Review: Ned (Plush Duck Productions)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Dec 18 – 22, 2018
Book: Anna Lyon, Marc McIntyre
Music & Lyrics: Adam Lyon
Director: Miranda Middleton
Cast: Erin Bogart, Denzel Bruhn, Rowan Brunt, Siobhan Clifford, Sinead Cristaudo, Lincoln Elliott, Martin Everett, Jacqui Greenfield, Jodie Harris, Rob Hartley, David Hov, Josh McElroy, Courtney Powell, Marcus Rivera, Georgia Rodgers , Carmel Rodrigues, Cypriana Singh, Guy Webster
Images by Shakira Wilson

Theatre review
For many Australians of European descent, the legend of Ned Kelly is a crucial element in the way identity is imagined. An outlaw with a heart of gold, the anti-authoritarian myth has helped create a notion of selfhood, that persists even in these days of bourgeois ubiquity. In the new musical Ned, old stories are resurrected once again, to reinforce ideals that are at once romantic and subversive, reflecting perhaps a longing for more innocent times, or simply to offer a reminder of the kind of people Australians have, for a long time, prided ourselves to be.

The work is in many ways derivative and predictable, with form and content both proving to be risk averse, for this Broadway-style biographical drama. There might be little that feels inventive, but its ambition is certainly laudable. Peter Rubie’s lighting design provides a sense of grandeur and polish, for captivating imagery that help elevate the simple tale. Conductor Hamish Stening puts passion into the music, keeping proceedings lively and entertaining.

Leading man Joshua McElroy is suitably moody as Ned Kelly, with an imposing physical presence that comfortably seizes the limelight. Jodie Harris is excellent as the hero’s mother Ellen, strong in voice and in personality, for a powerful characterisation of the early migrant woman. The cast is generally well-rehearsed, although choreography has a tendency to be unflattering and therefore distracting.

Ned Kelly keeps returning to our consciousness, because we have a fondness for thinking that he is a good representation of who we are. It is more likely however, that Kelly stands for values we wish to possess, but that we can no longer lay claim to. Over a century has past, and we are a world away from the rough and tumble of Van Diemen’s Land. In today’s highly materialistic existences, rebels are quashed, not by ideological compromises, but by the imperious might of money.

www.plushduckproductions.com.au

Review: The Jungle (Outrage Productions)

Venue: Darlo Drama (Darlinghurst NSW), Dec 14 – 18, 2018
Playwright: Louis Nowra
Director: Glen Hamilton
Cast: Gabriela Castillo, Nicole Florio, Gaurav Kharbanda, Jo-Ann Pass, Benjamin Pierce, Timothy Rochford, Hugo Schlanger, Andrew Singh, Romney Stanton, Annelies Tjetjep, Mark Wilson
Images by RMF Photography

Theatre review
A jumble of scenes situated in Sydney, with people that may or may not seem familiar, constitute Louis Nowra’s The Jungle. The stories are from 1995, and sensationalist in a way that was probably trendy for the time. 23 years on, its sleaze and general naughtiness can feel slightly pretentious, but the perspective it provides of an Australian city that is not concerned with the middle class, presents an opportunity to ruminate on the changes we have undergone in just one generation. Not yet nostalgic, but certainly reflective, The Jungle reveals the banal bourgeois values that have, in a relatively short period, taken over our town.

Glen Hamilton’s direction incorporates little in terms of visual design, leaving all of the production’s theatricality to a very hyperbolic ensemble. Their energy is admirable, players such as Nicole Florio and Romney Stanton are particularly animated, and they bring a valuable verve to the stage, but there is an overall lack of nuance that prevents the show from speaking with sufficient depth. Actor Gabriela Castillo does a remarkable job of her roles, turning three hapless girls in a frequently misogynistic piece of writing, into fascinating characters with moments of palpable drama.

