Review: Anatomy Of A Suicide (Sugary Rum Productions)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Jun 12 – Jul 6, 2019
Playwright: Alice Birch
Director: Shane Anthony
Cast: Danielle Catanzariti, Jack Crumlin, Andrea Demetriades, Teale Howie, Charles Mayer, Guy O’Grady, Natalie Saleeba, Anna Samson, Kate Skinner, Contessa Treffone
Images by Kate Williams

Theatre review
Suicide always seems just a breath away for Annie, Bonnie and Carol. Alice Birch’s Anatomy Of A Suicide follows the struggles of three women, all of them skating dangerously close to the ultimate act of self-destruction. The play asks very big questions, but it is the way its provocations are dispensed, that makes it remarkable. The three leads exist in independent chronologies, but their stories are told in tandem, often overlapping, for a theatrical experience highly unusual in its plot structure. Parallels are drawn across narratives from different decades, to examine generational implications, in the way things may or may not change over time, in relation to women’s autonomy over their existences.

There is tremendous pleasure in seeing women lead the play, but it can also feel problematic that their neurotic behaviour is consequently associated with their gender. The only people out of control in the story are these women, and we find ourselves tempted to think of the issues being raised as being specifically gendered, when their femaleness should on this occasion, be a secondary concern.

Director Shane Anthony brings a mesmerising urgency to his staging; the stakes always feel high, and we are seduced by the intensity of his dramatic flair. His set (designed in collaboration with producer Gus Murray) is graceful and efficient, and along with Veronique Benett’s dynamically emotive lights, the visuals are sumptuous, for a deeply satisfying aesthetic that is always in dramaturgical harmony. Damien Lane’s music too, is beautifully rendered, memorable for being appropriately sentimental, able to help us access reservoirs of visceral sensations that resonate at every crucial plot point.

The cast is consistently impressive, with all members demonstrating excellent focus and a sense of disciplined precision reflecting consummate preparedness. Anna Samson is a wonderfully idiosyncratic Carol, convincing in her portrayal of mental illness, always rich with nuance and complexity as the subjugated, and gravely despondent, 60’s housewife. Anna, the addict who resorts to motherhood for salvation, is played by a powerful Andrea Demetriades, who delivers a severity for the character that persists in securing our empathy. A more naturalistic approach by Kate Skinner, allows us to relate to her Bonnie as a contemporary, and therefore more immediate, figure. In the singular scene in which she does turn rhapsodic, the atmosphere erupts and none can escape its poignancy.

More than the women before her, Bonnie is conscious of the forces that work to undermine her autonomy. We observe however, that knowing one’s demons does not necessarily spawn the capacities to defeat them. Being human, we almost always know good from bad, but the eternal conundrum of being able to do the right thing is what haunts us. Bonnie’s determination to outsmart her fate seems almost superhuman. She rejects that which seeks to entrap and define her, and in her story we see how hard it can be, to simply be your own woman.

www.facebook.com/sugaryrumproductions | www.redlineproductions.com.au

Review: Sweeney Todd (Life Like Company)

Venue: Darling Harbour Theatre (Sydney NSW), Jun 13 – 16, 2019
Book: Hugh Wheeler
Music & Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim
Director: Theresa Borg
Cast: Anton Berezin, Debra Byrne, Michael Falzon, Jonathan Hickey, Genevieve Kingsford, Owen McCredie, Gina Riley, Daniel Sumegi, Anthony Warlow
Image by Ben Fon

Theatre review
Stephen Sondheim has under his belt, countless celebrated works, and Sweeney Todd is amongst his most popular. It is masterfully crafted, with ample humour and drama to accompany some sensational songs, all guaranteed to please, and to secure bums on seats. The story is macabre, involving a crestfallen old barber trying to murder his way to salvation, and in the process victims are turned into pie fillings fed to an unknowing public. There is meaningful symbolism that could be deciphered, but depending on the quality of a presentation, as on any theatrical occasion, we might prefer to enjoy only the surface, to revel in its song and dance, and ignore any possibility of deeper resonances.

Theresa Borg’s direction may not inspire an experience that is particularly contemplative, but what she assembles is a professional staging showcasing a splendid piece of writing that proves itself virtually fail-safe. Its star Anthony Warlow is certainly a bankable resource, demonstrating his own infallibility, along with an immense likeability, that simply does not allow us to regard anything he offers as less than magical. In the midst of mediocrity, Warlow’s talent is still an exquisite beacon. Mrs. Lovett the baker is played by television icon Gina Riley, whose comedy chops justifies her shared top billing with theatre veteran Warlow; her vibrancy is the saving grace in a presentation needlessly, and strangely, safe and predictable. Genevieve Kingsford and Owen McCredie are the young lovebirds Johanna and Anthony, both performers suitably beautiful in appearance and in voice, able to provide a believable sense of romance to their scenes.

