Review: The Lady Or The Tiger (Bondi Feast)

Venue: Bondi Pavilion Theatre (Bondi NSW), Jul 16 – 20, 2019
Devised by: Adriane Daff, Claudia Osborne, Eliza Scott, Mikala Westall
Directors: Claudia Osborne, Mikala Westall
Cast: Eliza Scott, Adriane Daff
Images by Phil Erbacher

Theatre review
There is a lady behind one door, and a tiger behind another, and it is pure luck should the accused make the right choice. Using Frank R. Stockton’s 1882 short story of the same name as departure point, The Lady Or The Tiger is inspired by the aforementioned’s device of unresolved storytelling, to create an experimental theatre that takes pleasure in a notion of disrupted narratives. The tiger says to the lady early in the piece, “did you skip a bit?” as though to prepare us for its intentionally fractured plot structure. Little episodes emerge from nowhere, and go nowhere. We can try to formulate cohesive meanings, or to simply stay in the moment, and luxuriate in the pure theatricality of the experience.

A spatial reversal sees the audience contained in a small nook of a room, as we watch the actors take on their roles on the expansive outside. Thomas Houghton’s lights bring glorious enhancement to an already breathtaking sight, not quite palatial but infinitely more grand than any small theatre is usually capable of providing. Sound by Angus Mills does exceptionally well, to help us hear every word of dialogue spoken in the open space, along with music that gently cradles the action taking place.

Performer Eliza Scott’s comedy is based on a charming vulnerability, that she harnesses with confidence and scintillating wit. Adriane Daff is an exacting and vivacious co-star, with a keen sense of comic timing that endears her to all. The pair is amusing, entertaining and inspiring. Even when we fail to make conventional sense of their shenanigans, there is much to indulge in these idiosyncratic presentations.

Directors Claudia Osborne and Mikala Westall assemble a fantastical range of ideas, full of whimsy and mischief, for a version of The Lady Or The Tiger that will appeal to the adventurous and sophisticated. They make a theatre that is anything but ordinary, shifting the emphasis away from “the moral of the story”, to an exploration of the means and purposes of communication. We have to connect in new ways, if the old is broken. We sit here each with our independent interpretations of the show, but a joyful harmony descends upon us, as though a kind of consensus has been reached.

www.kleinefeinheiten.com | www.bondifeast.com.au

Review: Cool Pool Party (Bondi Feast)

Venue: Bondi Pavilion Theatre (Bondi NSW), Jul 16 – 18, 2019
Playwrights: Antoinette Barbouttis, Scarlett Beaumont
Director: Riley Spadaro
Cast: Antoinette Barbouttis, Gary Brun, Andrew Fraser, Liam Nunan, Emily Richardson, Shannon Ryan, Jack Scott, Riley Spadaro, Alex Stamell, Alana Stewart, James Thomasson
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Antoinette Barbouttis says that Cool Pool Party was written in collaboration with 11 year-old Scarlett Beaumont, after the two had struck up a relationship from Barbouttis being hired as Beaumont’s babysitter. The play is predictably childish, inane even, as we see the narrative entirely from Beaumont’s very juvenile eyes. A group of rich teenagers congregate at a pool party, they play truth or dare, and hilarity ensues.

That, fortunately, is only half the story. The production begins with a lengthy pre-show panel, in which Barbouttis and director Riley Spadaro attempt to have a discussion about the show, and about the nature of theatre in general. We quickly discover that the two are not getting along well at all, with Spadaro’s passive aggression coming up against Barbouttis’ obstinate resistance, creating extraordinary tension, and making us respond with cringing laughter. This dramatic conflict, of course, is a ruse that allows us to explore the processes and meanings of the art form, made even more salient by Barbouttis’ highly autobiographical approach, in which she exposes the most vulnerable states of artistic creation. Getting to the truth is, after all, the name of the game.

As performer, Spadaro brings an acerbity that alarms with its honesty, and his irrepressible zeal for causing mischief translates to excellent entertainment value. Barbouttis is a compelling presence, with an anarchic spirit that ensures her audience is kept on their toes at all times. Of the ensemble pretending to be kids, Liam Nunan is a stand out, extravagant and very funny with the multi-layered farce that he presents.

