Review: Leopardskin (Jackrabbit Theatre)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Mar 26 – Apr 6, 2019
Playwright: Michael McStay
Director: Samantha Young
Cast: Nick Gell, Travis Jeffery, Zoe Jensen, Emma Kew, Guy O’Grady, Ella Watson-Russell
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Luka and Val are petty thieves trying to make the big leagues. They hear of an Italian billionaire philanthropist giving away his priceless antique clock, and make a beeline for an opportunity to nab the prize. Michael McStay’s play is a farce in the classic vein, reminiscent of Molière, Fo and Brecht, complete with bumbling cops, mixed identities and love triangles. Witty and wild, extremely quirky and downright silly, the work is almost astonishing in its ability to steer clear of anything that could be classed deep and meaningful. Amusement is of course, one of the main reasons we go to the theatre, and Leopardskin delivers it in spades.

Samantha Young directs a wonderfully flamboyant show, very loud and very mad, quite the counter-cultural statement in what feels to be a terribly conservative milieu. With just enough attention placed on making sense of the frankly perfunctory narrative, Young puts her energy into making every second count, so that the audience’s synapses are firing, all of us tickled and fascinated, from beginning to end. When not laughing out loud, we find ourselves grinning from ear to ear, in deep enjoyment of this peculiar beast of an unapologetic, outlandish comedy.

Six very excitable performers can be seen luxuriating on stage, in full throttle madcap mode. Luka is played by Guy O’Grady, sarcastic in his unexpectedly pompous rendition of the small-time crook. Zoe Jensen is vibrant as Val, the rookie pickpocket who defies underestimation. The idiosyncratic tycoon Giuseppe Monterverdi is made an effervescent joy by Travis Jeffery, who brings surprising texture to his performance. Nick Gell takes all four of his characters to high camp territory, unforgettably gregarious with his vaudeville style. Also very effective in multiple roles is Emma Kew, whose timing is surpassed only by her effortless comedic presence. Senator Olive Darling is depicted with precision and a lot of exaggeration, by Ella Watson-Russell who contributes to the exceptional mischievousness of the production.

In accordance with its title, the show features costume pieces in all manner of leopard spots, that perennial symbol of bad taste in Anglo-Saxon societies. Indeed, in Leopardskin‘s embrace of all things brash and obnoxious, we encounter an anti-conformist aesthetic that tells so much about what constitutes normal and respectable, in our art and in our lives. When we scrutinise each other, to police an idea of tastefulness in the way we look and behave, we reveal a set of values determined to separate people into classes. When we dare to disrupt those codes, bad traditions can begin to be dispelled, and more than that, a shitload of fun will be had.

www.jackrabbittheatre.com

Review: Wrath (Jackrabbit Theatre)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Mar 8 – 22, 2019
Playwright: Liam Maguire
Director: Liam Maguire
Cast: Madeleine Vizard, Adam Sollis, Jonny Hawkins, Elle Mickel, Amy Hack and Emma Harvie
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
It all kicks off when the CEO spots a pubic hair in the boardroom. Liam Maguire’s Wrath is an absurd and very grotesque look at corporate culture, that dog-eat-dog world in which some of the most brutal of human behaviour can be found. Disguised behind a pretence of uncompromising suit-and-tie civility, with the notion of profit maximisation as guiding principle, these people are entrenched in a system that is profoundly immoral and surreptitiously harmful. The play amplifies all that is wrong about a segment of our lives that has grown substantial and ineludible.

There is semblance of a narrative, but it only serves as conduit for comedic sequences that attack and satirise out institutions of greed. Maguire’s exaggerated approach to humour makes for a flamboyant presentation; Wrath is often hilarious, with a wild spirit that persuades us to luxuriate in its artistic risks. Sound by Sam Maguire and lights by John Collopy, are valuable in creating the show’s faux display of overwrought melodrama, but design schemes eventually turn repetitive, and their efficacy markedly fades in later segments.

An eccentric cast keeps us amused from start to finish. Madeleine Vizard’s extravagant interpretation of CEO Stockwood is brilliant, in its unrelenting incisiveness for a scornful embodiment of the ruthless and power mad. It is a deliciously camp performance, satisfying with the textures she is able to provide in spite of all the exaggerated embellishment. There is a lot of big acting in the piece, and Elle Mickel is chief offender, in the best possible sense. As Daphne, she does not hold back, and we go along with where she dares to tread. Emma Harvie executes perfect timing for the mousy January, a secretary of few words, but all uttered with sublime precision.

