Review: Scenes From A Climate Era (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), May 27 – Jun 25, 2023
Playwright: David Finnigan
Director: Carissa Licciardello
Cast: Harriet Gordon-Anderson, Abbie-Lee Lewis, Brandon McClelland, Ariadne Sgourgos, Charles Wu
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review

Over 80 minutes, a string of familiar scenarios unfold on stage, all dealing with the climate crisis. Some true and some fictional, these more than 50 very short plays, reflect our contemporary attitudes about environmentalism, ranging from cynicism to alarming. David Finnigan’s Scenes from a Climate Era may be urgent in spirit, but is largely banal, in its representation of thoroughly recognisable situations. Nothing is surprising or obscure, so the show tends to underwhelm. Its accuracy in depicting our general nonchalance however, is beyond reproach.

Direction is provided by Carissa Licciardello, who along with set and lighting designer Nick Schlieper, imbue the production with a sense of theatricality at key moments, to help heighten our senses, even if emotions remain detached. Costumes by Ella Butler are versatile but appropriately unassuming, for depictions of these everyday conversations by people from all walks. David Bergman’s music and sound introduce tension when required, and are notably elegant in a show determined to refrain from dramatics, in favour of appealing to our logic.

The ensemble comprises five actors; Harriet Gordon-Anderson, Abbie-Lee Lewis, Brandon McClelland, Ariadne Sgourgos and Charles Wu are well-rehearsed, all demonstrating a good level of creativity that enables them to bring variety and differentiation, between moments in Scene from a Climate Era. Sgourgos and Wu are particularly memorable, for finding opportunities to deliver gentle laughs, as we try to deal with some of the hardest conundrums of our lifetime.

Climate issues seem to have been relegated to a perennial “too hard basket”. There appears to be an insurmountable passivity in how we deal with a crisis, which we can easily imagine to pose no immediate threat. Our lives have become so thoroughly commodified and monetised, we are at a complete loss in dealing with something that refuses to be paid off. In fact, we are discombobulated and unable to fathom anything that wants us to retreat, from capitalistic ways of thinking that have come to fundamentally define modern existence. Parts of Scene from a Climate Era are funny, especially when we watch ourselves march willingly, yet obliviously, towards certain extinction.

Review: Into The Woods (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Mar 18 – Apr 23, 2023
Book: James Lapine
Music and Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim
Director: Eamon Flack
Cast: Marty Alix, Stefanie Caccamo, Peter Carroll, Tamsin Carroll, Andrew Coshan, Lena Cruz, Tim Draxl, Esther Hannaford, Shubshri Kandiah, Mo Lovegrove, Anne-Maree McDonald, Justin Smith
Images by Christopher Hayles

Theatre review

Truth always finds its way into the stories we tell, although the degree with which it is incorporated, varies wildly. Some truths are hard to bear, so we have them varnished and camouflaged. Other truths are easier understood, when disguised as something adjacent to stone cold facts. There is a danger however, that the human mind can sometimes do all it can, to evade truths that are too bitter, so we spare ourselves the cruelty, and fabricate nonsense for delusory alternatives that might be more tolerable, thereby circumventing any action that could help improve matters.

James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim’s Into The Woods takes aim at the ways in which we explain the world to our children, urging us to consider how much protection to offer them, and how much real understanding we want them to have. By extension, it compels each of us to examine our own capacities to handle the rougher aspects of existence, and questions the veracity with which we navigate the more consequential challenges that inevitably arise.

Exuberant direction by Eamon Flack, along with a sense of indefatigable urgency that sets the pace, makes for a show that has us riveted and amused. A stellar cast brings not only great skill and talent, but also an inspiring sincerity, that draws us deep into the nuances, both sensorial and intellectual, of Lapine and Sondheim’s masterpiece.

Orchestrations by Guy Simpson reduces accompaniment to a couple of pianos, with mixed results. An inviting intimacy is achieved for the production, but the music can on occasion be insufficiently rousing. Fortunately, sound design by David Bergman supplements our need for greater drama, in moments where a more rhapsodic level of emotion is required.

