Review: Trade (Hurrah Hurrah / The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Apr 4 – 15, 2017
Director: Alison Bennett
Cast/Devisers: Alison Bennett, Dymphna Carew, Alicia Gonzalez, Mathias Olofsson, Melissa Hume
Image by Maria Hansson

Theatre review
Corporations exist to make money for its stakeholders, that much is clear. Everything else they claim to do, are undertakings that must be taken with a pinch of salt. In Trade, we examine the nature of these organisations, and their perennial pretensions around social responsibility. If the point of their existence is to maximise profit, we must always hold a sceptical attitude toward their altruistic proclamations. It is a culture that defines itself by taking more than it gives, so our interactions with businesses should always be cautious, and if their people are anything like the vile characters in Trade‘s fictitious world, then the state of our affairs is very grim indeed.

The piece looks exaggerated, but what it communicates feels absolutely real. Its theatrical language is inventive, absurd and hyperbolic; the story is told with faces and bodies in a completely anti-naturalistic way, and through its performance art approach, we discover a surprising accuracy in its grotesque portrayal of greed and megalomania.

Alison Bennett’s direction is spectacularly entertaining while maintaining a raw unconventionality. In the absence of a complex narrative, details are located instead, in all the deliberate gestures of the five flamboyant players, each one presenting their own version of the unhinged corporate cannibal. Elaborate sequences involving an energetic ensemble and its strange movement vocabulary, keeps us fascinated and thoroughly amused. Their cohesiveness is deeply impressive, and the most persuasive element of the show.

It is a strong message that Trade wishes to impart, but for all its passionate assertions, what we do eventually leave with, is a simple and unoriginal idea about the darker sides of humanity. Also less satisfying, is the deficiency in commitment to visual design of the production. The audience’s eyes are thoroughly engaged in this dance of anthropological ugliness, but little is on offer when our sight shifts beyond the performers.

It is easy to want to participate in life with the principle of “eat or be eaten”. We can think of our capitalism as being fundamentally and inevitably cruel, and then allow ourselves to do harm unto others, to keep from falling prey to those who run faster. The fear of not succeeding can be overwhelming, and the voracious appetite for an unending more, is a force that few of us can hide from, but surely there must exist something more generous and compassionate, if not entirely more blissful, in a way of life that is abundantly honest and, dare we say, pure.

www.hurrahhurrah.com.au

Review: A Period Piece (Glitterbomb / The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Mar 14 – 25, 2017
Playwright: Gretel Vella
Director: Carissa Licciardello
Cast: Mikaela Atallah, Hannah Cheers, Julia Christensen, Clare Hennessy, Mat Lee, Julia Robertson, James Wright
Image by Omnes Photography

Theatre review (of a preview performance)
In Gretel Vella’s A Period Piece, menstruation takes centre stage in each of its madcap episodes. Mischievous and irreverent, its collection of short skits takes a look at the absurd taboo that surrounds the subject, and its significance as a mechanism of misogyny in our daily lives. The work presents entertaining observations, and an important perspective on how society is taught to be afraid and ashamed of women’s bodies, and how that irrational aversion informs the way we have constructed sexism through the ages.

The production, directed by Carissa Licciardello, is delightfully high-spirited, with an energetic cast that zips gleefully from one comedic scene to another. A band of three musicians add even more vibrancy to the atmosphere, playing silly songs that keep us in a giddy mood, while driving home further, the show’s message of female empowerment. Set design by Nick Fry is a simple idea, but fastidiously executed to help illustrate the antiquated values we carry, with unforgivable obstinacy, in order that systems of patriarchy may be upheld.

There is a rawness to A Period Piece that is unapologetic, and very enjoyable. It is an untidy affair, but inviting and joyful, although a more philosophical approach could provide greater depth (and a more lasting impression) to its concerns. When Aristophanes dreamt up the story of Lysistrata and foregrounded the fact that a woman’s womb, and her sexuality, controls all our existence, we should have begun to see that her holding up half the sky is an understatement.

www.dasglitterbomb.com

Review: BU21 (Outhouse Theatre Co)

outhouseVenue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Feb 8 – 25, 2017
Playwright: Stuart Slade
Director: Erin Taylor
Cast: Jessica-Belle Keogh, Skyler Ellis, Emily Havea, Bardiya McKinnon, Whitney Richards, Jeremy Waters
Image by Rupert Reid

Theatre review
In Stuart Slade’s BU21 a terrorist attack occurs in London, but it is not a work of documentary, and the event being investigated did not happen on the public transport system, 7 July 2005. The play presents as fiction, focusing on the aftermath as experienced by the humans of collateral damage, following the horrific incident of a plane crashing into an area where people live and work. The stories may not be true, but the trauma is real. Slade’s writing feels thoroughly researched, and his subjects are explored at extraordinary depth. A sense of theatricality is built around the main concern to provide greater structural complexity, but the value of BU21 is in the intimacy at which it allows us to observe unadulterated human responses to catastrophe.