Barbouttis has not found life as an artist to be easy, and she makes no bones about it. There is no disguising the difficulties behind a finished product in Cool Pool Party; there is figurative scaffolding everywhere, and seams are coming apart all the time. The work is unnerving in its modernity. Some will find it unbearably awkward, and others will find it a gleeful delight, but the show insists that everyone who sees it, will have to be intellectually engaged on some level. It talks about the human condition, as the best of art does, but further, its creator puts herself completely on the line, turning her personal condition into the exhibit from which we must observe, appreciate, and learn from.

www.bondifeast.com.au

Review: Margaret Fulton Queen Of The Dessert (Bondi Theatre Company)

Venue: Bondi Pavilion (Bondi NSW), Oct 12 – 27, 2018
Book: Doug MacLeod (based on Margaret Fulton’s autobiography I Sang For My Supper)
Music: Yuri Worontschak
Director: Ruth Fingret
Cast: Manon Gunderson-Briggs, Clare McCallum, Alexander Morgan, Brett O’Neill, Jasmine Sands, Rebecca Spicer
Images by Lightbox Photography

Theatre review
Australia’s original celebrity chef, Margaret Fulton may be known to have provided culinary lessons to generations, but in the musical Margaret Fulton Queen Of The Dessert, we observe her to be a trailblazer who has, ironically, led women out of their kitchens and into the workforce. The story tracks Fulton’s rise to prominence in mid-20th century, through a combination of verve and luck, culminating in the publication of her hugely successful cookbooks. Helping to broaden the concept of an Australian cuisine, at a time when the White Australia Policy was still in place, her career is a significant landmark that many still hold dear today.

It is a wholesome show, perhaps too polite in tone, but the narrative is structured effectively for an entertaining, often amusing experience, featuring charming insights into our heroine’s story. Music by Yuri Worontschak is beautifully melodious, for a slew of catchy tunes that keep our feet tapping along. Sound design however, is a major sore point, as are most of its visual elements. Nevertheless, Ruth Fingret’s direction ensures that her cast takes every opportunity to deliver energy and merriment through their vibrant performances.

Leading lady Manon Gunderson-Briggs plays a gregarious Fulton; feisty and exuberant at centre stage, keeping us charmed and firmly attentive to the vignettes being shared. Equally likeable is Rebecca Spicer, whose sparkly confidence in a variety of supporting roles makes her a memorable presence. Brett O’Neill proves himself an adventurous performer, as he playfully invents one character after another, always with a tongue-in-cheek sense of extravagance that many will find irresistible.

A person’s legacy relates to their contribution to society. It is a measurement of how many lives are made better, even in the tiniest of ways, by the actions of individuals or groups that endeavour to bring progress to the world. The Margaret Fulton Cookbook has sold a million and a half copies, offering inspiration to young and old for 50 years and counting. Our achievements do not have to be of that scale, but mere mortals too, need to try to leave this a better place than when we had found it. Knowing that every thought, intention and action, has the potential to leave an indelible mark, we must simply always try to do good.

www.bonditheatrecompany.com.au

Review: Håmlet – A New Australian Play (Bondi Feast)

Venue: Bondi Pavilion Theatre (Bondi NSW), Jul 24 – 25, 2018
Playwright: Antoinette Barboutis
Director: Victor Kalka
Cast: Antoinette Barboutis, Matt Castley, Philip D’Ambrosio, Amanda Maple-Brown, Linda Nicholls-Gidley, Gemma Scoble, Alexandra Stamell, Alana Stewart

Theatre review
Shakespeare can be considered the foundation of how we do theatre in the West, and is hence the master we study and seek to emulate. He, of course, is not the only male of our species who has shaped and dominated an art form, that had for many centuries disallowed participation by women. Even today, there remains only one female working as Artistic Director at a Sydney main stage theatre company.

Antoinette Barboutis’ Håmlet – A New Australian Play is a radical exercise of deconstruction, of Shakespeare and therefore of the very notion of how we do theatre, under deeply entrenched patriarchal structures. In tandem are personal expressions about the aftermath of sexual assaults. Ophelia is killed off by Shakespeare, but Barboutis endeavours to work her way out of the wilderness. Both projects, to dismantle theatre and to recover from rape, are fraught and highly complicated, resulting in a show that feels unequivocally avant garde.

