Review: Hubris & Humiliation (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Wharf 1 Sydney Theatre Company (Walsh Bay NSW), Jan 20 – Mar 4, 2023
Playwright: Lewis Trenton
Director: Dean Bryant
Cast: Henrietta Enyonam Amevor, Mathew Cooper, Roman Delo, Celia Ireland, Melissa Kahraman, Andrew McFarlane, Ryan Panizza
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review

Elliott is leaving Brisbane to work in Sydney, and also to find a rich husband, because his mother Bernice has lost hundreds of thousands of dollars, to a catfishing incident. Much like the Jane Austen oeuvre, from which it takes inspiration, Lewis Trenton’s Hubris & Humiliation is on some levels an examination of class, and on others a frivolous romantic romp. Its plot may unravel to a flimsy conclusion, but the journey is nonetheless satisfying, with witty dialogue and fabulously observed characters, making for a truly wonderful time at the theatre.

Direction by Dean Bryant is unabashedly campy, but laced with an acerbic edge to prevent any sense of hollow affectation. His show is relentlessly effervescent, amusing at every turn, often dazzling with genuine hilarity. Set design by Isabel Hudson is suitably ostentatious, with a commendable versatility that accommodates the play’s many location changes. Hudson’s costumes are brightly hued, to keep our eyes sated and occupied. Lights by Alexander Berlage provide amplification to the brassy quality of the piece, but are also effective at delivering emotional tenderness when required. There is an elegant restraint to Matthew Frank’s sound and music, able to facilitate action and elicit responses, but careful to remain unobtrusive.

Extraordinary work by the cast of Hubris & Humiliation makes it an utterly memorable experience. Elliott is played by Roman Delo, whose exceptional instincts bring impressive elevation to a role that could easily be perceived as banal. Delo’s confident charisma is the unequivocal lynchpin, of this staging’s success. Ryan Panizza plays dual roles Warren and William with conviction, offering strong counterpoint to Elliott’s incorruptibility.

Women performers steal the show, along with our hearts, in a range of supporting parts that give depth and substance, to the irrepressible comedy. Henrietta Enyonam Amevor, Celia Ireland and Melissa Kahraman are inventive and joyful, each demonstrating their own admirable talents, in the exalted art of mirthful storytelling. Matthew Cooper and Andrew MacFarlane create fascinating personalities that address our need for progressive versions of masculinity, in this tale of new unions and modern sexualities.

It is funny how we care so much about the sex lives of others. This need to probe and police what people do in private, is however no laughing matter, with many having suffered persecution through the ages, for not following the rules. Hubris & Humiliation takes place not in Austen’s Regency era, but in the here and now, and to see everyone free to make new rules in its emancipatory narrative, is gratifying. Nothing should hold us back from life’s infinite pleasures, as long as we stick to the simple principle, that no one gets hurt, and that enthusiastic consent remains integral to every kind of sexy.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au

Review: Janet’s Vagrant Love (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Jan 19 – 22, 2023
Playwright: Elaine Crombie
Directors: Kirk Page
Cast: Elaine Crombie
Images by

Theatre review

In between personal anecdotes of love and loss, Elaine Crombie sings incredibly beautiful songs, as she plays her guitar, with accompanist Amaru Derwent on keyboard. The show is entitled Janet’s Vagrant Love, but not for a second do we feel that Crombie conveys anything but her own deepest truths, in these recollections, involving people who have come and gone. We witness joy and pain, seemingly dichotomous but in comfortable juxtaposition, as well as strength alongside vulnerability, such are the complexities and incoherence of existence.

Direction by Kirk Page allows the fractures to remain exposed and unvarnished in the show. The experience is simply about being in the presence of humanity, one that we can feel to be natural and real, with narratives that are as disjointed as those in every person’s life. The presentation may be unpretentious, but there is no denying the skill of Crombie’s vocals and song writing, delivering many moments of transcendence.

