Review: Wit (Seymour Centre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Oct 16 – 26, 2019
Playwright: Margaret Edson
Director: Helen Tonkin
Cast: Matt Abotomey, Nyssa Hamilton, Chantelle Jamieson, Jan Langford-Penny, Yannick Lawry, Hailey McQueen, Shan-Ree Tan, Cheryl Ward
Images by Alison Lee Rubie

Theatre review
Vivian has a brilliant mind, but as she dies of cancer, she finds her mental capacities inadequate in dealing with the experience of a body being ravaged by sickness. Having excelled in academia all her adult life, she is suddenly confronted by a very real mortality that demands more than was ever asked of her. In Margaret Edson’s Wit, we meet a prideful personality who must learn to understand defeat. After an extensive career of being celebrated for her intellectual mastery, we watch Vivian try to mobilise all that she knows, so that even on the occasion of her own death, she may emerge victorious.

The lesson of course, is about humility, in the face of the inevitable. The production, directed by Helen Tonkin, demonstrates with remarkable resonance, that tension between power and loss, as our heroine puts up a gallant fight as many others have done. Wit is the story of a literary scholar, and Tonkin’s work is appropriately sensitive and detailed, in its careful treatment of Edson’s writing. Also noteworthy is Victor Kalka’s lighting design, elegant yet dynamic enough to facilitate gentle shifts in the audience’s emotional responses.

Actor Cheryl Ward does outstanding work in the lead role, intricate with her renderings and persuasive with her assertions. It is a hugely challenging piece for any actor, and Ward rises to the occasion, impressively flexing her muscles, cerebral and sentimental, to ensure that we connect with all of Wit‘s meaningful dimensions. Nurse Susie is played memorably by Hailey McQueen, confident and strong as the character who helps guide us to a state of catharsis, for this often dispiriting play.

There is a hint of regret when Vivan looks back at her life, alone in hospital with no friends and family, aware that the end is nigh. It may be true that she comes to the conclusion that more effort could have been put into relationships, but her extraordinary contribution as thinker and professor constitutes a legacy that will endure long beyond her time on earth. Although not her explicit intention, what Vivian leaves behind, is likely to be far more generous than if she had endeavoured to be a kinder, more loving person. In the end, she suffers a tremendous amount, but the darkness of those final few months do not tarnish what is ultimately, a glorious existence.

www.clockandspielproductions.com

Review: Fangirls (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Oct 12 – Nov 10, 2019
Book, Music & Lyrics: Yve Blake
Director: Paige Rattray
Cast: Aydan, Yve Blake, Kimberley Hodgson, Chika Ikogwe, Ayesha Madon, James Majoos, Sharon Millerchip
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Edna is head over heels in love with Harry, except Harry is miles away in the UK, and a member of a boy band oblivious to Edna’s existence. Yve Blake’s Fangirls details the experience shared by many, ever since the advent of pop music in the middle of the twentieth century, where teenagers develop crushes on stars the intensity of which can often be overwhelming. They had fainted at Beatles concerts in the 60’s, thrown panties at Tom Jones in the 70’s, and now they write fan fiction as a manifestation of their fantasies, and a declaration of love, to share with vast communities of like-minded youth.

Fiction and reality however, become dangerously blurred in Fangirls, as Edna’s obsession grows completely out of hand. It is admittedly surprising, that what seems to be a pedestrian premise for a show, would emerge being the foundation for one of the cleverest and most entertaining musicals to grace our stages. Its dialogue is inexhaustibly witty, partnered by songs that are as inventive as they are powerful, with a plot structure that casts a hypnotic spell over our heads and hearts. Proving that storytelling does not always require subject matter that obviously resonate, Fangirls enthrals with its colourful yet authentic characters, who navigate the modern world in a way that can be thought of as peculiar, but also unequivocally essential in our understanding of humanity. Perhaps it is precisely in these instances of insanity, that we can locate our true nature.

Directed by Paige Rattray, the show is a joyful exercise in feminine vivacity, deliciously exuberant as it celebrates the foibles of adolescence that define us all. Fangirls is hilarious, even at its darkest moments, always insisting that we laugh heartily at situations that evoke memories that were once deathly embarrassing, but are now freshly endearing. Music direction by Alice Chance and music production by David Muratore, draw inspiration from recent trends in pop, for a remarkably exciting score replete with energy, surprise and fabulous irony. Leonardo Mickelo’s choreography is similarly accomplished, making every number a visual thrill. Video by David Fleischer and Justin Harrison help depict the new media environment that informs the sensibilities of our youth, but it is Emma Valente’s lighting design that delivers spectacle and atmospheric augmentation, which really get us in the mood.

