Review: A Deal (Chippen Street Theatre)

Venue: Chippen Street Theatre (Chippendale NSW), Aug 22 – 31, 2019
Playwright: Zhu Yi
Director: Shiya Lu
Cast: Paul Chambers, Abigail Coffey, Edric Hong, Suzann James, Simon Lee, Katherin Nheu, Simone Wang, Sally Williams, Susan Young, Shi-Kai Zhang
Images by Kelvin Xu (Luky Studio)

Theatre review
Li Su comes from the middle classes of China, but in her efforts to make it big as an actor in New York, she pretends to be a tragic stereotype, the kind of immigrant that the West likes to think of as a subject of oppression and persecution, victimised by an inferior authoritarian government. When Su’s parents pay a visit, bringing a million dollars in cash to buy her an apartment, the truth becomes a matter of grave inconvenience that she struggles to navigate. Zhu Yi’s A Deal details the experience of a new American, one who chooses to leave the East for the West, at a time when economic power is at an unprecedented equivalence.

The play is a fascinating exploration of timely issues, from a cross-cultural perspective that introduces an unusual complexity to some otherwise hackneyed topics. Directed by Shiya Lu, the production is intellectually engaging, even if pacing does require tightening up at various points. There are compelling performances from its cast, with Shi-Kai Zhang particularly strong as Su’s father, with a combination of heightened drama and understated humour keeping us thoroughly bemused. Also memorable are Susan Young and Edric Hong, both ebullient with the conviction they bring on stage. Su is played by Katherin Nheu, energetic and convincing in the role, although a greater investment into comedy aspects would help provide a more nuanced interpretation of the narrative.

In A Deal, Su’s own desires and ambitions are in constant battle with expectations of her family and those of her new adoptive country. It is almost as if the young woman can never achieve autonomy, even with all that money in the bank. In some ways, we see that she cares too much about external opinion, but we also understand that these are impinging forces that make it difficult for Su to become her own person, on her own terms. Negotiations have to be made, between her authentic self, and the environment in which she lives. If one chooses to pay indiscriminate attention to every source of influence, the demands that can be made of any single person are interminable. Noise that surrounds Su will never cease. It is up to her to recognise which are superfluous, and do away with them.

www.chippenstreet.com | www.flyinghouse.art

Review: The Cherry Orchard (Chippen Street Theatre)

Venue: Chippen Street Theatre (Chippendale NSW), Jun 6 – 16, 2019
Playwright: Anton Chekhov (adapted by Victor Kalka)
Director: Victor Kalka
Cast: Martin Bell, Garreth Cruikshank, Dominique de Marco, Zacharie di Ferdinando, Suzann James, Craig James, Laurel McGowan, Martin Quinn, Alannah Robertson, Benjamin Tarlinton, Caitlin Williams, Harley Wilson
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
In Victor Kalka’s adaptation of The Cherry Orchard, we revisit Lyubov Andreyevna’s property and the anxieties surrounding its impending transfer of ownership. This story of old money versus new money, as it relates to the evolution of the Russian economic system just over a hundred years ago, bears themes pertaining to social equality that will always be relevant, but Chekhov’s characters and their idiosyncratic concerns, from 1904, seem to have retained little lustre and resonance. We no longer struggle with the notion of work as virtue, as Chekhov seems to present as the work’s integral assertion. In fact, it can be argued that another point of progress has been reached, where we begin to question that very assumption of honourable labour, that has informed so much of our participation in twentieth-century capitalism.

The production allows us to look back at the dawn of these modern times, to observe the naive optimism with which we regarded that model as mechanism for a redistribution of wealth. We had hoped that the new system would once and for all eradicate poverty, that aristocracy would relent and be relegated to the dustbin of history, but we find ourselves in 2019, talking about the top 1% and trying to solve problems of a similar nature. In addition, as an Australian audience we have to confront the concept of land ownership, as beneficiaries of a cruel and ongoing colonisation, and consider the meaning of resource allocation, when rightful owners of all our wealth are routinely kept deprived and subjugated.

Kalka keeps his show moving swiftly, at a pace suited to our contemporary tastes, although we never get to know any of the twelve personalities sufficiently to really care about their individual or collective predicaments. Performances are uneven but it is, on the whole, an adequate ensemble that has us following the narrative and that helps us gather some of its more intellectual aspects. The production is strangely deficient in eliciting any emotional involvement. Even though relatively vibrant in parts, this iteration of The Cherry Orchard struggles to communicate beyond the cerebral.

When we trust in work, we believe in a system of reward that is intrinsically just. Power imbalances however, will always mean that those who provide labour are constantly under the control of those who pay the wages. In order that we may feel fairly rewarded, we need extensive knowledge about resource distribution, but it is precisely this information that is rigorously kept behind closed doors. We are made to believe that we are given what we deserve, and we are taught to accept class and wealth distinctions, so that we accept our lot as somehow natural, and keep working in accordance with rules that only favour those on top. Perhaps the optimism in The Cherry Orchard is indication that big changes do occur, that a revolution, as impossible as it may seem in our indoctrinated minds, will arrive one day.

www.chippenstreet.com | www.virginiaplaintheatre.com

Review: Rabbit Hole (Chippen Street Theatre)

Venue: Chippen Street Theatre (Chippendale NSW), Apr 18 – 27, 2019
Playwright: David Lindsay-Abaire
Director: Christie Koppe
Cast: Alison Chambers, Rachel Giddens, Peter-William Jamieson, Imogen Morgan, Sam Wallace

Images by Benjamin Ryan
Theatre review
We meet Becca and Howie just months after the death of their small child. It is disconcerting that Becca seems unable to mourn her loss in a predictable way, and we wonder how her strategy of avoidance is going to pan out. David Lindsay-Abaire’s Rabbit Hole talks about the complex nature of grief, and the different things people have to do, in response to trauma. Positioned next to her husband’s more obvious approach, Becca looks frighteningly detached, refusing to speak of her pain, and only occasionally able to acknowledge the calamity that had befallen her home.

It is an energetic show, with a good amount of dramatic intensity, established by director Christie Koppe, to keep us engaged. Imogen Morgan portrays Becca as an animated personality but also, appropriately, emotionally stunted. The coldness of her exterior is articulated well by Morgan, but the true depths of Becca’s sorrow is often missing as a result. Her denial of her own suffering, is a fundamental ingredient of the story, but when the audience loses contact with that sense of torment, the show accordingly loses its sense of authenticity.

Howie the husband is played by Peter-William Jamieson, who delivers a convincing interpretation of bereavement inside his personal suburban living hell. The charming Alison Chambers is a genuine presence that makes everything she does for Becca’s mother, Nat, seem natural and believable. Rachel Giddens and Sam Wallace are compelling performers, both able to secure our attention whenever their supporting parts take centre stage.

Theatre about trauma is mesmerising. We gawk at people and their suffering, hoping to find salvation for our own unresolved troubles, even if only via a distant proxy. There is something liberating about Rabbit Hole‘s contrasting representations of the mourning experience. We are individuals who navigate the world in different ways, absorbing shocks as we go along, trying to stay in one piece until the inevitable end. It is naive to want to leave this existence unscathed, but to start each morning hopeful for a good day, whatever that may look like, must surely be a reasonable expectation, no matter one’s circumstances.

www.chippenstreet.com | www.facebook.com/RabbitHole2019

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