Review: Slaughterhouse (25A Belvoir)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Oct 16 – Nov 2, 2019
Playwright: Anchuli Felicia King
Director: Benita de Wit
Cast: Romy Bartz, Adam Marks, Tom Matthews, Brooke Rayner, Stephanie Somerville
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
The action takes place at a tech start up, where Bianca is trying to expose the meat industry for cruel practices at its abattoirs. Slaughterhouse by Anchuli Felicia King talks about the upsurge of ethical products being offered at the marketplace, by companies that continue to be breeding grounds for mercenary corporate cannibals. We see personalities who have little concern for for what is right, building careers out of peddling apparently wholesome concepts that exploit our desire for responsible consumption.

Consisting of five monologues, Slaughterhouse is a dark comedy, often wildly imagined, and edgy with its humour. It is a spirited work, passionate with its moral stance, but is simultaneously pessimistic in its understanding of the world. Directed by Benita de Wit, the show is energetic and appropriately boisterous, accurate in its depiction of us as a culture that is overfed with noise, but always failing to listen. Extensive use of video projections foregrounds the fact that in the selfie era, everybody wants to say something but nobody is paying any meaningful attention.

Bianca is played by a very earnest Brooke Rayner, who performs with great vigour, the ever-escalating mania that perfectly reflects the state of anxiety that we experience, as individuals and as collectives today. As Hannah the unscrupulous entrepreneur, Romy Bartz captivates with a persuasive combination of ruthlessness and vulnerability, able to portray complexities that prevent us from relegating the monster to otherness. Tom Matthews’ enthusiastic embrace of the bizarre in the role of DJ is a delight, for a character that demonstrates pointedly, the social consequences of unadulterated hedonism. Also noteworthy are Brendan De La Hay’s costumes, polished and flamboyant, for a series of striking looks that provide a sense of theatricality to proceedings.

Like Bianca, most of us know right from wrong, but are unable to find ways to operate in clear conscience, within pervasive structures that are inherently harmful. We watch Bianca turn into the very devil she despises, as she tries to push an honourable agenda, inside a system that seems only able to deliver evil. Deciphering good and bad is the easy part. To dismantle the bad, when it is long-established, and when it has become the very definition of ‘normal’, calls for a courage and an imagination that few are capable of.

www.belvoir.com.au

Review: Fangirls (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Oct 12 – Nov 10, 2019
Book, Music & Lyrics: Yve Blake
Director: Paige Rattray
Cast: Aydan, Yve Blake, Kimberley Hodgson, Chika Ikogwe, Ayesha Madon, James Majoos, Sharon Millerchip
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Edna is head over heels in love with Harry, except Harry is miles away in the UK, and a member of a boy band oblivious to Edna’s existence. Yve Blake’s Fangirls details the experience shared by many, ever since the advent of pop music in the middle of the twentieth century, where teenagers develop crushes on stars the intensity of which can often be overwhelming. They had fainted at Beatles concerts in the 60’s, thrown panties at Tom Jones in the 70’s, and now they write fan fiction as a manifestation of their fantasies, and a declaration of love, to share with vast communities of like-minded youth.

Fiction and reality however, become dangerously blurred in Fangirls, as Edna’s obsession grows completely out of hand. It is admittedly surprising, that what seems to be a pedestrian premise for a show, would emerge being the foundation for one of the cleverest and most entertaining musicals to grace our stages. Its dialogue is inexhaustibly witty, partnered by songs that are as inventive as they are powerful, with a plot structure that casts a hypnotic spell over our heads and hearts. Proving that storytelling does not always require subject matter that obviously resonate, Fangirls enthrals with its colourful yet authentic characters, who navigate the modern world in a way that can be thought of as peculiar, but also unequivocally essential in our understanding of humanity. Perhaps it is precisely in these instances of insanity, that we can locate our true nature.

