Review: Son Of Byblos (25A Belvoir)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), May 4 – 21, 2022
Playwright: James Elazzi
Director: Anna Jahjah
Cast: Violette Ayad, Kate Bookallil, Simon Elrahi, Deborah Galanos, Mansoor Noor
Images by David Hooley

Theatre review
Cousins Adam and Clare are queer Australians, but they are also Lebanese. Like many of our LGBTQIA+ compatriots from minority cultural backgrounds, they do not have the luxury to live loud and proud, like the mainstream examples we often see in white media. Instead, they indulge in their sexualities surreptitiously, and rely only on each other, for open and honest companionship. Things begin to unravel however, when Clare decides to marry a man, in a radical attempt to stop being a lesbian once and for all.

James Elazzi’s Son of Byblos exposes the truth about queer life on this land, as experienced by many people of colour. On one hand, it questions the progress that we think we have made as a political movement, and on the other, it challenges traditional ways of life that are still pervasive in enclaves everywhere, that continue to struggle with acceptance. Adam wants to be a good son to his loving parents, but he is never able to reconcile fundamental truths about his sexuality, with expectations at home.

This is by no means a new story. In fact in can be considered an age-old one, but Elazzi’s insistence on discussing the issue, prevents us from looking away. Delusions about social advancement, means that people can be left behind, but a play like Son of Byblos in 2022 reminds us that activism and advocacy should always be about those who are most disadvantaged. LGBTQIA+ progressivism in Australia it seems, has taken its eye off the ball.

The work is directed by Anna Jahjah who anchors the action in that space of conflict and tension, where tradition and rights of the individual, prove dissonant. Performances oscillate in and out of naturalism, but when the cast hits upon moments of authenticity, is when the drama really captivates.

Actor Mansoor Noor brings polish to the production, playing Adam with great nuance and believability. It is admirable that Noor’s portrayal of a difficult existence is one of a man taking it in his stride, rather than only looking tortured. There is a valuable air of dignity given to all the characters in Son of Byblos. Kate Bookallil as Clare is especially moving in her final scene, completely devastating as she tries to deal a final blow to her genuine self. Also very touching and vulnerable, is Violette Ayad who as old friend Angela, stands up for herself and refuses to be a pawn in Adam’s charade. Simon Elrahi and Deborah Galanos play Adam’s well-meaning parents, both warm presences that help us mediate this painful conundrum, of the truth against piety.

Sex in Son of Byblos is never depicted in a positive light. Instead of pleasure, connection and empowerment, it only delivers anguish. When we see that even the most beautiful things, can be turned harrowing, we must come to the realisation that resistance is critical. /

Review: We Are The Himalayas (Brave New Word Theatre)

Venue: Fringe HQ (Potts Point NSW), Jul 3 – 21, 2019
Playwright: Mark Langham
Director: Richard Cornally
Cast: Charlotte Chimes, Steve Corner, James Gordon, Chelsea Hamre, Ben Mathews, Emilia Stubbs Grigoriou
Images by David Hooley

Theatre review
It was 1938 when Anna Larina was first incarcerated. With her husband Nikolai Bukharin charged with treason against the Soviet Union, Larina found herself similarly persecuted by the paranoid state, for simply being a wife. Mark Langham’s We Are The Himalayas tells the tale of the individual versus an oppressive regime, featuring characters from a specific point of history, but is timeless in its relevancy. Scintillating dialogue is the work’s greatest pleasure. Its narrative can be slightly lacklustre, but there is much to enjoy in the dynamics between characters, and in Langham’s words themselves.

Leading lady Charlotte Chimes offers focus and intensity, although a greater exploration of range and depth for Larina would create a stronger sense of empathy for her audience. A more complex rendering of personality comes from Ben Mathews who gives a Bukharin that feels layered, and hence intriguing. As secret police apparatus Lavrentiy Beria, is the exceptional Steve Corner, whose nuanced dramatics has us enthralled. His scenes with Chimes and Mathews have them lifting their game, for a second half of We Are The Himalayas that quite suddenly turns explosive.

Not every actor is able to deliver with enough resonance for the show to be consistently meaningful, but director Richard Cornally keeps his storytelling disciplined, with a considered approach that successfully accumulates tension over the duration. Sound design by Patrick Howard is especially noteworthy for its impressive precision, guiding us across time and space with remarkable sensitivity.

