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.

www.belvoir.com.au

Review: Who’s Afraid (25A Belvoir)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Aug 24 – Sep 11, 2022
Director: Brendon McDonall
Cast: Danielle Cormack, Nicole Da Silva, David Franklin, Joshua Shediak
Images by Kasper Wensveen

Theatre review
It is New Year’s Day 2020, Australia is on fire, and a highly contagious virus is approaching. 2 couples are in a very upper class home, making efforts to fall pregnant. Sarah Walker’s Who’s Afraid is a sex comedy of sorts, involving lesbians Georgia and Nikki, trying to make babies with their gay acquaintances David and Marty, at a time when the world seemed intent on burning itself to the ground.

The concept is fiercely satirical,  for a culture that remains staunchly reverential about human procreation, but execution of the idea is ambivalent at best. There is little about the play that feels sufficiently critical of its characters, so the humour resides instead, with the clumsiness surrounding their negotiations and their various attempts at insemination.

Who’s Afraid has its compelling moments, especially when it makes references to Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf and lets the couples get dark with their arguments, but its real focus is on delivering laughs with the comedy, which tends to be broad and obvious. Directed by Brendon McDonnall, who although leans in on the corniness, ensures that the story is told with clarity and a degree of nuance.

Production design by Grace Deacon is visually appealing, but the assemblage of the house’s multiple rooms on one small stage, proves a real challenge. Martin Kinnane’s lights provide a convincing sense of dimension, for the contrasting tone of each sequence, and Pru Montin’s sound design further enhances the show’s comic qualities.

The cast is energetic, and admirably invested in the piece. Danielle Cormack and Nicole Da Silva play Nikki and Georgia respectively, both with captivating presences, and a rambunctious approach that seizes our attention. David Franklin is Marty, similarly intense and almost forceful, in his need to elicit laughter. Joshua Shediak is a more relaxed performer, but no less magnetic as David, impressively demonstrating that restraint is necessary, when everything else is already spelling it all out for the audience.

The play’s hesitancy at making stronger and more rigorous arguments, against people having children, is its own worst enemy. An opportunity to be incendiary and controversial, is given up in favour of creating something frivolous, that ultimately offers little to ruminate on. There is no need for any finality to debates on bringing babies into a messed up world, but impassioned discussions on the matter, are certainly the right thing to encourage.

www.fouroneone.tvwww.belvoir.com.au

Review: Tell Me I’m Here (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Aug 20 – Sep 25, 2022
Playwright: Veronica Nadine Gleeson (based on the book by Anne Deveson)
Director: Leticia Cáceres
Cast: Tom Conroy, Deborah Galanos, Nadine Garner, Raj LaBade, Sean O’Shea Ellis, Jana Zvedeniuk
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Jonathan has schizophrenia, but he is not the only one who suffers its consequences. The story is told from his mother Anne’s perspective, who for obvious reasons, has to keep her wits about her, and is therefore extremely level-headed. Tell Me I’m Here is a stage adaptation by Veronica Nadine Gleeson, based on the 1991 memoir of the aforementioned Anne Deveson. We see the chaos created by Jonathan’s illness, along with a certain stoicism that Anne has to cultivate, in order to manage the challenges presented by her son’s condition.

There is a monotony to the hopeless exasperation expressed in the play, as well as an unrelenting frenzy brought on by the mental disorder. The story often feels stagnant, which is probably an accurate representation of Anne and Jonathan’s lives, but director Leticia Cáceres injects a great amount of energy to the staging, so that our attention is consistently engaged, even if our emotions tend to reflect Anne’s impassive pragmatism. Cáceres also ensures that characters are always depicted with dignity, as we explore the vulnerabilities of their difficult existence. The lead performers embody those admirable yet unenviable qualities with great aplomb.

Nadine Garner plays Anne, with an impressive exactitude that offers fine balance to the naturalism that she instinctively delivers, for this tale of parenthood and heart break. Tom Conroy is inventive in the role of Jonathan, and is suitably wild with a performance memorable for its radiant humanity. The unyielding intensity from both, are given moderation by a jaunty ensemble of four performers, Deborah Galanos, Raj LaBade, Sean O’Shea Ellis and Jana Zvedeniuk, who offer a sense of buoyancy, to a show that is at its heart, full of despondency.