Directed by Paige Rattray, the show is a joyful exercise in feminine vivacity, deliciously exuberant as it celebrates the foibles of adolescence that define us all. Fangirls is hilarious, even at its darkest moments, always insisting that we laugh heartily at situations that evoke memories that were once deathly embarrassing, but are now freshly endearing. Music direction by Alice Chance and music production by David Muratore, draw inspiration from recent trends in pop, for a remarkably exciting score replete with energy, surprise and fabulous irony. Leonardo Mickelo’s choreography is similarly accomplished, making every number a visual thrill. Video by David Fleischer and Justin Harrison help depict the new media environment that informs the sensibilities of our youth, but it is Emma Valente’s lighting design that delivers spectacle and atmospheric augmentation, which really get us in the mood.

Edna is triumphantly portrayed by Blake, whose skills in acting, singing and dancing, are quite astonishingly on par with what she achieves as songwriter and playwright. She is simultaneously heartbreaking and comical, persistently nuanced even if the performance is relentlessly extravagant in tone. The mononymous Aydan is thoroughly convincing as the object of desire, a marvellous caricature who is clearly in on the joke. Five extraordinary supporting players in a wide variety of roles, leave us hopelessly thrilled by their impressive talents. Chika Ikogwe is absolutely glorious with the sassy humour and parodic hip hop stylings she brings, in addition to the moments of piercing poignancy she introduces as the less than best friend Jules.

Caroline, the mother at wits end, is played by an impossibly versatile Sharon Millerchip. James Majoos is unforgettable as Saltypringl, and for dialling up the camp factor in all his scintillating representations of gender diversity. Very big laughs are delivered by Kimberley Hodgson, who is brilliantly incisive as the naive Briana, and Ayesha Madon takes every opportunity to tickle us with excessive vocal flourishes, along with multiple absurd appearances as an overzealous ribbon gymnast.

We can give our children everything they need and want, and still have to live with the idea that they will inevitably go out and court trouble. In fact, it is probably more accurate to say that when we leave them with nothing to want, is when they would find ways to create havoc. People need to feel in control of their own existences. Adults take it upon themselves to provide every kind of order, so that the young can have peaceful and rewarding lives, but without experiencing chaos and failure, it is hard to imagine that anyone could truly welcome everything that should be cherished. We dread our kids ever having to hit rock bottom, but we know that that is in many ways, absolutely necessary.

www.belvoir.com.au | www.atyp.com.au | www.queenslandtheatre.com.au

5 Questions with Brooke Rayner and Stephanie Somerville

Brooke Rayner

Stephanie Somerville: What’s your favourite pre-show pump up song?
Brooke Rayner: “Joyful Joyful” from Sister Act. Gospel choir and Lauren Hill’s voice – amazing. I remember dancing to it at one of those area spectacular school shows, maybe it’s the muscle memory but makes me want to laugh and cry.

What show have you seen in the last twelve months that’s really stuck with you?
Blackie Blackie Brown. Who doesn’t want a kick ass political comedy about an Indigenous Superhero and too many wig changes to count!? I was screaming in my seat. It was like watching a comic book open and come to life. In the words of the Hot Brown Honeys “Moisturize and Decolonise”.

What made you want to be an actor?
I think having access to theatre in high school and watching these amazing transformations happen and then having the opportunity to do it myself. Once I realised I could explore and feel out someone else’s story there were endless possibilities like … Why be one thing when you can be everything else?

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten?
Tripe. I love tripe. It’s cow’s stomach. But specifically Dim Sum style. It appears spiky but is quite soft and chewy, a lot of people reel at it. I ate it for years not knowing what it was. There’s some kind of irony in eating stomach.

What’s something that you and your character have in common that surprised you?
I think Bianca and I share a similar way of communicating. It’s knowing what you want to say but everything coming out of your mouth is disjointed, three different versions of saying the same point at once. Word vomit and then back tracking to try and fix what you’ve said. I’ve always been told I have terrible sentence structure.

Stephanie Somerville

Brooke Rayner: If you were an animal what would you want to be and why?
Stephanie Somerville: I’d like to be a big, fat, cat that belongs to some little old lady who feeds it fresh tuna and lazes around in the sun all day. Because honestly wouldn’t that be the life?

If you could eat one meal every day for the rest of your life what would it be?
Hot chippies with lots of salt.

