Review: You Got Older (Mad March Hare Theatre Company)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jul 13 – Aug 4, 2018
Playwright: Clare Barron
Director: Claudia Barrie
Cast: Alex Beauman, Harriet Gordon-Anderson, Ainslie McGlynn, Sarah Meacham, Gareth Rickards, Steve Rodgers, Cody Ross
Image by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Mae has come home, to care for her father as he undergoes cancer treatment. Clare Barron’s You Got Older is a look at that moment, of suddenly becoming keenly aware of one’s parents’ mortality. In every process of healing, of trying to make someone better, is the salient reminder that life is fragile. Mae is strong for her father, but in the privacy of her own thoughts, anxiety and grief manifest in fantasies of sexual masochism. Role playing is after all, how we are able to get through most of our days.

The subject matter may be heavy, but like the resilience of our human spirit, the show is determined to keep buoyant and optimistic. Director Claudia Barrie brings excellent humour to the production. Although not exactly lighthearted, we are surprised by the delight and joy that the play brings, through its very enjoyable and richly authentic explorations of love and family dynamics. There is no angsty drama here, only a father and his beloved children grappling with the pain of inevitable separation.

A very solid cast takes us through this universal tale. Harriet Gordon-Anderson is entirely convincing as Mae, with all her contradictions and vulnerabilities, but the actor is particularly successful at conveying a strength that is neither heroic nor exceptional, but that is nonetheless profound in its representation of the good that we are capable of. The paternal character is played by a confidently understated Steve Rodgers, who introduces just enough pathos to have us engaged, leaving us grateful that no emotional blackmailing takes place in this presentation. Contributing to the somewhat unexpected elegance of You Got Older are its supporting actors, each one charming and funny, and as a group, perfectly timed and wonderfully captivating.

When someone close is suffering ill health, those on the sidelines might be left feeling helpless, but we also understand that fundamental to the patient’s well-being, is the spiritual care and support we are required to provide. In times of hardship, fear can easily overwhelm, but courage often appears, allowing love to do its job.

www.madmarchtheatreco.com

Review: Stupid Fucking Bird (New Theatre)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Jul 12 – 28, 2018
Playwright: Aaron Posner
Director: Warwick Doddrell
Cast: Lloyd Allison-Young, Gil Balfas, Brendan Miles, Mansoor Noor, Megan Smart, Annie Stafford, Kaitlyn Thor
Images by Bob Seary

Theatre review
It is a wonderful world that the characters in Stupid Fucking Bird inhabit. Consumed by love and art, their lives might seem frivolous to some, but to those of us tired of the daily grind, their romantic mashup of 21st century Australia and 19th century Russia, suggests an imaginary existence where only the exciting things matter.

Aaron Posner’s rendition of Chekhov’s The Seagull retains the original’s narratives and personalities, but radically transforms the way in which the stories are told. Chekhov enshrined in his play, a wish to establish new theatrical forms, so it is appropriate that artistic liberties are taken. We are also entirely grateful for Posner turning the antiquated piece into something much more entertaining, and relevant to our times.

Director Warwick Doddrell presents a stunning production; gripping from the start, relentlessly amusing, compelling and vivacious, for a very unlikely experience of the venerated classic. Doddrell’s dramaturgical excellence is accompanied by an experimental spirit that permeates all faculties of the show, and we see all its cast and creatives deliver some truly outstanding work on this stage.

Set design by Jeremy Allen offers simple solutions for a highly effective transformation of space. Original songs by Jim Fishwick are replete with wit and charming vibrancy. Ben Pierpoint and Mary Rapp’s sound design is thrilling in its urgency, with an exuberant contemporariness that provides an air of irresistible edginess. Lighting designer Veronique Bennett is similarly striking in approach, creating alluring and refreshing imagery, demonstrating valuable proclivities that are sensitive yet vivid.

