Review: Homesick (The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Oct 8 – 12, 2019
Playwright: Sally Alrich-Smythe
Director: Claudia Osborne
Cast: Annie Byron, Deborah Galanos, Eliza Scott, Alex Stylianou
Images by Phil Erbacher

Theatre review
Samantha has suddenly come home to Wallerawang, from New York where she is yet to complete her higher education in music. Things are not well but she is unable to articulate them. In Homesick by Sally Alrich-Smythe, we observe the environment in which the young woman has grown up, that may have contributed to her emotional troubles, although we remain uncertain if those are entirely to blame for her illness. She seems to have identified her mother’s displaced ambition as a cause, but Samantha’s inability to bring adequate expression to her emotions, forms the central mystery on which the narrative of Homesick is built.

Its dark themes notwithstanding, Alrich-Smythe’s play features charming personalities and sparkling dialogue that keep us engaged. A generous measure of video projections (by Lucca Barone-Peters and Suzie Henderson) is used to help tell the story, integrated with a sensitive elegance by director Claudia Osborne, whose minimalist approach proves effective in this investigation into small town Australia.

Actor Eliza Scott offers an understated but compelling naturalism that makes believable, all of Samantha’s hidden struggles. Her mother Rachel is played by Deborah Galanos, whose effortless warmth assures us that the home in question, is loving and not overbearing. Annie Byron is quirky as the inconvenient grandmother Eadie, effective at introducing exuberance to the staging, and Alex Stylianou is memorable as Samantha’s ex-boyfriend Jess, confident with the instinctual comedy he brings to the very relaxed personality.

There are no doctors in Samantha’s story to tell us where her problems are coming from, so we try, as lay people, to arrive at our own diagnosis, which is neither reliable nor satisfactory. Mental health is complex. We may be able to detect feelings, but chemistry is best left to professionals. Samantha keeps her illness hidden, and we see her attempting to get out of the woods on her own, to no avail. It might be wishful thinking that the medical system represents a quick fix, but it bears reminding that help is always available, and even if the healing process turns out to be arduous, it is unequivocal that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Mental Health Line 1800 011 511

www.bontom.com.au

5 Questions with Brooke Rayner and Stephanie Somerville

Brooke Rayner

Stephanie Somerville: What’s your favourite pre-show pump up song?
Brooke Rayner: “Joyful Joyful” from Sister Act. Gospel choir and Lauren Hill’s voice – amazing. I remember dancing to it at one of those area spectacular school shows, maybe it’s the muscle memory but makes me want to laugh and cry.

What show have you seen in the last twelve months that’s really stuck with you?
Blackie Blackie Brown. Who doesn’t want a kick ass political comedy about an Indigenous Superhero and too many wig changes to count!? I was screaming in my seat. It was like watching a comic book open and come to life. In the words of the Hot Brown Honeys “Moisturize and Decolonise”.

What made you want to be an actor?
I think having access to theatre in high school and watching these amazing transformations happen and then having the opportunity to do it myself. Once I realised I could explore and feel out someone else’s story there were endless possibilities like … Why be one thing when you can be everything else?

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten?
Tripe. I love tripe. It’s cow’s stomach. But specifically Dim Sum style. It appears spiky but is quite soft and chewy, a lot of people reel at it. I ate it for years not knowing what it was. There’s some kind of irony in eating stomach.

What’s something that you and your character have in common that surprised you?
I think Bianca and I share a similar way of communicating. It’s knowing what you want to say but everything coming out of your mouth is disjointed, three different versions of saying the same point at once. Word vomit and then back tracking to try and fix what you’ve said. I’ve always been told I have terrible sentence structure.

Stephanie Somerville

Brooke Rayner: If you were an animal what would you want to be and why?
Stephanie Somerville: I’d like to be a big, fat, cat that belongs to some little old lady who feeds it fresh tuna and lazes around in the sun all day. Because honestly wouldn’t that be the life?

If you could eat one meal every day for the rest of your life what would it be?
Hot chippies with lots of salt.

What excites you about getting to know a character?
I get excited about that moment when you fall in love with a character. Sometimes it’s love at first sight when you read a script, but sometimes it takes a bit of digging. I think it’s the things that surprise you about a character that make you fall in love with them, and I always get excited about that.

What do you want to see when you go to the theatre?
That depends on what I’m going to see! But hopefully a good show? I like to see something that makes me think in a way I’ve never thought, jabs me in my heart, or a story I’ve never heard. I also really like to see kick-ass POC actors doing incredible work, and it’s something I don’t see enough.

What grabbed your attention about Slaughterhouse?
When I first read the script I felt like I was reading a good crime novel and I was trying to piece together this great mystery. I’m really looking forward to our audience having that same experience. What grabbed me though was how intelligently Felicia writes these intricate and complex characters, there’s just so much to excavate. She’s really very good, hey? And how lucky are we to be working with her words!

