Review: A Girl In School Uniform (Walks Into A Bar) (Futura Productions)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Sep 20 – Oct 5, 2019
Playwright: Lulu Raczka
Director: Hannah Goodwin
Cast: Michelle Ny, Caitlin Burley
Images by Jarryd Dobson, Indiana Kwong

Theatre review
The city has been experiencing frequent blackouts, during which women and girls would disappear, many of whom would be subsequently found murdered. 16-year-old Steph is out looking for her best friend who has gone missing. She is certain that Bell, a young woman working in a bar, is withholding valuable information. Lulu Raczka’s A Girl In School Uniform (Walks Into A Bar) sees those two characters imagining the fate of a vanished girl. They play out scenarios by pretending to be male perpetrators of violence, thereby revealing the dangers that women know themselves to be subject to.

In the many blackouts that occur during the course of the production, the audience is repeatedly thrust into a state of anxiety, made even more unnerving by Hannah Goodwin’s very taut direction. Fear is always in the air, with the audience positioned to confront the constant threat that defines daily reality for most women. It is that sensation of when we walk into a bar, and our awareness of being looked upon as a piece of meat, is instantly heightened. The show is incredibly well designed, with Sophie Pilcher’s lights and Jessica Dunn’s sound wonderfully precise in manipulating our visceral responses for this gritty journey. Ella Butler’s work on set and costumes too, is highly accomplished. There is a sharpness to the aesthetic of A Girl In School Uniform that translates as a certain brutal coldness in how the world can be, even for young girls.

Actor Michelle Ny brings sass as well as dramatic intensity to the part of Bell, demonstrating impressive versatility in a role that requires of its performer, a wide range of attitudes and emotions. Steph is brought to life by the strong stage presence of Caitlin Burley, marvellous in conveying both innocence and fortitude for the role. The pair is exceptionally well rehearsed. Their chemistry and timing for this extremely technical two-hander has us agape in amazement, leaving us firmly persuaded by all that they present.

In the play we observe the dark to be infinitely more harrowing for women, but the incessant power failure is allowed to become a new status quo, exposing the ease with which society disregards our safety. We are comfortable with the idea that there is a weaker sex, and continue to foster behaviour and beliefs to reinforce that repugnant imbalance. We make things harder for women, often through the disinformation that women are naturally more challenged, usually due to bogus notions of biology or religion. The system will insist that we accept our fate, that we must respond to blatant injustice with resignation. Realising that acquiescence is almost always a choice, is how we can begin to address these issues of gender.

www.futurafilms.co

Review: U.B.U: A Cautionary Tale Of Catastrophe (Tooth And Sinew)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Sep 10 – 21, 2019
Playwright: Richard Hilliar
Director: Richard Hilliar
Cast: Tristan Black, Lib Campbell, Rachael Colquhoun-Fairweather, Emily Elise, Sam Glissan, Gideon Payten-Griffiths, Shane Russon, Idam Sondhi, Nicole Wineberg
Images by Ross Waldron

Theatre review
The prime minister has a secret plan to depose the king, and have him replaced by a civilian best described as a lazy idiot, in Richard Hilliar’s U.B.U: A Cautionary Tale Of Catastrophe. PM Fuller Bjullshitt owns mines, and wants to make sure that his personal interests are protected by laws of the land that continue to be neglectful of environmental concerns. Given the preposterous state of politics today, the play’s premise is entirely within the realm of possibility, but written in an absurdist style, we are confronted with the lines between fiction and truth, except there is no hiding the fact that many of the worst things being depicted are no different from the news that we are subjected to in real life.

Hilliar’s exuberant consolidation of current affairs and contemporary ideals, is a pertinent representation of Australian culture as it stands, turned satirical by its colourful wit, base but clever, in appropriate alignment with popular notions of our national identity. Having brought his own considerable skills as director to U.B.U, Hilliar’s show is rambunctious, fun-filled and campy, a highly entertaining work that facilitates discussions about doing the right thing, beyond left and right conceptions of politics. Costumes by Tanya Woodland, along with Ash Bell’s hair and makeup design, are a visual feast, powerfully enhanced by Ryan McDonald’s imaginative lights.

Extraordinary passion from all nine of its ensemble cast, makes it an occasion to remember. Sam Glissan and Emily Elise are as mad as each other, playing Pa and Ma Ubu with an incredible wildness that creates a grotesque quality, so reflective of what we feel to be happening right now all over the world. Lib Campbell and Idam Sondhi are another formidable couple, with exquisite timing and chemistry, making us laugh at all the ugliness that we know ourselves to be capable of. Tristan Black’s incisiveness and precision as Bjullshitt ensures that we are attentive to both the meanings and hilarity of U.B.U; his “Mr. Segue’s Song” is an unequivocal highlight.