Seven actors, individually delightful, prove themselves a formidable ensemble in Stupid Fucking Bird. Mansoor Noor’s memorable athleticism and emotional vigour as Conrad, form a reliable centre for the show’s quality of interminable liveliness. Megan Smart is a splendid Nina, with a bewitching authenticity that accompanies every delicious melodramatic turn. The iconic Emma Arkadina is played by a fierce Kaitlyn Thor, seductive and powerful as the grandiose matriarch.

Lloyd Allison-Young and Annie Stafford are gifted with arresting presences, both captivating performers with a knack for making everything look effortless. Gil Balfas and Brendan Miles offer exquisite balance to the extravagant goings-on, both able to bring confident subtlety, at junctures where nuance is required but unexpected. Stupid Fucking Bird represents a rare theatrical occasion, where brilliance emanates from all its participant components.

Characters in the story suffer unrequited love and artistic jealousy. Their personal sense of inadequacy feels familiar, but also strange, if not completely bizarre, should we choose to evaluate their behaviour closely. The disquiet that overwhelms the privileged can be seen to be counter-intuitive, although it is clear that money does not solve all problems, least of all, our narcissism. When Conrad is told to “try loving something more than yourself,” the key to his salvation is succinctly and perfectly awarded, but predictably, left direly unheeded.

www.newtheatre.org.au

Review: Hello, Beautiful! (Performing Lines)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jul 9 – 14, 2018
Playwright: Hannie Rayson
Director: Matthew Lutton
Cast: Hannie Rayson
Images by Andrew Bott

Theatre review
We live in a world determined to render the older woman invisible. Having exhausted her roles as sex object and mother, she is thought to have turned irrelevant, neither madonna nor whore, made to feel as though she has outstayed her welcome. With Hello, Beautiful! Hannie Rayson claims space as that grande dame, in a theatrical landscape that routinely excludes women of a certain age. Rayson represents only herself in this autobiographical work, but her presence is fundamentally political.

Rayson performs stories from her memoirs, beginning with her childhood in 60s suburbia, through to university, activism, parenthood and an ever-increasingly successful writing career. She offers glimpses of a charmed life, not particularly dramatic or eventful, but we find ourselves captivated by her delightful avidity, and share in the joys of her personal reflections. Staged with little fuss, Matthew Lutton’s direction places emphasis on Rayson’s talents and natural allure, for a simple production that achieves all that it sets out to do.

It is without exception, that societies benefit from knowledge and experience of their elders, yet in so much of Australia, we relegate our seniors to distant corners, anxious about the truths they will tell, and fearful of the mortality that they personify. Hannie Rayson’s contributions are significant and ongoing, and it is our privilege to be able to hear her speak. Bright, young things are dazzling to the senses, but it is at our own peril, that we ignore the only true repositories of wisdom.

www.performinglines.org.au | www.griffintheatre.com.au

Review: Permission To Spin (Apocalypse Theatre Company)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Jul 3 – 28, 2018
Playwright: Mary Rachel Brown
Director: Mary Rachel Brown, Dino Dimitriadis
Cast: Yure Covich, Anna Houston, Arky Michael
Images by Robert Catto

Theatre review
Cristobel is suffering an existential crisis, having learnt about her music being used for gravely nefarious purposes. After 14 years in the highly commercialised industry of children’s entertainment, her integrity is now unable to escape scrutiny, but corporate interests deny all her attempts to quit. Art and commerce are once again at loggerheads, in Mary Rachel Brown’s Permission To Spin, a dramedy that interrogates not only artistic purity, but also our general complicity and participation in the often ugly world of big money.

It begins with a big bang, two businessmen are snorting cocaine, in the midst of a lot of ruckus, wondering how to solve a problem like Cristobel. The laughs are loud and abundant, courtesy of Brown’s witty, often very incisive, dialogue. It is evident however, that the play is intent on seriously exploring our social, economic and political lives, and a gradual but marked change in tone occurs about midway through the hour-long presentation. Direction by Brown and Dino Dimitriadis provide good clarity to ideas, even when the writing turns dense. The contrast in mood, as the play crosses over from funny to heavy, involves an inevitable drop in energy levels, but we are kept attentive by some very resonant postulations.

