Review: Exit The King (Théâtre Excentrique)

Venue: Chippen Street Theatre (Chippendale NSW), Mar 7 – 16, 2019
Playwright: Eugène Ionesco (translated by Anna Jahjah, Kris Shalvey)
Director: Anna Jahjah
Cast: Clay Cruighton, Kirsty Jordan, Leof Kingsford-Smith, Josef Schneider, Gerry Sont, Alison Windsor
Images by Mansoor Noor

Theatre review
The king is informed that he is to die by the time the play ends. It is absurd that we are shocked by this notion, as death remains one of our only certainties. In Eugène Ionesco’s Exit The King, the protagonist is given 90 minutes to reflect on what he leaves behind, and what he is about to encounter. An exploration of existential angst, it attempts to anatomise the meaning of life, by looking closely at impending death.

Apart from Ionesco’s intentions, an alternate reading could be applied to Exit The King, whereby the monarchy is being taken down by those determined to have him vanquished. We see him being told repeatedly that his death is inevitable, and that he is no longer needed. The play has a new pertinence in our Time’s Up era, able to resonate with our thirst for stories featuring the demolition of traditional hierarchies.

Actor Kirsty Jordan plays Queen Marguerite, a strong almost ruthless personality who leads the charge in guiding the king to his demise. It is a robust performance, of great conviction, that provokes us into the formulation of hidden narratives that would make her story a more politically enticing one. Leof Kingsford-Smith is an excellent King Berenger, powerful with the vulnerability he introduces, an energetic presence capable of sustaining our interest through the production’s thick and thin. Ionesco’s densely surreal dialogue requires more detailed attention for the show to speak incisively, but director Anna Jahjah does good work with atmosphere and tone, allowing us access to poetic dimensions that appeal to parts of ourselves that are perhaps more visceral than logical.

None is immortal, yet we often carry on as though life is forever. We leave loose ends unattended at the end of every day, and we postpone pleasures to the future, believing that there will always be tomorrow. The old saying, “never go to bed angry” seems to imply that resolutions, permanent or temporary, must be reached, because there is every chance that slumber can turn eternal. If we understand that life is short, it would mean making the most of our days, and also to make the best of all our potentials, right here and right now.

www.theatrexcentrique.com

Review: Metamorphosis (Chippen Street Theatre)

Venue: Chippen Street Theatre (Chippendale NSW), Feb 7 – 16, 2019
Playwright: Franz Kafka (adapted by David Farr and Gisli Örn Gardarsson)
Director: Amanda Stephens-Lee
Cast: Sam Glissan, Victoria Greiner, Julian Lawrence, Yannick Lawry, Hailey McQueen, Madeleine Miller
Images by Deng Deng

Theatre review
It is not entirely clear if Gregor’s transformation was a choice, in David Farr and Gisli Örn Gardarsson’s adaptation of Kafka’s Metamorphosis, but it would come as no surprise, if we were to discover that he had willed himself into this new state of being, as a response to his previous intolerable existence. The play is in some ways a joke about conservatism, with Gregor’s family incapable of accepting a new life, insisting on keeping truth at bay, in their desperate attempt to maintain a system at home that provides no happiness. Their insistence on sticking with the old and known, for no good reason other than familiarity, is indicative of how we, as ordinary working people in our daily lives, serve to prop up structures that offer us little.

Directed by Amanda Stephens-Lee, the show is often amusing, if slightly hesitant with its own theatrical flamboyance. Lucy McCullough’s set design brings visual focus to the otherwise sprawling stage, but we experience an awkward imbalance with much more action taking place on stage right, while the other half is left feeling somewhat neglected. Music by Adam Jones is noteworthy for giving the production an auditory richness, that assists with the play’s supernatural aspects.

Actor Sam Glissan introduces a strong but tender presence to the abomination, helping us attain an important and greater sense of identification with Gregor than with the rest of his family. Mother is played with great conviction by Hailey McQueen, who applies an admirable precision to her part. Julian Lawrence is the comical standout, larger than life and genuinely hilarious with his inventive take on Fischer, an obnoxious house guest.

In spite of himself, Gregor has evolved a new persona, inconvenient for all involved, but it is one that reveals something honest about his individual being and essence. As everyone struggles to come to terms, we ponder on his rejection, wondering if we can ever find a place for integrity. As we hear Gregor talk only of kindness, and see him intend no harm, it is clear that the monster is no monster at all, and we must conclude that Gregor remains his own person. The story of his ostracism, is a depiction of fear that tells so much about how we construct our values, and how we can be so afraid to love.

www.chippenstreet.com | www.clockandspielproductions.com

Review: Don’s Party (Chippen Street Theatre)

Venue: Chippen Street Theatre (Chippendale NSW), Dec 6 – 15, 2018
Playwright: David Williamson
Director: Travis McMahon
Cast: Dominic Di Paolo, Lachlan Donnelly, Amber Dyball, Ben Hunter, Ramy Moussa. Andrew Murdoch, Katerina Papasoulis, Evan Piefke, Helen Shoobert, Rachel Slee, Kristen Zinghini
Images by Ethan Hatton-Warham

Theatre review
The setting is a house party in 1969 suburbia, where men are arse holes, and women are bewilderingly whiny. David Williamson’s Don’s Party, now approaching half a century old, offers a bleak look at how a modern Australia might have been imagined. The play wrestles with ideas of a progressive future, as characterised by a new social permissiveness; Don asks all his guests to bring along a pornographic object, as icebreaker or more truthfully, to disrupt the banality of his home life with Kath and their children.

