Review: Obscene Madame D (Theatre Kantanka)

Venue: 107 (Redfern NSW), May 23 – 27, 2018
Novelist: Hilda Hilst
Director: Carlos Gomes
Cast: Katia Molino
Images by Heidrun Löhr

Theatre review
Surrounded by death and dereliction, Madame D is plunged into a deep isolation, where she finds herself examining the meaning of her existence, after suffering the recent bereavement of a longtime companion. Still shaken from the sudden loss, her thoughts are incoherent but belligerent, and her behaviour is increasingly erratic. Her neighbours are perturbed, and so are we. Obscene Madame D is unsettling, an avant-garde work that is unafraid of confusion, determined to embrace the strange and difficult, in its exploration of life at its outer peripheries.

The space is charged with a sense of wonderment, as though something esoteric has taken over Madame D’s depressed home and mind. Video projections by Sam James and lights by Fausto Brusamolino create a gloomy but seductive atmosphere; we never feel at ease, but this mysterious intrusion into Madame D’s sanctuary is a hauntingly beautiful experience. Gail Priest’s music and sound are heard through headphones, so that all the secrets are presented with immediacy, and intimacy, although what we are presented with, never seem to be more than clues or deflections.

Directed by Carlos Gomes, who orchestrates something enchantingly unique for his audience, often intriguing with its penchant for rousing curiosity, though its ability to hold our attention is inconsistent. In the absence of a strong narrative, we drift through dream states, not all of which pertain to the show in progress. Performer Katia Molino cuts a glamorous figure, mesmerising even in various states of dishevelment. In the middle of all the tangential statements, Molino’s unflappable presence provides a reliable centre, that our imaginations can retreat into, and interpretations can be formulated.

When we meet Madame D, it is as though she is encountering freedom for the first time. In pain from the shock of a new independence, she now has to define the world for herself. No longer the passive half of a partnership, Madame D must finally grow up, and as an older woman, the process is understandably excruciating. It is an inevitable metamorphosis, one that can only be unpredictable, but that will ultimately be rewarding, if only for the brutal authenticity that it delivers.

www.107.org.au | www.kantanka.com.au

Review: Get Her Outta Here (107)


Venue: 107 (Redfern NSW), Apr 19 – 21, 2018
Creator: Isabella Broccolini
Cast: Isabella Broccolini
Images by Phil Erbacher

Theatre review
Isabella Broccolini is the lady in red, swathed in an uncompromising colour representative of all things fiery. We see a picture of obstinacy, a woman of dogged determination making single-minded statements about selfhood, and of identity in general. Her red suitcase never leaves her side, like a snail with her home attached, adding to the image of tenacity, but symbolising discontentment, in a performance piece that seems to talk a lot about the unexpected duality of perseverance and relocation.

Get Her Outta Here is wonderfully engrossing, fuelled by the inexorable presence of its creator. Broccolini’s physicality is confident and powerful, with an idiosyncratic style to its movement that has us captivated. Her body is untethered to the homogenising nature of dance training, but offers a clarity and strength to what it wishes to convey, as though disciplined in accordance with her own ideals.

The work is abstract, beautifully so, and audiences will interpret it how they wish. When art refuses to be obvious, it runs the risk of leaving us apathetic, but Broccolini’s enigmatic (and often very funny) approach is deeply alluring. We find ourselves opening up to her, allowing her obscure expressions to provoke and inspire. Music by Grace Huie Robbins moves the show through its various phases with excellent effect, creating shifts in dimensions that help enrich our imagination. Lights however, are under-explored and regretfully monotonous, for a production that is otherwise an aesthetic delight.

Broccolini’s speech is coy, but glimpses of honesty are revealed in her storytelling, to help our minds assemble a sense of truth for the red lady. Under the quirky and jokey, almost camp, deflecting exterior, lies a distinct rage, drenched in blood, perhaps too gory to expose unadorned. Get Her Outta Here is a woman’s fight with territory, even as she resists every place that she finds herself. Outsiders wish to be anywhere but here, and for us, the cliché is especially true, that it is the journey, and not the destination, that fulfils. Our project of reclaiming and redefining space, is not yet able to afford any room for complacency. For the time being at least, the red lady’s adventures with her red suitcase shall not cease.

www.107.org.au | www.isabellabroccolini.com

Review: Jobready (Feckful Theatre)

Venue: 107 Projects (Redfern NSW), Nov 30 – Dec 1, 2017
Playwright: Caitlin Doyle-Markwick
Cast: Sabrina D’Angelo, Caitlin Doyle-Markwick, Sarah Easterman, Matte Rochford

Theatre review
Matte is a musician in need of an income. Australian bureaucracy dictates that he goes through onerous channels, to find a job that addresses that need, without concern for the talents that he possesses. It certainly pays no attention to any of the interests that he may have as a sentient being.