Vanessa Scammell serves as musical director, bringing considerable spirit to proceedings but as a whole, the production never really feels much more than a rudimentary effort. Mrs. Lovett’s customers love her pies. Their satisfaction with her product does not require any explanation about ingredients or methods. Likewise, when art is effective, one is tempted not to ask how things are put together, we simply indulge in the wonder that it delivers, allowing the mystery to wash over us, a transcendental moment likely to be diminished when deconstructed and understood. When art is less than enchanting however, it is perhaps wise to investigate failures, but always remembering to question why anyone should think that they deserve better.

www.lifelikecompany.com

Review: Collaborators (New Theatre)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Jun 4 – Jul 6, 2019
Playwright: John Hodge
Director: Moira Blumenthal
Cast: Michael Arvithis, Audrey Blyde, Ben Brighton, Elsa J Cherlin, Richard Cotter, Peter Farmer, Dave Kirkham, Madeline MacRae, Dominique Purdue, Joshua Shediak, Andrew Simpson, John van Putten, Annette van Roden, David Woodland
Images by Bob Seary

Theatre review
Near the end of his career, Mikhail Bulgakov wrote a play about Joseph Stalin. In John Hodge’s Collaborators, we examine that relationship between artist and dictator, speculating on the integrity that becomes compromised, when creativity is exposed to politics. From having his work banned, to completing Stalin’s flattering portrait, we observe the ease with which institutional power can infringe upon expression, and how the dissemination of information is always a precarious enterprise when governments and businesses are involved. Hodge’s play is imaginative, and quite dynamic, but the journey that it plots for Bulgakov is predictable; having sold his soul to the devil early in the process, it is a challenge for the narrative to go anywhere surprising.

It is however, a splendidly designed production, with Colleen Cook’s set and Martin Kinnane’s lights offering sumptuous imagery, and Patrick Howard’s luscious sound design adding to the surreal aesthetic being manufactured. The audience is immersed in a stylistic landscape inspired by Bulgakov and by Stalin’s Russia, one that feels accurate in its invocation of a time and space that feels historic, but not too long gone. Director Moira Blumenthal’s calibration of atmosphere for each scene is precise and passionate, but although tone is consistently well rendered for this staging of Collaborators, some of its dramaturgy proves insufficiently thorough, and what should clearly be a poignant experience, leaves us somewhat underwhelmed.

Leading man Andy Simpson brings a rich authenticity to Bulgakov. We believe this rendition of the struggling dramatist, even if his essence can eventually prove monotonous. Although not entirely convincing as a heavyset autocrat, Stalin is depicted by Richard Cotter, whose playful exuberance is an entertaining asset for the production. David Woodland impresses as Vladimir, secret police agent turned theatre director, bringing flamboyance as well as nuance to the show, keeping us riveted to his character, to deliver effective expositions when the story turns convoluted.

We need our art to be pure, but it is unrealistic to expect incorruptibility of our artists. More than anyone, they have to be open to the world, free to absorb anything that appeals to their senses. It is the nature of their vocation to be exposed to influences, but at the same, we need them to know the difference between right and wrong. In Collaborators, we see Bulgakov lose his way, as the propaganda machine gradually takes him over, reminding us that no artist is spared of human fallibility. People will fail, and failure must be acknowledged, so that we can recognise success when it appears.

www.newtheatre.org.au

Review: Gloria (Outhouse Theatre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Jun 6 – 22, 2019
Playwright: Branden Jacobs-Jenkins
Director: Alexander Berlage
Cast: Justin Amankwah, Annabel Harte, Reza Momenzada, Michelle Ny, Georgina Symes, Rowan Witt
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
The story happens at the most innocuous of places. In offices and a Starbucks cafe, characters from Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ Gloria do their best to stay afloat, in what feels like a never ending rat race. These humans are flesh and blood, but we see them caught inside machines, trying to navigate circumstances that are highly unnatural, and failing to do anything with integrity. Almost everyone ends up looking like a bad person, but it is hard for the audience to cast blame on any individual. It becomes clear that it is the environment that is toxic, and collectively we encourage horrible behaviour in one another. Gloria is about culture; the state we are in, and how we are trapped in a quagmire of our own doing, yet unable to figure a way out of it.

