Review: The Split (The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Dec 3 – 14, 2019
Playwright: Sarah Hamilton
Director: Charley Sanders
Cast: Amy Victoria Brooks, Max Garcia-Underwood

Theatre review
We are with Jules and Tom are on a small boat, where for several days and nights, they have isolated themselves to sort out an unspeakable problem. It must be a difficult one because we see them evading the issue, indulging instead in a lot of mundane chat and frivolous activity, leaving their purpose ignored in the background.

Sarah Hamilton’s The Split demonstrates what it is like, when things are too hard to deal with, especially if they relate to matters of the heart. The work is keenly observed, although its unrelenting sense of wistfulness can prove a challenge for the 90-minute duration. The couple is in a state of fragility, and we watch them unable to access anything that might fracture their emotional equilibrium, resulting in a play that stays too much in a delicate space, refusing to deliver a more obvious drama, or comedy, that would sustain our interest.

Performers in The Split are beautifully focused, very confident and precise with their respective portrayals. Amy Victoria Brooks and Max Garcia-Underwood may not deliver convincing sizzle as lovers, but both actors bring a valuable depth to their characters, able to convey authenticity for every scene. Director Charley Sanders’ storytelling is honest, but the production is too subdued in approach, and as a consequence, insufficiently engaging. Lights and video projections by Kobe Donaldson contribute some visual appeal to the staging, although atmosphere could be further enhanced to complement the writing’s sensual melancholy.

Life is hard; all we can do is to give it our best shot. As we watch Jules and Tom fail at what they had set out to achieve, we examine the way people deal with painful situations, in the understanding that it is the very nature of pain, that makes us run away from what we acknowledge needs to be addressed. The two take it slow, waiting for the ache to subside, so that they can finally arrive at a moment of confrontation that both know to be necessary. Not everything can be ripped off like a band aid. We learn that some things deserve the luxury of time, even if everything in this moment, does feel like a real state of emergency.

www.houseofsand.org

Review: The House At Boundary Road (The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Nov 5 – 16, 2019
Playwrights: Violette Ayad, Thomas De Angelis, Chika Ikogwe, Jordy Shea
Director: Jessica Arthur
Cast: Violette Ayad, Henrietta Amevor, Monique Calarco, Jemwel Danao, Nancy Denis, Felino Dolloso, Adam Di Martino, Jessica Phoebe Hanna, Mark Paguio, David Soncin, Angela Sullen, Mike Ugo
Images by Phil Erbacher

Theatre review
It is in Western Sydney’s Liverpool, that we find The House At Boundary Road, and the families who had lived in it over the years. Written by Violette Ayad, Thomas De Angelis, Chika Ikogwe and Jordy Shea, the work comprises four short plays, each featuring a migrant family. De Angelis writes about Italians in the 50s, Shea on Filipinos in the 60s, followed by Ayad’s Middle Eastern sisters who grew up there in the 80s, and finally Ikogwe presents today’s Nigerian inhabitants. Each segment is compact but powerful, for a meaningful encapsulation of our recent history.

The stories are an emotional tribute to difficult times, all of them offering intimate insight that pertain to the migrant working class. Truths about our economic system are revealed, along with the persistently inequitable nature of our nationhood. Directed by Jessica Arthur, the production is appropriately sentimental, presented in a simple style that conveys poignancy for every moment. A deeply evocative set by Keerthi Subramaniam, recalls interiors of modest homes that form the inner sanctum for so many Australian battlers. Kate Baldwin’s lights and Clemence Williams’s sound keep us in a beautiful melancholy, for an intimately resonant representation of both the past and the present.

Actor Felino Dolloso is especially moving as Jovy, the despondent father of the Filipino household, helping us see the pain of displacement in the most sobering way. The captivating Henrietta Amevor plays Chioma, a 14 year-old Nigerian obsessed with boys and selfies, bringing to the role exquisite humour and phenomenal star quality. Nancy Denis absolutely charms as Chioma’s mother, and their neighbour Ugo is portrayed by Mike Ugo, who impresses with an unexpected tenderness, and the effortless warmth he brings to the stage.

Many of us were allowed in, because difficult jobs needed to be done. We are built on the backs of economic migrants, yet they are routinely demonised by those who benefit most, from the smooth functioning of this capitalist way of life. Those at the top of our hierarchies understand that their positions are only tenable for as long as there are people at the bottom holding things up, yet they never fail to take every opportunity to vilify and demean those who are newer to this land, and darker in skin tone. The characters in The House At Boundary Road may look disparate to suspicious eyes, but there is little that separates them besides. The powerful will insist that we are never the same, so that they can keep trampling over us, but as soon as we reject those notions of difference, we can begin a revolution to erase these despicable disparities.

www.bontom.com.au

Review: Duckpond (The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Oct 22 – 26, 2019
Playwright: Tabitha Woo
Director: Alison Bennett
Cast: Danen Engelenberg, Melissa Hume, Rizcel Gagawanan, Rudolf Hendrikx, Samantha Lambert
Images by Alex Smiles

Theatre review
Ingrid seems to have survived a plane crash, except she wakes up in a surreal landscape, and begins to see things in a very different light. In Duckpond, playwright Tabitha Woo interrogates the notion of reality, with a particular interest in the way religion and technology not only construct meanings for our existence, but are in fact totalitarian determinants of how we perceive the world. We are ducks in a pond designed by false gods and technocrats, unable to swim out of a paradigm created by others, for the benefit of others.

