Review: The Divorce Party (Life After Productions / The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Mar 12 – 16, 2019
Playwright: Liz Hobart
Director: Alexander Lee-Rekers
Cast: Meg Clarke, Badaidilaga Maftuh-Flynn, Ariadne Sgouros, Alexander Stylianou
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
We are in a car park behind a restaurant with four attendees of a divorce party, taking a cigarette break from the unusual festivities. Liz Hobart’s The Divorce Party is a curious work, structured like a puzzle to involve our participation in figuring out the stories therein. Although mildly intriguing, the play’s deliberate abstruseness never pays off. Barely an hour long, we lose interest early in the piece, and by the time its mysteries are revealed, none of it is able to cause a stir.

Set design by Damien Egan however, is charming with its accuracy in depicting contemporary Australian life, complete with push bin and bad graffiti. The actors demonstrate adequate familiarity with their individual roles, even if their collaboration feels incohesive. Ariadne Sgouros and Alexander Stylianou bring energy at every opportunity, and succeed in creating momentary stimuli for the piece. Meg Clarke has little to work with in terms of storyline, but manages to build a character of some authenticity. A very subtle performance by Badaidilaga Maftuh-Flynn helps create an enigmatic, if slightly too sombre, quality for his role.

With the proliferation of divorces, it is perhaps not entirely surprising that some people might want to commemorate the event. What was once a catalyst for vehement disapproval from all quarters, is now an ordinary part of life. When a relationship ends, it often means that suffering too, begins to find relief, so it does make sense that celebration is in order. As long as people wish to get married, there needs to be a liberal attitude towards divorce. Nobody should be tethered to any misery, and we should all know to walk out, if the heart so desires.

www.old505theatre.com

Review: Seed Bomb (Subtlenuance / The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Mar 5 – 9, 2019
Playwright: Daniela Giorgi
Director: Paul Gilchrist
Cast: Matthew Abotomey, Kate Bookallil, Lindsey Chapman, Sonya Kerr, Julian Ramundi
Image by Matthew Abotomey

Theatre review
Kat dreams of moving out to the country, so that she can escape the ugly rat race of city life. Upon meeting guerrilla gardeners Gridlock and Pax however, her mind changes, as she begins involvement in a political movement that helps her feel an integral part of community. Daniela Giorgi’s Seed Bomb talks about the responsibility of individuals, in an environment where the power to influence our own destinies, is routinely made to feel diminished. Kat discovers that she is not helpless in her home, and to leave it for greener pastures is in some ways a selfish act.

Giorgi’s benevolent writing is idealistic but not naive. Although its didacticism has a tendency to turn obvious, the immediacy of its concerns bear a pertinence that keeps us engaged, with Kat’s awakening bringing a sense of hope to our humdrum passivity. Directed by Paul Gilchrist, the show is tender and earnest, insufficiently dynamic but certainly authentic with its representations. Actor Sonya Kerr is particularly genuine in her convincing portrayal of Kat, our mild-mannered protagonist who learns to carve her own niche in micro activism.

Other cast members are similarly accomplished. Matthew Abotomey and Kate Bookallil bring conviction to their roles as provocateurs of the piece, both distinct and specific with their respective interpretations of the modern social justice warrior. Excellent comedy by a very cheeky Lindsey Chapman, who plays an ignorant financial adviser, leaves a lasting impression. The frustrations of Kat’s partner Toby are conveyed persuasively by Julian Ramundi, whose depiction of the one left behind, serves as caution against political apathy.

