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

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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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Review: Mars: An Interplanetary Cabaret (The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Jul 30 – Aug 3, 2019
Music: Chelsea Needham
Lyrics: Ang Collins
Director: Andrew McInnes
Cast: Monika Pieprzyk, Amelia Campbell, Tom Matthews, Jacob Mclean, Jack Richardson, Kieran Clancy-Lowe
Images by Zac Jay

Theatre review
Three Martians have landed, in a spaceship called Incel 9, because apparently, earth girls are easy. The male of that species have had to travel an enormous distance, after women on Mars had wised up to their misogynistic nonsense. Earthlings however, are being protected by Space Cops, who in Mars: An Interplanetary Cabaret, happen to be two women impervious to the sleazy tricks of pickup artists. Written by Ang Collins and Chelsea Needham, this fun-filled work features kooky characters and humorous songs, for a surprisingly wholesome style of entertainment that often feels like a contemporary take on the pantomime form. A show about dirty boys with no dirty jokes, Mars is a remarkably refreshing experience.

Directed by Andrew McInnes, the comedy balances flamboyance with irony, allowing its very broad approach to communicate at somewhat unexpected levels of nuance. The visual style is appropriately lo-fi, with Lucy McCullough’s production design and Tom Houghton’s lights, establishing a lot of playful charm to keep us engaged. Some of the singing is of questionable quality, but the cast is likeable, and they present a well-rehearsed staging that impresses with its verve and spirit of inventiveness. Tom Matthews and Jack Richardson are the more disciplined performers of the group, able to contribute a sheen of professionalism with their vocal and physical polish, although the general lack of refinement remains a major component of Mars‘ appeal.

It is appropriate for our current political climate, to talk as though men are from Mars, women are from, well, Earth. A new generation of feminists have declared that poor behaviour is not acceptable, and that the toxic culture of “boys will be boys” must be changed. We talk of the young as being overly fragile, but it is evident that they are on a mission to make the world a kinder place, that people should not be required to have the fortitude to put up with all manner of bullshit. We should no longer have to laugh along with “casually racist” jokes, just as we should no longer fabricate any reason to blame victims of sexual assault. Those who find this shift in codes of conduct frustrating, are on the wrong side of history.

www.old505theatre.com

Review: Van De Maar Papers (Ratcatch / The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Jul 9 – 20, 2019
Playwright: Alexander Lee-Rekers
Director: Camilla Turnbull
Cast: Melissa Hume, Jessie Lancaster, Tom Matthews, Lucy Miller, Nathalie Murray, Terry Serio, Sophie Strykowski, Simon Thomson
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
A man of extraordinary wealth and influence has died, leaving behind a secret manuscript that he wishes to get published, now that he is no longer here to face the critics. The family however, will have to suffer the consequences of a book that could well destroy the family name. Alexander Lee-Rekers’ Van De Maar Papers is concerned with ambition. Levi Van De Maar, the deceased, had wanted to achieve something that he only saw possible after leaving this mortal coil. His wife Christine has her own priorities of self-preservation, as does Frank, a nephew trying to make his own mark in a world that only sees him as a surname.

Lee-Rekers’ writing is often fascinating, with an idiosyncratic humour that keeps us amused. The production can however feel too serious and slow, with director Camilla Turnbull placing emphasis on conveying psychological accuracy, and comedic impulses made somewhat secondary. Lucy Miller and Simon Thomson play the main surviving Van De Maars, both actors believable if slightly too subtle in their approach. The role of unscrupulous publisher Ron Huck is depicted with an enjoyable theatricality by Terry Serio, whose relentless vibrancy is a real asset for the show. At times, he seems to be the only one who is in on the joke with the audience.

The obsession with money and status in Van De Maar Papers encourages us to question our own values. Juxtaposed against the inevitability of death, we are struck by the intensity with which the shallow and the materialistic can overwhelm and determine every course of action. We know with absolute certainty the brevity of existence, yet we submit to meaningless pursuits, letting the appetite to outdo one another, take over the entirety of our being. There are better things to do than to invest in keeping up with neighbours; the tricky thing is to be able to identify that which will be truly fulfilling, and stick with it.

www.old505theatre.com

Review: Normal (The Uncertainty Principle / The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), May 29 – Jun 15, 2019
Playwright: Katie Pollock
Director: Anthony Skuse
Cast: Chika Ikogwe, Alexandra Morgan, Cecilia Morrow, Finley Penrose
Images by James Balian

Theatre review
Teenager Poppy’s eyes begin to twitch one day, and before too long her entire being spasms, to the extent that she passes out in public without warning. It appears a disease has taken hold, one of a mysterious nature that compels all around her to formulate narratives, to impose judgement upon the young woman’s body. When the same symptoms are seen in her school friends, this spreading of an unexplained phenomenon, fractures Poppy’s community, with people seeing only difference of opinion, and not what binds them together. Katie Pollock’s Normal is an intriguing work, because it allows for ambiguity, even though its expressions are passionate. Poppy’s resistance of definition, of not wanting to be pinned down, is a tale about female bodily integrity. It refuses to fit into a structure that would make us comfortable, for its autonomy comes before our conventional stipulations.

Normal‘s politics are never obvious, but director Anthony Skuse makes sure that it speaks with an incontrovertible urgency. The ensemble of four conspire to deliver something quite intense, with Alexandra Morgan’s turn as Poppy bringing a satisfying mix of youthful innocence and exuberance to the play. Chika Ikogwe is wonderful in a variety of roles, always a striking presence, yet marvellously persuasive with her naturalistic style of presentation. Cecilia Morrow and Finley Penrose too are effective in the show, both infectious with their zeal and conviction.

The production is cleverly designed, with Kelsey Lee’s lights monitoring proceedings through a combined sense of dynamism and sensitivity, and her set providing an elegant visual cohesion to the many short scenes that comprise the plot. Sound by Cluny Edwards is imaginative, with a distinctive kooky edge, able to facilitate unexpected dimensions for the story and its characters.

One of the most dangerous things that could happen to society as we know it, is for women to reject any attempts to control our bodies. The radical notion that we can do what we want with our lives and with our corporeality, goes against so much of what constitutes the fundamental building blocks of what we are. Old religions and other old patriarchies require our subjugation and capitulation, so to have women take charge of our own destinies, can only mean devastation to life as we know it, which is absolutely a future to look forward to.

www.old505theatre.com