Set design by Stephen Curtis features an imposing bookcase, stuffed with exemplars of breeding and sophistication, as though a reminder that all the refinement in the world, cannot prevent a person from the trauma that life will invariably dispense upon them. Costumes by Ella Butler bear a whimsical charm, that firmly positions all the personalities we encounter, in a realm that straddles perfectly, between theatricality and authenticity. Veronique Bennett’s lights are dynamic, almost busy, in their attempt at providing visual flourish, to accompany a narrative of the disturbed mind. Sound and music by the duo of Alyx Dennison  and Steve Francis are beautifully accomplished, able to convey nuanced textures for an emotional landscape that can otherwise feel too static.

Nature is cruel. The gift of life, comes with the surety of death, and in the process it seems no one leaves unscathed. Even those who are perceived to be awarded a charmed life, must think that the challenges that they do face in private, to be the hardest thing. To witness the torment of those in Tell Me I’m Here however, is a sobering reminder that there are indeed worse spaces to find oneself.

www.belvoir.com.au

Review: Moon Rabbit Rising (25A Belvoir)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Jun 29 – Jul 10, 2022
Director: Nicole Pingon
Cast: Mym Kwa, Jon Lam, Jasper Lee-Lindsay, Monica Sayers, Rachel Seeto
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
The ancient Chinese legend of 嫦娥 Chang’e has been told with many variations, but what is certain about the story, is that it involves her beau 后裔 Hou Yi, an elixir and the moon. Moon Rabbit Rising is a devised work based on that very tale. Without the use of any dialogue, we revisit a myth that has persisted through the ages, and that a billion people memorialise, during annual celebrations of the Mid-Autumn Festival.

What we remember about Chang’e and Houyi is explored through physical theatre in Moon Rabbit Rising, with a delicate sensibility that makes the presentation look more like an abstract dance, than a literal representation of the beloved narrative. Director Nicole Pingon’s creation is one of considerable beauty. It incorporates the story’s inherent naivety for a show able to express a gamut of emotions, from which the audience can form personal interpretations, whether about the immediate story, or tangential departures inspired by what one encounters.

Tyler Fitzpatrick’s evocative lighting design provides for the staging, a hypnotic quality that encourages our minds to simultaneously focus and dream, to use what our eyes see, and travel to mythical and perhaps philosophical spaces within. Christine Pan’s sound and music are wonderfully rich, memorable for the modernity and the sensuality she introduces, to this most traditional of folklore.

Elderly performer Jon Lam delivers untold resonance and profundity, as we delve into an exploration of heritage. Together with four younger members of cast, an exceptionally cohesive ensemble is built, with a shared earnestness that demonstrates a commitment to something that weighs of unmistakeable significance. Their faces reveal an intense connection with the material involved, and we reciprocate by investing sensitively into all that they offer.

On this land, people of colour have had to sublimate our histories, modifying and even burying psychic links to ancestral pasts, in order that we may be allowed to feel at home. That strategy for survival is not just a result of our acquiescence to unfriendly demands, but is in fact a way for many, to deal with difficult situations that had to be left behind. As we emerge from those traumas, it only makes sense to rediscover and embrace parts of what we had escaped. The danger of nostalgia however, is that we forget the bad that had come with the good. The prudent thing to do therefore, is to interrogate and question all that can be inherited, before retaining that which is truly valuable, in our forging of new identities.

www.littleeggscollective.comwww.belvoir.com.au

Review: Horses (25A Belvoir)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Jun 16 – 25, 2022
Playwright: Ian Sinclair
Director: Tait de Lorenzo
Cast: Justin Amankwah, Tom Dawson, Caitlin Doyle-Markwick, Nathaniel Langworthy, Charlotte Otton, Brontë Sparrow
Images by Robert Catto

Theatre review
The story takes place barely a century ago, during the Great Depression. Several hundred people gather to participate in a dance marathon, in hopes of winning a cash prize of $1,500. They are only allowed ten-minute breaks every 2 hours, and we hear early on, that previous contests had gone on each time, for over a thousand hours. It is a perverse reality show, that is part Big Brother and part ancient Roman blood sport, capitalising on the human’s insatiable thirst for exploitative entertainment. Based on Horace McCoy’s 1935 novel and Sydney Pollack’s 1969 film They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, this new adaptation by Ian Sinclair moves the action from California to Sydney, and is concisely retitled Horses.