Set design by Michael Hankin is fairly minimal in approach, with an abundance of gleaming black surfaces that deliver timeless visual sophistication. Costumes by Micka Agosta do not veer very far away from the vivid essences of characters as prescribed in the text, but several surprising and extravagant interpretations, leave a remarkable impression. Damien  Cooper’s lights are in constant motion, meticulously and imaginatively illuminating the action, to create endlessly sumptuous imagery, whilst facilitating all the meaningful storytelling.

It is probably with a considerable amount of delusion, that people decide to birth babies into existence. Parents imagine that they can shield their offspring from all manner of harm, and further, they fantasise about creating futures that are brighter and altogether lovelier, in which their children can flourish. It is in moments of passion perhaps, that people forget the unrelenting suffering, intermittent it may be for some, that underscores all our days on this plane. They then dream up fairy tales and enchanting fables, to manufacture sweeter, kinder and more tender realities, for ears that will only be delicate for a short amount of time, before they too have to wake up, to all that is nightmarish, in how we have to traverse this mortal experience.

Review: Feminazi (25A Belvoir)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Feb 22 – Mar 11, 2023
Playwright: Laneikka Denne
Director: Danielle Maas
Cast: Shayne de Groot, Ziggy Resnick
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review

Zan spends an inordinate amount of time on social media, expressing her anger about sexism, or to be more precise, declaring her hatred of men. Zan’s brand of feminism, although admirably radical, is full of bitterness and antagonism, to the extent that observers might even think she behaves just like the men she despises. Laneikka Denne’s Feminazi deals with the challenges involved in our navigation of feminist politics, and how entrenchment in patriarchal structures often leads us to act in ways that seem to replicate the very systems that we condemn.

It is a chaotic work, although not incoherent, that represents with a level of accuracy, the anarchic messiness involved, in many of our experiences, when trying to operate outside of established milieus. Directed by Danielle Maas, the show bears an intensity that will no doubt be captivating for those who share similar beliefs pertaining these matters, but humour is sacrificed, in favour of that political fervency. Parker Constantine and Xanthe Dobbie are responsible for video elements that feature prominently in the production; vivid and joyous, they encapsulate online culture in ways that reflect an attentive scrutiny, of everything happening in digital realms.

Hailley Hunt’s set design places in the centre, a large video monitor, pristine in contrast to the dishevelment of Zan’s neglected living quarters. Costumes by Hunt are athletic and powerful, for a character obsessed with cultivating an aggressive persona, in public and in private. Frankie Clarke’s lights and Aisling Bermingham’s sounds offer valuable enhancements to atmosphere, preventing the viewing experience from turning monotonous.

Actor Ziggy Resnick is extremely convincing as Zan, with an intimidating quality that provides for the production, a unique and distinct flavour completely commensurate with its incendiary title. Resnick’s commitment, along with an impressively thorough familiarity with the material, keeps us riveted, even when Zan’s behaviour becomes deeply alienating. Shayne de Groot offers purposeful support in the role of Angie, the voice of reason that enters the scene to disrupt the escalating danger of Zan’s intentions.

As feminists, we need to embrace discomfort and upheaval, for the opposite, that of familiarity and politeness, is almost always certain to keep us on the straight and narrow, playing by the rules of the adversary, and leading us nowhere meaningful. It is integral that we remember that the patriarchy understands more than anything, the language of power, and of intimidation, but agitators need to remember that that mode of communication must not be absorbed into all aspects of our own lives. We need to lead with love and kindness, especially when dealing with individuals, for few of us are unscathed by this harmful system. To survive any war, combatants need to keep their eye on the prize, especially when the desired result, is one we know to require an immense shift, to something radically compassionate and inclusionary.

