Review: Maureen: Harbinger Of Death (Seymour Centre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Jan 15 – 23, 2021
Playwright: Jonny Hawkins
Director: Nell Ranney
Cast: Jonny Hawkins
Images by Yaya Stempler

Theatre review
In the prologue, we learn that some of Jonny Hawkins’ best friends are old ladies. It is a somewhat strange declaration to make, but the truth is that very few young Australians, can say that they spend much time at all with the elderly. As a colonised nation, we routinely ignore the old. Youth is money, and money is everything, in this Western style civilisation we all have to live. Thank heavens then, that Hawkins has created a play that shifts our focus, making us look intently at a woman in her glorious eighties. Maureen: Harbinger Of Death may not be an entirely true story, but none of it ever feels less than real.

This one-person show involves Hawkins themself performing as Maureen, sat permanently in a chair, never tiring of a nice, long chat. Her advanced years lead her to believe that she has the ability to foreshadow the death of friends, for she has seen them depart one by one. The writing is witty, extremely warm and often very poignant. Direction by Nell Ranney is extraordinarily elegant, for an appropriately restrained production featuring a larger than life character. Lights by Nick Schlieper and sound design by Steve Toulmin, are quietly resolved but always just right. Isabel Hudson’s work on set and costume is delicately considered, and a visual delight.

As performer, Hawkins is remarkable. They inhabit and convey wonderfully, the luminous essence of Maureen, a woman any audience will find instantly loveable. Their generosity of spirit offers a bridge, one that invites us to regard the octogenarian in the same way. Hawkins’ sharp comedic sense ensures that we are riveted, and the ease with which they command the stage, is quite a marvel to observe.

Maureen: Harbinger Of Death is a dignified portrait, of a person otherwise overlooked and forgotten. All of us are valuable cogs of the same machine, yet only a few at the top are ever celebrated. Our way of life requires that each must give till it hurts, but how we are rewarded for the same pain, is certainly unequal and unjust. So many are chewed up and spat out; so many are given use-by dates, and mercilessly abandoned thereafter. By contrast, many of our minority cultures revere the elderly. If only we knew to make better choices.

www.nellranney.com.au

Review: The Rise And Fall Of Saint George (Performing Lines)

Venue: Barangaroo Reserve (Barangaroo NSW), Jan 15, 2021
Music: Paul Mac
Lyrics: Lachlan Philpott
Director: Kate Champion
Cast: Andrew Bukenya, Jacqui Dark, HANDSOME, Joyride, Brendan Maclean, Ngaiire, Marcus Whale, Inner West Voices, Sydney Philharmonia Choirs, Sydney Conservatorium of Music
Images by Bianca De Marchi

Theatre review
English pop music legend George Michael passed away Christmas Day 2016. His death (and life) holds special meaning for the diverse and bohemian suburb of Newtown in Sydney, where a mural was painted soon after by graffiti artist Scott Marsh, on a wall outside the home of musician Paul Mac. Passengers on a busy train line would pass by many times every hour, watching a sanctified commemoration of St George, complete with spliff and beer bottle, as if blessing Sydneysiders from an ironic but unequivocally loving heaven.

It was a difficult time for Australia, leading up to the same-sex marriage referendum in Sep 2017. Our divisions had become severe and overt like never before, but there he was, St George with a Pride flag draped around his shoulders, in a mock religious style, providing comfort and reassurance. The gay icon had left behind an unparalleled legacy. Emanating from the spray painted image, were memories of his achievements, escapades and defiance, a constant reminder that all will be fine, in the midst of daily homophobic attacks on virtually every media platform.

Days after it was made official that marriage equality would come to pass, our beloved St George was defiled. Black paint was smeared all over what had quickly become a landmark, by Christian fundamentalists, who claimed it an insulting portrayal of Jesus Christ. Our community was left reeling. The artists went to work. The Rise And Fall Of Saint George is a collection of songs by Paul Mac and playwright Lachlan Philpott, documenting that assault on Newtown and Sydney’s queer community. It deals with trauma not only of that fateful moment, but is in fact, a meditation on the lifelong persecution suffered by all of us whose sexual and gender identities dare deviate from the straight and narrow.