Whether we like it or not, to exist is to be political. We can choose either to participate or withdraw, but there is never neutrality in any of our decisions. Everything we say and do, causes reverberations, like dominoes toppling in all directions. Kat does not become radical, but her new awareness of things beneath the surface, has sparked a fundamental shift in how she behaves. We can never be sure if knowledge will necessarily improve lives; after all, ignorance is bliss. There is however, no possibility for reversal, once the truth is out. This is only the beginning of Kat’s story, what is to follow is a test of our optimism and faith.

www.subtlenuance.com

Review: All My Sleep And Waking (Apocalypse Theatre Company)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Nov 28 – Dec 22, 2018
Playwright: Mary Rachel Brown
Director: Dino Dimitriadis
Cast: Di Adams, Angela Bauer, Alex Beauman, Richard Sydenham
Images by Robert Catto

Theatre review
Anne has to confront very complicated feelings about her father. As his death approaches, all that had resulted from a troubled family life must finally be attended to. Together with Maria and Peter, the three siblings must get each other through this difficult time, and perhaps work towards a resolution for decades of psychological damage. All My Sleep And Walking by Mary Rachel Brown is a study of broken homes, staggeringly authentic in its observations, and admirably honest with its intentions. Although not a pessimistic work, the play’s realistic rendering of a daughter’s struggle, and of delicate family dynamics, is a refreshing alternative to stories of this nature that always seem determined to be improbably uplifting. Here, just to be able to encounter the unvarnished truth, proves powerful enough to satisfy.

Directed by Dino Dimitriadis, the production is deliciously taut, with meticulous attention on interactions between characters that delivers some very gripping drama. Anne is played by Di Adams, whose work is imbued with integrity, for a very believable, albeit overly serious, portrait of fortification and incredible stoicism. As Maria, Angela Bauer offers an emotional counterbalance, fabulously intense yet astutely humorous, for an outstanding performance that has us mesmerised. Richard Sydenham is delightful as Peter, with quirky mannerisms that prove endearing, and impressive nuance for every line that he dispenses. Anne’s son Josh, is played by a persuasive Alex Beauman whose relaxed naturalism adds valuable dimension to our experience of the show.

Maybe one’s father never did his best, or maybe his best was simply not good enough. Either way, regardless of his intentions, one has to suffer the consequences of an unsatisfactory parenthood, whilst imagining perfect fathers abound in every other household. Self preservation requires that Anne takes on merciless strategies; she vilifies him brutally and spares no thought for his feelings, even as he is ravaged by cancer. The degree of hurt that she suffers is palpable, and from our vantage point, forgiveness would do her a great deal of good, but that is of course, easier said that done. Anne can only access what is available to her, and when we want more for her, we reveal our inability to understand the devastation she has to bear. The miracle lies instead, in her own abilities as a mother. We watch her son grow into a stable and secure adult, and are awestruck by the incredible breaking of a curse.

www.apocalypsetheatrecompany.com

Review: Blame Traffic (The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Nov 13 – 24, 2018
Playwright: Michael Andrew Collins
Director: Michael Andrew Collins
Cast: Violette Ayad, Nic English, Emma O’Sullivan, Mary Soudi, Alex Stylianou
Theatre review
Insurance investigator Lilian’s frustrating encounters with a blue Mercedes, over several days on the streets of Sydney, has stoked her occupational resolve. She finds herself secretly trailing the mystery man, trying to formulate an explanation for the latter’s shockingly poor driving etiquette. Blame Traffic by Michael Andrew Collins features a series of fractured scenes that gradually merge into an integrated, and satisfying, narrative. Collins’ playful dialogue ensures that each sequence is full of amusement, and the intrigue that he constructs, is a consistent pleasure, and the play’s strongest quality.

In lieu of realistic settings for many of Blame Traffic‘s on-road scenarios, the production takes a minimal but effective approach, with chairs and three sliding monitors, to convey its oscillating range of times and spaces. Designer Patrick James Howe keeps things slick and restrained, for unobtrusive solutions that provide surprising impact. Collins’ direction of the piece is taut, with an air of urgency that has us absorbed for its entire hour.

