Review: You’re Not Special (Rogue Projects)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Mar 5 – 20, 2021
Playwright: Sam O’Sullivan
Director: Samantha Young
Cast: Arkia Ashraf, Kate Skinner, Ariadne Sgouros
Images by Kate Williams and Australian Theatre Live

Theatre review
Dan and Ellie are moving in together, as is the convention when humans decide to couple up. They expect to become closer as a matter of course, but like many others, these new living arrangements begin to test their mettle. You’re Not Special by Sam O’Sullivan is thankfully, not another rom-com on the humorous pitfalls of heteronormativity, but an intensely thought-provoking work about the tensions between organic and synthetic, in our age of unprecedented technological advancement. Characters in the play are caught up in their virtual lives on all their electronic devices, and at varying degrees, struggle to negotiate the nature of reality as it stands in the twenty-first century.

O’Sullivan’s writing is wonderfully engaging, with an intellectual curiosity that sustains our keen interest. There is a passion in the way its ideas are disseminated, that gives You’re Not Special a delicious sense of urgency, even though what it wishes to effect can feel somewhat didactic. Director Samantha Young does a splendid job of bringing to life, these concepts of right and wrong, in scenes featuring dramatic confrontations that always feel authentic and powerful. The show is very persuasive.

Arkia Ashraf’s uncompromising naturalism in his approach to the depiction of central character Dan, conveys a valuable quality of the everyman, one that invites the viewer to relate his story to each of our own lives. It is a solid, heavily introspective performance, that benefits tremendously from the intimacy of the space. Ellie is played by an exquisite Kate Skinner, scintillating in moments of vigour, and genuinely delightful when delivering comedy. In the enigmatic and pivotal role of April, is Ariadne Sgouros, who demonstrates excellent capacity for complexity. She revels in the many layers offered by the unusual personality, and challenges us to bring interpretations that are as expansive as the work she presents.

Design aspects are comparatively low-key, although appropriately so. Set and costumes by Anna Gardiner evoke a familiarity that helps us place the action at close psychological proximity. Martin Kinnane’s lights contribute a sense of dynamism to the narrative’s unfolding turmoil, and Kaitlyn Crocker’s sound design is memorable for surprising touches that hint at the surreal.

You’re Not Special asks important questions, but is perhaps too strident in its need to provide answers. Its default position of honouring an imagined point of human origin, and of what is traditionally thought of as “natural”, puts restrictions on the efficacy of its own artistic possibilities. The discussion of humanity and technology, when framed strictly as a duelling dichotomy, can feel mundane and old-fashioned. Technology can be thought of as essentially human, and at this point of our evolution, one could argue that a more futurist appreciation of lifestyles could be beneficial.

Quite certainly, truths often reside in all factions of our debates, and to participate in society, should not require that we must take sides on all issues, all the time. In 2021, it seems we have been conditioned to be irrepressibly opinionated over every matter. Maybe to remain impartial on some things, especially when the ethics involved are not cut-and-dried, means to keep an open mind.

www.rogueprojects.com.au

Review: Wild Thing (Flight Path Theatre)

Venue: Flight Path Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Mar 2 – Mar 20, 2021
Playwright: Suzanne Hawley
Director: Kim Hardwick
Cast: Di Adams, Philip D’Ambrosio, Lewis Fitz-Gerald, Katrina Foster, Helen O’Connor, Di Smith
Images by Lisa Tomasetti

Theatre review
When Jackie’s health begins to fail, it is her group of besties who come to the rescue. Suzanne Hawley’s Wild Thing features four women who share a friendship of over half a century. Now in their sixties, each individual is no less vivacious or fun-loving, and even though nature does not spare them the usual and inevitable impediments, we discover their spirit to be unyielding.

Hawley’s endearing characters tell a meaningful story, of love, of resilience, and ultimately, of generosity. It showcases the best qualities of being old, and even though its earnestness can feel somewhat overwrought, there is much wisdom to be gained, as always, from being in close quarters with our seniors.

A humorous piece with lively direction by Kim Hardwick, Wild Thing opens up discussions surrounding ageing and death, in a surprisingly upbeat manner. End of life is an emotional affair, but it is also inescapable, so to treat it with some degree of levity can only be healthy.