There is strength in numbers, although our collectivism can easily turn evil when left unchecked. The greater good is always a noble consideration, but the autonomy of singular entities must never be conveniently disregarded. In 2019, we can see with great clarity, the corruptible nature of power, with those in high places becoming increasingly wanton in the way they execute their affairs. It is tempting to think that our Western democracy is a world away from Stalin’s communism, but the second we ease pressure on the brakes, our ruling class will no doubt drive us to a destination that few will appreciate.

Review: Lie With Me (The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Oct 2 – 13, 2018
Playwright: Liz Hobart
Director: Warwick Doddrell
Cast: Lyn Pierse, Nathalie Murray, Julia Robertson
Images by David Hooley

Theatre review
There are monsters walking amongst us, murderers, rapists and cannibals, who look just like everybody else, made of the same flesh and blood. Sebastian is one such monster, responsible for 17 gruesome deaths. His mother is Janice, and in Liz Hobart’s Lie With Me, we explore the impossibly difficult notion of having to come to terms, with being the woman who had birthed such an abomination into the world. Whether nature or nurture, the connections we draw between mother and son, make it an intolerable existence for Janice to have to bear.

Fractured and achronological, scenes in Lie With Me are presented like randomised shreds of memories, challenging us to make coherence out of unimaginable inhumanity. Dark, passionate and urgent, Hobart’s writing makes for engrossing, fascinating theatre. Directed by Warwick Doddrell, the staging can at times be excessively elaborate, but it proves to be an ultimately rich and rewarding experience. Lights by Sophie Pekbilimli are creative and lively, effective in giving unexpected dimension to the space. Sound is delicately managed by Ben Hinchley, who deftly maintains intensity throughout.

Sebastian the monster is conspicuously, but thankfully, missing in action. Janice is played by Lyn Pierse, strong and compelling with all that she offers. Her sophisticated approach ensures that the show never descends into exploitative territory. The very charming Julia Robertson is delightful in her playful array of roles, particularly biting as Sebastian’s father Len. Nathalie Murray provides solid support, a disciplined and nuanced performer proving herself to be inexorably reliable.

Lie With Me is about motherhood, and the many roles women have to play, that deprive us of our sovereignty. Janice tries to be her own person, but having devoted her life to being little more than mother and wife, she struggles to find self-worth when forsaken by both son and husband. It is anybody’s guess if she would again choose motherhood if the reversal of time were possible, but one would hope that the lessons she has learned would lead to a reclamation of power and independence. For those of us with time on our side, the play is a reminder of how we should define existence, and the bigger things we are capable of.

Review: Asylum (Brave New Word Theatre Company)

Venue: Comber Street Studios (Paddington NSW), Nov 15 – 25, 2017
Playwright: Ruth Fingret
Director: Richard Hilliar
Cast: Joshua McElroy, Katherine Shearer, David Woodland, Eli Saad, Hannah Raven
Image by David Hooley

Theatre review
Craig is a draconian protector of Australia’s borders, spending his work days assessing the legitimacy of asylum seekers from war torn countries. At home however, he is incapable of caring for those he calls family. Ruth Fingret’s Asylum talks about our national obsession with blaming external factors as the cause of our problems, whilst neglecting obvious and urgent dysfunctions that have nothing to do with the world outside.

It is a simple story, presented in a straightforward manner. Director Richard Hilliar’s refusal of ornamentation in this bare bones staging, creates a clinical atmosphere appropriate for Craig’s coldness, and is indicative of the increasingly brutal approach in how our government operates. Dialogue is dry, often sacrificing nuance for dramatic effect, but strong performances keep the show buoyant.

David Woodland plays Craig as an everyday guy, letting the villainous qualities of his character stay an undercurrent in his portrayal. Joshua McElroy is particularly memorable as Jason, a young offender starved of love, unable to connect without having to resort to drastic measures. Simultaneously intense and vulnerable, the actor’s confidence is unflappable even in the venue’s extremely close quarters.

The Australians we see in Asylum have forgotten kindness. The insecurity of inhabiting a land that was never ceded by rightful owners, makes us paranoid and shameful. Instead of addressing our illicit presence, we channel our disgrace onto those who have a more rightful claim to being here. Guilt is a powerful emotion, that unless managed veraciously, would only exert itself in harmful ways.

