Review: The Italians (25A Belvoir)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Oct 23 – Nov 6, 2022
Playwright: Danny Ball
Director: Riley Spadaro
Cast: Danny Ball, Philip D’ambrosio, Nic English, Deborah Galanos, Amy Hack, Emma O’Sullivan, Brandon Scane, Tony Poli
Images by Katherine Griffiths

Theatre review
Joe and Sal are very much in love, and just as they approach bourgeois heaven with impending nuptials and a home in North Bondi, Joe’s estranged cousin Luca materialises out of the blue to wreak havoc. Danny Ball’s The Italians too is a disruptor of middle class style and taste. The play seeks to assert a comedic sensibility that feels characteristic of an Italian-Australian identity, one that is bold and brassy, slightly crass in tone, and with a hint of irreverence. It is deliberately chaotic and sometimes incongruent, but always joyous and relentlessly playful.

Riley Spadaro’s direction introduces a distinct campness to this show that centres around a gay couple, including song and dance numbers that exist solely to entertain. It is discernible that The Italians wishes to break constrictive moulds, and deconstruct conventions of theatre-making that may have become too staid. It contributes to discussions about the decolonisation of the art form, and what it means to create Australian theatre, in this moment of increased awareness, around the legitimacy of minority cultures.

Set design by Grace Deacon features a vibrant wallpaper that establishes from the outset, an aesthetic that is almost garish, but knowingly so. Her costumes reflect an interest in archetypes, but are perhaps too predictable with the approach taken, for these larger than life characters. Phoebe Pilcher’s lights are delightful and dynamic, as they explore the possibilities of manufacturing, for a small space, something a little heightened and absurd. Also memorable are Luke Di Somma’s sound and music, especially when referencing soap opera traditions, for sequences that revel in the melodrama of people’s lives in The Italians.

Playwright Ball plays Sal, with a flamboyant streak, charming yet comedic, reminiscent of leading men in classic European film. Brandon Scane brings a greater sense of realism as Joe, that delivers a feeling of authenticity and universality, for a show that otherwise does become highly, and intentionally, slapstick. Philip D’ambrosio is a noteworthy supporting actor, especially for his turn as Pina, totally hilarious yet so convincing, as an elderly relative with a strange penchant for paracetamol. Performances can be somewhat uneven, in this unapologetically messy affair, but the spiritedness of this jubilant production is unquestionably enchanting.

Interrogating whiteness, is a way to release oneself from the oppressive grip of a culture obsessed with status and class. In The Italians, we observe an understanding of complexities around the proximity to whiteness, that certain Europeans experience. Joe and Sal are young white men, but being Italian and being gay, they know instinctively that the hierarchies that work surreptitiously on this land, are predicated on the unjust marginalisation of many who are deemed “less than”. They then have a choice, to lean on their whiteness, or to find ways to dismantle the injustices that are so thoroughly entrenched within all the systems that matter.

Review: The House At Boundary Road (The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Nov 5 – 16, 2019
Playwrights: Violette Ayad, Thomas De Angelis, Chika Ikogwe, Jordy Shea
Director: Jessica Arthur
Cast: Violette Ayad, Henrietta Amevor, Monique Calarco, Jemwel Danao, Nancy Denis, Felino Dolloso, Adam Di Martino, Jessica Phoebe Hanna, Mark Paguio, David Soncin, Angela Sullen, Mike Ugo
Images by Phil Erbacher

Theatre review
It is in Western Sydney’s Liverpool, that we find The House At Boundary Road, and the families who had lived in it over the years. Written by Violette Ayad, Thomas De Angelis, Chika Ikogwe and Jordy Shea, the work comprises four short plays, each featuring a migrant family. De Angelis writes about Italians in the 50s, Shea on Filipinos in the 60s, followed by Ayad’s Middle Eastern sisters who grew up there in the 80s, and finally Ikogwe presents today’s Nigerian inhabitants. Each segment is compact but powerful, for a meaningful encapsulation of our recent history.

The stories are an emotional tribute to difficult times, all of them offering intimate insight that pertain to the migrant working class. Truths about our economic system are revealed, along with the persistently inequitable nature of our nationhood. Directed by Jessica Arthur, the production is appropriately sentimental, presented in a simple style that conveys poignancy for every moment. A deeply evocative set by Keerthi Subramaniam, recalls interiors of modest homes that form the inner sanctum for so many Australian battlers. Kate Baldwin’s lights and Clemence Williams’s sound keep us in a beautiful melancholy, for an intimately resonant representation of both the past and the present.

