show’s beguiling stars. Lights by Nick Schlieper are lush and sensual, able to provide delightful imagery, whether our eyes are consumed by video, or when our sight wanders to the real activity taking place on stage. A magnificent sound design by Michael Toisuta envelopes us in tension and extravagance, of the old Hollywood kind, with a grandeur that brings a sense of elevation, to every thought that crosses the mind.

Actors Matthew Backer and Ewen Leslie are highly impressive, not only with the backbreaking technical demands of the production, but also for the sheer amount of dialogue they need to rattle off at lightning speed. Their barrage of words often amount to little more than dramatic urgency, but to see them in action is to witness a kind of superhuman power in motion. Backer plays Utterson, controlled yet desirous, with an astonishing precision to all the details that he delivers. Leslie plays Jekyll, Hyde and a host of other personalities, with wild abandon at a fabulous intensity.

Dr Jekyll understood that there is something important that needs to be unearthed from within, even though social forces keep it vehemently repressed. The original story presents its arguments in a binary way; it is good or evil, and it is all or nothing. Queering the narrative, as Williams does in this update, allows us to see the shades between black and white, and therefore approach its ideas with a greater compassion, for Jekyll and Hyde, and perhaps more importantly, for ourselves.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au

Review: Sleeplessness (Carriageworks)

Venue: Carriageworks (Eveleigh NSW), Aug 4 – 13, 2022 / Riverside (Parramatta NSW) Aug 19 – 20, 2022
Playwrights: Kaz Therese, Anthea Williams
Director: Anthea Williams
Cast: Kaz Therese
Images by Anna Kučera, Alex Wisser

Theatre review
Kaz Therese has roots that trace back to Hungary, but for many decades those stories of immigration were kept silent. Shame and trauma prevent us from knowing the truths, behind how we have come to be. Those of us who are undaunted by the challenges that emerge from uncovering and confronting the past, stand to gain so much when those revelations are brought to light. In Sleeplessness, Therese dares to go back in time, almost as an act of defiance against her elders, in order that a sense of liberation can be attained for their family.

Therese’s determination to reach for the truth, provides for the piece, a certain zeal that has us on the edge of our seats. Along with the inherent mysteries that surround these stories about a hidden past, it is Therese’s fearless integrity that proves compelling. Co-written with and directed by Anthea Williams, Sleeplessness is beautifully structured, capable of weaving together multi-generational narratives to form a powerfully coherent portrait, not only of an immigration experience, but also of inter-generational trauma, that many Australians share.

As first-person narrator in this one-person presentation, Therese is a commanding presence, dynamic yet inexorably vulnerable, as they take us through a string of heart-breaking revelations, with an immense and unmistakeable generosity. Supported by video projections (assembled by Zanny Begg), filmed incredibly by Therese half a lifetime ago, on the very same subject, we gain a level of insight rarely paralleled. Sleeplessness tells of someone else’s secrets, but will no doubt resonate intimately, for each individual with whom it connects.

Remarkable lighting design by Karen Norris brings emotional embellishment to the ever intensifying story-telling. Working harmoniously with minimalist physical configurations, and the aforementioned sentimental video elements, Norris demonstrates great sensitivity and elegance, in her calibrations of tension and mood. Music by Anna Liebzeit is appropriately restrained, but no less evocative in the creation of a space that is simultaneously ethereal and heavy, allowing us to travel through the circularity of time, in this contemporary exploration of difficult family histories.

There is a feminist frame to how meaning is conveyed in Sleeplessness. It is indeed helpful to study the women in our past through modern lenses, so that we can apply those discoveries to our lives today, in practical ways, and to ensure that we progress in a way that hardships of our foremothers, can offer more than just catharsis. Following in our mothers’ footsteps, and repeating their patterns, are probably inevitable, for we are genetically entwined, but to learn from the lessons they bequeath, is perhaps the best way to honour their legacy.

www.carriageworks.com.au

Review: Jekyll And Hyde (Hayes Theatre)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), 29 Jul – 27 Aug, 2022
Book and Lyrics: Leslie Bricusse
Music: Frank Wildhorn
Director: Hayden Tee
Cast: Melanie Bird, Mitchell Cox, Georgina Hopson, Madeleine Jones, Luke Leong-Tay, Brendan Maclean, Rob McDougall, Sarah Murr, Gus Noakes, Billie Palin, Brady Peeti, Matthew Predny, Mitchell Roberts, Rutene Spooner
Images by Phil Erbacher

Theatre review

Dr Jekyll is determined to reveal the secrets hidden within the human psyche, but what he uncovers is beyond anything he can ever prepare for. This 1990 musical by Leslie Bricusse and Frank Wildhorn, is a retelling of the 1886 novella by Robert Louis Stevenson, famous and eternally resonant with what it says about our nature.

