Review: Chef (Kings Cross Theatre)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jan 25 – Feb 5, 2023
Playwright: Sabrina Mahfouz
Director:
Victor Kalka
Cast: Alice Birbara
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review

Her passion for the culinary arts is undeniable, but she talks about her favourite food in the past tense. There is a lot to be unnerved about, in Sabrina Mahfouz’s Chef. A woman is caught between spaces coarse and rarefied, living simultaneously in moments mundane and sacred, for a story that explores issues of class, along with themes about gender. It is a multi-faceted work, with generous doses of abstraction that make for an unpredictable theatrical experience.

Performed by Alice Birbara, under the direction of Victor Kalka, the one-woman show is intricately constructed, especially in terms of the character’s complex emotional condition, and her vacillating mental states. There is an intensity that can feel too unrelenting in the production, but the commitment to authenticity is an admirable one. The difficulty of a traverse stage, when only a single actor is occupying our attention, is successfully addressed by Birbara, who maintains consistent contact, whichever side of the auditorium one finds themself.

Kalka’s set design is palpably accurate, in its evocation of locations relevant to the unnamed woman’s tale. Jasmin Borsovszky’s lights are dynamic and imaginative, effective at providing surprising and gratifying visual variety. Sound by Ryan Devlin bring a sense of drama to the piece, reliable at heightening tension whenever required.

Women are expected to know our way around a kitchen, unless it is a commercial one, with money, status and real power at stake, then we are denied equitable participation, as is the case in every situation where the patriarchy institutes the rules to benefit a privileged few. The word “chef” in French, refers to a leader, a master of their own domain. The woman we meet in the play has all the qualities, and every right, to be the determinant of her own destiny, and an absolute boss in her professional realm, but sadly she is not going to make it on her own.

www.kingsxtheatre.com | www.virginiaplaintheatre.com

Review: Hubris & Humiliation (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Wharf 1 Sydney Theatre Company (Walsh Bay NSW), Jan 20 – Mar 4, 2023
Playwright: Lewis Trenton
Director: Dean Bryant
Cast: Henrietta Enyonam Amevor, Mathew Cooper, Roman Delo, Celia Ireland, Melissa Kahraman, Andrew McFarlane, Ryan Panizza
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review

Elliott is leaving Brisbane to work in Sydney, and also to find a rich husband, because his mother Bernice has lost hundreds of thousands of dollars, to a catfishing incident. Much like the Jane Austen oeuvre, from which it takes inspiration, Lewis Trenton’s Hubris & Humiliation is on some levels an examination of class, and on others a frivolous romantic romp. Its plot may unravel to a flimsy conclusion, but the journey is nonetheless satisfying, with witty dialogue and fabulously observed characters, making for a truly wonderful time at the theatre.

Direction by Dean Bryant is unabashedly campy, but laced with an acerbic edge to prevent any sense of hollow affectation. His show is relentlessly effervescent, amusing at every turn, often dazzling with genuine hilarity. Set design by Isabel Hudson is suitably ostentatious, with a commendable versatility that accommodates the play’s many location changes. Hudson’s costumes are brightly hued, to keep our eyes sated and occupied. Lights by Alexander Berlage provide amplification to the brassy quality of the piece, but are also effective at delivering emotional tenderness when required. There is an elegant restraint to Matthew Frank’s sound and music, able to facilitate action and elicit responses, but careful to remain unobtrusive.

Extraordinary work by the cast of Hubris & Humiliation makes it an utterly memorable experience. Elliott is played by Roman Delo, whose exceptional instincts bring impressive elevation to a role that could easily be perceived as banal. Delo’s confident charisma is the unequivocal lynchpin, of this staging’s success. Ryan Panizza plays dual roles Warren and William with conviction, offering strong counterpoint to Elliott’s incorruptibility.

