Review: Yarramadoon The Musical (Aya Productions)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Jul 25 – Aug 11, 2018
Book: Eliza Reilly, Hannah Reilly
Songs: Matthew Predny, Eliza Reilly, Hannah Reilly
Directors: Eliza Reilly, Hannah Reilly
Cast: Matthew Predny, Eliza Reilly, Hannah Reilly
Images by Indiana Kwong

Theatre review
Shelly might only be sixteen, but she has had enough of her country town. The bright lights of big city Sydney beckons, but first, Shelly has to deal with forces at home determined to keep her from the freedoms of the metropolis. Eliza Reilly and Hannah Reilly’s Yarramadoon is about a girl daring to dream; a diamond in the rough on her way to discovering her full potential. There is admittedly nothing extraordinary in that well-worn narrative, but the Reillys’ idiosyncratic comedy style proves irresistible, in this joyful take of the musical theatre genre.

Strictly for urban audiences, Yarramadoon is a scathing satire of life in the many backwater corners of Australia, where big mouths and narrow minds reign supreme. Songs by Matthew Predny and the Reillys are exuberant and effectively concise. It is a jaunty show, consistently witty, with many instances of inventiveness that truly delight. Lighting designer Martin Kinnane brings an excellent sense of dynamism to the plot, moving us between dimensions with great efficiency. The cast’s approach to performance is highly mischievous, and we get hopelessly swept up in their very compelling shenanigans. Eliza Reilly is particularly memorable as Shelly, confident in her extravagant sense of humour, and surprising with the depth she is able to convey, in what initially seems to be an unexceptional role.

When Shelly eventually lands in Sydney, there is no guarantee that she will find everything she had longed for, but the satisfaction that will come with her new autonomy is unequivocal. If we tell our girls that the world is their oyster, they must also be encouraged to explore the wilderness. The grass may or may not be greener on the other side; the key is to have the gumption to go and find out.

www.belvoir.com.au

5 Questions with Shiv Palekar and Hannah Waterman

Shiv Palekar

Hannah Waterman: What made you want to become an actor?
Shiv Palekar: I was a pretty silly child, I was naughty, I’d always play the fool and get in trouble lots. I think I recognised it for the first time when my cousins would ask me to pretend to be Mr. Bean, because I realised that doing something performative or out of the ordinary could make people happy or have some kind of effect on them. So I think I always was performative in some kind of way, I wanted to be a musician throughout high school until I got cast in a school play when I was in year 10. My mum forced me to go in and audition for it and I was hesitant and almost didn’t show up, but during rehearsals for that show I realised that I loved playing slightly outside of reality and I could get paid to essentially keep being a naughty boy.

What drew you to this play?
I hadn’t worked all year, and I really wanted a job. I was sick of being a waiter and so that’s what initially drew me to it. I served Lee Lewis a few times at the cafe I worked at and so maybe that’s why I was asked to audition. That’s the honest first part of my answer. But of course I read the play and fell in love with it and what it says and all the rest of the things that an actor would usually say. But for real, Kendall has written an incredibly beautiful story of a young woman and how she navigates her life with mental illness and that made me want to be a part of this great new Australian work. I’ve also wanted to work with Lee for ages.

Is this the first time you’ve worked at Griffin?
Yes and hopefully not the last.

Do you think the industry needs to change in regard to casting people of more diverse backgrounds?
Yes.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Hopefully not being a waiter. Maybe I’ll have a child?

Hannah Waterman

Shiv Palekar: What music have you been listening to lately? Have you used it as an ‘in’ for the play?
Hannah Waterman: I tend to listen to whatever is in my library whilst cooking. It’s more of a relaxation thing and a release than an ‘in’. Although I do always have a character perfume!

What’s your favourite food? Do you eat before or after a show?
Cheese, I’m essentially a rodent. I eat before as I’m a type one diabetic and this means I have time to digest and for my blood sugars to settle before hitting the boards.

What makes you laugh?
My family. Not always in a good way, mostly though.

A memorable meal your Mum cooked you?
Mum’s lasagna was a favourite as a child and is now one of my sons favourite meals so the tradition continues.

What’s it like being a working mum? Advice for actors who are thinking of being parents?
Being a working mum is tough in any profession and I think we have a long way to go yet in making theatre and television more accessible for working mothers. Luckily the Griffin team is very sensitive and accommodating and recently allowed my 7 year old to come to rehearsal. It would be wonderful if one day that became the norm. Don’t let being an actor put you off becoming a parent. The industry is moving in the right direction and ultimately kids are pretty portable and fairly adaptable, at least when they’re young!