What excites you about getting to know a character?
I get excited about that moment when you fall in love with a character. Sometimes it’s love at first sight when you read a script, but sometimes it takes a bit of digging. I think it’s the things that surprise you about a character that make you fall in love with them, and I always get excited about that.

What do you want to see when you go to the theatre?
That depends on what I’m going to see! But hopefully a good show? I like to see something that makes me think in a way I’ve never thought, jabs me in my heart, or a story I’ve never heard. I also really like to see kick-ass POC actors doing incredible work, and it’s something I don’t see enough.

What grabbed your attention about Slaughterhouse?
When I first read the script I felt like I was reading a good crime novel and I was trying to piece together this great mystery. I’m really looking forward to our audience having that same experience. What grabbed me though was how intelligently Felicia writes these intricate and complex characters, there’s just so much to excavate. She’s really very good, hey? And how lucky are we to be working with her words!

Brooke Rayner and Stephanie Somerville can be seen in Slaughterhouse by Anchuli Felicia King.
Dates: 16 Oct – 2 Nov, 2019
Venue: Belvoir St Theatre

Review: Te Molimau (25A Belvoir)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Aug 7 – 24, 2019
Playwright: Taofia Pelesasa
Director: Emele Ugavule
Cast: Lesina Ateli-Ugavule, Malia Letoafa, Tommy Misa, Iya Ware

Theatre review
Fatia has flown back to his mother’s hometown, the Pacific nation of Tokelau, where the island state is only days away from being completely submerged beneath the ocean. Taofia Pelesasa’s Te Molimau tells the heartbreaking story of a country lost, in the not too distant future, to the devastating effects of climate change. It is a deeply emotional work, made resonant by the inclusion of some very hard truths, about the way we stand on the sidelines, doing nothing to prevent disasters from consuming our neighbours. Incorporating generous doses of Tokelauan language and dance (with exquisite choreography by Sela Vai), Te Molimau represents the art of storytelling at its most potent, able to use the theatrical form to turn abstract concepts into something immediate, palpable and urgent.

Directed by Emele Ugavule, the show grows gradually, from its initial delicate tone to eventually forceful, all the while ensuring that the plot is built upon a solid foundation of sincerity. Lighting design by Amber Silk is noteworthy for its sensitive coherence with the text’s varying degrees of sentimentality, always subtle but precise in it calibrations of atmosphere. An extraordinarily likeable cast draws us into the action, including Tommy Misa as Fatia, striking in the simplicity of his approach, able to lay bare all that is so engaging and important about the play. In the role of Vitolina is Malia Letoafa, ethereal and truthful, for a supremely understated performance surprising in its impact. Lesina Ateli-Ugavule and Iya Ware demonstrate flawless chemistry, as a couple of mismatched acquaintances who form a friendship remarkable for its genuine warmth.

It is the ultimate cruelty, to see a small neighbouring country sink into the ocean, and choose to do nothing. Even if we are unable to agree on the causes of these calamities, our humanity should know to find ways to help, but it appears that we are more than comfortable to sit back and watch people go through the worst imaginable scenarios. It may be true that we feel helpless, but it is also true that we use ignorance as an excuse, in fear of having to make personal sacrifices for the benefit of others. Nature however, will never understand our demarcations of us and them. Rising sea levels will not end at the Pacific Islands just because they hold less political and economic power. Our delusions tell us that wealth is a shield from every harm, but it is only a matter of time, that this intractable inaction will catch up on us.

www.black-birds.net | www.belvoir.com.au

Review: Life Of Galileo (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Aug 3 – Sep 15, 2019
Playwright: Bertolt Brecht (adapted by Tom Wright)
Director: Eamon Flack
Cast: Peter Carroll, Colin Friels, Laura McDonald, Miranda Parker, Damien Ryan, Damien Strouthos, Vaishnavi Suryaprakash, Sonia Todd, Rajan Velu
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Galileo builds a telescope, and discovers that Copernicus’ theory of a heliocentric solar system, is an unassailable fact. That may be a fundamental truth that Galileo has evidenced in early seventeenth century about our universe, but he is prohibited from making known any facts that contradict doctrinal teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Bertolt Brecht’s Life Of Galileo talks about the nature of truth, and our human capacity to deal with each other’s realities. Instead of celebrating his momentous findings, Galileo is seen as a threat by the powers that be, and is subjected to decades of suppression.

