Review: The Club (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Dec 7 – 22, 2018
Playwright: David Williamson
Director: Tessa Leong
Cast: Jude Henshall, Louisa Mignone, Ellen Steele
Images by Marnya Rothe

Theatre review
Hundreds of millions of dollars go through Australia’s sporting organisations, and to view the industry as wholesome and virtuous is, to put it mildly, naive. Yet, we routinely attribute our sports stars and their colleagues, with a glow of reverence, and they in turn, present an image of habitual sanctimony. The men in David Williamson’s The Club are exposed of these hypocrisies. It is a story about white boys spoilt by their talent with an olive-shaped ball, who grow into stunted adulthood, and we watch their clumsy attempts at extending the glory days beyond bygone moments on the football field.

The corrupt and inane behaviour of these self-aggrandising men provide a platform for director Tessa Leong’s discussion of sexism and toxic masculinity, within an archetypal setting of a sporting arena, that conveniently encapsulates our nation’s sense of self-image. Three female performers take on all the roles, playing exaggerated versions of maleness, for a subversive exercise that makes statements about gender, and especially about the misguided adoration of what might be termed traditional masculinity. First half of the production is surprisingly conventional, a one-trick pony with a simple concept that quickly loses steam, but the show picks up furiously after interval, and what had felt gimmicky, turns into something far more complex and provocative.

The production is full of grandiose gesturing, not always powerful, but certainly delivered with extraordinary conviction. Actor Ellen Steele is particularly robust with her comedy, extremely cheeky and acerbic, a consistent delight in this portrait of ugliness. Jude Henshall and Louisa Mignone too, are exuberant performers who bring admirable rigour into their farce, for a rewarding study on the machinations of privilege and ignorance, frequently found in some segments of Australian society.

In sport, we celebrate high achievers not only for their accomplishments, but also for the whole of their persons. We want our heroes to be godlike, and imagine them to be infallible, consequently giving them powers, in the form of money and status, that they often exploit to the detriment of our collective good. It is no coincidence that these powerful are predominantly straight white men. Our institutions are structured to benefit a certain idea of supremacy, one that repeatedly exerts its imperialism over all others, and any action designed to take them down is met with disdain and even violence. Oppression requires concession, with the oppressed made to concede to notions of objectivity and meritocracy, that are demonstrably unjust. It is a survival strategy, to play to these rules, but only those willing to sacrifice can hope to foster a change.

www.belvoir.com.au | www.isthisyours.com.au

Review: The Overcoat (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Nov 15 – Dec 1, 2018
Book & Lyrics: Michael Costi (based on the short story by Nikolai Gogol)
Music: Rosemarie Costi
Director: Constantine Costi
Cast: Laura Bunting, Kate Cheel, Aaron Tsindos, Charles Wu
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Nikolai is an unremarkable man, an ordinary citizen of Russia, who lives and works in St Petersburg, not unlike the faceless millions in any of the world’s cities. He is unambitious, able to be content with a simple life, but the most basic of human requirements, dignity, eludes him. He is sold a luxurious coat, one he is unable to afford, with the promise that the new garment would finally help him gain the respect of people he sees every day at work. Based on Nikolai Gogol’s short novel of the same name, The Overcoat is about injustice, and the sacrifices some have to make, just to attain a level of subsistence.

Adapted by Michael Costi, whose book and lyrics retain the poignancy of the original, this musical version is an understated but thoroughly moving work of theatre. Rosemarie Costi’s music is consistently gripping, and delightfully idiosyncratic, incorporating shades of Kurt Weill and Stephen Sondheim to find exquisite balance in this sophisticated take on the genre. Director Constantine Costi exhibits great style, alongside a sensitive understanding of drama, for a production that lulls us gently to some very deep places in our hearts and minds.

Performer Charles Wu is an enchanting presence, vulnerable yet confident as Nikolai. Not only does he earn our empathy for the pitiful character, Wu elevates our experience of the sad story with his capacity to inspire our intellect. Aaron Tsindos’ booming voice thrills and satisfies, as do his extravagant depictions of several unforgettable supporting roles. Laura Bunting and Kate Cheel create a range of ebullient personalities, both actors proving themselves to be as commanding as they are charming.

Our protagonist procures his coat, with money that should have gone to food and rent. Before society can provide him with a feeling of belonging, Nikolai must give up more than all he has; we come to the cruel realisation that the real world does not offer unconditional love. When we participate in the labour force, we go to work for survival and for salvation, but there is never any guarantee that the exchange can be a fair one. In fact, we see in The Overcoat, that when the marketplace is left to its own devices, many of us are put in positions where we have to give more than we can ever receive in return. The unfairness is ubiquitous, and without intervention, disparities can only widen.

www.belvoir.com.au

Review: The Maids (Glitterbomb / 25A Belvoir)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Aug 25 – Sep 15, 2018
Playwright: Jean Genet (translated by Bernard Frechtmann)
Director: Carissa Licciardello
Cast: Alexandra Aldrich, Skyler Ellis, Amanda McGregor
Images by Jasmin Simmons

Theatre review
Jean Genet’s The Maids is based on a 1933 murder in France. A pair of sisters work as maids in a rich man’s house, isolated from the rest of the world. Their shared oppression turns them monstrous, as they gradually bring to fruition, the heinous contents of their imagination. We may no longer, in the West, have servants of that kind, but it is a story that draws parallels with the many inequalities that persist, or are in fact escalating, in these supposedly modern times. We look at the birth of evil, from evil, and are made to consider the repercussions of a society determined to maintain its hierarchies.