Like Michael’s own music, the work here is consistently melancholic, whether the rhythms are buoyant or sentimental. Peppered with deeply affecting moments of Mac addressing the audience from his piano, with first-hand accounts of precious memories, the entire experience is a tender one. A choir (conducted by Emily Irvine) and solo singers perform each number with admirable passion, often with flamboyant embellishments, but always sincere in their approach. Video projections by Tony Melov are evocative enhancements offering invaluable flashbacks, that return us to some very emotional days.

From his early days hiding in the closet, afraid of the myriad devastating repercussions if found out, to a rejuvenated existence that is unapologetically loud and proud, the George Michael narrative is one that all in this community is intimately familiar with. Violence is nothing new to us, and the more we have to endure it, the more brilliant we shine.

www.performinglines.org.au

Review: AutoCannibal (Oozing Future)

Venue: Carriageworks (Eveleigh NSW), Jan 13 – 17, 2021
Director: Masha Terentieva
Cast/Creator: Mitch Jones
Images by Yaya Stempler

Theatre review
The show is named AutoCannibal because in the dystopic future of Mitch Jones’ creation, he is seen gradually eating himself to death, literally. Starting with expendable parts of the anatomy, like hair and nails, we watch his desperation gradually escalate, and wonder if the moment of inevitability will take place right before our eyes. A one-man show in the physical theatre tradition, reminiscent of the work of artists like Buster Keaton and Marcel Marceau, Jones pushes the envelope towards something very dark, although not altogether unfunny.

There are many horror dimensions to AutoCannibal, involving self-mutilation of course, but also isolation, madness and other hard to name fears resulting from the end of the civilisation. A short video at the beginning hints at the usual suspects, namely climate, capitalism and politics, that lead us to this point of abject destruction, but in 2021, there really is very little need for explanations about the sad state of affairs in which our protagonist finds himself. We may be conditioned to interpret dystopic visions as futuristic cautionary tales, but at this present time, it takes little stretch of the imagination, to read the presentation as an allegory for so much that is happening today.

Design aspects of the show are highly accomplished. Sound by Bonnie Knight is dynamic and compelling, a crucial element in lieu of dialogue, that guides us through varying states of distress and humour. Paul Lin’s lights are moody but magical, effective in establishing something very close to a living nightmare before our eyes. Michael Baxter’s set design too is noteworthy, able to provide more than functionality, for a stage that looks genuinely terrifying.

Under Masha Terentieva’s direction, Jones performs a wordless theatre that is just scary enough, often pushing us to psychological limits, without taking the action to a point of alienation. There is ample opportunity for showing off Jones’ athletic and comedic talents, but AutoCannibal is not always sufficiently engaging for the intellect. When the audience witnesses a human pushed to the extremes in art and entertainment, we cannot help but wonder about the point of it all, and there is little that could provide satisfying complexity to how we can contextualise these horrors.

We live in a world of scandalous abundance, yet so many are hungry. It boggles the mind that people everywhere are left to die of starvation, while most of us fill our days with hoarding and accumulating the thing commonly known as wealth. Conditioned to think of people as either worthy or unworthy, we are completely at ease with the idea that some are simply lesser, and that their suffering is justified. We are taught to fear, taught to submit, taught to accept that some babies will grow into rich people, and others will languish in poverty, as though this is all natural and the irreversible course of the world. To watch the character in AutoCannibal eat himself to death, is to have our morals called into serious question.

www.oozingfuture.com

Review: Sunshine Super Girl (Performing Lines)

Venue: Sydney Town Hall (Sydney NSW), Jan 8 – 17, 2021
Playwright: Andrea James
Director: Andrea James
Cast: Luke Carroll, Jax Compton, Tuuli Narkle, Katina Olsen, Kyle Shilling
Images by Yaya Stempler

Theatre review
Living legend Evonne Goolagong ruled tennis through the 1970s, a remarkable feat by anyone’s standards, but her successes as a young Aboriginal woman can never be underemphasised. Systemic forces put in place through all these years of colonisation, means that any instances of excellence by the Indigenous population of our land, represents a defiant tenacity, whether or not the individual chooses to identify along political lines. In Andrea James’ Sunshine Super Girl, our heroine thinks of herself as apolitical, however there is no mistaking her achievements as anything but an immense source of pride and inspiration for Australians of all stripes.