The presentation is designed competently, with Tom Bannerman’s set leaving a particularly good impression. Able to offer versatility, as well as practical solutions, Bannerman’s creation is an efficient performance space that frees up the cast for what they do best.

Di Smith brings nuance to the role of Jackie, along with considerable dignity to this important tale of personal agency, for women of a certain age. Helen O’Connor is memorable as the carefree Elizabeth, bringing a sense of cheeky ebullience to the show. The passionate Frances is played by Katrina Foster, whose approach proves to be unmistakeably kooky, and Di Adams’ restraint only makes Susan’s sexual escapades more scandalous.

We need to talk a lot more, about the subject of dying. It seems that evasion is how Australians (and much of the world) typically deal with mortality, which is to say, that we do not deal with it at all. It is our propensity to leave facing it, until the final moments when we have nowhere to run. It is ironic that we should place attention on everything else except for the one certainty in life. Thankfully, art exists to remind us of who we are, at our most essential.

www.flightpaththeatre.org

Review: Playing Beatie Bow (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Wharf 1 Sydney Theatre Company (Walsh Bay NSW), Feb 22 – May 1, 2021
Playwright: Kate Mulvany (based on the novel by Ruth Park)
Director: Kip Williams
Cast: Tony Cogin, Lena Cruz, Claire Lovering, Heather Mitchell, Sofia Nolan, Rory O’Keeffe, Guy Simon, Catherine Văn-Davies, Ryan Yeates
Images by Daniel Boud
Theatre review
Two Sydney girls connect across centuries, through supernatural means, leaving indelible marks upon one another’s destinies. In Kate Mulvany’s brand new revision of Ruth Park’s 1980 novel Playing Beatie Bow, teenager Abigail wormholes from 2021 to 1873, meeting young Beatie Bow and her migrant Scottish family, in a story that broaches the sensitive subject of our colonial history. It also touches upon themes of female solidarity, of matrilineality, and on the nature of love, for places and for people, in a three-hour long epic that is as expansive as it is adventurous.

Abigail and Beatie are able to time travel, because they were born spaewives, ready to transcend physical realms of earthly existence. Mulvany as writer too, ventures beyond the obvious, so that the audience is never allowed to linger in the mundane. With Playing Beatie Bow, she insists that we look under every surface, to reach for a deeper appreciation and understanding about the people we like to think we are. The action takes place at The Rocks, where our history is especially rich, and where its cultural influence is particularly far reaching. To excavate at that location, is to uncover the gems, and the dross, that shape our Australian identities.

Direction by Kip Williams takes care to address both the issues, of who we are and who we ought to be. His work is honest, but also highly aspirational. It provides so much that is warm and fuzzy, through the nostalgia of the piece, and the saccharine sweetness of the relationships being depicted. The notion that we are good people, is reinforced through the classic, if slightly hackneyed, salt-of-the-earth tone of the staging. Concurrent though, is the refreshing incorporation of Aboriginal and Asian perspectives, that prove fundamental in encouraging a reimagination of community. The inclusion of people of colour within this context of an “Australian classic” addresses the exclusionary strategies, that have informed the ways we have been permitted, and not permitted, to conceive of ourselves, over centuries of white imperialism. Williams’ reformation of our collective attitude, is somewhat surreptitious but undoubtedly political.

David Fleischer’s set design takes full advantage of a very deep stage (at the extravagantly renovated Wharf Theatres), utilising configurations of sparseness to communicate elements of time and distance, that are central to a story that has us frequently thrust into moments of magical abyss. Lights by Nick Schlieper are appropriately ethereal, reliably transporting us through one translucent apparitional scene after another. Renée Mulder’s costumes provide great assistance, so that characters are convincing from the get-go. Music by Clemence Williams and Matthew Doyle, are sentimental and beautiful, and along with David Bergman’s restrained sound design, provide us with meditative spaces so that our thoughts and emotions can be activated, in the audience’s pursuit of interpretation and introspection.