Actor Felino Dolloso is especially moving as Jovy, the despondent father of the Filipino household, helping us see the pain of displacement in the most sobering way. The captivating Henrietta Amevor plays Chioma, a 14 year-old Nigerian obsessed with boys and selfies, bringing to the role exquisite humour and phenomenal star quality. Nancy Denis absolutely charms as Chioma’s mother, and their neighbour Ugo is portrayed by Mike Ugo, who impresses with an unexpected tenderness, and the effortless warmth he brings to the stage.

Many of us were allowed in, because difficult jobs needed to be done. We are built on the backs of economic migrants, yet they are routinely demonised by those who benefit most, from the smooth functioning of this capitalist way of life. Those at the top of our hierarchies understand that their positions are only tenable for as long as there are people at the bottom holding things up, yet they never fail to take every opportunity to vilify and demean those who are newer to this land, and darker in skin tone. The characters in The House At Boundary Road may look disparate to suspicious eyes, but there is little that separates them besides. The powerful will insist that we are never the same, so that they can keep trampling over us, but as soon as we reject those notions of difference, we can begin a revolution to erase these despicable disparities.

Review: Chorus (Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Aug 28 – Sep 21, 2019
Playwright: Ang Collins
Director: Clemence Williams
Cast: Jack Crumlin, Madelaine Osborn, Nicole Pingon, Ella Prince, Eliza Scott, Chemon Theys
Images by Phil Erbacher

Theatre review
Agamemnon is a pop star enjoying considerable success, but like the mythical king she has named herself after, accomplishments come at a very high price. Ang Collins’ Chorus talks a little about stardom, but is more concerned about a motherhood that never lived up to its promises. The play’s purposeful juxtaposition with the Greek legend also prompts us to think about gendered differences in the way we discuss morality, and how we are more permissive of one gender over the other, especially in matters pertaining to parenthood. It is a powerful context that Collins has formulated, with intriguing characters and exciting dialogue delivering an enjoyable theatrical experience. The story’s climax does however feel slightly underwhelming, due in part to the writing’s subtle approach. In preventing itself from turning exploitative, Chorus unfortunately loses some of its drama when we arrive at the crucial moment of revelation.

Performances are strong, with Ella Prince an appropriately assertive presence in the main role, bringing a wrathful intensity to a personality who has some very serious issues in need of resolution. Chemon Theys is memorable as love interest Cass, and persuasive in her portrayal of an unapologetic Instagram celebrity. The baby’s father is played by Jack Crumlin, marvellously complex and authentic with the emotions he depicts as the deeply conflicted Chris.

Much pleasure is derived from the cast’s wonderfully tight ensemble work, inspired by traditional Greek theatre, but given a contemporary twist, complete with live video projections by Sarah Hadley, that magnify the sense of grandeur introduced by the chorus as stage device. Emma White’s set design is elegant in its minimalism. Lights by Veronique Bennett are dynamic, able to add a hint of extravagance to proceedings. As director and sound designer, Clemence Williams’ sensual calibration of atmosphere makes for an absorbing production that holds us captive for the entire duration.

Agamemnon has every right to reject being defined as a mother, but this does not absolve her of responsibilities. We can be persuaded that love cannot be forced, but not doing one’s best to care for their offspring, is surely unequivocally immoral. We should all be encouraged to dream big, and we should learn to better celebrate those who dare to go out on a limb. Life turns hollow, when one is held back by fear and doubt. To be held back by duty however, is quite another thing. |

Review: The Other Side Of 25 (Bontom Productions)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Feb 5 – 9, 2019
Playwright: Becca Hurd
Director: Ellen Wiltshire
Cast: Becca Hurd
Images by Jasmin Simmons

Theatre review
Amory is 27 and pregnant, but tells us that babies are not her bag. Life is taking her on a journey, and she believes that to fall pregnant, is to take a pause from her meaningful experience of something much greater. Becca Hurd’s The Other Side Of 25 is indeed about the meaning of life, and quite accurately, its protagonist discovers that there is little as wonderful about existence, as it is to be of service to loved ones. It is soon revealed that Amory is surrogate, on behalf of her sister who has a medical condition that causes problems with child-bearing.

The one-woman show format compels its playwright to make deeply personal revelations that in turn, inspire our own reflections on big questions surrounding convention and inventiveness, the mundane and the sacred, ephemerality and legacy. Its unpretentious honesty allows a deceptively simple story to be told, in a style that is strikingly casual, by director Ellen Wiltshire who catches us unawares with the philosophies that the show contains. Hurd herself performs the piece, with a disarming immediacy that makes us imagine that everything must be autobiographical. Her instinct for the stage insists on our undivided attention, and we follow her every progression in relaying Amory’s story.