Brooke Rayner and Stephanie Somerville can be seen in Slaughterhouse by Anchuli Felicia King.
Dates: 16 Oct – 2 Nov, 2019
Venue: Belvoir St Theatre

Review: The Angry Brigade (New Theatre)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Oct 1 – Nov 2, 2019
Playwright: James Graham
Director: Alex Bryant-Smith
Cast: Benjamin Balte, Will Bartolo, Sonya Kerr, Nicholas Papademetriou, Kelly Robinson, Davey Seagle, Madeleine Withington
Images by Bob Seary

Theatre review
John Barker, Hilary Creek, Jim Greenfield and Anna Mendelssohn were sentenced to ten years’ jail for carrying out a series of bombings in London, in the early 70’s. They were home-grown terrorists, university degree holders with a self-righteous streak that had clearly gone out of control. Playwright James Graham completed The Angry Brigade in 2014, at a time when terrorism is routinely presented as a phenomenon akin to foreign invasion, used by politicians and the media to capitalise on our penchant for racial prejudice.

The play demonstrates that it is far more likely to be the disenfranchised within our communities who are drawn to such extremities, that the root of these problems are well within our own purview, and much less likely to emanate from an outside enemy that can only be controlled with further violence. The way our patriarchal capitalistic societies are currently structured, necessitates that a portion of us must face disadvantage, in order that all our hierarchical systems can function. We observe the anarchic activity of The Angry Brigade with a degree of empathy, and although unlikely to agree with their radical methods, their grievances about the Western world, so wonderfully articulated by Graham, are certainly persuasive.

A wonderful passion is introduced by director Alex Bryant-Smith, who assembles a production replete with humour as well as a sense of political urgency. Set design by Sallyanne Facer manufactures distinct spaces for the two acts, each of them evocative and efficient. Lights by Michael Schell add dramatic flourish to the staging, and Glenn Braithwaithe’s work on sound ensures tension is appropriately calibrated from one scene to another.

Strong performances by a well rehearsed team keep us fascinated and invested in this true crime story, where meaningful breaking of rules lead to indefensible ethical violations. Davey Seagle leaves a remarkable impression with his actorly intensity for the dual roles of Smith and John, brought to life with wit and vigour. Madeleine Withington brings emotional authenticity to the pivotal part of Anna, deftly delivering a narrative climax that packs a punch. Benjamin Balte and Sonya Kerr play the remaining transgressors, both able to generate moments of brilliance that have us captivated. A range of smaller roles are shared by Will Bartolo, Nicholas Papademetriou and Kelly Robinson, all accomplished with admirable style and imagination.

Like many things that are dangerous, anarchy can be useful in small doses. It is undeniable that some of what has been institutionalised, would be better off demolished, and in these instances, a hint of nihilistic chaos could help instigate change. Revolutions occur because they are necessary but it is unimaginable that shifts in power can ever happen without conflict and disorder, although violence should always be regarded as preventable. Anarchy can be looked upon as a transitory concept, a methodology for those who have nothing to lose, to rise up and demand for improved conditions, even when they do not have all the answers close at hand.

www.newtheatre.org.au

Review: Hair (Sydney Opera House)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Oct 3 – 6, 2019
Book & Lyrics: James Rado, Gerome Ragni
Music: Galt MacDermot
Director: Cameron Menzies
Cast: Stefanie Caccamo, Angelique Cassimatis, Emma Hawthorne, Luke Jarvis, Joe Kalou, Julian Kuo, Louis Lucente, Matthew Manahan, Sun Park, Paulini, Keshia Paulse, Callan Purcell, Monique Salle, Hugh Sheridan, Prinnie Stevens, Harris M. Turner,
Images by Daniel Boud

Theatre review
Hair debuted 1967, in the middle of the anti-Vietnam war movement. An icon of the peace-loving hippie counterculture era, the musical contains many anti-establishment elements that remain its defining feature, including the incorporation of profanity, illicit drugs, and nudity. It is the story of a New York City bohemian tribe, culminating in tensions that bring strain to the group when it is discovered that a member, Claude is being conscripted.

Act One is an exuberant cornucopia, of mischievously colourful expressions pertaining to ideals and identities of the flower power generation. Director Cameron Menzies and choreographer Amy Campbell manufacture a joyful visit to an optimistic past, enjoyable not only for its nostalgic value but also for an innocence, that proves so moving in the current bitter climate. Act Two turns serious, with the narrative shifting more firmly onto the Vietnam war, but sound engineering, although beautifully optimised for the cast’s vocalisations, does little to enhance diction in the reverb of the auditorium. Without clear enough access to dialogue and lyrics, the drama is unable to resonate. Lighting by Paul Lim on the other hand, is innovative and exciting, and together with James Browne’s spirited work on costumes, the production is a delight for the eyes.