Review: Blessed Union (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Feb 11 – Mar 11, 2023
Playwright: Maeve Marsden
Director: Hannah Goodwin
Cast: Danielle Cormack, Maude Davey, Emma Diaz, Jasper Lee-Lindsay
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review

Judith and Ruth have made the surprising decision to part ways, after decades of love and marriage. Determined to stay queer to the end, the plan is to not go through the typical acrimony of a straight divorce, but in Blessed Union by Maeve Marsden, we discover that a civil split is easier said than done. It might just be five short years since its legalisation in Australia, but it is safe to say that nobody is surprised to be talking about the dissolution of same-sex marriages, such is our cynicism about that ancient institution. 

The comedy of Marsden’s play may be concerned with its breakdown, but what we find ourselves observing, are specific qualities of the queer family, even though its general structure seems scarcely different from its more conventional alternative. With fundamentally different concepts of gender and sexuality at the very foundations of family life, the couple’s offspring seem to have developed into brighter young adults, although it appears that they are in no way more fulfilled than their counterparts from straight homes. Furthermore, their misery at times of difficulty, look exactly to be the same.

Dialogue and characters in Blessed Union are thoroughly delightful, with an irrepressible verve that keeps us engaged and fascinated. Direction by Hannah Goodwin provides for the show, distinct and widely varying emotional dimensions, that help us empathise with the many intense feelings being explored. In her efforts to sustain its infectious vigour however, the show can at times feel rushed, making it difficult to decipher some of the meaningful intricacies being spoken.

The cast of four is beautifully cohesive, in their portrayal of a modern nuclear family. Danielle Cormack’s passionate approach as Ruth, reminds us of the stakes involved, as the personalities watch everything fall apart. Maude Davey brings unexpected nuance to Judith, with a lightness of touch that helps us discover the sensitive aspects, of a story being told with a lot of raucousness. Their daughter Delilah is played by Emma Diaz, whose precise depictions of the endlessly complex experience of someone caught in the middle of their parents’ breakup, are painfully accurate as well as being highly amusing. Jasper Lee-Lindsay is wonderfully memorable as younger son Asher, full of charming whimsy and exquisite timing, for many of the show’s biggest laughs.

Designer Isabel Hudson conveys the values of our upper middle class, through a set and costumes that reflect the unassuming respectability, that queer people have grown to inhabit. Lights by Amelia Lever-Davidson and sound by Alyx Dennison turn up the drama on occasion, but are mostly warm and sentimental, for a staging that has at its heart, an abundance of tenderness.

It is somewhat strange, that people who have seen the worst, from a lifetime of persecution and prejudice, should wish to bring innocent lives into the same world that has inflicted so much cruelty. Judith and Ruth try so hard to spare their kids the heartache of a home torn asunder, but there is no denying the suffering that humans will go through, no matter how much protection is being furnished. The mothers however, have undoubtedly succeeded in providing better lives for their children, the nature of which they could only dream about in their youth. Times have indeed changed, and we seem more capable of valuing kindness, but it remains to be seen, if this new embrace of compassion and generosity, is but another flash in the pan.

Review: Janet’s Vagrant Love (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Jan 19 – 22, 2023
Playwright: Elaine Crombie
Directors: Kirk Page
Cast: Elaine Crombie
Images by

Theatre review

In between personal anecdotes of love and loss, Elaine Crombie sings incredibly beautiful songs, as she plays her guitar, with accompanist Amaru Derwent on keyboard. The show is entitled Janet’s Vagrant Love, but not for a second do we feel that Crombie conveys anything but her own deepest truths, in these recollections, involving people who have come and gone. We witness joy and pain, seemingly dichotomous but in comfortable juxtaposition, as well as strength alongside vulnerability, such are the complexities and incoherence of existence.

Direction by Kirk Page allows the fractures to remain exposed and unvarnished in the show. The experience is simply about being in the presence of humanity, one that we can feel to be natural and real, with narratives that are as disjointed as those in every person’s life. The presentation may be unpretentious, but there is no denying the skill of Crombie’s vocals and song writing, delivering many moments of transcendence.

