Review: Wasted (The Kings Collective)

Venue: The Factory Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Dec 1 – 9, 2017
Playwright: Kate Tempest
Director: Elsie Edgerton-Till
Cast: Jack Crumlin, David Harrison, Eliza Scott
Image by Robert Catto

Theatre review
Charlotte, Danny and Ted live in England where, like in all developed nations, opportunities abound. It is never easy though, to get ahead, to carve out a life, even when all the fruit is ripe for one’s picking. We stand in our own way, with psychological barriers that exist mainly as a result of social conditioning, or maybe the competitive nature of our economies are determined to make losers out of some, in order that the rich can get richer.

Kate Tempest’s Wasted does not take a strong stance on the external factors that affect English youth, but makes a case for personal responsibility. These are able-bodied, heterosexual, white people after all. Tempest is frustrated with the way these twenty-somethings jeopardise their own lives, when they clearly know better. This generation is given all the information and resources they require, yet many are unable to create a meaningful existence, choosing instead to languish in drugs, alcohol, in a state of perpetual purgatory.

The play’s message is simple, but Tempest’s writing is extraordinary. The passion with which her ideas are articulated, and the emotive use of language, go for the jugular, and we are held captive by the sheer intensity that the playwright builds into every line of dialogue. Directed by Elsie Edgerton-Till, the production is correspondingly powerful. Choreography for several of its more theatrical moments could be improved, but there is no question that Tegan Nicholls’ music is a source of energy that adds a great deal of excitement to the show.

Most memorable of all, is the trio of actors that bring scintillating life to the piece. We are shaken by Eliza Scott’s compassion as Charlotte, whose purity of spirit shines through, amid the despondent confusion of her pessimistic narrative. Together with Jack Crumlin’s convincingly crestfallen Danny, the couple’s love story moves us, in spite of the carelessness with which they regard each other. Ted is played by the charming David Harrison, who entertains us with an inexorable ebullience. The three strike the perfect balance in providing amusement, along with a sincerity and a sense of urgency that keeps us heedful of the work’s pertinence.

For those who have the privilege of access, the only real definition of failure, is when they ignore the opportunities that have been made available. There is no need to subscribe to how the concept of success is generally construed, but one has to understand the destructiveness that can be self-inflicted. When we have the freedom to decide for ourselves, what is good and bad, values can be poorly judged, and individual lives can turn to waste. Not everyone should aspire to be a millionaire, but we must all try to give more than we take, and to leave the world a better place.

www.tkcaus.com

Review: Virgins And Cowboys (Motherboard Productions)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Nov 30 – Dec 16, 2017
Playwright: Morgan Rose
Director: Dave Sleswick
Cast: Katrina Cornwall, George Lingard, James Deeth, Penny Harpham, Kieran Law
Image by Ashley de Prazer

Theatre review
The characters in Morgan Rose’s Virgins And Cowboys are in a constant state of struggle. Unable to identify anything authentic in their lives, they go about their days acting upon desires that never seem to come from within. We observe these derivative existences, and wonder how much of our own being, is a result of the control that others exert. The question of self-determination, it appears, is always a tricky one, even though it is clear that narcissism is never in short supply.

The play is a cryptic and therefore challenging one, although the nature of our libido is unquestionably at the centre of its explorations. Sexuality motivates the five personalities, and fuels our imagination. The things we do as a matter of course; the fucking, the procreation, the careers, are put under a microscope, devoid of delusion and romance, so that we may examine our behaviours, with perhaps, some sense of objective accuracy. It is an interrogation into our unconscious masochism, an attempt to locate what it is that we do to ourselves, that makes us so miserable.

Beautiful and quietly surreal, the production is inventively designed by a team of creatives impressive in their artistic rigour. Sound by Liam Barton is edgy, often quirky, in its definition of a space, both fragile and phantasmal. Lisa Mibus’ lights are sensual, surprising, and entertainingly dynamic. The evocative set and costumes establish the tone of the show, succinctly assembled by Yvette Turnbull.

Director Dave Sleswick’s academic approach can be confounding, but his ability to manufacture intrigue, keeps us on tenterhooks. There is a lot to be curious about, and Sleswick does a marvellous job of sustaining our attention without ever damaging the mysterious qualities of Virgins And Cowboys. He never reveals too much, and only very little is explained.

The cast is splendid. Uniformly and cohesively vivacious, each actor brings a sense of luxuriant depth to the discussions that they facilitate. Even when we lose sight of the point being made, the people on stage are full of conviction, infallible with their undisclosed narratives at the heart of Virgins And Cowboys‘ absurdist aesthetic.