A remarkable warmth emanates from the cast; they seem to be saying that this tale is for all of us, and that we are in this together. Catherine Văn-Davies is powerful as Abigail, an urgent and compelling presence whose sense of precision, keeps us attentive to all the valuable dimensions of what we discover to be a surprisingly complex exercise. Văn-Davies brings an authentic earthiness that anchors the production in a place that feels universal and meaningful, even when its flights of fancy take us far away from reality. It is often a deeply moving performance, one that tethers us to humanity, of the self and of others.

Guy Simon is unforgettable in his various roles, but as Johnny Whites, his controlled delivery of an Indigenous man whose daughters have been stolen by the crown, is utterly devastating. Heather Mitchell is a sheer delight as two vastly different matriarchs, both wonderfully comical, yet profound with what they convey. The precocious Beatie is played by Sofia Nolan, with excellent timing and a formidable exuberance. The show requires of its actors, a high level of technical proficiency, but they are unrelenting with the heart and soul of the piece, and as a result, the audience cannot help but be thoroughly affected.

We need to know our origins, in order that our destinations can be properly mapped out. We have for the longest time, misunderstood our past, and therefore so many have to suffer painful consequences. This is a task that has no room for delusions. We can no longer pretend to be wholly benevolent. People need to own up to their mistakes, make reparations, and correct our pathways. Travelling back in time to face the demons is hard, but for the brave, it is the only way forward.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au

Review: Young Frankenstein (Hayes Theatre)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), Feb 18 – Mar 20, 2021
Book: Mel Brooks, Thomas Meehan
Music & Lyrics: Mel Brooks
Director: Alexander Berlage
Cast: Matthew Backer, Olivia Charalambous, Shannon Dooley, Nick Eynaud, Ben Gerrard, Amy Hack, Luke Leong-Tay, Lucia Mastrantone
Images by Daniel Boud

Theatre review
American neurosurgeon Dr. Frederick Frankenstein has to make a trip to Transylvania, in order that he may secure the inheritance of a vast estate, upon the untimely death of his infamous nature-meddling grandfather. Mel Brooks’ 2007 musical version of Young Frankenstein, came to Broadway 33 years after the success of his 1974 film. What was originally a spoof of classic horror cinema, is now turned into a parody of Brooks’ own comedy oeuvre. It is arguable how well his body of work has stood the test of time, but as this new iteration of the musical at Hayes Theatre demonstrates, Mel Brooks’ writing contains indubitable genius, and with the right approach and attitude, a brilliant masterpiece can be unveiled.

Directed by Alexander Berlage (winner of 2018 and 2019 gongs for Best Direction of a Musical at the Sydney Theatre Awards), Young Frankenstein is post-modern, high-camp theatrical amusement at its best. Berlage takes radical liberties with the text, stridently ensuring that every moment of the show delivers something disarmingly witty, or at the very least kooky and fascinating. What results is a fast-paced production that feels constantly buoyed by humour, shimmering with inventiveness. Central to Berlage’s method, is an unyielding allegiance to principles of queerness, that locates for the intrinsic irony of Brooks’ universe, an amplified sense of flamboyant absurdity. Although not exactly the wildest of rides, the show is perhaps better suited to the open-minded.

The staging looks exquisite, even though many jokes are made about budgetary constraints met by Australian independent theatre. Isabel Hudson’s set is comprised of staircases that go nowhere, and doorways of unusual proportions, splendidly converting M.C. Escher’s legendary drawings into physical reality. In turn, these unusual architectural structures make for fantastical contortions, in how human figures traverse the space, for laughs as well as for sheer eccentricity. Costumes by Mason Brown combine the traditional with the subversive, making Savile Row meet Leigh Bowery, for an aesthetic that feels unexpectedly cohesive, and a true visual delight. Trent Suidgeest’s lighting design too is an absolute joy. Oscillating between vibrant clashes of primary colours, and a green monochrome that pays tribute to the black and white of the 1974 film and of the ones from early last century to which Brooks refers, Suidgeest provides a deeply satisfying sense of stylistic dynamism that is both relentless and surprising.