Although retaining the macabre qualities of the original, Sinclair’s vision is decidedly humorous, in this very modern transposition to the stage. Indeed, the bizarre conceit lends itself to a dark comedy, which director Tait de Lorenzo does not hesitate to use to her advantage. Instead of relying on the tragedy’s undeniably sad dimensions, de Lorenzo provokes us into thought, by making us laugh. The result is a surprisingly funny show, that also cares to be poignant enough for the important questions, about who we are and why we are, to emerge.

Production design by Cris Baldwin draws attention to the event as a spectacle for amusement, whilst ensuring that we never lose sight of the difficult times during which it had occurred. Benjamin Brockman’s lights convey the sorrowful heart of the story, even when offering bedazzling concoctions that fascinate our eyes. Similarly sophisticated, is sound design by Zac Saric offering an intricate and complex landscape, often telling us more than the dialogue does, about all that we need to know about Horses.

An excellent ensemble of six players, individually idiosyncratic, but wonderfully cohesive as a whole, take us on a revelatory and ultimately brutal vaudeville, about our worst selves. Nathaniel Langworthy and Charlotte Otton are effortlessly comical, with mischievous presences that insist on our mirthful responses. Tom Dawson and Caitlin Doyle-Markwick bring whimsy to the production, with a sense of experimental freedom, that helps us broaden our minds, as we form meanings from a theatre that speaks more in terms of symbols than it does in words. Justin Amankwah and Brontë Sparrow deliver the sentimental aspects of Horses, both captivating, and effective in engaging our empathy, for this hideous moment of self-reflection.

Watching Horses today, we need to be conscious of the difference in circumstances, between now and then. Although poised for a period of recession, we must not interpret the story in too similar a way from when it had been written. It is crucial that the truth about extreme wealth disparities in the twenty-first century, should play a significant role in modern interpretations of the story.

Like the competing dancers in Horses, we often find ourselves fighting one another, thinking that that is the only way to get ahead. Convinced that there can only be one winner in so many of our circumstances, we have been trained to not only act ruthlessly, but to submit to humiliation and self-blame. We have grown accustom to the top ten percent owning virtually everything in the world that is commodifiable, and we let them manipulate our lives to serve their purpose, of worsening that unforgivable discrepancy.

There is no reason, especially today, for any of us to demean ourselves in the name of entertainment, in order to make a buck, yet that seems to be par for the course. In so much of today’s idea of amusement, from television to TikTok, people put themselves through all manner of debasement, so that they can become winners of little consequence. The ones who benefit most, do not have themselves shown. They might shoot the horses, but they show us no mercy. They simply send in the clowns and reap all the rewards.

www.belvoir.com.au

Review: Sexual Misconduct Of The Middle Classes (Belvoir St Theatre / Melbourne Theatre Company)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Jun 2 – Jul 10, 2022
Playwright: Hannah Moscovitch
Directors: Petra Kalive
Cast: Dan Spielman, Izabella Yena
Images by Jaimi Joy

Theatre review
Jon is a successful writer who refers to himself in the third person. He is also a university lecturer, who has an affair with a student half his age, in Hannah Moscovitch’s Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes. Written in 2020, there was only ever one way this story about sex and power could go. The play may be painfully predictable, but the truth is that we are fortunate to live at a time, when boundaries concerning such matters are clearly demarcated. No trigger warnings are issued, because on this occasion they are never necessary.

There is little about Moscovitch’s work that is dangerous. We have had these discussions many times, and our decisions are firmly drawn, so we feel the play trudging along completely predictably, toward that very foregone conclusion. One would struggle to identify anything further that Moscovitch is able to add, to our now immovable and non-negotiable attitudes with regard sex at our workplaces and public institutions. The subject matter could have provided fertile ground for subversive or provocative humour, but as its title suggests, it is all terribly middle class in attitude.

Petra Kalive’s direction of the piece is arguably too earnest, perhaps too careful, in fear of being misunderstood. Its efforts to reassure us that there is never any intended affront, results in a work of theatre that is overly polite and safe. The tone of the staging is commendable for taking into account more delicate sensibilities that are likely to be present in the audience, but the consequence is a show that does not advance discourse, and one that poses no challenge to our intellect.

