Review: The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner (Jackrabbit Theatre / Little Eggs Collective)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Apr 2 – 13, 2019
Poet: Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Director: Julia Robertson
Cast: Lloyd Allison-Young, Mathew Lee, Nicholas Papademetriou, Nicole Pingon, Callan Purcell, Annie Stafford, Grace Stamnas, Mike Ugo, Laura Wilson
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
The theatrical action takes place in a rectangular sandpit, with nine people in disciplined formations, illustrating the 1798 poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The Romanticist’s words are turned tangible, as we watch his ship’s adventures unfold, from an optimistic start, into a journey that becomes increasingly perilous. The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner is parsed through the bodies of performers, for a transformation that takes the storytelling from one artistic form to another, and in the process, bending time to create a channel in which the past can visit the palpable present.

Directed by Julia Robertson, the production is whimsical, resolutely so, but it is insufficiently engaging, due mainly to the traverse arrangement of seating, which disallows the visual dimensions of the show to truly fulfil their intentions. Without an adequate backdrop, and without a raised stage, our eyes become restricted in what they are able to absorb and discern. The ensemble is focused, exquisitely cohesive with their offering. It is a spirited effort, especially inventive with the music and sounds that they generate, and along with composer Oliver Shermacher, auditory pleasures are a principal accomplishment of this work.

The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner may not connect as potently as it should, but it bears an integrity that is reassuring. There is a purity to its approach that feels artistically uncompromising and, therefore, admirable. In what we term “independent theatre”, nobody pays your bills but yourself. The sacrifices involved in undertaking this often thankless work are mammoth, and artists should not placate or ingratiate, in the hope of some imaginary professional advancement that will result. Their only responsibility is to the truth, and that is what we are here for, wherever we find ourselves to be.

www.jackrabbittheatre.com | www.facebook.com/littleeggscollective

Review: The Last Five Years (Ensemble Theatre)

Venue: Ensemble Theatre (Kirribilli NSW), Mar 29 – Apr 27, 2019
Writer/Composer: Jason Robert Brown
Director: Elsie Edgerton-Till
Cast: Christian Charisiou, Elise McCann
Images by Phil Erbacher

Theatre review
Jamie has no idea what he is getting himself into, when asking for Cathy’s hand in marriage. His writing career is going “gangbusters” and girls are throwing themselves at him, but he decides instead to get bogged down by the old ball-and-chain, who is herself a naggy talentless nobody, and who demands too much of her husband. The Last Five Years by Jason Robert Brown is an ill-advised musical about the disintegration of a relationship, in which misogyny is lavished right from the start, when Cathy is sobbing over her asshole husband moving out.

Things clearly can only get worse as the show progresses, as Jamie’s misplaced resentment becomes all-important, and he sings such charming lyrics as “I will not fail so you can be comfortable, Cathy, I will not lose because you can’t win,” and “I could never rescue you, all you ever wanted, but I could never rescue you, no matter how I tried.” The story ends with little resolution, but it does not take prodigious imagination to see Jamie turning to digital incel communities after the separation.

Director Elsie Edgerton-Till may not succeed at glossing over the many gendered affronts, but her production is undeniably polished, able to make the simple two-hander feel confident and dynamic. Daryl Wallis’ musical direction is satisfying in its sophistication, and as pianist, he is particularly memorable in “Climbing Uphill”, with a sense of humour to his accompaniment that almost makes the whining wife’s desperation tolerable. Playing Jamie and Cathy are a couple of incontrovertibly excellent performers; Christian Charisiou and Elise McCann are both charismatic and enormously talented. They explore the material with impressive zeal, bringing to the stage extraordinary vigour and skill, trying to keep us delightfully engaged.

The Last Five Years reminds us that, for all the heartache associated with it, divorce is always a wonderful relief. In the throes of passion, and romantic naivety, we make mistakes, because being human, we never fail to want to make promises to horrible people, or to people who will eventually turn horrible. Love is natural and necessary, but rarely eternal. When time comes to call it quits, the apparatus is available to leave them to rot in their own filth. Cathy does not see it yet, but it is clear to us that although five years were lost, she has dodged one very toxic bullet.

www.ensemble.com.au

Review: Saturday Night Fever (Sydney Lyric Theatre)