Three excellent performers accompany us on this trip, helping us navigate the combative activity of Permisson To Spin, and in the process, locate a sense of our communal ethics. Anna Houston provides soul to the piece, simultaneously vulnerable and strong, with incredible nuance that speak volumes in her interpretation of Cristobel. Yure Covich is splendid as an obscene and irredeemably vile corporate asshole, powerful in his embodiment of our social ills and perfect as the show’s bad guy. Arky Michael is wonderfully comical, landing every punchline with remarkable precision and aplomb, displaying himself to be the kind of actor any production could rely on, for charm and interminable effervescence.

All our occupations contribute to greater consequences, even if we think them insignificant. Cristobel is meant to be creating music that is educational at best, innocuous at worst, but she is unable to stop her work from being repurposed in a manner that contradicts all that she believes in. There is a machine that absorbs and integrates us into its operations, to serve its purposes. We do not always have control over its desires, as is proven again and again, by the flaws and inadequacies of the way we execute our democracy. “It was music we were making here until they told us, all they wanted was a sound that could kill someone from a distance… I just pray that someone there can hit the switch.” Kate Bush, Experiment IV, 1986

www.apocalypsetheatrecompany.com

Review: Roomba Nation (Hurrah Hurrah / The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Jul 4 – 21, 2018
Cast/Devisors: Alison Bennett, Nick O’Regan, Kate Walder
Images by Stephen Reinhardt

Theatre review
Pippi is in a medical facility, surrounded by technology and experts. A doctor and a nurse attend to her, although they demonstrate little care for their patient’s well-being, choosing instead to focus on the science and gadgetry purportedly designed to make us feel better. Roomba Nation is concerned with that disconnect between humans, in a modern age defined by personal independence and isolation, as an ironic result of human advancement. Looking at the way technology is able to take over our existence, the show foregrounds humanity, asking questions about our ever-changing relationship with nature.

Pippi says she is unwell, but her sickness is a mystery. Instead of showing any obvious symptoms of illness, what she presents is a need for attention and connection. The human touch it seems, is still necessary, in these times of virtual everything. Roomba Nation talks about neglect, and we wonder if in the pursuit of progress, our focus has abandoned that which is truly important. Values are constantly shifting, because we are constantly changing. The mortal flesh however, seems to retain a stubbornness, that disallows us from living only in highly evolved states of mind. No matter how clever we think ourselves to be, the reality of bodies, keeps us humble.

Production design by Duncan Maurice is pristine, delightfully and humorously so, to reflect the septic quality of the world being explored. The three characters are absurd and abstract manifestations of people in hospitals, performed by Alison Bennett, Nick O’Regan and Kate Walder, an invigorating ensemble as fascinating they are funny. In accompaniment are three automated vacuum cleaners, dressed up as robots to symbolise the dehumanisation of society, but are otherwise underwhelming with what they bring to the stage. It is a charming piece of theatre, perhaps insufficiently incisive with what it communicates, but an eccentric spirit makes up for its shortcomings.

Resistance may be futile, but when we submit to technology, in our very participation of it, opportunities for ethical choices can still be found. Technology never exists separate from us. It comes from us, and continues to depend upon us. As long as we remain indispensable, we have to believe that it is within our power, to shape the future in accordance with the best of our nature. Efforts to make life easier are inseparable from all that we do, but complacency will only deliver the exact opposite.

www.hurrahhurrah.com.au

Review: Toby Schmitz Live (Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Jun 26 – 29, 2018
Playwright: Toby Schmitz
Cast: Toby Schmitz

Theatre review
It is a convention in autobiographies that they involve vignettes of major significance, with important occurrences that have shaped a person’s being, occupying centre stage. Typically, one gives a recount in chronology, from a childhood that reveals background and ancestry, through to career highlights and personal triumphs, always with a healthy dose of trauma placed strategically, to elicit some sort of poignancy from its audience. In Toby Schmitz Live, an actor-slash-playwright talks about himself in a disarmingly casual manner, rejecting the obvious constraints of aforementioned assumptions, to paint a self-portrait using rules of his own determination. We obtain an impression of the artist, entirely accurate and immediate, but secrets remain undisclosed.

