Review: The Serpent’s Teeth (Kings Cross Theatre)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Nov 9 – 24, 2018
Playwright: Daniel Keene
Director: Kristine Landon-Smith
Cast: Danny Ball, Bernadette Fam, Phoebe Grainer, Nicholas Hasemann, Lisa Huyhn, Badaidilaga Maftuh-Flynn, Steven Menteith, Jillian Nguyen, Angela Sullen, Jens Radda, Joseph Raggatt, Saleh Saqqaf, Chloe Schwank, Louis Segeuir, Ross Sharp
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
The two very distinct halves of Daniel Keene’s The Serpent’s Teeth, contrast the repercussions of war and violence, as characterised by their distance from actual conflict. The play begins close to the action, and later takes us away from the borders, for a sensitive examination of human responses to trauma. Appropriately fractured, the writing bears an inherent chaos that understands our impulse to create cohesion out of disorder. We form narratives out of the rubble, to see both the familiar and the unfamiliar, although it is arguable if much of it proves to be satisfying.

In a small space that effectively magnifies creative intentions, the large cast of fifteen endeavour to represent the complexities and diversity of war-time experiences, by conveying nuanced portrayals usually absent from mainstream reportage of disaster and strife. Director Kristine Landon-Smith elicits contemplative performances from her actors, for a show though not always engaging, is dignified in its determination to maintain a restrained, rather than sensationalist, approach. Rare dramatic outbursts therefore become memorable, with Phoebe Grainer and Jillian Nguyen particularly strong in their theatrical moments, offering us a taste of something slightly indulgent, and therefore emotionally accessible.

All the people in The Serpent’s Teeth are acutely affected by wars taking place, whether in their own backyards or in foreign lands. The rest of us, although implicated in our nation’s battles, are often ignorant of those operations. It is this very ignorance that allows atrocities to be carried out on our behalf; we are culpable but are either blissfully unaware, or simply intimidated and turned helpless in the face of its enormity. Stories about war are careful to avoid its glorification, so the message is always unambiguous and predictable, yet our shared acknowledgement about these ravages, seem to do nothing to make this world a better place.

www.hbrcreatives.com.au

Review: Two Hearts (The Anchor Theatre Company)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Oct 19 – Nov 3, 2018
Playwright: Laura Lethlean
Director: Jessica Arthur
Cast: Phoebe Grainer, Damon Manns, Eliza Scott
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Girl meets boy at an inner-city house party, and they quickly fall in love. What follows is predictable, in an inevitable way perhaps, with things between the young couple taking shape like all the romantic narratives before, as though human connections can never stray far from established repetitious forms. In Laura Lethlean’s Two Hearts, love and sex are an exhilarating phenomenon, yet simultaneously, nauseatingly benign, except for the inclusion of a mysterious figure roaming the periphery, occasionally interjecting for gentle disruptions to the very ordinary story.

Tranquil and delicate, director Jessica Arthur’s approach makes for a show distinctively ethereal in tone, with an endearing cast helping to sustain our interest. Leading lady Eliza Scott’s playful exuberance and impressive lack of pretension, are valuable components to her engaging presence. Damon Manns brings outstanding ingenuity to his role, cleverly creating unexpected dimensions, to elevate a character that could otherwise be awkwardly pedestrian. The tricky part of the hallucinatory third-wheel is played by Phoebe Grainer, whose quiet concentration and honest impulses, provide an elegant solution to the play’s surreal aspects.

Two Hearts is in some ways a work about regret, a painful state of being, involving intense emotions that refuse to dissipate. We are held hostage, suspended in time but heavy with irreconcilable memories, partially paralysed and acutely embittered. It endures, because we fear the duplication of those grave mistakes, unable to trust that lessons have been learned. To let go of regret, is a simple idea, but being human is seldom a convenient exercise; the journey between inspiration and fruition is almost never the straightest and shortest distance between two points. We can only try to visualise the destination, and try to move ourselves in the right direction. Success may or may not come to pass, but stagnation is the only failure we must avoid.

www.facebook.com/AnchorTheatre

Review: Yen (New Ghosts Theatre Company)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Sep 27 – Oct 13, 2018
Playwright: Anna Jordan
Director: Lucy Clements
Cast: Jeremi Campese, Meg Clarke, Ryan Hodson, Hayley Pearl
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Brothers Bobbie and Hench are young teenagers, left to fend for themselves with only media screens and addicts as role models. Maggie is their desperately incompetent single mother, having lost both her sons’ fathers to early deaths, in this world of substance abuse and poverty. A neighbour Jennifer enters their life as a ray of hope, but in Anna Jordan’s Yen, our capacity for optimism is put to the test, as we interrogate the nature of social change and its delusory qualities, in this hyperrealist depiction of inter-generational disadvantage.