Venue: Sydney Lyric Theatre (Sydney NSW), Mar 27 – Jun 2, 2019
Book: Robert Stigwood, in collaboration with Bill Oakes (based on the film by Nik Cohn)
Director: Karen Johnson Mortimer
Cast: Angelique Cassimatis, Natalie Conway, Paulini Curuenavuli, Euan Doidge, Bobby Fox, Melanie Hawkins, Marcia Hines, Stephen Mahy, Nana Matapule, Ryan Morgan, Tim ‘Timomatic’ Omaji
Images by Heidi Victoria

Theatre review
The plot was always flimsy in Saturday Night Fever, but all its music and dance sequences have made it an unequivocal icon of the disco era. With a soundtrack album that has sold over 45 million copies worldwide, its songs and their accompanying decadent style, proceeded to define entertainment in the immediate years after its 1977 release, and continue to retain significant cultural cache for generations thereafter. This live theatre version first appeared 1998 in the West End, predictably stirring with the deeply familiar and seductive song list, and this 2019 rendition is similarly appealing.

Accepting that the story is largely irrelevant to how one should enjoy the piece, song and dance is then allowed to become the focus. Choreography by Malik Le Nost is exhilarating, and faithfully nostalgic. Paul Herbert’s orchestrations amplify the pizzazz and schmaltz that the audience adores. We want the big productions to never end, but alas, several extended scenes that attempt to deliver drama, or at least some sense of narrative, only prove themselves to be unsought distractions that bring the energy down, along with our excitement, between the genuinely gratifying episodes of discotheque fabulosity.

Leading man Euan Doidge is a very average actor in the role of Tony Manero, but thankfully shows himself to be a sensational dancer, and doubtless for many an audience member, a real looker. Even with the completely disco-erroneous short haircut and tight trousers, Doidge is a breathtaking specimen who almost has us forgiving everything. His dance partner is the impossibly perfect Melanie Hawkins, who makes every one of Stephanie Mangano’s entrances look like an angel descending from above. Club DJ Monty is played by the thoroughly engaging Tim ‘Timomatic’ Omaji, who absolutely shines in the supporting role, with timing and moves that have us eating out of his palm. All the hits are sung marvellously, mainly by a fantastic group of four (Natalie Conway, Paulini Curuenavuli, Bobby Fox and Nana Matapule), but there is no denying the superstar power of Marcia Hines, who is called upon to inspire awe with each of her brief appearances.

Saturday Night Fever tries to give us more than what we bargain for, where it should know better its own strengths. Like legendary party animals of the late 70’s and their penchant for amphetamines and cocaine, we come to the show as hedonists with no time for emotion. Between bumps of pleasure, we have to endure moments of tedium, but we stay for the duration, because we know exactly what the next peak is going to bring.

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Review: The Dog, The Night And The Knife (The Other Theatre)

Playwright: Marius von Mayenburg (translated by Maja Zade)
Director: Eugene Lynch
Cast: Thomas G Burt, Tom Crotty, Samantha Lambert
Images by Shayan Askari

Theatre review
It is always 5:05 o’clock, in Marius von Mayenburg’s nightmarish The Dog, The Night And The Knife. A man is trapped inside a surreal landscape, encountering strange people who all seem to have nefarious intentions, it seems, of wanting to eat him up. The anxiety-riddled work takes us on a bizarre trip, into a space that feels like the semiconscious, where reality exists only in states of compromise. Paranoia is about things that hide beneath the surface, and in von Mayenburg’s play, things are certainly never quite what they seem.

Actor Tom Crotty demonstrates good focus as the protagonist, full of mental concentration, but lacking in physical agility. The production is staid, probably overly serious in its interpretation of von Mayenburg’s writing. Director Eugene Lynch is able to create a sense of macabre for the piece, but the show proves less funny than it could be.

In a variety of roles are Thomas G Burt and Samantha Lambert, both performers introducing an enjoyable theatricality with the ghostly quality they bring to their characters. Burt is particularly delightful with the dynamism he is able to bring to the stage. Also noteworthy is music composer Kailesh Reitmans, who delivers clever atmospheric enhancements for the production, especially effective with the suspense he is able to convey.

