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.…

Review: The Boat People (Rock Surfers Theatre Company / The Hayloft Project)

hayloftVenue: Bondi Pavilion Theatre (Bondi NSW), May 29 – Jun 21, 2014
Playwright: Benedict Hardie
Director: Benedict Hardie
Actors: Susie Youssef / William Erimya / Emily Rose Brennan / Luke Joseph Ryan
Image by Zakarij Kaczmarek

Theatre review
One of the exciting facets of theatre is the way it is able to deal with social issues. The stage provides a membrane of safety, where artists can venture into dangerous territory, and say things that are controversial, or even, fictional. In this unique space of expression, the audience is able to examine ideas with their own free will, and perhaps have opinions swayed, or maybe come to new realisations about the world.

Benedict Hardie’s The Boat People is a script that we desperately need. It tackles subjects that are prominent in news and politics, but approaches it from an artistic perspective. What results is a discussion about themes that we care passionately about, but unpacked in an unconventional way. Its story and characters present to us a refreshing way at looking at Australia’s obsession with asylum seekers and our ever-changing stance on immigration policies. It is neither journalistic reportage nor realistic documentary. It is imaginative, and in its “what ifs”, we are able to observe and judge our personal responses to some of the ideas brought up by the work. Hardie’s writing is sardonic and sophisticated. There are surprises everywhere, and its characters connect deeply with the way we look at ourselves today. Hardie’s direction however, is slightly lacking. The pace of the piece misses a certain fluidity. There are many gear changes that occur from constant shifts in comic tone, which is conceptually exciting, but experientially, a little awkward. Our emotions and attention are prevented from becoming more deeply invested, which might be intellectually interesting, but in reality, quite frustrating. We like the characters and want to feel more for them.

Susie Youssef’s performance as Sarah is extraordinarily centred and strong. Playing a character that is unable to anchor herself morally, Youssef is surprisingly authentic. She presents a truth that we relate to, one that appeals to our humanity; the part of us that lives in shades of grey, and where life forces us to move within these shades, refusing to let us hold on to black or white regardless of our desire for certainty and convenient truths. The level of conviction in Youssef’s work is impressive. The confidence she brings to a role that is characterised by its power and wealth is very persuasive indeed.

Karl is played by William Erimya, who is memorable for his immense affability. Karl is absolutely adorable, and Erimya’s performance is hilarious, but his final scene attempts to shock, only to leave us bewildered and unconvinced. Melanie is another role who goes through a confusing transition, but Emily Rose Brennan’s performance is engaging and enjoyable. Brennan’s work is precise, with an exquisite polish, and she brings an intense energy that is deceptively subtle. Luke Joseph Ryan is the live wire of the group. He is outlandish, buoyant and effervescent, giving us a lot of silliness that contrasts effectively with the gravity of the work. He does seem to be slightly detached from the ensemble who are comparatively subdued, but we do catch glimpses of great chemistry when situations are conducive.

The production is designed intelligently and efficiently. Michael Hankin’s set is simple but arresting. His construction of “windows” is a stroke of genius. Sound designer and composer Benny Davis makes us laugh with pop music made “ethnic”. Costumes by Elizabeth Gadsby helps tell the story well, and her work for Karl and Melanie are particularly attractive but Sarah’s stature requires further finesse.

The complexity of The Boat People is unapologetic and essential. Hardie’s writing resists simplification, so we are forced to grapple with the difficulty of issues at hand. Art is not always about truths, but this show hits the nail on the head. The accuracy at which it portrays contemporary Australian beliefs is staggering, and the results are not always easy to digest. Theatre must not always be a walk in the park, and on this occasion, the ride is bumpy, for good and bad. |

In Rehearsal: The Boat People

Rehearsal images above from The Boat People, by The Hayloft Project and Rock Surfers Theatre.
At The Bondi Pavilion, from May 29 – Jun 21, 2014.
More info at

Anaconda (Tamarama Rock Surfers)

rsz_1390679_658422944190319_399168425_nVenue: Bondi Pavilion Theatre (Bondi NSW), Oct 29 – Nov 23, 2013
Playwright: Sarah Doyle
Director: Sarah Doyle
Actors: Damian de Montemas, Simon Lyndon, Leeanna Walsman, Martin Broome

Theatre review
There are stories that appear time and time again in our theatres because they contain evergreen ingredients, but once in a blue moon, a new story emerges that is poignant, interesting and representative of the times we live in. Anaconda is a tale that can only be told in civilisations that have achieved some level of gender and sexual liberation, and where religion is open to scrutiny. Taboos are omnipresent, but they evolve. What was once unspeakable is suddenly given release, and now is the time that themes of sexual abuse, and their many repercussions, are beginning to gain attention in public fora of certain societies.