Unsurprisingly perhaps, design aspects are all elegantly rendered. Marg Howell’s set and costumes focus our sense of awareness, on just the right strata of people we are looking at. Rachel Burke’s lights offer accurate calibration for every subtle shift in atmosphere. Sound design by Darius Kedros is sensitive and unobtrusive, generously wishing for us to hear little more than the play’s dialogue.

Actor Dan Spielman does marvellously to hold our attention, whilst playing an irredeemably repugnant character. His conviction only makes us more disgusted, which is of course an appropriate response, although there is no denying the tedium of encountering such a one-dimensioned villain. Izabella Yena as Annie, does her best work between the lines, able to convey the complicated amalgamation of emotions, as a young woman who learns over time, that her consent was not consent at all.

One of the main problems with the middle classes, is their unwavering trust of authority. For most of Sexual Misconduct, the audience seems to be positioned so that our concern resides with the choices that Jon makes; it seems to want us to urge him to do better, at every stage of the narrative. The middle classes have such a love of power, as reflected in all their aspirations to attain power, they deny that transparently sinister quality of power that makes it so seductive.

The point of it, is to evade accountability. The point of power, is so you can do whatever you want, especially behind closed doors. To expect people in positions of power to do better is naive, and frankly, in this day and age, stupid. For the audience to wish that Jon discovers his conscience, is to bury our heads in the sand. It is not the individuals in broken systems (or indeed systems designed to fail our democracies), who need to do better. It is the fact that people are granted such power, in that young women like Annie are taught to regard men like Jon with such reverence, that is the problem.

www.mtc.com.auwww.belvoir.com.au

Review: Son Of Byblos (25A Belvoir)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), May 4 – 21, 2022
Playwright: James Elazzi
Director: Anna Jahjah
Cast: Violette Ayad, Kate Bookallil, Simon Elrahi, Deborah Galanos, Mansoor Noor
Images by David Hooley

Theatre review
Cousins Adam and Clare are queer Australians, but they are also Lebanese. Like many of our LGBTQIA+ compatriots from minority cultural backgrounds, they do not have the luxury to live loud and proud, like the mainstream examples we often see in white media. Instead, they indulge in their sexualities surreptitiously, and rely only on each other, for open and honest companionship. Things begin to unravel however, when Clare decides to marry a man, in a radical attempt to stop being a lesbian once and for all.

James Elazzi’s Son of Byblos exposes the truth about queer life on this land, as experienced by many people of colour. On one hand, it questions the progress that we think we have made as a political movement, and on the other, it challenges traditional ways of life that are still pervasive in enclaves everywhere, that continue to struggle with acceptance. Adam wants to be a good son to his loving parents, but he is never able to reconcile fundamental truths about his sexuality, with expectations at home.

This is by no means a new story. In fact in can be considered an age-old one, but Elazzi’s insistence on discussing the issue, prevents us from looking away. Delusions about social advancement, means that people can be left behind, but a play like Son of Byblos in 2022 reminds us that activism and advocacy should always be about those who are most disadvantaged. LGBTQIA+ progressivism in Australia it seems, has taken its eye off the ball.

The work is directed by Anna Jahjah who anchors the action in that space of conflict and tension, where tradition and rights of the individual, prove dissonant. Performances oscillate in and out of naturalism, but when the cast hits upon moments of authenticity, is when the drama really captivates.

Actor Mansoor Noor brings polish to the production, playing Adam with great nuance and believability. It is admirable that Noor’s portrayal of a difficult existence is one of a man taking it in his stride, rather than only looking tortured. There is a valuable air of dignity given to all the characters in Son of Byblos. Kate Bookallil as Clare is especially moving in her final scene, completely devastating as she tries to deal a final blow to her genuine self. Also very touching and vulnerable, is Violette Ayad who as old friend Angela, stands up for herself and refuses to be a pawn in Adam’s charade. Simon Elrahi and Deborah Galanos play Adam’s well-meaning parents, both warm presences that help us mediate this painful conundrum, of the truth against piety.