Edna is triumphantly portrayed by Blake, whose skills in acting, singing and dancing, are quite astonishingly on par with what she achieves as songwriter and playwright. She is simultaneously heartbreaking and comical, persistently nuanced even if the performance is relentlessly extravagant in tone. The mononymous Aydan is thoroughly convincing as the object of desire, a marvellous caricature who is clearly in on the joke. Five extraordinary supporting players in a wide variety of roles, leave us hopelessly thrilled by their impressive talents. Chika Ikogwe is absolutely glorious with the sassy humour and parodic hip hop stylings she brings, in addition to the moments of piercing poignancy she introduces as the less than best friend Jules.

Caroline, the mother at wits end, is played by an impossibly versatile Sharon Millerchip. James Majoos is unforgettable as Saltypringl, and for dialling up the camp factor in all his scintillating representations of gender diversity. Very big laughs are delivered by Kimberley Hodgson, who is brilliantly incisive as the naive Briana, and Ayesha Madon takes every opportunity to tickle us with excessive vocal flourishes, along with multiple absurd appearances as an overzealous ribbon gymnast.

We can give our children everything they need and want, and still have to live with the idea that they will inevitably go out and court trouble. In fact, it is probably more accurate to say that when we leave them with nothing to want, is when they would find ways to create havoc. People need to feel in control of their own existences. Adults take it upon themselves to provide every kind of order, so that the young can have peaceful and rewarding lives, but without experiencing chaos and failure, it is hard to imagine that anyone could truly welcome everything that should be cherished. We dread our kids ever having to hit rock bottom, but we know that that is in many ways, absolutely necessary.

www.belvoir.com.au | www.atyp.com.au | www.queenslandtheatre.com.au

Review: Fully Committed (Ensemble Theatre)

Venue: Ensemble Theatre (Kirribilli NSW), Oct 11 – Nov 16, 2019
Playwright: Becky Mode
Director: Kate Champion
Cast: Contessa Treffone
Images by Prudence Upton
Theatre review
Sam is a struggling actor, working full-time as a reservations clerk at one of Sydney’s swankiest restaurants. It is a difficult job, not only because the joint seems to be at perpetual full capacity, but also due to some extraordinarily difficult personalities, who insist on talking to Sam with no regard at all for any common courtesy.

Becky Mode’s Fully Committed is about life at the bottom rung of a revered institution, where labour is cheap and human dignity is non-existent. It is an entertaining work, that deals with the class divide in a humorous, if slightly disillusioned way. Instead of questioning Sam’s compliance, the play is concerned only with how and when she is going to be able to move up the social order. Fully Committed is about our inevitable participation in a broken economic system, reflecting the acceptance of something that causes as many problems as it solves, and our general sense of impotence in the face of all its failings.

Under Kate Champion’s direction and Jane Fitzgerald’s dramaturgy, Sam’s story of disadvantage is told with unexpected poignancy. In Champion’s efforts to elevate the writing beyond its tendency for surface comedy however, the show lacks the manic energy that could have us further invested. The decision to have a conventional switchboard stylistically transformed into thirty separate telephones, makes for a powerful visual (set design by Anna Tregloan), but often requires the performer of this one-woman piece to delay her delivery of lines.

Contessa Treffone plays Sam, and all the other, more than thirty, characters on the other end of the line, each of them thoughtfully crafted, and vividly depicted. Treffone makes the extremely demanding work look a walk in the park, for a performance remarkable in its elegance and clarity. Although effortlessly comical, the performer can at times feel insufficiently confident, for a script that seems naturally inclined to be madcap and quite hammy in tone. Nevertheless, the production remains tremendously enjoyable, and Treffone’s ability to hold us captive for the entire duration is indeed commendable.

Sam finds herself in an awful situation, but blames no one for her predicament. She has bought into the myth of capitalism, of hard work, of upward mobility, and convinces herself that literally mopping up other people’s shit, is but par for the course, if she is determined to put everything into making her dreams come true. Becky Mode’s play is approaching twenty years old, and it is tempting to now think of the new generation, as young people who know better.