The sexual revolution had begun, and down under, it appears we were deeply confused. All the women had apparently become bitches, and they are referred to in the play as such, on more than ten occasions. Wives and girlfriends were starting to have minds of their own, no doubt as a result of advancements in birth control, and according to Williamson, all of civilisation were basically going to hell in a handbasket.

As the old world disappears, what happens in Don’s Party reveals a paralysing fear of what is to come. There is little question that this attitude still prevails. It was feminism’s second wave then, and we are now in the throes of its fourth. The disquiet that accompanies the promise of equality is palpable, and Williamson’s pessimistic vision, borne out of the anxiety of a patriarchy under threat, can now be seen as pitifully limp.

Travis McMahon’s direction presents a straightforward rendition, allowing us to detect that sense of panic inherent in mid-century masculinity. The ensemble consists of actors with varying abilities, and although not particularly inventive with what they bring, each manages to locate moments of theatricality in the writing, that insist on our attention. The production lacks intellectual rigour, but it is clear that much effort has been put into manufacturing a satisfactory naturalism for their performance.

When women grow strong, our relationships have to be put through a process of reshape. Friends and family, love and sex, all face interrogation, as we learn to shift away from traditions that plainly no longer work. In Don’s Party, men are fearful and women are frustrated. They cling on to the past, unable to come to terms with the tides that push for a brighter future, a mighty force that will not tolerate the status quo.

www.chippenstreet.com

Review: Pramkicker (Vox Theatre)

Venue: Chippen Street Theatre (Chippendale NSW), Oct 24 – Nov 3, 2018
Playwright: Sadie Hasler
Director: Linda Nicholls-Gidley
Cast: Cecilia Morrow, Vaishnavi Suryaprakash
Images by Jasmin Simmons

Theatre review
Jude is attending anger management support groups, as punishment for having, amongst other things, kicked a pram at a coffee shop. Her sister Suse is assigned to be her companion for this remedial process, and together they fall deep into discussions about motherhood, and in Jude’s case, the rejection of it. Sadie Hasler’s Pramkicker is a marvellously written work about the modern woman, and the choices she is able to make for herself. Using the experience of childbearing as a springboard, we delve into philosophical, as well as practical, ruminations about all that is expected of women, in order that we may examine the freedoms we do and do not have, in defining existence for ourselves.

Dialogue in Pramkicker is deliciously witty, with some truly scintillating perspectives of life that are brutally honest but rarely disclosed. The characters go through wonderful transformations during the course of the play, for deeply beautiful depictions of sisterhood and of female sovereignty. Emotionally robust, the show takes us from ecstatic laughter to exquisite poignancy. Directed by Linda Nicholls-Gidley whose imaginative and sensitive use of space, generates for the staging a variety of dimensions that engage with us effectively at different mental states. A faster pace would deliver a greater sense of exhilaration to accompany its outrageous conversations, but it is doubtless that this is a production that packs a punch.

Actor Cecilia Morrow is powerful as Jude, with an excellent sense of conviction that befits the role’s very appealing dauntlessness. Suse is portrayed with great authenticity by Vaishnavi Suryaprakash, charismatic with a hint of innocence, perfect for the part of younger sister. Jointly, the pair establishes an extraordinary chemistry that forms the soul of the production, and we find ourselves hopelessly enamoured, and invested in their stories.

For eons, we have been told that it is our duty to procreate. Jude is one of increasing numbers, who has refused that responsibility, and in place of parenthood, she has to find meaning for her own life, in ways that are not prescribed and preordained. We see her in moments of confusion, not fully able to grapple with the enormity, of having accepted this radical freedom. With no tethers to ascertain her identity, it becomes a conscious effort to be who she wants to be, and we see that things could have been easier if she had just gone with rules of the normal playbook. Independence is not for the faint of heart, but it is the only option for those who cannot settle for anything less.

www.voxtheatre.com.au

Review: Constellations (Chippen Street Theatre)

Venue: Chippen Street Theatre (Chippendale NSW), Aug 23 – Sep 1, 2018
Playwright: Nick Payne
Director: Victor Kalka
Cast: Alice Birbara, Henry Hulme
Image by Omnes Photography

Theatre review
In Nick Payne’s Constellations, parallel universes converge in conventional theatrical time, to tell a simple love story. Moments shared by Marianne and Roland, are presented on stage in multiple contradictory manifestations, toying with ideas that disrupt the linearity of our existence, to imagine a nature that is more complex than the typically singular perspectives of how we experience the world.

