Review: Awkward Conversations With Animals I’ve Fucked (Unhappen)


Venue: Bondi Pavilion Theatre (Bondi NSW), Jul 16 – 19
Playwright: Rob Hayes
Director: James Dalton
Cast: Heath Ivey-Law

Theatre review
This actually is a play about bestiality, and Bobby actually has awkward one-way (of course) conversations with a variety of animals. Rob Hayes’ script is unapologetic and obviously offensive, and completely bizarre. Of course, the scenarios painted are almost never realistic but they are confronting nonetheless. The thought of a man having a series of sexual encounters with animals is unsavoury enough, but to listen to his post-coital confessions and confidences is thoroughly unnerving. However, to take this play at face value would be absurd (there is nothing realistic about a monkey prostitute or sex with a grizzly bear, no matter how perverse one’s sexual tastes may be). Bobby and his stories are allegories for our sexual lives, and its reverberations. What makes us tick, if and why it matters, and quite naturally, the moral implications of our appetites.

Heath Ivey-Law performs the 70 minute monologue, along with two nonspeaking actors in masks who provide the presence of animals involved. Bobby is a very demanding role. The script is wordy, and its concepts are obscure, but Ivey-Law displays impressive resilience and focus that pulls us into his weird and disturbing world. Early scenes are lighter in tone, and the show feels almost like a charming stand up routine. The notion of Bobby having sex with a dog and then a cat, is initially ridiculous but as we come to accept that what we see is more literal than we are ready to accept, the comedy becomes very unsettling. Ivey-Law is more effective at making us feel uncomfortable than he is at creating laughter, but the edginess sets in too early in the piece, and as the work descends into even darker territory, the work becomes too alienating to connect with. It must be noted though, that Ivey-Law’s performance in the later scenes is very powerful even when the abstraction overwhelms. The precision in his execution is beautiful to watch.

Director James Dalton is particularly strong with adding a visual dimension to the text. His rich imagination creates on stage, vivid and arresting imagery that is aesthetically satisfying, and also an evocative enhancement of the story we hear. The venue is restrictive but the use of lights and sound are unexpectedly innovative. Sex is the most personal of themes, so our own perspectives inform the way we read this work. Dalton allows us to approach the performance from any aspect. There is an ambivalence that communicates intelligently, but the viewer needs to be active and creative with interpretations. Awkward Conversations With Animals I’ve Fucked is never an easy ride, but a few bumps on the road will make for a most interesting night.…

Certain Men (Encyclopaedia Of Animals)

322708_439295692788974_1011700878_o.jpg  1000×667Venue: Bondi Pavilion Theatre (Bondi NSW), Jul 26-27
Director: Christopher Brown
Actors: Brian Davison, Michael Gwynne, Tamblyn Lord

Theatre review
The audience is seated in a big circle, all facing inwards. The room is large, with no specific focal point and no stage. The actors constantly move around the space, and the audience finds itself in the midst of all the action, almost an intruder into the intimate setting, where three middle-aged men meet for a group therapy of sorts. This is a play about the issues that these men face, and the difficulty in expressing and articulating those issues. Certain Men is fascinating in its theatrical form, which aligns itself with psychological treatments that seek to deconstruct patterns and convention, in order to reach a breakthrough point of enlightenment.

The chemistry between the players feels solid, but the characters do not communicate well with each other. They talk about themselves, play lego, clean windows, sing, rap and dance; they try but do not form a strong connection. What takes place in this work is abstract and makes for challenging viewing, but it feels like witnessing real life. A sadness permeates these beings, and we get hints of their individual stories, but the main concern here are questions and not answers. Perhaps the intent of their therapy is only to ask, and not to conclude. In its artistic form, Certain Men seeks to create its own language. While not instantly gratifying, it is a commendable and necessary development away from theatre that is facile and obsolete, moving towards something fresh and intelligent.

Short Plays #3 (Tamarama Rock Surfers)

1010847_607684252597522_1882182589_n.jpg  960×640Venue: Bondi Pavilion Theatre (Bondi NSW), Jul 19 & 26
Playwrights: Kate Mulvany, Finegen Kruckmeyer, Kit Brookman, Phillip Kavanagh
Directors: John Kachoyan, Jessica Tuckwell, Pierce Wilcox, Jo Turner
Actors: Akos Armont, Danielle King, Yalin Ozucelik, Huw McKinnon, Joshua Anderson, Jonny Pasvolsky, Zak Ynfante

Theatre review
When writing a play, one should think of the stage and its audience. It is good to have a story, a message, or an idea, but writing for the theatre requires awareness of the various senses that are engaged in the act of “watching a play”, and also the various disciplines involved in the collaborative nature of the theatrical arts. Feast and Heart Of Glass are two of the short plays in this collection with distinct similarities. They both feature one male actor, and a great deal of verbiage. Akos Armont and Joshua Anderson are committed actors but are left on an empty stage with nothing more than pages and pages of words. Their stories are not uninteresting, but it is a tall order to perform without involving other elements of the live stage. Unfortunately, these two works come across too much like talented actors reading out chapters from great books, but this does not deliver the best theatrical experience.