Maybe when we criticise them for being entitled, spoilt and delicate, we neglect to recognise the unjust, unreasonable and sometimes inhumane conditions we have come to accept of our lives. For many years we believed that the system we build, would reward us with fairness, but time has revealed many fallacies. No wonder then, that many of Sam’s age are now turning their backs, and refusing to play by rules that make little sense.

www.ensemble.com.au

Review: Don’t Hate The Player (Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Oct 8 – 12, 2019
Playwright: Laura McDonald
Director: Laura McDonald
Cast: Atharv Kolhatkar, Madelaine Osborn, Cassius Russell, Rhiannon Watson

Theatre review
Darcy and Gabby are involved with big time drug dealers, and although the sisters’ illicit activity happens only in the virtual reality world of computer gaming, the emotions being toyed with are completely genuine. Laura McDonald’s Don’t Hate The Player is a clever piece of writing, with thoughtful ideas and a well-considered plot structure. The play however, is likely to be remembered for its humour, rather than the philosophy it suggests. It is a very funny work, fuelled by McDonald’s wonderfully quirky imagination, that delivers a great number of laughs without ever underestimating its audience.

As director, McDonald does not quite render with sufficient intensity, the poignancy inherent in her piece at its conclusion, but there is no question that the jokes being presented from start to end, are entertaining and impressively idiosyncratic. Four performers, each with a distinctive style, are made cohesive by McDonald’s specific approach to comedy. Madelaine Osborn and Rhiannon Watson play the sisters, both actors delightful with the surprising nuance they unearth from within the script, and marvellously inventive with the highly distinctive characters they inhabit. Chemistry between the two is an absolute joy to watch. Atharv Kolhatkar is energetic as Ashan, man of mystery in this story about mutable identities, and Cassius Russell’s intricate manifestations of Reg the cyber facilitator are an unequivocal pleasure.

As the lines between real and virtual continue to blur, what we deem to be organic and synthetic too, begin to meld. What were once easily differentiated, is now increasingly ambiguous, as we come to terms with humanity’s indivisibility from the thing we call technology. Everything that we dream up, originates from us, no matter how wildly alien they eventually evolve. Nature is never stagnant, and being a part of it, we are always learning to live with all its new permutations. There is no need to try figuring out what is natural and what is not, but to know the difference between good and bad, is an endeavour we must forever persist with.

www.redlineproductions.com.au

Review: Bondi Legal (Bondi Theatre Company)

Venue: Bondi Pavilion (Bondi NSW), Oct 11 – 26, 2019
Playwright: Tony Laumberg
Director: Richard Cotter
Cast: Valentino Arico, Michael Arvithis, Jadie Bastow, David Evan Samuels, Tricia Youlden
Images by Lightbox Photography

Theatre review
Brad thinks himself an average lawyer at best, and when he has to fight a court case at short notice, we see him quite literally fall in a heap, overwhelmed by fear of failure. His client Frances however, has enough confidence for the both of them, and proceeds to be a formidable driving force that pushes Brad to do his very best work. Written by Tony Laumberg in 2009, based on personal experiences from the mid 90’s, Bondi Legal is an unremarkable narrative presented in an old-fashioned style, but its humour, although obvious, could certainly appeal to those with a taste for something traditional.

Directed by Richard Cotter, the production is appropriately rambunctious, and thankfully fast-paced. In the absence of an engaging story, Cotter aims to keep us invested by foregrounding some very broad comedy. Michael Arvithis demonstrates himself to be a reliable performer; skilful, agile and extremely energetic in the lead role. His determination to entertain, forms the anchor of the show, keeping things buoyant and amusing. Frances is played by Jadie Bastow, a prudent counterpart who provides steady, and generous, support to her irrepressible co-star.

Theatre is often more about how a story is told, than what the story actually is. The court case at the centre of Bondi Legal is unlikely to resonate with many, but the rowdy goings on make for a stage that holds our attention. When artists work together to assemble elements that could make large groups of people laugh as one, they are both reflecting and defining our culture. They identify who we are, and then have the opportunity to shape us into what we should be. Theatre can be regressive or progressive. It can hold us back, or move us forward, even if in the moment, all we can perceive is harmless laughter.

www.bonditheatrecompany.com.au

Review: Rogues Double Bill (Fringe HQ)