It is a relief to see that we are no longer who we once were, for life is change, and stagnation can be dangerous. We might be tempted to say that change does not necessarily represent improvement, but to insist that things were better in the past, is to forget the many deficiencies of yesterday. Sydney may have lost some of its romance and idealism, but for the millions who choose to live here, we choose to believe in its potentials and the bright future that we so faithfully envision. The big clean up bears a momentum that refuses to ever come to a halt, but in our hearts, the memory of a dirty, dingy town still resonates, and the spirit of that old disreputable concrete jungle keeps on pulsating.

www.thejungleplay.com

Review: Crime And Punishment (Secret House)

Venue: Limelight on Oxford (Darlinghurst NSW), Dec 12 – 22, 2018
Playwright: Chris Hannan (from the novel by Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
Director: Anthony Skuse
Cast: Jane Angharad, Hannah Barlow, Tim Kemp, Philippe Klaus, Beth McMullen, Madeleine Miller, James Smithers, Shan-Ree Tan, Charles Upton, Natasha Vickery
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
When deciding to proceed with his plan for murder and robbery, Raskolvikov thinks of his actions as merely an extension of attempts to participate, in an economy he considers to be entirely utilitarian. If one is to survive the world at all costs, and if cost is always a matter of subjectivity, then the concept of morality holds no currency, in a system determined to reward the self-interested. Chris Hannan explores the implications of what might be termed human conscience in his adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s Crime And Punishment. The protagonist wrestles with internal conflicts, emotional and intellectual, trying to escape punishment, from society and from himself.

The bleakness of Raskolvikov’s destitute existence is depicted persuasively under Anthony Skuse’s direction, whose own production design accomplishes an elegant evocation of Russia at a time we associate with the end of the Industrial Revolution, and the rise of urbanisation as we know it. Skuse’s sound design too, is an affecting element, if slightly repetitive in its rendering. Lights by Martin Kinnane bring visual interest, helpful in creating a sense of dynamism for the production. Actor James Smithers is convincing in the leading role, able to prevent us from feeling alienated, so that we stay engaged with the murderer’s narrative. Chemistry between performers can be improved for a more focused sense of storytelling, but individual characters are portrayed with good conviction.

The work posits the loss of religion as a possible equivalence to the loss of morality, thereby giving religion a great deal of credit where it may not be due. In the decades that have past since Dostoyevsky’s 1866 publication of Crime And Punishment, atheism has become a movement undeniable in its ubiquity, and secular societies have demonstrated that our capacity for upholding that which is truly righteous, has surpassed dogmatic and draconian structures that had come before.

There is no doubt that many lives have been improved by religion, but it is important that we recognise the evils that it routinely inspires and sanctions. At the end of 2018, Australian politics is abuzz with the prospect of introducing additional protections for religious practices, thereby safeguarding bigoted portions of those beliefs, and in effect, placing human rights beneath archaic doctrines. Raskolvikov killed people, not because of a loss of faith; the fact remains that the murders had taken place, in spite of all the religion being imposed upon him.

www.secrethouse.com.au

Review: Don’s Party (Chippen Street Theatre)

Venue: Chippen Street Theatre (Chippendale NSW), Dec 6 – 15, 2018
Playwright: David Williamson
Director: Travis McMahon
Cast: Dominic Di Paolo, Lachlan Donnelly, Amber Dyball, Ben Hunter, Ramy Moussa. Andrew Murdoch, Katerina Papasoulis, Evan Piefke, Helen Shoobert, Rachel Slee, Kristen Zinghini
Images by Ethan Hatton-Warham

Theatre review
The setting is a house party in 1969 suburbia, where men are arse holes, and women are bewilderingly whiny. David Williamson’s Don’s Party, now approaching half a century old, offers a bleak look at how a modern Australia might have been imagined. The play wrestles with ideas of a progressive future, as characterised by a new social permissiveness; Don asks all his guests to bring along a pornographic object, as icebreaker or more truthfully, to disrupt the banality of his home life with Kath and their children.

The sexual revolution had begun, and down under, it appears we were deeply confused. All the women had apparently become bitches, and they are referred to in the play as such, on more than ten occasions. Wives and girlfriends were starting to have minds of their own, no doubt as a result of advancements in birth control, and according to Williamson, all of civilisation were basically going to hell in a handbasket.