Women performers steal the show, along with our hearts, in a range of supporting parts that give depth and substance, to the irrepressible comedy. Henrietta Enyonam Amevor, Celia Ireland and Melissa Kahraman are inventive and joyful, each demonstrating their own admirable talents, in the exalted art of mirthful storytelling. Matthew Cooper and Andrew MacFarlane create fascinating personalities that address our need for progressive versions of masculinity, in this tale of new unions and modern sexualities.

It is funny how we care so much about the sex lives of others. This need to probe and police what people do in private, is however no laughing matter, with many having suffered persecution through the ages, for not following the rules. Hubris & Humiliation takes place not in Austen’s Regency era, but in the here and now, and to see everyone free to make new rules in its emancipatory narrative, is gratifying. Nothing should hold us back from life’s infinite pleasures, as long as we stick to the simple principle, that no one gets hurt, and that enthusiastic consent remains integral to every kind of sexy.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au

Review: Janet’s Vagrant Love (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Jan 19 – 22, 2023
Playwright: Elaine Crombie
Directors: Kirk Page
Cast: Elaine Crombie
Images by

Theatre review

In between personal anecdotes of love and loss, Elaine Crombie sings incredibly beautiful songs, as she plays her guitar, with accompanist Amaru Derwent on keyboard. The show is entitled Janet’s Vagrant Love, but not for a second do we feel that Crombie conveys anything but her own deepest truths, in these recollections, involving people who have come and gone. We witness joy and pain, seemingly dichotomous but in comfortable juxtaposition, as well as strength alongside vulnerability, such are the complexities and incoherence of existence.

Direction by Kirk Page allows the fractures to remain exposed and unvarnished in the show. The experience is simply about being in the presence of humanity, one that we can feel to be natural and real, with narratives that are as disjointed as those in every person’s life. The presentation may be unpretentious, but there is no denying the skill of Crombie’s vocals and song writing, delivering many moments of transcendence.

Crombie, as a Pitjantjatjara, Warrigmal, South Sea & German descended woman, very generously says that this place is home for all of us. It can only follow, that when one of our family, especially if they are part of a lineage that has grappled with generations of dispossession, takes to the stage and magnanimously shares the contents of her heart, we have to bear witness, and be filled with a deep appreciation, to be offered an opportunity that many do not deserve.

www.belvoir.com.au

Review: Blue (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Jan 14 – 29, 2023
Playwright: Thomas Weatherall
Directors: Deborah Brown
Cast: Thomas Weatherall
Images by Joseph Mayers

Theatre review

Barely out of his teens, Mark is already facing some of life’s biggest challenges. Having been dealt devastatingly bad hands in quick succession, he is left to pick up the pieces, in a world he is not quite ready for. Thomas Weatherall’s Blue is a work of fiction, but its explorations of despair feel exhaustive and authentic. There is a beauty in his rhythmic arrangement of words, that keeps the darkness from becoming alienating, along with a wistful humour that gently endears. As is perhaps typical of young writing, Blue may not always be sufficiently insightful, but its ability to convey poignancy is unequivocal.

Directed by Deborah Brown, the staging is tender and immediate, consistently intimate in its rendering of a contemplative one-man show. Set design by Cris Baldwin and Jacob Nash evokes a glacial edge, mesmerising with its intricate detailing of surfaces, and effective at transporting us to the oceanic settings that play an important part of the storytelling. David Bergman’s video work is projected onto the entirely white vista, for breathtaking visual transformations that move us beyond the capacity of words. Lights by Chloe Ogilvie are soft and sensitive, helping us connect with the undulating melancholy of the piece. Wil Hughes’ minimal sound design too, is delicate in its efforts to enhance the efficacy of the words we hear.

As performer, Weatherall’s disarming charm lures us into the deeply introspective monologue, to participate in Blue‘s solemn ruminations about the nature of love and loss. Weatherall’s knack for naturalism makes convincing everything that he presents. His ability to inhabit Mark’s intense emotions is compelling, proving successful at drawing sympathy for the character’s very unfortunate circumstances.