Situated in the dingiest corners of an English council estate, where the boys disintegrate in the most spectacular fashion, we observe their loss of innocence, and in its place, all the evidence of imminent wasted lives. Jordan’s writing is undeniably moving, but also marvellously thrilling. Yen is a showcase that consolidates the many deficiencies of our communities, with pointed critiques that never feel excessively didactic.

It is very gripping drama, and under the astute direction of Lucy Clements, entertaining and immensely involving. Clements has us breathless for the show’s two-hour entirety, as the story takes us through universal themes of family, love, sex, violence and redemption. Visually compelling, the production is meticulously designed by Ester Karuso-Thurn (set and costumes) and Louise Mason (lights) who deliver a surprising range of spatial transformations within restrictive confines of the stifling context. Sound by Chrysoulla Markoulli is impressively exacting, in all its manipulations of atmosphere. There is remarkable sensitivity from all disciplines, that allows its audience to engage at exceptional depth.

The staging features four fantastic actors, each one convincing and enthralling in their respective parts. 14-year-old Bobbie is played by the very industrious Jeremi Campese, whose extremely detailed approach offers up an interminably fascinating study of troubling juvenility. His extraordinary vitality insists on our compassion, even when the going gets tough. Hayley Pearl’s portrayal of the neglectful mother, has us angered and heartbroken. It is a controversial character uncompromisingly presented, by a very sharp and daring performer. Meg Clarke and Ryan Hodson are the not-so-sweet sixteens, both authentic, and tremendously revelatory of the adolescent experience, through their beautifully naturalistic renderings of Jennifer and Hench. The coupling of vulnerability and aggression in all these interpretations, are a joy to behold, as well as being meaningfully confronting.

In Yen, we see our structural failures take place within spaces that are personal and isolated. We come to an understanding that the only way for individual lives to flourish, is for the environments in which they exist to actively promote that betterment. Little can be achieved, when we leave the needy to their own devices. We chastise and condemn those who suffer, unwilling to see our complicity in people’s inability to grow, choosing only to attribute blame to their otherness. Good lives cannot exist in isolation; it takes a village to raise a child, and to lavish care on most everything else.

www.newghoststheatre.com

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.

www.facebook.com/anassortedfew

Review: You Got Older (Mad March Hare Theatre Company)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jul 13 – Aug 4, 2018
Playwright: Clare Barron
Director: Claudia Barrie
Cast: Alex Beauman, Harriet Gordon-Anderson, Ainslie McGlynn, Sarah Meacham, Gareth Rickards, Steve Rodgers, Cody Ross
Image by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Mae has come home, to care for her father as he undergoes cancer treatment. Clare Barron’s You Got Older is a look at that moment, of suddenly becoming keenly aware of one’s parents’ mortality. In every process of healing, of trying to make someone better, is the salient reminder that life is fragile. Mae is strong for her father, but in the privacy of her own thoughts, anxiety and grief manifest in fantasies of sexual masochism. Role playing is after all, how we are able to get through most of our days.

The subject matter may be heavy, but like the resilience of our human spirit, the show is determined to keep buoyant and optimistic. Director Claudia Barrie brings excellent humour to the production. Although not exactly lighthearted, we are surprised by the delight and joy that the play brings, through its very enjoyable and richly authentic explorations of love and family dynamics. There is no angsty drama here, only a father and his beloved children grappling with the pain of inevitable separation.

A very solid cast takes us through this universal tale. Harriet Gordon-Anderson is entirely convincing as Mae, with all her contradictions and vulnerabilities, but the actor is particularly successful at conveying a strength that is neither heroic nor exceptional, but that is nonetheless profound in its representation of the good that we are capable of. The paternal character is played by a confidently understated Steve Rodgers, who introduces just enough pathos to have us engaged, leaving us grateful that no emotional blackmailing takes place in this presentation. Contributing to the somewhat unexpected elegance of You Got Older are its supporting actors, each one charming and funny, and as a group, perfectly timed and wonderfully captivating.

When someone close is suffering ill health, those on the sidelines might be left feeling helpless, but we also understand that fundamental to the patient’s well-being, is the spiritual care and support we are required to provide. In times of hardship, fear can easily overwhelm, but courage often appears, allowing love to do its job.

www.madmarchtheatreco.com

Review: Dresden (Bakehouse Theatre Company)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jun 15 – 30, 2018
Playwright: Justin Fleming
Director: Suzanne Millar
Cast: Thomas Campbell, Renee Lim, Yalin Ozucelik, Dorje Swallow, Jeremy Waters, Ben Wood
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Wagner’s first success was Rienzi, an opera about the rise and fall of a medieval Italian populist leader. Hitler fell in love with the work, years after Wagner’s death, and in Justin Fleming Dresden we see the unexpected and formidable ways in which art can inspire behaviour, good and bad. It also looks at Hitler as a failed artist, and proffers a chicken and egg scenario; questioning the relationship between that infamous abominable nature and his own deficiencies at artistic creation. Even though information about contemporary fascistic regimes seem to remain prominent in our consciousness, the play does not feel immediately relevant, but Fleming’s writing exceeds the story he tells. Against a backdrop monumental and historic, his words sing with an enchanting beauty, imparting observations that are succinctly constructed and very wise indeed.

