Review: Political Children (ATYP)

innerwestyouthVenue: ATYP (Walsh Bay NSW), Mar 1 – 3, 2017
Playwright: Felicity Nicol
Director: Felicity Nicol
Cast: Sebastian Cutcherwirth, Emma Hooton, Elodie Jake, Lola Rose van Overdam, Theo Tunks
Image by Michael Snow

Theatre review
Felicity Nicol’s Political Children emerges from the Safe Schools debacle, that saw a national program designed to protect LGBTQI children, turn into a battle ground, on which members of government and the media were able to focus their hateful rhetoric for political gain. A pretense of public debate allowed prejudice and misinformation free rein, culminating in a state of hysteria that saw ignorance and idiocy triumph.

An opportunity to educate new generations on the true nature of human sexuality and gender expressions, was quickly shut down by forces of bigotry. Fearful of enlightenment and the consequential benefits to society, the disdainful have severely hindered what was to be the end of our worst prejudices. Not only are there people who want to live in lies, it seems that they are the ones who have the power to preserve a particular modus operandi that relies of the systematic subjugation, vilification and abuse of parts of our community.

It is a piece of verbatim theatre, of sorts. Composed of material from Australia’s vast media landscape, what we hear in Political Children are things people have said, previously documented on different platforms, now collated and presented on this stage. Nicol as both writer and director, is exacting and forceful. There is nothing ambiguous in what the play wishes to express.

Lights by Benjamin Brockman and music by Nate Edmondson are employed with a deft touch to guide us boldly through every unequivocal statement; technical design for the production is heavily relied upon not just to cue emotional responses, but also to help us with all the character and plot details we need to know. It is a very young cast of actors, teenagers full of gumption, ready to discover the wondrous magic of the art form, along with a deep exploration into the complex social aspects of sexual and gender diversity.

When it comes to pleasures of the flesh, there is nothing to fear but fear itself, yet our consciousness is filled with taboos and prohibitions, oppression and suppression, and a whole lot of guilt, in relation to the experience and conception of sex. Our practice of gender too, is informed by wholly arbitrary and harmful rules that wish to limit each person’s potential, all of which seek to control, and to persecute. Nobody stands to benefit from the persistence of this utter and cruel stupidity, not even its most fervent advocates.

Review: Intersection (ATYP)

atypVenue: ATYP (Walsh Bay NSW), Feb 1 – 18, 2017
Playwrights: Peter Beaglehole, Angela Collins, Thomas De Angelis, Isabella Jacob, Suzannah Kennett-Lister, Louis Klee, Laura Lethlean, Isabelle McDonald, Kevin Ngo, Charles O’Grady, Eliza Oliver, Farnoush Parsiavashi, Zoe Ridgway, Anita Sanders, Michelle Sewell, Jordan Shea, Brenden Snow, Lewis Treston, Mark Tripodi, Jackson Used, Honor Webster-Mannison
Director: Katrina Douglas
Cast: Tamara Bailey, Asha Boswarva, Alex Chalwell, Alex Chorley, Sonia Elliott, Elliott Falzon, Rebecca Gulia, Monica Kumar, Steffan Lazar, Ingrid Leighton, Hudson Musty, Kurt Pimblet, Esther Randles, Iris Simpson, Adam Stepfner, Ilai Swindells, May Tran, Darius Williams, Jackson Williams
Image by Tracey Schramm

Theatre review
Somewhere in the background there exists a high school formal, but what we see on stage are ten stories written and performed by young people, about young people who may or may not be connected with each other. Intersection is an earnest and wholesome collection of personalities, reflecting interests and concerns of today’s middle-class Australian youth.

Jordan Shea’s Little Differences is perhaps the most consciously political, in its passionate investigation of teenagers negotiating differences in religious and cultural backgrounds. Also significant is Charles O’Grady’s subtle depiction of queer identities in Pray 4 Mojo, whereby two lonely souls form a charming bond of friendship through their shared ostracism. Actors Kurt Pimblet and Adam Stepfner prove themselves sensitive and intelligent, offering up great insight into adolescence with their very charming tale.

Excellent performances can be found in Lewis Treston’s Starlight Plaza, in which romantic leads Ingrid Leighton and Steffan Lazar establish spectacular chemistry, transforming a sweet love story into the most engaging vignette of the production. Eminently memorable comedian Monica Kumar brings the laughs in Cassie And Saoirse by Suzannah Kennett Lister, a quirky piece involving an urn and the tricky business of mourning. Asha Boswarva is equally impressive with her delicately balanced portrayal of the recently bereaved.

