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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Review: The Big Bruise (Montague Basement)

montagueVenue: 107 Projects (Redfern NSW), Apr 5 – 16, 2016
Playwright: Saro Lusty-Cavallari
Director: Saro Lusty-Cavallari
Cast: Samuel Brewer
Image by Omnes Photography

Theatre review
A young man is contemplating suicide. At work, at play and at home, it is all that he thinks about. Saro Lusty-Cavallari’s meditation on the subject is neither emotional nor intellectual, but what he does present in The Big Bruise is an honest representation that many are able to recognise. It is a work about the lightness and indeed meaninglessness, that life can appear to possess. The character in the play is lost and aimless, with only the temptation of death offering him a true force of gravity. In comparison, everything else is inconsequential and impotent, so he hangs on to his obsession and the certainty it provides.

Performing that strange amalgamation of angst and frivolity is Samuel Brewer, an engaging actor whose confident presence is called upon to give solid grounding to the piece. Brewer is an energetic performer, whether playing brash or subdued, with an audacious power to his delivery that keeps us transfixed. The one-man show is beautifully placed on a raw stage, thoughtfully designed by Lusty-Cavallari to convey the calm but troubled state of being in which his creation resides. Improvements could be made for a more absorbing experience, but its visceral and surprisingly sensual qualities leave a strong impression.

The protagonist in The Big Bruise wants so much of life, but spends all his efforts at ending it. It is true that identifying one’s passions can be the biggest challenge a person can face, for what happens thereafter is simply to follow that calling. For some, that revelation never arrives, but for most, it is only a matter of time. We can wait for that divine moment in passivity or we can be constructive and find ways to speed up that process. If all else fails, one should simply stop the narcissistic act of perpetual introspection and look beyond the individual, for much of the world is in need of love and care, if only we could shift our fruitless vanity onto something altruistic and altogether more selfless.

www.montaguebasement.com

Review: Quarter Life Crisis (The General Public Theatre Company)

generalpublicVenue: 107 Projects (Redfern NSW), Sep 17 – 20, 2015
Playwright: Courtney Ammenhauser
Director: Lakia Pattinson
Cast: Courtney Ammenhauser

Theatre review
Steph is turning 25, and is having a bit of a meltdown. She has done the responsible and conventional thing of getting a regular job that pays a regular wage, but is now restless about the futility of a life that does not offer more than stability and predictability. Like many of us, the real problem is that Steph knows only what she does not want, and what she truly desires remains elusive. This leads to a series of frivolous, funny, and charming exploits that depict a hollow existence, guided by a pursuit of pleasure that ultimately leads to unabashed emptiness. The one-woman play runs for under an hour, comprising genuinely amusing scenes that deliver many laughs. It begins with a moment of deep reflection on the meaning of life, but loses its poignancy as the show progresses, along with Steph’s dignity, which gradually erodes away with each sip of alcohol.

Courtney Ammenhauser’s script is honest and brassy, as is her performance. Marvellously exuberant and unrestrained, Ammenhauser presents a show that captivates and entertains, putting on display the aimlessness of youth in Australia that comes from a place of privilege and complacency. Where there is no urgent compulsion and need for anything, it seems humans can only indulge in the obvious and convenient. Steph does not challenge herself, but Ammenhauser’s efforts on stage are certainly committed. Along with director Lakia Pattinson, the duo’s creation is energetic, fun and surprisingly nuanced. There is a sensitivity and flair in their approach to comedy that sharpens their simple concept for an enjoyable show. We wish for Steph to find some degree of enlightenment, or to realise the errs of her ways, but like in real life, it is much easier to get swept up by mundane and destructive trivialities.

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Review: Retrograde (The Sandking Collective)

12026466_10153178590912683_932214705_nVenue: 107 Projects (Redfern NSW), Sep 16 – 27, 2015
Playwright: Peter-William Jamieson
Director: Michael Yore
Cast:  Peter-William Jamieson, Mark Lee
Image by Michael Yore

Theatre review
One of the things about gender is that we make the quality of vulnerability inaccessible to the sterner sex. Damage to mind, body and soul follow, all of which are hard to unravel. Peter-William Jamieson’s Retrograde looks at two men, through a series of psychotherapy sessions, to explore the hardened emotional landscapes that reside in half of our population. Both characters are realistically drawn out. They are familiar archetypes, a young criminal and a semi-retired counsellor, who we investigate at depth, as the play ventures to bring illumination to the mystery behind the often impenetrable surfaces maintained by the male of our species. The writing is straightforward, with clear intentions, but its style is simple and sometimes too obvious. The narratives are dramatic, but the plot’s predictability prevents intrigue from taking hold. There is a sensitivity to the way each scene unfolds, as more of the characters are being revealed, but none of it is surprising. We feel one step ahead of the game, and resist the tension that the production tries to build.

Michael Yore’s direction is faithful to the directness in Jamieson’s writing. There are few embellishments, except for the frequent use of video footage that is a key and clever component to the play. Unfortunately however, the poor quality of projected images prevents us from engaging sufficiently with the performance therein. Mark Lee does splendid work as Earl, the older and wiser of the two, but who struggles with addiction and an unresolved past. The actor is powerfully present and accurately detailed in his portrayal. His work is consistent and sharply focused, and is the unequivocal highlight of the production. Playwright Jamieson is cast as the wayward Sonny, a young man trying to escape the remains of a bruised childhood. His performance is committed and studied, but too restrained and not always believable. The voice and physicality that he creates does not match our imagination and experience of that personality type, and some of his depictions of emotion require greater authenticity, in order that we may identify more closely with Sonny’s plight.

The themes in Retrograde are valuable points of discussion. Problems associated with our obsession with masculinity are pervasive, and the importance of articulating and dealing with them cannot be understated. We need to redefine socially, what it is to be a man, so that we can identify truer virtues and shift prominence to them. Silence in the play is a cancer, a force that destroys individuals and relationships, and it is the opposite of that silence that can heal us all.

www.sandkingcollective.com