Review: A Delicate Balance (Chippen Street Theatre)

Venue: Chippen Street Theatre (Chippendale NSW), Nov 7 – 16, 2019
Playwright: Edward Albee
Director: Viktor Kalka
Cast: James Bean, Martin Bell, Alison Chambers, Zoë Crawford, Suzann James, Alice Livingstone
Images by Blake Condon

Theatre review
Agnes and Tobias are rich, white, empty nesters who appear to live the suburban dream, yet not a moment goes by that is not filled with anxiety, in Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance. Everything seems in place so that the couple could go about their business without a care in the world, but there is a terror that permeates. We soon discover that all the characters in their home suffer from an intense and prolonged existential crisis. Albee shows only the manifestations of his characters’ fears, leaving us to find an explanation for their condition.

Under Viktor Kalka’s direction, the 53 year-old play retains its pertinent bite. Although the production lacks visual flourish, Kalka is able to manufacture a disquiet that rings with authenticity. Ryan Devlin’s restrained sound design helps us locate dramatic tension, as the plot moves through waves of dilemma.

The show is demanding of its cast, and can at times seem under rehearsed. Agnes is played by Alice Livingstone, who brings an appropriate sense of loss and bewilderment to proceedings. Martin Bell as Tobias has a tendency to be subdued in approach, but occasional emotional outbursts make for excellent drama. Their daughter Julia is made compelling by Zoë Crawford, and Suzann James as Agnes’ sister Claire, offers a persuasive portrait of an alcoholic escapist. James Bean and Alison Chambers leave a strong impression as family friends Harry and Edna, both actors invigorating with the precise humour that they bring to the stage.

Agnes and Tobias adhere to all the rules, and even though their cookie-cutter existence appears perfect on the outside, there is nothing right about how they feel on the inside. Every day we are told what achievement and success looks like, but if we follow every prescribed route, without sufficiently interrogating their true purposes and consequences, we risk using up our time only on the wishes of others.

The characters in A Delicate Balance spend all their energies wrestling frustrations, but fail to identify what they need that will deliver peace, or even a modicum of joy. They are in constant struggle with the expectations of those they do not like, refusing to disengage with the familiar, as though addicted to the comfort of their pain. It is true that people care too much about all the wrong things, but to shift focus to where the good things are, is always easier said than done.

www.chippenstreet.com | www.facebook.com/SydneyClassicTheatreCo

Review: The Indian Wants The Bronx (Chippen Street Theatre)

Venue: Chippen Street Theatre (Chippendale NSW), Oct 24 – Nov 2, 2019
Playwright: Israel Horovitz
Director: Rahel Romahn
Cast: Tristan Artin, Elliott Giarola, Rajesh Valluri
Images by Shayan

Theatre review
As delinquents Murph and Joey wander the streets of New York, they stumble upon Gupta at a bus stop trying to get to the Bronx without knowing the English language. The boys are amused by Gupta’s Indian clothing, and proceed to taunt him, gradually increasing in intensity over the play’s 45 minutes.

Israel Horovitz’s The Indian Wants The Bronx premiered in 1968, the year of Martin Luther King’s death, at the height of America’s civil rights movement. Although the work is undoubtedly dated, with a central Indian character unable to speak English, the way it frames bigotry as an unassailable reality regardless of intentions by individuals, remains valuable in our discourse about race. The young New Yorkers do not think of themselves as xenophobic, but consequences of their actions are certainly racist.

Directed by Rahel Romahn, the show is suitably energetic, fuelled by the irrepressible ebullience of unruly youth. A greater sense of danger, and dramatic tension, is slightly missing in early portions, but the show delivers the goods in its second half. Sound by Kailesh Reitmans provides excellent support in calibrating atmosphere for every scene, and lighting design by Thomas Walsh, although obvious with its objectives, is effective in escalating tensions.

Three accomplished performers take us through this story of racially motivated violence, with Rajesh Valluri leaving a strong impression as Gupta, able to convey a sense of dignity for the character in spite of his unfortunate circumstances. Tristan Artin and Elliott Giarola are strong in their roles, both actors detailed and passionate with what they bring to the stage. The production is an engaging one, made believable by a thoughtful and cohesive team.

One of the boys is Irish, and the other Jewish. Mid-century New York was not always kind to them, yet they are unable to see themselves reflected in their Indian victim. History shows that it is easy for people to forget their own persecution, and dispense upon others the injustices they had previously suffered. Half a century after Horovitz’s writing however, it may seem that the new generations of today, determined to define themselves as unprecedentedly enlightened, have become much more compassionate in how they regard society. The establishment is still in the habit of keeping groups of people subjugated, but opposition to their modus operandi is indisputably growing.

www.chippenstreet.com

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