Crombie, as a Pitjantjatjara, Warrigmal, South Sea & German descended woman, very generously says that this place is home for all of us. It can only follow, that when one of our family, especially if they are part of a lineage that has grappled with generations of dispossession, takes to the stage and magnanimously shares the contents of her heart, we have to bear witness, and be filled with a deep appreciation, to be offered an opportunity that many do not deserve.

Review: Blue (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Jan 14 – 29, 2023
Playwright: Thomas Weatherall
Directors: Deborah Brown
Cast: Thomas Weatherall
Images by Joseph Mayers

Theatre review

Barely out of his teens, Mark is already facing some of life’s biggest challenges. Having been dealt devastatingly bad hands in quick succession, he is left to pick up the pieces, in a world he is not quite ready for. Thomas Weatherall’s Blue is a work of fiction, but its explorations of despair feel exhaustive and authentic. There is a beauty in his rhythmic arrangement of words, that keeps the darkness from becoming alienating, along with a wistful humour that gently endears. As is perhaps typical of young writing, Blue may not always be sufficiently insightful, but its ability to convey poignancy is unequivocal.

Directed by Deborah Brown, the staging is tender and immediate, consistently intimate in its rendering of a contemplative one-man show. Set design by Cris Baldwin and Jacob Nash evokes a glacial edge, mesmerising with its intricate detailing of surfaces, and effective at transporting us to the oceanic settings that play an important part of the storytelling. David Bergman’s video work is projected onto the entirely white vista, for breathtaking visual transformations that move us beyond the capacity of words. Lights by Chloe Ogilvie are soft and sensitive, helping us connect with the undulating melancholy of the piece. Wil Hughes’ minimal sound design too, is delicate in its efforts to enhance the efficacy of the words we hear.

As performer, Weatherall’s disarming charm lures us into the deeply introspective monologue, to participate in Blue‘s solemn ruminations about the nature of love and loss. Weatherall’s knack for naturalism makes convincing everything that he presents. His ability to inhabit Mark’s intense emotions is compelling, proving successful at drawing sympathy for the character’s very unfortunate circumstances.

Blue showcases a new era of masculinity, one that feels radically different from all preceding generations. It is unafraid of what it feels, and refuses to be humiliated for honouring truth and emotion. It disregards pretences of power, seeking instead genuine manifestations of strength. It values vulnerability, and understands human fallibility to be natural and necessary, in attaining improved lives, for the individual as well as for communities. When men stop denying the sadness that will always figure in being human, they can perhaps chart a new course, by first identifying what it is, that they really need, to make this existence truly fulfilling.

Review: The Jungle And The Sea (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Nov 12 – Dec 18, 2022
Playwrights: S. Shakthidharan and Eamon Flack
Directors: S. Shakthidharan and Eamon Flack
Cast: Anandavalli, Prakash Belawadi, Emma Harvie, Nadie Kammallaweera, Jacob Rajan, Kalieaswari Srinivasan, Rajan Velu, Biman Wimalaratne
Images by Sriram Jeyaraman

Theatre review

The Jungle and The Sea tells the story of one Sri Lankan family, during the twenty-five years of civil war that left a nation devastated. Written and directed by the formidable pairing of S. Shakthidharan and Eamon Flack, the play is astonishing with the depth of emotion it elicits. A profoundly moving work, incorporating influences from the ancient texts of The Mahābhāratha and Antigone, our humanity is engaged at the most fundamental levels, through a tale of survival and of human ruin. Discussions on war require of us to cut through all that is superfluous; The Jungle and The Sea certainly gets to the core of what matters, giving Australian audiences a much needed reprieve from lives adorned with hollow distraction and incessant superficiality.

Performed in the English language, along with what could be considered an Australian sensibility, the production is a seamless meld of cultures that makes palpably authentic, what some might classify a foreign story. Style, form and tone are all inextricably Sri Lankan and Australian, consistent and simultaneous. Its theatrical language is both traditional and new, allowing access to the past, whilst creating meaning for the present. It values what a marginalised culture brings to the table, imbues it with agency and lets it occupy centre stage, in ways that we may all be captivated by this acutely consequential tale.