Leading man Matthew Backer’s appearance may be nothing like Gene Wilder’s, but fears of an inferior depiction of Dr. Frederick Frankenstein are laid to rest from the very first scene. The performer is meticulous yet instinctual, thoughtful but rambunctious, with mesmeric eyes that seize our attention, as they reveal all we need to know about the story, and the wider cultural implications of what we are witnessing. Also noteworthy is his reliably marvellous singing voice, a proverbial cherry on top that has us endlessly spoilt.

Shannon Dooley plays Elizabeth with wonderful idiosyncrasy, an admirably brassy presence whose scintillating confidence seems to know no bounds. The problematic German “dumb blonde” character Inga is given a clever twist. By casting male performer Ben Gerrard in the role, its offensive quality is dampened, and Gerrard’s respectfully controlled drag interpretation proves that intelligent, innovative thinking can solve many artistic conundrums, even those related to sacred, often archaic, legacies. Performers in Young Frankenstein are, without exception, accomplished and appealing. Luke Leong-Tay’s Igor and Lucia Mastrantone’s Frau Blucher are both effervescent and irresistibly mischievous. Nick Eynaud’s irreverent take on The Monster further emphasises the audacious flaunting of queerness, for a show that seems to have much more interesting things to say, than what Brooks had ever intended.

It is likely true, that many of us have reached a point of exhaustion, after a year of the pandemic, and half a decade of Trumpism and tumult from the far-right. If the Americans’ embrace of the silly 1974 Young Frankenstein film, was a reflection of their disillusionment and fatigue, from their participation in the war in Vietnam, then this new musical rendition arrives just in time to fulfil our need for something thoroughly and unapologetically frivolous. It is not always a good time for levity; the world has serious things to sort out, and art is sometimes all we have. For now, however, the brain deserves a rest, and the soul needs nothing more than a good hard laugh.

www.hayestheatre.com.au

Review: Symphonie Fantastique (Little Eggs Collective)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Feb 17 – 27, 2021
Director: Mathew Lee
Cast: Lloyd Allison-Young, Alex Beauman, Cassie Hamilton, Clare Hennessy, Annie Stafford, Nicole Pingon, Chemon Theys, LJ Wilson
Images by Patrick Boland, Julia Robertson

Theatre review
In 1830, French composer Hector Berlioz created Fantastical Symphony: Episode in the Life of an Artist… in Five Sections, a work from the Romantic period that is now considered seminal in what is known to be the Program music genre. The piece involves obsessive love and morbid fantasies, which the Little Eggs Collective, under the direction of Mathew Lee, extracts to use as central themes in their 45-minute theatrical presentation, named Symphonie Fantastique after the original French. Examined through contemporary eyes, Berlioz is less romantic, and a lot more rapey.

Transformed into a genderless protagonist, the reimagined maestro is frustrated, cowardly, out of control. Grandiose and insufferable, their story is reminiscent of Fellini’s , in which we see an artistic genius trapped inside their own paranoia-filled process, filtering everything they encounter into a self-serving narrative, as though the world has been created in their own image. The play Symphonie Fantastique is virtually wordless, with deconstructed interpretations of Berlioz’s music (by Oliver Shermacher’s inventive and inspired musical direction) forming a foundation, on which the show is built.

The ensemble of eight are called on to dance, act, sing and even to play musical instruments, for a multidisciplinary exploration of the performing arts, that audiences will find captivating, at least on sensorial levels. Director Lee has a tendency to be overly literal with his storytelling, but the unfettered impulse to surprise, makes for an enjoyable experience. Performer LJ Wilson offers a strong portrayal of the lead character; not always detailed with emotions being conveyed, but certainly a magnetic presence. As a team, the eight are tightly rehearsed, and extraordinarily cohesive with the constantly undulating energies they bring to the stage.

Visual concepts are ambitiously concocted, and manufactured, for this Symphonie Fantastique. Costumes, hair and makeup by Aleisa Jelbart are marvellously assembled, with an impressive eye for sophistication and finish. Lighting and set designer Benjamin Brockman’s combination of mirrored surfaces and bold colours, insist on firing up our synapses, for unforgettably transcendent moments that are nothing less than electric.