Opera and a world war, give the play a sensibility that is unavailingly grand, but the small auditorium is ambitiously converted by set designer Patrick Howe to convey the sophistication associated with Wagner’s discipline, as well as the aesthetic severity of Hitler’s Germany. Benjamin Brockman’s lights are relentlessly theatrical, with incessant transformations that move us through dimensions, from miscellaneous days of yore, to those that are even more ephemeral and fantastical. Director Suzanne Millar very deftly negotiates the weaving realms of the play, taking us from real to imaginary, across terrains and timelines, for an impressively lucid telling of tales.

Yalin Ozucelik and Jeremy Waters are the leading men, both enthralling with their respective stage presences, and splendid with the dialogue that they are master of. As Wagner, Waters is spirited yet delicate, and as Hitler, Ozucelik’s depiction of cruel imbecility strikes a perfectly balanced act of dramedy. Also memorable are Dorje Swallow and Thomas Campbell, each supporting player demonstrating excellent versatility, proving themselves to be eminently watchable in any guise.

We often hear, that all publicity is good publicity. If all Hitler had wanted from his extreme brutality, was to be remembered, then the confounding actions of people in power everywhere, can begin to make sense. Most of us wish to leave behind some semblance of a legacy, no matter how minute, so that our time on earth can be seen to be of some value. Some want their names to last, but others prefer that what they had tried to generate in their own lifetime, is able to make permanent improvements into the future. Bad people exist, and as we negotiate existence around them, we must try to stop ourselves from fighting fire with fire. Good can turn into evil in the blink of an eye, when we let our guard down and start to emulate those who wish to trespass against us.

www.bakehousetheatrecompany.com.au

Review: Visiting Hours (Kings Cross Theatre)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Feb 7 – 17, 2018
Playwrights: John Harrison, Constantine Costi, Michael Costi
Directors: John Harrison, Michael Dean
Cast: Keiren Brereton, Tara Clark, Rose Costi, Laura Djanegara, Sarah Evans, Cheyne Fynn, Jasper Garner Gore, Richard Hilliar, Derbail Kinsella, Sheila Kumar, Yannick Lawry, Kianah Marlena, Suz Mawer, Tom McCracken, Jim McCrudden, Joshua McElroy, Rebecca Claire Moret, Mansoor Noor, Heather Prowse, Monica Sayers, Katherine Shearer, Emma White, Elijah Williams, Nicole Wineberg, Arisa Yura
Image by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
The people who work in hospitals are among some of the best human beings we have, but the experience of visiting medical institutions is often harrowing. We are at our most vulnerable, quite literally putting our lives in the hands of others. The immersive theatre production Visiting Hours, written by John Harrison, Constantine Costi and Michael Costi, investigates that very notion of having to submit to health experts and authorities, of being in a situation where one’s mortality is constantly under threat and question. We venture through ten or so spaces, guided by strange or menacing personalities, never knowing what is to come.

The experience is often terrifying, but in a humorous, often childlike way, where we engage in the sensation of fear, understanding that no real danger is ever present. The spaces are marvellously designed to deliver a sense of nightmarish foreboding, whilst stimulating all our senses in a range of unexpectedly pleasurable ways. Benjamin Brockman’s lights are almost inappropriately sexy, in their many spectacular evocations of tension and anxiety. Production design by Anna Gardiner offers spatial configurations that constantly surprise and amuse. Tegan Nicholls’ sounds are powerfully hypnotic, in how they coax us into strange realms of fantasy.

Visiting Hours is a thrilling show, and its demands of us as active participants in the story, are rich enough to elicit genuinely complex reactions, without ever crossing any lines. The first half involves a high level of interactivity, delivering intensely fascinating sequences that captivate all our senses and intellect. As it progresses however, we are released into more conventional and passive modes of audienceship, and even though we continue to be gripped by its continual atmospheric fluctuations, our minds struggle to focus on the show’s sudden reliance on spoken text. Our minds and bodies remain preoccupied with the multidimensional appeal of spaces, and can only listen sporadically to the words being said. Nonetheless, there is no question that the work is beautifully performed, by a huge cast of 26 actors, all convincing, charming and playfully provocative with their individual roles.

We all have to live inside power structures that keep us subjugated. Being at the bottom of the pile is sometimes involuntary, sometimes complicit. Visiting Hours challenges us to think about compliance and choice, and to examine the meaning of free will, when society seems to have a persistent appetite for deception and oppression. False gods in white coats can often appear to be all we have, but the ability to think for oneself and the courage to obey one’s own intuition, are always on hand.

www.kingsxtheatre.com