Conversely, the two other plays provide dynamism and intrigue to the evening’s proceedings. Wolf imagines the last moments in the life of the boy who cried wolf.  Jonny Pasvolsky plays the wolf (in human form) with great confidence and delicious cunning. The showman delivers an entertaining yet dark performance, positioning himself somewhere between menace and comedy, while cleverly avoiding unpleasant territory in the presence of a child actor.

The Last Bell exploits the short form perfectly, Tension and intrigue is skilfully maintained throughout the piece, with the actors keeping their audience at the edge of its seat. Yalin Ozucelik’s enigmatic gravitas grounds the play. It is his character’s impending doom which is at the centre of the story, and he conveys powerfully that state of being with a minimum of words and movement. Kate Mulvany’s script bears a narrative structure that is thoughtfully designed, able to create dramatic impact without explicit details of horror, and emotional tangibility without being tediously sentimental. Really enjoyable theatre in the mystery/thriller genre.

I’m Not Pale, I’m Dead (Lydia Nicholson)

Im_Not_Pale_cropped.jpg  810×540Venue: Bondi Pavilion Theatre (Bondi NSW), Jul 26-27
Playwright: Lydia Nicholson
Actor: Lydia Nicholson

Theatre review
Lydia Nicholson is a ghost in I’m Not Pale, I’m Dead. She tells us what it’s like being dead, and what she misses about being alive. This is a simple premise, but one which provides the perfect starting point to our immortal quest for the meaning of life. Of course, there are elements in this 50 minute work that are deadly serious, but Nicholson is careful to pepper comic elements from start to finish. The contrast between the lighthearted sections and the melancholic moments gives the piece delightful texture and unpredictability. Along with its life and death “big messages”, the script is a thoroughly enjoyable and deeply moving one. The material here is wonderful, and the universality of its themes gives the script great potential to travel far and wide.

Nicholson addresses her audience directly, playing a guide of sorts to the newly-dead, only to discover that we are in fact still alive and that she is being presented with a rare opportunity to communicate with the living. As with most cases where “audience participation” is involved, a sense of ticklish glee is created, and Nicholson uses this dynamic well, keeping her audience on its toes, and establishing a good rapport from very early on. She is however, best at performing the sadder aspects of the story, especially in the passages that explore the longing she feels for the living. The intensity of that sadness is palpable, and incredibly touching.…

Short Plays #1 (Tamarama Rock Surfers)

shorts1Venue: Bondi Pavilion Theatre (Bondi NSW), Jul 17 & 24
Playwrights: Jessica Tuckwell, Chris Summers, Mark Rogers, Nakkiah Lui
Directors: Kate Gaul, Corey McMahon, Phil Spencer, Matilda Ridgway
Actors: Sandie Eldridge, Lorna Munro, Huw McKinnon, Madeleine Levins, Simon Corfield
Image from Facebook

Theatre review
Four plays with different themes, styles and ideas, all with its own appeal. The opportunities a short play presents is manifold, but chiefly, it allows for the exploration of a single idea with minimal distraction from sub-plots, secondary characters and other auxiliary elements.

Dessert is a macabre story about marriage and death. Sandie Eldridge’s performance of a middle-aged widow impressively positions the play in a delusional psychological space but carefully presents her character with empathy and sadness.  The balance between shock value and sensitivity in this work is exquisite.Washer Woman also features a lone female character. Jessica Tuckwell’s script is poetic and abstract, and Madeleine Levins brings to the piece enough tension and drama to create a semblance of narrative to keep its audience engaged.

The Buck tackles mateship and Aussie bloke culture. The piece creates a formidable air of violence in the theatre, effectively focussing on the dark side to contemporary Australian lives. Similarly working with danger and brutality is Ideginaiety, which presents a harrowing perspective of revenge and colonialism. This is an interesting exploration into indigenous culture through a prism of metaphysicality and crime. The structure of the script and the brave choices it makes is original and powerful, and definitely warrants an extended rendering.

Siberian Hot Toddy (Siberian Hot Tododians)

toddyVenue: Bondi Pavilion Theatre (Bondi NSW), Jul 24-25
Playwright: Cait Harris with cast improvisations
Director: Cait Harris
Actors: Cait Harris, Libby Ahearn, Mark Sutton, Tiffany Hulm

Theatre review
A small group of funny performers, presumably friends, come together to make people laugh. This might sound like the simplest of propositions, but not only has Cait Harris been able to have her crew commit to this project with minimal resources and get it included in the Bondi Feast festival programme, they have devised a modern absurdist comedy that is truly hilarious. It only takes a minute or two before the audience recognises the group’s style of humour, and laughter starts. Ranging from ticklish giggles to raucous guffaws, every moment of this hour-long play is met with laughter. The cast’s ability to impart their daring and mindless silliness like an infectious laughter is an unusual talent. This is probably the first time a crowd finds the curling of a rodent’s tail to create a disguise for a pig, to be so side-splittingly amusing.

Mark Sutton plays three characters, all with a casual but riveting sense of fun. Along with cast member Tiffany Hulm, the “Siberian-accented” speech is well utilised if slightly politically incorrect. The female performers all present variations of “the bimbo” with glee; it must be noted that both genders are portrayed with equal stupidity. Harris plays American Bondi girl Toosh (Fanny’s best friend) who is delightfully frivolous and also charming in her innocence. Her sense of timing creates the biggest laughs, and it is her unique sense of humour that takes this crazy little show into a space where laughter conquers indiscriminately.