Review: Sleeplessness (Carriageworks)

Venue: Carriageworks (Eveleigh NSW), Aug 4 – 13, 2022 / Riverside (Parramatta NSW) Aug 19 – 20, 2022
Playwrights: Kaz Therese, Anthea Williams
Director: Anthea Williams
Cast: Kaz Therese
Images by Anna Kučera, Alex Wisser

Theatre review
Kaz Therese has roots that trace back to Hungary, but for many decades those stories of immigration were kept silent. Shame and trauma prevent us from knowing the truths, behind how we have come to be. Those of us who are undaunted by the challenges that emerge from uncovering and confronting the past, stand to gain so much when those revelations are brought to light. In Sleeplessness, Therese dares to go back in time, almost as an act of defiance against her elders, in order that a sense of liberation can be attained for their family.

Therese’s determination to reach for the truth, provides for the piece, a certain zeal that has us on the edge of our seats. Along with the inherent mysteries that surround these stories about a hidden past, it is Therese’s fearless integrity that proves compelling. Co-written with and directed by Anthea Williams, Sleeplessness is beautifully structured, capable of weaving together multi-generational narratives to form a powerfully coherent portrait, not only of an immigration experience, but also of inter-generational trauma, that many Australians share.

As first-person narrator in this one-person presentation, Therese is a commanding presence, dynamic yet inexorably vulnerable, as they take us through a string of heart-breaking revelations, with an immense and unmistakeable generosity. Supported by video projections (assembled by Zanny Begg), filmed incredibly by Therese half a lifetime ago, on the very same subject, we gain a level of insight rarely paralleled. Sleeplessness tells of someone else’s secrets, but will no doubt resonate intimately, for each individual with whom it connects.

Remarkable lighting design by Karen Norris brings emotional embellishment to the ever intensifying story-telling. Working harmoniously with minimalist physical configurations, and the aforementioned sentimental video elements, Norris demonstrates great sensitivity and elegance, in her calibrations of tension and mood. Music by Anna Liebzeit is appropriately restrained, but no less evocative in the creation of a space that is simultaneously ethereal and heavy, allowing us to travel through the circularity of time, in this contemporary exploration of difficult family histories.

There is a feminist frame to how meaning is conveyed in Sleeplessness. It is indeed helpful to study the women in our past through modern lenses, so that we can apply those discoveries to our lives today, in practical ways, and to ensure that we progress in a way that hardships of our foremothers, can offer more than just catharsis. Following in our mothers’ footsteps, and repeating their patterns, are probably inevitable, for we are genetically entwined, but to learn from the lessons they bequeath, is perhaps the best way to honour their legacy.

Review: Dorr-e Dari: A Poetic Crash Course In The Language Of Love (PYT Fairfield)

Venue: Carriageworks (Eveleigh NSW), Jan 20 – 24, 2021
Director: Paul Dwyer
Cast: Mahdi Mohammadi, Bibi Goul Mossavi, Jawad Yaqoubi
Images by Anna Kucera

Theatre review
In Dorr-e Dari, the aspect of Sydney we call a cultural melting pot, comes to life, as artists with roots in Kabul, Tehran and Quetta collaborate to present a work based on Persian poetry. Subtitled “A Poetic Crash Course in the Language of Love” we are treated to philosophical perspectives on affairs of the heart, not restricted to the romantic, but relevant to all tender parts of humanity. Many of the words are foreign, but the sentiments of Dorr-e Dari feel to be wholly universal.

On stage for the entirety, a trio of artists Mahdi Mohammadi, Bibi Goul Mossavi and Jawad Yaqoubi present a bilingual show that often deals with tradition, but tailored to a modern Australian sensibility. With an English-speaking audience in mind, they find ways to cross bridges, and formulate translations, so that through these ancient writings, a new cohesion can be forged, especially between tribes that seem, on the surface, to be incompatible. It appears that to locate commonalities in the details of how our emotions work, is to create a sense of peace in how we experience and understand the world. For a work about love, it is indeed the nature of our shared existence on this one land that becomes fundamental.