The show ends with a heavy-handed, earnest call to action. An uncontainable need to appeal to the body politic disrupts the entertainment, as the urgency to make its point finally exceeds its commitment to theatrical magic. Resignation is perhaps too easy, and U.B.U wants to help us avoid it. As we sit and watch everything crumble, the urge to submit to that seemingly inevitable extinction of our kind, can indeed feel irresistible. Humans however will always be defined by our activity and conduct, and for as long as we are here doing something, there is always the inescapable decision between good and bad.

www.toothandsinew.com

Review: Betty Breaks Out (Life After Productions)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Aug 27 – Sep 7, 2019
Playwright: Liz Hobart (after Maurice G. Kiddy)
Director: Ellen Wiltshire
Cast: Tommy Misa, Annie Stafford
Image by Jasmin Simmons

Theatre review
Betty and Fred are kidnapped, locked up in adjoining rooms to ponder their fate. Both are actors, trying to take control of a situation in which there is little hope of autonomy. Set in 1919 England, when moving pictures were silent, and damsels were always in distress, Liz Hobart’s Betty Breaks Out is a quaint piece that gives voice to characters that were previously one dimensional and mute. Whimsical and experimental, it resists clear narrative structures in favour of something offbeat and playful.

Directed by Ellen Wiltshire, the show is an effervescent, if slightly puzzling, exercise in theatre making. Without a straightforward plot, it is perhaps surprising that the staging takes a naturalistic approach, instead of a more abstract mode of expression, especially with a writing style that seems intent on creating a poetic experience. It is noteworthy however, that music by Alexander Lee-Rekers is an enjoyable aspect of the production, able to enhance mood and rhythm to keep us engaged. The performing duo too, brings a gratifying charm. Tommy Misa and Annie Stafford are delightful presences, even if they do seem somewhat restrained by a presentation that feels insufficiently adventurous.

It is true that much of how we face the public, can be described as performative. We all have to operate within structures that do not always make room for what our individual beings might think to be authentic. We are urged to play along with the game, to adopt pre-determined codes and languages, so that a semblance of harmony can be attained. We rarely feel at liberty to deviate, as ostracism is a threat that few can bear to endure. When it becomes clear that the notion of a greater good, is almost certain to only benefit communities disproportionately, our commitment to obedience must then be questioned. There will always be people who want us to stay in our narrow lanes, but the second that we begin to identify our own complicity in this oppression, is the moment that we begin to set the self free.

www.lifeafterproductions.com

Review: Wink (Wheels & Co Productions)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Aug 2 – 24, 2019
Playwright: Jen Silverman
Director: Anthony Skuse
Cast: Eloise Snape, Matthew Cheetham, Graeme McRae , Sam O’Sullivan
Images by Robert Catto

Theatre review
Gregor has skinned his wife’s cat alive, so clearly things are not going well at home. Jen Silverman’s Wink begins at the point of heteronormative ruination, when Gregor and Sophie’s unsatisfying cookie-cutter life together is at breaking point, and something has got to give. Too bad about the cat. Radical transformations happen following Wink’s demise, even the couple’s psychotherapist Frans, undergoes drastic existential alterations. The plan all along to keep things buried, in order to achieve an appearance of success, has failed miserably; something more authentic emerges to take over these lives, but it looks as though this surge of humanity might have come too late.

Silverman’s writing is deliciously wild, with a strong point of view that makes her surreal and irreverent approach sing with purpose. It is a work about the complicated nature of freedom, and the difficulty in returning to one’s true self, after a lifetime of conditioning and conformity. Directed by Anthony Skuse, the show is replete with subtle humour, and its social commentary, informed by a queer feminist sensibility, is delightfully acerbic.

It is a macabre world that we are plunged into, with lights by Phoebe Pilcher and a set by Siobhan Jett O’Hanlon, cleverly conceived to help us situate the action in a range of spaces between real and fantasy. Ben Pierpoint’s sound design impresses with its intricacy, highly effective in how our collective energy is calibrated for every distinct theatrical moment.