Crombie, as a Pitjantjatjara, Warrigmal, South Sea & German descended woman, very generously says that this place is home for all of us. It can only follow, that when one of our family, especially if they are part of a lineage that has grappled with generations of dispossession, takes to the stage and magnanimously shares the contents of her heart, we have to bear witness, and be filled with a deep appreciation, to be offered an opportunity that many do not deserve.

www.belvoir.com.au

Review: Urinetown (Hayes Theatre)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), 13 Jan – 5 Feb, 2023
Book and Lyrics: Greg Kotis
Music and Lyrics: Mark Hollman
Director: Ylaria Rogers
Cast: Artemis Alfonzetti, Dani Caruso, Joe Dinn, Deanna Farnell, Max Gambale, Joel Horwood, Tom Kelly, Kira Leiva, Barbra Toparis, Petronella Van Tienen, Benoit Vari, Karen Vickery, Natasha Vickery
Images by Phil Erbacher

Theatre review

Somewhere in America, in a dystopian future, to go toilet has become a commodified privilege. Urinetown, the 2001 musical by Mark Hollman and Greg Kotis, tells a story about an economic system that allows the top 1%  to insist on us paying for everything, and receiving incommensurate returns. The vast majority thus becomes increasingly disadvantaged, finding themselves to be mere cattle, constantly scrounging for the benefit of those who claim to be owners of every resource. In Hollman and Kotis’ fantasy, a revolt eventuates. The conclusion however, is not quite as predictable.

It is an excellent conceit, although the plot has a tendency to feel rambling and its narrative often finds itself gridlocked. Not a lot actually happens, in the two-and-a half hour duration, and its humour can be lacklustre, but the songwriting is enjoyable, with enough inventiveness to sustain attention. Matthew Reid’s musical direction is spirited and jaunty, creating a charged atmosphere, with his very accomplished four-piece band.

Direction of the show by Ylaria Rogers is dynamic, with a lightheartedness that keeps things amusing. Cameron Mitchell’s choreography too, provides levity to proceedings, in order that the message becomes an easier pill to swallow. Set design by Monique Langford involves clever use of ladders in various configurations, that allow for a spacious stage to comfortably accommodate a big and busy cast. Helen Wojtas’ costumes for the great unwashed are in appropriate states of dereliction, but with colours and textures to maintain visual interest. Lights by Jasmin Borsovszky are a wonderful element of the production, bringing unexpected beauty and a sense of gravity, to something we know to be true and important.

Performer Joel Horwood demonstrates admirable versatility in the role of Bobby, bringing charm, wit, emotional intensity and a crucial quality of profundity, that prevents the comedy from undermining the whole point of Urinetown. Their singing is powerful, in a show that features consistently strong vocals. Petronella Van Tienen plays Hope, a saccharine sweet character but with the kind of earnestness that most are likely to find appealing. Chemistry between the leads is scintillating, especially for their romantic duet “Follow Your Heart”. Also noteworthy is Natasha Vickery whose vaudeville style of presentation for Little Sally leaves an impression, as one of the more refreshing personalities we encounter, in this world of misery.

Ultimately, we discover that Urinetown is about the extinction of the human race. Some argue that this is due to no fault of our own, but most will understand all the devastation we have brought to the planet. It is a tale about our insatiable greed. It questions our nature, and like all good art, it urges us to examine what it means to be human, and further, if anything could be done, to combat the parts of us determined to cause harm. We keep wanting to overpower Mother Earth, such is the depth of our foolishness. It is certain that we are never going to be a match for the infinitude of the universe, yet we seem determined to not find ways to make peace with it. 

www.hayestheatre.com.au

Review: Boxing Day BBQ (Ensemble Theatre)

Venue: Ensemble Theatre (Kirribilli NSW), Dec 5, 2022 – Jan 15, 2023
Playwright: Sam O’Sullivan
Director: Mark Kilmurry
Cast: Danielle Carter, Harriet Gordon-Anderson, Aileen Huynh, Brian Meegan, Jamie Oxenbould
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review

Peter takes Boxing Day celebrations very seriously. It is a family tradition that he clings on to desperately, for reasons of nostalgia and of sentimentality, even though the occasion is a frustrating one for all involved. Sam O’Sullivan’s Boxing Day BBQ is a satire on middle class Australia, critical of our values, yet generous in its portrayals of our behaviour. O’Sullivan captures with admirable accuracy, the zeitgeist as it pertains to attitudes about issues like the economy and the climate. Although the work has a tendency to be overly earnest, thus diminishing its comic qualities, Boxing Day BBQ is ultimately politically convincing, which is undoubtedly a favourable outcome.

