Review: Love, Me (The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Feb 13 – 17, 2018
Playwright: Joseph Brown
Director: Joseph Brown
Cast: Danny Ball, Oliver Crump, Enya Daly, Ariadne Sgouros, Annie Stafford
Image by Jasmin Simmons

Theatre review
Christmas is by any definition, a special day for Australians. It is imperative for many to convene with those who are closest, but with closeness comes a level of trust that seems to allow a certain irregular level of liberty in how we communicate. Fighting at festive seasons is almost de rigueur. We let loose on those we love, knowing that forgiveness is assured. Joseph Brown’s Love, Me sees a group of young adults celebrate Christmas, for the first time, without parents and immediate family. It is their chosen family that has now become priority, even if the way they connect might suggest otherwise.

The five Millennials are, true to form, capable individuals yet to find their footing. Without ambition or responsibilities, their emotions take precedence over pragmatic concerns. The characters in Love, Me, like most of our young, spend too much time and energy seeking affirmation, from friends and lovers, constantly hungry for gratification from vanity. They do little for others, obsessed only with trying to find people that could make themselves feel complete. The playwright captures those experiences and perspectives well, and his dialogue is crafted skillfully, although a more critical or ironic approach would give the work a broader appeal.

There is a peculiar lack of energy to the staging, with much of the portrayals kept too interior and quiet. The actors work hard to present authenticity, but the show requires greater power in the nuances they try to articulate. More memorable are Danny Ball and Ariadne Sgouros who offer exuberance, both to be commended for their gregarious approach to storytelling.

“If you can’t love yourself, how the hell you gonna love somebody else,” the drag icon RuPaul often says. It is completely natural that we seek to be loved, but that desire seems only to operate as a force that projects externally. There is an undeniable feeling of emptiness that compels us to look for fulfilment by others, yet evidence shows that the truer, more enduring form of contentment has to be derived independently. What happens thereafter, can only be delightful.

www.old505theatre.com

Review: Jack Data (The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Feb 6 – 11, 2018
Playwright: Ruth Bell
Director: Ruth Bell
Cast: Richard Cotter, Christine Greenough, Elly Hirani Clapin, Mathias Olofsson, Julian Rumandi, Amelia Tranter

Theatre review
Exasperated by their daughter’s persistent independence, Alice’s parents decide to buy her a robot. Jack is not only a sex machine with the ability to help women procreate, he is a passionate housekeeper, a slave to Alice’s every need. Ruth Bell’s Jack Data imagines a future where artificial intelligence has well and truly penetrated the inner sanctum of human existence. Predictably, the play takes a technophobic position, with the well-worn attitude of deep scepticism about radical progress, that is unfortunately under examined. Alice’s resistance of a creation that is by all accounts “the perfect man”, requires greater exposition. In today’s climate of intimacy via smartphone, Alice’s unqualified dismissal of Jack, can be regarded as too convenient. The idea that humanity and nature are necessarily and unquestionably better than anything synthetic, has long been proven to be false.

The futuristic premise of robotic lovers is a deeply appealing one. Jack Data creates a fantasy in which we meditate on the meanings of love, relationships and families, in a way that forces our rationality to escape the cliché. It helps us interrogate our very existence, through concepts as far reaching as the delusion of our anthropocentrism. We begin to wonder if we can even conceive of humans as anything other than the very supreme occupants of earth, a clearly erroneous idea that we have become so used to. It is indeed a challenging but rewarding exercise, to try and not see our place on this planet as preeminent, to look square in the face at all the damage we cause, and come to an honest judgement on this humanity that we want to only think of as sacred.

The production is rough around the edges, with performances that are only occasionally convincing. There is some troubling illogic that gets in the way, such as, the complete plot inconsistency of having robots widely available to all of the public, yet having characters act like they had never seen robots before. Actor Mathias Olofsson is however, very delightful as Jack, with fabulous physical expressions that communicate with great dynamism. He makes us see robots as superior beings, as technology invented precisely to address the many faults of our organic selves. There needs a revision to our prejudices as they pertain to the increasingly arbitrary divisions between synthetic and organic, natural and technological. For those more religiously inclined, “for in Him all things were created,” and for the rest of us, we all are one.

www.old505theatre.com

Review: Blind Tasting (The Old 505 Theatre / Subtlenuance)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Jan 30 – Feb 3, 2018
Playwright: Paul Gilchrist
Director: Paul Gilchrist
Cast: Sylvia Keays
Image by Liam O’Keefe

Theatre review
To thoroughly experience this mysterious thing called life, we have no real alternative but to dive into it head first. In Blind Tasting, Sophie learns the ropes as she goes along. Unlike her colleague Kirstie, who is determined to control everything, Sophie realises instinctively, the futility of that fussy perfectionist approach. Of course, mistakes are made, and heartache ensues, but there is no doubting Sophie’s self-determined way to a richer and wiser existence.