There is a considerable amount of gender bending in this iteration of Symphonie Fantastique, and if the dissolution of gender parameters is essential in approaching, or perhaps advancing, a feminist theatre, then this production is on the right path. There are conundrums, of course, as is the case whenever we attempt to address problems of a sexual nature, whilst working simultaneously to dismantle old frames of thought. We want to bring justice to victims, yet we wish to deny hierarchical power structures their persistence. Feminism is the key to a future where no one is powerless, but it also presents the greatest challenge, for us to understand our world, without tops and bottoms.

www.littleeggscollective.com

Review: Videotape (Montague Basement)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jan 29 – Feb 13, 2021
Playwright: Saro Lusty-Cavallari
Director: Saro Lusty-Cavallari
Cast: Laura Djanegara, Jake Fryer-Hornsby, Lucinda Howes
Images by Zaina Ahmed

Theatre review
Juliette and David are a young couple, isolated in their Sydney apartment, in the middle of this pandemic. They live together because there is an unmitigated conventionality to their relationship, although we are never sure if there is any love between the two. Saro Lusty-Cavallari’s Videotape borrows its premise from David Lynch’s 1997 film Lost Highway, where a mysterious videotape is delivered, containing frightening visions that threaten to discombobulate a household. The pleasure in Lusty-Cavallari’s creation, lies in the unexpected amalgamation of comedy, drama and horror; although not perfectly harmonised, the mishmash of intonations does deliver something with an enjoyable quirky charm.

In Lynch’s deeply misogynistic original, the femme fatale comes in two guises, both of whom are helpless yet maligned. In Videotape, we wonder if Juliette stays with David because of the virus, or if she is a sucker for punishment. The work’s occasionally obtuse intimations provide a sense of texture to an otherwise uncomplicated plot, and although ambiguous in its intentions, allows the audience plentiful room for wide ranging interpretations.

Production design by Grace Deacon is noteworthy for its ability to convey wealth and polish, in a succinct manner. Lights by Sophie Pekbilimli too, help to tell the story in an economical way. Jake Fryer-Hornsby and Lucinda Howes are engrossing as lead performers, both evocative with what they bring to the stage. Laura Djanegara is effective in her smaller roles, offering a valuable hint of the surreal to the show.

We are stuck being humans, and in many ways, trapped in the past. The VHS tapes function as a device of excavation, opening wormholes that make us reach back, whilst materially positioned in the present. Videotape is both a new story, and an old one, not only with its intertextual obsessions, but also in its examinations of how history repeats. The cassette tape stands as an allegory, in our understanding of humanity, and in our experience of it. Rewinding it, fast forwarding, recording over, pause, play or stop, it is its finiteness that is truly chilling.

www.montaguebasement.com

Review: The Apologists (Unlikely Productions)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Jan 20 – 31, 2021
Playwrights: Lucinda Burnett (New Universe), Cordelia O’Neill (Seven, The Sweetest Hour), Iskandar Sharazuddin (Excuses)
Director: Jane Moriarty
Cast: Gabrielle Scawthorn
Images by Steve Gregson

Theatre review
Comprised of three monologues, each one utilising the concept of an apology as starting point, the appropriately titled The Apologists deals not only with personal turmoil that accompanies any event that necessitates an admission of guilt, but also the public aspects to which these difficult situations pertain.

In Iskandar Sharazuddin’s Excuses, it is the Chief Executive of the UK’s National Health Service, who takes a very public tumble. Cordelia O’Neill’s Seven, The Sweetest Hour involves a social media influencer whose self-obsession leads to an innocent victim paying the ultimate price. New Universe by Lucinda Burnett talks about the revelations of an NGO overlooking sexual abuse taking place where aid is meant to be implemented.

Although relatively short in length, each of the pieces are intricately conceived, and exhaustively explored. They involve high stakes and familiar situations, delving deep into characters beyond the pithy news headlines their stories would no doubt inspire, on millions of mobile scrolls.

The incomparable Gabrielle Scawthorn performs three separate roles, eschewing all things superficial, so that we can access the heart of each matter expeditiously. The unambiguity of her delivery style, ensures that our immersion into these narratives are gripping and powerful. Scawthorn’s ability to elicit empathy for the personalities we meet, is quite extraordinary, and a welcome antidote for these times of pervasive and succumbing apathy.