Jacobs-Jenkins’ penetrating look at Western civilisation is composed of fascinating dialogue and scintillating diatribes. A passionate expression of the frustrations we experience of city life, Gloria offers in theatrical form, an astute and scathing reflection of the games we play on a daily basis, that only serve to drag us down. The production opens with absorbing exuberance for a first act that portrays regular moments between colleagues at a publishing house. Jeremy Allen’s set design is commendable for its very persuasive insistence on incorporating a conventional proscenium, perhaps as representation of “the establishment”.

Director Alexander Berlage’s rendering of a bitchy workplace, communicates with a mischievous familiarity that many will find irresistible; we laugh at how mean-spirited we can be, with people we see every day, who should be our closest allies and compatriots. Acts 2 and 3 turn much darker, and the show’s energy dissipates slightly. Where it should begin to speak more stirringly, as we get closer to the crux of the issue, the staging struggles to maintain a focus on the essence of what is being said, leading us to a conclusion that feels somewhat cool.

Enjoyable performances include Michelle Ny as Kendra and Jenna, both roles sassy and strong, with the actor’s beaming confidence holding us captive, and head-over-heels dazzled. Rowan Witt is very funny as Dean and Devin, and highly impressive with the inventiveness that he is able to summon in bringing them both to life. Georgina Symes as the diametrically opposed Gloria and Nan, proves herself effective at each end of the hierarchy, powerful whether playing high or low on the social scale.

Like nature documentaries with predictable predator-and-prey patterns of behaviour in all manner of species, Gloria shows us to be a tribe engaging in ruthless activity, as though free will is but a figment of some crackpot imagination. The truth however, is that although there is no question of our causing harm to one another, many of us do think and try to do better. The argument therefore, is about how much control we believe ourselves to possess, and how much each person is able to manoeuvre themselves to try evade these narratives to which we seem to be condemned. If we understand ourselves to have been indoctrinated, we must believe that deprogramming is possible. The nature of culture is that it is pervasive, but history shows that it is never insurmountable. Change happens all the time, and it might as well begin with the self.

www.outhousetheatre.org

Review: The Cherry Orchard (Chippen Street Theatre)

Venue: Chippen Street Theatre (Chippendale NSW), Jun 6 – 16, 2019
Playwright: Anton Chekhov (adapted by Victor Kalka)
Director: Victor Kalka
Cast: Martin Bell, Garreth Cruikshank, Dominique de Marco, Zacharie di Ferdinando, Suzann James, Craig James, Laurel McGowan, Martin Quinn, Alannah Robertson, Benjamin Tarlinton, Caitlin Williams, Harley Wilson
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
In Victor Kalka’s adaptation of The Cherry Orchard, we revisit Lyubov Andreyevna’s property and the anxieties surrounding its impending transfer of ownership. This story of old money versus new money, as it relates to the evolution of the Russian economic system just over a hundred years ago, bears themes pertaining to social equality that will always be relevant, but Chekhov’s characters and their idiosyncratic concerns, from 1904, seem to have retained little lustre and resonance. We no longer struggle with the notion of work as virtue, as Chekhov seems to present as the work’s integral assertion. In fact, it can be argued that another point of progress has been reached, where we begin to question that very assumption of honourable labour, that has informed so much of our participation in twentieth-century capitalism.

The production allows us to look back at the dawn of these modern times, to observe the naive optimism with which we regarded that model as mechanism for a redistribution of wealth. We had hoped that the new system would once and for all eradicate poverty, that aristocracy would relent and be relegated to the dustbin of history, but we find ourselves in 2019, talking about the top 1% and trying to solve problems of a similar nature. In addition, as an Australian audience we have to confront the concept of land ownership, as beneficiaries of a cruel and ongoing colonisation, and consider the meaning of resource allocation, when rightful owners of all our wealth are routinely kept deprived and subjugated.

Kalka keeps his show moving swiftly, at a pace suited to our contemporary tastes, although we never get to know any of the twelve personalities sufficiently to really care about their individual or collective predicaments. Performances are uneven but it is, on the whole, an adequate ensemble that has us following the narrative and that helps us gather some of its more intellectual aspects. The production is strangely deficient in eliciting any emotional involvement. Even though relatively vibrant in parts, this iteration of The Cherry Orchard struggles to communicate beyond the cerebral.