Sarah Doyle’s script is an important one. It investigates the unraveling of sexual trauma in adult males from different perspectives, and we are provided valuable insight into hidden truths that are buried underneath the surfaces of our daily lives. Revelation is one of the most revered purposes of art. The play does not hold back at exposing gruesome details (although re-enactments are thankfully avoided), and descriptions of those details resonate powerfully with appalling terror.

Less successful however, is Doyle’s direction of her own writing. Characters do not develop as extensively as the story allows, and they come across overly simplified. The dynamics of the wife and husband relationship in particular, lack chemistry and credibility, even though performances are fairly strong. Actors are cast well, and all four bring conviction and gravitas to their roles, but the show requires greater “light and shade” for the dramatics of the script to work more effectively.

The greatest beauty in Anaconda is the way its plot unfolds. Full of intrigue and suspense, it provides great theatricality to what could have been a dreary, depressing experience. This show is a captivating one, and the air of mystery it creates ultimately finds gratification when it divulges its gritty and shocking secrets.

5 Questions with Damian de Montemas

damiandemontemasWhat is your favourite swear word?
Clusterfuck, or fucking motherfucker, or shove it up your ass and fuck off while you’re doing it…

What are you wearing?
Jeans, t-shirt, boots.

What is love?
All you need.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
Ummm Iggy Pop at the Hordern… 9/10 stars… How many stars is it outta 5? 4.5 outta 5.

Is your new show going to be any good?
Anaconda is going to be unmissable.



Damian de Montemas is starring in Anaconda.
Show dates: 29 Oct – 23 Nov, 2013
Show venue: The Bondi Pavillion Theatre

Empire: Terror On The High Seas (Tamarama Rock Surfers)

1173881_628047743894506_803955022_n[1]Venue: Bondi Pavilion Theatre (Bondi NSW), Aug 29 – Sep 28, 2013
Playwright: Toby Schmitz
Director: Leland Kean
Actors: Anthony Gooley, Ella Scott Lynch, Billie Rose Prichard, Nathan Lovejoy, Anthony Gee

Theatre review
Empire: Terror On The High Seas is a murder mystery set on an ocean liner in the late 1920s, but it owes little to the world of Agatha Christie’s writing. Instead, Toby Schmitz’s script is evocative of improvisational jazz music and the work of William S. Burroughs, with a structure that lends itself to a plot that unfolds mesmerisingly, but also freely goes away on lyrical tangents as though the story takes a break to feed an opiate habit at suitable intervals.

This is a big cast, with the participation of just under 20 actors. Performances are consistently good, with even the smaller roles excelling at creating an impression. Leading man Anthony Gooley is spellbinding as an unorthodox writer of sorts, on a journey grappling with personal issues including his concept of setting poetry to the stage. Gooley skilfully creates an endearing character who surprises with dramatic turns that are deliciously outlandish. Nathan Lovejoy steals the first half of the show with an exquisite flamboyance. His stage presence is irrepressible and he rules the stage with perfect comic timing at the show’s lighter sections. Ella Scott Lynch’s creation of a wild, gutsy flapper provides some of the most entertaining moments, and her stage husband Anthony Gee is memorable with a high energy performance that is manic and menacingly intense.

Leland Kean’s direction is thorough and meticulous. His vision comes through distinctly from his players who obviously understand their captain’s destination and purposes. Kean does not shy away from shock value, but he is simultaneously elegant in his approach. There are explicit scenes of debauchery and murder but his show is an aesthetically stylish one. Costumes and set are cleverly and beautifully designed. Sound is outstanding by being omnipresent and crucial to the fluid machinations of the storytelling, but is never distracting.

This is an artistic work that takes many poetic licenses and while it does not always communicate clearly, it takes its audience on its trip and triumphantly weaves through styles and genres, ending up with a theatrical narrative that is gripping, fascinating, and utterly fabulous.

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.