The play is concerned with identifying and rejecting existing mechanisms, in hope of locating something progressive. The artist succeeds gloriously in tearing apart what might be considered “the establishment”, but it is uncertain what is installed in its place. It is likely that the newness of what is achieved, escapes labelling, but it is undeniable, that what we find accompanying the strangeness of the experience, is an alarming quotient of pain and sorrow.

It is a work of comedy, extremely caustic in tone, and subversive to the core. Director Victor Kalka brings to fruition Barboutis’ ideas, whilst crucially retaining a pervasive rawness that beautifully represents the spirit of Håmlet. The show is at its best when it is at its least polished; unnerving and confusing, it disturbs us in the moment, and leaves us frazzled after, quite possibly in a masochistically satisfying way. Not all will be able to piece together every bizarre fragment, but its control over our visceral responses is clearly very powerful.

Barboutis is a formidable presence, edgy, with a quiet aggression that translates irresistibly on stage. Her wanton disregard of the fourth wall requires that her audience is self-aware, and therefore reflective, of how we are implicated in its ideas. She is determined to not let any of us sit back and get away with creating distance between her world and ours. Linda Nicholls-Gidley and Amanda Maple-Brown are more conventional in performance style, both delivering memorable scenes in their embrace of a wild vision. Four other players, all in black and interjecting at opportune occasions, function as a modern chorus of sorts, bringing energy to the stage when the air of depression becomes unbearable.

Håmlet – A New Australian Play is extraordinary, in what it wants to say, and how it wants to say it. Its artistic integrity is unparalleled, and the way it sticks to its guns, moves us in ways that are unpredictable, and confounding. Some are likely to find it a difficult work to enjoy, or chastise it for being insufficiently entertaining, but the uniqueness of its approach, and the staunchness of its convictions, feel singularly rare and profoundly valuable. We need to react against a way of life that seems determined to keep us parochial, narrow-minded and fearful. Art of this calibre is the inspiration that can help set us free.

www.bondifeast.com.au

Review: Away (Bondi Pavilion Theatre)

Venue: Bondi Pavilion (Bondi NSW), Jul 4 – 7, 2018
Playwright: Michael Gow
Director: Nicholas Christo
Cast: Beth Daly, Meg Clarke, Norah George, Veronica Lang, Berynn Schwerdt, David Simes, Will Usic, Elliott Weston, James Wright
Images by Lynn Quiroz

Theatre review
Tom and his family are new immigrants to 1960’s Australia. Unlike many of their aspirational neighbours, they are content with a new residence offering a sense of freedom and egalitarianism, after having worked hard to escape the stifling mores of England. Michael Gow’s Away may not be set in 1788, but it is in some ways a story about white settlement, as we watch three white families trying to make sense of their place on this strange colonised land. They never feel completely at home, and the play urges that we attempt to find ways to explain their unrelenting anxieties and throbbing disquiet.

It is a kind of rootless existence that we witness in Away, about those who have only short histories as inhabitants of this young nation. The play opens and closes with quotations from the works of Shakespeare, as though inspiration can only be derived from old Europe; that inability and aversion to connecting with the authentic here and now, is more than a little revealing. The production however, uses A Midsummer Night’s Dream well, with the presence of Puck and other fairies underscoring much of the action, in costumes by Emma Clark that are very delightful indeed.

Director Nicholas Christo does well to introduce a dimension of ethereality whenever possible, for a magical quality that brings additional drama to the production. Not all actors are obviously suited to their roles, but it is an adequate cast that presents the show, with David Simes proving to be most endearing as both Tom and Puck. The performer is sprightly, with a charming earnestness that accompanies an admirable level of dedication he displays for the stage.

Not every work of art can stand the test of time, but there is no stopping us from new interpretations when we find them starting to wither. There is little joy in reading the same texts, in the same way, year in year out. With every revisit, tiny shifts in our culture allow us to see old things in new light. That which had been written might be characterised by a certain immovability, but the eyes that read them, can never defy the ravages of time.

http://www.waverley.nsw.gov.au/recreation/places_of_interest/bondi_pavilion

5 Questions with Antoinette Barboutis and Philip D’Ambrosio

Antoinette Barboutis

Philip D’Ambrosio: Why does this show matter in the current theatrical landscape in Sydney?
Antoinette Barboutis: There’s a paradox at play. It has very little relevance because of its context in the Sydney theatre scene. It’s either totally relevant, or complete trash. We are destabilising literary text and moving towards performance text- even a nexus of the performative and the narrative. I don’t want to fall under the pseudo avant-garde of post dramatic theatre. So, I’ve coined a new theatrical term “post ironic”.

