Review: Hell’s Canyon (The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Aug 1 – 11, 2018
Playwright: Emily Sheehan
Director: Katie Cawthorne
Cast: Isabelle Ford, Conor Leach
Images by James John

Theatre review
Caitlin and Oscar are close friends, but things have been challenging lately and their relationship is suffering a moment of discord. When they meet to patch things up, the friction in between instigates a flurry of unexpected activity, revealing the troubles that are consuming each of the young characters. Hell’s Canyon by Emily Sheehan is an intriguing representation of our youth, particularly memorable for the authenticity of its dialogue. Speech patterns, as well as the psychology that it showcases, bear an admirable sense of accuracy, but the story can feel deficient in parts, as we try to find explanations for their behaviour. There is a whimsy to its approach that appeals, and an interest in the supernatural that gives the play an added dimension of theatrical flamboyance.

Actors Isabelle Ford and Conor Leach are engaging personalities, both absolutely persuasive and likeable, in this portrait of teenage angst. Ford demonstrates a strength that gives substance to Caitlin’s rebellious edge. Leach’s blend of vulnerability and ebullience makes for a charming Oscar. There is a sadness to the story that seems elusive in their performance, but the splendid chemistry that they harness, keeps us attentive. There is an enjoyable intensity and vigour to director Katie Cawthorne’s work, even when it falls slightly short of the emotional depths required of Hell’s Canyon‘s depictions of trauma.

We all know how it is to feel misunderstood, but the real danger is when we begin to believe in other people’s fabrications about ourselves. When Caitlin and Oscar find themselves ostracised, that rejection is all-consuming, and they lose sight of themselves, hence unable to find a way to arrive at a sense of peace. The two are intimate but there is no harmony, only confusion and self-doubt. Reaching self-acceptance can be a huge undertaking, one that requires at least as much introspection as it does an understanding of one’s environment. Caitlin and Oscar have to wade through the noise, to get to something real. This can happen in an instant, or it can be a lifetime’s drudgery.

www.old505theatre.com

Review: Roomba Nation (Hurrah Hurrah / The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Jul 4 – 21, 2018
Cast/Devisors: Alison Bennett, Nick O’Regan, Kate Walder
Images by Stephen Reinhardt

Theatre review
Pippi is in a medical facility, surrounded by technology and experts. A doctor and a nurse attend to her, although they demonstrate little care for their patient’s well-being, choosing instead to focus on the science and gadgetry purportedly designed to make us feel better. Roomba Nation is concerned with that disconnect between humans, in a modern age defined by personal independence and isolation, as an ironic result of human advancement. Looking at the way technology is able to take over our existence, the show foregrounds humanity, asking questions about our ever-changing relationship with nature.

Pippi says she is unwell, but her sickness is a mystery. Instead of showing any obvious symptoms of illness, what she presents is a need for attention and connection. The human touch it seems, is still necessary, in these times of virtual everything. Roomba Nation talks about neglect, and we wonder if in the pursuit of progress, our focus has abandoned that which is truly important. Values are constantly shifting, because we are constantly changing. The mortal flesh however, seems to retain a stubbornness, that disallows us from living only in highly evolved states of mind. No matter how clever we think ourselves to be, the reality of bodies, keeps us humble.

Production design by Duncan Maurice is pristine, delightfully and humorously so, to reflect the septic quality of the world being explored. The three characters are absurd and abstract manifestations of people in hospitals, performed by Alison Bennett, Nick O’Regan and Kate Walder, an invigorating ensemble as fascinating they are funny. In accompaniment are three automated vacuum cleaners, dressed up as robots to symbolise the dehumanisation of society, but are otherwise underwhelming with what they bring to the stage. It is a charming piece of theatre, perhaps insufficiently incisive with what it communicates, but an eccentric spirit makes up for its shortcomings.

Resistance may be futile, but when we submit to technology, in our very participation of it, opportunities for ethical choices can still be found. Technology never exists separate from us. It comes from us, and continues to depend upon us. As long as we remain indispensable, we have to believe that it is within our power, to shape the future in accordance with the best of our nature. Efforts to make life easier are inseparable from all that we do, but complacency will only deliver the exact opposite.

www.hurrahhurrah.com.au

Review: Air (Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Jun 13 – 30, 2018
Playwright: Joanna Erskine
Director: Anthony Skuse
Cast: Tel Benjamin, David Lynch, Diana McLean, Suzanne Pereira, Eloise Snape
Images by Mansoor Noor

Theatre review
Annabel works the graveyard shift at a community radio station, reading out obituary entries from the day’s newspaper. Usually an intensely solitary endeavour, interruptions begin to occur, as the phone starts ringing, and as visitors decide to drop by. Joanna Erskine’s Air is part supernatural thriller, and part family drama. It is an intriguing plot, if slightly too meandering, with some genuinely funny touches and moments of melancholy that are quite enthralling.