Actor Eloise Snape is marvellous as Sophie, delivering the most understated yet powerful comedy through a narrative of frustrated despondency. Her ability to simultaneously convey tragedy and hilarity, whilst performing with deliberate restraint, is extraordinary. Graeme McRae’s portrayal of Gregor is unexpectedly delicate, remarkable for the empathy that he manages to elicit, as the feline murderer. Matthew Cheethan and Sam O’Sullivan play, respectively, the shrink and the cat, both actors wonderfully quirky, for a couple of deeply amusing characters that fascinate at every appearance.

Humans have an insatiable desire for truth, but that impulse is manifested in a million unique ways. We can see the personalities in Wink giving up the external, then turning inward in hope of exchanging their worldly delusions for something genuine. It is tempting to think that our skin is the barrier between truth and lies, that somehow, deep inside, contains something unequivocal and real. This is all conjecture of course, as the human mind, insignificant as it is, will believe what it wishes, and for any of us to think that we are capable of a comprehensive godlike truth, is in itself illusory. We can however, look instead for peace, but how we interpret that concept is, it seems, another million conundrums.

www.facebook.com/wheelscoproductions

Review: Omar And Dawn (Apocalypse Theatre Company / Green Door Theatre Company)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jul 12 – 27, 2019
Playwright: James Elazzi
Director: Dino Dimitriadis
Cast: Maggie Blinco, Antony Makhlouf, Lex Marinos, Mansoor Noor
Images by Robert Catto

Theatre review
Dawn is 80 years of age, and a passionate foster carer. Omar is her latest ward, a wayward teenager who has little but frustration and anger to fill his days. Omar often joins Ahmed on a bridge, unwillingly selling sex to local closet cases. The two boys share an intimate relationship, bonded by homelessness, and similar cultural backgrounds that relegate them as outsiders. James Elazzi’s Omar And Dawn tells the story of gay teens from Lebanese-Australian and Muslim sections of our community. Along with its simultaneous focus on the ageing population of white Australians, the play brings together these two neglected groups, for an unexpected theatrical juxtaposition that reveals a facet of our national identity usually kept under wraps. There is a lot of shame here, but none of it is of our protagonists’ doing. The invisible character in Elazzi’s play is Australia, the part of us that is ignorant, heartless, and wholly responsible for the suffering that people like Omar and Dawn have to endure.

Elazzi’s writing is deeply insightful, exquisite in its ability to put to action, and to words, parts of life that we habitually avoid. There is a fearlessness in its interrogation of the taboo, that makes Oman And Dawn so fascinating; although it sits right under our noses, real talent is required to make us see it properly. Directed by Dino Dimitriadis, the show is extraordinarily tender, and even though sentimental in its rendering, it communicates succinctly, bringing to light with little fuss, that which we have long needed to acknowledge. The production offers an emotional experience, but there is no mistaking the coldness upon which our empathy is drawn. Lights by Benjamin Brockman and sound by Ben Pierpoint portray the steely and pitiless qualities of being Australian, with Aleisa Jelbart’s stage design of grey gravel further asserting the needlessly harsh conditions that some of us are subjected to.

Actor Antony Makhlouf is an energetic presence, and although repetitive with his expressions of Omar’s angst, an unmistakable sincerity in his performance keeps us sympathetic to his plight. Maggie Blinco plays a very dignified Dawn, to provide an elegant, and deceptively quiet, study of a self-assured woman determined to do what is right. Effervescence is brought by Lex Marinos, who is convincing, and wonderfully entertaining, as Dawn’s mechanic brother Darren. It is surprising perhaps, that the most poignant moments come from supporting actor Mansoor Noor, whose powerful depiction of Ahmed’s turmoil, has us spellbound and devastated. The authenticity in Noor’s display of despondency shows remarkable skill, and although profoundly heartbreaking, delivers some seriously delicious drama.

When people become homeless, our impulse is to question the individual, as though our lives are so conveniently detached. Many of us have faced abandonment, by people whose duty it is to love and care for us. How we move from a broken nest, to find a new space of security, will only ever be hard. Omar is always on the verge of giving up, but Dawn has enough resilience for the both of them. She understands that to give of herself, is the only way to escape emptiness. It looks very much like unconditional love, but the reciprocity of that relationship is unequivocal, even if it is not immediately evident.

www.apocalypsetheatrecompany.com | www.greendoortheatreco.com

Review: Trevor (Outhouse Theatre Co)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jun 14 – Jul 6, 2019
Playwright: Nick Jones
Director: Shaun Rennie
Cast: Di Adams, Jemwel Danao, Garth Holcombe, David Lynch, Ainslie McGlynn, Jamie Oxenbould, Eloise Snape
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Sandra owns a pet chimpanzee, who in Nick Jones’ Trevor, fancies himself a professional performer, having appeared as a younger primate, on stage and screen. Work has dried up, and Trevor is increasingly restless about his career’s downward trajectory. This of course, is all in his own mind, with Sandra completely oblivious about the turmoil that is brewing inside of the animal. Trevor is given his own voice by the playwright, but he talks as though in a monologue, never expecting any of the humans to understand, thus setting up for the play an inter-species disconnect that figures heavily as its ultimate raison d’etre.