Carissa Licciardello directs an extraordinarily intense and flamboyant production, using Genet’s macabre poetry to inspire a marvellous sense of heightened drama. Three wonderful actors work in perfect tandem, delivering a sensational piece of grotesque theatre, intriguing and powerful with what they bring to the stage. Alexandra Aldrich and Amanda McGregor play the sisters, both commanding in presence, as Claire and Solange, compelling from beginning to end, even when Genet’s writing turns impenetrable and obtuse. Male actor Skyler Ellis takes on the role of Madame with aplomb, demonstrating excellent nuance alongside the role’s predictable extravagance. Watching the maids feud with a man, creates a fresh intellectual dimension, helping the old play speak with more pertinence than it would otherwise have.

Humans have an insatiable desire to control one another. Our thirst for power, when untamed, has the ability to blind us to the fact that people’s freedoms are always essential. Compromises can be reached in all our interactions, of course, but it is clear that transgressions occur frequently, with or without our acknowledgement. The servants have no choice but to submit to the consequences of their poverty, but when people are subjected to conditions unnatural and perverse, it is certain that morbidity will result.

www.dasglitterbomb.com | www.belvoir.com.au

Review: Yarramadoon The Musical (Aya Productions)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Jul 25 – Aug 11, 2018
Book: Eliza Reilly, Hannah Reilly
Songs: Matthew Predny, Eliza Reilly, Hannah Reilly
Directors: Eliza Reilly, Hannah Reilly
Cast: Matthew Predny, Eliza Reilly, Hannah Reilly
Images by Indiana Kwong

Theatre review
Shelly might only be sixteen, but she has had enough of her country town. The bright lights of big city Sydney beckons, but first, Shelly has to deal with forces at home determined to keep her from the freedoms of the metropolis. Eliza Reilly and Hannah Reilly’s Yarramadoon is about a girl daring to dream; a diamond in the rough on her way to discovering her full potential. There is admittedly nothing extraordinary in that well-worn narrative, but the Reillys’ idiosyncratic comedy style proves irresistible, in this joyful take of the musical theatre genre.

Strictly for urban audiences, Yarramadoon is a scathing satire of life in the many backwater corners of Australia, where big mouths and narrow minds reign supreme. Songs by Matthew Predny and the Reillys are exuberant and effectively concise. It is a jaunty show, consistently witty, with many instances of inventiveness that truly delight. Lighting designer Martin Kinnane brings an excellent sense of dynamism to the plot, moving us between dimensions with great efficiency. The cast’s approach to performance is highly mischievous, and we get hopelessly swept up in their very compelling shenanigans. Eliza Reilly is particularly memorable as Shelly, confident in her extravagant sense of humour, and surprising with the depth she is able to convey, in what initially seems to be an unexceptional role.

When Shelly eventually lands in Sydney, there is no guarantee that she will find everything she had longed for, but the satisfaction that will come with her new autonomy is unequivocal. If we tell our girls that the world is their oyster, they must also be encouraged to explore the wilderness. The grass may or may not be greener on the other side; the key is to have the gumption to go and find out.

www.belvoir.com.au

Review: They Divided The Sky (Daniel Schlusser Ensemble)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Jun 13 – 30, 2018
Playwright: Daniel Schlusser (from the Christa Wolf novel)
Director: Daniel Schlusser
Cast: Stephen Phillips, Nikki Shiels
Images by Patrick Boland

Theatre review
Adapted from Christa Wolf’s novel Der geteilte Himmel, Daniel Schlusser’s They Divided The Sky tells the story of Rita and Manfred, lovers in East Germany, just before the 1961 erection of the Berlin wall. Like pieces of demolished concrete scattered in the aftermath, romantic fragments constitute the play, as we wade through a recollection of events, trying to piece together truths of the past.

Politics of that era is central to the piece, but resonance is derived instead, from the personal relationship between its two characters. With mid-century German ideologies taking a backseat, we focus on the dynamics of the pair, examining the intricacies of love at a time of social unrest.

They Divided The Sky is challenging, but ultimately fulfilling, work. Schlusser’s writing and direction require of us, a deep concentration, in order that its transcendental beauty can take effect. Incisive lighting design by Amelia Lever-Davidson helps us tune in, with a degree of meditative attention, in order that we may approach the staging with a heightened sensitivity. James Paul’s sound design manipulates our emotions so that we respond accurately, on a visceral level, even when our minds are yet to figure out what it all means.