Review: Big Crow (Brave New Word Theatre Company)

bravenewwordVenue: Pulse Group Theatre (Redfern NSW), Feb 21 – Mar 4, 2017
Playwright: Mark Langham
Director: Barry Walsh
Cast: Amylea Griffin, Charles Jones, Ben Maclaine, Jodine Muir, Liam Smith
Image by David Hooley

Theatre review
Many of us have felt the urge to kill our bosses, at one time or another. We may be able to operate under authority on most days, but human nature has its limits when kept under tight control. Tommy and Albert were Londoners brought to Australia in the 1930’s. Fed up with slave-like conditions, they decide to capture their employer in an effort to turn their fortunes around. Based on a true story, Mark Langham’s Big Crow features five contrasting personalities, each with their own distinct proclivities. The play sets up a fascinating context for their interactions, and even though the stakes at play are high, the sparks that fly are minute and momentary.

It is a plot that struggles to find focus, with competing narratives fighting for our attention. We are intrigued by the theatrical temperament of its characters, but their individual stories all seem too vague and under-cooked. What they reveal of themselves only teeter on the brink of something enticing and salacious, never really bringing us to a satisfying epiphany. Director Barry Walsh’s attempts at manufacturing an atmosphere of violence and brutality helps provide some visceral drama to the piece, and although some of the acting is convincing (Charles Jones and Jodine Muir are its saving grace), the show offers little that would allow us to connect.

When Peg discovers her husband tied up, about to be slaughtered, she reacts with an unexpected sadistic delight. The show is on, and like Peg, we wait for something to happen that would deliver thrills and enlightenment. When our expectations are not met, we can look back for what might have been missed, or we can move forward in search of the inevitable next opportunity.

Review: Resolution (Brave New Word Theatre Company)

bravenewwordVenue: Pulse Group Theatre (Redfern NSW), Jul 26 – Aug 6, 2016
Playwright: Luke Holmes
Director: Sascha Hall
Cast: Peter Bass, Deirdre Campbell, Lauren Lloyd Williams, Jacqueline Marriott, Nicholas Starte
Image by David Hooley

Theatre review
The CEO of a media giant passes away, and names her daughter heir to the company. Suddenly thrust into the limelight, Abigail has to deal with her mother’s death as well as unexpected revelations of the inconvenient inheritance. The story is about coming to terms with one’s parent’s failings, and even though Resolution is guided by strong ideas that most are able to relate to, the script is dry, with few opportunities for effective comedy or drama to take hold.

The narrative is needlessly complex, with superfluous characters and numerous scene changes that the simple style of direction struggles to bring clarity to. Jacqueline Marriott is a likeable leading lady, but her work lacks the gravity required by the role, and even though her commitment is faultless, there is little in her portrayal of a high powered corporate executive that is convincing. An improvement to costume and hair design might be helpful. The charismatic Nicholas Starte has a more straightforward part to play as Abigail’s beau Cameron, impressing us with strong dynamic range and a theatrical effervescence that brings flashes of life to the stage.

We may not relate to Abigail’s position as a leader of hundreds, but we understand the painful feelings that can exist between any parent and child. There are always things a mother could have done better, or words a father could have said with more kindness. As children grow into adults, and as we start seeing the world from older eyes, scars can begin to be erased. No one wishes for any bundle of joy to be contaminated, but babies can only be taught by the imperfect; innocence will be lost and disappointments will arise. We can remain idealistic, but the turbulence of life can never be eradicated.

5 Questions with Jacqueline Marriott and Nicholas Starte

Jacqueline Marriott

Jacqueline Marriott

Nicholas Starte: If you could be a student at Hogwarts, would you still want to be an actor?
Jacqueline Marriott: Yes but only because I’m a strange human and am not crazy about HP… bad muggle.

2 chickens meet at a bar, one says to the other “I hear you’re in a play call Resolution, why should I come along?” What about the show would convince an alcoholic chicken to come along?
Oh so tough… maybe I’d tell the alcoholic chicken that there are five very charming chooks to check out on the stage. Chicks dig alliteration.

What is your character’s spirit animal?
A swan. Super graceful and has everything together… above the waterline.

Do you have a favourite pre-show ritual?
Yes, two – painting my nails in the colour suited to my character and binding my script with a ribbon that I am only allowed to choose once the show is up and running (actually it usually happens around closing for me)… I make sure the size, colour and texture of the ribbon matches the colour/feel of the show I’ve just finished. I am growing an ever colourful library of much loved, cried upon, yelled at and ultimately bound scripts. At a glance I only see the ribbons but I recognise each one as the gamut of experience it holds tight. The ribbon decision also is definitely only allowed to be made well into (after) the process too because the choice changes so wildly throughout. I think in colours. I am a dag. I also gave you a pre and a post ritual because I’m a colourful dag.

