Review: Everybody (Cross Pollinate Productions)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Mar 6 – 21, 2019
Playwright: Branden Jacobs-Jenkins
Director: Gabriel Fancourt
Cast: Kate Bookallil, Caitlin Burley, Annie Byron, Giles Gartrell-Mills, Isaro Kayitesi, Mansoor Noor, Kate Skinner, Samm Ward and Michael Wood
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
The idea is to think of that one thing you can take with you, when you die. Everybody by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins talks about the most common of denominators. A woman named Death has come knocking, and is asking Everybody to bring along one other, to meet their maker. It is worth pointing out that Everybody is played by any one of five actors, determined at each performance by lottery. As we watch ourselves shuffle off this mortal coil, leaving behind all things material, we are urged to consider a certain distillation of being, that occurs in the final hour, and come to a conclusion of what it is that might accompany the departure of each spirit.

It is a cleverly structure play, featuring thought-provoking and immensely enjoyable dialogue. Its raison d’etre may ultimately feel somewhat prosaic, but the journey Everybody takes us on, is a very satisfying one. Dynamic work by lighting designer Morgan Moroney and sound designer Felicity Giles, ensure that the production is consistently energetic and vibrant. Set design by Stephanie Dunlop makes effective use of space, with a simple solution that keeps us all engaged with every stage activity.

Gabriel Fancourt’s direction delivers a show that entertains from start to finish, able to position a compelling sense of theatricality alongside earnest explorations of the text’s philosophy. A charming cast, including five brave performers who allow a nightly act of chance decide their fate, collaborate on a presentation unique to the live form. When playing the part of Everybody, Isaro Kayitesi is tremendously impressive, with a glorious combination of vulnerability, complexity and authenticity, that she renders with apparent ease. Giles Gartrell-Mills is our usher, comfortably authoritative in the role, but also disarming with a sincerity that he exudes quite naturally. Death is a comical character when portrayed by Annie Byron, whose unremitting joviality brings splendid contrast to the grim notions that she embodies.

God is omnipresent in Jacobs-Jenkins’ writing, but Nature scarcely gets a mention. In 2020, it is our natural world and environment that has become a major factor in how we conceive of mortality and the future. Perhaps God has all along been indivisible from Nature, yet so many of our minds have learned to have them separated. There is a lot of truth in saying that we create God in our image (and vice versa), and for those of us who think of God and Nature as different, this must be the day of reckoning, the final opportunity for us to come to grips with the fact that it is us who are at the mercy of Mother Earth.

www.crosspollinate.com.au

Review: Good Mourning (The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Mar 3 – 8, 2020
Playwright: Sonia Dodd
Director: Hannah Armstrong
Cast: Gabrielle Aubrey, Coen Lourigan, Madelaine Osborn, Ben Rodwell

Theatre review
Told from the perspective of an 8 year-old, Good Mourning by Sonia Dodd is about a young family dealing with the impending death of a parent. The four children have to grapple with a diagnosis that can only be described as traumatic; their father has advanced cancer with only three months to live. It is however not a grim story that we discover. The family finds uplifting ways to spend their remaining time together, cherishing their precious days and doing what children do best, to find the light under any circumstance.

At just forty minutes or so, Dodd’s writing is concise but satisfying, with an honesty that circumvents sentimentality, for a discussion on grief that always feels authentic. Hannah Armstrong directs this story based on her own experiences, inventive and effervescent in style, surprising us with the optimism and entertainment she is able to provide. Also noteworthy are Rhys Mendham’s efforts with lighting design, successful at providing consistent visual variation to a very bare stage.

The ensemble is charming and well-rehearsed, beautifully cohesive with all that they present. Gabrielle Aubrey, Coen Lourigan, Madelaine Osborn and Ben Rodwell play a range of characters, each one spirited and cleverly imagined. Their portrayal of the children’s innocence is especially effective, able to tell a sad story without excessive despondency, thereby encouraging us to think about death and mourning in a healthy manner. The very definition of life means that we must encounter loss. Learning to cope is essential, and knowing how to live with vibrancy after saying goodbye, is crucial.

www.old505theatre.com

Review: Artslab: Behind Closed Doors (Shopfront Arts Co-op)

Venue: 107 (Redfern NSW), Feb 26 – Mar 1, 2020
Images by Clare Hawley

Stalls
Playwrights: Lana Filies, Lily Hensby
Devised and performed by: Lana Filies, Olivia Harris, Lily Hensby, Cara Severino

Little Jokes In Times Of War
Written, directed and performed by: Charlotte Salusinszky

Stripped
Written, directed and performed by: Luke Standish

Theatre review
Artslab: Behind Closed Doors features five works, three of which are in the theatrical form. Created by young emerging artists, they combine to offer a refreshing experience, even if style and tone are extremely varied from one to another.

Stalls is a collaboration between Lana Filies and Lily Hensby, exploring toilet humour with a feminist approach, inspired by the concept of an idealised woman that allows no capacity for the most basic of all bodily functions, defecation. The performance is devised by the writers, along with additional cast members Olivia Harris and Cara Severino, for a riotously funny show that stridently rejects notions of sugar and spice and all things nice. Chemistry between the four is joyous, for an effervescent thirty minutes that entertains from an unmistakably political perspective.

Charlotte Salusinszky goes in search of her Hungarian roots in Little Jokes In Times Of War, and unearths a story of inter-generational trauma through an examination of her grandmother’s life. Salusinszky’s almost psychic impulses function as a mode of connection with her family history, inspiring a sort of time travel, going back to locate ancestral meanings, so that she can find, and crystallise, herself in the process. It is a rich text that comes to be, and the artist’s remarkable proficiency on stage, as performer and director, is a revelation.