There is an unmistakable warmth that comes through every one of the show’s segments. Director Katrina Douglas instils a soulful quality that translates as a sense of truth for the audience, even when the stories turn obscure. Creativity materialises in an infinite number of ways, and in Intersection we witness different dispositions and approaches, all finding their way to voice the things that matter. We may not always connect or indeed, agree on all of those things, but to be able to meet at a space of artistic expression, is a moment of harmony that is undeniably precious.

5 Questions with Asha Boswarva and Ilai Swindells

Asha Boswarva

Asha Boswarva

Who are the characters you play in Intersection and how are they similar to you?
Asha Boswarva: I play Saoirse a girl who is grieving over the first death in her family. She’s unsure how to deal with the situation and is trying to escape from the claustrophobic weight of the family’s heartache. During rehearsals for Intersection, my grandfather died and my feelings of loss became very similar to my character. I realised that, I too would do anything to make a loved one happy.

What has been the weirdest/funniest bonding moment with one of your fellow cast mates?
There have been many hilarious bonding moments, some which can’t be shared ‘what happens in rehearsals, stays in rehearsals’ but recently Steffan, again who plays Stuart forgot his costume prop in our full rehearsal run. He grabbed a denim jacket not knowing it was mine and came on stage wearing a size 6 girl’s jacket. It looked like a crop top on a 6ft guy and it cracked up the whole cast.

The show is a big amalgamation of unique coming of age stories, will you share one of your most significant coming of age moments from your life?
Working on Intersection is a significant coming of age moment for me. At 15, it’s the first time I’ve been in a production with a large cast that is significantly older than me. We’re telling Australian stories that include swearing, drug and sexual references but they are genuine and could be happening around Australia on any given Friday or Saturday night.

If you could work with any artists in the world who would be at the top of your list?
Matt Damon would be top of my list. He’s written his own stories – Good Will Hunting, produced movies – Manchester By The Sea and is now directing. He does funny, serious and action and seems like a genuine guy. I also would have loved to work with Audrey Hepburn and Robin Williams both incredible actors.

What has been the most valuable thing you’ve learnt from working in an ATYP production?
Sounds simple but to listen. I’ve learnt different styles and techniques from each of the cast members and director Katrina Douglas. There’s a bit of swearing in my scene and I’ve managed to pick up a few tips on that front too. Essentially, an ATYP production is like no other. It gives young actors a chance to work as professionals.

Ilai Swindells

Ilai Swindells

Who are the characters you play in Intersection and how are they similar to you?
Ilai Swindells: I play Hassan in Intersection and in the play we watch him lose his best friend, get his heart broken and be absolutely reduced to nothing. Can’t say I’ve had my heart broken just yet but I have definitely had many low points in my life where I’ve been reduced to nothing whether that was because of a friend or a tough situation I found myself in, I can relate! Also the characters all live in this super small town and having grown up in a small town myself with not much to do, I can relate to the boredom and dangers that come with too much idle time.

What has been the weirdest/funniest bonding moment with one of your fellow cast mates?
For Australia Day this year I spent the day randomly signing up to Chatswood RSL and spending some time there with another cast mate Steffan Lazar who plays Stuart and is hilarious. We basically took advantage of the cheap RSL prices and watched people play the pokies with intense fascination.

The show is a big amalgamation of unique coming of age stories, will you share one of your most significant coming of age moments from your life?
So many come to mind and so many are not appropriate to share I bet! I think finishing school is a pretty liberating experience especially since I grew up in rural central Queensland so moving to big and better places like Sydney is little life changing in its own right.

If you could work with any artists in the world who would be at the top of your list?
Quentin Tarantino. But I hear he is only making a certain number of movies and he’s almost reached that number. So sadly I don’t see that happening…

What has been the most valuable thing you’ve learnt from working in an ATYP production?
The opportunity to work with such a large cast of young people has been a fun first for me especially one with such a broad age range has presented its own unique insights. Having not done much theatre work, ATYP has been great and made the transition from screen to stage a comfortable one and Katrina Douglas (Director) who is very much a team player and takes on board your offers which allows the process to be a team effort.

Asha Boswarva and Ilai Swindells can be seen in Intersection by the writers of ATYP’s 2016 National Studio.
Dates: 1 – 18 Feb, 2017
Venue: ATYP

Review: Journey’s End (Cross Pollinate Productions)

crosspollinateVenue: ATYP (Walsh Bay NSW), Oct 12 – 22, 2016
Playwright: R.C. Sherriff
Director: Samantha Young
Cast: Alex Beauman, Luke Carson, Alex Chalwell, Jack Crumlin, Oliver Crump, Patrick Cullen, George Kemp, Dean Mason, Sam O’Sullivan, Govinda Röser, Aaron Tsindos, Michael Wood
Image by Mansoor Noor

Theatre review
There are always battles being fought somewhere in the world, but we keep this knowledge compartmentalised, out of sight, out of mind. Horrific thoughts are crippling, and for most of us, to keep on living is to forget the atrocities that are happening in faraway lands. When we hear about them on the news, they can seem abstract and alienating, and we think about them as events that happen to other people.