Written and directed by James, the work is a captivating study of not just the sporting icon, but also the environment in which all Indigenous women have to endure. Sunshine Super Girl‘s discussions of gender and race, although handled with a lightness of touch, does not shy away from the hard realities that women of colour deal with every day and everywhere. The actual narrative of Goolagong’s glory years is uncomplicated and rarely overtly dramatic, but James’ meticulous direction, along with marvelous choreography by Katina Olsen and Vicki Van Hout, work in collaboration to deliver a rich and soulful creation, that many will find genuinely moving.

There is a tender sincerity to the production that makes its 90-minute duration a terrific experience. Music and sound by Gail Priest are intricate and sensitive, while lights by Karen Norris and projections by Mic Gruchy help us reach emotional depths beyond that which dialogue can provide. Set and costumes by Romanie Harper and Melanie Liertz convey contextual information with great efficiency, able to manufacture a sophisticated aesthetic that is elegant, authentic and very pleasing to the eye.

Leading lady Tuuli Narkle is a charismatic and truthful presence, who impresses with the thoroughness of her reflections, and the precision with which she executes her creative ideas. As a young Goolagong, Narkle is confident, nuanced and simply brilliant. The supporting cast comprises Luke Carroll, Jax Compton, Katina Olsen, Kyle Shilling, a formidable team beautifully cohesive at every turn, yet each performer is able to demonstrate distinct strengths that appeal to the audience in varied ways.

The importance of success stories and role models for minority communities, are often overlooked. Without sufficient examples of accomplishments by people like us, it is easy to think that everything is out of reach. On the other hand, these extraordinary personalities draw attention to the irregularity of people like us making it big. We must place attention on structural mechanisms that are hindrances for particular groups. This often means that dominant cultures have to consciously cede power, before parity can ever have a chance to be attained. Not many of us can be Evonne Goolagong, and we should not have to be exceptional in order to walk this earth with joy and dignity.

www.performinglines.org.au

Review: The Last Season (Force Majeure)

Venue: Carriageworks (Eveleigh NSW), Jan 6 – 10, 2021
Director: Danielle Micich
Cast: Paul Capsis, Olwen Fouéré, Pamela Rabe, Isabel Bantog, Owen Beckman-Scott, Luka Brett-Hall, Maddie Brett-Hall, Imala Cush, Niamh Cush, Nicholas Edwards, Ember Henninger, Piper Kemp, Poppy McKinnon, Julia Piazza, Tallulah Pickard, Louis Ting
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Thirteen young creatures are hatched at the beginning of The Last Season, and we follow them through their first year, witnessing transformations alongside as they progress through the months commencing in Summer. The first three sections of the 4-part show feature a central character, a mature personality juxtaposing against these tender entities. Presented in a non-narrative format, it suggests ideas of legacy and progeniture, placing focus on past/future and parent/child, to ask fundamental questions about our very existence.

Directed by Danielle Micich, The Last Season is an ambitious work. Marg Howell’s set and costumes, Damien Cooper’s lights, and Kelly Ryall’s music, all conspire to create something that indicates an unmissable sense of the epic; the themes under investigation certainly are of that grandiose scale. Transcendental in its tone and feel, the production however never really moves us to the sublime. Its abstraction places us in a cerebral state, yet what it wishes to say, seems to remain in the pedestrian.

Although insufficiently inventive, The Last Season‘s experimental nature is to be lauded. The youthful ensemble is full of intensity and concentration, with every member displaying admirable generosity in their commitment to the art form. Senior performers bring colourful variation, each one distinct and memorable. Paul Capsis is especially powerful, with the poignant humour and sincerity that they are able to introduce to the piece. Olwen Fouéré’s extraordinary style and energy provide a remarkable sense of elevation, and Pamela Rabe’s august theatricality establishes a necessary gravity that keeps us attentive.

With each generation, we wonder if it is just history repeating, or if a new frontier is being forged. Life is a mystery, but we know for sure that there will always be individuals who refuse to toe the line, and new innovators who will create something never before seen. Conformity is death, so it is fortunate that living amongst us, are those who will ensure that our extinction is kept at bay, for a little while longer.

www.forcemajeure.com.au