Actor Jamie Oxenbould is persuasive as the chimp, with animalistic energy emanating from all of his being, without excessive reliance on physical mimicry. We believe his ambitions and his frustrations as Trevor, and appreciate the dramatic escalations being presented, through every plot development. Similarly convincing is Di Adams as Sandra, whose own problems are revealed at a slower pace, although no less powerful. There is however, a significantly stronger emphasis on Trevor’s experience than there is on Sandra’s, and considering our predictable affinity with the human character, it is a strange choice that prevents us from a closer empathy with the story.

In allowing Sandra to be somewhat subsumed in the production, director Shaun Rennie risks a distance that could result in a degree of emotional detachment for the audience, but it is a show that is relentless lively, and we find ourselves consistently involved, if not always invested. In a similar vein, Garth Holcombe and Eloise Snape both play larger than life, and very flamboyant personalities, who amuse us at every appearance, but who do little in engaging us on more profound levels. Their costumes though, are notably striking, humorously assembled by Jonathan Hindmarsh, who also solves spatial challenges as set designer, with demarcations of the stage that are, by and large, surprisingly effective. Lights by Kelsey Lee and sound by Melanie Herbert too, are accomplished, for an overall theatrical impact that proves gratifying.

It is absurd that a creature like Trevor should ever be kept as a pet. Human environments are barely feasible for our own survival, yet we insist on removing animals from their natural habitats, to put up with what we know is completely impracticable for them. This is the extent of our arrogance and narcissism. We see nature as a resource to be plundered, and fail to consider the consequences of our incessant exploitation. Trevor is about nature fighting back, and a timely work that opens up discussions about extinction, of the human race.

www.outhousetheatre.org

Review: Mercury Fur (Kings Cross Theatre)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), May 24 – Jun 8, 2019
Playwright: Philip Ridley
Director: Kim Hardwick
Cast: Janet Anderson, Danny Ball, Lucia May, Romy Bartz, Meg Clarke, Party Guest, Jack Walton, Michael McStay
Images by Jasmine Simmons

Theatre review
Civilisation is all but wiped out, in Philip Ridley’s Mercury Fur. Out of the rubble are remaining humans trying to get on with things, holding on to memories of more coherent times, so that they can try to make some sense of the meaningless now. Brothers Elliot and Darren are party planners, for a sordid event about to take place. The host’s requirements are absolutely immoral, but at a time like this, nothing should matter anymore. Yet a struggle remains, as we watch the siblings unable to come to terms with what they had agreed to undertake.

Surreal and very dark, Ridley’s play seems intent on shocking its viewer, as is typical of British “in-yer-face theatre” two decades ago. Director Kim Hardwick’s approach is more considered, for a staging that abhors cheap effects, working instead to find, within a conceit of extreme depravity, only the truth about our humanity. Early portions of the show are, as a result, perhaps too sedate, but there is no doubt that when the stakes are raised, the story becomes effortlessly gripping.

The actors are excellent, all of them distinctive and memorable in their respective parts. Josh McElroy is particularly impressive as Party Guest, the worst kind of bad guy, completely despicable, but made thoroughly entertaining by McElroy’s uninhibited portrayal. Also remarkable is Meg Clarke, luminous as the painfully innocent Naz, caught up in a filthy world, desperate for acceptance, and ending up in a treacherous crossfire.

Most of us go about our daily lives, pretending that evil does not exist. We have to believe in the best of people, if we wish for an opportunity to thrive. Evil is real however, and in Mercury Fur we see the way it manifests when untethered. In an apocalyptic aftermath, there is momentum for destruction to keep its pace, until one meets utter annihilation. Resilience is also real, and many of us will know to pick up the pieces, and build again. The extinction of our species is entirely possible, although our instinctual rejection of that truth, might be able to keep us hanging on for some time longer.

www.hbrcreatives.com.au | www.whiteboxtheatre.com.au