Review: Between The Streetlight And The Moon (Mophead Productions)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), May 5 – 27, 2017
Playwright: Melita Rowston
Director: Anthony Skuse
Cast: Joanna Downing, Ben McIvor, Lucy Miller, Suzanne Pereira, Lani Tupu
Image by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Talent is a thing of mystery, and one of its elusive qualities surrounds the faith that an artist should have in their own abilities. In Melita Rowston’s Between The Streetlight And The Moon, we examine the ways in which painters are able to find a sense of belief in themselves, or more accurately, how their spirits can be dampened, by longstanding institutions that thrive on their own elitism and the implied deterrent of new individuals who wish to join the ranks.

The number of female names in the world of celebrated Western artists, is unquestionably paltry. The play looks at the way women painters and their work, are routinely subjugated and subsumed by their male mentors and counterparts. This chauvinism seems systematic, and it feels dangerously instinctual, and we wonder if this dynamic exists everywhere else in life.

Rowston’s writing is at its best when wistful and poetic. Her words are powerfully evocative, always passionate with advocacy for something meaningful. The plot is however, not as gripping as it wishes to be. Intrigue builds slowly, and when the story eventually becomes dramatic, we find ourselves more interested in Rowston’s philosophical ideas than the narrative being woven over them. Dialogue has a tendency to sound stilted when scenes attempt to be conversational, but the language turns beautifully sublime when characters move into more heightened modes of theatricality.

Actor Lucy Miller is an entrancing presence as painter-turned-academic, Zadie. Vulnerable, with an unmistakable gravitas, Miller brings authenticity to a protagonist who exists between shifting states of self-doubt and self-belief. Also impressive is Joanna Downing as the enthusiastic emergent, Dominique. Precise and considered, Downing’s portrayal of a brainy Millennial is truly delightful, even if her French accent is comically exaggerated.

Visual design is sparing but elegant. The use of projections to assist with our imagination of classic paintings is effective, and very gratifying, but an interpretation of The Seine requires much bolder execution. Live accompaniment by Benjamin Freeman on piano, adds brilliant flair to the show, a rare treat that theatregoers will find thoroughly enjoyable.

Zadie suffers humiliation when she mistakes a streetlight for the full moon. It is hard to conceive of creativity without sensitivity, but it is the artist’s responsibility to weather attacks on their pride, and return with greater vigour. It is also the responsibility of society to provide support to those who have the ability to give expression and meaning, to the human experience. In Australia, we have to give mindful emphasis to those artists whose voices continue to be silenced by a history of colonialism and its accompanying white patriarchy. Our art must strive for an accurate reflection of Australian life, and the white male artist is far from enough.

www.mophead.com.au

Review: The Laden Table (Bakehouse Theatre Company)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Mar 10 – 25, 2017
Playwrights: Nur Alam, Raya Gadir, Chris Hill, Marian Kernahan, Ruth Kliman, Yvonne Perczuk
Director: Suzanne Millar
Cast: Alex Chalwell, Doron Chester, Suz Mawer, Sarah Meacham, Mansoor Noor, Jessica Paterson, Abi Rayment, Monroe Reimers, Gigi Sawires, Geoff Sirmai, Donald Sword, Justina Ward
Image by Natasha Narula

Theatre review
A resplendent, but homely, dining table awaits, with twelve empty chairs anticipating two families and their stories about cultural displacement and historical discord. The Laden Table features Jewish and Muslim Australians, and the baggage they continue to carry after centuries of religious hostility. Their lives are in Sydney, but they exist beyond the here and now. What had happened in the past and what is yet to come, are crucial to how they act and think today.

It is a magnificent piece of writing, that interrogates, with unyielding severity, the nature of prejudice and more specifically, the way good people make enemies of each other through their religious affiliations. The Laden Table offers insight into how the layperson of the Jewish and Muslim faiths conceives of their own oppression, and how that manifests into hateful beliefs and behaviour. Structurally intricate, but with a vivid and coherent plot line, the play addresses issues of great profundity in a manner that is both elucidative and deeply affecting. It teaches some of the biggest lessons any individual could wish to learn.

The production is arresting in its poignancy, and thoroughly captivating. Director Suzanne Millar does a marvellous job of creating a work full of texture and nuance, with regular shifts in dramatic tone that secure our attention for the show’s entirety. Lighting designer Benjamin Brockman provides instinctual logic to every one of The Laden Table‘s startling scene changes, and amplifies emotional impact throughout its narrative, whether subtle or sensational. Will Newnham’s sound design adds to the carefully calibrated atmosphere, moving us between unpredictable spaces, and leaving a remarkable impression with a special moment that fuses prayers of both faiths in surprising harmony.