Set design by Dale Ferguson conflates the brutality of war with the tenderness of nature, for a performance space that is unobtrusive, yet intensely evocative. Ferguson’s costumes instil dignity for the show’s characters, who suffer the ravages of war but are nonetheless indomitable. Veronique Bennett’s lights are sensitive to the minute fluctuations in mood and timbre of the piece, always precise in helping our sight connect with sentiments that are varied and nuanced. Music by Arjunan Puveendran and sound by Steve Francis, are marvellously rendered to guide us on this odyssey of sorrow and salvation, with live musicians Indu Balachandran and Puveendran offering some of the most exquisite accompaniment one could hope to encounter.

A sensational cast of eight, each with remarkable skill and insight, takes us on a journey of unparalleled poignancy and grace. Kalieaswari Srinivasan shines as the spirited and defiant Abi, memorable for delivering irresistible drama, and for making the Antigone-inspired character an utterly endearing young woman. Prakash Belawadi demonstrates extraordinary versatility in various roles, impressive not only with the flawless timing he executes quite effortlessly, but also with the stirring humanity he introduces to all his parts. An extended scene between Belawadi and Emma Harvie as father and daughter Siva and Lakshmi, is unforgettable for its intricate weaving of comedy and trepidation, incredible for the heartiness of laughter they generate in the midst of great tragedy. Additionally, Harvie’s disarming naturalism brings to the show a resonance that only increases its believability.

Anandavalli who serves as performer, choreographer and cultural advisor, opens the show with a mesmerising dance, and as matriarch Gowrie brings an understated but powerful dimension to the truth-telling that is underway. Nadie Kammallaweera too is a strikingly elegant presence, able to convey rich layers of intention, that lay behind a thoughtful restraint. Jacob Rajan, Rajan Velu and Biman Wimalaratne are all accomplished actors tackling a range of support characters, in a show that speaks from a place of immense sincerity.

The Jungle and The Sea is heart breaking, but it is not merely catharsis that can be derived from what it expresses. After months of attack on Ukraine by Russia commencing in February this year of 2022, a missile struck Poland at the village of Przewodów, on the day the play opened in Sydney. It is clear that humans repeat mistakes, no matter how grave the consequences. Trauma makes us resort to denial, for it is natural that we shift attention away from pain, but stories are all we have, to remind us of the bad things we keep doing. War seems always to be bolstered by lies. Reaching for the truth, is perhaps the only tool for most of us, to help turn things for the good.

Review: The Italians (25A Belvoir)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Oct 23 – Nov 6, 2022
Playwright: Danny Ball
Director: Riley Spadaro
Cast: Danny Ball, Philip D’ambrosio, Nic English, Deborah Galanos, Amy Hack, Emma O’Sullivan, Brandon Scane, Tony Poli
Images by Katherine Griffiths

Theatre review
Joe and Sal are very much in love, and just as they approach bourgeois heaven with impending nuptials and a home in North Bondi, Joe’s estranged cousin Luca materialises out of the blue to wreak havoc. Danny Ball’s The Italians too is a disruptor of middle class style and taste. The play seeks to assert a comedic sensibility that feels characteristic of an Italian-Australian identity, one that is bold and brassy, slightly crass in tone, and with a hint of irreverence. It is deliberately chaotic and sometimes incongruent, but always joyous and relentlessly playful.

Riley Spadaro’s direction introduces a distinct campness to this show that centres around a gay couple, including song and dance numbers that exist solely to entertain. It is discernible that The Italians wishes to break constrictive moulds, and deconstruct conventions of theatre-making that may have become too staid. It contributes to discussions about the decolonisation of the art form, and what it means to create Australian theatre, in this moment of increased awareness, around the legitimacy of minority cultures.