It is an evocative allegory, charmingly illustrated, in a play enjoyable for its absurdity, if slightly too coy with its humour. Alison Bennett’s idiosyncratic direction delivers a production memorable for its kooky style, with frequent disruptions to theatrical conventions, that help us look into the nature and origins of normality as a general concept. Actor Melissa Hume offers an effective blend of ordinariness and inquisitiveness, in her depictions of a state of awakening, as flight attendant Ingrid begins to discover the artifice behind everything that wishes to pass as real. Her companion is a duck, played by Rizcel Gagawanan, sprightly and amusing with her representation of blissful ignorance.

Humans have an interminable desire for truth, but we are often distracted by the comfort of certainty. Capitalistic forces seduce us with that numbing gratification of phoney answers that they provide, in the form of certainties that rarely contain more than a semblance of truth. They know that when we stop questioning, we are turned into complacent consumers and obedient subjects, easily manipulated to serve their interests, as we languish in a perpetual and frustrating blindness.

www.thirtyfivesquare.com

Review: Homesick (The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Oct 8 – 12, 2019
Playwright: Sally Alrich-Smythe
Director: Claudia Osborne
Cast: Annie Byron, Deborah Galanos, Eliza Scott, Alex Stylianou
Images by Phil Erbacher

Theatre review
Samantha has suddenly come home to Wallerawang, from New York where she is yet to complete her higher education in music. Things are not well but she is unable to articulate them. In Homesick by Sally Alrich-Smythe, we observe the environment in which the young woman has grown up, that may have contributed to her emotional troubles, although we remain uncertain if those are entirely to blame for her illness. She seems to have identified her mother’s displaced ambition as a cause, but Samantha’s inability to bring adequate expression to her emotions, forms the central mystery on which the narrative of Homesick is built.

Its dark themes notwithstanding, Alrich-Smythe’s play features charming personalities and sparkling dialogue that keep us engaged. A generous measure of video projections (by Lucca Barone-Peters and Suzie Henderson) is used to help tell the story, integrated with a sensitive elegance by director Claudia Osborne, whose minimalist approach proves effective in this investigation into small town Australia.

Actor Eliza Scott offers an understated but compelling naturalism that makes believable, all of Samantha’s hidden struggles. Her mother Rachel is played by Deborah Galanos, whose effortless warmth assures us that the home in question, is loving and not overbearing. Annie Byron is quirky as the inconvenient grandmother Eadie, effective at introducing exuberance to the staging, and Alex Stylianou is memorable as Samantha’s ex-boyfriend Jess, confident with the instinctual comedy he brings to the very relaxed personality.

There are no doctors in Samantha’s story to tell us where her problems are coming from, so we try, as lay people, to arrive at our own diagnosis, which is neither reliable nor satisfactory. Mental health is complex. We may be able to detect feelings, but chemistry is best left to professionals. Samantha keeps her illness hidden, and we see her attempting to get out of the woods on her own, to no avail. It might be wishful thinking that the medical system represents a quick fix, but it bears reminding that help is always available, and even if the healing process turns out to be arduous, it is unequivocal that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Mental Health Line 1800 011 511

www.bontom.com.au

Review: Hairworm (The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Oct 1 – 5, 2019
Playwright: Emma Wright
Director: Jess Davis
Cast: Phoebe Atkinson, Bernadette Fam, Jennifer Hart, Alex King, Rebekah Parsons, Amelia Robertson-Cuninghame, Grace Stamnas, Sophie Strykowski, Laura Wilson
Images by Becky Matthews

Theatre review
Emma Wright’s first play Hairworm is about anorexia. It details the experience of an unnamed protagonist, as she suffers that very severe form of mental illness. We watch her go through tremendous anguish, in a writing style that is often clinical, able only to have us regard the condition from an intellectual distance, without having to invest heavily in emotional dimensions of the subject. As a theatrical work, Hairworm does not connect with immediacy, but is valuable in terms of the insight it no doubt provides, into something real and troubling.