Shiv Palekar and Hannah Waterman are appearing in The Almighty Sometimes, by Kendall Feaver.
Dates: 27 July – 8 September, 2018
Venue: SBW Stables Theatre

Review: Which Way Home (Ilbijerri Theatre Company)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Jul 4 – Aug 4, 2018
Playwright: Katie Beckett
Director: Rachael Maza
Cast: Katie Beckett, Kamahi Djordon King
Images by Snehargho Ghosh

Theatre review
Tash and her father are on a road trip to Lightning Ridge. Even though Tash is the one behind the wheel, she is jittery and hesitant, while her father is at peace, completely trusting that they are going to reach their destination with no troubles at all. Katie Beckett’s Which Way Home is a tender work about the father-daughter relationship, and a look at the ageing process. Young and old are placed in contrast with one another, for an appreciation of the way we mature, and for the value that elders embody in our communities. At its best, the play contains profound observations about family that are rarely articulated in our art, but a tendency to mollify the harder questions about kinship, results in a reduction of poignancy with what is being delivered.

Directed by Rachael Maza, the show feels warm and buoyant, and whether or not we are able to identify with its characters, an effortless charm from both actors keeps us engaged in their journey. Beckett takes on the role of Tash, proving herself a detailed performer adept at telling stories with remarkable clarity. Kamahi Djordon King is an affable presence, with an inviting sense of humour that wins us over. A more naturalistic approach to acting would provide a more authentic experience, but the pair brings a beautiful energy to the piece that many will find reassuring.

Life’s lessons require time. Words of wisdom can be spoken but they are not always heard. It is perhaps our greatest weakness, that the young are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past, but nature will have its way and insist that we let it take its course. Tash learns all she can from her father, but she can only take things at her own pace. We all have a duty to leave this a better place than how we had found it, and the older we get, the more salient that notion becomes. The children must be taught the best we know how, and we can all but hope that things do keep getting better.

www.ilbijerri.com.au

Review: The Long Forgotten Dream (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Jul 23 – Aug 25, 2018
Playwright: H Lawrence Sumner
Director: Neil Armfield
Cast: Jada Alberts, Wayne Blair, Nicholas Brown, Brodi Cubillo, Melissa Jaffer, Ningali Lawford-Wolf, Wesley Patten, Justin Smith, Ian Wilkes
Images by Heidrun Löhr

Theatre review
King Tulla’s remains are being flown back to Australia, after having been detained in England for three generations. His grandson Jeremiah is required to preside over the welcome home ceremony, but the prospect of having to deal with buried trauma and lost family histories, sees him unravelling, as he comes to grips with all that his emotions have struggled to face. There are few stories as profound and important for us today, as H Lawrence Sumner’s The Long Forgotten Dream. It explores the crippling effect of colonialism, on our Indigenous peoples, as well as the paradoxical urgency of their need to recover, to foster a brighter future. Sumner is marvellously revelatory of the Aboriginal experience, splendid in his clarity of language and of thought, for a piece of writing extraordinary for the power it dispenses, and for the wisdom that it contains.

Director Neil Armfield brings palpable life to this tale of lost souls and transposed dimensions. We are moved by the production’s remarkable tenderness, evident in every delicate aspect that it presents on stage. Live music by William Barton is ethereal but incredibly precise, with a spiritual quality that has us responding in accordance with each of its enigmatic inclinations. Jacob Nash’s set design keeps us enthralled, speaking to us as though on a visceral or perhaps instinctive level, in varieties of shapes and proportions, carrying us from space to space. Mark Howett’s sensual lighting style is relied upon to add warmth to the family drama, and gravity to our national concerns. Technical elements of The Long Forgotten Dream are inventive in their conception, and sumptuously executed.

It is an exquisite cast that takes the stage, with leading man Wayne Blair delivering phenomenal intensity and poignancy, to anchor the show in an unyielding point of pertinence. He couples vulnerability with dignity, ensuring that we are moved by Jeremiah’s circumstances and more vitally, by all the wider injustices implied in the depiction of his suffering. It must also be noted that Blair’s whimsical approach to humour is deeply endearing, and a crucial factor in allowing us to identify with a personality that can seem a world away from most of our daily realities. Also very charming is Ningali Lawford-Wolf, who plays Jeremiah’s sister Lizzie, a sassy, bold presence dependable for introducing a vibrant luminosity with every entrance. Jada Alberts is suitably subtle and thoroughly convincing as Jeremiah’s daughter Simone, and Melissa Jaffer is captivating in a somewhat surprising way, when she conveys so effortlessly, the romantic secrets of a 102-year-old woman.

