Review: Pit (The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Feb 25 – Mar 1, 2020
Playwright: Jackson Used
Director: Mikala Westall
Cast: Tony Barea, Margarita Gershkovich, Briony Williams
Images by Morgan Moroney

Theatre review
Bridget’s only daughter has been abducted. Needless to say, the aftermath is traumatic, and as we see in Jackson Used’s Pit, a constant state of disorientation and pain. One can attempt to find ways to move on, but there is no escaping the all-consuming damage that must result from an incident like this. Bridget tries on every kind of survival mechanism, none of which proves satisfactory, and we must confront the idea that when things go this bad, no solution can exist. It becomes a case of sink or swim, and we see that the remaining hope is about resilience and spirit, even if all they do is to keep a person breathing.

Direction by Mikala Westall is often imaginative, although a bolder approach is necessary for a more dramatic experience. Actor Briony Williams does most of the heavy lifting, focused and purposeful in the lead role. Tony Barea plays the lost girl’s father Serge, a surprising performance that has us won over at the end. Margarita Gershkovich provides sturdy support in a number of smaller parts, able to engage the audience without causing distraction from the central plot and character.

The emotions displayed on stage can feel slightly restrained, but theatre should not ask of its makers, thorough authenticity under all circumstances. What Bridget has to go through, is beyond inhumane, and no actor should have to take on anywhere near that level of torment. There are techniques however, that can help the show convey greater intensity, so that we may come closer to the reality being rendered, even if bells and whistles, smoke and mirrors are how we can get there.

www.old505theatre.com

Review: Australian Open (Kings Cross Theatre)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Feb 14 – 29, 2020
Playwright: Angus Cameron
Director: Riley Spadaro
Cast: Di Adams, Gerard Carroll, Miranda Daughtry, Patrick Jhanur, Tom Anson Mesker, Tom Russell
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Inspired by her son Felix, Belinda decides to change the nature of her marriage, in order to try out new things. Felix adamantly objects, even though it is his own open relationship with Lucas, that had acted as the very catalyst for his mother’s radical transformation. Australian Open by Angus Cameron looks at the way we let our most personal lives be dictated by others, and how we in turn feel at liberty to intervene with other people’s private business. It is a wonderfully progressive piece of writing, that takes the discussion of sexuality and marriage into the twenty-first century. Framed by some fabulously mischievous wit, the play is often hilarious, with its strengths clearly residing in dialogue rather than in plot.

Relentlessly camp, the show is directed by Riley Spadaro, whose penchant for grand gestures makes the experience a vivaciously engaging one. Spadaro is meticulous with the comedy of the piece, never letting any opportunity for laughs go wasted, although it must be said that more serious moments at the end, can in comparison, feel perfunctorily handled. There is a sense of refinement to the staging, with Grace Deacon’s work on set and costumes proving enchanting with her refreshing palette. Phoebe Pilcher’s lights too, bring an exuberance to keep us in the mood for all the bubbly goings on.

An extremely adorable cast keeps us enthralled in their slightly naughty story, with Di Adams particularly charming as Belinda, full of pointed nuance and jubilant playfulness, for a character luxuriating in being able to get back her groove. Felix is played by Tom Anson Mesker, whose proficient comic timing establishes pace for the proceedings. Also very funny is Gerard Carroll as Peter, able to portray vulnerability whilst bringing cheeky humour to the role. The millennial tennis star Lucas is given a surprising authenticity by Patrick Jhanur, who hits the mark effortlessly, both in terms of his acting and allure, for the very sex-positive part. Miranda Daughtry is appropriately stern as Annabelle, a commanding presence who offers a valuable counterbalance to her flighty family members. Finally, Tom Russell is memorable in the smaller role of Hot Ball Boy, simultaneously playing clown and eye candy, for a delighted and appreciative crowd.