Mark Kilmurry’s direction of the piece ensures a dramatic tautness, that keeps us invested in the story. Characters and relationships are believable and compelling, and their interchanges are imbued with a sense of consequence and urgency, to sustain our attention. Set design by Ailsa Paterson is a charming representation of the classic suburban backyard, that allows for an abundance of visually pleasing spatial configurations. Genevieve Graham’s costumes help establish personalities quickly, with appropriate colours and shapes that tell us who these people are, even before they begin to speak. Lights by Matt Cox and sound by David Grigg, offer subtle unobtrusive renderings, which honour the art of storytelling above all else.

The cast of five is evenly matched, each with opportunities to shine at centre stage. Danielle Carter, Harriet Gordon-Anderson, Aileen Huynh, Brian Meegan and Jamie Oxenbould demonstrate great capacity for listening to one another, forming a team that impresses with its chemistry. There is an integrity to their approach to performance, that makes us receptive to the play’s important message.

Family members in Boxing Day BBQ argue about human civilisation, and its culpability on the state of the world. Some of us will acknowledge all the harm we have caused, and some of us will choose not to. Either way, there should be no dispute about the fact that should we want a bright future, it is incumbent upon us to do all we can, to make it happen. It seems we have not been able to agree on the truth of the past, and worse, there is often divisions about where we are today, but to have no consensus about what tomorrow should look like, is perhaps the biggest danger that we face.

www.ensemble.com.au

Review: The Wasp (Kings Cross Theatre)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Dec 2 – 17, 2022
Playwright: Morgan Lloyd Malcolm
Director:
Becks Blake
Cast: Cara Whitehouse, Jessica Bell
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review

Carla and Heather were best friends at school, but things turned awry in Year 7. Reuniting 20 years later, we discover the depth with which those difficult times in their early teens, have affected these now grown women. Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s The Wasp is a story of violence, one that relates particularly to the experience of youth violence by girls and women. We explore its enduring effects, looking at how a person is shaped over time, asking questions about the permanence of damage, and how we carry trauma through our lives. Carla and Heather’s stories are told with a thrilling boldness. Endless twists and turns, accompanied by truly scintillating dialogue, make The Wasp an immense delight, albeit a frequently harrowing one.

Directed by Becks Blake, we are given awesome insight into the psychological and emotional mechanics, of these two very unique yet realistic personalities. Blake makes explosive, each and every shocking revelation in the narrative. The drama is delicious, and the comedy consistently wicked, in a show memorable for its grit and edgy intensity. Fun and scary, The Wasp involves high stakes and controversial ideas, to provoke, to entertain and to engage.

Stage design by Axel Hinkley cleverly fuses two distinct spaces, into one harmonious whole. Hinkley’s costumes, like their set, are accurately rendered, to evoke time, place and importantly class, for this tale of two social strata. Lights by Martin Kinnane are simple, if slightly too subtle in the depiction of textural transformations, for how the relationship morphs between the two women. Johnny Yang’s sound design is wonderfully imaginative, and sensitive in its calibrations of atmosphere, as we delve deeper and deeper into the nightmare of old friends and their old grievances.

Actor Jessica Bell is stunning as Carla, hilarious in her portrayal of proletarian coarseness, and masterful with her concoctions of dramatic tension, keeping us wide eyed and slack jawed for the duration. Bell’s work on this occasion is truly a performance to remember. Heather is played by Cara Whitehouse, whose deep submergence into her character’s twisted world, convinces us of all her deranged antics. The pair is beautifully well-rehearsed, with a sense of intricacy that allows us to read infinitely closely to every detail being presented, and emerge feeling we have learned something remarkable.