Director Victor Kalka places appropriate emphasis on the production’s depiction of time, with precisely calibrated lighting and sound cues (executed by a very diligent stage manager, Christopher Starnawski) that provide absolute clarity to how the plot unfolds. There is however, an unfortunate monotony to proceedings, even though the writing provides ample opportunity for a more playful and variable approach to how each scene is performed. Actor Henry Hulme delivers a sense of authenticity with his understated presence as Roland, but a lack of exuberance keeps us alienated. Alice Birbara’s portrayal of Marianne is more animated and inventive, although a greater exploration into the play’s comedy would provide a more satisfying result.

As individual beings, we have little control over how the planet spins, but to believe that fate is beyond manipulation, is to render humanity meaningless. Even if one thinks that all choices we make are predestined, to absolve oneself of responsibilities, is analogous to giving up on life. It is true that we are but a speck in the great scheme of things, and all our successes and failures are ultimately no more than a question of vanity, but if those ephemeral concerns are all we have that would allow our participation in this time and place, then being human is an indulgence we must engage in, with the utmost relish.

www.chippenstreet.com

Review: A Single Act (Chippen Street Theatre)

Venue: Chippen Street Theatre (Chippendale NSW), Jul 12 – 21, 2018
Playwright: Jane Bodie
Director: Travis McMahon
Cast: Dominic Di Paolo, Georgia Nicholas, Evan Piefke, Rachel Slee
Images by Ethan Hatton-Warham

Theatre review
This is a story of two relationships disintegrating against the backdrop of a catastrophe, possibly an act of terrorism that proves to have continual reverberations after its moment of impact. Jane Bodie’s A Single Act places two very conventional couples side by side in the play, unified only by that vague catastrophic event they are all trying to keep out of their minds. One of the women suffers physical abuse from her partner, and we are made to connect the attack on human life that occurs in the domestic sphere, with those in public. It does not make obvious links, so the meanings we try to formulate can feel tenuous, but the parallels regarding damage to person and society are certainly intriguing.

Comprised entirely of two-hander scenes, the show relies heavily on chemistry between our onstage lovers, but the intimacies being presented are rarely convincing. Much of the work on acting seems to be filmic in style, with emphasis placed on voice and facial expressions, while actors’ bodies are left to look as though stranded in space. The subtle writing requires of the cast an extraordinary level of nuance, but the few memorable moments involve very exaggerated manoeuvres. Consequently, the production struggles to communicate more than the surface, although it does keep our minds inquisitive.

Acts of terrorism committed in Australia have been few and far between, but family violence happens around the clock. We often find ourselves engaged in passionate discussions about religious fanatics and asylum seekers, unable to acknowledge much more pressing issues that are quite literally right at our doorsteps. Our beliefs and opinions are so easily manipulated, by economic and political interests that have much to gain from our fear of alien forces, that terrors within our midst can be so effectively rendered invisible. One’s own backyard should always be tended to with great conscientious care, but it is much easier to worry about imagined enemies from foreign lands.

www.chippenstreet.com | www.paleblue.com.au

Review: Speaking In Tongues (Chippen Street Theatre)

Venue: Chippen Street Theatre (Chippendale NSW), Jun 29 – Jul 7, 2018
Playwright: Andrew Bovell
Director: Jake Ludlow
Cast: Elsa Cherlin, Dale William Morgan, Simon Thomson, Josie Waller

Theatre review
A woman disappears in Andrew Bovell’s Speaking In Tongues, but it is the relationships surrounding the incident that are its focus. It is an unconventionally structured play about ordinary heterosexual people, and through Bovell’s contorting lens, our every day is made strange to reveal the inconspicuous nature of what takes place beneath the surface. Our dysfunctions as individuals and as couples, are brought to light, refreshing but bleak in their honesty.

A team of young actors play the middle age characters of Speaking In Tongues. A noticeable deficiency in maturity is thus inevitable, but there is certainly no shortage of conviction in what they deliver. Act Two commences with the cast performing a series of monologues, proving themselves particularly engaging when working autonomously. Director Jake Ludlow’s attempts at theatrical embellishment are well-intentioned, but his strengths reside more persuasively in the production’s plainer sequences. It is a raw presentation, with a healthy quotient of promise put on clear display.

There are things we pay little attention to, that quietly engineer the way we experience the world. The personalities in Speaking In Tongues are absorbed in all their immediate concerns, but it is us, watching from the sidelines who are able to decipher the deeper implications of their entanglements. There is a missing person in the play who works as a consolidating device, but in this not unappealing piece of drama about the bourgeois, we see that everyone is lost inside their own discontentment, and come to an understanding of the triviality inherent in so much of our own suffering.

www.chippenstreet.com | www.gradco.studio