Directed by Paul Dwyer, the show is unexpectedly beautiful in its somewhat fragmented form. Sequences can be naturalistic or theatrical, conversational or ceremonial, spiritual or didactical; there are dance sequences, comedic anecdotes, and videophone footage (live and pre-recorded), Dorr-e Dari is unconstrained in the ways it wishes to communicate. The tone is however, pleasantly cohesive, with all three performers proving to be highly likeable, and very welcoming presences, even if slightly unseasoned by conventional standards.

As we become used to the notion of having to bring diversity to all our social and professional endeavours, we gain a new appreciation for a post-assimilation world, where cultures of colonisation should no longer dominate our conversations. It is of great significance that Dorr-e Dari commences with a welcome to country by Indigenous elder, Aunty Rhonda Dixon-Grovenor (who also contributes her own love poem). As a people with roots from all over the planet, the only point of convergence for Australians, should we ever feel the need to have only one, must always have a First Nations emphasis. This is the most rational, and the most just, way for us to advance as a nation. The future of Australia needs to provide dignity for all, not only for the most barbaric.

Review: AutoCannibal (Oozing Future)

Venue: Carriageworks (Eveleigh NSW), Jan 13 – 17, 2021
Director: Masha Terentieva
Cast/Creator: Mitch Jones
Images by Yaya Stempler

Theatre review
The show is named AutoCannibal because in the dystopic future of Mitch Jones’ creation, he is seen gradually eating himself to death, literally. Starting with expendable parts of the anatomy, like hair and nails, we watch his desperation gradually escalate, and wonder if the moment of inevitability will take place right before our eyes. A one-man show in the physical theatre tradition, reminiscent of the work of artists like Buster Keaton and Marcel Marceau, Jones pushes the envelope towards something very dark, although not altogether unfunny.

There are many horror dimensions to AutoCannibal, involving self-mutilation of course, but also isolation, madness and other hard to name fears resulting from the end of the civilisation. A short video at the beginning hints at the usual suspects, namely climate, capitalism and politics, that lead us to this point of abject destruction, but in 2021, there really is very little need for explanations about the sad state of affairs in which our protagonist finds himself. We may be conditioned to interpret dystopic visions as futuristic cautionary tales, but at this present time, it takes little stretch of the imagination, to read the presentation as an allegory for so much that is happening today.

Design aspects of the show are highly accomplished. Sound by Bonnie Knight is dynamic and compelling, a crucial element in lieu of dialogue, that guides us through varying states of distress and humour. Paul Lin’s lights are moody but magical, effective in establishing something very close to a living nightmare before our eyes. Michael Baxter’s set design too is noteworthy, able to provide more than functionality, for a stage that looks genuinely terrifying.

Under Masha Terentieva’s direction, Jones performs a wordless theatre that is just scary enough, often pushing us to psychological limits, without taking the action to a point of alienation. There is ample opportunity for showing off Jones’ athletic and comedic talents, but AutoCannibal is not always sufficiently engaging for the intellect. When the audience witnesses a human pushed to the extremes in art and entertainment, we cannot help but wonder about the point of it all, and there is little that could provide satisfying complexity to how we can contextualise these horrors.

We live in a world of scandalous abundance, yet so many are hungry. It boggles the mind that people everywhere are left to die of starvation, while most of us fill our days with hoarding and accumulating the thing commonly known as wealth. Conditioned to think of people as either worthy or unworthy, we are completely at ease with the idea that some are simply lesser, and that their suffering is justified. We are taught to fear, taught to submit, taught to accept that some babies will grow into rich people, and others will languish in poverty, as though this is all natural and the irreversible course of the world. To watch the character in AutoCannibal eat himself to death, is to have our morals called into serious question.

Review: The Last Season (Force Majeure)

Venue: Carriageworks (Eveleigh NSW), Jan 6 – 10, 2021
Director: Danielle Micich
Cast: Paul Capsis, Olwen Fouéré, Pamela Rabe, Isabel Bantog, Owen Beckman-Scott, Luka Brett-Hall, Maddie Brett-Hall, Imala Cush, Niamh Cush, Nicholas Edwards, Ember Henninger, Piper Kemp, Poppy McKinnon, Julia Piazza, Tallulah Pickard, Louis Ting
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Thirteen young creatures are hatched at the beginning of The Last Season, and we follow them through their first year, witnessing transformations alongside as they progress through the months commencing in Summer. The first three sections of the 4-part show feature a central character, a mature personality juxtaposing against these tender entities. Presented in a non-narrative format, it suggests ideas of legacy and progeniture, placing focus on past/future and parent/child, to ask fundamental questions about our very existence.