The play builds to a slightly underwhelming conclusion, but the journey is on the whole, a satisfying one. Director Anthony Skuse’s delicate approach casts a transformative spell over the space, allowing us to luxuriate in the hazy intimacy of the broadcast studio, where a sense of the metaphysical can come and go as it pleases. Eloise Snape is a very endearing Annabel, thoroughly authentic with the naturalism that her acting style embodies, especially delightful when presenting the subtle comedy of the piece. Tel Benjamin and Diana McLean are also on hand for further amusement, eliciting some very cheeky, and surprising, laughs when we least expect them.

Much of Air is a meditation on loneliness and isolation. That which provides safety to Annabel, involves the company of the deceased, and the shunning of the living. It is true that people are tiresome, often unbearable, so we understand the voluntary exile some might choose, over the difficult social responsibilities that are routinely thrust upon us. There is however, little that is rewarding in a life made invulnerable. To let the self be open, will inevitably incur hurt, but without obstacles, we might as well be dead. Annabel’s growth requires that she learns to care and protect, not just for herself, but also for others. It also requires that she makes decisions only with circumspection and not fear.

www.old505theatre.com

Review: Mut (Motimaru Dance Company)

Venue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Jun 6 – 10, 2018
Direction, Concept, Choreography, Dance: Tiziana Longo
Images by Yvonne Hartmann, Hiroshi Makino

Theatre review
The performance begins with a melange of sound clips from news reports all over the world, in a range of languages, many of which are foreign and incomprehensible, but there is no mistaking the gravity in every voice. Hidemi Nishida’s set design is a grand creation, formed entirely of newspaper and adhesive tape; we are drowned in the stuff, dreadfully familiar yet seductive. A figure starts to move, and a pile of discarded news begins to take human form.

Tiziana Longo’s dance presentation, Mut, can be seen as a discussion about society and culture’s prolonged and incessant attack on womanhood, with particular attention on the female body and its garments. We can also bring an interpretation to the work, that is concerned with information from the media, and the futile struggle in trying to locate truth among a barrage of commercial and political interests from the publishing world. It is a timely work, and as such, Mut touches a nerve.

The music, by Hoshiko Yamane, is sensational, incredibly dramatic in its expressions of a realm that is darkly foreboding in its psyche. Longo’s choreography is liberated, lavishly imagined, with a sense of dystopian glamour that produces breathtaking imagery, rarefied and captivating, although not always sufficiently thought-provoking. As performer, Longo’s presence can seem incongruously ethereal in sections that require something more grotesque, but when the heavy costumes are eventually shed, Longo brings her show to a conclusion that is as affecting as it is unpredictable.

We live in a civilisation where men feel entitled to grab pussies at will, so it should come as no surprise to realise that women are constantly berated for how we look. No matter what kind of body we inhabit, or how we choose to dress, it is always open season on those of the female gender. In a world where we can do no right, it is a wonder that so many of us should remain conditioned in our insatiable need to please.

www.motimarubutohdance.com

Review: Twilight (Motimaru Dance Company)

Venue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), May 29 – Jun 3, 2018
Direction, Concept, Choreography, Dance: Motoya Kondo, Tiziana Longo
Image by Johan Planefeldt

Theatre review
The initial image is of one organism, but our logic soon determines that there are two human bodies on stage. Although nothing is explained by Motoya Kondo and Tiziana Longo, it is probably inevitable that we should interpret their work as a representation of the human experience. We connect with the flesh on display, instinctively thinking that the expressions are about us. Strange as they may be, the movement and shapes evoke a familiarity, perhaps talking about the universal sensation of internal conflict that can arise at any moment within any person, or the eternal difficulties of maintaining relationships.

What we think about Twilight is informed, of course, by what we see. The two bodies convulse and glide, they tear apart, or they cling on for dear life. We may find ourselves forming meanings as a voluntary response to the dance, but it is when we are lured into meditation, observing with no appraisal, that the show is at its most potent. Transcendence on this occasion, is a collaborative art form, with Hoshiko Yamane’s music playing a vital role, alongside Kondo and Longo’s choreography and lighting design. The mesmerising juxtaposition of dynamism and stillness, a hallmark of the Butoh discipline, casts a spell and keeps us engaged throughout the piece.