Stakes are high in the story, and the ensemble overwhelms us with an authentic gravitas. War is happening elsewhere but in these two Australian households, we feel the reverberations of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the sense of mortal danger faced by millions is more than a bleep on the nightly news. Gigi Sawires and Geoff Sirmai are the elders, both flamboyantly engaging and unconventionally colourful with what they bring to the table. Jessica Paterson and Monroe Reimers introduce convincing depth to their characters’suffering, and Suz Mawer is a powerful presence as a modern Muslim woman, constantly having to negotiate past and future, spirituality and logic. The vulnerable complexity that Mawer portrays so well, is embodiment of what the play represents; and to expect easy answers is impracticable.

Religion does a lot of good, but the harm it causes cannot be denied. Atheists will say that the eradication of religion will solve many of the world’s problems, but that utopia will never come, even within the next few lifetimes. The way our faith is ingrained, has a tenacious permanency that endures over generations. It shapes many minds and guides many deeds, but it is never beyond reproach or provocation. God will always be there, but how we relate to them changes, and how we want them reflected in our lives, is up to us.

www.bakehousetheatrecompany.com.au

5 Questions with Mansoor Noor and Jessica Paterson

Mansoor Noor

Mansoor Noor

Jessica Paterson: You’ve been involved with The Laden Table longer than I have. What has been your experience of the project so far?
Mansoor Noor: Not much longer, however the last development occurred before the election and I remember reading the play with the cast for the first time after Trump was announced POTUS and, sadly, finding even more relevance in what was being said, for example in a line as simple as, “after all you’re a man of Middle Eastern appearance, I’m surprised they let you back into the country.”

Do you relate to your character?
Other than having a complicated relationship with an attractive girlfriend (that’s right, Jess) I have a lot in common with Mousa. Sad face. He’s a boy who’s grown up in a somewhat religious Middle Eastern family, with sometimes narrow-minded perspectives on race and religion that have formed over a long period of war and displacement, and has had to develop his own understanding of the world through his personal experiences.

You’re a pretty top-notch photographer, I’ve heard. Do you approach your two art forms similarly?
Suzy is definitely going to think I’m using her blog to market myself. What of it Suzy? (Please don’t give me a bad review based on this empty threat). I guess working as a photographer sort of requires me to tap into a bit of the actor’s “director brain”. It’s important to make sure the artist isn’t tense and to help them find a thought process instead of becoming self-conscious / going into their own head. If you want to see just how relaxed people look in my photos you can find them at http://www.mansoornoor.com – thanks Suzy 😉 (Ed’s note: invoice in the mail, pal xx)

If you could swap lives with anyone else in the world for a day, who would it be and why?
I don’t want to get political… or I would say Mr. Turnbull and talk about letting in the refugees, which is actually a theme in the play… so I’ll say Mr. Trump. Not even to permanently reverse his numerous numb-headed executive orders but just so I can hang pictures of mini Trump all over the White House, and upscale stationary such as staplers and pens in the hope of giving him an even larger “small hands” complex. See, that wasn’t so political.

What’s the most embarrassing thing you’ve done on stage?
One time during Drama School I wheeled a bed onto the stage instead of a couch. It was third year American scene work… and fortunately it wasn’t my scene. I was also once caught playing UNO off-stage with my scene partner by an audience member during a very intense scene on stage. I didn’t even win 😦

Jessica Paterson

Jessica Paterson

Mansoor Noor: Why is it important to tell this story?
Jessica Paterson: This story looks at racism and cultural understanding in Australia from an intimate perspective. We’re all well versed in the absurdities of Trump and One Nation. But what happens when the people disagreeing with us are those we love the most?

Do you relate to your character?
I definitely relate to Ruth. She’s intellectual and critical of her world, but is a really emotional creature as well. And she can (mostly) keep her shit together. I love that sense of competency, of coping with the situations that are thrown her way. But she also has a complex religious and cultural background that is quite different to my own, which has been fascinating to explore.

Food is a really important aspect in the show. What’s your favourite food in the show?
Oh man. I love all the foods, but in rehearsals I’ve had my first experience with Challah, which I’m really enjoying getting into every night. It’s delicious!

Do you enjoy working with Mansoor? Tell us about how great he is.
Yeah, he’s alright.

What’s the strangest acting relating thing you’ve ever done?
Once I was housesitting and my friends had a whole wall of photo frames that they’d hung but not filled with pictures yet. So I filled them all with my headshots.