These monsters of industry are pervasively and deeply woven into the fabric of our lives, and to wish to have them completely extricated is a pipe dream. We can however, restrict our individual participation in their dominion. We can find ways to retreat from them, to identify their competitors and adversaries, and work to boost those who will bring a greater sense of balance to how power is distributed in our economies. We need to resist the allure of the shiny seductive exteriors, of corporations that can never live up to what they promise. If we can take down the big guys, then those of us who are small can flourish.

www.jackrabbittheatre.com

Review: Art V Garbage (Dumpster Divas / Jackrabbit Theatre)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Feb 26 – Mar 1, 2019
Creators and Cast: Salem Barrett-Brown, Danni Paradiso, Rory Nolan
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
The Dumpster Divas have a very passionate social conscience. Like many of their generation, these young Australians have a certitude about what is right, the people we need to become, and how things should be run. They are idealistic, and in their 45-minute production, convincing with their perspective of the world that we share. Comprised of short sketches, Art V Garbage is variously themed, but each segment is united by a distinct queer sensibility, all flamboyantly conceptualised and slightly anarchic in approach.

The exuberant humour of Art V Garbage is thoroughly enjoyable, with the trio proving themselves to be as adept in the art of comedic performance, as they are in writing and directing their own material. Creative and clever, the work encompasses virtually all that is resonating within our immediate zeitgeist, effectively shaping itself into a condensed representation of our life and times, as things stand at the moment. Its absurdist style allows us to take its meanings beyond the obvious. We are able to look at art, politics, society and economics from new angles, maybe not to reach completely unexpected conclusions, but its refreshing take on important issues are definitely provocative.

From sanctimonious single mothers to the Prime Minister, the iconoclastic trio cuts them down to size, in a spirited exercise that re-focuses our mores through an improved, more equitable lens. The gay rights movement feels to have past its prime in Australia, but the queer principles and values we have engendered through the last forty or so years, continue to serve in the unending expansion of democracy in our ways of life. Queer refuses hierarchies, and is always quick to disseminate power. It protects the weak, and insists on challenging every convention. Salem Barrett-Brown, Danni Paradiso and Rory Nolan demonstrate in their sketches, the virtues of the new Australian; more egalitarian than before, more intelligent, more caring. They work for the good of everyone, even when we think of them as outsiders.

www.jackrabbittheatre.com

Review: If We Got Some More Cocaine I Could Show You How I Love You (Green Door Theatre Company)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Feb 8 – 23, 2019
Playwright: John O’Donovan
Director: Warwick Doddrell
Cast: Eddie Orton, Elijah Williams
Images by Jasmin Simmons

Theatre review
Contrary to popular belief, love is not for everyone. Sure, Casey and Mikey have found each other, and the mutual attraction is undeniable, but their small town in the west of Ireland is certainly not going to let nature take its course. John O’Donovan’s debut play If We Got Some More Cocaine I Could Show You How I Love You takes place one night on a rooftop, after the couple had gone on a burglary spree, now trying to lay low and evade persecution. They are of course, hiding not just for the drugs and money that they had stolen, but also for their homosexuality. Leo Varadkar may have been installed as their country’s first gay Prime Minister, but away from the capital, things are less rosy. Discrimination persists, and violence remains normalised for those who dare deviate.

The writing is passionate, exciting in its very contemporary depiction of queer identities, but its vernacular is specific and can prove challenging for those of us who might be culturally uninitiated. The language of politics however is universal, and the young men’s struggle to bring to a tangible actualisation their emotional and spiritual connection, in a climate of dread and fear, needs no translation. Director Warwick Doddrell’s rendering of that crucial quality of intimacy is sublime, for a stage that absolutely burns with desire. Additionally, the amount of tension and dynamism he is able to build onto the restrictive setting of a small roof, is quite remarkable.