In Caitlin Doyle-Markwick’s Jobready, we see our economy determined to dehumanise those who rely on it to survive. We allow money to drive the way communities operate, and as we become increasingly consumed by financial pragmatism, and the accompanying concept of productivity, what makes us human is reduced into a process of monetisation that seems to value only that which can be commodified. It is just too bad that Matte’s abilities are judged to be worthless.

The ideas are sombre, but the show is uproarious. We watch our ludicrous beliefs presented in a comedy unhinged with an exaggerated absurdity, but feel only its accuracy. Although a straightforward piece of writing, the self-directed cast of Jobready brings to the stage, something that is quite extraordinary in its acerbity and exuberance. Its commedia dell’arte style of presentation is joyful, and marvellously entertaining; the laughs in this show are nothing short of rambunctious.

As Matte is put through the system, his transformation into something robotic, reminds us of technological advancements that are now said to be poised to take over most of our jobs. The things that we are grooming Matte for, will soon be taken over by machines. He will then have to exploit parts of himself that artificial intelligence is unable to replicate, and in that process become more human than ever before. This is a future we should not be afraid of. Utopia might still require money, but it is up to our most optimistic humanity to re-imagine that iteration of a new economy.

www.107.org.au

Review: An Alternative Fact (Woolf Ensemble)

Venue: 107 Projects (Redfern NSW), Aug 29, 2017
Playwrights: Sam Anderson, David Margulies, Lucy Prebble, John Patrick Shanley, Frederik Stroppel, Liam Williams, John J Wooten
Directors: Meg Alexandra, Christine Greenough, Georgina Holt, Valentin Lang, Lauren Lloyd-Williams, Izzy Stevens
Cast: Sam Anderson, Megan Bennets, Isabel Dickson, Karli Evans, Thomas Filer, Christine Greenough, Haydan Hawkins, Lara Lightfoot, Amanda Marsden, Jamie Meyer-Williams, Claire Oehme, Jessica Saras, Johann Silva
Image by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Seven short pieces, including one-act plays and select scenes from longer works, are presented in a series named An Alternative Fact. Featuring white lies, half lies, and complete falsifications, the production is a simple one, barely disguising its singular intention of providing a showcase for actors. The stories are not always well told, but we can certainly see all the work that is put into acting. David Mamet once wrote audaciously, that theatre requires only actors and no directors, but in An Alternative Fact, it is clear that for an audience to be involved in ideas, we need to be provided something that is over-and-above the witnessing of actors in labour over their craft.

Much of the production is raw, feeling almost impromptu in its approach, but there is no shortage of conviction on this stage. The players try to convince us, of their skill and talent, and of the material they have taken responsibility for. Truth is the nature of this beast, not just with its thematic concern, but as an exercise that draws attention so closely to the art of acting, we watch to see if each of the cast is able to be impervious, with that integral quality of honesty in their portrayals.

As Tristan in Lucy Prebble’s The Effect, Thomas Filer is a rigorous, persuasive presence. Simultaneously theatrical and natural, it is a captivating performance that allows us to perceive the levels of reality that could be manufactured for an audience. Most memorable of the night however, is Sam Anderson in an extract of his own one man show, Bi-Cycle. Polished yet intuitive, and thoroughly nuanced, it is the only segment that has us invest in its narrative. The piece is playful but earnest, finely calibrated to utilise Anderson’s charisma, to win us over.

It is all make believe, but theatre means little without authenticity. There is no guaranteed avenue to achieving that all-important resonance with an audience on every venture, but time will aid that process. Art is about experimentation, repetition and refinement. Artists need to hone their craft, and those who work on the stage, will have to go through the experience of a spectacular failure in full public view, every once in a while. Those who can bear it, will return for more, and those unable to endure that lack of security, will move on to pursuits that offer greater certainty, in fields less artistic.

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Review: Godface (Matriark Theatre)

matriarkVenue: 107 Projects (Redfern NSW), Jun 28 – Jul 10, 2016
Playwright: Robert den Engelsman, Murray Lambert
Director: Scott Parker
Cast: Murray Lambert, Emily McGowan, David Molloy, Jesse Northam, Sam Flack
Image by Alinta Haydock-Burton

Theatre review
In Godface we find a familiar reflection of our scepticism and distrust of government and the adversarial political system. There is an accuracy to the way Robert den Engelsman and Murray Lambert’s writing represents our feelings about politicians and their operations, but its insights and perspectives on the subject are hardly unusual. It shares our disillusionment with all things political, featuring characters that need little introduction, for a simple tale of corruption and exploitation.