As demonstrated by Felix, the hardest part about love and sex, is the discovery for oneself, what it is that one really wants. The inundation of messages relating to those subjects makes it nigh on impossible to know, if one is acting in response to influences, or if one’s true nature or essence is actually being expressed. As children, we are given explanations about partnerships and gender, that are at best interpretations of phenomena. There comes a time in adulthood, that each individual must determine for themselves, and themselves only, what those things should mean.

www.presentedbybub.com

Review: Our Blood Runs In The Street (Kings Cross Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Feb 19 – Mar 21, 2020
Director: Shane Anthony
Cast: Andrew Fraser, Cassie Hamilton, David Helman, Eddie Orton, Sam Plummer, Ross Walker, Tim Walker
Images by Jasmin Simmons

Theatre review
Violence is an indelible part of LGBTQI history in NSW. In the many years leading up to the decriminalisation of homosexuality and then the legalisation of same-sex marriage, Sydney’s gay men and trans women especially, have suffered physical harm, to the extent of murder, as a result of homophobia and transphobia.

Our Blood Runs In The Street is a work of verbatim theatre, composed of accounts by victims, as well as “family members, witnesses, historians, police officers, journalists and researchers,” presented alongside contemporary dance and physical theatre, for an examination of the prejudice and brutality that has shaped the community.

With stories mainly from the last three decades of the previous century, director Shane Anthony and his team have collated a meaningful text from which we can better understand that past. We are additionally informed that investigations are ongoing, in case new revelations should surface as a result of the show. It is a heavily fragmented work, and although able to convey the severity of incidents, struggles to elicit emotional involvement.

Visually enticing, with imaginative choreography throughout, and lights by Richard Whitehouse bringing constant colour and movement, our eyes are kept entertained. Auditory capacities are attended by composer Damien Lane and sound designer Nate Edmondson, who move us seamless from scene to scene, as they maintain an uncompromising gravity for these harrowing tales.

Seven performers, each one earnest and passionate, deliver testimonials with indisputable conviction. David Helman is particularly impressive with his clever blend of words and movement. Imagery and dialogue in the show do not always work well together, but Helman makes us watch and listen with coherence, without distraction from one or the other. A powerful speech is given by Cassie Hamilton, captivating in her stillness, recounting the serious under-estimation of violence against trans people, as reported by Eloise Brook of The Gender Centre.

The times are slowly changing, but problems for LGBTQI Australians continue, now most notably for ethnic minorities in suburbia. That the stage for Our Blood Runs In The Street is filled with white bodies, is indicative of the disparity that exists between cultures. People of colour have benefited from the work of Western activists, but there remains challenges, specific and nuanced, yet to be addressed. Pride has functioned as an effective war cry for many queers, but it is still a concept that eludes some, for which shame is still the default experience.

www.redlineproductions.com.au

Review: Shepherd (Aya Productions)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Feb 19 – Mar 7, 2020
Playwright: Liam Maguire
Director: Liam Maguire
Cast: Mark Paguio, Cecelia Peters, Rose Riley, Adam Sollis, Grace Victoria, Jacob Warner
Images by Matt Predny

Theatre review
Anna is sort of a charismatic cult leader, but she would of course never call herself that. Inside what might be termed a wellness facility, we meet a group of seekers, overwhelmed with a sense of inadequacy, anxiety and narcissism, trying to attain a state of bliss, by surrendering themselves to the teachings of their Gwyneth Paltrow lookalike guru. Liam Maguire’s Shepherd is a self-effacing meditation on the disquiet of modern existence, with characters full of neurosis presenting a sardonic theatre that appeals to our most cynical selves.

Operating as both playwright and director, Maguire’s idiosyncratic humour shines through for a quirky style of show, delivering big laughs as well as ample opportunity for intellectual engagement. His mischievous approach reveals the people we have become, in what is now one of the world’s richest countries; seeing ourselves represented as complete idiots, is actually highly rewarding.