As the old world disappears, what happens in Don’s Party reveals a paralysing fear of what is to come. There is little question that this attitude still prevails. It was feminism’s second wave then, and we are now in the throes of its fourth. The disquiet that accompanies the promise of equality is palpable, and Williamson’s pessimistic vision, borne out of the anxiety of a patriarchy under threat, can now be seen as pitifully limp.

Travis McMahon’s direction presents a straightforward rendition, allowing us to detect that sense of panic inherent in mid-century masculinity. The ensemble consists of actors with varying abilities, and although not particularly inventive with what they bring, each manages to locate moments of theatricality in the writing, that insist on our attention. The production lacks intellectual rigour, but it is clear that much effort has been put into manufacturing a satisfactory naturalism for their performance.

When women grow strong, our relationships have to be put through a process of reshape. Friends and family, love and sex, all face interrogation, as we learn to shift away from traditions that plainly no longer work. In Don’s Party, men are fearful and women are frustrated. They cling on to the past, unable to come to terms with the tides that push for a brighter future, a mighty force that will not tolerate the status quo.

www.chippenstreet.com

Review: The Club (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Dec 7 – 22, 2018
Playwright: David Williamson
Director: Tessa Leong
Cast: Jude Henshall, Louisa Mignone, Ellen Steele
Images by Marnya Rothe

Theatre review
Hundreds of millions of dollars go through Australia’s sporting organisations, and to view the industry as wholesome and virtuous is, to put it mildly, naive. Yet, we routinely attribute our sports stars and their colleagues, with a glow of reverence, and they in turn, present an image of habitual sanctimony. The men in David Williamson’s The Club are exposed of these hypocrisies. It is a story about white boys spoilt by their talent with an olive-shaped ball, who grow into stunted adulthood, and we watch their clumsy attempts at extending the glory days beyond bygone moments on the football field.

The corrupt and inane behaviour of these self-aggrandising men provide a platform for director Tessa Leong’s discussion of sexism and toxic masculinity, within an archetypal setting of a sporting arena, that conveniently encapsulates our nation’s sense of self-image. Three female performers take on all the roles, playing exaggerated versions of maleness, for a subversive exercise that makes statements about gender, and especially about the misguided adoration of what might be termed traditional masculinity. First half of the production is surprisingly conventional, a one-trick pony with a simple concept that quickly loses steam, but the show picks up furiously after interval, and what had felt gimmicky, turns into something far more complex and provocative.

The production is full of grandiose gesturing, not always powerful, but certainly delivered with extraordinary conviction. Actor Ellen Steele is particularly robust with her comedy, extremely cheeky and acerbic, a consistent delight in this portrait of ugliness. Jude Henshall and Louisa Mignone too, are exuberant performers who bring admirable rigour into their farce, for a rewarding study on the machinations of privilege and ignorance, frequently found in some segments of Australian society.

In sport, we celebrate high achievers not only for their accomplishments, but also for the whole of their persons. We want our heroes to be godlike, and imagine them to be infallible, consequently giving them powers, in the form of money and status, that they often exploit to the detriment of our collective good. It is no coincidence that these powerful are predominantly straight white men. Our institutions are structured to benefit a certain idea of supremacy, one that repeatedly exerts its imperialism over all others, and any action designed to take them down is met with disdain and even violence. Oppression requires concession, with the oppressed made to concede to notions of objectivity and meritocracy, that are demonstrably unjust. It is a survival strategy, to play to these rules, but only those willing to sacrifice can hope to foster a change.

www.belvoir.com.au | www.isthisyours.com.au

Review: The Smallest Hour (Griffin Theatre Company)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Dec 5 – 15, 2018
Playwrights: Phil Spencer, Susie Youssef
Director: Scarlet McGlynn
Cast: Phil Spencer, Susie Youssef
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
In a city just like Sydney, Chris and Shelley cross paths on several occasions. Each is having an eventful, if not entirely enjoyable night, in this immense love story about the metropolis. Phil Spencer and Susie Youssef’s The Smallest Hour may not be grand in scale or indeed vision, but it captures the essence of that relationship between busy cities and its inhabitants, in a deeply beautiful way, for an expression of an intimacy that frequently borders on the obsessive. We are individuals who think of ourselves as distinct entities, separate from other humans and segregated from place; the observation here is that most of us are nothing without our towns, and Spencer and Youssef’s play is a splendid tribute to that sense of belonging.