When we stop to think about procreation, the amount of reasons that can dissuade an individual from taking the plunge can be daunting. Amory’s decision to carry her sister’s baby is one of logic, but the vast majority of pregnancies occur in a space of emotion and intuition. We can delude ourselves into thinking that we have complete understanding about our individual paths in the world, but in a moment of control being usurped, Amory finds herself unwittingly transported. What was once a hindrance, turns in a flash, into something to be cherished above all else.

Review: Unfinished Works (Bontom Productions)

bontomVenue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Mar 23 – Apr 2, 2016
Playwright: Thomas De Angelis
Director: Clemence Williams
Cast: Deborah Galano, Kyle Kazmarziks, Lucy Goleby, Contessa Treffone, Rhett Walton

Theatre review (of a preview performance)
Thomas De Angelis’ Unfinished Works talks about art and the selling of art, but it is also concerned with how young people discover adulthood, and the challenges it presents. Strong themes and engaging characters give the play its allure, but its ideas are not always as clever as they wish to be. Dialogue and plot structure also require further refinement and deeper thought, but its concluding, and climactic, scenes are fortunately the most effective and powerful of its two-hour duration.

There is an earnest and provocative spirit, introduced by director Clemence Williams, who explores the text with great honesty and is always conscious of giving proceedings a dimension of emotional intensity. There could be more humour in the way characters interact, and a less innocent approach to the portrayal of their individual foibles, but Williams’ work is thoughtful and energetic, and a delight to connect with. Bringing visual sophistication is designer Charles Davis, who finds simple but smart solutions to accompany the production’s examination and representation of the art world. His set and lights are minimal in style, but very charming indeed.

Lucy Goleby does an astonishing job as Frank, the complicated art star with a lot of weight on her shoulders. Goleby’s portrayals of fear and cynicism feels thoroughly authentic, and the assertive confidence that persist alongside all her insecurities is fascinating to observe. The pairing of vulnerability and strength is beautifully inhabited by the actor, and it is that palpable humanity she depicts that keeps us engrossed. The other leading lady of the piece is Contessa Treffone who plays Isabel, a young woman finding her place in the world, defining her self against family and negotiating grey areas of ambition and sex. Treffone shows strong focus and conviction, and although slightly twee in tone, she is more than capable of holding our attention. The chemistry between both women is full of sparks and a real joy to watch. Unfinished Works does not explicitly discuss the issue of feminism, but there is no need to, because the women it places on stage are prime examples of how we are and how we should be seen; independent, intelligent, ambitious, and frightfully flawed.

5 Questions with Lucy Goleby and Contessa Treffone

Lucy Goleby

Lucy Goleby

Contessa Treffone: What is Unfinished Works about in one sentence?
Lucy Goleby: It’s the story of a successful artist, her agent, and an architect student with artistic ambition wrestling with the question of whether good art demands self-sacrifice and suffering.

Frank was originally written to be a male role. How have you found playing a role specifically written for a man?
It’s been a fascinating process. Although we changed the pronouns on day one, it’s taken me a while longer to wean myself off relying on a hyper-masculine energy. Male roles are inherently different from female roles and yet this is where I think we’ll eventually reach gender equality in performance – by writing complex and contradictory characters who are human first and gendered as a changeable afterthought.

Isabel has a bit of a talent crush on Frank in the play. Who is someone you have a talent crush on?
I think we all have a talent crush on Meryl Streep. The woman is superhuman in every way.

Rumour has it you are quite the jack of all trades. Tell us three hidden talents of Lucy Goleby, in 15 seconds, go!
1) I recently assembled, and now work at, a treadmill desk. 2) I play an excellent game of hide and seek. 3) I mend most things with dental floss.

Who would win in a battle, one hundred duck sized horses or one horse sized duck?
I’ll go with the 100 duck-sized horses – the more brain power, the better!

Contessa Treffone

Contessa Treffone

Lucy Goleby: What excites you about Unfinished Works?
Contessa Treffone: 1) The people. There is way too much talent in the one room not to get excited. 2) Creatively exploring the fundamental questions that I believe any artist asks themselves everyday; What is good art? And how does one make good art? 3) Deborah Galanos’ rehearsal snacks.

Who would play you in the biopic of your life?
Abbi Jacobson or Kristen Wiig. They can battle it out for the role.

If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?
Eliminate guns and plastic.

If you could claim any piece of art or invention as your own, what would you choose?
It would be so delicious to say that I actually painted Gustav Klimts, The Virgin. Or to be the brain behind batteries that store solar energy would be pretty brill!

What temptation can’t you resist?
Sean Connery and good gin. Preferably together.

Lucy Goleby and Contessa Treffone are appearing in Unfinished Works by Thomas De Angelis.
Dates: 23 Mar – 2 Apr, 2016
Venue: Seymour Centre