Sex in Son of Byblos is never depicted in a positive light. Instead of pleasure, connection and empowerment, it only delivers anguish. When we see that even the most beautiful things, can be turned harrowing, we must come to the realisation that resistance is critical.

www.belvoir.com.au / www.bnwtheatre.com.au

Review: Light Shining In Buckinghamshire (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Apr 7 – May 28, 2022
Playwright: Caryl Churchill
Directors: Eamon Flack, Hannah Goodwin
Cast: Arkia Ashraf, Rashidi Edward, Marco Chiappi, Emily Goddard, Sandy Greenwood, Rebecca Massey, Brandon McClelland, Angeline Penrith
Images by Teniola Komolafe

Theatre review
Caryl Churchill’s 1976 play Light Shining in Buckinghamshire is based on what is known as the Putney Debates in England, that had taken place immediately after their civil war of 1647. Churchill frames those discussions in terms of a search for a new democracy, in relation to preconceived ideas that are mainly about religion, and property ownership. In these historical re-evaluations of events leading up to the establishment of the Commonwealth of England, Churchill focuses our attention, not on how a revolution could be won, but what the challenges might be thereafter, to formulate a renewed system for the distribution of resources, and to generate new and improved ideologies.

46 years after its Edinburgh premiere, Churchill’s pre-Thatcher concerns are more pertinent than ever. We have replaced monarchies with oligarchic plutocracies, with the wealthiest men spending unimaginable sums of money to rocket into space for a meagre few minutes, in the middle of a pandemic that continues to destroy incalculable livelihoods. It seems we are still unable to figure out meaningful revolutionaries, only knowing to reinstall one bad system after another.

The verbose play is directed by Eamon Flack and Hannah Goodwin, who convey an air of importance for these philosophical explorations, but clear and detailed elucidations are disappointingly sporadic. Much of the exchanges are muddled and perplexing, sometimes even coming across abstract or detached, when what we need is a political theatre that speaks with considerable force.

Set design by Michael Hankin is appropriately minimal and rustic, for the depiction of post-war purgatory. Ella Butler’s costumes are equally pared down, so that we may perceive realistic bodies at a time of great adversity. Lit by Damien Cooper, imagery in Light Shining in Buckinghamshire is full of melancholy, able to evoke the disappointment that inevitably comes after a war is lost and won. Live music by Alyx Dennison and Marcus Whale is a highlight, and an unequivocal visceral treat, even if their severe percussion is used repeatedly to cause alarm.

The ensemble of eight actors demonstrates an admirable dedication for the material, and although not always able to communicate with great coherence, they are certainly an inviting presence that encourages us to participate in their various deliberations.

Revolutions are still needed, even if we are yet to have real certainties about how a new world should be. Knowing that we have had endless failed attempts, does not negate the fact that many things have improved through the ages. Perhaps we need to contend with the idea, that our efforts, no matter how radical, can only effect minor adjustments within the grand scheme. We should know by now, that overnight rehabilitations are impossible, much as our hearts desire them. Things seem to only get better in small increments, and the price for them are disproportionately high, which explains why the business of systemic change, has always only been for the brave.

www.belvoir.com.au

Review: Wayside Bride (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Apr 2 – May 29, 2022
Playwright: Alana Valentine
Directors: Eamon Flack, Hannah Goodwin
Cast: Arkia Ashraf, Maggie Blinco, Rashidi Edward, Marco Chiappi, Emily Goddard, Sandy Greenwood, Sacha Horler, Rebecca Massey, Brandon McClelland, Angeline Penrith 
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
It was in the mid-1970s that the Methodist minister Ted Noffs was charged with heresy by his own church. Having gone rogue in his efforts to serve the downtrodden in Sydney, through his founding of the Wayside Chapel in King Cross, Noffs was singled out to be made an undesirable, such is the Christian establishment’s penchant for ostracism and condemnation.

In Alana Valentine’s Wayside Bride, we are provided anecdotes from a wide range of sources, as testification for Noff’s incomparable social work. Replete with fascinating narratives and charming characters (many of whom were marginalised women unable to find other ministers willing to marry them), the play honours Noff along with his wife Margaret, with rigour and reverence. A prominent feature of Wayside Bride is Valentine’s own frustrations with the church, which gives additional dimensions of verve to the show, but which also has a tendency to make things feel somewhat alienating to secular audiences. We are after all, half a century lapsed, and the earnestness in depicting religious inanity, can seem outmoded at a time when Christianity is so resoundingly rejected or moderated, and no longer the dominant influence it had been.