Stephen Phillips and Nikki Shiels are the wonderful actors charged with the responsibility of keeping us intrigued and invested. With an usual approach to plot structure, the play is slow to draw us in, but we are captivated from the start, by the strong presence of its cast. Individually, Phillips and Shiels are precise and cerebral with what they bring, and as a couple, their chemistry is unusually powerful. Whether subtle or intense, their energy is able to fill the stage, and in every shade of light and dark that they manufacture, we discover something special in their ephemeral theatricality.

A love is never more devastating than when it ends prematurely. In a week that has seen migrant children torn away mercilessly from their parents, we can easily imagine what it feels like to have a heart be broken, not by the object of desire, but by cruel external forces. In a world increasingly adversarial, the dreaded history of Germany in two halves serves as cautionary tale, for what could result from our appetite for strife and disunity. We can all have our own principles, but to let them get in the way of peace, is our biggest offence.

www.belvoir.com.au | www.danielschlusser.com

Review: The Readers (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), May 5 – 19, 2018
Playwright: Scott Smart
Director: Elizabeth Nabben
Cast: Anni Finsterer, John McNeill, Scott Smart
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
It is tempting to judge ourselves by things we read in the news. The extremities of society, whether the great successes or our dismal failures, give a powerful impression of the people we are, but routinely neglected are the smaller stories of millions of individuals, those that offer a more accurate picture of daily Australian life. Scott Smart’s The Readers puts focus on those who make up the regular working class, the ones who rarely make the papers.

Peter and Lachlan read electricity metre boxes for a living, going about their business with little fuss or drama. They are two white men who seem to suffer no disadvantage, but their lives are not without challenges. In our current state of accelerating capitalism, what were once perfectly respectable jobs, are gradually turned humiliating. The play shows the insidious nature of how money is allowed to compromise the dignity of our workers. Peter and Lachlan have rules to abide by, but not all of them are reasonable.

The production is elegantly directed by Elizabeth Nabben, who manifests a quiet charm around her characters and situations. It seems society has accepted that employers will, by some degree, infringe upon their staff, and The Readers embodies a quality of nonchalance that reflects that reality. Working for someone does not mean that one becomes a stakeholder, one simply becomes an instrument of functionality, and will have to accept a certain amount of dehumanisation within their prescribed responsibilities. It is the profit motive that takes precedence, rather than the welfare of our communities.

John McNeill and Scott Smart play the key roles, both subtle but strong with their humour, delivering excellent nuance for this gentle piece of theatre. They form an amusing duo, comedic but also poignant, without having to reach for creative choices that may be too obvious. The third wheel Annie, a flimsy character with arguably unconvincing traits, is performed by Anni Finsterer who plays up the silliness to great effect, for moments of extraordinary hamminess that prove surprisingly delightful.

In The Readers, we see that the only thing trickling down from top to bottom, is the anxiety of business ownership. Profits, on the other hand, remain exclusively within the upper crust. Managers do not hesitate to exert pressure on those who have to put in the hard yards, but only shareholders stand to gain monetary wise. Peter and Lachlan never complain. Like most of our work force, people accept their lot, accustom to the feeling of disempowerment. We are taught to work hard, to grin and bear it, in order that rewards may be delivered. That belief is not a lie, but it is clearly not the entire truth.

www.belvoir.com.au

Review: Greater Sunrise (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Apr 5 – 21, 2018
Playwright: Zoe Hogan
Director: Julia Patey
Cast: Laurence Coy, Jose Da Costa, Cassandra Sorrell, Alexander Stylianou
Images by Hon Boey

Theatre review
Australia’s history with Timor-Leste is chequered, to say the least. In Zoe Hogan’s Greater Sunrise, we see an account of the evil that we are capable of, when dealing with a neighbouring nation rich with oil, but poor in influence. Australian aid worker Joana discovers the ugly operations that her government undertakes in the country she is assigned to help, and tries to find a way for justice to prevail.

It is admirable that Hogan brings attention to the important but under-reported issues surrounding our relationship with Timor-Leste, but the play struggles to speak powerfully, with a plot structure that is perhaps too filmic in its approach to work on the stage. The erratic timeline and its excessively frequent scene changes, prevent us from becoming invested sufficiently in Joana’s story.

Cassandra Sorrell shows good conviction in the lead role, but performances in Greater Sunrise are rarely more than adequate. The production feels distant and vague, preventing us from finding any meaningful resonance that could correspond with its grand message. Lights by Benjamin Brockman and sound by Clare Hennessy, however, provide a level of polish that helps sustain our attention. The emotional cues provided by design elements give the narrative some tenacity when other aspects falter.

Greater Sunrise provides valuable elucidation about the ongoing project of colonisation in our region. It tells us that we need to find satisfactory methods of reparation for the way Indigenous communities have been unjustly exploited, and also to take responsibility for the immoral and unethical dimensions of our insatiable capitalistic drives. The planet provides immense wonder, but its allure seems determined to elicit human behaviour that is cruel and deplorable.

www.belvoir.com.au