A marvellous ensemble, full of conviction and vigour, gives us a cohesive gang of personalities, remarkably convincing in their depiction of an adopted family affair, powerful with the warmth they emanate. Matthew Manahan is a charming presence as Claude, commendable for the complexity he brings to the role. An imposing Harris M. Turner is the show’s unequivocal scene-stealer, equally impressive whether singing or dancing as Hud, the militant black rights activist. The astonishing Paulini sings some very big notes, reliably bringing the house down at each appearance. The group’s alpha male Berger is played by a tremendously likeable Hugh Sheridan, whose vivacity knows no bounds, even if completely unbelievable as a high school student.

When psychologist and LSD advocate Timothy Leary said half a century ago, to “turn on, tune in, drop out”, many were persuaded by his statement of subversion, and sought an alternative to socioeconomic and political systems that had revealed themselves to be oppressive and unjust. It seems all these years later, we are once again at a breaking point. A new generation, fuelled by the same disillusionment, is now trying to find new answers to old questions. Bell bottoms and patchouli may no longer be en vogue, but we still want peace, equity and a restorative love for mother earth, and with any luck, our efforts will have a permanent impact this time round.

www.sydneyoperahouse.com

Review: The Great Divorce (Flight Path Theatre)

Venue: Flight Path Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Sep 25 – Oct 5, 2019
Playwright: Roslyn Hicks (based on the novel by C. S. Lewis)
Director: Richard Woodhouse
Cast: Peter David Allison, Hannah Forsyth, Jamey Foxton, Roslyn Hicks, Jessica Kelly, Emily Pollard, Isaac Reefman, Richard Woodhouse

Theatre review
Lewis finds himself in hell, but not permanently it seems, as the gates to heaven remain open, to the possibility of repentance. He witnesses a series of debates, between the ghosts of hell and spirits of heaven, about where one would choose to reside. C. S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce, adapted for the stage by Roslyn Hicks, is a work of the Christian tradition, fundamentally reliant on binary concepts, but is nonetheless valuable with the many philosophical ideas it raises. At its best, the writing is transcendental and inspiring, but it can also bear a sanctimonious attitude to its representations that, predictably perhaps, proves grating.

Directed by Richard Woodhouse, the split between heaven and hell, is dramatically amplified. There is certainly no ambiguity permitted in the staging, and we always know who the us and them are, in The Great Divorce. Provocative discussions are depicted in a slightly too obvious manner, as if fearful that its essential beliefs could ever be misconstrued. Eight actors ranging from bombastic to the excessively dry, present a big roster of characters, with lead performer Isaac Reefman’s unassuming approach as Lewis, often seeming deficient in confidence. There is however, a quality of sincerity in all of the cast, that helps to sustain our attention.

The title of the piece reveals heaven and hell as human constructs, and the need some may have, not only for clear distinctions about the nature of the afterlife, but also for guiding doctrines that pertain to the here and now. C. S. Lewis presents his arguments in convenient dichotomies, although it is clear that these supposedly opposing thoughts exist in a singular mind. We observe the struggles in The Great Divorce, understanding that things are presented in the form of good and bad, but there is no denying our ability to easily identify with both sides. Faith is necessary because doubt is interminable, just as heaven cannot exist without hell.

www.flightpaththeatre.org

Review: Hairworm (The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Oct 1 – 5, 2019
Playwright: Emma Wright
Director: Jess Davis
Cast: Phoebe Atkinson, Bernadette Fam, Jennifer Hart, Alex King, Rebekah Parsons, Amelia Robertson-Cuninghame, Grace Stamnas, Sophie Strykowski, Laura Wilson
Images by Becky Matthews

Theatre review
Emma Wright’s first play Hairworm is about anorexia. It details the experience of an unnamed protagonist, as she suffers that very severe form of mental illness. We watch her go through tremendous anguish, in a writing style that is often clinical, able only to have us regard the condition from an intellectual distance, without having to invest heavily in emotional dimensions of the subject. As a theatrical work, Hairworm does not connect with immediacy, but is valuable in terms of the insight it no doubt provides, into something real and troubling.

Directed by Jess Davis, the production is dynamic and exacting, with Priyanka Martin’s lights and Cecelia Strachan’s sound, conspiring to carefully render a sense of texture for each of its scenes. A disciplined cast brings further polish to the staging, with Rebekah Parsons’ conviction as the afflicted lead character, giving urgency to the show’s pace and rhythm. Alex King plays the sister, memorable for introducing a moment of genuine sentimentality to proceedings.