There is no denying that art can help deal with psychological and emotional baggage of which no one is excepted. At the theatre, whether we come in contact with cannibals or with the average Joe, there is always opportunity to know ourselves better, and in that process, find a more expansive view of existence that will keep our disquiet in check. In The Dog, The Night And The Knife, von Mayenburg comes to terms with the idea that people are not always kind to one another. It might be a pessimistic realisation, but an acceptance of reality is always a necessary start, before attaining greater epiphanies.

www.facebook.com/theothertheatre

Review: Leopardskin (Jackrabbit Theatre)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Mar 26 – Apr 6, 2019
Playwright: Michael McStay
Director: Samantha Young
Cast: Nick Gell, Travis Jeffery, Zoe Jensen, Emma Kew, Guy O’Grady, Ella Watson-Russell
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Luka and Val are petty thieves trying to make the big leagues. They hear of an Italian billionaire philanthropist giving away his priceless antique clock, and make a beeline for an opportunity to nab the prize. Michael McStay’s play is a farce in the classic vein, reminiscent of Molière, Fo and Brecht, complete with bumbling cops, mixed identities and love triangles. Witty and wild, extremely quirky and downright silly, the work is almost astonishing in its ability to steer clear of anything that could be classed deep and meaningful. Amusement is of course, one of the main reasons we go to the theatre, and Leopardskin delivers it in spades.

Samantha Young directs a wonderfully flamboyant show, very loud and very mad, quite the counter-cultural statement in what feels to be a terribly conservative milieu. With just enough attention placed on making sense of the frankly perfunctory narrative, Young puts her energy into making every second count, so that the audience’s synapses are firing, all of us tickled and fascinated, from beginning to end. When not laughing out loud, we find ourselves grinning from ear to ear, in deep enjoyment of this peculiar beast of an unapologetic, outlandish comedy.

Six very excitable performers can be seen luxuriating on stage, in full throttle madcap mode. Luka is played by Guy O’Grady, sarcastic in his unexpectedly pompous rendition of the small-time crook. Zoe Jensen is vibrant as Val, the rookie pickpocket who defies underestimation. The idiosyncratic tycoon Giuseppe Monterverdi is made an effervescent joy by Travis Jeffery, who brings surprising texture to his performance. Nick Gell takes all four of his characters to high camp territory, unforgettably gregarious with his vaudeville style. Also very effective in multiple roles is Emma Kew, whose timing is surpassed only by her effortless comedic presence. Senator Olive Darling is depicted with precision and a lot of exaggeration, by Ella Watson-Russell who contributes to the exceptional mischievousness of the production.

In accordance with its title, the show features costume pieces in all manner of leopard spots, that perennial symbol of bad taste in Anglo-Saxon societies. Indeed, in Leopardskin‘s embrace of all things brash and obnoxious, we encounter an anti-conformist aesthetic that tells so much about what constitutes normal and respectable, in our art and in our lives. When we scrutinise each other, to police an idea of tastefulness in the way we look and behave, we reveal a set of values determined to separate people into classes. When we dare to disrupt those codes, bad traditions can begin to be dispelled, and more than that, a shitload of fun will be had.

www.jackrabbittheatre.com

Review: The Appleton Ladies’ Potato Race (Ensemble Theatre)

Venue: Ensemble Theatre (Kirribilli NSW), Mar 22 – Apr 27, 2019
Playwright: Melanie Tait
Director: Priscilla Jackman
Cast: Valerie Bader, Merridy Eastman, Sapidah Kian, Amber McMahon, Sharon Millerchip
Images by Phil Erbacher

Theatre review
Like many of our little country towns, the fictional Appleton struggles with the idea that women should be able to enjoy the same privileges as men. They fool themselves into thinking that the genders simply belong in different domains, rather than admitting that people are being unjustly deprived of spaces and experiences. Worse, they habitually overlook power imbalances, allowing inequalities to exist, under the guise of having to keep the peace. In Melanie Tait’s The Appleton Ladies’ Potato Race, Penny moves home from the city, to a township busying itself with having to gear up for show day. When she discovers that the day’s highlight, the potato race (involving people running with sacks of potatoes on their backs) awards the winner in the women’s category only $200, or $800 less than the men’s, she decides to take action.

It is not an easy task of course, to find backing for her cause, in this conservative community where it can feel as though tradition is all they have. As is crucial in any feminist story, persistence is the key, and in Tait’s play, that persistence is embodied by a mild-mannered protagonist, who instead of going into her project all guns blazing and feisty, takes it upon herself to do all the hard work with inconceivable politeness. Her only true ally is a Syrian sidekick, Rania, who provides moral support, and little else besides. Penny is a GP, and Rania an unemployed refugee; they both wish to affect the same change, but Australian currency clearly has its biases. Nevertheless, The Appleton Ladies’ Potato Race is funny, passionate and rousing, an uplifting romp that many will find irresistibly delightful.