Although not an extravagant production, lights by Martin Kinnane and sound by Sam Maguire, work together to provide a polish that reflects the sophistication underpinning Shepherd. Their efforts combine to shift tensions and tone between each scene, so that we interpret the action from varying heights of comedy and drama, letting us in on the play’s intentions, in subtle subliminal ways.

The cast is extraordinarily funny, including a deadpan Adam Sollis, who as Mark utters just four words, but whose depictions of wilful ignorance proves unforgettable. Anna is played by Grace Victoria, who portrays quiet malice with a powerful sarcasm, and captivating flamboyance. Also very ostentatious is Cecelia Peters, an energetic and meticulous performer, whose exquisite timing and high campery as Elsa is a delicious highlight. Mark Paguio’s overwrought earnestness leaves a remarkable impression, for an irresistibly hilarious take on lost souls and their confused desperation. Rose Riley and Jacob Warner play a quarrelling couple, both actors intense and wonderfully ironic with the parody of romance that they bring to the stage,

Anna exploits these bewildered sheep, gaining money and power from those eager to give up agency and indulge in the comfort of blindly following a false god. The world can make us acutely aware of personal shortcomings, even though these ideas of lack, are rarely genuine. We need to learn to switch perspectives, and see that it is the economy and the ways we run society that are at fault. The structures we subsist under fail to accommodate our nature, and makes us feel as though we are the ones to be blamed for not being able to cope. It then sells us solutions to problems of its own creation, and sets us on a perpetual cycle of frustration and dissatisfaction. When we recognise that the system is not serving our purpose, radical measures must be taken.

www.ayaproductions.com.au

Review: The Rise And Disguise Of Elizabeth R (Sugary Rum Productions)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), Feb 13 – Mar 1, 2020
Book & Lyrics: Gerry Connolly, Nick Coyle, Gus Murray
Music: Max Lambert
Director: Shaun Rennie
Cast: Gerry Connolly, Rob Mallett, Laura Murphy
Images by Kate Williams

Theatre review
The Queen of England comes to terms with her long career, and the significant diminishment of her empire, in The Rise And Disguise Of Elizabeth R by Gerry Connolly, Nick Coyle and Gus Murray. Connolly himself too, faces a reckoning in the show, as we watch the star confront his achievements as entertainer and impersonator of the Queen, a man of a certain age unable to step out of a majestic shadow, forever eclipsed. These two stories form the basis of a rich tapestry, a multi-disciplinary presentation involving burlesque, cabaret and stand up, intersecting with conventional theatre and Broadway elements, for a witty exploration into the amalgamated phenomena of legacy and ageing.

Directed by Shaun Rennie, the production captivates our senses with its irresistible exuberance, and engages our minds through considered examinations of the Queen as cultural catalyst and icon. Costumes and set design by Jeremy Allen, along with lights by Trent Suidgeest, serve up striking imagery, able to create beauty for every scene, whether fantastical or realistic. Connolly’s performance is unfortunately tentative, but although lacking in confidence, occasional glimpses of genius are revealed in his knack for subtle but acerbic irony. A small but very strong supporting cast keeps us buoyant, with the spirited duo of Rob Mallett and Laura Murphy bringing exceptional proficiency and charisma to the stage. Also noteworthy are Leah Howard’s choreography and Max Lambert’s musical direction, both consistently surprising with their work, and valuable in helping to sustain high energy levels for the 80-minute duration.

No matter what a person does for work, it should always be personally fulfilling, but if an individual’s contributions to community are substantial, life can begin to take on real meaning. Both the show’s main characters are frustrated with the people they have become. They rarely see beyond the repetitive toil that dictates how each day pans out, even though what they do constitutes extensive benefit to societies. We are taught to think about work in selfish ways, always looking at it in personal terms of profit and advantage, ignoring the greater good that can result from a broader comprehension of one’s decisions. The Queen is a lucky woman, not only for the wealth and power bestowed upon her, but also for being affixed to a path that offers her endless opportunities to make the world a better place. The rest of us have destinies that are more pliable, and we need to rise to the challenge of making bolder choices as a result of understanding those freedoms and responsibilities.

