Review: The Weekend (Moogahlin Performing Arts)

Venue: Carriageworks (Eveleigh NSW), Jan 18 – 23, 2019
Playwright: Henrietta Baird
Director: Liza-Mare Syron
Cast: Shakira Clanton
Images by Jamie James

Theatre review
Lara is trying to do the right thing, by working hard in Cairns, trusting that her partner is taking care of their children back home in Sydney. When one of her sons phones up to notify her of their father’s disappearance, Lara takes the first plane home to save the day. The real drama happens after her kids are fed, when she is compelled to go looking for Simon, even though it is not the first time that he makes an unexplained exit from his responsibilities.

Henrietta Baird’s The Weekend is a one-woman action-packed comedy, that sees our heroine brave the enigmatic public housing towers of Redfern, to encounter the lower classes of her Indigenous community, and the harrowing socio-economic challenges that they face. Baird’s writing is full of thrills, brimming with keenly observed humour, and a modern attitude that boldly pushes Australian playwriting into exciting new realms.

Actor Shakira Clanton takes on all ten characters in the play, each one vibrant and richly manifested. Her mischievous approach is deeply delightful, as she turns us into putty in her hands, taking us through every peak and trough of this amazing journey. It is an unforgettable experience, to see and hear hidden facets of our beloved city, to vicariously revel in Lara’s extraordinary weekend of discoveries. Clanton’s is a performance replete with artistic detail, endlessly intricate and dynamic, thoroughly enjoyable.

Directed by Liza-Mare Syron, the show is often edge-of-your-seat exhilarating, and pure unadulterated fun. Supported by a marvellous team of creatives, including lighting designer Karen Norris, and composers Nick Wales and Rhyan Clapham (Dobby), it is a smart production that provides just enough embellishment, so that we can luxuriate in The Weekend‘s colourful dialogue and personalities, to enjoy the best storytelling that the theatrical arts can facilitate.

Much of The Weekend is about the problems that we inherit. When our behaviour is disappointing, or when we simply find ourselves to be lacking in some way, and we try to reason with these dysfunctions, it is necessary that we go back in time, in order that we can locate explanations for deficiencies. For Lara, Australia’s history of colonisation informs a substantial portion of her misadventures, and on a personal level, archaic notions of womanhood too, are crucial to how she had been able to tolerate mistreatment. When we arrive at an understanding of our baggage, tangible and intangible, is when the hard work has to truly begin.

www.moogahlin.org

Review: The Chat (Carriageworks)

Venue: Carriageworks (Eveleigh NSW), Jan 16 – 20, 2019
Creators: J R Brennan, David Woods
Cast: Arthur Bolkas, J R Brennan, Shane Brennan, Ashley Dyer, Nicholas Maltzahn, Ray Morgan, John Tjepkema, Simon Warner, Les Wiggins, David Woods
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review
We are informed that some of those performing in The Chat are ex-offenders from the Melbourne area. The work is a collaboration with artists, including creators J R Brennan and David Woods, reenacting performance workshops centred around a role play scenario, in which an ex-offender plays the part of a parole officer. When the show reaches its concluding episode, the audience finds itself in the position of a parole board, and we have to decide if the role player had revealed enough redeeming qualities in order to be set free.

That responsibility bestowed upon us, although fictitious, carries an undeniably enormous weight, making us think about the nature of justice and rehabilitation in our societies, a topic that most of us have the privilege of circumventing. Being in close quarters with characters whose very lives depend on how our rules concerning incarceration are exercised, turns abstract ideas into a palpably distressing process, as we try to make decisions that bear the most serious of consequences on individuals who we have come to know.

Although much of The Chat is, predictably, not performed with a great deal of skill, an invaluable sense of authenticity is introduced by people who have lived through first-hand, these issues we have to wrestle with. Their presence prevents us from engaging the usual intellectual distancing, that makes answering these questions, inappropriately convenient. The production is given polish by Jenny Hector and Steve Hendy’s lighting design, and by Brennan’s sound design, for a presentation that ultimately leaves an impression that is simultaneously simple and sophisticated.