It matters and it doesn’t matter on a personal level. I’ve seen productions this year that have given me cause to question the status quo- eg. scenographic replicas of Ivo Van Hove’s The Damned, glass-ceilings designed by men in Top Girls. Sadly, that leaves little room for mainstage reinvigorations. In saying that, we’ve used the worst-cliché Trojan Horses- Hamlet.

Does ‘New Australian Work’ get enough backing from the industry?
I don’t know Phil, I can’t answer this one. I’m new to this. I think there’s a lot of funding in it. ATYP, STC, PWA all seem to support new writing? I enjoy “Rough Drafts” a lot. But when the result in the Helpmann nominations (prophetic, I know) is “Hamlet”, albeit operatic, as Best New Australian Work- who knows?

With the use of drama school students in this production, who are so young in their development, were you worried their work wouldn’t stand up to the standard of theatre in Sydney?
Absolutely not! I believe so much more in the individual, than I do the actor. Textually, there’s a hierarchical structural at play, and completely contradicting this is the non-hierarchical structure used as a methodology in the acting. I’ve used the Brechtian technique of exploiting humanism, this anthropocentric approach is really to my taste! I’ve taken a lot of it trust in the process from watching hours of Tim Heidecker/Super Deluxe/Brown Cardigan. People as they are, are great.

How do you think audiences receive this production?
I aim to leave an audience free to produce their own interpretation. The audience should be able to question the material and I really encourage them to think their own solution. That’s the exchange I crave as an emerging auteur. In an early public reading, it polarised the audience- I see that as a sign of success. They will also have to think to determine the irruptions of truth vs fiction.

What is coming up next for Antoinette Barboutis?
I have nothing. I applied for a Greek tragedy, with a White-Anglo-Celtic director who called for “diverse” actors. I applied with noting I held an Athens residency card and a Greek passport. I did not receive a response. I didn’t get cast amongst all the other millennial 2017 Sydney Theatre Award nominated alumni for The Wolves– I didn’t even get an audition. It’s more telling of me, a Holocene I wasn’t maybe meant for- I want to be an actor.

Philip D’ambrosio

Antoinette Barboutis: Is it exploitative to expose the individual on stage?
Philip D’ambrosio: Ironically, you might be taking advantage of my status as an acting student here (even by asking me this very question) and using it as a device in the production to speak to the discourse you establish. I am the scapegoat of the production. But with permission and consent, the very essence of being on stage is to uncover what makes us humans, how we see the world and to be a vessel for storytelling. I have very little stage experience and I am so thrilled to engage with anti-didactic work at this level, that I can only bring myself- no ego. Would you say it is the acting students that become the anchor to moral reason and ethics? I sure as hell want to work in this industry but at what cost… we need to maintain our self-respect and give consent and know that we can set boundaries ourselves and not be governed by hierarchy.

Has this text given you strength to challenge the vicious cycles of abuse that occur in theatre?
The script is irreverent, unapologetic and completely bizarre – very much like me! I feel a strong connection with this style of post-dramatic theatre. I think that you have used this text to rupture the discourse surrounding abuse in this industry, mental health and female oppression. Cheers to that! I hope that it comes across as fearless and brave, as all theatre should be. We all need to find strength somehow. As a young gay male in this landscape, mental health is important so I want to back work like this. We all are struggling with our mental health, or self-worth. I am constantly plagued with doubt and to have someone to look up to when I was younger would have been nice. The industry is a difficult arena to navigate through and it needs to become softer and gentle so that artists can thrive and not self-combust. I think that the text has given me the power to remember, as fresh and naive as I might be, that I have a voice and I can be heard. With more in your face work like this, young emerging artists like us can help pave a new way so people of all walks of life can tell their stories and feel safe to do so.