Director Priscilla Jackman imbues the show with extraordinary warmth. A palpable sentimentality colours this sojourn into mystical rural Australia, where people with good hearts never fail to charm our pants off, even if they are a little ignorant. Jackman’s representation of modern sisterhood is edifying, thoughtfully nuanced in all the complexities it is able to convey in regards the always painful job of galvanising people against the patriarchy. Actor Sharon Millerchip leads the charge as Dr Penny Anderson, perhaps a trifle too sweet in approach, but a persuasive presence who disallows us from ever questioning her intentions.

Rania is played by an understated Sapidah Kian, who introduces a distinct quotient of realism to the otherwise stridently fairy-tale quality of the production. Excellent narrative tension is created by Valerie Bader, august and compelling as Bev, a marvellous boss about town, unofficially in charge of everything. Splendid humour is brought by Merridy Eastman and Amber McMahon, both fabulously imaginative, and faultless with their comic timing. It is an impressively well-rehearsed presentation, featuring five actors in a cohesive and joyful collaboration that perfectly illustrates the point of the whole exercise.

The men carry 50kg sacks but the women carry 20kg. In real life, men do carry heavier loads than women in some places, and the reverse is also true. We hear of young men killing themselves in the bush, but rarely connect these dots. There is no need for any of our burdens to be allocated unevenly. In The Appleton Ladies’ Potato Race, women are fighting not only for equal prize money, but also for the opportunity to let every person have equal footing in their society. The consequences to disadvantage are obvious, but in our neo-liberal world, we neglect to recognise the problems that arise within loci that are concentrated with power. If we can orchestrate a dispersion of power, money, privilege and advantage, hardship at the bottom and at the top, must surely begin to evaporate. If this sounds an unconvincing argument, we can understand why arms have to be twisted in order to make things better.

www.ensemble.com.au

Review: Fierce (Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Mar 20 – Apr 13, 2019
Playwright: Jane E.Thompson
Director: Janine Watson
Cast: Lauren Richardson, Zelman Cressey-Gladwin, Stacey Duckworth, Martin Jacobs, Chantelle Jamieson, Felix Johnson, Andrew Shaw
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Suzie Flack is the first woman to play Australian Rules football in a professional men’s team. This is of course, a fictional premise that Jane E. Thompson uses to construct her play, Fierce. Our trailblazing protagonist may have broken through the glass ceiling, but her challenges do not end at that point of disruption. The weight of having to single-handedly redefine an entire industry, sits on her shoulders. This is a story about women who have had to walk into men’s spaces all alone, against all odds, to overcome unjust systems of exclusion. Thompson’s writing is passionately feminist, and although ultimately a predictable narrative, its magnanimous spirit proves affecting.

Directed by Janine Watson, the production is often powerful, and memorable for creative risks that help elevate its overall sense of artistry. Music by Ben Pierpoint contributes vigour at key moments, crucial in helping us identify the high stakes that Suzie’s experiences represent. Kelsey Lee’s lighting design has a dynamism that works well at conveying a turbulent volatility for the storytelling, and Melanie Liertz’s set and costumes offer just enough visual stimulation, to keep us attentive to both surface and deeper implications of Fierce.

Actor Lauren Richardson’s scorching intensity ensures that the play’s social pertinence is never neglected. Her display of vulnerability can at times seem excessive for a personality who has to remain unyielding with her strength and resilience, but it is a captivating performance that puts the audience firmly on her side. The ensemble cast is uniformly wonderful, every actor full of sincere conviction. In the role of Melanie is Chantelle Jamieson, who offers a deeply fascinating portrayal of a football WAG struggling to find happiness, beyond the obvious perks of her unsubstantial job title. Never able to make explicit her desires, we observe her desperation in various states of physical manifestation, which Jamieson renders with impressive power and accuracy. Felix Johnson too is memorable as Nate, the escort who shares more than sexual intimacy with Suzie, in a performance that is as convincing as it is moving.

It is a daunting prospect for minorities, to have to infiltrate and operate from the inside of old structures, with little or no peer support, to change things one step at a time. Fierce is ahead of its time in daring to imagine a sportswoman competing neck to neck with elite men in the business, but it is timely in giving us much needed illumination to prohibitions that have been hiding in plain sight. We seem to be at a new breaking point in the evolution towards a more equitable society, especially in terms of gender and race. There are incredible leaders fighting everyday at what feels to be the final frontier, and we must all learn to back them, and lean in the right way.

www.redlineproductions.com.au