Review: Ironbound (An Assorted Few)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Aug 31 – Sep 15, 2018
Playwright: Martyna Majok
Director: Alastair Clark
Cast: Abe Mitchell, Ryan Morgan, Gabrielle Scawthorn, Benedict Wall
Images by Jasmin Simmons

Theatre review
We see Darja at different periods of her life, but whether she is in her twenties, thirties or forties, poverty remains the central defining feature of her misfortunes. Scenes in Martyna Majok’s Ironbound take place at a New Jersey bus stop, where Darja is always hoping to go somewhere, but never does. Between working two jobs, and relying on a series of men for help, her situation refuses to improve, no matter how much she tries.

Majok’s play presents the American Dream as a lie, arguing against the notion that hard work alone is the key to salvation. Darja is a female Polish immigrant, thoroughly disadvantaged, and seen by society to be no more than a worker ant. She has only her hopes and dreams to cling to, unaware that those who have sold her those aspirations, are also the very ones who stand to benefit greatest from her destitution. All she does is work for the man, and all the man wants, is to keep things unchanged.

Even though socially pertinent, Ironbound is not necessarily a story with universal appeal. It dispenses valuable information, but is also inevitably dreary. Director Alastair Clark has the unenviable task of making entertainment from experiences of poverty, which is difficult as well as being morally precarious, but he negotiates those lines well, for an engaging show that always has its heart in the right place.

Leading a very strong cast is Gabrielle Scawthorn, immensely authentic in the role of Darja, with a portrayal of desperation that is deeply thought-provoking. We do respond to her story with a level of pity, but it is ultimately the wider questions being raised that stay with us thereafter. Benedict Wall brings a surprising complexity to love interest Tommy, facilitating profound contemplation about the meaning of love, in this age of advanced capitalism. Darja’s first husband Maks is played by Abe Mitchell, an endearing presence with a wonderfully dynamic approach, signalling the end of innocence in the Western world. The young and privileged Vic is brought to exuberant life by Ryan Morgan, charming and humorous, in his depictions of our systemic injustices.

We want Darja’s suffering to end, but Ironbound refuses to sugar-coat any of its truths. She fights tooth and nail for a good life, but the world is determined to keep her down. It is a story about people who never stood a chance, and the lies we are fed to sustain the inhumane status quo of our calamitous inequities. Education and knowledge, and therefore art, can help set us free, that is true, but it is unlikely that the likes of Darja will ever get to see a work of theatre like this.

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. |

5 Questions with Toby Blome and Contessa Treffone

Toby Blome

Contessa Treffone: Toby Blome, like the chemist, can you describe There Will Be A Climax, with a verb, an adjective and a noun?
Toby Blome: Spin. Round. Baby.

Which do you think came first, the deadly sin or the sloth?
Obviously ‘sloth’ is just fake news created by a bunch of men hundreds of years after the real deadly sins died. Just a political ploy. I don’t believe in any of it. Fake news.

What makes you climax, Toby?
Remembering that statistically at least once every day someone somewhere in the world discovers how hard Mondays can be!

As your idol, what would you say inspires you most about me?
Haha where to begin! How about how you constantly belittle me and everyone else in the cast and that time you swore that I’d never amount to anything and that everyone who loved me was just too guilty to leave.

Toby, you are a tall man. Chicken or beef?

Contessa Treffone

Toby Blome: Contessa Treffone. That’s an interesting name. What has been your relationship with such an interesting name throughout your life?
Contessa Treffone: It’s a hard weight to carry… greatness. You give a child a name like that and they have to be something. Ordinariness was never an option. That’s a lot of pressure that people don’t understand. It’s been hard, Toby. Real hard.

After the show’s first season as part of the 2016 NIDA Director and Designer’s Season you were quoted as yelling “you’re all scum” to the cast at the after party. What brought you back to do the show a second time at the Old Fitz?
Three things Toby.
1. Money. All the money.
2. The promise of more fame. If that’s even possible.
3. A dolphin.

Were you at all surprised by what you created during the devising process?

Contessa, if anyone knows anything about you it’s that you love kale! Fave kale recipe?
I like my kale like I like my men. Raw and quiet.

Were you satisfied with my questions today? If not, any constructive feedback?
4/10. I don’t think this audience knows anything about our show and they clearly don’t know enough about me. Fail on both fronts, Toby.

Toby Blome and Contessa Treffone can be seen in There Will Be A Climax by Alexander Berlage.
Dates: 9 Jan – 3 Feb, 2018
Venue: Old Fitz Theatre