It is an illusion of separateness that is distinct in Twilight. Quite literally joined at the hip, Kondo and Longo have made themselves appear exactly the same, yet they depict a sense of resistance toward one another, so that harmony is only ever a temporary notion. We wish for unity, but our appetite for discordance seems as natural as breath. It is as though, peace had always existed, but we fail to recognise it, and we make all go to war to find it.

www.motimarubutohdance.com

Review: Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. (House Of Sand)

Venue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), May 2 – 19, 2018
Playwright: Alice Birch
Director: Charles Sanders
Cast: Violette Ayad, Anna Cheney, Enya Daly, Richard Hilliar, Moreblessing Maturure, Eliza Sanders
Images by Jasmin Simmons

Theatre review
The play begins as though a manual providing instruction on becoming a radical feminist, offering steps of revolutionary action to attain some kind of ideal state of being. For those who understand their subjugation, the idea of taking down the powerful is always appealing, but the truth remains, that vacuums are nonviable and breaking something down requires the installation of something new. Alice Birch’s Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. is a thrilling ride for anyone with a taste for rebellion. Its militant spirit is seductive, with powerful declarations that will excite those similarly inclined. The piece evolves unexpectedly, introducing in later portions, complexities that confront its own passionate proclamations of earlier scenes. Birch wants us mobilised, but in a smart way. Activism cannot thrive only on impulse. Long term strategies must accompany courses of action, or we risk ending up at a place worse than before.

The show speaks resonantly, with director Charles Sanders’ intellect a fortifying authority that establishes clarity for all its arguments. The politics in Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. are made compelling by Sanders’ palpable enthusiasm for the subject matter, and their insistence that we hear its messages, translates into excellent drama. Design style is fairly simple for the production, with Joanne Joy’s visual projections particularly effective in helping to assert some of the highly provocative concepts.

All six performers for the piece are impressive, each one given ample opportunity to put on display their individual talents, as well as a unifying and admirable conviction pertaining to the material at hand. Eliza Sanders imbues her lines with authenticity and precision, delivering a delightful acerbity with every utterance, and equally memorable for her disciplined physical expressions. The imposing figure of Moreblessing Maturure is accompanied with a tender vulnerability, especially convincing in a maternal role, conveying unassailable qualities of our humanity with beautiful restraint and confidence. The lone thorn among the roses is Richard Hilliar, whose comedy hits all the right notes, whether understated, madcap or frighteningly bombastic. Violette Ayad and Enya Daly bring emotion when we least expect it, creating additional dimensions to an already rich work, and Anna Cheney’s ability to oscillate between realism and the flamboyantly bizarre, has us fascinated and entertained.

Anarchy may not be the answer we need, but the power of resistance must never be underestimated. Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. is full of inspiration, for those of us who recognise the concerns that it raises. Revolutions must start somewhere, and the personal can be the site on which we begin positioning the battleground. Warriors have the capacity for long, hard slogs, and they understand that to suffer the pains of combat, far surpasses the unbearable torment of injustice. Fights are best undertaken when there is light at the end of tunnel. In the business of social activism, soldiers will get beaten down every day, but a resilient optimism is the key conspirator, to the ability to know right from wrong.

www.houseofsand.org

Review: Home Invasion (The Old 505 Theatre / An Assorted Few)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Mar 21 – Apr 7, 2018
Writer: Christopher Bryant
Director: Alexander Berlage
Cast: Chloe Bayliss, Kate Cheel, Yure Covich, Morgan Maguire, Wendy Mocke, Cecilia Morrow
Images by Robert Catto

Theatre review
In Christopher Bryant’s Home Invasion, two modern American tragedies are memorialised, and analysed through the lens of pop culture. The murder of child beauty queen JonBenét Ramsey, and the suicide of an American Idol contestant, outside of pop star Paula Abdul’s home. Through these stories of unfulfilled lives, the play presents a cynical view of the woman’s world, in which her desires are shaped intractably, by portrayals in the media, of the feminine as being essentially inadequate and a scourge.

We meet the aforementioned singing aspirant June (who changes her name to Paula), along with a housewife Carol and a 15 year-old Lolita type, Sam. All three individuals are disturbed, but we have to join the dots to figure out their dysfunctions. Director Alexander Berlage places these characters within the glossy setting of our consumerist lives, drawing attention to the unrelenting superficiality that seems determined to prevent us from attaining healthy existences.

Set design by Jeremy Allen and Berlage’s lights, together with Ellen Stanistreet’s costumes, forge a powerful collaboration offering a series of striking imagery, often more impressive with the aesthetic statements being made, than the actual stories they help to tell.

Adventurous interpretations by a strong cast, keep us intrigued and intellectually stimulated. Kate Cheel is thoroughly captivating as the wannabe Paula, simultaneously critical and empathetic towards the narrative she inhabits. She turns an outrageously bizarre personality into someone we recognise, and although we may never understand the extreme measures she undertakes, the actor is more than able to convince us of Paula’s truths, impenetrable as they might be. Also wonderful, are Chloe Bayliss and Morgan Maguire, both marvellously animated, delightful with their comedy, whether frothy and madcap, or darkly unsettling.

The play seems to say that we are powerless against tragic narratives that are continually thrust open us by commercial media outlets, the same ones that are then consecrated and fetishised by society. Home Invasion depicts female subjugation in contemporary terms, as an operation inherent in processes of commodification and of the media. It is true that we are in danger of having our minds clouded and capitalised by institutions that will benefit from our delusions, but we must believe that resistance is possible, and necessary. Where the show ends, is where we begin deducing alternatives for our aftermath.

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