Adapted by Tom Wright, there is no doubt that the 1943 play remains resolutely pertinent. We wrestle daily with fake news, and we communicate as though the world is in constant adversarial opposition with itself, and that consensus seems to only ever be an abstract notion. We all want to be right, and it is that very refusal of ambiguity that prevents this staging from connecting with sufficient intensity. Eamon Flack’s direction delivers an enjoyable show, including enticing moments of theatricality (Paul Jackson’s lights and Jethro Woodward’s music, work marvellously at these instances of flamboyance), but the point that it ultimately does make, struggles to feel more than rudimentary. No one thinks of themselves as being on the wrong side of truth, and Life Of Galileo certainly never lets us veer away from that complacent sense of self-righteousness.

Consequently lacking in tension, the show relies on its cast to keep us engaged, if only on a level of impulse and immediacy. Leading man Colin Friels delivers conviction as the embattled Galileo, effective in conveying facets of his story that are unequivocally inspiring, even if the actor can occasionally seem slightly under-rehearsed. Excellent humour by Peter Carroll is called upon at regular intervals, to prevent the show from turning monotonous. Andrea, a student who witnesses Galileo’s struggles over decades, is played by Vaishnavi Suryaprakash, remarkable for the sincerity and emotional authenticity that she introduces to the story.

In 2019, we are alarmed by how people can construct realities that seem so far removed from facts. We argue over everything, including the very nature of objectivity, unable or unwilling to come to unity, preferring instead to persist in a world of us and them, as though the demonising of others equates to some kind of perverse comfort in one’s own life. As an audience, we wish to see Galileo stick to his guns, and go down in a blaze of glory, but he chooses survival instead, as if to challenge our notions of integrity. Co-existence means that we must share space, that right and wrong have to find ways to sit side by side. It is not only our passionate selves that are required, when we go to fight our side, but humility, and the understanding that human imperfection evades the foe as much as it does the self, should we come to recognise that the purpose is always to attain the greater good.

www.belvoir.com.au

Review: Skyduck: A Chinese Spy Comedy (25A Belvoir)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Jul 11 – 20, 2019
Playwright: Sam Wang
Director: Aileen Huynh
Cast: Sam Wang
Images by Jasmin Simmons

Theatre review
Chinese agents Chang and Yan have stolen a flight simulator from the Americans, and are surreptitiously turning Skyhawk into Skyduck, to claim illegitimate supremacy in the world of military technology. They come up against good guys from the West; Kendrick is from the USA, and Tucker is Australian. There is also a love interest Little Swallow in the mix somewhere, along with pop star Xiao Peng who makes a short but memorable appearance.

Sam Wang plays all these characters in his Skyduck: A Chinese Spy Comedy, a lampoon of Hollywood action flicks, from Top Gun to Inception, in which nothing is allowed to get in the way of a good time. Wang’s show is imaginative and wonderfully quirky, with an artistic audacity that is highly persuasive; there are lots of outlandish ideas, some of which are completely bonkers, but they all work.

Directed by Aileen Huynh, the production’s idiosyncratic tone is perfectly pitched, for a style of humour that feels one of a kind. A remarkable ingenuity pervades Skyduck. From its clever video projections to some surprisingly elaborate prop making, everything about this staging is a delight.

Performed in Mandarin and English, Wang’s flamboyant take on characters is cheeky and very charming, underpinned by a truly splendid sense of timing. His ability to command attention proves to be quite incredible, as we are kept enthralled for the entirety, thoroughly bemused by what is being offered.

