Review: The Laramie Project & The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later (Seymour Centre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Nov 28 – Dec 8, 2018
Playwrights: Moises Kaufman and members of Tectonic Theater Project
Directors: Carly Fisher, Rosie Niven
Cast: John Michael Burdon, Laura Djanegara, Andrew Hofman, Francisco Lopez, Linda Nicholls-Gidley, Matthew Pritchard, Dominique Purdue, Emily Richardson, Charlotte Tilelli
Images by David Hooley

Theatre review
The brutal murder of 21 year-old gay man Matthew Shepard in 1998, endures in our collective memory, partly because of Tectonic Theater Project’s seminal work The Laramie Project. Utilising techniques of verbatim theatre, the group’s exhaustive research and interview processes have resulted in an exceptionally powerful work that confronts homophobia, in a manner that is much more far reaching than its very localised context might suggest. Along with its follow-up The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later, both pieces combine to offer a truthful and complex study of hate in communities, examining the way it operates, and reflecting on its disheartening tenacity.

Directed in tandem by Carly Fisher and Rosie Niven, it is a dynamic and stirring staging of the pair of plays, with innovative use of space ensuring optimum poignancy for every pertinent message in this Laramie cycle. Lighting design by Martin Kinnane is particularly effective in regulating dramatic intensity, and proves invaluable in the smooth execution of countless scene transitions.

Performing a very extensive range of roles, is a remarkably cohesive ensemble, including John Michael Burdon and Charlotte Tilelli who leave strong impressions with their varied and often flamboyant approaches to their respective catalogues of personalities. Also memorable are Andrew Hofman and Dominique Purdue who dial up the emotions, in several affecting sequences delivered with complete and unequivocal vulnerability.

It is now twenty years since Matthew Shepard was killed on that fence, in Small Town USA. The imagery is vivid, a sacrificial lamb hanging off a divide, with residents on either side, split by opinion and perspective. In many ways, we have since advanced as peoples, especially in relation to the legislation of LGBTQI protections and marriage equality, but it is clear that our current climate of disunity in the Twitter and Trump era, is quite unprecedented.

In this digital age, we seem to have lost the capacity to think outside of zeros and ones; everything is torn asunder into left and right, love and hate, good and bad. We make enemies much more quickly than ever before, each of us moving around in hunting mode, with voracious appetites, judging people into categories that do nothing other than to amplify our disdain for a perceived adversary. We need to find ways instead, to embrace the other side, if that is what it takes to take us to the realisation, that the other side does not exist at all.

www.theatretravels.org

Review: All My Sleep And Waking (Apocalypse Theatre Company)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Nov 28 – Dec 22, 2018
Playwright: Mary Rachel Brown
Director: Dino Dimitriadis
Cast: Di Adams, Angela Bauer, Alex Beauman, Richard Sydenham
Images by Robert Catto

Theatre review
Anne has to confront very complicated feelings about her father. As his death approaches, all that had resulted from a troubled family life must finally be attended to. Together with Maria and Peter, the three siblings must get each other through this difficult time, and perhaps work towards a resolution for decades of psychological damage. All My Sleep And Walking by Mary Rachel Brown is a study of broken homes, staggeringly authentic in its observations, and admirably honest with its intentions. Although not a pessimistic work, the play’s realistic rendering of a daughter’s struggle, and of delicate family dynamics, is a refreshing alternative to stories of this nature that always seem determined to be improbably uplifting. Here, just to be able to encounter the unvarnished truth, proves powerful enough to satisfy.

Directed by Dino Dimitriadis, the production is deliciously taut, with meticulous attention on interactions between characters that delivers some very gripping drama. Anne is played by Di Adams, whose work is imbued with integrity, for a very believable, albeit overly serious, portrait of fortification and incredible stoicism. As Maria, Angela Bauer offers an emotional counterbalance, fabulously intense yet astutely humorous, for an outstanding performance that has us mesmerised. Richard Sydenham is delightful as Peter, with quirky mannerisms that prove endearing, and impressive nuance for every line that he dispenses. Anne’s son Josh, is played by a persuasive Alex Beauman whose relaxed naturalism adds valuable dimension to our experience of the show.