Violence begets violence, if conventional wisdom is to be believed. It is true that the effects of violence reverberate beyond inciting incidents. Like the nature of karma, a transference occurs, whether from one person to others, or from one unto themselves. In The Wasp we see the trauma finding ways to manifest, always in ugly and horrific ways, extending inward or outward, to prolong its effects. Damage spreads, and it remains a mystery, if deep hurt can ever just go away.

www.kingsxtheatre.com

Review: M’ap Boulé (Urban Theatre Projects)

Venue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Dec 6 – 9, 2022
Playwright: Nancy Denis
Composer: Carl St. Jacques
Director: Anthea Williams
Cast: Nancy Denis (with musicians Victoria Falconer, Mick Stuart and Kween G)
Images by Jacquie Manning

Theatre review
Nancy Denis is a warrior, not only of circumstance, but also of heritage. A woman of Haitian background, a fighting spirit thrives in her blood. Generations of colonial history have not been able to subdue Denis, as she declares in her show M’ap Boulé, or “I’m On Fire” in English. Featuring stirring music composed by the recently departed Carl St. Jacques, M’ap Boulé is a passionate exhibition of one woman’s joy and pain, and a poignant autobiography by a young artist with a lot to say.

An embodiment of dark-skinned queer womanhood, Denis represents so much of what is marginalised. The dominant hegemony that privileges the straight white male, is of course unable to conceive of her as equal. Her lived experience of inconvenient intersectionalities also means, that the various groups to which she should belong, also struggle to contain the seemingly conflicting identities that are ascribed onto her complicated, but perfectly natural body. To say that M’ap Boulé is an important work would be an understatement; it is a voice we rarely hear, yet demonstrates itself to be, quite possibly, the voice we need most to hear.

A warrior’s story is inherently combative and propulsive, but in M’ap Boulé  it is the revelations of weakness and vulnerability, that make its depictions of strength, truly resonate. Directed by Anthea Williams, the show feels unequivocally guided by a sense of integrity, determined to put to the stage, a wholistic perspective of the author and all that she has chosen to share. Set and costumes by Maitê Inaê are celebratory of Denis qualities, as a woman of colour, born of Haitian immigrants, and together with Karen Norris’ lights, the stage glimmers and pulsates, to connect with the most sensual of our beings.

The artist’s charisma and exuberance as a performer, ensure that her audience is kept riveted. Her velvety timbre, especially when singing contralto, is simply exquisite, and a rare gift that brings tremendous amplification, to the soulfulness that underpins every song. Joining Denis on stage are musical director Victoria Falconer, rapper Kween G and musician Mick Stuart, who work in transcendent harmony, to offer our ears access to some place decidedly more exalted.

When we watch Nancy Denis on stage, we understand that she is precisely where she needs to be. There are no inadequacies, just as there is no perfection. We need to learn to see ourselves, beyond capitalistic and patriarchal lenses, to remember that we are human through and through, never to be anything but. For sure, we are capable of more, of better, of something else, but it is integral that we never forget, that today, is the result of having overcome everything before, and it is good.

www.utp.org.au

Review: A Christmas Carol (Ensemble Theatre)

Venue: Ensemble Theatre (Kirribilli NSW), Nov 25 – Dec 29, 2022
Playwright: Hilary Bell (based on the story by Charles Dickens)
Director: Damien Ryan
Cast: Valerie Bader, John Bell, Jay James-Moody, Emily McKnight, Anthony Taufa, Daryl Wallis
Images by Jaimi Joy

Theatre review

The timeless tale of Scrooge’s awakening, was first published 178 years ago. With billionaires making news every day in 2022,  Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol resonates anew, although it is only wishful thinking that our overlords should find their souls overnight. Nonetheless, the story remains heart warming, and with Hilary Bell’s stage adaptation taking the form of a pantomime, featuring delightful music by Phillip Johnston, we are re-acquainted with the classic at year’s end, to be reminded of what is truly important.

Charming direction by Damien Ryan delivers nostalgia and sentimentality in spades, although humour in the production could benefit from being less restrained. It is a beautifully designed show, with Alisa Paterson’s set and Genevieve Graham’s costumes leaving a strong impression. Lights by Mat Cox too are sumptuous, and indispensable in delivering for the story, its crucial supernatural elements.