These difficult circumstances, of punishment and banishment, underlie so much of how we operate, yet matters of law and order are rarely interrogated meaningfully by the general populace. We leave them to experts and tradition, trusting that others know better, when in fact, there probably are no concerns more democratic. Those in need of pardon, work hardest for our compassion, but when we have to determine how compassion is being dispensed, people often forget the universality of our fallibility.

www.carriageworks.com.au

Review: The Backstories: Moya Dodd (Contemporary Asian Australian Performance)

Venue: Carriageworks (Eveleigh NSW), Feb 2 – 3, 2018
Playwright: Moya Dodd
Directors: Annette Shun Wah, William Yang
Cast: Moya Dodd
Image by William Yang

Theatre review
It is, sometimes, good to blow one’s own trumpet. In The Backstories: Moya Dodd, our eponym presents an autobiography with no trauma, no sensationalism and no great drama. Her life is peaceful, with so many proud successes that one might be tempted to call her lucky. The fact remains however, that Dodd is of Asian heritage, a woman, and a lesbian in Australia. The cards are clearly stacked against her, so even though she rejects the portrayal of herself as victim in any form of subjugation, it is important that we perceive that her achievements as real, and not a circumstance of chance. Dodd does not discuss hardships, but we already know the kind of world that we share.

Dodd speaks gently; her voice is calm, almost mesmeric in quality, but it is a defiant statement that she makes. Her accomplishments, personal and professional, are by all measures extraordinary. In the face of white, heteronormative, patriarchal forces that try to rule everything, and that will attempt to sublimate any story that contradicts their control of narratives, proclamations like Dodd’s are hugely important. For the majority of Australians who are routinely told that we are second class, a life well lived, and being public about it, is the best retaliation.

The script is well constructed, with smatterings of humour and pathos to accompany Dodd’s thoughtful assemblage of memories. Her delivery is wonderfully warm and therefore captivating, although a teleprompter or some similar system, would make for a more enjoyable experience. Musician Gareth Chin provides effective accompaniment on keyboards, and assists with Dodd’s recalling of the text. Two screens featuring photography through the years from the Dodd family, enhance immeasurably the production’s ability to engage our emotions. Direction by Annette Shun Wah and William Yang is incredibly delicate, and the result is something remarkably elegant, with a a quiet poignancy that proves to be quite haunting.

In free countries like Australia, it is true that we can be whatever we want to be, but the importance of role models must never be underestimated. We can only become what we can imagine, and our imaginations need sustenance. Moya Dodd’s backstory sets an example for masses of outsiders, all of us who sometimes fall into the misbelief that things are beyond our reach, or that entitlement belongs only to others. Spaces are evolving, and we have to understand our right to inhabit them.

www.caap.org.au

Review: Lady Eats Apple (Back To Back Theatre)

Venue: Carriageworks (Eveleigh NSW), Mar 16 – 18, 2017
Director: Bruce Gladwin
Cast/Devisors: Mark Deans, Simon Laherty, Romany Latham, Brian Lipson, Sarah Mainwaring, Scott Price

Theatre review
God told Adam that “in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die,” and so it seems, when Eve decided to take a bite of the forbidden fruit, it came to pass that humans would not be immortal beings. In Lady Eats Apple, the theme of death provides impetus for a three act show, featuring on one end of the scale, the most mundane of everyday interchanges, and on the other, some very extravagant explorations into esotericism.

In life, we see death, and through death, we see the heavens. It is existentialist theatre, with Director Bruce Gladwin offering us a close look at the simplest activities of our daily life, but with the rumbles of thereafter underscoring every action. What seems inconsequential begins to take on great meaning, when we come to an appreciation of the vastness in which we operate. The work is not preachy as its title might suggest, but it requires of the viewer to think of the afterlife, and to connect that conception with the here and now.

The staging is both minimal and staggeringly beautiful, both clumsy and incredibly exquisite. Mark Cuthbertson’s powerful set design does to the viewer what places of worship aim to do; it overwhelms us, creating a sensation of awe with each of its stunning transformations. Fascinating video projections by Rhian Hinkley are a riddle that challenges us at first, but goes on to deliver disarming images of glory and transcendence.

