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

Review: They Divided The Sky (Daniel Schlusser Ensemble)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: Bliss (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Jun 9 – Jul 15, 2018
Playwright: Peter Carey (adapted for the stage by Tom Wright)
Director: Matthew Lutton
Cast: Marco Chiappi, Mark Coles Smith, Will McDonald, Amber McMahon, Charlotte Nicdao, Susan Prior, Anna Samson, Toby Truslove
Images by Pia Johnson

Theatre review
Harry Joy escapes a narrow death, but in the return to consciousness, he is no longer the same. Peter Carey’s 1981 novel Bliss is the story of an archetypal ad man, exemplary only in the mediocrity that he embodies, coming to the realisation that the hell he endures is in fact present in the here and now, and not a figment about a foreboded afterlife. Tom Wright’s adaptation for the stage is appropriately surreal, as Joy begins to see the absurdity of the world that he inhabits. Scenes are whimsically comedic, with a flamboyant sense of neurosis that makes for amusing theatre, but its tale of redemption feels surprisingly distant. The central concerns in Bliss remain relevant, but 37 years is a long while for us to retain meaningful identification with its plot and people.

Although little of the content has been updated for our times, director Matthew Lutton’s stylistic choices are undeniably au courant, inventive and imaginative. Sprightly, with a little acerbity, it is an energetic production, spouting clever ideas at every turn. The moral of its story can seem too basic, and obvious, but the show’s structural complexities keep us attentive. Marg Horwell’s set is a simple concept that proves highly effective in shifting dimensions, thereby conveying time and space in a dynamic manner. Paul Jackson’s big, blunt lighting transformations give us lots of delicious drama, and Stefan Gregory’s music has a quirky edge that is delightfully unpredictable.

Actor Toby Truslove is a credible leading man, especially persuasive in moments of melancholy. His quiet but confident interpretation of the play’s humour, brings a subtlety that offers refreshing juxtaposition against a lot of theatrical commotion. As Bettina Joy, Amber McMahon’s rigorous elucidations are as illuminating as they are entertaining. The performer is to be admired for the integrity she is able to introduce, to a character who is destroyed for daring to follow her bliss. Marco Chiappi and Susan Prior are memorable for the boldness of their satire, both personalities radiant and irresistibly funny on this stage.

There can never be enough stories warning us about the single-minded pursuit of money. The seductive powers of materialism seem to grow ever so exponentially, no matter how much we are told of its dangers. The all-or-nothing propositions of Bliss however, give it a quality of the parable, the kind that conclude with unrealistic resolutions that will struggle to deliver inspiration. It is easy to say that the root of all evil is money, but much harder to find an alternate undertaking, when one is deeply entrenched in the deceptive glory of gold.

www.belvoir.com.au | www.malthousetheatre.com.au

Review: The Sugar House (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), May 5 – Jun 3, 2018
Playwright: Alana Valentine
Director: Sarah Goodes
Cast: Sheridan Harbridge, Sacha Horler, Lex Marinos, Josh McConville, Kris McQuade, Nikki Shiels
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Narelle is the first of her family to go to university. Growing up under her grandmother June’s strict guidance, Narelle carries the hopes of generations of McCreadies, whose existences in Sydney have struggled persistently with poverty and criminality. In Alana Valentine’s The Sugar House, we observe the life story of one Sydneysider and her family, alternating between the years 1966, 1985 and 2007, watching the evolution of Narelle along with this city, forming an understanding of our own growth and gradual gentrification.

Our daily endurance of life in one of the world’s most expensive cities, can often delude us into believing only in its sophistication and varnished veneers. We try hard to forget its past, particularly in relation to invasions and genocide, as well as the deep seated impact of convict and refugee immigration. We imagine ourselves to be worldly and refined, and become precious in our embodiment of this glamoured image. In some ways, this is what June had always wanted for Narelle. Breaking the poverty cycle, might have meant for the matriarch, an end to suffering and injustice, but Narelle and our reality in Sydney today, has serious complications that she probably never foresaw.

The play is unmistakably sentimental, with sounds in its dialogue that are authentic and profoundly beautiful. The plot does meander slightly, but vivid personalities keep us attentive and intrigued. The Sugar House is passionately constructed, by playwright Valentine and director Sarah Goodes, who establish a soulfulness for the production that forms its irresistible allure. It talks about our community, the forgotten and hidden parts of it, with a refreshing honesty that many will find engaging. Narelle’s story is not all our stories, but no Sydneysider can escape the reverberations of her family’s experience.

Actor Sheridan Harbridge is a charming Narelle, persuasive at all ages but especially impressive with her sensitive portrayal of the 8 year-old version, impeccable in her presentation of a child full of intelligence and infectious life. June is played by the very compelling Kris McQuade, whose powerful combination of warmth and austerity, gives anchor, and accuracy, to a play concerned with history and accountability. Sacha Horler delivers a stunning performance in the supporting role of Margo, Narelle’s mother, depicting immense and glorious strength alongside the incessantly cruel torment she tolerates.

The stage is flanked on two sides by tall, mid-century windows (elegantly created by set designer Michael Hankin) demarcating a space that can be read either as glossy and new, or coarse and antiquated, depending on the scenes taking place before them. How we think of our city, should be similarly complex and heterogeneous. Our surface wishes to project a certain ideal, and that represents one truth of Sydney, which has emerged from our earnest aspirations, but layers beneath contain aspects that many have less pride for. Regrettable and shameful pasts make people rewrite histories. Lies can be used to mislead others, but the more that we try to deny ourselves the real stuff that we are made of, the more we will feel the emptiness in its place.

www.belvoir.com.au