When we trust in work, we believe in a system of reward that is intrinsically just. Power imbalances however, will always mean that those who provide labour are constantly under the control of those who pay the wages. In order that we may feel fairly rewarded, we need extensive knowledge about resource distribution, but it is precisely this information that is rigorously kept behind closed doors. We are made to believe that we are given what we deserve, and we are taught to accept class and wealth distinctions, so that we accept our lot as somehow natural, and keep working in accordance with rules that only favour those on top. Perhaps the optimism in The Cherry Orchard is indication that big changes do occur, that a revolution, as impossible as it may seem in our indoctrinated minds, will arrive one day.

www.chippenstreet.com | www.virginiaplaintheatre.com

Review: Necrophilia (Jackrabbit Theatre)

Venue: Limelight on Oxford (Darlinghurst NSW), May 22 – Jun 1, 2019
Playwright: Lincoln Vickery
Director: Lincoln Vickery
Cast: Adam Sollis, Ariadne Sgouros, Jack Scott, Emma O’Sullivan
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Amanda works as an undertaker, preparing the dead for funerals, but because of her peculiar penchant for sex with cadavers, things get complicated. Lincoln Vickery’s Necrophilia is a comedy that capitalises, predictably, on our awkwardness about the subject. Although thankfully not an exploitative work, Vickery’s focus on the idea of Amanda’s repentance and rehabilitation, seems a lost opportunity for a more philosophical or sociological approach to discussing a taboo of which, on the surface, “nobody gets hurt”.

In spite of the inherently morbid theme, Vickery’s direction gives us a show that feels like a regular romantic comedy. In the absence of intellectual rigour, we are offered instead, some depth of emotion by actor Ariadne Sgouros, whose depiction of Amanda’s struggles brings valuable dimension to the production. Sgouros’ comedy can be slightly obvious at times, but her conviction as performer is admirable. Playing love interest is Adam Sollis, whose ability for nuance in a simple part is noteworthy, able to introduce a quotient of sophistication to the experience. Jack Scott and Emma O’Sullivan round up the cast, both performers effortlessly funny, and confident, in their respective supporting roles.

There seems always to be something unusual about each person’s sexual proclivities; we are all unique beings with individual quirks. Of course, we draw the line at consent, and it is in our incessant arguments about the nature of consent, that the real drama occurs. A dead person is unable to give consent, but a corpse is clearly not the same as a human being. If we think of it as an object, we have to confront the idea that at some stage, it could be treated as less than sacred. We then come to an analysis of whether sex can be anything other than sacred or profane, in these dissections of libidinous activities and body parts. That we can be so uptight and hung up on these subjects only reveals the parts of ourselves that are as yet unevolved, but if we let art do its job, we can be hopeful that it will show the way to enlightenment.

www.jackrabbittheatre.com | www.limelightonoxford.com.au

Review: Normal (The Uncertainty Principle / The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), May 29 – Jun 15, 2019
Playwright: Katie Pollock
Director: Anthony Skuse
Cast: Chika Ikogwe, Alexandra Morgan, Cecilia Morrow, Finley Penrose
Images by James Balian

Theatre review
Teenager Poppy’s eyes begin to twitch one day, and before too long her entire being spasms, to the extent that she passes out in public without warning. It appears a disease has taken hold, one of a mysterious nature that compels all around her to formulate narratives, to impose judgement upon the young woman’s body. When the same symptoms are seen in her school friends, this spreading of an unexplained phenomenon, fractures Poppy’s community, with people seeing only difference of opinion, and not what binds them together. Katie Pollock’s Normal is an intriguing work, because it allows for ambiguity, even though its expressions are passionate. Poppy’s resistance of definition, of not wanting to be pinned down, is a tale about female bodily integrity. It refuses to fit into a structure that would make us comfortable, for its autonomy comes before our conventional stipulations.

Normal‘s politics are never obvious, but director Anthony Skuse makes sure that it speaks with an incontrovertible urgency. The ensemble of four conspire to deliver something quite intense, with Alexandra Morgan’s turn as Poppy bringing a satisfying mix of youthful innocence and exuberance to the play. Chika Ikogwe is wonderful in a variety of roles, always a striking presence, yet marvellously persuasive with her naturalistic style of presentation. Cecilia Morrow and Finley Penrose too are effective in the show, both infectious with their zeal and conviction.

The production is cleverly designed, with Kelsey Lee’s lights monitoring proceedings through a combined sense of dynamism and sensitivity, and her set providing an elegant visual cohesion to the many short scenes that comprise the plot. Sound by Cluny Edwards is imaginative, with a distinctive kooky edge, able to facilitate unexpected dimensions for the story and its characters.

One of the most dangerous things that could happen to society as we know it, is for women to reject any attempts to control our bodies. The radical notion that we can do what we want with our lives and with our corporeality, goes against so much of what constitutes the fundamental building blocks of what we are. Old religions and other old patriarchies require our subjugation and capitulation, so to have women take charge of our own destinies, can only mean devastation to life as we know it, which is absolutely a future to look forward to.

www.old505theatre.com