www.facebook.com/sugaryrumproductions

Review: Crunch Time (Ensemble Theatre)

Venue: Ensemble Theatre (Kirribilli NSW), Feb 14 – Apr 9, 2020
Playwright: David Williamson
Director: Mark Kilmurry
Cast: Diane Craig, Megan Drury, Guy Edmonds, Matt Minto, Emma Palmer, John Wood
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review
Although a grown man and father of two, Luke is unable to grow out of the shadow of Steve, his own father, whom he perceives to not have been a loving parent. Now that the old man is approaching end of life, things must come to a head or risk being unresolved for many years hereafter.

David Williamson’s Crunch Time is a family drama, but one that struggles to resonate, featuring a collection of unlikable characters in situations that are unconvincing and distant. We recognise the dynamics at play, for we all have experiences relating to problematic kinship, but few of its ingredients feel authentic, and meaningful emotional investment into any part of the story proves elusive.

Mark Kilmurry’s direction capitalises on comical aspects of the writing, always taking care that the humour is conveyed with clarity. Actor Guy Edmonds is effortlessly funny as Luke, and a charming presence, even though a strange casting choice for an entirely charmless role. Daddy Steve is played by an elegant John Wood, whose restrained approach tends to downplay tensions of the piece.

Other parts in Crunch Time are performed well, despite their unfortunate lack of complexity. Matt Minto is appropriately comical as favourite son Jimmy, and Diane Craig brings a degree of self-respect to Helen, the strangely overlooked mother who does little more than orbit around the disputes within her household. Daughters-in-law are played by Megan Drury and Emma Palmer, who retain some integrity for a couple of women burdened by some shockingly unimaginative dialogue.

It is curious that Steve’s family does little to question his decisions pertaining to euthanasia, but Crunch Time is a rare example of how the matter of death, can be dealt with in a less than tragic fashion. Traditionally, we have insisted that people bear with terminal illnesses, no matter how painful and dehumanising. For years, we have debated as a community on how dying can be made dignified, but that journey to legislative change has been at snail pace. It is hard to understand that anyone who has witnessed unimaginable suffering on deathbeds would argue against assisted suicide, but our conservative culture is determined as ever, to keep us in the dark ages.

www.ensemble.com.au

Review: War Horse (Sydney Lyric Theatre)

Venue: Sydney Lyric Theatre (Sydney NSW), Feb 15 – Mar 15, 2020
Playwright: Nick Stafford (based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo)
Director: Marianne Elliott, Tom Morris
Images by Brinkhoff Mögenburg, Andrew Tauber

Theatre review
Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse features the life story of a horse named Joey, and his friendship with Albert, the young man with whom he shares an unbreakable bond. Sold off to a cavalry in World War I, Joey spends the wilderness years in hard toil, whilst Albert pines for his mate as he too, struggles in the trenches. Adapted by Nick Stafford, this stage version is cleverly balanced, to deliver both pathos and amusement, allowing a theatrical audience to indulge in an evening of nostalgic escapism.

War Horse is the paragon of immaculate stagecraft. All technical faculties are rendered in extraordinary ways, for a show best described as magical, from start to end. The very prerequisite of bringing to life a lead character that is not human, but a magnificent beast, means that all the tools for make belief, are activated in the most inventive and dynamic ways. The audacious and oversized puppetry involved in telling Joey’s story, is central to the enjoyment of the production, with up to six persons employed to animate one creature, often with multiple horses sharing the stage, for images that will stay with the viewer for years to come.

Although stridently sentimental, the show is not always a moving experience. It is however, endlessly fascinating, with a multitude of mechanical devices employed to tell an emotional story. Some may find themselves swept away with the innocent love portrayed in the piece, but most will be hopelessly captivated by the sheer ambition of the staging. Its scale is overwhelming, and the pleasure of feeling awestruck should never be underestimated.

wwww.warhorseonstage.com.au