Theatre does not always have to engage our emotions, but it should find ways to make us care. Conventional narrative structures can seem banal when we have them deciphered and deconstructed, but the way we choose to tell stories, are in direct relation with our very nature, and it seems humans are mostly predictable beings. We see the suffering in Hairworm, just as we see all the suffering in real life, and as is commonplace, our instinct is to respond with an insulating nonchalance that is perhaps inevitable. Art can pierce through that veil of apathy, to get to what one would hope is an essential compassion that unites us. Without art and compassion, hope becomes unimaginable.

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5 Questions with Sonya Kerr and Madeleine Withington

Sonya Kerr

Madeleine Withington: What are you loving right now? Why?
Sonya Kerr: So many things!! Rewatching old favourite shows, trying out new recipes, working on The Angry Brigade with such an awesome cast! Haha. I’m a busy person so right now I’m actually really loving spending the small amount of time I have free hanging out with my husband.

What will always make you belly laugh? 
Monty Python. I grew up watching them and no matter how many times I’ve watched Flying Circus or any of the films I still laugh like it’s the first time. The Two Ronnies also makes me laugh ridiculously hard.

Has doing this play changed or shifted your beliefs/philosophies in any way?
I don’t think it’s changed my beliefs but it has certainly made me see how anarchy can be attractive. When you feel like the system is built against you, it certainly seems like smashing against that system is the only option. I’m a big believer in the power of protest and of the people, so I think if I was around in the 70s in London I definitely would have been a supporter of The Brigade.

Does anger come easily to you?
Not really. I get disappointed, especially in relation to politics. Irritation comes easily. Lots of things irritate me, but true anger? It takes a lot for me to get really angry. I honestly can’t remember that last time I was angry. I think I’d be a member of the Mildly Irritated Brigade.

Does violence solve anything?
That’s such a hard question! While I do believe that violence begets violence, situations occur when violence is the only effective response. From something as simple as self defence to something as complex as a world war, I think the best I can say is that we should avoid violence whenever we can and exercise restraint whenever we cannot. 

Madeleine Withington

Sonya Kerr: What makes you angry?
Madeleine Withington: So many things. I get angry a bit too easily, I feel. There are things that are worth my anger and there are things that aren’t. I’m still learning to tell the difference. Injustice gets me, when people are disrepectful, if someone does something to hurt someone I love. I get angry at the media, and the politicians, and Australia in general, very often. Capitalism. That gets me furious. The kyriarchy. That’s a bit general, but it is probably best not to turn this into a dissertation. I got mad at the Angry Birds 2 film recently. I haven’t seen it. Just that it exists. See? Still learning. There’s so many things, I honestly don’t know if I can go into them all. 

Do you believe in the power of protesting?
Yes I do. Even outside of creating change at a structural level, I think it can be very important in showing people that they aren’t alone. At the climate strike that was the feeling I had. After months and months of crumbling internally, to show up to thousands of people demanding change together, it definitely made me teary. It was weirdly nourishing? And definitely made me eager for more action on a personal level, rather than encouraging complacency. I think in that sense particularly, protest can be crucial.

What do you hope audiences will get from The Angry Brigade?
Hope and fury. Momentum. An impulse to examine their convictions? Questions for themselves. I really hope that people come away feeling a little bit uncomfortable, like there is something in the corner of their vision they don’t really want to look at, and that they then work up the courage to look at it directly. Does that make sense? If someone came out and said they weren’t sure how to feel, I’d be happy with that I think.

What brings you joy?
Again, so many things! I guess that’s a good balance? Working, I love working. I feel very joyful onstage. My partner. Drinking coffee with my partner on the weekend in our flat. My friends. My friends are incredible. Playing pool badly and having a beer and talking absolute nonsense. Writing. Being underwater, I love being underwater. Animals, any animals at all, they’re all hilarious, except for moths, not a fan of moths. Terry Pratchett books. Music. My family. Showers. Oh god, hot showers. Shower oranges. If you know, you know. I have reasonably simple joys I guess.

You play the role of Anna in The Angry Brigade. Do you identify with anything in her personality or politics? 
Yes, quite a lot actually. It was her who initially drew me to the play. She is going through this very human thing of trying to align her ideas of what should be, with what “the soft animal” of her body wants. I think if you are someone who is at all given to introspection, that that is a very recognisable feeling. She also keeps questioning what “real” is, trying to keep her ideas free of influence. I mean that’s fighting a losing battle, but again, relatable. Also, destroy capitalism. The system is broken. I think Anna would be on board with that.

Sonya Kerr and Madeleine Withington can be seen in The Angry Brigade, by James Graham.
Dates: 1 Oct – 2 Nov, 2019
Venue: New Theatre