We can show each other all kinds of practices and all manners of wanting, but for an individual to discover the essence and truth of their own being, the exercise of introspection is imperative. So much of how we spend each day is reliant on emulation; people will tell us how we should act, and what is required of us, but it is not always clear to the self, when the social and personal are melded, and confused. When we observe the dissatisfaction of characters in Virgins And Cowboys, and recognise our universal conundrum, the impulse is to stop, for a moment of evaluation. Consumed by the world, we rarely take stock of things habitual. We settle for being lesser, when we forget to question.

www.motherboardproductions.com.au

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: Taking Steps (Ensemble Theatre)

Venue: Ensemble Theatre (Kirribilli NSW), Nov 23, 2017 – Jan 13, 2018
Playwright: Alan Ayckbourn
Director: Mark Kilmurry
Cast: Emma Harvie, Peter Kowitz, Drew Livingston, Simon London, Christa Nicola, Andrew Tighe
Image by Prudence Upton

Theatre review
We can all have an appetite for a silly comedy, but how much frivolity a person is able to handle in one sitting, is certainly a variable factor between individuals. There is nothing in Alan Ayckbourn’s Taking Steps that pretends to offer more than simple laughs, but the 1979 play does seem to think, erroneously, that its sense of humour has stood the test of time. It is all terribly old-fashioned, and at two-and-a-half-hours, very arduous indeed for those of us who have moved on from Fawlty Towers and The Two Ronnies.

The production is a sleek one, with good energy from a well-rehearsed cast that has figured out their ordered trajectories within the erratic chaos of a classic farce. Some actors do however, appear to be more naturally suited to the genre than others. Peter Kowitz is particularly credible in this presentation style, appropriately nostalgic in approach and effortlessly charming in the part of Roland. Emma Harvie and Drew Livingston are refreshing presences, who bring a sensibility that is slightly more au courant, through their idiosyncratic interpretations of supporting roles.

Humour can be general or very specific, but there is perhaps not one show, that will make every person laugh. Taking Steps still has an audience; its jokes have after all, been tried and tested. Theatre has the responsibility to do many things, and providing comfort has always been one of them. The familiarity of an old play, that transports us back to an idea of better times, is valuable, and for some, that reminiscence represents the best form of entertainment. There is always the temptation to live in the past, when the present and future look to be persistently disappointing. This is understandable of course, but tomorrow will come, come hell or high water, and we need to find a way to just get on with it.

www.ensemble.com.au

Review: Don’t Go To This Show (The Leftovers Collective)

Venue: Yellow Umbrella (Potts Point NSW), Nov 25 – 26, 2017
Devisors/Performers: Veronica Alonzo, ​Tom Beynon, Danica Burch, Lauren Clair, Veronica Clipsham, Sabrina D’Angelo, Peter Defreytas, Lakshmi Fernandez, Curly Fries, Claire Giuffre, Tim Kemp, Lana Kershaw, ​Michelle McCowage, Alexander McIntyre, Charlotte Rose Pietsch, Angel Rodriguez, Gemma Scoble, Denis Tarrant, Brendon Ussher, Nick Woods

Theatre review
The show takes the form of an art gallery exhibition. Everything happens in a glamorous white room, with each piece (or scene) assigned its own station. Western art authorities are always ripe for mockery; it is easy to disrupt the way they are determined to take themselves so seriously. The concept of bad language can be thought of similarly. The rationale behind these taboos, so strictly enshrined, are patently flimsy. It takes the collusion of deluded masses to adhere to these behavioural codes, and in Don’t Go To This Show, we take a look at swearing and consider the arbitrary nature of these social contracts.

There are at least 8 “artworks” that constitute the event. We walk from one to another, usually spending cursory time with each. It is a gleeful exercise, playful and absurd in their various manifestations in accordance with the theme. The ideas are simple, as are performances, but the production is well executed, with an irrefutable ability to amuse and fascinate. Although not entirely thought-provoking, the experience is nonetheless delightful, with Claire Giuffre, Lana Kershaw and Gemma Scoble particularly memorable as comedic elements that add a sense of exuberance.