The Smallest Hour is also a romantic comedy, and director Scarlet McGlynn’s ability to infuse humour into all of its romance, with place and with persons, ensures a production that will thoroughly delight every typical urbanite. Our imagination is cleverly manipulated, as the action moves from one location to the next, by Veronique Benett’s lights and Steve Francis’ music, guiding us surreptitiously through a series of familiar situations. There are no props and no costume changes to be seen on Tyler Hawkins’ simple stage design, but all the imagery that we receive, in our mind’s eye, is consistently vivid. The playwrights perform the work, mainly as narrators, but also as impeccable stand-ins for our protagonists. Both are remarkably endearing, and although not yet word perfect on opening night, they prove themselves consummate raconteurs, utterly and completely mesmerising with the tale they so adroitly weave.

The Smallest Hour reveals a love greater than Chris meets Shelley. It documents the way we navigate this environment, showing us how we have absorbed the physicality of this city, to live out existences so dynamic and spirited. Unlike boyfriends and girlfriends, we never ask that places give us their perfection; we understand better, our responsibilities as components of communities big and small, of collective identities that hold so much more promise than the insularity of our private selves. The lovers fixate on each other at conclusion, forgetting all the roads that lead them to one another. Their audience however, is left with evocations much more inspiring than petty concerns. We are asked to deal with matters of our heart, that relate not to any one, but to the entirety of this region; a very lucky love that must be cherished.

www.griffintheatre.com.au

Review: Eleanor & Mary Alice (Seymour Centre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Dec 5 – 8, 2018
Playwright: Peta Tait
Director: Deborah Leiser-Moore
Cast: Petra Kalive, Sarah McNeill

Theatre review
Mary Alice Evatt was wife to Doc Herbert Evatt, Australia’s Minister of External Affairs during WWII. When the USA first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt arrived on our shores for a Sydney visit, the two women struck up a friendship, and in Petat Tait’s Eleanor & Mary Alice, we watch them bond over being married to power, both keenly aware of responsibilities they have to manage. They talk about art, politics and justice, finding solace in a mutuality based on implicit understanding. The play imagines, in a charming realistic style, conversations that could have taken place, but in the absence of more audacious artistic liberties, the cultivation of dramatic tension becomes a challenge. The personalities are fairly likeable, but they exist in a world too distant, and we fail to find enthusiasm for either of their narratives.

Deborah Leiser-Moore’s direction attempts to deliver a sense of unconventionality by immersing the actors in the aisles, and having them perform very close to the audience. The unusual positioning of their physical presence helps prevent monotony, but it is arguable if the imagery being created, is actually effective in keeping us engaged with Eleanor & Mary Alice. Actor Petra Kalive exudes a warmth that makes Mrs Evatt seem a empathetic character, whilst Sarah McNeill takes a more formal approach for Mrs Roosevelt. They establish an enjoyable rhythm with the dialogue, aided by cellist Adi Sappir who provides ethereal accompaniment throughout the piece.

The production is staged on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as developed by the United Nations, through the original committee of which Mrs Roosevelt was head of. The concept of human rights is as resonant today as it had been all those years ago. Even in the most peaceful of countries, we remain vigilant, wary of how people’s freedoms can be encroached upon, usually in surreptitious ways. In the name of security, of religion, and of tradition, we seem never to be able to stop the urge to oppress. Minority groups especially, are constantly in danger of being identified as enemies du jour. Old war stories can sometimes be uninspiring, but they all remind us of the monsters within, the ones who wait for moments of careless negligence, to once again rear their ugly heads.

www.seymourcentre.com