Direction by Erin Taylor brings a certain minimal elegance that keeps our minds attentive only to what is important at each moment. There is great sensitivity to her storytelling that protects us from ever feeling alienated, no matter how the phenomenon of pain is expressed. The messy business of dealing with emotional devastation is often ugly, but Taylor is always able to let humanity emerge, and our empathy cannot help but connect with it. Atmosphere is calibrated gently, but brilliantly, by Christopher Page’s lights and Nate Edmondson’s sound and music. Both demonstrate acuity and artistic maturity with their respective disciplines, contributing significantly to a show that communicates with precision and confident ease.

The cast of six is exceptional. Each distinct character is brought to life with great vividness (and convincing London accents), by a team of talented and charming actors, all conspiring with a beautiful stylistic cohesion, to take us through a mesmerising journey of agony and truth. They are spirited, colourful, dramatic, but also honest and disarmingly vulnerable. Jessica-Belle Keogh is particularly moving as Ana, distressed with injuries inside and out, in a constant state of disorientated struggle, but she delivers the most life-affirming speeches, perhaps without herself being aware of their profundity. Keogh plunges deep, to reveal something raw and brazenly soulful, that makes the entire harrowing experience of BU21 a meaningful one.

When disaster strikes people like us, we have the burden of getting back to business as usual, in lightning speed. Unlike war-torn countries where daily survival demands that one must sink or swim, our privileged existence forces troubles to be repressed, and in the face of apparent normalcy within a solitude of debilitation, all the wounds are made to subsist out of sight, and out of control. The people in BU21 seek salvation in different ways, but none of them believes that complete emancipation is possible, such is the power of hatred and terror.

www.outhousetheatre.org

Review: Flood (Old 505 Theatre)

lamberthouseVenue: Old 505 Theatre @ 5 Eliza St (Newtown NSW), Nov 8 – 19, 2016
Playwright: Chris Isaacs
Director: Charles Sanders
Cast: Chandel Brandimarti, Caitlin Burley, Olivia Jubb, Aaron Lucas, David Thomas, Jackson Williams, James Wright
Image by Alexandra Nell

Theatre review
6 young adults, all white, embark on a road trip into the Western Australia bush land. A dramatic transgression occurs involving Aboriginality, and the story attempts to move itself into high gear, except no black person ever shows up on stage to provide balance to the ideas being explored.

Chris Isaacs’ Flood is a well-meaning work about race relations and colonisation, but is woefully oblivious to the fact that it is entirely concerned with the guilt and hurt of white people, when the tragedy at the centre of its narrative strikes only Aboriginal people. It is a shocking and deeply disappointing indiscretion that should no longer surface in public storytelling, but its existence is reflective of the ignorance and insensitivity that remains commonplace in Australian society.

It must be said however, that the production is carried out well. Design elements are simple but elegantly implemented, and direction by Charles Sanders tunes rhythms and emotion levels appropriately for the narrative to make sense. All performers present a good amount of proficiency with their roles, and the relationships they cultivate are subtly but effectively conveyed. The pain and struggle these white kids experience might bear authenticity, but their side of the story pales in significance, and is frankly, tedious to witness.

We can acknowledge and thank the First Nations all we want, for the use of their land at every social occasion, but when talking about their place in our historical and contemporary lives, we must no longer usurp space that is rightfully theirs. The failure to engage Aboriginal voices (the programme lists Indigenous content consultants but the text does not present Aboriginal voices), and then for the colonialists to exclusively occupy an Australian stage, when attempting to address issues of regret and reconciliation, is hardly acceptable. Flood is earnest navel-gazing, but in its frustrating and empty introspective search for answers, it has forgotten to ask those who matter most.

www.old505theatre.com

Review: Rats – Moonshine (Fledgling Theatre Co)

fledglingVenue: Old 505 Theatre @ 5 Eliza St (Newtown NSW), Oct 25 – Nov 5, 2016
Playwright: Chris Huntly-Turner
Director: Chris Huntly-Turner
Cast: Shelley Casey, Sylvia Keays, Carla Nirella, Abigail Honey, Jeremy Rodmell, David Woodland

Theatre review
It is the early 1940s, and women in the Central West region of NSW are figuring out a life at home, while their sons and husbands are away at war. Tired of pining for the men, and sick of being bored, their enterprising spirit begins to emerge. For a moment in (fictional) history, great success comes to a group of three peddlers of moonshine, who brew and sell alcohol to surrounding townships that are hungry for distraction from hard times. Moonshine by Chris Huntly-Turner takes time to establish itself, but its story becomes increasingly exciting as the women go on to discover their newfound freedom and learn to embrace their independence.

It is a joy seeing these characters transform unwittingly into outlaws, and the bond of sisterhood that develops is reassuring. There is vibrancy to each, but a lack of idiosyncrasy makes for personalities that can seem generic and consequently distant. Emotional scenes are actualised more effectively than in humorous sections where chemistry between actors can sometimes be hesitant. Live music accompaniment by David Woodland manipulates atmosphere cleverly, but several instances of the women’s dance-inspired flourishes require much greater finesse to achieve their desired elegance. The cast shows impressive conviction, and although not completely persuasive with their impetuses and narratives, the performers have a tenacious energy that holds our interest for the entire duration.