Venue: Fringe HQ (Potts Point NSW), Oct 9 – 19, 2019

Gravity Guts
Playwright: Sophia Simmons
Director: Erica Lovell
Cast: Naomi Belet, Angie Brooke, Kathryn Edmonds, Jessica Loeb, Emily McKnight, Monika Pierprzyk, Monica Sayers

Ginger.Black.Brunette.Blonde.
Playwright: Peter Maple
Director: Simon Thomson
Cast: Jessie Lancaster, Emily McKnight, Nell Nakkan

Images by Robbi James, Christopher Starnawski

Theatre review
In two separate plays, actor Emily McKnight plays two young women, both trying to grow out of their parents’ shadows. In Sophia Simmons’ Gravity Guts, a young Sophia wishes to become an astronaut, because her intelligence refuses to be contained by the planet, and also because she needs to flee as far away as possible, from an angry alcoholic father. Peter Maple’s Ginger.Black.Brunette.Blonde. features Sarah, traumatised by her mother’s death, and unable to establish a selfhood independent of painful, cancerous memories. Both plays are spirited and imaginative, with Simmons’ work memorable for its thoroughly realistic depiction of a triumphant character, while Maple’s writing goes very melodramatic and abstract, perhaps too pretentious for meaningful resonance.

Directed by Erica Lovell, Gravity Guts boasts excellent use of a chorus, comprised of six energetic women, perfectly choreographed to enhance its protagonist’s story of defiant resilience. McKnight is convincing as Sophia, very passionate with the way she presents the role’s irrepressible ambitions. As Sarah however, her emotions are similarly intense but rarely authentic. Directed by Simon Thomson, Ginger.Black.Brunette.Blonde. is appropriately heightened in style, although sound and lighting requires greater finessing. Jessie Lancaster and Nell Nakkan make the most of this opportunity of an unusually flamboyant piece, both performers leaving good impressions with their interpretations of powerful personalities.

It is likely that there is no surer way for a person to mature, than when they come to accept their parents’ flaws. When one is able to completely recognise their parents to be unremarkable humans, capable of the worst behaviour, one can begin to develop a true adulthood. Some believe that we are all damaged, no matter how well-intentioned the ones who bring us up, but we must believe that old wounds can heal. Whether permanent or not, the problems we inherit, must be thought of as amendable, even if they require a lifetime’s attention.

www.companyrogues.com

Review: Homesick (The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Oct 8 – 12, 2019
Playwright: Sally Alrich-Smythe
Director: Claudia Osborne
Cast: Annie Byron, Deborah Galanos, Eliza Scott, Alex Stylianou
Images by Phil Erbacher

Theatre review
Samantha has suddenly come home to Wallerawang, from New York where she is yet to complete her higher education in music. Things are not well but she is unable to articulate them. In Homesick by Sally Alrich-Smythe, we observe the environment in which the young woman has grown up, that may have contributed to her emotional troubles, although we remain uncertain if those are entirely to blame for her illness. She seems to have identified her mother’s displaced ambition as a cause, but Samantha’s inability to bring adequate expression to her emotions, forms the central mystery on which the narrative of Homesick is built.

Its dark themes notwithstanding, Alrich-Smythe’s play features charming personalities and sparkling dialogue that keep us engaged. A generous measure of video projections (by Lucca Barone-Peters and Suzie Henderson) is used to help tell the story, integrated with a sensitive elegance by director Claudia Osborne, whose minimalist approach proves effective in this investigation into small town Australia.

Actor Eliza Scott offers an understated but compelling naturalism that makes believable, all of Samantha’s hidden struggles. Her mother Rachel is played by Deborah Galanos, whose effortless warmth assures us that the home in question, is loving and not overbearing. Annie Byron is quirky as the inconvenient grandmother Eadie, effective at introducing exuberance to the staging, and Alex Stylianou is memorable as Samantha’s ex-boyfriend Jess, confident with the instinctual comedy he brings to the very relaxed personality.

There are no doctors in Samantha’s story to tell us where her problems are coming from, so we try, as lay people, to arrive at our own diagnosis, which is neither reliable nor satisfactory. Mental health is complex. We may be able to detect feelings, but chemistry is best left to professionals. Samantha keeps her illness hidden, and we see her attempting to get out of the woods on her own, to no avail. It might be wishful thinking that the medical system represents a quick fix, but it bears reminding that help is always available, and even if the healing process turns out to be arduous, it is unequivocal that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Mental Health Line 1800 011 511

www.bontom.com.au