When Hamlet drops his “dirty” stockings and exposes his genitals to Ophelia while she is domestically sewing, is this the timeless Shakespeare the theatre world embraces?
The world needs Shakespeare! We can’t ban it. (YES WE CAN) By using a Hamlet, you are in fact reinforcing its permanence and highlighting the power of the language to transcend time and place. Isn’t the the very reason you are using it in your play? It’s ironic. I get it. I think the work of Shakespeare allows us to see ourselves reflected and shaped through such great writing! It is clear that the resonance and beauty of his language gives us a poetic landscape to explore who we can be as humans. The scene in question, it can be see from different perspectives. All art is subjective, isn’t it? Well, let’s embrace the debate, let’s give our audience something to decide for themselves.

Is this show actually a comedy?
It’s pretty bloody funny from where I am sitting. I think it’s laced with all forms of irony and sarcasm. Do we need to label it? It’s post-dramatic theatre. The opening monologue will surely be a wtf moment. We will have to let the crowd let us know what it is by the end of it, because I’m just as confused as you are at this point. But isn’t that the point Antoinette? I’m a bit of a production myself, so if I trip on stage – it wasn’t on purpose.

Am I (Antoinette) actually a good actor?
I think that the level of professionalism we show each other in the rehearsal room makes a good actor for the most part; the openness and willingness to play, to be malleable and aware is key. Well, that’s what I’m learning at the Institution. You throw yourself completely into the work, which is to be admired. Your personality is unique and engaging, an important quality to have on stage, which a lot of trained actors can’t seem to bring to the table at times. However, I think the value we place on ‘good’ acting nowadays seems to take the focus away from storytelling. At the end of the day, we are a blank canvas and should aim to serve the story. If that is done successfully and audience is changed, we have done our job.

Antoinette Barboutis and Philip D’Ambrosio are in håmlet, part of Bondi Feast 2018.
Dates: 24 – 25 July, 2018
Venue: Bondi Pavilion

Review: Business Unfinished (Bondi Feast)

Venue: Bondi Pavilion Theatre (Bondi NSW), Jul 27 – 29, 2017
Creator: Tom Christophersen
Director: James Dalton
Cast: Tom Christophersen, Tim Kemp
Image by Philip Erbacher

Theatre review
Tom Christophersen has a fascination for the paranormal, and in Business Unfinished, we gather around him as though around a campfire, listening to ghost stories that he has amassed. A collector of metaphysical tales, the idiosyncratic obsession that Christophersen presents, is something we relate to, for what he does in the show, is to question a reality of which everyone is implicated.

Believable or not, depending on each of our own constitutions, episodes in Business Unfinished are an inviting exploration into the nature of time and space, as well as an examination of the human tendency to create relationships with the supernatural, religious or otherwise. It then extends into the idea of sanity, and that sense of coherence necessary for the world to exist as an understandable, rational whole. An acceptance of incoherence would suggest that phenomena is beyond all human control, and therefore devastating.

Christophersen’s work on soundtrack is outstanding; blending firsthand accounts with an imaginative selection of music and a broad assortment of effects and clips, what we hear is deeply evocative, and a thorough expression of the creator’s unbridled fascination for the subject. Sound design however, is underwhelming, with two basic speakers behind the stage unable to manufacture appropriate sensations that would trigger our more visceral responses. Christophersen performs a substantial portion of the show as a lip-sync act, mouthing to recordings of various personalities, with astonishing accuracy. Stage manager Patrick Howard’s precision in dispensing cues is noteworthy in this regard.

Lighting design by Alexander Berlage is charming and playful, offering a good level of visual excitement to the piece. The space is problematic, being right next door to a rowdy watering hole, and the production insufficiently compensates for noise, leaving atmosphere severely compromised, in a work that is all about things creepy and ominous. Nonetheless, it is unequivocal that what its innovative director James Dalton delivers, is a rich and artful theatre, one that is as interested in its subject matter as it is in the characteristics of theatre itself.

Live performances comprise both the concrete and the esoteric. We go to them in search of magic, trusting that although the flesh and matter we encounter are essentially ordinary, something beyond the mundane will be experienced. If ghosts can be created on stage, we can make them appear in other places, voluntarily or involuntarily. As with gods, we can only prove their non-existence, but their presence is resolutely persistent, and ultimately ineludible.

www.bondifeast.com.au