Mansoor Noor and Jessica Paterson can be seen in The Laden Table.
Dates: 10 – 25 March, 2017
Venue: Kings Cross Theatre

Review: Blink (Stories Like These)

storiesliketheseVenue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Feb 9 – Mar 4, 2017
Playwright: Phil Porter
Director: Luke Rogers
Cast: James Raggatt, Charlotte Hazzard
Image by Robert Catto

Theatre review
It is a love story between a simple man and a complicated woman. Phil Porter’s Blink is a work of fantasy that magnifies the experience of infatuation, to sometimes inappropriate levels of obsession. We can choose to see Jonah as a creepy stalker, even though the play tries to show him only as naive and sweet. His actions are clearly harmless, but that of course, is what most men will say about their fixations. Sophie is made mastermind of Jonah’s actions, and although there is something gratifying in having a woman orchestrate her own experience of romance, the reprehensible fact that Jonah is a Peeping Tom who follows her everywhere, thinking that the object of his desire is completely oblivious, cannot be discounted.

Ultimately though, the characters do develop mutual feelings, and what the play does with their relationship is wistful, and very whimsical. Anna Gardiner’s set design corresponds with the quirkiness of the text, for a performance space imaginatively conceived to provide an enchanting sense of innocent wonder. Director Luke Rogers brings good coherence to a piece of unfettered mosaic-like writing, and his ability to balance upbeat energy with a daydream quality, gives the production its charming, and distinct style. In the role of Jonah is James Raggatt, awfully adorable and convincingly wide-eyed in his Tim Burton-esque interpretation of a young man smitten. His gentle but animated approach almost makes you believe his trespasses to be no more than a little innocuous skylarking. Sophie is a much more complex character, played by Charlotte Hazzard who portrays a woman’s need to be seen, with vital delicate care.

We all want to be acknowledged, for to be invisible is intolerable, but we are not always ready to pay the price for a bit of attention. Sophie wants to be on Jonah’s mind, but is unwilling to offer anything in return. Relationships do not always fit definitions or expectations. People can connect in unexpected ways, but convention can be agonising, and if we let it, can pull us apart. What a happy ending looks like, is familiar to everyone, but when destiny takes us in different directions, we may have to modify our beliefs, and see an alternate image of fulfilment.

www.storieslikethese.com

Review: Osama The Hero (Tooth And Sinew Theatre)

toothandsinewVenue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jan 21 – Feb 4, 2017
Playwright: Dennis Kelly
Director: Richard Hilliar
Cast: Tel Benjamin, Lynden Jones, Poppy Lynch, Joshua McElroy, Nicole Wineberg
Image by Ross Waldron

Theatre review
Just slightly beneath the skin of every human existence lies the barely contained need for violence, but like every propensity that we try to suppress, it finds expression in unexpected ways. Dennis Kelly’s Osama The Hero discusses our thirst for blood, looking at where that appetite comes from, and how it manifests. We find ourselves in an English housing estate, observing a group of neighbours inflicting cruel harm on one of their own.

It is a tale about scapegoating, and the habitual transference of our evil desires onto easy targets. In the case of Kelly’s play, young Gary, and his innocence, become the object of the group’s brutality, and in the process of his persecution, revelations are made about our oft-unexplained and neglected violent selves.

Director Richard Hilliar goes to great pains for every one of the play’s savage moments to occur with great power. The transgressions are hideous, and they are presented as such. A cultural gap exists between us and the working classes of England located at the centre of the drama, and it is arguable if the production’s interest in that specificity of experience has been made to translate effectively. As we are kept dazzled by the uniqueness of a cultural other, we often lose sight of the universality that can allow the work to resonate more intimately.

The ensemble of five is unquestionably energetic and committed, but the challenge posed by Kelly’s language and its accompanying encumbrance of dialects, can be a cause for distraction. Our attention alternates between hearing meanings, and observing the unsatisfying labour put into achieving what is ultimately a cosmetic accuracy. At their best however, the actors provide masochistic delight in an atmosphere of terrifying menace, the kind of which one would hope to encounter only at the theatre. Nicole Wineberg is particularly memorable in a scene involving her character Louise’s obsession over a video showing a man being killed. She brings the show to an intense peak, with the palpable depiction of a woman lost in evil and dread.