When do your super powered acting skills come in handy in every day life?
In my other job as a Captain Starlight – lots and lots of super powers employed there!

Nicholas Starte

Nicholas Starte

Jacqueline Marriott: If you could sit opposite yourself as a child of 7, what is the most important question you would ask yourself?
Nicholas Starte: Why don’t we hang out more?

When was the last time you cried?
I don’t cry, my heart is made of stone… I’m currently receiving treatment.

What is your one favourite line of the whole play? Can be your own, can be another character’s…
Easiest question ever. It’s a tie between all of Rosie’s lines about balls.

Why acting? Succinct answer please!
Because I refuse to grow up and stop playing make believe.

If not acting, then what?
A lion!

Jacqueline Marriott and Nicholas Starte are appearing in Resolution by Luke Holmes.
Dates: 26 July – 6 August, 2016
Venue: The Actor’s Pulse

5 Questions with Georgia Woodward and Bob Deacon

Georgia Woodward

Georgia Woodward

Bob Deacon: Would you rather have two mouths or four hands and why?
Georgia Woodward: Definitely four hands. There are many occasions in my life where I wish I was able to carry more.

Rove McManus is just about to interview you on Rove Live. He would tell the audience as your introduction “My next guest…”
If fresh off the plane from the US where she was working on the New NBC TV Show “The Waiting Room” with co-star, Amy Poehler.

What’s the best piece of acting or life advice you have received? (please use rhyming couplets where possible)
To define what success means to you. That’s how you will get through. Being true to you.
Don’t change to fit the game. Then if you don’t get the part, you have only yourself to blame.
Accept that the industry is tough and won’t stroke your hair and tell you your good enough.
Accept that you are an actor, with no money, but you are surrounded by art (I want more money) and that’s good enough.

If your co-star, your director and yourself were starving escaped convicts in the Tasmanian wilderness, who would you eat first and why?
I would like them both to eat me first. One, because I would not survive in those conditions and two, they’re better people.

What will the audience enjoy most about this show?
I think the audience will love watching these characters sit in their living room and solve all world problems. Spoiler alert! Alex and I do get pretty down and dirty. We may sing and plan for our future.

Bob Deacon

Bob Deacon

Georgia Woodward: What’s the rehearsal process for Last Drinks been like so far?
Bob Deacon: We have been holding our rehearsals in a pub which is very inspiring for a play set in a pub. We sometimes drink beer in the pub after rehearsals, usually a local draft beer. Sometimes we eat some pub grub. Our director Luke has been strong in resisting urges to turn the play into a pub rock musical. The other actors are Chris whose hobbies include entertaining/creeping us out with his The Joker monologues, and Steve who unfortunately had his script stolen after the first rehearsal.

Who is your character in the show and what qualities do you like about him?
As an acrostic poem… sure!
Daniel runs his suburban family pub ‘The Avalon’
Ask him how it’s going?
No good, he’d probably say
It’s only customers are his two larrikin mates
Everything he does is for those mates and his old man
Last drinks may be called soon

Brave New Word is a theatre company dedicated to new writing, how are you finding working with them?
The team is super! They are very supportive of emerging artists and committed to putting on truthful and thought-provoking local productions. I feel very lucky to be working with them and expect to see big things from them in the future. Before I started working with Brave New Word I used to sit in my room for hours listening to ABBA songs, but since then I haven’t listened to one ABBA song. That’s because working with them is as good as an ABBA song. It’s as good as “Dancing Queen” (please watch Muriel’s Wedding if you missed this reference).

What do you eat for breakfast?
I am ridiculously rigid in my eating habits. Breakfast is two pieces of toast heavily spread with Australia’s favourite yeast extract. If I have no bread in the house, I duck up to the local convenience store and scoff into a blueberry muffin. Breakfast during special occasions like Christmas and birthdays is always enough chocolate to make me feel ill and regret my actions.

Why should we come and see the show?
Audience member 1: “Remember that time we went and watched a double bill of new Australian plays, and one was about a pub that was actually set in a pub, in a pub? Like, literally, the theatre was in a pub?”