Lady Eats Apple features a very strong cast of actors, each one confident in their parts and persuasive with their stage presences. Scott Price is particularly impressive when setting the stage in Act One, playing a godlike figure, resolute and commanding with the vision he wishes to achieve. Also memorable is Sarah Mainwaring, who moves us with a very sensitive portrayal of empathy when attempting to rescue a man struggling to gain consciousness. Mark Deans and Simon Laherty entertain us, with their charming vibrancy, and with a healthy sense of humour that they bring to their respective characters.

Death can be frightening, if our imagination leads us astray. The play reiterates the line “we will take care of you,” offering us comfort and reassurance. We can only die alone, but our time on earth should be occupied with love and laughter. The community and companionship witnessed on this stage inspires us to remember, that whatever happens later, now is the time to make the most of things.

www.backtobacktheatre.com

Review: Lake Disappointment (Carriageworks)

carriageworksVenue: Carriageworks (Eveleigh NSW), Apr 20 – 23, 2016
Playwrights: Luke Mullins, Lachlan Philpott
Director: Janice Muller
Cast: Luke Mullins
Image by James Brown

Theatre review
Many of us hold menial jobs. Things need to get done by people (even in this age of high technology) that require little more than a person’s presence and some physical exertion. Lake Disappointment is a unique story about a man who spends his life being the body double of a film star. His mental capacities are barely involved in the daily operations of his full-time and isolating occupation, so his mind’s energy goes into constant dialogue with himself. With little opportunity for social interaction, he is in a state of perpetual reflection, but with little stimulation or nourishment, his intellect is stunted and his life stagnates. Written by Luke Mullins and Lachlan Philpott, the script is a wonderful look into a weird existence. Through the portrayal of an unusual creature, it offers insightful contemplations about the human condition, and all its egotistical propensities for ambition, jealousy and delusion.

It is a funny piece of writing, with nuanced but easily identifiable humour. We laugh at the character’s vanity and his aspirations, because we recognise those qualities. The desires and emotions in the play are deeply familiar in spite of their obscure context. Direction by Janice Muller establishes a gentle approach to the jokes, but atmosphere is imbued with an intensity from the very start. An unmistakeable swelling of tension progresses slowly through the show, but its scenes are not always dynamic. Mullins plays the role with an abundance of charisma, but the very controlled tone of delivery he chooses for his character eventually becomes repetitive. It is a disciplined performance with a lot of palpable gravitas that needs a healthy dose of oppositional lightness to deliver an even more engaging experience.

Designers for the staging do a marvellous job of creating a work of theatre that is sleek, sensual and surprising. Lights by Matt Cox, along with Michael Hankin’s set design make fabulous use of space, not only to guide our emotional responses, but also to manufacture visual symbols that help develop the story to a richer depth. Sound is managed by James Brown who accesses our impulses through an acute sensitivity, providing revelations beyond the dimension of words and matter.

Life is demanding. We have to be strong and courageous to weather its storms, but no matter how good we become at dealing with life, our individual insignificance in the scheme of things is ultimately undeniable. People want so much, and we try so hard for things that may eventually mean little. The body double in Lake Disappointment talks about himself incessantly but does not question his desires. He works hard at life but does not reflect on any of his actions or thoughts. It is a life unexamined, where the subject conspires with his circumstances to keep himself entrapped, like a hamster on its wheel, running without rhyme or reason, unable to stop, unable to reach any destination.

www.carriageworks.com.au

Review: Ochres (Bangarra Dance Theatre)

bangarraVenue: Carriageworks (Eveleigh NSW), Nov 27 – Dec 5, 2015
Choreographers: Russell Page, Stephen Page, Bernadette Walong-Sene (with traditional choreography by Djakapurra Munyarryun)
Cast: Elma Kris, Yolande Brown, Deborah Brown, Waangenga Blanco, Tara Gower, Leonard Mickelo, Daniel Riley, Jasmin Sheppard, Tara Robertson, Kaine Sultan-Babij, Luke Currie-Richardson, Nicola Sabatino, Beau Dean Riley Smit, Rikki Mason, Yolanda Lowatta, Rika Hamaguchi
Image by Zan Wimberley