John Bell is believable as the misanthropic Scrooge, suitably mean and cruel, playing one of the best known characters of the festive season. Anthony Taufa brings wonderful exuberance to a great number of roles, full of charisma and playfulness, encouraging us to respond with appropriate cheer. Daryl Wallis provides live accompaniment on piano and percussion, adding blitheness with his sensitive musical direction.

It is right that we should expect more of the rich, but it is also necessary for governments to insist on redistribution of wealth, when disparities are so severe. Dickens did his best to appeal to the human conscience, but it is clear that not many at the top of town are ever going to be sufficiently conscientious. We simply cannot sit and wait for the rich to do the right thing.

www.ensemble.com.au

Review: Artslab: Here We Are Again! (Shopfront Arts Co-op)

Venue: 107 (Redfern NSW), Nov 23 – 27, 2022
Images by Clare Hawley

Dalo Chips and Imli Chutney
Playwright/Director: Varuna Naicker
Cast: Karina Bracken, Madhullika Singh, Veena Sudarshan

Unkissed
Playwright/Director/Cast: Sarah Carroll

Theatre review

Piyal is in love with a married man, and trying to get her Fiji Indian family to understand her situation is challenging. Even though they live in Australia, where individuals enjoy greater rights and freedoms, Piyal’s respect for her own traditions means that she is unable to disregard what her family thinks. Dalo Chips and Imli Chutney by Varuna Naicker explores the tensions between cultures, from the perspective of those who live in the middle of conflicting values.

Naicker’s writing is well observed, insightful not only with the themes concerned, but also the emotions that emerge from having to navigate those quandaries. Three generations of women in the household are performed by Karina Bracken, Madhullika Singh and Veena Sudarshan, who bring integrity, along with intensity, to the story. A greater appreciation for the humour that inevitably arises from dilemmas of this nature, would make for a more engaging experience, but the message being conveyed remains important.

Unkissed is a one-woman show created by Sarah Carroll, based on the simple notion that the 24-year-old artist has yet to experience her first kiss. It begins as a parody of a PowerPoint presentation, demonstrating the extent to which Carroll researches on the subject, and subsequently escalates into something altogether more surreal and extravagant. The artist’s presence is strong, with an effortless capacity to hold our attention. The writing is cleverly structured, but not always substantial. There is a bravery in her performance style that could be applied to the text, for a more incisive look into the minds of the post-millennial generation.

Lighting design by Justin Phan for both shows, are ambitious and stirring, effective at providing enhancement to atmosphere, as required by the respective plot trajectories. Sound by Prema Yin for Dalo Chips and Imli Chutney is quietly sentimental, adding a sensual richness to the story.

Carroll and Naicker are both young women, going through all the normal things young women do, with the additional pursuit of making art. Art presents a unique opportunity for our young to find their place in the world. It takes a person out of themselves, making them find ways to care for others, in a mode of social communication that always holds one responsible, for what one releases unto the world. Artists are a species that interrogate deeper, and more persistently. It is a responsibility that must never be taken lightly.

www.shopfront.org.au

Review: Nice Work If You Can Get It (Hayes Theatre)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), 18 Nov – 20 Dec, 2022
Book: Joe DiPietro
Music and Lyrics: George and Ira Gershwin
Director: Cameron Mitchell
Cast: Octavia Barron Martin, Lisa Callingham, Grace Driscoll, Nat Foti, Anthony Garcia, Catty Hamilton, Joel Houwen, James MacAlpine, Rob Mallett, Jayme Jo Massoud, Adorah Oloapu, Ashleigh Rubenach, Andy Seymour, Rose Shannon-Duhigg, Andrew Waldin, Jasper Wind
Images by Grant Leslie

Theatre review

It is the Prohibition era, and Billie the bootlegger is secretly storing 400 crates of gin, in a Long Island beach house, owned by Jimmy’s mother. In the meantime, Jimmy is about to get married for the fourth time, but the playboy’s new fascination with Billie means that his best laid plans are going awry. Joe DiPietro’s book for the musical Nice Work If You Can Get It is a tribute to romantic comedies of the Hollywood Golden Age. Thoroughly frivolous and undoubtedly fun, the story is constructed around the songs of George and Ira Gershwin, which are easily, and understandably, the highlight of the show.