Bringing a delicious sense of camp, is new direction from the inventive mind of Hayden Tee, whose bold vision ensures that Jekyll and Hyde is nothing short of a captivating experience. The show is taut and exciting, with a superlative level of singing and musicianship that has us impressed from start to end. Orchestration by Nigel Ubrihien is exceptionally sophisticated, as well as being highly enjoyable, with Steven Kramer’s musical direction delivering great visceral power, through all that we hear. Olivia Wilding and Sally Schinckel-Brown are the two cellists prominently featured, keeping us deeply engaged in the high drama of this outlandish story.

Leading man Brendan Maclean is appropriately intense and macabre in the title role, although not always convincing with the emotional dimensions being explored. Brady Peeti as Lucy steals the show unequivocally, as does Georgina Hopson (who plays Emma), both performers completely disarming with their supreme vocal abilities. Mitchell Cox and Rutene Spooner too are unforgettable in multiple smaller roles, able to seize our attention with every appearance, for moments of genuine delight. Also noteworthy is choreography by Siobhan Ginty, who keeps our eyes amused through the duration, with her wonderful physical configurations of a splendidly assembled cast.

Set design by Melanie Liertz is whimsical yet ambitious, able to create for the viewer a sense of expansiveness, alongside a satisfying quirkiness to her depiction of a psychiatric hospital. Lights by Anthony Pearson succeed at establishing atmosphere for each sequence, but can sometimes feel perfunctory, or perhaps insufficiently creative in approach. Costumes by Mason Browne on the other hand, are highly appealing, and relentlessly glamorous, whilst maintaining accuracy in all his representations of the tale’s colourful personalities.

We can never try too hard, to reveal who we are. It is apparently true, that there is no end to how much we can learn about being human. The problem it seems, is what we do with that information, when we understand that a big part of our existence comprises qualities less than desirable. Mr Hyde is horrible, and he is everywhere. We imagine that to know Mr Hyde, is to be able to control him, but evidence suggests that evil will always find a way.

www.hayestheatre.com.au

Review: The One (Ensemble Theatre)

Venue: Ensemble Theatre (Kirribilli NSW), Jul 22 – Aug 27, 2022
Playwright: Vanessa Bates
Director: Darren Yap
Cast: Gabrielle Chan, Angie Diaz, Aileen Huynh, Damien Strouthos, Shan-Ree Tan
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review
In Vanessa Bates’ The One, siblings Mel and Eric are mixed-race Malaysian-Australians, who have lived in Australia all their lives, but who have never really felt completely accepted, by either side of their combined heritage. This is not a point made too obviously, with playwright Bates choosing instead to amuse us with events surrounding the impending visit of the pair’s flamboyant mother. Much of the writing sparkles with a delightful wit, but the plot lacks focus, involving many moments that feel superfluous, and in need of a more succinct edit.

The comedy is given effervescence by Darren Yap, who directs the piece with charm and spirited vigour. Set and costumes by Nick Fry are whimsical in their appeal, and along with Verity Hampson’s lighting design, the production offers satisfyingly exuberant imagery. Music by Michael Tan is inventive and meaningful, effective at conveying a soulful quality that relates closely, to the themes of the story being told.

Lead performers Angie Diaz and Shan-Ree Tan are both captivating presences, who deliver a sense of integrity, alongside the buoyant humour that they exteriorise for the staging. Diaz and Tan demonstrate great flair for the playfulness of The One, but it is their commitment to the depth and substance of the material that keeps us attentive. Gabrielle Chan is suitably glamorous and evanescent as Helen, the self-absorbed mother. Damien Strouthos brings great energy and believability as Cal, the devoted beau of Mel. Aileen Huynh’s exaggerated approach to waiter Jess, can initially look somewhat startling, but makes good sense later in the show.

There is nothing fundamentally real about what draws the boundaries between countries, just like much of our identities are comprised of little that can be thought of as concretely material and unyielding. What is true however, is that individuals experience all manner of prejudice and degradation, based on how people think of one another. Mel and Eric have a right to feel that they belong, and it is up to us to define the meaning of inclusivity, wherever we call our home.

www.ensemble.com.au