Journey’s End brings us into the intimate setting of the WWI British trenches, where we encounter regular, good men, as they try to keep calm and carry on with the business of war. In R.C. Sherriff’s play, the soldier’s stories and memories feel like personal accounts that can only help to humanise sacrifices made on the front line. It is easy to send young lives off to war, until our own children are the ones being called up.

Drama is punctuated effectively by Samantha Young’s direction, for an engaging plot that belies its age. A clarity of emotion is introduced into the all-male setting, allowing us to perceive the turmoil that the troops try to hide. Actor Sam O’Sullivan is a highlight in the role of Osborne, authentic with his speech and physicality, and tender in his portrayal of the senior officer. Michael Wood is similarly impressive as Hibbert, charming and sympathetic for a boy too immature to be fighting for his country. Jack Crumlin is suitably volatile in the substantial part of Stanhope, although transitions between emotional states can seem abrupt.

The subject matter is important for as long as we continue to participate in warfare, and as was Sherriff’s intention, it is crucial that we look at soldiers, not as concepts, but as palpable individuals. We need these stories to be real, and we need those who survive to tell their truths. Journey’s End is approaching a century old, and bears the look and feel of a period drama. There is a need for today’s equivalent, so that we can get even closer to the abhorrence, in order that we may learn to take greater care in how we treat our neighbours, and ourselves.

Review: Drift (Two Peas)

twopeasVenue: ATYP (Walsh Bay NSW), Jul 20 – 30, 2016
Playwrights: Tara Clark, Kieran Foster
Director: Tara Clark
Cast: Ayeehsa Ash, Challito Browne, Olivia Jubb, Adam Kovarik, Alex Packard, Lauren Pegus

Theatre review
Six friends, tightly bonded, navigate the challenges of early adulthood together. When one of them is diagnosed with a terminal illness, their lives begin to unravel. Tara Clark and Kerian Foster’s Drift looks at friendship for twentysomethings, and the effect death has on them as individuals and as a group. There is a charming simplicity to the writing that presents the nature of relationships with a graceful honesty. The dynamics between friends, lovers, and siblings are depicted accurately and intimately in a series of small scenes, many of them meaningfully mundane.

The production however, charts a haphazard emotional journey that does not deliver us to its desired conclusion accurately. We struggle to connect sufficiently with appropriate personalities and narratives for a focused enough experience that would arouse the sentiments necessary for what the show tries to achieve. In the absence of lead roles, our attention is spread thin, and unable to find suitable empathy for appropriate characters, we are kept outside of their microcosm. Performances are accomplished, although the players seem to take time to settle, only able to establish chemistry and energy after several minutes of imprecision. Adam Kovarik impresses in the role of Harrison, bringing much needed exuberance and authenticity to a play that is essentially about our raw emotions. The actor’s vigour brings life to the stage, and with a distinct sense of theatricality, relays his part of the story with clarity and ironic humour.

Death is the end of suffering, but is also agony for loved ones left behind. Time is key in the process of mourning. Nothing can speed it up, but one has to find ways to fill that time. Theatre is the most ancient form of time-based art, and in Drift, we spend moments with its characters counting the minutes as they contemplate the future after being inflicted with an abrupt end. For a life well lived, there must be movement forward, but for motion to matter, stillness must be embraced. While we are alive, heaven and hell are the here and now, both inescapable and both requiring our complicity, in order that our brief existences may become rich, and loved.

Review: The Big Dry (Ensemble Theatre / ATYP)

ensembleVenue: Ensemble Theatre (Kirribilli NSW), Jun 4 – Jul 2, 2016
Playwright: Mark Kilmurry (from the novel by Tony Davis)
Director: Fraser Corfield
Cast: Sofia Nolan, Rory Potter, Noah Sturzaker, Richard Sydenham
Image by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Three children are stranded and left to their own devices in a dystopian future. An endless drought has hit Australia, and civilisation as we know it has collapsed. The Big Dry is about our abuse of the environment and the consequences that our children have to bear when the struggle for survival becomes abject and savage. They rely on each other to stay alive, and their bond becomes the centre of their universe. Tony Davis’ story is dark, but we respond with a natural thirst for hope, even though it gives us no indication of salvation. Mark Kilmurry’s adaptation gives mother nature a tremendous dominance, but its humans are insufficiently captivating, with dialogue and personalities that pale by comparison.