As we sip the wine that Sophie offers, we notice the thrill of the unknown and observe how essential it is to have an appreciation for the precarious and insecure qualities of our being. The wine may or may not be delicious, but it is only in the tasting of it, that one can be certain. No other opinion can ever take the place of that subjective participation.

Written by Paul Gilchrist, Blind Tasting is potent with its sense of joyful optimism, expressed through the playwright’s penchant for a poetic language that is remarkably luscious and evocative. The one-woman show is performed by Sylvia Keays, a presence that is gentle but persuasive, especially effective in the play’s moments of melancholy. The production is an engaging one, refreshing in its use of wine tasting as situation and analogy, but its delivery of drama requires greater gumption, for us to have a firmer identification with its narrative, and for its point to be made with stronger resonance.

Connoisseurs occupy themselves with the grading and sparring, of every wine bottle that they come across. It is human nature to compare and categorise the things we make contact with, but the deeper we get, into games of “finding the best”, the narrower our perspectives become, and the smaller our worlds devolve. With every label that we put on things, we also cast upon them, the restriction of possibilities. Sophie learns not to accept the pigeonholes that people want for her, and we wish for her to break the rules, as and when they find her.

www.old505theatre.com | www.subtlenuance.com

Review: Buried (The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Jan 17 – 27, 2018
Playwright: Xavier Coy
Director: Johann Walraven
Cast: Amelia Campbell, Tara Clark, Xavier Coy, Nicholas Denton
Image by Liam O’Keefe

Theatre review
The Sandpiper is the shorter of two plays by Xavier Coy, featured in Buried. Involving a psychotherapy session where things go awry, the piece is perhaps too conventionally structured, and too brief, resulting in a predictable story that proves anti-climactic. Much more substantial, and persuasive, is Smokin’ Joe, the second Buried play, dealing with class and masculinity in a typically Australian context. Its dialogue is fresh and playful, and its stakes are high, with challenging ideas and curious turns of events that keep us engaged.

Director Johann Walraven, too, invests more deeply into Smokin’ Joe, with nuance and complexities fleshed out effectively, to express the often hidden conundrums of being a man in Australia. Actor Nicholas Denton is captivating as Finn, humorous and exacting in his portrayal of a nineteen year-old discovering himself and finding his place in this often cruel world. Playwright Coy takes on the role of Dylan with admirable conviction and focus, to create a character that is at once familiar, and tenaciously intriguing.

There are secrets in Buried; things that people hide from others, and things that exist in plain sight but that are waiting to be named. Through art, talented individuals can identify the illusory and the elusive that swirl around us in the ether, and give them shape or form, so that we can gain a better understanding of what it is that we do and experience, as beings who walk this earth. It is a high calling, and the consequences are sacred.

www.old505theatre.com | www.facebook.com/wheelscoproductions

Review: Knots (The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Dec 5 – 17, 2017
Creators: Gareth Boylan, Kerri Glasscock, Michael Pigott
Director: Gareth Boylan
Cast: Giles Gartrell-Mills, Kerri Glasscock, Michael Pigott
Image by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Jerry likes watching people, as if he has never seen people before. At the theatre, we have the opportunity to look at ourselves as though aliens have just landed. With fresh eyes, we might be able to gain new knowledge about humankind, and perhaps learn to do things better.

Knots prides itself on being obscure and random; keen to speak but not to explain. There is space travel in the mix, and certainly a lot of exploration into all things weird and wonderful. Just as the earth spins on its own accord, we have to go along for the ride, and figure things out the best we can.

The work is fabulously theatrical, and notwithstanding its minimal set design, very pleasing for the senses. Director Gareth Boylan’s manipulations of atmosphere is magical. He persuades our minds to attend to the poetry of Knots, and to make secondary our usual obsession with logic and narrative. Meaning happens, but not at our demand.

The conscious mind is only one part of our constitution. When we find ourselves wholly present and immersed in a work of art, interaction with it involves more than what can be thought through. Knots disrupts conventional reliance on the standardised language of our storytelling. It seeks to communicate in alternate ways, in order perhaps, that we may attain a level of awareness previously unavailable.

Giles Gartrell-Mills, Kerri Glasscock and Michael Pigott perform the piece with excellent focus and discipline. Occasional smatterings of humour provide a sense of dimension, and emotional volatility that seem to appear unexpectedly, helps us connect.