Set design by Grace Deacon features a vibrant wallpaper that establishes from the outset, an aesthetic that is almost garish, but knowingly so. Her costumes reflect an interest in archetypes, but are perhaps too predictable with the approach taken, for these larger than life characters. Phoebe Pilcher’s lights are delightful and dynamic, as they explore the possibilities of manufacturing, for a small space, something a little heightened and absurd. Also memorable are Luke Di Somma’s sound and music, especially when referencing soap opera traditions, for sequences that revel in the melodrama of people’s lives in The Italians.

Playwright Ball plays Sal, with a flamboyant streak, charming yet comedic, reminiscent of leading men in classic European film. Brandon Scane brings a greater sense of realism as Joe, that delivers a feeling of authenticity and universality, for a show that otherwise does become highly, and intentionally, slapstick. Philip D’ambrosio is a noteworthy supporting actor, especially for his turn as Pina, totally hilarious yet so convincing, as an elderly relative with a strange penchant for paracetamol. Performances can be somewhat uneven, in this unapologetically messy affair, but the spiritedness of this jubilant production is unquestionably enchanting.

Interrogating whiteness, is a way to release oneself from the oppressive grip of a culture obsessed with status and class. In The Italians, we observe an understanding of complexities around the proximity to whiteness, that certain Europeans experience. Joe and Sal are young white men, but being Italian and being gay, they know instinctively that the hierarchies that work surreptitiously on this land, are predicated on the unjust marginalisation of many who are deemed “less than”. They then have a choice, to lean on their whiteness, or to find ways to dismantle the injustices that are so thoroughly entrenched within all the systems that matter.

Review: Never Closer (25A Belvoir)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Oct 4 – 16, 2022
Playwright: Grace Chapple
Director: Hannah Goodwin
Cast: Emma Diaz, Raj Labade, Mabel Li, Philip Lynch, Ariadne Sgouros, Adam Sollis
Images by Phil Erbacher

Theatre review
Niamh returns to her hometown in Northern Ireland for Christmas, and finds that all her old friends from school are still there. It is 1987, and there are certainly compelling reasons to go search for greener pastures, but in Grace Chapple’s Never Closer, we explore the nature of human attachments, and what it is that makes us persist, or indeed relinquish. Chapple’s writing bears a generosity that lends a sense of sophistication, to a tale about the difficult decisions that people make. It is intricately considered, with an admirable sensitivity as she navigates some hard subjects, but made palatable by an effortless humour, that keeps the journey amusing.

Direction by Hannah Goodwin leans into the comedy of the piece, relishing in each of its funny details, whilst painstakingly creating for the audience, a realism that makes everything feel authentic and convincing. There are six distinct personalities in Never Closer, all of whom are made believable and endearing by Goodwin’s uncompromising approach, of making each moment count.

It is a splendid ensemble cast that tells the story, with an incredible chemistry that makes all that they offer up, feel meaningful and true. Mabel Li demonstrates great versatility as Niamh, seamless in the way she blends the comical with the earnest, in a show that really succeeds in being tender and hilarious both at once. Adam Sollis is charged with the responsibility of instigating some very bombastic drama, as Connor, which he accomplishes with a natural ease. Emma Diaz as Deirdre and Raj Labade as Jimmy, deliver nuances throughout, that seem subtle yet are palpably moving. Philip Lynch as Harry and Ariadne Sgouros as Mary, are bold with their desire to make us laugh, and they never miss a beat.

Stage design by Grace Deacon takes us decades back in time, impressive particularly with the many smaller household items that look completely to be from a bygone era. Costumes by Keerthi Subramanyam offer a constant reminder that the story is of a time past, even if the characters feel so present and intimate. Phoebe Pilcher’s lights and Alyx Dennison’s sounds, work quietly to manufacture a familiar domestic environment, but are certainly powerful when required to cause a ruckus.

As the saying goes, “the world is your oyster” and for the young, that is especially true. To see Niamh’s friends unwilling (or perhaps unable) to leave home, feels a sad waste of opportunity, but it should probably only be for each individual, to lay judgement on how one’s time on earth is spent. Many have stayed put, and accomplished much. Others have travelled far and wide, and seen all there is. In Never Closer we are shown that not all our destinies are reliant on personal decisions. Often where we go, is animated by circumstance, but only becoming apparent with the passage of time.