Maybe one’s father never did his best, or maybe his best was simply not good enough. Either way, regardless of his intentions, one has to suffer the consequences of an unsatisfactory parenthood, whilst imagining perfect fathers abound in every other household. Self preservation requires that Anne takes on merciless strategies; she vilifies him brutally and spares no thought for his feelings, even as he is ravaged by cancer. The degree of hurt that she suffers is palpable, and from our vantage point, forgiveness would do her a great deal of good, but that is of course, easier said that done. Anne can only access what is available to her, and when we want more for her, we reveal our inability to understand the devastation she has to bear. The miracle lies instead, in her own abilities as a mother. We watch her son grow into a stable and secure adult, and are awestruck by the incredible breaking of a curse.

www.apocalypsetheatrecompany.com

Review: Charlie Pilgrim (ATYP)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Nov 21 – Dec 1, 2018
Playwright: Sam O’Sullivan
Director: Jena Prince
Cast: Rose Baird, Maliyan Blair, Stephanie Calia, Aria Ferris, Adelaide Kennedy, Sophie Lewis, Astra Milne, Daisy Millpark, Tobias Purcell, Carmen Rolfe, Callum Macgown, Lucinda Slattery, Noah Sturzaker, Eva Sutherland, Annabelle Szewcow, Mia Williams, Stanley Wills
Image by Tracey Schramm

Theatre review
Tired of feeling like an outcast at school, Charlie Pilgrim retreats into her bubble, indulging in a love of science. She invents a time travel machine, only to find that it traps her in a time loop, with a new Charlie Pilgrim materialising every 24 hours. A solitary activity quickly becomes a social one, and our protagonists have to find a way to resolve the quickly escalating situation. Sam O’Sullivan’s Charlie Pilgrim (Or A Beginner’s Guide To Time Travel) is an ambitious piece of writing that packs a lot of ideas into its 80 minutes. It is an enjoyable narrative in a familiar sci-fi format, extremely detailed in its rendering, with explorations into a wide variety of themes. There is a density to O’Sullivan’s work that can prove challenging, but the richness of what he offers is quite tantalising.

Wonderfully imagined by director Jena Prince, the production cleverly utilises a large cast of young actors, to create a hive of activity that is irresistibly engaging. Emma Lockhart-Wilson’s lights and Maddie Hughes’ sounds are robustly manufactured to provide clearly indicate every plot point, ensuring that we never get confused by all the relentless hustle and bustle. The ensemble is extraordinarily disciplined, yet consistently effervescent with what they bring to the stage. 17 precocious actors delight us with their creativity and charm, keeping us entertained and enthralled by the story that they so enthusiastically tell.

If we understand that the only constant in life is change, then it should follow that time is never as orderly as we assume it to be. Regrets are evidence of a life well lived, and much as we wish to revisit the past to make things right, there is a human capacity that allows us to see that it is never too late for amends to be made, even if oblique approaches are required. Yesterday’s lessons are for today, and learning to live with poor decisions, is crucial in how we can evolve into better people. The meaning of life, lies in the need to make every day an improvement. We are informed only by the past, but to dwell in it is meaningless.

www.atyp.com.au

Review: Aspects Of Love (Hayes Theatre)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), Nov 22 – Dec 30, 2018
Book: Andrew Lloyd Webber (based on the novella by David Garnett)
Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics: Don Black, Charles Hart
Director: Andrew J. Bevis
Cast: Finn Alexander, Hugh Barrington, Caitlin Berry, Ava Carmont, Annelise Hall, Christopher Hamilton, Jonathan Hickey, David Hooley, Stefanie Jones, Megan Kozak, Wendy Lee Purdy, Michaela Leisk, Matthew Manahan, Sam Marques, Grant Smith
Images by David Hooley

Theatre review
Rose and Alex have an unconventional romance, with each other as constants, but also involving several other people who weave through over the years, to test traditionally held notions of love. David Garnett’s 1955 novella Aspects Of Love is a seductive work, with intentions for a refreshed sense of modernity, but Andrew Lloyd Webber’s clumsy adaptation turns the story into an absurd one, with abrupt renderings that in effect, ridicule its characters and alienate its audience. The opening song “Love Changes Everything”, a legitimate hit from the composer’s heyday, is characteristically schmaltzy, but other tunes are even less appealing, in a show that disappoints from the very beginning.