Jane Moriarty’s direction is crisp and concise, always able to locate a purpose, and drive home a point for each moment of the show. Lights by Saul Valiunas and sound by Rob Donnelly-Jackson, offer uncomplicated solutions to enhance dramatic effect at crucial junctures, of this otherwise barebones presentation.

It is easy to say sorry, and get away with it. We see organisations, big and small, express remorse over countless things on countless occasions, but rarely do we see any structural changes that will ensure improvements. Too often we chastise individuals, wanting them to be served their just desserts, but in the process, we neglect the machinations of systems that have facilitated these misdeeds. History is then allowed to keep repeating, which reduces apologies to being essentially meaningless.

www.unlikelyproductions.co.uk

Review: Dorr-e Dari: A Poetic Crash Course In The Language Of Love (PYT Fairfield)

Venue: Carriageworks (Eveleigh NSW), Jan 20 – 24, 2021
Director: Paul Dwyer
Cast: Mahdi Mohammadi, Bibi Goul Mossavi, Jawad Yaqoubi
Images by Anna Kucera

Theatre review
In Dorr-e Dari, the aspect of Sydney we call a cultural melting pot, comes to life, as artists with roots in Kabul, Tehran and Quetta collaborate to present a work based on Persian poetry. Subtitled “A Poetic Crash Course in the Language of Love” we are treated to philosophical perspectives on affairs of the heart, not restricted to the romantic, but relevant to all tender parts of humanity. Many of the words are foreign, but the sentiments of Dorr-e Dari feel to be wholly universal.

On stage for the entirety, a trio of artists Mahdi Mohammadi, Bibi Goul Mossavi and Jawad Yaqoubi present a bilingual show that often deals with tradition, but tailored to a modern Australian sensibility. With an English-speaking audience in mind, they find ways to cross bridges, and formulate translations, so that through these ancient writings, a new cohesion can be forged, especially between tribes that seem, on the surface, to be incompatible. It appears that to locate commonalities in the details of how our emotions work, is to create a sense of peace in how we experience and understand the world. For a work about love, it is indeed the nature of our shared existence on this one land that becomes fundamental.

Directed by Paul Dwyer, the show is unexpectedly beautiful in its somewhat fragmented form. Sequences can be naturalistic or theatrical, conversational or ceremonial, spiritual or didactical; there are dance sequences, comedic anecdotes, and videophone footage (live and pre-recorded), Dorr-e Dari is unconstrained in the ways it wishes to communicate. The tone is however, pleasantly cohesive, with all three performers proving to be highly likeable, and very welcoming presences, even if slightly unseasoned by conventional standards.

As we become used to the notion of having to bring diversity to all our social and professional endeavours, we gain a new appreciation for a post-assimilation world, where cultures of colonisation should no longer dominate our conversations. It is of great significance that Dorr-e Dari commences with a welcome to country by Indigenous elder, Aunty Rhonda Dixon-Grovenor (who also contributes her own love poem). As a people with roots from all over the planet, the only point of convergence for Australians, should we ever feel the need to have only one, must always have a First Nations emphasis. This is the most rational, and the most just, way for us to advance as a nation. The future of Australia needs to provide dignity for all, not only for the most barbaric.

www.pyt.com.au

Review: Maureen: Harbinger Of Death (Seymour Centre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Jan 15 – 23, 2021
Playwright: Jonny Hawkins
Director: Nell Ranney
Cast: Jonny Hawkins
Images by Yaya Stempler

Theatre review
In the prologue, we learn that some of Jonny Hawkins’ best friends are old ladies. It is a somewhat strange declaration to make, but the truth is that very few young Australians, can say that they spend much time at all with the elderly. As a colonised nation, we routinely ignore the old. Youth is money, and money is everything, in this Western style civilisation we all have to live. Thank heavens then, that Hawkins has created a play that shifts our focus, making us look intently at a woman in her glorious eighties. Maureen: Harbinger Of Death may not be an entirely true story, but none of it ever feels less than real.