Bad people are almost always other people. If Osama The Hero succeeds, we should see ourselves in its characters, and gain a better understanding of the way we operate, as individuals and collectives, in these post-9/11 times of terror and fear. There is perhaps no solution to our unyielding need to make enemies out of fellow human beings, but knowing how that process works is essential if our evolution is to be progressive. When Osama bin Laden was executed, we never really expected the world to suddenly become a better place, but it certainly quenched the thirst of our carnivorous vengeance, if only for a moment.

www.toothandsinew.com

Review: #Lads (Kings Cross Theatre)

kxtVenue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jan 13 – 14, 2017
Director: Danny Ball
Cast: Callan Colley, Ryan Morgan, Ben Schumann, Ross Walker

Theatre review
Presented early in its developmental stages, #Lads is unpolished and unresolved, but like any work of art fuelled by conviction, it is ready to be interacted with. Longstanding ideas about masculinity and youth are framed within contemporary, and trendy, concepts of entitlement and privilege, for a slightly updated look at the perennial problem of manhood, as seen through social distinctions of money, race, gender and sexuality.

The show sets up contexts that are perhaps too familiar, but the questions it inspires are nonetheless potent. We are always worried about the young, because their mistakes are always spectacularly glaring. The team is thankfully very conscious of its generation’s failures, and spends the entirety of the presentation expressing all that is undesired. There is no hint however, at what a better life would look like. The rebel without a cause, it seems, is here to stay.

A more refreshing perspective that #Lads touches on, is the dysfunction friendship that exists between the four boys. We want to know what keeps them together, and what they require of each other, to satisfy their individual twenty-first century narcissisms. We are interested to know how each of their impairments differ, and the extent to which they are isolated within their fragile facade of unity.

As Australians become increasingly wealthy, the problems and difficulties of bring up our children take on new dimensions. As our lives become more liberated and autonomous, our middle-classes are able to decide to procreate only when we become confident in our ability to provide, but offspring that have never witnessed poverty and other forms of struggle, cannot be expected to understand easily, the nature of hardship, and its accompanying qualities of humility and compassion. The millennials, like everyone else, will come into their own, and as always, time is the only one who holds the key to that revelation.

www.kingsxtheatre.com

Review: Rhinoceros (Jetpack Theatre Collective)

jetpackVenue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jul 26 – 31, 2016
Playwright: Eugène Ionesco
Director: Jim Fishwick
Cast: Jade Alex, Madeleine Baghurst, Robert Boddington, Kate Coates, Rebecca Day, Jim Fishwick, Emilia Higgs, Johnathon Lo, Madeline Parker, Alexander Richmond, Julia Robertson, Cheng Tang, Luke Tisher
Image by Julia Robertson

Theatre review
The show begins with Frenchman Berenger having an impassioned existential discussion with his friend at an al fresco café, before being interrupted by a rhinoceros charging through the streets to everyone’s surprise. We try to return to a sense of normalcy from the strange phenomenon, but the rhinoceros rushes past again and patrons of the establishment begin arguing if it was the same beast that had appeared twice, or if they had in fact witnessed two entirely different breeds. Eugène Ionesco’s play has an absurd start, but transforms into something altogether more contemplative, interrogating issues of social conformity and ostracism, along with political ideas relating to justice and otherness. The writing can certainly be dense in parts, but it is to a greater extent, reflective and enlightening, with an amusingly eccentric plot that is quite fascinating.

Director Jim Fishwick brings an exciting visceral dimension to the intellectual work, with an avant-garde spirit that injects a sense of adventure and daring to the oft too polite Australian stage. A subversive attitude and its corresponding sense of humour make the production a memorable one, although Act III could benefit from a more textured approach to achieve greater nuance with Ionesco’s pointed assertions. Experimental and sensitive use of a chorus is a highlight, brilliantly executed by an ensemble of dedicated and enthusiastic players. Alexander Richmond as Berenger is, within the play’s bizarre context, strangely believable, and even though he lacks the bolder qualities of a leading man, the fluency of his enunciation and the solid integrity that he brings to dialogue, are key to preventing the show from disintegrating into mere farce. Julia Robertson impresses as Daisy, animated yet authentic, with a magnetic presence that secures our attention effortlessly.

No person is an island. We are herd animals that insist on acquiescence from fellow beings, only allowing minor deviations from socially constructed notions of what is acceptable. In Rhinoceros, people go with the tide, allowing dominant currents of their time to determine the way we live. Resistances such as Berenger’s can arise, but we question their efficacy. We wonder how it is that new movements in our evolution come to be, and consider the possibility that we may engineer those trajectories to suit our ideas of change for a better world. Berenger’s actions may prove futile, but if we acknowledge that the world is in need of a revolution, his solitary politic represents the only hope, and the threat of its defeat is a reminder of our moral volatility.

www.jetpacktheatre.com