Theatre review
Traditional Aboriginal practices often involve ochre, a material of great cultural significance most notably used as a colouring substance in art and ceremony. In Bangarra Dance Theatre’s four-act production Ochres, the substance is applied on bodies to represent a connection with ancestry and culture; the same bodies communicate with impressive presence and energy, powerful meanings about the land on which we live. As a non-narrative theatrical form, dance is often inseparable from spirituality. It is concerned with establishing meaning through a language that often circumvents the cerebral, to reach a universal faculty of purity, regardless of experience and creed.

Ochres was first performed 21 years ago. Its choreography (by Djakapurra Munyarryun, Russell Page, Stephen Page and Bernadette Walong-Sene) is informed by traditional Aboriginal dance and by contemporary, balletic Western styles, reflecting the dual nature of modern Aboriginal Australia. At the centre of the work is a meditation on time, with its evocation of the past blended into a portrayal of the present, and positioned alongside an inquiry into the future.

It is a confident and proud work that imposes on the stage, an identity characterised by qualities of fortitude, strength and intelligence, performed sensitively by a captivating ensemble, cohesive in technique and sensibility. A harmony in the group provides the work with its quiet but resolute poignancy, beautifully supported by a highly-accomplished design team. Jennifer Irwin’s costumes, Jacob Nash’s set and Joseph Mercurio’s lights, all contribute to the visual excellence of Ochres. Music by David Page brims with soulful creativity, magnificently showcased by superior technical facilities of the Carriageworks auditorium.

In the years between Ochres‘ première and its revival today, Bangarra Dance Theatre has gradually moved into the mainstream, bringing its unique voice to audiences far and wide, entertaining and enlightening us no matter who we are, or where we have come from. Its message of peace is inherent in its artistic ideology, and the part it plays in continuing efforts of reconciliation is not to be underestimated. Our response to a seminal work like Ochres must be correspondingly celebratory, and with all the support and respect that it rightfully deserves.

www.bangarra.com.au

Review: Artwork (Carriageworks)

carriageworksVenue: Carriageworks (Eveleigh NSW), Aug 5 – 8, 2015
Artists: Branch Nebula

Theatre review
In Branch Nebula’s Artwork, eight members of the general public respond to a job advertisement and are put on stage at short notice. They follow prompts and instructions provided in a variety of ways, and become the performers of a theatrical piece before our eyes. The results are stunning. Our senses are skilfully engaged by a talented team that includes Mirabelle Wouters (set and lighting design) and Phil Downing (sound design), who create a highly sophisticated atmosphere wherein the cast carries out tasks that become the content of the show unfolding.

The range of activities is plotted shrewdly. Even though stories and narratives are never manufactured in a conventional sense, the audience is forced to establish meaning from personal perspectives based on the collection of symbols that arise from the work’s very articulate abstractions. In addition to machinations of the actual artwork occurring on stage, our attention is drawn to further themes about work and of art in general, which it explores at varying levels of subtlety. In the realm of work, ideas about the economy and capitalism relating to individual volition and the objectification of the disadvantaged, make for the show’s most pointed moments. Concepts about artistic intention also resonate with power, as we witness the “workers” carrying out mindless undertakings, as we formulate for ourselves, streams of meanings and consequences independent of their subjective processes and experiences.

Artwork is a gentle exploration into democracy and social equity. It looks at the state of our societies as they exist, and implicates its audiences and participants into the ways our world is allowed to function. The piece places us in the position of privilege, in order that we may achieve greater awareness about the failures of social and political systems, of which our involvement cannot be refused. In the stillness of Artwork, we are confronted with the fractures of our humanity, but we also discover its inherent and invulnerable strength, and a precarious hopefulness that we cannot help but embrace.

www.branchnebula.com | www.carriageworks.com.au