There might be no dirty laundry to speak of, but Schmitz’s presentation is not devoid of vulnerability. The complete absence of a fourth wall exposes the performer to intense scrutiny. We watch him manifest a mode of presentation extraordinary with its degree of naturalism; as actor, Schmitz’s ability to render invisible the devices of theatre is deeply fascinating. Early sequences seek to explore the unpredictable nature of the live form. We are reminded of its title Toby Schmitz Live, and the show seems intent on delivering just that; Toby Schmitz is live, and anything can happen. There is a degree of daring and confidence that will no doubt impress, even if Australian audiences are guaranteed to always be excessively polite.

Much of the piece feels no different to genres of stand up comedy, but Schmitz’s penchant for theatricality often rears its head. It is an effective technique, to have us let down our guard in the presence of his spontaneity, then be met subsequently, with a more dramatic approach that he so cunningly, and effortlessly, weaves through unsuspectingly. The yarns that our star spins, are thoroughly amusing, although largely inconsequential. It is his charisma, and undeniable skill, that has us invested in the storytelling, but it is unclear if many of us will find lasting relevance in what he has to share. Ultimately, it is a personal, albeit slightly surface, representation of Schmitz’s life as he knows it. We are invited to come in contact with his world for a confined moment, and we go on our separate ways, none of us transformed.

www.redlineproductions.com.au/underground

Review: Unqualified (Ensemble Theatre)

Venue: Ensemble Theatre (Kirribilli NSW), Jun 22 – Jul 21, 2018
Playwrights: Genevieve Hegney, Catherine Moore
Director: Janine Watson
Cast: Genevieve Hegney, Catherine Moore
Images by Phil Erbacher

Theatre review
Centrelink offices are not generally considered places of serendipity, but when Felicity and Joanne meet, an unlikely and fortuitous union occurs. They join forces to set up a temping agency, creating opportunities for themselves, to leave the past behind and to become gainfully employed in a manner that gives them a new independence. Finding your own feet, however, is never an easy task. The women fly before they walk, and with a hilarity derived from their naivety, we watch them in Unqualified, fumbling and learning to come into their own.

Genevieve Hegney and Catherine Moore’s play contains a suite of excellent jokes, all stemming from a meaningful concept, involving women resisting their societal obligations as wives and daughters. Its general plot is insufficiently taut, but the show is a successful expansion of the skit format, with speedy exchanges between the two designed to provide what seems an endless amount of very clever punchlines.

The writers present their own creation, both impressive with the detail that they bring on stage, along with a sensational display of chemistry determined to hold us captive. Moore is particularly delightful as the jovial Felicity, delivering a comic performance astonishing in its efficacy, precision and inventiveness. Director Janine Watson orchestrates the action so that there is plenty of colour and movement to occupy our attention. Even when the story stagnates, we find ourselves luxuriating in the laughs that come through incessantly, and effortlessly.

Few people seem to be able go through life never having to make any sacrifices; many of us look as though we are never capable of putting ourselves first. Unqualified is a work celebrating the discovery, when it finally dawns upon us, that there is a finite amount to what we can owe, and that true fulfilment requires an individual to understand what it is that will realise their true potential. Felicity and Joanne spent many years cultivating a sense of worth, by following prescribed rules. It is satisfying to witness their moment of self-determination, as they make the decision to break free. Humour can help us through anything, but emancipation is ultimately the biggest reward.

www.ensemble.com.au