An energetic and rigorous ensemble takes us through the fast-paced action. Emma O’Sullivan shines in both her roles; she turns a very strange Jacquie convincing, whilst endearing us with her quirky characteristics, and as Dion, the actor’s interpretation of a young Italian-Australian is simply hilarious. Dion’s uncle Zio is played by Nic English, whose honest impulses make him a riveting presence. Violette Ayad and Alex Stylianou provide the fireworks with their partnership, in a segment memorable for its scintillating chemistry, both performers taking the opportunity to demonstrate their impressive skill and natural talent. Also wonderful is Mary Soudi who brings a thoughtful complexity to her part of Sarah.

Although not particularly provocative, Blame Traffic is an entertaining work of theatre, that uses the bane of our city’s daily existence as catalyst for its storytelling. We see people interspersed but connected, each heading in their own obstinate directions, occasionally stopping to think of others. Individualism and independence are highly valued in our metropolis; we believe in the freedom that allows people to live to their full personal potentials, regardless of tradition and conventions. It is also clear that Sydney is not an entirely selfish city, even if we do feel like we dwell inside bubbles that only seem to ever grow smaller. Our roads converge every day, allowing our trajectories to meet, at places like the theatre, where we congregate as one, to figure out the people we are, and the people we want to be.

www.facebook.com/twentysevensix

Review: Whose Uterus Is it Anyway? (The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Oct 30 – Nov 10, 2018
Playwright: Georgie Adamson
Director: Eve Beck
Cast: Toby Blome, Alexandra Morgan, Finn Murphy, Chelsea Needham, Annie Stafford
Images by Jasmin Simmons

Theatre review
It is a game show in the reality competition style, involving the infliction of humiliation and abuse for the benefit of a television audience. In this case, contestants are made to jump through hoops before they are awarded the reproductive health care that they require. George Adamson’s Whose Uterus Is It Anyway? is an indictment of the way bodies of women and trans men are controlled, relegated to a lower class, when they deviate from unreasonably strict norms. When a uterus is not being used for procreation, society sees fit that its owner is put through a process of castigation, as enacted here by a white man in a stylised lab coat, playing the role of game show host, manipulating scenarios and exercising his power, to ridicule his subjects.

Ideas in the play are fresh and exciting, assembled with an enjoyable quirky humour. Its writing could be further refined for a more satisfying plot structure, but its unique approach makes for a show that is at once pertinent and amusing. Eve Beck’s direction for the piece contains appropriately subversive measures, and although its comedy proves slightly inconsistent, there is no doubting the production’s ability to have us firmly engage with its stimulating themes. Martin Kinnane’s lights and Camille Ostrowsky’s set design provide dynamism to a visual aesthetic that conveys effectively, the sinister quality of institutionalised medicine and media. Alex Lee-Rekers is detailed with his work on sound, helping us navigate the many subtle tonal and emotional shifts of the show.

An excellent cast brings to life the theatrical and substantive absurdity of Whose Uterus Is It Anyway?. Toby Blome is captivating as the central authority figure, and as four additional subsidiary characters, his efforts are just as compelling. Alexandra Morgan and Annie Stafford are funny women, both exuberant and incisive with their delivery. Finn Murphy and Chelsea Needham dial up the poignancy factor, for some genuinely moving moments that give the staging a crucial quotient of gravity.

As evidenced in Lysistrata’s fabled sex strike, societies have always been petrified of women using their bodies for anything other than gestation. The impulse to reproduce has fuelled an unquenchable thirst to control our bodies, and as a consequence all of how we exist is dictated in accordance with that sense of ownership and entitlement. Three women in the play, along with a trans man, have made decisions for themselves, but it is clear that their bodies are being held hostage, by traditions and systems that struggle to acknowledge our independence. If our subjugation stems from sex and babies, it would only make sense that a revolution can be precipitated by a radical rethink of our identities in those terms. We should define ourselves in creative and courageous ways, rejecting labels and responsibilities when required, not only to live with greater integrity, but to forge a better, more equitable future.