The very purpose of language necessitates concurrence. In that process of communication, we want words to affect, and by the same token we want also to be able to control, how we are to receive them. When words are issued, intention floats in the ether, and can transform at the point of interpretation. We cannot always be sure if and when offence is the objective, and it is not always the objective that dictates offence. Our communities need to be kinder, that is for certain, but it must be incumbent on every individual, not just the polite, to improve how we can live together.

www.theleftoverscollective.com

Review: The Caretaker (Throwing Shade Theatre Company)

Venue: The Actors Pulse (Redfern NSW), Nov 22 – Dec 2, 2017
Playwright: Harold Pinter
Director: Courtney Powell
Cast: Alex Bryant-Smith, Andrew Langcake, Nicholas Papademetriou

Theatre review
The house is dilapidated, but its three male inhabitants do nothing to improve conditions, choosing instead to involve themselves in mind games, finding ways to exert power over one another, as they while the days away, never achieving anything.

Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker themes are many. Talking about things social, political and psychological, the 1960 play does not make explicit any of its concerns, but creates scenarios and dialogue that may inspire us to find associations with the real world. Resonances have faded with time, as the issue of relevance comes into question, but it is doubtless that Pinter’s characters are fascinating, and their interactions, fabulously theatrical.

The production is often an intriguing one, with director Courtney Powell facilitating our questioning of all the activity that takes place. A naturalistic style, carefully orchestrated, prevents us from dismissing scenes as simply bizarre, and lures us in, to consider the dynamics and meanings in operation.

A strong cast keeps us involved in the many unlikely exchanges. Nicholas Papademetriou manipulates us in his interpretation of a central figure, a vagrant who finds himself in the middle of two brothers, becoming increasingly sinister, and surprising us quite delightfully, through subtle transformations of personality. Alex Bryan-Smith is a convincing ruffian, animated in his portrayal of a menacing type, bringing excellent energy to the show as Mick. In diametric opposition is Andrew Langcake who plays a quiet, possibly disturbed Aston, offering perfect balance to the noise of his counterparts.

The character of the house has changed, since the play’s inception 57 years ago. The meaning of property ownership informs the way we see The Caretaker, and in hyper-commercialised Sydney today, divorcing ourselves from the economics of the story is impossible. We observe the three men in hierarchical terms, the landlord, the tenant and the temporary resident, and we wonder how money, along with the disparity between rich and poor, affects the way we live with one another. The root of all evil is perhaps perennial, but its nature seems to morph with the passage of time.

www.throwingshade.com.au

Review: Shifting > Shapes / Fem Menace (PACT)


Venue: PACT Centre for Emerging Artists (Erskineville NSW), Nov 22 – 25, 2017

Shifting > Shapes
Choreographer and composer: Thomas E.S. Kelly
Collaborator and performer: Taree Sansbury

Fem Menace
Creator and performer: Cheryn Frost
Co-creators and performers: Cath McNamara, Tahlee Kianda Leeson

Theatre review
Presented as part of PACT’s “Afterglow” season, two works Shifting > Shapes and Fem Menace, feature young women dancing to the beat of their own drums. We watch them finding physical languages that could reveal their identities, that help express feelings and thoughts, to make their mark maybe, to be seen and heard, in a world that is determined to subdue creativity and art.

Shifting > Shapes explores humanity through the idea of shape-shifting, in which a person adopts the consciousness of animals, and begins to think and move like them. When performer Taree Sansbury becomes a goanna (or Dirawong) and a rainbow serpent, she sinks close to the ground. The relationship between body and earth looks never to be more intimate, than when Sansbury takes on the physical specificity of a different species. In the moments that she reverts to human, we observe the discord between being and space, as though we are the only ones alien to our own planet.

Fem Menace is concerned with the anxieties about being contemporary women, in this latest wave of feminism. A key point of its discussion is sexuality, as an essentially social undertaking, private but always in relation with the world outside of the self. In the honest representation of woman as sexual being, the conundrum of objectification seems to be omnipresent. Cheryn Frost, Cath McNamara and Tahlee Kianda Leeson present an uncompromising wildness that dares us to regard their presence as anything other than as intended.

Both pieces are conceived and executed with a sense of purity; faithful and authentic in their transition from inspiration to stage. For Shifting > Shapes, the unapologetically minimalist approach of choreographer and composer Thomas E.S. Kelly, maintains a razor sharp focus on its theme, whilst asserting his Aboriginality as legitimate and authoritative. The women in Fem Menace are experimental, putting their minds and bodies through exhaustive interrogation. The results of which are deeply fascinating, and often very beautiful. There is perhaps no way to look at ourselves with absolute objectivity, but it is in our art, that we can best know each other.

www.pact.net.au