Audience member 2: “Yeah that was mad! I loved it! The acting, the story, the whole production… all of it was fantastic!”

Audience member 1: “And remember I found $50 in that bush on the way home?”

Audience member 2: “Yeah, good times!”

Georgia Woodward and Bob Deacon will be appearing in Last Drinks & Two Mouths Four Hands, with Brave New Word Theatre Company.
Dates: 17 – 26 November, 2015
Venue: Exchange Hotel Balmain

Review: Of Monopoly And Women (Brave New Word)

brandnewwordVenue: Exchange Hotel (Balmain NSW), Jul 9 – 24, 2014
Playwright: Pamela Proestos
Director: Sascha Hall
Actors: Ainslie Clouston, Bianca Raess, Victoria Greiner, Mark Taylor
Image by David Hooley

Theatre review
Relationships between siblings are often neglected by storytellers. They seem too mundane for the stage, and are a part of life that many take for granted. Pamela Proestos’ script places focus on a trio of sisters and demonstrates that there is much to be explored. Each woman has distinct qualities, and as a collective, they are complex and fascinating. Their bond is exceptionally tight, and within that closeness, they relate to one another with great humour, as well as unbearable cruelty. This calls to mind a quote from spiritual writer Marjorie Pay Hinckley, “home is where you are loved the most, and act the worst.”

In Of Monopoly And Women, we see the machinations of sibling rivalry in all its glory. In the security of their home, our leading ladies live, eat and breathe together, with a no holds barred attitude. They are always their true selves, allowing Proestos to reveal facets of human nature, good and bad, that are universal and unerringly reflective of our own lived experiences. With brutal honesty, she shows us how we treat the people we love, sometimes with unbelievable impertinence, but always amusing.

Production design is thoughtfully executed although its shoestring budget is evident. Demitra Sealy’s set efficiently creates levels and spaces that assist with scene transitions, and adds visual interest with colour and texture that feel homely while also providing a look that is delightfully theatrical. Lighting by Luke Holmes is sensitively created, turning a challenging venue into an effective performance space that provides fluctuating moods.

All performances are accomplished, and the chemistry between actors are well harnessed by director Sascha Hall. It is crucial that the family ties being portrayed are believable, and the production succeeds on this level. The symbiosis of love and hate is delicately balanced and deeply interesting. There is however, a deficiency in some scenes that require a greater range of emotion and comedy. The script allows for quite extreme quarreling on one hand, and hilarity on the other, but a few of these opportunities are missed. The action is fast paced, but charming lines are sometimes not given enough emphasis for them to work more powerfully. Supporting actor Mark Taylor is memorable for giving the most natural performance in the cast, playing one of the women’s boyfriend. His character is simplest to handle, but it is noteworthy that Taylor’s work is consistently compelling.

This is a production that has its heart in the right place. The team has identified the script’s essence accurately, and they present it well, but the show needs a few more dramatic turns in performance tone to prevent its domestic scenarios from descending into a space of mundanity. Ella, Kate and Zoe are multi-dimensioned and likeable women, with inter-playing dynamics that are thoroughly explored and beautifully written. The play and its themes are enjoyable and easy to identify with, even if it exposes us for being so careless with the people we love the most.

5 Questions with Sascha Hall

saschahallWhat is your favourite swear word?
Fuck, especially using it when stubbing one’s toe. No other word feels as good.

What are you wearing?
Jeans, striped socks, a strange multicoloured top that I’m now regretting as my attention is brought to it. A blue bra and purple undies. A blue dressing gown. All class.

What is love?
Love is a many splendored thing, love lifts us up where we belong. All you need is love … aaaaand I’ve watched Moulin Rouge too many times.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
The last show I saw was The Government Inspector at Belvoir. I’d give it four stars because it took a while to hook me and I didnt think it was going to. By the time the curtain call came around I had decided it was one of the craziest and funniest things I’d ever seen. When I think back now, I still have no idea what on earth it was that I witnessed that day.

Is your new show going to be any good?
I’ll be honest with you, my new show is going to be a bit of alright. I haven’t left a single rehearsal without my sides hurting. We are creating what can only be described as a beautiful kind of crazy. I can’t wait to see what it can bring to an audience.

Sascha Hall is directing Of Monopoly And Women, by Brave New Word Theatre.
Show dates: 9 – 24 Jul, 2014
Show venue: Exchange Hotel, Balmain