Most plays can be written down and re-staged, but Knots does not want to work that way. It is hard to imagine that the written word will satisfactorily capture its style and essence; its desire is to go boldly where no person has gone before. What we want from theatre, is vastly different from what a good book can deliver. At its most fundamental, theatre is about community and collaboration. It rejects distance and proxy, so you really had to be there.

www.old505theatre.com

Review: Plastic (The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Oct 31 – Nov 18, 2017
Playwright: Mark Rogers
Director: Sanja Simic
Cast: Nick Bartlett, Hannah Goodwin, Harry McGee, Douglas Niebling, Michelle Ny
Image by Carly Young

Theatre review
When we first meet Franz, he seems nice enough. A young scientist excited for the opportunity to discover wonderful things about the universe, he soon gets absorbed into the big machine of corporations, academia and the fourth estate, and idealism turns corrupt, as the golden boy attempts to carve out a name for himself in Mark Rogers’ Plastic.

Having little more than Franz’s personal reputation and career at stake, the context is admittedly dry, but although not a particularly moving story, Plastic is written with remarkable inventiveness and nuance. Its dialogue is consistently amusing, and the playwright’s theatrical flair concocts a range of characters that come readily to life on stage.

Sanja Simic’s exacting and energetic direction makes for a marvellously captivating show. We may not care very much for Franz’s predicament, but we find ourselves nonetheless fascinated, and thoroughly entertained by the production’s clever presentation of sequences that reveal its plot.

The spirited cast of five has a whale of a time, and we go along gleefully with their infectious exuberance. Their work is impressively well-rehearsed, and each actor demonstrates a thrilling sense of passionate conviction, along with an arresting fastidiousness required of the script. The charming Nick Bartlett keeps us attentive to Franz’s narrative even as the character proves himself to have few redeeming features. The roles are not particularly likeable, but there is no resisting the charm offensive from these players.

We often worry about our art being stifled by commercial forces, but in Plastic, we see that things are no different for those working in the field of science. Instead of discovering and cultivating the best that one has to offer the world, individuals pursue only things that promise reward and glory. With our eye on the prize, as it were, we lose sight of the bigger picture, and of greater possibilities. Innovation pertains to that which is yet unknown, but if we focus only on results already predetermined, progress will forever be suppressed.

www.bodysnatcherstheatre.com

Review: The Natural Conservatorium For Wise Women (Clockfire Theatre)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Oct 3 – 21, 2017
Director: Emily Ayoub
Cast: Alicia Gonzalez, Sam Newing-Stern, Catherine Parle, Laura Turner, Tony Weir
Image by Geoff Magee

Theatre review
The patriarchy is constantly at war. In a system that benefits few, it has to protect itself from many enemies, especially those who have awoken from its deceptive manipulations, and are now aware of the injustices it generates. The Natural Conservatorium For Wise Women is an allegorical expression of the nature of patriarchy, in which we meet a man sitting atop a lonely throne, inside the strict boundaries of his miserable home, whilst others are outside engaged in blood-drenched combat on his behalf.

A highly imaginative work with only a slight reliance on dialogue, it is the sheer theatricality we encounter that truly excites. The characters tell a meaningful story, but it is the craft being put on display that is most captivating. There is much to admire, in the very specific discipline cultivated by this team of artists, with its strong emphasis on human physicality, rather than a more conventional use of emotional and verbal capacities as devices of communication. Informed by traditions of dance and mime, it is a style of performance that we rarely see in the landscapes of Australian art and is hence, an immediately refreshing experience for our audiences.

It is a very accomplished cast, with Tony Weir sensational as the decaying patriarch. Mesmerised, we watch closely as he mobilises every fibre of his being to turn the stage into a living, breathing thing that insists on our undivided attention. Weir’s commanding presence, and his powerfully seductive eyes, guide us through each moment with commendable precision and an inspiring sense of wonder. Alicia Gonzalez and Catherine Parle too, are terrific with their eccentric concoction of personalities, and the beautiful simplicity built into their unique language, is quite sublime. Space and atmosphere are finely tuned by director Emily Ayoub, who delivers a creation elegantly minimal in its aesthetic, but rich in resonance.

There is no end to the things we can talk about in the theatre, and there is no end to the different ways in which we can have those conversations, yet we seem to go about things in predictable fashion, choosing to persist with refining usual modes of presentation, instead of investing in the new. Our conservative art is symptomatic of the conservative times in which we live, and one might begin to interpret this unmistakable apathy as though there is nothing left to fight for. The opposite is true of course, but until we wake from the dulled and disillusioned dormancy of an existence that has resigned itself to the parochial, events like The Natural Conservatorium For Wise Women can only be an exception and not the norm.

www.clockfiretheatre.com