Skyduck is the funniest of contemporary Australian comedies, showcasing an exceptional emerging talent. Sam Wang’s instincts are accurate yet unpredictable. He seems to know better than ourselves, what it is that makes us laugh, and it is in his jocular prowess that we luxuriate. Skyduck pretends to be something it is not. It presents itself as an inferior imitation of blockbusters, and misleads us into thinking that we are laughing at a hack job, but the genius at play is almost furtive, and it is at our own risk that we should ever underestimate it.

www.facebook.com/skyduckandco | www.belvoir.com.au

5 Questions with Aileen Huynh and Sam Wang

Aileen Huynh

Sam Wang: Are you into spy films?
Aileen Huynh: Who’s not into a good spy film? True Lies with Arnie is where it all began for me (which I over watched and can now only claim as a guilty pleasure to maintain my cred). Action, risk, danger and usually a situation that needs saving – pretty good base to start a story from!

Is this your first time directing? What have you been drawing on?
Pretty much! I have directed small things prior to this and I don’t actively pursue directing, but this project really fit for me in terms of content, style and what I’m passionate about, so it seemed right! I have been drawing from what I’ve been taught in the past, instinct and also largely on my experiences as an actor – the flip has been interesting for me, I’ve learnt a lot about the other side.

What has been the most challenging thing about working on Skyduck?
At the beginning it was about putting my thoughts out in the right words – basically communicating my ideas efficiently, which I found difficult. Now, I’ve moved on to just saying exactly what I think and not care so much – ahaha! It has removed any fluff to wade through – and I think my relationship with you, is still intact, right Sam? Ha!

Have you learnt any Mandarin doing this show?
I went to Mandarin lessons at the Nan Tien Buddhist Temple every Saturday for like 8 years. It was pretty much glorified baby-sitting because I learnt very little! My mother is an interpreter who speaks five languages including 3 dialects of Chinese and I pretty much have some butchered Cantonese and even worse Mandarin! Sorry mum… True Aussie-Asian here! But in a way it works for Skyduck. It’s very much a show where those two worlds are colliding together and sharing what that is – I’m sure a lot of audience will relate to that idea of having multiple cultures, which influence their lives. So to answer the actual question – yes, but not really any more that I didn’t already know!

Before wanting to be an actor/director/creative, did you want to be anything else?
I really don’t think so. When I was young I wanted to be a doctor – classic. Then I grew up and worked out that there was no way that would be happening. No maths or science brain to show for! I just wanted to be in the arts and crafts corner all the time… literally. I still have whole drawers devoted just for stationary and scrapbooking…

Sam Wang

Aileen Huynh: Why did you write Skyduck: A Chinese Spy Comedy?
Sam Wang: I wanted to be a fighter pilot as a kid. Then I wanted to be a spy. Writing this show has given me a chance to do ‘Boom! Boom! Bang! Bang!’ acting on stage. Like literally going ‘Boom! Boom! Bang! Bang!’ on stage and pretending to be a fighter jet. Yes, that is the level of this show…and one I’m particularly capable of matching.

You also wrote four songs to go with the show and a lot of your self-made work involves song. What draws you to doing this?
I’m not a great singer but I love musicals. This is the closest I’m ever going to get!

Half of the show is in Mandarin. What has it been like to work bilingually?
Challenging, because I can’t actually read or write Mandarin. I left China in kindergarten. But I can still speak it and with the help of Google Translate and some cousins, we’re here! I know Mandarin speakers in the audience will probably feel like they’re watching a toddler speak Mandarin on stage but that kind of plays into the comedy of the show. And to quote Robert LePage: ‘the best thing about being bilingual is that it gives you permission to butcher English as much as you want.’ I think that’s going to work both ways in this show.

What has it been like going from working on this on your own to having a whole team come on board?
Scary and motivating! Having a team come on board meant I wasn’t just accountable to myself anymore and there was no ‘abandon-mission/self-eject’ button. I wouldn’t have followed through on this project any other way. Also, it’s so easy to fall down a black hole and go off on a complete tangent on your own. Having a team onboard to challenge and interrogate this work has been a complete luxury and one that has ultimately made it intelligible to other humans. And yes, we’re still friends… right?

You were once a lawyer. What is one thing you miss from your previous life in the legal industry?
Ha! (Probably shouldn’t say that about my backup in public – YOLO!)

Aileen Huynh is directing Sam Wang in his one-man show Skyduck: A Chinese Spy Comedy .
Dates: 11 – 20 Jul, 2019
Venue: Belvoir St Theatre