Directed by Jess Davis, the production is dynamic and exacting, with Priyanka Martin’s lights and Cecelia Strachan’s sound, conspiring to carefully render a sense of texture for each of its scenes. A disciplined cast brings further polish to the staging, with Rebekah Parsons’ conviction as the afflicted lead character, giving urgency to the show’s pace and rhythm. Alex King plays the sister, memorable for introducing a moment of genuine sentimentality to proceedings.

Theatre does not always have to engage our emotions, but it should find ways to make us care. Conventional narrative structures can seem banal when we have them deciphered and deconstructed, but the way we choose to tell stories, are in direct relation with our very nature, and it seems humans are mostly predictable beings. We see the suffering in Hairworm, just as we see all the suffering in real life, and as is commonplace, our instinct is to respond with an insulating nonchalance that is perhaps inevitable. Art can pierce through that veil of apathy, to get to what one would hope is an essential compassion that unites us. Without art and compassion, hope becomes unimaginable.

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Review: Matriarch (Jinda Productions)

Venue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Sep 3 – 7, 2019
Playwrights: Sandy Greenwood, Lauren Jarrett, Oliver V. Cowley
Director: Jasmin Sheppard
Cast: Sandy Greenwood
Images by Seiya Taguchi

Theatre review
Sandy Greenwood is a Koori woman deeply invested in her cultural heritage. In her one-woman show Matriarch, we learn that the experience of inter-generational trauma, makes it almost impossible for an individual like Greenwood to live without an intimate understanding of historical events that have affected her family. Greenwood’s story reaches back to her great-grandmother and beyond, involving Aboriginal women from three clans who had to battle unfathomable hardship, through colonisation, massacres and stolen generations, to raise children and to preserve bloodlines.

At just over an hour, the material we encounter is at once refreshing, and extraordinarily rich. The text of Matriarch often utilises slang and dialect unique to this land, and the voices that Greenwood channels in her portrayals of these marvellous mothers, are truly sublime. We witness their triumphs and their challenges, share in their humour and feel tremendous sadness for the injustices imposed upon them. Greenwood’s performance is relentlessly powerful. Her physical discipline, and her emotional range, insist that we are engaged and moved, by her honest expressions about life for Indigenous peoples in Australia.

Directed by Jasmin Sheppard, the show is both poignant and consistently entertaining. Every moment is given accurate focus, so that the audience responds precisely as the artists intend. Music by Sean Ryan enhances a sense of cultural specificity to the production, helpful in transporting us to regional locales that are so fundamental in the weaving of narratives about belonging and about land.

Before we can properly move forward, we need to own up completely to all the atrocities that have been committed in this process of colonisation. Problems cannot be adequately fixed, if the truth of these problems are not wholly revealed. The continual denial of responsibility, total or partial, means that those in power can only ever try to mend the surface of these issues. The passage of time means that the roots of our ills can only grow deeper. Indigenous voices must be listened to, and obeyed, right now.

www.jindaproductions.wordpress.com

Review: An Intervention (The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Aug 20 -31, 2019
Playwright: Mike Bartlett
Director: Erin Taylor
Cast: Jessica-Belle Keogh, Bardiya McKinnon
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
They are best friends, perhaps even soul mates, but we meet them at a point where these unnamed characters begin to diverge, as they start developing in directions that seem to be in mutual conflict. There is no doubt however, that these two, in Mike Bartlett’s An Intervention, are bonded on a level of essence, that they connect on a fundamental level beyond the surprising choices that they now make. How people experience the world can only ever be unique, and friends growing apart seems almost inevitable. Bartlett’s play is keenly observed and irresistibly witty, a truthful work that reveals meaningful aspects of ourselves, able to demystify parts of human nature that we rarely bring articulation to.

Directed by Erin Taylor, the show is jaunty and engaging, sensitive in its rendering of a story about careless friendships. It is an attractive production, with Jonathan Hindmarsh’s set design and Liam O’Keefe’s lights bringing a sense of flamboyant theatricality to the intimate two-hander. Actor Jessica-Belle Keogh is mesmerising as the one who drinks too much, impressive for the exquisite thoroughness with which she attacks the role. Her performance is intelligent and deliberate but never feels forced, consistently thought-provoking while keeping us wonderfully entertained. Bardiya McKinnon holds his own as the one who marries for convenience, convincing in his natural approach, if slightly too simple in comparison. Excellent chemistry between the two sets the stage alight, for 90 minutes of comedy delivered with an unexpected sophistication.

We may not always be able to intervene when friends make mistakes. Life is often out of our control, and many occasions seem to require that we sit back and watch the unfolding of a car crash. We can however, always be there to help pick up the pieces. The people in An Intervention spend an inordinate amount of time in judgement of each other, but it appears that this constant disapproval amounts to nothing. A life without fuck-ups is no life at all. To have good friends witness every embarrassment, is perhaps a crucial element in the foundation of real love.

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