Although unable to surmount the astonishingly poor writing, this production, directed by Andrew J. Bevis, is assembled with an admirable polish. Tim Chappel’s costumes and Steven Smith’s set design are particularly charming, with John Rayment’s lights helping to provide a visual sophistication to the bewildering goings on. Performers are similarly accomplished, with leading lady Caitlin Berry introducing a high level of professionalism as Rose, to keep us secure in her unwavering and impeccable stage savvy. Alex is played by Jonathan Hickey, convincing as the 17-year-old ingénue, but who gradually loses his grip on the material as the role progresses into maturity. Stefanie Jones is memorable as Giulietta, spirited and alluring in a role that otherwise makes little sense.

At the heart of Aspects Of Love is a wonderful tale that challenges the way we look at our world. Its women are free, able to fall without explanation, time and time again, for friends and lovers all through their lives. They experience marriage, but remain unencumbered. Rose chooses the right husband, who helps her grow beyond the prescribed and parochial, never ceasing to flourish, forever expanding, in both professional and personal terms. The musical however, fails to encapsulate that majesty, instead it deflates and diminishes, with an insistence that all should yield to a perspective that is ultimately pedestrian, and incapable of inspiration.

www.hayestheatre.com.au

Review: Marbles (Crying Chair Theatre)

Venue: The Actors Pulse (Redfern NSW), Nov 21 – Dec 1, 2018
Playwright: Kate Wyvill
Director: Christine Greenough
Cast: Richard Cotter, Emma Dalton, Melissa Day, Sarah Plummer, Tricia Youlden
Images by Ben Prats

Theatre review
Stanley’s Alzheimer’s disease has advanced to a stage where he is completely incoherent and no longer able to communicate. His original intentions, made in no uncertain terms, of wishing to undergo euthanasia, is of course highly contentious in a country where assisted dying remains illegal. In Kate Wyvill’s Marbles, Stanley’s three daughters wrestle with the prospect of having to fulfil an agreement that now seems too hard to contemplate. Unlike issues around birth, topics dealing with death are rarely spoken of. Australians gladly own up to being less than delicate, and although not generally a prudish culture, bereavement is certainly not a subject we are comfortable with.

Wyvill’s play offers a point of discussion that our society needs. Some of the writing requires a little refining, but the questions that it prompts are urgent ones that affect us all deeply. Directed by Christine Greenough, it is an appropriately thought-provoking production, even if its rendering of humour often feels underwhelming. Actor Richard Cotter brings dignity to the ailing Stanley, along with a quirky vibrancy that proves appealing. Caregiver Natasha is played by Sarah Plummer, who offers a valuable accuracy to the complicated emotions that are at stake. Her convincing portrayal of the long suffering daughter injects heart and soul, to a story that benefits from its sentimentality.

Marble‘s explorations into end of life decisions are made even more complex by Stanley’s energetic disposition. We are confronted with the vision of a very sick man unaware of his own suffering, and as he goes about blissfully ignorant of his own dementia, we have to think about the right thing to do on his behalf. It is evident that achieving consensus on the matter right now is unlikely, but to talk about death, and to build structures as a community that will support that inevitability, is absolutely necessary.

www.cryingchairtheatreco.com

Review: Broadway Bound (New Theatre)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Nov 13 – Dec 15, 2018
Playwright: Neil Simon
Director: Rosane McNamara
Cast: Les Asmussen, Patrick Holman, Brett Heath, Suzann James, Susan Jordan, Simon Lee
Images by Chris Lundie

Theatre review
Brothers Eugene and Stanley are comedy writers on the brink of commercial success, close to leaving home for the bright lights of New York City. Their parents’ marriage however, is disintegrating, and in Neil Simon’s Broadway Bound we see members of the Jerome family growing up, including Kate and Jack, who have to come to terms with major transformations taking place in their mature years. The semi-autobiographical play provides a glimpse of America in the middle of last century, with all its post-war optimism and nostalgic charm, but the work has not aged well. Although written only in 1986, its humour already proves tired, and where its themes can seem timeless, the drama is unfortunately lacklustre.