Blue showcases a new era of masculinity, one that feels radically different from all preceding generations. It is unafraid of what it feels, and refuses to be humiliated for honouring truth and emotion. It disregards pretences of power, seeking instead genuine manifestations of strength. It values vulnerability, and understands human fallibility to be natural and necessary, in attaining improved lives, for the individual as well as for communities. When men stop denying the sadness that will always figure in being human, they can perhaps chart a new course, by first identifying what it is, that they really need, to make this existence truly fulfilling.

www.belvoir.com.au

Review: Urinetown (Hayes Theatre)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), 13 Jan – 5 Feb, 2023
Book and Lyrics: Greg Kotis
Music and Lyrics: Mark Hollman
Director: Ylaria Rogers
Cast: Artemis Alfonzetti, Dani Caruso, Joe Dinn, Deanna Farnell, Max Gambale, Joel Horwood, Tom Kelly, Kira Leiva, Barbra Toparis, Petronella Van Tienen, Benoit Vari, Karen Vickery, Natasha Vickery
Images by Phil Erbacher

Theatre review

Somewhere in America, in a dystopian future, to go toilet has become a commodified privilege. Urinetown, the 2001 musical by Mark Hollman and Greg Kotis, tells a story about an economic system that allows the top 1%  to insist on us paying for everything, and receiving incommensurate returns. The vast majority thus becomes increasingly disadvantaged, finding themselves to be mere cattle, constantly scrounging for the benefit of those who claim to be owners of every resource. In Hollman and Kotis’ fantasy, a revolt eventuates. The conclusion however, is not quite as predictable.

It is an excellent conceit, although the plot has a tendency to feel rambling and its narrative often finds itself gridlocked. Not a lot actually happens, in the two-and-a half hour duration, and its humour can be lacklustre, but the songwriting is enjoyable, with enough inventiveness to sustain attention. Matthew Reid’s musical direction is spirited and jaunty, creating a charged atmosphere, with his very accomplished four-piece band.

Direction of the show by Ylaria Rogers is dynamic, with a lightheartedness that keeps things amusing. Cameron Mitchell’s choreography too, provides levity to proceedings, in order that the message becomes an easier pill to swallow. Set design by Monique Langford involves clever use of ladders in various configurations, that allow for a spacious stage to comfortably accommodate a big and busy cast. Helen Wojtas’ costumes for the great unwashed are in appropriate states of dereliction, but with colours and textures to maintain visual interest. Lights by Jasmin Borsovszky are a wonderful element of the production, bringing unexpected beauty and a sense of gravity, to something we know to be true and important.

Performer Joel Horwood demonstrates admirable versatility in the role of Bobby, bringing charm, wit, emotional intensity and a crucial quality of profundity, that prevents the comedy from undermining the whole point of Urinetown. Their singing is powerful, in a show that features consistently strong vocals. Petronella Van Tienen plays Hope, a saccharine sweet character but with the kind of earnestness that most are likely to find appealing. Chemistry between the leads is scintillating, especially for their romantic duet “Follow Your Heart”. Also noteworthy is Natasha Vickery whose vaudeville style of presentation for Little Sally leaves an impression, as one of the more refreshing personalities we encounter, in this world of misery.

Ultimately, we discover that Urinetown is about the extinction of the human race. Some argue that this is due to no fault of our own, but most will understand all the devastation we have brought to the planet. It is a tale about our insatiable greed. It questions our nature, and like all good art, it urges us to examine what it means to be human, and further, if anything could be done, to combat the parts of us determined to cause harm. We keep wanting to overpower Mother Earth, such is the depth of our foolishness. It is certain that we are never going to be a match for the infinitude of the universe, yet we seem determined to not find ways to make peace with it. 

www.hayestheatre.com.au

Review: Girls & Boys (Seymour Centre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Jan 5 – 15, 2023
Playwright: Dennis Kelly
Director: Mitchell Butel
Cast: Justine Clarke
Images by Sam Roberts

Theatre review

The play is at first incredibly banal, with a woman beginning to tell her life story, with no hint of how her experiences may be of any significance or consequence, to anyone but herself. For almost an hour, the unnamed character in Dennis Kelly’s Girls & Boys tries to beguile her audience with mildly amusing tales of love, family and career, only to come across strangely oblivious to the increasingly ordinariness of what she is sharing. A bombshell is dropped however, in the middle of the show, and everything changes drastically.