www.biteprod.com.au

Review: Lie With Me (The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Oct 2 – 13, 2018
Playwright: Liz Hobart
Director: Warwick Doddrell
Cast: Lyn Pierse, Nathalie Murray, Julia Robertson
Images by David Hooley

Theatre review
There are monsters walking amongst us, murderers, rapists and cannibals, who look just like everybody else, made of the same flesh and blood. Sebastian is one such monster, responsible for 17 gruesome deaths. His mother is Janice, and in Liz Hobart’s Lie With Me, we explore the impossibly difficult notion of having to come to terms, with being the woman who had birthed such an abomination into the world. Whether nature or nurture, the connections we draw between mother and son, make it an intolerable existence for Janice to have to bear.

Fractured and achronological, scenes in Lie With Me are presented like randomised shreds of memories, challenging us to make coherence out of unimaginable inhumanity. Dark, passionate and urgent, Hobart’s writing makes for engrossing, fascinating theatre. Directed by Warwick Doddrell, the staging can at times be excessively elaborate, but it proves to be an ultimately rich and rewarding experience. Lights by Sophie Pekbilimli are creative and lively, effective in giving unexpected dimension to the space. Sound is delicately managed by Ben Hinchley, who deftly maintains intensity throughout.

Sebastian the monster is conspicuously, but thankfully, missing in action. Janice is played by Lyn Pierse, strong and compelling with all that she offers. Her sophisticated approach ensures that the show never descends into exploitative territory. The very charming Julia Robertson is delightful in her playful array of roles, particularly biting as Sebastian’s father Len. Nathalie Murray provides solid support, a disciplined and nuanced performer proving herself to be inexorably reliable.

Lie With Me is about motherhood, and the many roles women have to play, that deprive us of our sovereignty. Janice tries to be her own person, but having devoted her life to being little more than mother and wife, she struggles to find self-worth when forsaken by both son and husband. It is anybody’s guess if she would again choose motherhood if the reversal of time were possible, but one would hope that the lessons she has learned would lead to a reclamation of power and independence. For those of us with time on our side, the play is a reminder of how we should define existence, and the bigger things we are capable of.

www.bnwtheatre.com.au

Review: Maggot (The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Sep 27 – 29, 2018
Cast/Creators: Freya Finch, Angela Fouhy, Elle Wootton

Theatre review
Known collectively as Scungebags Theatre, the trio of Freya Finch, Angela Fouhy and Elle Wootton prove themselves an irresistible hoot in their subversive show Maggot. An introduction informs us that the pop group The Baby Girls have decided to abandon their commercial interests, for the infinitely more prestigious pursuit of high art. This of course, is all a ruse for a series of antics, inspired by clowning principles, to deliver some seriously funny scenes of iconoclastic chaos.

Our institutions, authorities and other sacred cows, are satirised by the three women determined to reject every misplaced sense of reverence that is demanded of them. Mocking the powerful and the traditional, the show falls quite conveniently into a category of feminist performance, but feminism itself is not safe from being lampooned; even the #MeToo movement is exposed to the group’s acerbity, in an unforgettable sequence involving modern interpretive dance and sexual harassment.

Finch, Fouhy and Wootton are distinct personalities, with each performer bearing an individual style, but their cohesiveness as a team is remarkable, for a presentation that impresses with the invulnerable chemistry that they exhibit. Even more rewarding of course, are the many laughs, hysterical and euphoric, that Maggot delivers. Sometimes discerning, sometimes completely nonsensical, their comedy is idiosyncratic, fearless and therefore, thoroughly enjoyable.

It is at our own peril, that we take our feminist selves seriously, when so much of what we should be doing, is to laugh at, and to ridicule, those who wish to dominate. Nothing deflates an erection quicker than derision. Finding ways to pour scorn on those who thrive on exclusionary structures, is a strategy that we must learn to embrace, even just for our own amusement and sanity.

www.facebook.com/maggotshow | www.old505theatre.com