Direction by Cameron Mitchell imbues an admirable sense of abandon to the broad comedy of Nice Work If You Can Get It. For 2-and-a-half hours, we are treated to something frothy and gleeful, that never wishes to take it itself seriously. The laughs are constant, often uproarious, proving that an average script can be transposed effectively to the stage, when executed with considerable flair. Mitchell’s work as choreography too is impressive, in a style that harks back to the good old days, delivering nostalgia as well as dynamism, for a staging determined to entertain.

Set design by Simon Greer provides versatile solutions, with great fluidity, to addresses the many location changes, although the space often feels constrictive of the show’s ambitious dance sequences. Christine Mutton’s costumes are delightfully conceived and meticulously fitted, to give much needed elevation to the imagery being created. Wigs on its leading ladies however, require greater attention. Illumination by James Wallis is thankfully utilitarian, providing just enough lighting trickery so that our attention never deviates from the performers.

Playing Jimmy is the dashing Rob Mallet, whose physical discipline brings exquisite polish to the production. The accuracy in his emulation of a vocal style faithful to the period too, keeps us firmly in the fantasy. Ashleigh Rubenach sings all her songs perfectly, but feels somewhat miscast as the tomboyish Billie. Grace Driscoll is very charming as Eileen, able to be both campy and endearing, in her wonderfully kooky sendup of a Martha Graham type.

It is a big cast of 16, comprising some very funny thespians, along with highly accomplished dancers, all doing remarkably to generate theatrical magic. The Gershwin sound however, remains a pinnacle on any stage. It is an eternal joy to hear their greatest hits, no matter the excuse or occasion.

www.hayestheatre.com.au

Review: The Dazzle (Meraki Arts Bar)

Venue: Meraki Arts Bar (Darlinghurst NSW), Nov 17 – Dec 3, 2022
Playwright: Richard Greenberg
Director:
Jane Angharad
Cast: Steve Corner, Alec Ebert, Meg Hyeronimus
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review

The Collyer brothers of New York City gained infamy a century ago, for their obsessive hoarding and other generally bizarre ways. Richard Greenberg’s The Dazzle explores their life together in a Harlem brownstone home, for a portrait of two grown men, trapped in a peculiar world, only partly of their own doing. The intriguing characters are depicted by Greenberg beyond the narrow confines of their public personae; Homer and Langley are given depth, dimension and indeed humanity, along with marvellous wit, in a play that absolutely endears and captivates.

Jane Angharad’s direction of the piece ensures that the strange relationships and personalities of The Dazzle, resonate with authenticity. She keeps us fascinated and increasingly invested, by finding ways to make elements of the narrative feel recognisable and intimate, even though most are unlikely to have experienced anything like it.

Costumes by Aloma Barnes render for the production an accurate sense of time and place, whilst adding some commendable visual flair, but set design for the Collyer home requires greater dilapidation, to better convey the severity of their situation. Catherine Mai’s lights and Johnny Yang’s sounds, work intricately with oscillations between comedy and drama in the sumptuous text, to build emotional intensity, for a journey that takes us somewhere unexpectedly rich with emotion.

Actor Steve Corner is brilliant in the role of Homer, with an immense range that incisively conveys the complexities involved, in this tale of extreme eccentricity. The textured flamboyance he brings to the show, is simply wonderful. Langley is played by Alec Ebert, who brings an unneeded restraint to the stage, but whose tender approach prevents us from perceiving the brothers as mere caricature. Meg Hyeronimus is convincing as Milly, the only person to have entered the Collyer’s private sanctuary in The Dazzle. Hyeronimus revels in the radical transformation that occurs for her part, able to represent both incarnations of Milly with equal conviction.

We are fascinated by stories like the Collyers’ or the Beales’ (of the legendary Grey Gardens documentary film) not because the people concerned might feel alien, but because we sense the closeness in proximity between their outrageous existences and our normal lives. It is a thin line that separates, and a precarious psychological boundary, that keeps us from falling off the deep end. There may be truth in declaring that normal is only ever a matter of subjectivity,  but misery is a state of being that refuses to be denied.

www.meraki.sydney