Kelly’s writing does not begin at the point of trauma, choosing instead to take an inordinate length of time to set the stage, in order to convey a sense of everyday mundanity, before unleashing its drama of catastrophic proportions. It is arguable if the phenomenon of normative domesticity requires such intricate definition, but there is no questioning the theatrical efficacy of the tension and agony that subsequently surfaces. Girls & Boys takes a while to get to its point, but what it wishes to say about gender is certainly valuable.

Mitchell Butel’s direction of the piece is unremittingly sensitive, able to create resonance in every moment, whether they be simple or vivid. For almost two hours, our attention is held entirely captive, even when nothing particularly substantial seems to be happening. Set design by Ailsa Paterson is colourful and curvaceous, helpful in keeping our eyes animated and engaged. Lights by Nigel Levings and sound by Andrew Howard, are elegantly, and sparingly, utilised to manipulate atmosphere, for a show that speaks in nuance.

Performer Justine Clarke is flawless in this one-woman show, so impressively enamouring with her talent, dedication and skill, that we almost disregard the big messages of the show itself. Clarke’s work is thorough and deep, yet it never feels laboured, and along with an exceptional charm, we find ourselves completely absorbed, in everything she wishes to impart.

What Girls & Boys says about gender, is worth repeating, and has certainly been said time and time again. The woman in the play, would have heard those messages of admonishment many times, before encountering the devastating events that will eventually shape her entire life. We can tell each other everything about these profound truths, yet it seems it is in our nature, to only learn from first-hand experience, these hardest lessons of life.

www.sydneyfestival.org.au | www.statetheatrecompany.com.au

Review: The Mousetrap (Theatre Royal Sydney)

Venue: Theatre Royal Sydney (Sydney NSW), 8 – 30 Oct, 2023
Writer: Agatha Christie
Director: Robyn Nevin
Cast: Laurence Boxhall, Gerry Connolly, Tom Conroy, Charlotte Friels, Adam Murphy, Anna O’Byrne, Alex Rathgeber, Geraldine Turner
Images by Brian Geach

Theatre review
Since opening in 1952, Agatha Christie’s classic whodunnit The Mousetrap has been entertaining audiences in London, as the now famously known longest-running show of the West End. In a guesthouse named Monkswell Manor, a resident gets murdered, and we try to solve the mystery. Christie’s stories can be easily dismissed as generic or repetitive, “seen one, seen them all” but her immense popularity has never waned, proving there is a certain magic to her work.

Directed by Robyn Nevin, this is a new but faithful rendering of the 70 year-old play, in the definitive style of an Agatha Christie show. Traditional and completely predictable, but nonetheless entertaining, The Mousetrap delivers everything adored by legions of Christie fans. There is mystery, gentle thrills , characteristic humour, and old world elegance (thanks to Isabelle Hudson’s production design and Trudy Dalgleish’s lights). One could hardly care if the concluding revelation, turns out to be no surprise at all.

It is a lively cast that takes the stage, with actors fully embracing the jaunty old English tone of performance. Anna O’Byrne is highly convincing as owner of the house Mollie Ralston, perfectly mimicking the voice and physicality of leading women from that bygone era. Laurence Boxhall leaves a remarkable impression as Christopher Wren; very funny and very charming, with one of the more inventive approaches for material that is arguably outdated. Also compelling is Tom Conroy as Detective Sergeant Trotter, who brings great precision and a much needed sense of variation to the role.

Where The Mousetrap is unable to provide a refreshing experience, it delivers a level of polish and professionalism, that shines a light, on the dedication and competency of our artists. The writer might be the star, but there is no denying all the unsung heroes who keep her name eternally in lights.

www.themousetrap.com.au