The refusal to listen, may be our biggest pitfall. We can make repetitive and incessant claims of good intentions, but our inability to actually prioritise the needs and demands of Indigenous communities, will only serve to sustain these unacceptable state of affairs. When we think about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ancestral remains and sacred objects being controlled by colonising forces and their institutions, it becomes obvious the degree to which Australia denies the sovereignty of its First Nations. The inequity and, in some cases, inhumanity, they have had to tolerate, can only begin to find atonement when we are able to place their welfare at the very forefront of the national agenda, on equal footing with, if not ahead of, our selfish and exclusionary obsessions.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au

Review: Cry-Baby (Hayes Theatre)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), Jul 20 – Aug 19, 2018
Book: Thomas Meehan, Mark O’Donnell (based on the John Waters film)
Songs: David Javerbaum, Adam Schlesinger
Director: Alexander Berlage
Cast: Brooke Almond, Hayden Baum, Christian Charisiou, Beth Daly, Blake Erickson, Bronte Florian, Alfie Gledhill, Aaron Gobby, Joel Granger, Manon Gunderson-Briggs, Amy Hack, Laura Murphy, Ashleigh Rubenach, Ksenia Zofi
Images by Robert Catto

Theatre review
It is 1950s Baltimore, in Maryland, USA, and the township is split into the straitlaced “squares” and their arch nemesis, the delinquent “drapes”. Cry-Baby is an Elvis-type drape singer who has won the heart of Allison, queen of the squares, for a tale of forbidden love and culture clashes, in the tradition of Romeo And Juliet, West Side Story, and Grease. Originally a 1990 film by the King of Bad Taste, John Waters, this 2007 musical is a spruced up, dumbed down version as though the squares have co-opted Cry-Baby, for a retell of the story in their own style and aesthetic. This is, essentially, John Waters for the mainstream.

An exceedingly sharp and polished production, designed by Isabel Hudson (set) and Mason Browne (costumes), Baltimore is on this occasion, turned into a dazzling candy-cane Disney theme park, where even the poor looks camera-ready for the pages of Vogue. Director Alexander Berlage proves himself adept at manufacturing atmosphere and energy for the stage, but is unable to find for the piece, any emotional or intellectual depth that will allow for a more substantial experience, beyond an appreciation of all its very enthusiastic display of light and froth.

Christian Charisiou and Ashleigh Rubenach lead the cast, both Ken-and-Barbie-perfect in all that they bring, complete with the exhilarating singing of very high notes, that we have come to expect of the genre. Most memorable is Laura Murphy, incredibly delightful as Lenora, the only subversive element of the show, gleefully representing the cult of Waters in exquisite form. Other standouts include Amy Hack who embodies an assertive libidinal power that reminds us of the show’s queer origins, and Blake Erickson who amps up the camp factor in all his multi-gendered parts, to our immense satisfaction.

When overzealous french kissing is the dirtiest thing in a show, we know that it has deviated far, far away from the John Waters milieu. It is true that we can be polite when making art, that there is no need for the crude and obscene to surface in everything we put on stage, but Waters’ devotees will encounter an air of sacrilege at the Cry-Baby musical that is perhaps unbearable.

For others however, it is a wonderful reprieve from the daily humdrum, of colour, movement and a fantastic pop sensibility, that champions the optimism and vitality of youth at its best. The younger we are, the easier it is to demolish attitudes of prejudice and hate. There is no question that the differences between tribes, drapes and squares and so forth, can be reconciled, when we realise that the amount we have in common are infinitely greater, than the things we dream up to keep us apart.

www.hayestheatre.com.au | www.laurenpetersdesign.com

Review: A Taste Of Honey (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Jul 21 – Aug 19, 2018
Playwright: Shelagh Delaney
Director: Eamon Flack
Cast: Taylor Ferguson, Thuso Lekwape, Genevieve Lemon, Josh McConville, Tom Anson Mesker
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Jo is at the end of her teenage years, but there seems little she can look forward to in adulthood. Jo wishes to be independent of her mother, but Helen has taught her few skills, having spent her life dependent on lovers that never stayed the long haul. British playwright Shelagh Delaney wrote her first piece A Taste Of Honey at the age of 19, expressing youthful angst as it had meant in 1958. Her frustrations with the world, as encapsulated here, is likely a universal quality that recurs with each generation, but it is doubtful that the play’s temporal concerns have been able to retain much resonance.