The play shows us what we are capable of, when the going gets tough. In a state of volatility and fear, brought on by countries going to war, individuals can escape into inspiration that lead to the creation of extraordinary things, but can also collapse into abject destruction. The women do their best, but remain vulnerable to external forces infinitely greater than their sphere of control. When days are dark, it seems easy to perpetuate hurt and injury, because making normalcy out of pain is deceptively sedating. When making lemonade from lemons feels to be a tall order, we must rise to that challenge. We can all be resilient, but it is in our efforts to overcome that our spirits shine the brightest.

www.fledglingtheatre.com

Review: Do Something Else (The Old 505 Theatre)

old505Venue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Oct 4 – 22, 2016
Devisor / Director: Michael Pigott
Devisors / Cast: Cloé Fournier, Ryuichi Fujimura, Brigid Vidler
Image by Michael Pigott

Theatre review
Meaning can be derived from anything, because being human requires that we make sense of the things we come in contact with, even if their inherent characteristics are not readily intelligible. In Michael Pigott’s Do Something Else, the deliberate absence of a narrative relocates the audience from a position of passivity to one of mental vigour. The work provides visual and aural cues that seem to be, on a superficial level, incoherent, trusting that our response is a creative one that will formulate personally resonant symbols and messages.

It is an elegant work, but also surprising and challenging, with a confidence that allows its abstract approach to communicate with authority. Pigott’s work on sound and lights creates a hypnotically gripping atmosphere, balanced by the dynamic physical expressions he introduces to the piece. The three performers have distinct and strong presences that connect with us effortlessly. Cloé Fournier and Ryuichi Fujimura are memorable for their idiosyncratic and nuanced movement styles, while Brigid Vidler captivates with her incisive delivery of text. Fascinating words are also provided by Diana Shahinyan and Ari Mattes whose prerecorded voices guide us with scholarly ideas to reach an increasingly precise interpretation of the work.

A key concern of Do Something Else pertains to a neurosis that emerges with the rise of the metropolis. We can choose to see that city life drives us crazy, or we can adopt an alternate view that the innate insanity of life has proven to be untameable by a culture of industrialism. Our chaos simply takes on a different form. It is naive to think that nature is independent of technology, and falling into nostalgic fantasies for an imagined world of primitive perfection is futile, and erroneous. Technophobia however, is an interesting and helpful concept that can help us in discussions about ecology and environmentalism. It also encourages a healthy cynicism of progress that interrogates our priorities, and questions our values. Our societies run on a momentum that thinks that big is better, and more is good. Civilisations must move forward, but the choices we make within that propulsive trajectory must never be left unexamined.

www.old505theatre.com

Review: Pedal & Castles (House Of Sand)

houseofsandVenue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Sep 20 – 24, 2016
Creator: Eliza Sanders
Director: Charles Sanders
Cast: Eliza Sanders

Theatre review
Pedal and Castles are a pairing of individual pieces that demonstrate the genius talent of Eliza Sanders, whose boundless exploration into performance and theatre creation that deliver experiences that are full of joy, surprise and wonder. Amalgamating the clichéd triple threat of singing, dancing and acting, Sanders redefines the stage artist into a singular agent with capacities limited only by imagination. Her multi-disciplinary skills are showcased perfectly in both works, along with the most inventive approach to writing and choreography for a style of show that is striking for its effortless originality and distinctive sense of beauty.

These are not simply stories, but abstract expressions that find a purpose in time without the reliance on logic and narrative. In tandem with brother Charles Sanders’ direction, the siblings’ ability to move us, to cease our attention and connect with our emotions, without the use of anything remotely formulaic or conventional, is evidence that a purity of intention and an instinctive acuity are at play here.

Eliza Sanders’ physical presence is that of a dancer’s, all discipline and agility, but her personality refuses to be subservient, the combination of which results in a powerful state of being that puts on stage, the very vibrancy of life itself. Without the distraction of reason, we are in direct contact with a living, breathing and in this case, enthralling, organism, whose various representations of our complex existence, draw us into a state of sharing, listening and acknowledgement, that seems to make life that much more meaningful. Observing Sanders is to be at one with nature, and the resonance she provides, is akin to the excitement one receives when enraptured in the vision of early spring’s blossoming flowers.

Where there is no need to ask why, we abandon the past and the future, to stay firmly in the now. Eliza and Charles Sanders are important artists who give us an alternate view of the world. Knowledge and experience are limitless, and in art, we can find catalysts to help us grow. The language in Pedal and Castles is not a translatable version of the familiar, but a different course of communication for arriving at somewhere new. The danger of becoming small and narrow is ever-present, but when art does its job well, we are shown the way to emancipation, and we must take every step that leads us there.

www.houseofsand.org