Set design by Jeremy Allen is a thoroughly convincing transformation of space that works perfectly in the auditorium’s traverse format. Lights by Kelsey Lee are similarly evocative, and admirable for its sense of accuracy, but the glare of misplaced lamps is unfortunate. Costumes may not be technically demanding for the show, but Stephanie Howe’s keen aesthetic eye for her characters’ looks proves to be very discerning indeed. Melanie Herbert does marvellous work with sound design, painstakingly calibrated to have us submerged in a poetic atmosphere, whilst delivering hints of realism when required.

The production is made memorable by a pair of brilliant performances, both actors wonderfully animated yet soulful, a match made in theatre heaven, for the benefit of our dramatic enjoyment. Eddie Orton is an enthralling presence, tremendously likeable in his portrayal of boyish innocence grappling with toxicity, as we watch his Mikey grow into the kind of masculinity dictated by his parochial environment. Elijah Williams is powerful as Casey, impressive with the depth he is able to convey, for a personality that keeps becoming richer as the show goes on. Chemistry between the two is excellent, and the rigour that they bring to the stage is simply riveting.

The irony of machismo, is the enormous fear that underlies it. Fear of being soft, fear of breaking from convention, fear of ostracism, can lead people to behaviour that betrays their true nature. We make our boys become less human, when we insist that they grow into models of patriarchy. This is immediately observable in our inter-racial gay lovers Casey and Mikey, who are suddenly aware of the threat to their social currency, should they decide to progress meaningfully with their relationship. Choices are inordinately scarce for those young and poor. They can only live according to preexisting structures, ones that are intolerant of difference, disdainful of the new, and it is this inhibition of people’s freedoms that turns us into monsters. As our protagonists wait for the sun to rise, we wonder if this moment constitutes a final glimpse of beauty, before they are robbed of their very essence.

www.greendoortheatreco.com

Review: Herringbone (Squabbalogic Independent Music Theatre)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jan 18 – Feb 2, 2019
Playwright: Tom Cone
Music: Skip Kennon
Lyrics: Ellen Fitzhugh
Directors: Jay James-Moody, Michael Ralph
Cast: Jay James-Moody
Images by David Hooley

Theatre review
It was 1929, at the dawn of the Great Depression when eight-year-old George was assigned to be star of the stage, and bread winner at home. Billed as “a vaudevillian ghost story”, Tom Cone’s Herringbone tells the fantastical tale of George’s possession by a poltergeist named Lou who returns, determined to resume his prematurely terminated acting career. Wonderfully imaginative, with a flamboyant and quirky sensibility that transports us to realms of fascinating awe, the show also includes songs in a nostalgic style inspired by the era, all of them full of charm, certain to delight.

Jay James-Moody alone plays all ten of Herringbone‘s different characters, enthralling for the entire 90-minute duration. We witness superhuman talent, along with extraordinary skill and conviction, as the consummate storyteller takes us to the farthest reaches of what theatrical magic can achieve. His technical abilities prove as moving as the palpable love he has for the art form, so clearly discernible on this stage. James-Moody (who also co-directs) allows himself to be completely vulnerable, so that we can come in contact not only with the humanity of the piece, but also the staggeringly delicate nature of live performance. Creating theatre, especially at this intimate scale, is to fly without a safety net, and when we see the work soaring, the inspiration that it provides is incomparable.

Choreography by co-director Michael Ralph is thoroughly inventive, with a jubilant spirit that makes the experience an uplifting one (in spite of its dark themes). Adding to the visual splendour is Benjamin Brockman’s lights, extravagantly conceived to deliver luscious and dramatic imagery, much of which lingers on well after curtain call. Three musicians, Natalya Aynsley, Amanda Jenkins and Tom McCracken, electrify the space with their passionate interpretations of the score, having us impressed by their detailed and tight performance, no doubt due in large part to musical direction by Benjamin Kiehne.

Musical theatre is big business, and as such, much of what we see can tend to be predictable and formulaic. Even if there is undeniable professionalism on display, all the money in the world can never guarantee that our soul is touched by a production. Commerce is always risk averse, and by the same token, it can often be fearful of ingenuity and all things ephemeral, ingredients that great art can never do without. Herringbone has a little bit to say about how we care for children, but it is the very application of artistry, and the collaboration of disciplines, that makes this show so exquisite.

www.squabbalogic.com.au

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