Stars of the show are lighting designer Benjamin Brockman and sound designer Daryl Wallis, both of whom use their considerable technical skills to tell a story of cruel and imminent tragedy. Brockman introduces a boundless variety of moods and spatial transformations with inventive hues that impose upon the stage, a brutal power evocative of harsh climates and their impact on our planet’s living creatures. Wallis is responsible for the show’s tensions, offering the audience a glimpse into the apocalypse with a series of clamouring and sinister rumbles that send our nerves shivering with foreboding. Young actor Sofia Nolan puts on an accomplished performance as Emily, demonstrating good focus and intensity. Her work is energetic, with a healthy dose of sincerity that helps endear herself to the audience.

The production depicts calamitous events but is itself moderate in temperament. We never quite connect with the characters, and even though we understand the high stakes involved, its scenes are unable to lead us convincingly to a suspension of disbelief. Its concepts are strong and universal, but its drama feels distant and elusive. To convey the pressing need for societies to escalate individual and political action on climate change is not an easy task, with habits of modernity firmly entrenched in all our lives and necessary sacrifices proving too difficult even to contemplate. Ecological messages are hard to take, especially it seems, when the ugly truth is revealed. The Big Dry is not a walk in the park, but to expect an easy ride from its subject matter is probably more than a little unwise.

Review: Spring Awakening (ATYP)

atypVenue: ATYP (Walsh Bay NSW), Apr 27 – May 14, 2016
Book and Lyrics: Steven Sater (based on the original by Frank Wedekind)
Music: Duncan Sheik
Director: Mitchell Butel
Cast: James Raggatt, Jessica Rookeward, Josh McElroy, Alex Malone, Patrick Diggins, Kate Cheel, Joe Howe, Bardiya McKinnon, Henry Moss, Caitlin Rose Harris, Taylor Howard Anthony, Alexandra Fricot, Julia Dray, Lochie Kent, Julian Kuo, Thomasin Litchfield, Richard Sydenham
Image by Tracey Schramm

Theatre review
Teenagers discovering sex is among the most intense experiences that a person can go through. It is simultaneously delightful, frustrating, embarrassing and intractable, full of complexity and obsessive power in the way it dominates one’s body and mind. Adolescence is difficult and the consequences of sexual miseducation can be catastrophic, yet offering appropriate guidance and accurate information remains a challenge. Recent debates over the “Safe Schools” initiative to broaden the consciousness of high school students beyond a heteronormative scope and traditional religious values, have revealed conservative and harmful beliefs about sex that persist in Australia today. The story of Spring Awakening is over a century old but is based on those same tensions that still exist in our inability to be honest with the young about the pleasures and responsibilities associated with their sexualities. This 2006 musical incarnation is an edgy expression of the subject that exposes how we fail the young and the dire consequences that follow.

It is a spirited production, helmed by promising young performers. Watching them explore ideas around sex with exuberant openness, without a modicum of coyness or shame, is a truly remarkable experience. Each individual brings a confident presence and as a group, the ensemble delivers a passionate and bold staging that demonstrates their enthusiastic appreciation for the themes of discussion. Jessica Rookeward impresses as the naive Wendla, with a convincing and tender performance made prominent by a strong singing voice. The cast is emotionally compelling, but the overall standard of singing is adequate at best, which tarnishes their otherwise strong work. Choreography is effective in its ability to bring energy and excitement, but can sometimes be overbearing for the intimate space. Set design is kept minimal, with lights employed to do all the heavy lifting of conveying time and place. Damien Cooper and Ross Graham, co-lighting designers, contribute greatly to the vibrancy and variety of visuals. Direction by Mitchell Butel highlights all that is appealing about his zealously youthful actors, and creates a show with great optimism in spite of its dark narrative. There is a tendency to favour pathos over humour, which makes the production feel excessively heavy, but it achieves a beautiful authenticity that helps with the story’s poignancy.

The talents in Spring Awakening are in control. They surprise us with their maturity and their strength of resolve in taking over a stage to communicate what they believe to be real and valuable. We must never underestimate the capacities of our youth, and we must certainly never forget that much of our weaknesses have not yet befallen them. They need our protection but they deserve the truth. Our social problems, especially those pertaining to discrimination, are a product of ignorance that we continue to harness through false information and archaic belief systems. Spring Awakening represents the struggle against oppressive orthodoxies, and for the truth that sets us free.