Review: This Is Not Mills And Boon (Glorious Thing Theatre Co)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), May 23 – Jun 3, 2017
Playwright: Erica J Brennan
Director: Richard Hilliar
Cast: Alison Bennett, Emma Chelsey, Gabe Fancourt, Lynden Jones
Image by Liam O’Keefe

Theatre review
When we first meet Abby, she surprises us with her prudishness. We think of sex as being universally appealing, and in this day and age, talking about sex is certainly de rigueur, if not interminable, so we wonder what problems Abby is struggling with, that makes her so uncomfortable with the topic.

The story unfolds as Abby begins reading, in secret, a collection of erotic stories. Written by her boyfriend’s mother, Nikki Sex’s book is titillating and wild, but also deeply cheesy and frequently nonsensical. We watch as the far-fetched tales begin to unravel the riddle surrounding Abby’s mystifying sexual nature.

Erica J Brennan’s This Is Not Mills And Boon is a smart, ambitious piece that deals with a young woman’s sexual awakening, or more accurately, it is about Abby’s self-discovery beyond the indoctrination and traditions that our young are subject to. There is good attempt at depicting sexuality as being individualistic and idiosyncratic, and hence, a fundamentally deviant feature of what we consider to be human nature, but Brennan’s characters remain bound to an ideal of monogamy and heteronormativity, which prevents the play from foraging deeper into its philosophical interests, thus losing an opportunity to be truly subversive, or edifying, with its declarations.

Director Richard Hilliar introduces a wanton sense of humour to fantasy sequences that makes the show very enjoyable, but a tendency to be overly earnest with our protagonist’s central predicament, can make its naturalistic scenes needlessly severe. Abby needs to lighten up, as does the show.

Funny lady Alison Bennett delivers laughs in all of her extravagant guises. Sharply intuitive, and wonderfully campy, it is a very bawdy performance that pushes all the right buttons (look out for some physical work featuring Bennett’s extraordinarily dexterous tongue). Also very comedic is Gabe Fancourt as the endearing boyfriend Sol, whose unabashed approach to the portrayal of sex object, is as refreshing as it is hilarious.

Although Emma Chelsey’s interpretation of a plain and reserved personality can often feel too literal and hence lacklustre, her Abby is dignified and honest, with a sincerity that makes the whole exercise convincing. The troubling relationship between Abby and her father is a crucial part of the narrative, and Lynden Jones is strong in that role. His lines are perhaps not written with sufficient elegance, but Jones demonstrates excellent conviction even when the dialogue turns precarious.

The show makes fun of “Fifty Shades Of Beige”, but is itself shy with its own interrogations. It may not be Mills and Boon, but it is certainly no Marquis de Sade either. There is a naivety in how it thinks about sex, but its fervent need to reject convention in favour of a self-determined experience of sexuality and of identity, must be celebrated.

What makes each person feel good, is rarely the same, but what makes us all the same, is the need to discover the truth that lies within. It is human to want to poke and prod, to find something that feels resolutely at the core of our existence. Whether through art or through fucking, we can get to the thing that resides deep at the centre, that holds the meaning of life.

www.gloriousthingtheatreco.com

Review: Perhaps, Perhaps… Quizás (The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), May 2 – 13, 2017
Playwright: Gabriela Munoz
Director: Gabriela Munoz
Cast: Gabriela Munoz
Image by Ricardo Castillo Cuevas

Theatre review
It is so sad when a woman is unable to find a man to marry her. When a man stays single however, the situation is not nearly as dire. In Perhaps, Perhaps… Quizás, Greta spends all her time lamenting her spinsterhood, and goes about creating fantasy weddings to escape her misery. It is a woeful context for a show, but when coming face to face with a sad clown, we discover the unique discipline that conflates depression with comedy, and makes everything work.

In art, we have to be careful about the messages we send, but we must also be authentic with how lived experience is represented. Gabriela Munoz’s work may be highly stylised, but the accuracy at which she presents her character’s feelings, persuades us to connect with the unquestionably real human emotion that is being recreated. For a moment, we put judgement aside and share in her melancholy.

Munoz is a funny lady, and her show is often hilarious. We laugh because we recognise the struggles she face, and also because so much of what she does, makes us feel uneasy. A significant segment involves audience participation, and one lucky viewer gets to be on stage for more than a few minutes to help Greta indulge in her craziest delusions. It is as unnerving as it sounds.

The best of theatre happens when safety nets are removed, and everything comes to life. Munoz’s face might be hiding under chalk white pancake, but she opens herself up to our incontrovertible presence, accepting and encouraging our input into her performance. The vulnerability is moving, and the fragility is beautiful.

The truth is that we are sad about Greta’s sadness, rather than her failure to find a mate. Some of us wish that she gets her man some day, and some of us wish that she finds something else more meaningful on which to expend her energy. Life promises so much, but for most of us, it gives so little. There is always more to want, but to be in love with what we do have, is how the days become a bit sweeter.

www.old505theatre.com

Review: The Sylph (Harlos Productions / The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Apr 18 – 29, 2017
Playwright: Jodi Rose
Director: Colleen Cook
Cast: Gertraud Ingeborg

Theatre review
The legacy left behind by the celebrated 19th century ballerina Marie Taglioni, can be found in the world of dance, but in Jodi Rose’s The Sylph, we come to meet with her in a play. Stories from her life are relayed directly, to an audience curious about Taglioni’s biography. When we see dancers, they are picture perfect. What we see is effortless, often sublime, with all that happens behind the scenes kept tightly under wraps.

The monologue provides information about Taglioni’s history, but there is little in terms of drama that could be gleaned. There are no great eruptions of emotion, no spicy scandals, and few dark secrets. It is a meaningful existence from a distant past, discussed with a simplicity that is perhaps underwhelming for a generation accustom to much more outrageous tales of unrelenting impropriety by famous types.

Gertraud Ingeborg is in the starring role, impressive and convincing with her physical expressions as ballet expert. The graceful beauty she brings to the piece is commendable, along with an undeniable strength in her presence that keeps us engaged. It is a flattering image of both actor and character that the show presents, under the directorship of Colleen Cook, who demonstrates an elegant and effective use of space, but the plot structure would benefit from greater effort in manufacturing a sense of tension for The Sylph‘s storytelling.

Female geniuses are consistently obliterated from our history books and our consciousness. Works like The Sylph are important in finding redress to this injustice. To know that women have achieved as much as, or more than, our male counterparts, is crucial to how we see ourselves today and how future generations will be able to live out their potentials. For women who wish to be great mothers and wives, there are plenty of success stories, but for the rest of us who desire anything else, we need every opportunity to encounter our predecessors.

www.old505theatre.com

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