Review: Looking For Alibrandi (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Oct 1 – Nov 6, 2022
Playwright: Vidya Rajan (based on the book by Melina Marchetta)
Director: Stephen Nicolazzo
Cast: John Marc Desengano, Ashley Lyons, Chanella Macri, Lucia Mastrantone, Hannah Monson, Jennifer Vuletic
Images by Daniel Boud

Theatre review
It is the 1990s, and Josie is about to graduate from high school. We find out that the bright, young woman is determined to become a lawyer, which seems an aspiration not out of the ordinary, for many a modern Australian. Looking closer however, we see that she comes from a legacy of shattered dreams, with her mother and her grandmother, both feeling let down by life’s promises. A lot of Melina Marchett’s 1992 novel Looking for Alibrandi, is concerned with the immigrant experience, bringing particular focus to the post-war Italian diaspora. In this stage adaptation by Vidya Rajan, we see the emotional toll taken by three generations of Alibrandi women, and along with Josie, wonder if she will be the one who breaks the cycle of unfulfilled potential.

Thirty years on, Looking for Alibrandi can feel slightly old-fashioned in its rendering of marginalisation, as a daily reality for those who are considered lesser Australians. Its perspective places emphasis on the minutia of its characters, without sufficiently tackling the systemic factors that influence outcomes, or to put it more bluntly, it neglects to reveal the social structures that aid and abet prevailing inequities that privilege a certain class. The Alibrandi women have a tendency to blame only themselves for their woes, but we understand that things are never completely of their own doing.

Nonetheless, the writing is wonderfully humorous, and as a a work of entertainment, Looking for Alibrandi is certainly satisfying. Directed by Stephen Nicolazzo, the production is suffused with heart and soul, using a theme of tradition, to create a theatrical experience memorable for its atmosphere. The fragrance of Italian food stewing in an oversized pot for the entire duration, firmly establishes a sense that a subculture is occupying space, resolute in speaking on its own terms.

Almost half the stage, designed by Kate Davis, is taken up by crates filled with bulbous red tomatoes, against velvety crimson drapes indicating something classic, and desirous of an old-way extravagance. Sumptuous lights by Katie Sfetkidis are brash when necessary, to make effective the many witty punchlines, but also persuasively sentimental, for sections when we delve into the more rapturous aspects of the Alibrandi story. Daniel Nixon’s sound design incorporates curious background noise throughout the piece, occasionally distracting but an interesting commentary perhaps, on our obsession with silence in colonised forms of theatre audienceship.

In the role of Josie is Chanella Macri, who proves herself an accomplished comedian, flawless with her delivery of the many delightful jokes, that make Looking for Alibrandi a thoroughly amusing time. Paired with her ability to embody a consistent sense of truth, not only for her character but also for the deeper meanings inherent in the narrative, the compelling Macri impresses by telling the story with great integrity.

Lucia Mastrantone plays Josie’s mother Christina and schoolmate Sera, with a marvellous flamboyance layered over an intimate affiliation, that the actor clearly feels for the material. Jennifer Vuletic is a strong presence as Nonna and as archetypal nun Sister Bernadette, effortless in conveying authority for both matriarchs. Supporting cast members John Marc Desengano, Ashley Lyons and Hannah Monson are all endearing, and convincing with their contributions, in a show remarkable with its taut proficiencies and irresistible charm.

Josie’s talent and self-belief are the best ingredients for a success story, but they are still only just half the story. No matter how dedicated and hardworking, Josie still has forces working against her, in a world that remains racist and sexist, and Josie’s seeming obliviousness to those factors can only serve to make things even worse. Significant time has past since the original publication of Marchett’s book, making Josie close to 50 years of age today. We can only wonder if she has attained all her wishes, if the grit she demonstrates has taken her far, and if our society has allowed all that promise to flourish.