Jointly directed by Eamon Flack and Hannah Goodwin, the production is a vibrant one, and an appropriately sentimental tribute to people who have contributed a great deal to this city. Its jokes may not always hit their mark, but the people it showcases are consistently endearing. 

Michael Hankin’s set design conveys both the spiritedness and the struggles, of those who have encountered Wayside Chapel through the years. Ella Butler’s costumes are rendered with a sense of nostalgic warmth, as well as humour. Lights by Damien Cooper and sound by Alyx Dennison are fairly restrained, but certainly effective in modulating atmosphere for every nuanced shift in tension and mood.

Actor Brandon McClelland is a convincing Ted Noffs, taking us back to a simpler time, when being virtuous seemed much less complicated. Sacha Horler is splendid as Margaret Noffs and also as Janice, playing both roles with exquisite timing and a brilliant imagination. Playwright Valentine is given physical omnipresence on the stage by Emily Goddard who demonstrates beautifully, the veneration that permeates all of Wayside Bride. Highly notable is Marco Chiappi in several memorable roles, each one colourful and engrossing, with a joyful sense of mischief yet always imbued with dignity, for these real-life characters.

It is true, that we should all do good for the world, regardless of one’s faith or lack thereof. It is also true, however, that some are simply unable to be good, without the help of religion. Doctrines written by men of faith have inflicted harm, knowingly and unknowingly, on all kinds of people everywhere in every epoch, yet there is no denying the efficacy of religion on those who need it. The Noffs were right, in holding firm to the fundamental belief in love, and in the universality of God’s creations. The mission is always simple, but the distractions are unceasing.

www.belvoir.com.au

Review: Destroy, She Said (25A Belvoir)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Mar 2 – 19, 2022
Original Author: Marguerite Duras
Director: Claudia Osborne
Cast: Gabriel Alvarado, Adriane Daff, Andreas Lohmeyer, Tommy Misa, Grace Smibert
Images by Phil Erbacher

Theatre review
Elisabeth is convalescing, in a hotel some distance from the city. There are mysterious guests observing her, and an equally mysterious forest nearby, that seems to cast a spell over everyone in its vicinity. Marguerite Duras’ book and film Destroy, She Says from 1969 tells a story about the convergence of loss and obsession, in between competing worlds where Elisabeth must eventually find a state of surrender.

In this stage adaptation by Claudia Osborne, the surreality of Duras’ mise-en-scène is made immediate and material, preserving the sinister beauty of the original, but with an addition of a very theatrical sense of humour, that makes the viewing experience both fascinating and amusing. There is so much to be curious about, in Osborne’s take on Destroy, She Says and so much that engages, but not necessarily through intellect. We too, have to find a way to surrender to its visceral allure, and trust in things that we know so little about. The result is sublime, however strange the ride can be.

Production design by Kelsey Lee and Grace Deacon melds old-world affluence with a decidedly contemporary sensibility that is both sensual and ironic, for a presentation memorable for its visual impact. Lee’s lights, together with a sound design by Angus Mills, usher the audience into a dream frequency, where we connect with impulses rather than logic, remarkable in being able to make us find coherence within the bizarre, and thoroughly enjoy it. 

Adriane Daff and Grace Smibert are the mesmerising leads, as Alissa and Elisabeth respectively, both invulnerably confident in their experimental approach, and unassailably impressive with their commanding presences. The women are individually captivating, but absolutely riveting when working as a single unit; we feel as though privy to a magical secret language that they have devised. Supporting players Gabriel Alvarado, Andreas Lohmeyer and Tommy Misa, are no less effective in their contributions, all bringing surprising and quirky elements to the stage, delivering bouts of laughter whilst provoking us with their interminably quizzical choices.

Destroy, She Says is challenging, but it is kind. It reaches out with an unusual vocabulary, in order that we may communicate differently, and perhaps attain something altogether more exalted, in this moment of congregation in an artistic space. We are left wondering why all that makes this show unusual, is not more usually encountered in our theatres, but we understand that anything normalised, simply ceases to be special. Art in this city needs to dare to embrace unconventionality. If we want only to interact with the familiar and the safe, the accountant’s office might be a better option. In this particular theatrical occasion though, we celebrate the best of human creativity, and revel in the boundless capacity of our imaginations.

www.belvoir.com.au / www.fervour.net.au