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 Dance Of Death (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Nov 10 – Dec 23, 2018
Playwright: August Strindberg (literal translation, May-Brit Akerholt)
Director: Judy Davis
Cast: Giorgia Avery, Colin Friels, Pamela Rabe, Toby Schmitz
Images by Lisa Tomasetti

Theatre review
Alice and Edgar live secluded on an island, married to each other but full of hate, in a state of constant exhaustion from having spent every waking moment bitter, and berating all that they come in contact with. When relative Kurt arrives for a brief visit, the antagonism escalates, as we observe the vitriol begin to infect their unsuspecting guest. From 1900, August Strindberg’s The Dance Of Death is characteristically expressionist, with the writer’s socialist attitudes perceptible in the play, although its criticisms of class are somewhat benign by today’s standards.

Its comedy is dark and caustic, and Judy Davis’ direction certainly conveys that subversive quality well, for a show that is consistently amusing, if not quite laugh out loud funny. Strindberg’s absurd and surreal dimensions are embraced by designers, who deliver a production many will find stimulating with its declarative flamboyance. Paul Charlier’s music is libidinous but disturbing, and extraordinarily theatrical in its effect. The stage floats on a pool of blood, with a backdrop proclaiming “hell on earth”; Brian Thomson’s set design and Matthew Scott’s lights conspire in a visual tango that intrigues and mystifies. Costumes and wigs by Judy Tanner are wonderfully evocative, with an exquisite red gown late in the piece, proving to be particularly memorable.

Pamela Rabe cuts a striking figure as the decadent former actress Alice, operatic in style and thoroughly entertaining, if slightly deficient with her character’s emotional authenticity. Edgar is played by Colin Friels, similarly heightened in his approach, for a beguiling study of narcissistic machismo at its ugliest. Cousin Kurt is taken through drastic transformations by Toby Schmitz, whose cheeky humour reinvigorates the action with each of his entrances.

The Dance Of Death succeeds at keeping us engaged, but we wait for poignancy that never arrives. It inspires us to think about marriage, about the way we deal with this thing called love, and how hate only exists in response to something unequivocally cherished, but the show keeps distant, as though aloof, unwilling to be touched, unable to move. Emotions can be frightening, so we go to art to better witness its machinations. Alice and Edgar share a love, but their vulnerabilities are all but calloused by the time we meet them at their twenty-fifth year of entanglement, and it is as though they no longer feel anything. They know only to make demands, and are incapable of giving anything, yet this dynamic is set on a perpetual loop, sustained by the ever surprising human capacity to withstand debasement. From the outside however, it is always easier to perceive with clarity, and we know that walking away from someone who has overstayed their welcome, is the simplest solution.

www.belvoir.com.au

Review: random (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Oct 18 – Nov 11, 2018
Playwright: debbie tucker green
Director: Leticia Cáceres
Cast: Zahra Newman

Theatre review
A regular family wakes up to another ordinary day, getting ready for their midweek routine. We soon discover that things do not go as planned, when the police appear on their doorstep, delivering news of catastrophic proportions. debbie tucker green’s random is about youth violence in metropolitan cities, a consequence of our incompetence as communities to provide adequate care and guidance. The playwright’s unique combination of slang, patois and poetry, represents a sublime reshaping of the English language, that emerges from the Caribbean migrant experience in England. Keen observations of contemporary life, are positioned alongside nuanced social critique, giving palpable voice to the black working class.

Actor Zahra Newman plays all the characters in this one-woman show, proving herself a force of nature, and a legitimate superstar of the Australian stage. With extraordinary talent and skill, Newman tells the story of random with exceptional dynamism, taking us from jubilation to the extremes of tragedy, for an experience full of complexity and sentimental enthralment. The multitude of voices, emotions and gestures that the actor is able to portray for each and every personality, are administered with an astounding fluency, as we watch her switch flawlessly between states of mind, whether these people appear for a breathtaking split-second or for several bewitching minutes. Newman is an unequivocal genius, and the theatrical magic she dispenses here, is simply divine.

Directed by Leticia Cáceres, the production is sharp, powerful, often awe-inspiring. Hilarious at the start, and later on, turned harrowing, every moment is captivating, fuelled by an urgent confidence, a vehement need to present the play, with all its sociological pertinence and aesthetic glory. Designed with commendable sophistication, the staging features lights by Rachel Burke and music by The Sweats, both restrained in approach but marvellously efficacious, for this brazenly empty space.

There will be some who wish to call the phenomenon universal, but to neglect the racial dimension of violence in random would be callous. We are all capable of heinous acts, but the circumstances around racial inequity must always be taken into account when trying to understand the social ills of any community. Poor outcomes should never be considered random or accidental, when it is clear that the cards are clearly stacked against some. To be blind to the colour of our neighbours, is to be wilfully ignorant of the challenges that they face. We all deserve the same rights and privileges, but to imagine that things are already equal, and to behave as though nobody is ever in need of additional support, is to perpetuate and fortify the devil’s work.

www.belvoir.com.au

Review: An Enemy Of The People (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Oct 7 – Nov 4, 2018
Playwright: Melissa Reeves (after Henrik Ibsen)
Director: Anne-Louise Sarks
Cast: Peter Carroll, Catherine Davies, Leon Ford, Steve Le Marquand, Kenneth Moraleda, Kate Mulvany, Nikita Waldron, Charles Wu
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Dr Stockman is wellness consultant at the local spa resort, where business is booming, resulting in great prosperity for the township. When contamination is discovered in the water and patients are developing diseases as a consequence, she proceeds to reveal all in order that harm can be minimised, and that the town can find the right way forward. Her good intentions however, are met with opposition by men in power, who are motivated only by self-interest, refusing to let emerge, the truth that will cost them severely. In Melissa Reeves’ version of Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy Of The People, there is the added dimension of Dr Stockman’s gender, that fuels the actions of these deplorable men.