Rosane McNamara’s direction does however, provide us with a prudent amount of theatrical vitality. There is little to be excited about in the writing, but onstage activity is determined to keep us engaged. Actor Simon Lee is especially animated with his performance as Stanley, providing a necessary vigour that wills us into sharing in his character’s idealism. The innocence of younger sibling Eugene is made convincing by wide-eyed Patrick Holman, who demonstrates himself a reliable anchor for the family’s increasingly unstable dynamics. Their long-suffering mother Kate, is elevated by Suzann James’ impressive capacity for nuance, in a rich portrayal that is remarkably well-observed and accurate.

We meet the Jeromes at a moment of chaos, when big changes are underway for each individual. The turmoil signals that life is in motion, that although stability is required for us to thrive, occasional upheaval is necessary, to prevent us from complacent stagnation. Age is only a number, but our mortality is inference that growth and progress are essential to the human experience. If everything stays the same, time bears little meaning. Whether one thinks of time as limited or abundant, there is no denying that to waste it, is an irrevocable blunder.

www.newtheatre.org.au

Review: Company (Limelight On Oxford)

Venue: Limelight on Oxford (Darlinghurst NSW), Nov 14 – Dec 1, 2018
Book: George Furth
Music & Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim
Director: Julie Baz
Cast: Heather Campbell, Maree Cole, Grace Driscoll, Emily Dreyer, Lincoln Elliott, Jacqui Greenfield, Michele Lansdown, Michael McPhee, Alexander Morgan, Bridget Patterson, Brendan Paul, Ileana Pipitone, Marcus Rivera, Richard Woodhouse
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Bobby is celebrating his thirty-fifth birthday, with friends who all appear to be married couples, unable to resist badgering him into finding a wife of his own. Stephen Sondheim’s Company is approaching half a century old, and although its conceit seems archaic, we know that the experience it depicts remains resolutely accurate. People are often unwilling to accept single life as a valid and healthy option, and even though the musical does not portray marriage to be comprehensively wonderful, its insistence that Bobby comes to an acquiescence, in spite of his quite fabulous New York City bachelor existence, is representative of our narrow definitions of identity.

George Furth’s book for the 1970 creation might bear an exasperating plot that does not stand the test of time, but Sondheim’s songs continue to be sublime. Directed by Julie Baz, the production is entertaining and spirited, on a very busy stage that although not always visually appealing, is consistently ebullient, with an ensemble cast full of beans. Leading man Brendan Paul does an adequate job of his singing, but it is his radiant high-wattage smile that really charms. Heather Campbell is deeply impressive as Amy, delivering a rendition of the notoriously difficult “Getting Married Today” at an exceptional standard. Another memorable tune, “The Ladies Who Lunch” is performed by the commanding Michele Lansdown, whose interpretation of the socialite lush Joanne, is a delightful contrast to a lot of the squeaky clean goings on. Also noteworthy are the jubilant musicians that make up a sensational six-piece band, led by Antonio Fernandez whose music direction brings us a great deal of class, through his faithful interpretation of a now nostalgic score.

When Bobby finally admits to his loneliness, we question the veracity of his proclamations, wondering if it is a case of peer pressure leading our protagonist, to invent feelings that are not entirely authentic. Sondheim came out as gay in 1998, at the age of 68. Company is essentially a work he had written about the confirmed bachelor, at a time when his sexuality was in the closet, in which the protagonist’s friends are confounded by his refusal to settle with a woman. The incessant nagging leads to Bobby eventual relenting, not by actually marrying a woman, but by performing a ruse of regret and embarrassment, that many gay people have had to carry out, as a strategy in dealing with the heteronormativity that they inevitably have to contend with. Like many LGBTQ people, Bobby probably feels no need to satisfy those traditional expectations, but a big song and dance is always useful in getting them off our backs.

www.limelightonoxford.com.au