Delaney’s depiction of negligent parenting in A Taste Of Honey is reliant on the denigration of the maternal character, with a criticism of her promiscuity in Act One that is no longer dramatically efficacious in 2018. In the absence of a persuasive villain, our empathy for the protagonist is compromised. The action happens almost entirely in a small apartment, with only a hint of the outside world evident in Jo’s troubles. The impact on young lives by social dynamics of the time are alluded to, but insufficiently examined. Our contemporary sensibilities look for commensurate details, but the work struggles to deliver more than cursory relevance.

Leading lady Taylor Ferguson is an endearing and compelling presence, with a wonderfully meticulous approach, ensuring that Jo is convincing at every juncture. Genevieve Lemon is a very entertaining Helen, delightfully vivacious in her portrayal of an intriguing personality. The surrounding men (Thuso Lekwape, Josh McConville, Tom Anson Mesker) are individually charming, with each performer able to introduce a greater sense of dimension to their roles than what is perhaps prescribed. The cast does a good job of sustaining our attention, and we stay with them until the end, but it is arguable if the production is able to convey much that is of lasting interest.

Young women today have so much to live for. Certainly, there are disparities between the sexes that are yet to be resolved, but the freedoms we enjoy in the West are hard fought for, and unprecedented. Girls no longer have to grow up into their mothers. Great examples of womanhood are everywhere, and it is no longer unimaginable to choose a courageous path. Jo’s pessimistic circumstances may not be entirely a thing of the past, but the opportunities for abandoning them today, are infinitely greater.

www.belvoir.com.au

Review: Håmlet – A New Australian Play (Bondi Feast)

Venue: Bondi Pavilion Theatre (Bondi NSW), Jul 24 – 25, 2018
Playwright: Antoinette Barboutis
Director: Victor Kalka
Cast: Antoinette Barboutis, Matt Castley, Philip D’Ambrosio, Amanda Maple-Brown, Linda Nicholls-Gidley, Gemma Scoble, Alexandra Stamell, Alana Stewart

Theatre review
Shakespeare can be considered the foundation of how we do theatre in the West, and is hence the master we study and seek to emulate. He, of course, is not the only male of our species who has shaped and dominated an art form, that had for many centuries disallowed participation by women. Even today, there remains only one female working as Artistic Director at a Sydney main stage theatre company.

Antoinette Barboutis’ Håmlet – A New Australian Play is a radical exercise of deconstruction, of Shakespeare and therefore of the very notion of how we do theatre, under deeply entrenched patriarchal structures. In tandem are personal expressions about the aftermath of sexual assaults. Ophelia is killed off by Shakespeare, but Barboutis endeavours to work her way out of the wilderness. Both projects, to dismantle theatre and to recover from rape, are fraught and highly complicated, resulting in a show that feels unequivocally avant garde.

The play is concerned with identifying and rejecting existing mechanisms, in hope of locating something progressive. The artist succeeds gloriously in tearing apart what might be considered “the establishment”, but it is uncertain what is installed in its place. It is likely that the newness of what is achieved, escapes labelling, but it is undeniable, that what we find accompanying the strangeness of the experience, is an alarming quotient of pain and sorrow.

It is a work of comedy, extremely caustic in tone, and subversive to the core. Director Victor Kalka brings to fruition Barboutis’ ideas, whilst crucially retaining a pervasive rawness that beautifully represents the spirit of Håmlet. The show is at its best when it is at its least polished; unnerving and confusing, it disturbs us in the moment, and leaves us frazzled after, quite possibly in a masochistically satisfying way. Not all will be able to piece together every bizarre fragment, but its control over our visceral responses is clearly very powerful.

Barboutis is a formidable presence, edgy, with a quiet aggression that translates irresistibly on stage. Her wanton disregard of the fourth wall requires that her audience is self-aware, and therefore reflective, of how we are implicated in its ideas. She is determined to not let any of us sit back and get away with creating distance between her world and ours. Linda Nicholls-Gidley and Amanda Maple-Brown are more conventional in performance style, both delivering memorable scenes in their embrace of a wild vision. Four other players, all in black and interjecting at opportune occasions, function as a modern chorus of sorts, bringing energy to the stage when the air of depression becomes unbearable.

Håmlet – A New Australian Play is extraordinary, in what it wants to say, and how it wants to say it. Its artistic integrity is unparalleled, and the way it sticks to its guns, moves us in ways that are unpredictable, and confounding. Some are likely to find it a difficult work to enjoy, or chastise it for being insufficiently entertaining, but the uniqueness of its approach, and the staunchness of its convictions, feel singularly rare and profoundly valuable. We need to react against a way of life that seems determined to keep us parochial, narrow-minded and fearful. Art of this calibre is the inspiration that can help set us free.

www.bondifeast.com.au