This revision of the 1882 classic arrives at a time of heightened consciousness, in matters relating to the deep-rooted, long-established and systematic deprivation of power as experienced by women everywhere. There is no explicit naming of misogyny in Reeves’ reinvention, but director Anne-Louise Sarks makes it abundantly clear, that what we are talking about here is not only Ibsen’s concerns over democracy and corruption, but also the currently pertinent topic, on the pervasive abuse of women, in this undeniably and resolutely patriarchal world. The show suffers a slow start, with tentative humour and uncomfortable chemistry between personalities, but things escalate for a spectacular second half, enthralling and powerful in its exposition of political ills and challenges that we face as a community.

The addition of a scene involving Stockman’s cleaning lady, Randine chastising the middle classes, along with the theatre-going bourgeoisie, expands our understanding of the body politic. In efforts to make our nations great again, it seems we inevitably become embroiled in discussions that turn increasingly petty in their scope; as we drill down deeper and get closer to the bone of what we think our problems are, we habitually turn exclusionary, always putting ourselves first and forgetting the rest. Intersectionality is not yet the custom, and in Reeves’ An Enemy Of The People, we watch it explained with agonising clarity.

Actor Kate Mulvany is strong as Dr Stockman, particularly persuasive when the role gets emotionally intense. There is an infallible sense of confidence in Mulvany that allows her audience to engage deeply in the arguments being made, and we find our philosophical and ideological selves gratifyingly enriched by the experience. The aforementioned Randine is played by Catherine Davies, who impresses with exquisite nuance and a robust presence. Also memorable is Kenneth Moraleda as the obnoxious Aslaksen, delightfully comical in his animated depiction of a crooked, repugnant undesirable.

2018 could be remembered for the unprecedented number of elected women officials quitting Australian politics, with names like Julia Banks, Emma Husar and Ann Sudmalis making the news, telling stories about bullying and intimidation taking place in quarters where we should be demanding the highest of integrity. The numbers reveal, plain and simple, that women are being deliberately shut out from positions of power, but myths around notions of biology and meritocracy have formed narratives that prevent us from carrying out justice, whether or not we are personally invested. Dr Stockman says she will fight to the bitter end, but our reality demonstrates that her solitary perseverance is no match for the glass ceiling.

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: A Taste Of Honey (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Jul 21 – Aug 19, 2018
Playwright: Shelagh Delaney
Director: Eamon Flack
Cast: Taylor Ferguson, Thuso Lekwape, Genevieve Lemon, Josh McConville, Tom Anson Mesker
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Jo is at the end of her teenage years, but there seems little she can look forward to in adulthood. Jo wishes to be independent of her mother, but Helen has taught her few skills, having spent her life dependent on lovers that never stayed the long haul. British playwright Shelagh Delaney wrote her first piece A Taste Of Honey at the age of 19, expressing youthful angst as it had meant in 1958. Her frustrations with the world, as encapsulated here, is likely a universal quality that recurs with each generation, but it is doubtful that the play’s temporal concerns have been able to retain much resonance.

Delaney’s depiction of negligent parenting in A Taste Of Honey is reliant on the denigration of the maternal character, with a criticism of her promiscuity in Act One that is no longer dramatically efficacious in 2018. In the absence of a persuasive villain, our empathy for the protagonist is compromised. The action happens almost entirely in a small apartment, with only a hint of the outside world evident in Jo’s troubles. The impact on young lives by social dynamics of the time are alluded to, but insufficiently examined. Our contemporary sensibilities look for commensurate details, but the work struggles to deliver more than cursory relevance.

Leading lady Taylor Ferguson is an endearing and compelling presence, with a wonderfully meticulous approach, ensuring that Jo is convincing at every juncture. Genevieve Lemon is a very entertaining Helen, delightfully vivacious in her portrayal of an intriguing personality. The surrounding men (Thuso Lekwape, Josh McConville, Tom Anson Mesker) are individually charming, with each performer able to introduce a greater sense of dimension to their roles than what is perhaps prescribed. The cast does a good job of sustaining our attention, and we stay with them until the end, but it is arguable if the production is able to convey much that is of lasting interest.

Young women today have so much to live for. Certainly, there are disparities between the sexes that are yet to be resolved, but the freedoms we enjoy in the West are hard fought for, and unprecedented. Girls no longer have to grow up into their mothers. Great examples of womanhood are everywhere, and it is no longer unimaginable to choose a courageous path. Jo’s pessimistic circumstances may not be entirely a thing of the past, but the opportunities for abandoning them today, are infinitely greater.

www.belvoir.com.au