Scott Parker’s enthusiastic direction brings to the stage a liveliness that many will enjoy, using puppetry and techniques of commedia dell’arte to spark our imagination as it forms a commentary on the state of the world. Delightfully performed by a unified cast of actors, the production is memorable for its sense of variety, established by a keen interest in a non-naturalistic mode of expression. Sam Flack leaves a remarkable impression in a range of characters including the head of the New God Party, a wolf gangster and a pair of opinionated giraffes. The actor is vibrant and humorous, with excellent charisma that gives each of his transfigurations considerable appeal. Designer Aleisa Jelbart’s work on puppets, props and set is especially noteworthy, with an exceptional eye for detail and refinement that provides touches of stylistic elevation to the production.

At the 2013 elections, 739,872 informal votes were recorded. There is little hope to be found in Godface, for good reason, and we see clear as day, the alienation felt by many of our population. Modern democracy is deeply flawed, but remains the only system we deem acceptable. It is a conundrum that we learn to live with, and on occasions such as this weekend’s federal elections, we have no alternative but to indulge in a moment of delusion that the world might just be ready to make a change for the better.

www.matriarktheatre.com

Review: The Forest Unyielding (Self Help Arts)

selfhelpartVenue: 107 Projects (Redfern NSW), May 24 – 28, 2016
Director: Margot Politis
Cast: Taryn Brine, Grace Partridge, Margot Politis, Lauren Scott-Young, Claire Stjepanovic, Lucy Watson
Image by Sarah Emery

Theatre review
The Forest Unyielding is a dynamic new study of mental health, set in a dark forest space representing the inside of a brain.” It might be considered a performance art piece, comprising six actors each demonstrating her own isolated corner of dysfunction. Some are in perpetual motion, and others are caught in modes of stasis. No words are spoken, but there is a potency of intent and presence that is inescapable.

Dylan Tonkin’s sensational set design keeps our eyes fascinated with a enigmatic blend of colours (with Emma Lockhart-Wilson’s lights) and textured surfaces providing an affecting approximation of a mystical fairyland, in which we roam and explore. Sound is thoughtfully orchestrated to provide tension to the ethereal environment, with a mixture of drone and spiritual elements by Thomas Smith controlling our visceral responses to the work.

Without the use of a narrative, The Forest Unyielding requires that we interact with its abstract displays instinctively. Each of the women are trapped in a repetitious cycle of activity and emotion. We observe them from a state of initial curiosity to varying degrees of understanding or perplexity, with director Margot Politis’ use of time requiring of us reflection and perseverance before we are able to encounter the depth of what is being represented. The space moves, but is non-changing for its 50 minutes, and it is the audience that experiences a transformation within.

The show is not always an easy journey, and its ending could be executed with greater flair, but the experience it delivers is unexpectedly satisfying. It relies on our selves to make the most of what envelopes us, and it is that investment of personal energy and thought that leads to an appreciation of the work. Passivity will not get one very far in this forest. We are used to being told what to think at the theatre, but on this occasion, our own devices are put to the test.

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Review: Blink (Mercury Theatre)

mercuryVenue: 107 Projects (Redfern NSW), Apr 20 – 24, 2016
Playwright: Phil Porter
Director: Oleg Pupovac
Cast: Jane Angharad, James Smithers
Image by Jade Jackson

Theatre review
It is a love story about two unusual people. In truth, each person walking the earth is a unique creature, yet we often think of romance as a singular invariable experience. Sophie and Jonah’s relationship in Phil Porter’s Blink feels like a strange union, but only because we have come to expect little from depictions of intimacy. When taking time to observe the way people are and how we connect, we come to realise the infinite permutations of the human bond. The play feels theatrical and dramatised, but we perceive an unmistakeable honesty in its unconventional narrative. The characters are damaged, as we all are, so of course they are going to conduct their lives in slightly obscure ways. This is no Barbie and Ken fairytale, but a realistic representation of our freedom to love, and an insightful expression of how we should apply our own rules to our own intimacies.

The work is fast-paced, almost frantic in its energy, which although entertaining, can detract from more meaningful lines that require time to reverberate. Director Oleg Pupovac creates an endearing connection between the two on stage, affectionate yet distant at the same time. There is inventive use of physicality that engages us visually but more detailed work on light and sound design would enhance the presentation further. Performers are charming and enthusiastic, with strong presences that hold attention. Jane Angharad’s emotional restraint gives a sophistication to Sophie, and the gentleness with which she approaches her work translates into an effortless believability. James Smithers’ is the more vibrant of the pair, endearing with a very quirky edge to his constitution. There is an adventurous spirit to the way he explores the text that keeps us drawn into Jonah’s way of looking at the world.

There is little that can be cherished of a lonely life. Romance may not be available to all, but the need for human contact is undeniable. Sophie and Jonah find ways to make sense of their union, and although strange from the outside, their continuous redefinition of the form that their relationship takes, demonstrates the way organic beings must strike a balance as things change. Love means a myriad different things, probably because of the infinitely different needs of each individual. We may all breathe the same air, but what fills our heart is as varied as wavelengths in a spectrum of visible light.

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