This one-person show involves Hawkins themself performing as Maureen, sat permanently in a chair, never tiring of a nice, long chat. Her advanced years lead her to believe that she has the ability to foreshadow the death of friends, for she has seen them depart one by one. The writing is witty, extremely warm and often very poignant. Direction by Nell Ranney is extraordinarily elegant, for an appropriately restrained production featuring a larger than life character. Lights by Nick Schlieper and sound design by Steve Toulmin, are quietly resolved but always just right. Isabel Hudson’s work on set and costume is delicately considered, and a visual delight.

As performer, Hawkins is remarkable. They inhabit and convey wonderfully, the luminous essence of Maureen, a woman any audience will find instantly loveable. Their generosity of spirit offers a bridge, one that invites us to regard the octogenarian in the same way. Hawkins’ sharp comedic sense ensures that we are riveted, and the ease with which they command the stage, is quite a marvel to observe.

Maureen: Harbinger Of Death is a dignified portrait, of a person otherwise overlooked and forgotten. All of us are valuable cogs of the same machine, yet only a few at the top are ever celebrated. Our way of life requires that each must give till it hurts, but how we are rewarded for the same pain, is certainly unequal and unjust. So many are chewed up and spat out; so many are given use-by dates, and mercilessly abandoned thereafter. By contrast, many of our minority cultures revere the elderly. If only we knew to make better choices.

www.nellranney.com.au

Review: The Rise And Fall Of Saint George (Performing Lines)

Venue: Barangaroo Reserve (Barangaroo NSW), Jan 15, 2021
Music: Paul Mac
Lyrics: Lachlan Philpott
Director: Kate Champion
Cast: Andrew Bukenya, Jacqui Dark, HANDSOME, Joyride, Brendan Maclean, Ngaiire, Marcus Whale, Inner West Voices, Sydney Philharmonia Choirs, Sydney Conservatorium of Music
Images by Bianca De Marchi

Theatre review
English pop music legend George Michael passed away Christmas Day 2016. His death (and life) holds special meaning for the diverse and bohemian suburb of Newtown in Sydney, where a mural was painted soon after by graffiti artist Scott Marsh, on a wall outside the home of musician Paul Mac. Passengers on a busy train line would pass by many times every hour, watching a sanctified commemoration of St George, complete with spliff and beer bottle, as if blessing Sydneysiders from an ironic but unequivocally loving heaven.

It was a difficult time for Australia, leading up to the same-sex marriage referendum in Sep 2017. Our divisions had become severe and overt like never before, but there he was, St George with a Pride flag draped around his shoulders, in a mock religious style, providing comfort and reassurance. The gay icon had left behind an unparalleled legacy. Emanating from the spray painted image, were memories of his achievements, escapades and defiance, a constant reminder that all will be fine, in the midst of daily homophobic attacks on virtually every media platform.

Days after it was made official that marriage equality would come to pass, our beloved St George was defiled. Black paint was smeared all over what had quickly become a landmark, by Christian fundamentalists, who claimed it an insulting portrayal of Jesus Christ. Our community was left reeling. The artists went to work. The Rise And Fall Of Saint George is a collection of songs by Paul Mac and playwright Lachlan Philpott, documenting that assault on Newtown and Sydney’s queer community. It deals with trauma not only of that fateful moment, but is in fact, a meditation on the lifelong persecution suffered by all of us whose sexual and gender identities dare deviate from the straight and narrow.

Like Michael’s own music, the work here is consistently melancholic, whether the rhythms are buoyant or sentimental. Peppered with deeply affecting moments of Mac addressing the audience from his piano, with first-hand accounts of precious memories, the entire experience is a tender one. A choir (conducted by Emily Irvine) and solo singers perform each number with admirable passion, often with flamboyant embellishments, but always sincere in their approach. Video projections by Tony Melov are evocative enhancements offering invaluable flashbacks, that return us to some very emotional days.

From his early days hiding in the closet, afraid of the myriad devastating repercussions if found out, to a rejuvenated existence that is unapologetically loud and proud, the George Michael narrative is one that all in this community is intimately familiar with. Violence is nothing new to us, and the more we have to endure it, the more brilliant we shine.

www.performinglines.org.au