Directed by Danielle Micich, The Last Season is an ambitious work. Marg Howell’s set and costumes, Damien Cooper’s lights, and Kelly Ryall’s music, all conspire to create something that indicates an unmissable sense of the epic; the themes under investigation certainly are of that grandiose scale. Transcendental in its tone and feel, the production however never really moves us to the sublime. Its abstraction places us in a cerebral state, yet what it wishes to say, seems to remain in the pedestrian.

Although insufficiently inventive, The Last Season‘s experimental nature is to be lauded. The youthful ensemble is full of intensity and concentration, with every member displaying admirable generosity in their commitment to the art form. Senior performers bring colourful variation, each one distinct and memorable. Paul Capsis is especially powerful, with the poignant humour and sincerity that they are able to introduce to the piece. Olwen Fouéré’s extraordinary style and energy provide a remarkable sense of elevation, and Pamela Rabe’s august theatricality establishes a necessary gravity that keeps us attentive.

With each generation, we wonder if it is just history repeating, or if a new frontier is being forged. Life is a mystery, but we know for sure that there will always be individuals who refuse to toe the line, and new innovators who will create something never before seen. Conformity is death, so it is fortunate that living amongst us, are those who will ensure that our extinction is kept at bay, for a little while longer.

Review: The Visitors (Moogahlin Performing Arts)

Venue: Carriageworks (Eveleigh NSW), Jan 22 – 26, 2020
Playwright: Jane Harrison
Director: Frederick Copperwaite
Cast: John Blair, Damion Hunter, Colin Kinchela, Nathan Leslie, Leroy Parsons, Glenn Shea, Kerri Simpson
Images by Jamie James

Theatre review
Seven men gather on the shore of Gadigal land, debating whether to welcome or to repel those arriving on ships from overseas. It is 1788, but in Jane Harrison’s The Visitors, these Aboriginal leaders are dressed in three-piece suits, and they speak an English that sounds more like characters from Reginald Rose’s Twelve Angry Men, than even any of us would today. Indeed, Harrison’s writing assumes not only the style of classic white theatre, its narrative structure is modelled after the conceit of that 1954 play, involving a council being disrupted by the doubts of a single cautiously deliberative soul.

As though purposefully addressing a Western audience, The Visitors pulls out all the stops so that there is no mistaking the Aboriginal work’s intent to question and to confront. With both content and form shaped in a way that is unequivocally understandable to colonisers, we watch these Indigenous characters painstakingly discuss an appropriate response for what they had imagined to be temporary entrants. Their compassionate struggle with the matter is only made more moving, by the enormity of the fallout that remains unbeknownst to them, that is to become the daily lived experience of all their descendants.

Directed by Frederick Copperwaite, the staging is as polished as it is passionate, with important arguments delivered in ways that are precise and affecting. Visually satisfying, with Lisa Mimmochi’s exacting set and costumes, along with Chloe Ogilvie’s elegant lights, providing a sense of sophisticated dynamism to the story. Sound design by Phil Downing, with additional music by Tim Gray, too are instrumental in transporting us deep into the psyche of rightful land owners past and present.

The ensemble is marvellously cohesive, unwavering in their dedication to this powerful tale. John Blair and Glenn Shea are particularly memorable for their exquisite timing, both performers turning on the charm, having us absolutely captivated by their effortless humour. An impressive gravity is contributed by Leroy Parsons, very convincing and engrossing as Walter, the brave one who dares go against the tide. The show is brought to an intense conclusion by Damion Hunter’s disarming soliloquy as Gordon, who in the crucial moment reveals emotions that are just as raw today as they were at the dawn of this catastrophe.

It may seem that our Indigenous are always meeting us halfway. In The Visitors, they dress and speak like their oppressors, almost like a last-ditch attempt to get people hearing. Characters in the play fail to understand why the whites feel the need to steal; that basic question so many continue to evade today. Colonisation in Australia has been a ruthless project ongoing for over two centuries, and its pace only ever gets more ferocious. One of the men in the play expresses bewilderment at the felling of just one tree in the hands of the whites. Little did he know the true depth of destruction that was to come.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.