The thoughts of an erotic stripper are documented in Luke Standish’s Stripped, a poetic and melancholic look at one man’s experience of employment in the adult industry. It is, appropriately, a predominantly physical presentation, but made abstract in a way that reveals, more than anything, the subject’s emotional state. Even at just half an hour, Stripped is repetitive, unable to provide significant elucidation beyond the predictable and obvious, but its imagery is compelling, whether Standish chooses to be clothed or not.

We live full lives behind closed doors, but it is what can be shown to others, that determines so much of identity. Art is most valuable when it lifts the veil on that which lays dormant. Art helps us know ourselves, and as narcissistic humans, that promise of reaching deeper into our own truths, is a huge thrill. Theatre furthers that mission, by coalescing truth into consensus, so that when we sit side by side in a darkened room, something magnanimous unites us, if and when the magic happens.

www.shopfront.org.au

Review: Hello Again (The Factory Theatre)

Venue: The Factory Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Feb 20 – 28, 2020
Words & Music: Michael John LaChiusa (after La Ronde by Arthur Schnitzler)
Director: Jerome Studdy
Cast: Denzel Bruhn, Lyndon Carney, Grace Driscoll, Stacey Gay, Charlie Hollands, Brendan McRae, Kate O’Sullivan, Anna-May Parnell, Harrison Vaughan, Emelie Woods
Image by Junior Jin

Theatre review
When first staged in 1920, La Ronde by Arthur Schnitzler remained a scandalous work even though it had taken 23 years to go from initial publication to a theatre in Vienna. It dared to depict progressive sexuality as somewhat natural, and certainly spoke about promiscuity as as a phenomenon far less reprehensible than was the convention. A century later, there is little left in the work that feels even naughty, thankfully as a result of substantial advancements over time, in attitudes about sex.

Michael John LaChiusa’s Hello Again is a 1993 reiteration that transforms the ten dialogues from Schnitlzer’s original, into songs for the musical format. LaChiusa’s music is often experimental and infrequently melodic, with lyrics that now seem unsophisticated and lacking in wit. Each chapter takes us through the decades of the twentieth century, but direction by Jerome Studdy never makes that at all clear. The production feels rough around the edges, admittedly clumsy at points, but an enthusiastic cast almost holds everything together. Without microphones, the acoustically challenged auditorium proves demanding of those with smaller voices, but it must be said that the ambition of all involved is admirable.

La Ronde is about class as much as it is about sex. It represents an effort to look at humans at our most vulnerable and essential, stripped of all ornamentation and pretence, trying to understand ourselves at what should be our purest. Using sex as a common unifying mechanism, and hypocrisy as a theme through which we can access notions of manufactured identity, Schnitzler urges us to be honest, in the belief that truth will set us free.

www.facebook.com/HatTrickProductions

Review: Australian Open (Kings Cross Theatre)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Feb 14 – 29, 2020
Playwright: Angus Cameron
Director: Riley Spadaro
Cast: Di Adams, Gerard Carroll, Miranda Daughtry, Patrick Jhanur, Tom Anson Mesker, Tom Russell
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Inspired by her son Felix, Belinda decides to change the nature of her marriage, in order to try out new things. Felix adamantly objects, even though it is his own open relationship with Lucas, that had acted as the very catalyst for his mother’s radical transformation. Australian Open by Angus Cameron looks at the way we let our most personal lives be dictated by others, and how we in turn feel at liberty to intervene with other people’s private business. It is a wonderfully progressive piece of writing, that takes the discussion of sexuality and marriage into the twenty-first century. Framed by some fabulously mischievous wit, the play is often hilarious, with its strengths clearly residing in dialogue rather than in plot.

Relentlessly camp, the show is directed by Riley Spadaro, whose penchant for grand gestures makes the experience a vivaciously engaging one. Spadaro is meticulous with the comedy of the piece, never letting any opportunity for laughs go wasted, although it must be said that more serious moments at the end, can in comparison, feel perfunctorily handled. There is a sense of refinement to the staging, with Grace Deacon’s work on set and costumes proving enchanting with her refreshing palette. Phoebe Pilcher’s lights too, bring an exuberance to keep us in the mood for all the bubbly goings on.

An extremely adorable cast keeps us enthralled in their slightly naughty story, with Di Adams particularly charming as Belinda, full of pointed nuance and jubilant playfulness, for a character luxuriating in being able to get back her groove. Felix is played by Tom Anson Mesker, whose proficient comic timing establishes pace for the proceedings. Also very funny is Gerard Carroll as Peter, able to portray vulnerability whilst bringing cheeky humour to the role. The millennial tennis star Lucas is given a surprising authenticity by Patrick Jhanur, who hits the mark effortlessly, both in terms of his acting and allure, for the very sex-positive part. Miranda Daughtry is appropriately stern as Annabelle, a commanding presence who offers a valuable counterbalance to her flighty family members. Finally, Tom Russell is memorable in the smaller role of Hot Ball Boy, simultaneously playing clown and eye candy, for a delighted and appreciative crowd.

As demonstrated by Felix, the hardest part about love and sex, is the discovery for oneself, what it is that one really wants. The inundation of messages relating to those subjects makes it nigh on impossible to know, if one is acting in response to influences, or if one’s true nature or essence is actually being expressed. As children, we are given explanations about partnerships and gender, that are at best interpretations of phenomena. There comes a time in adulthood, that each individual must determine for themselves, and themselves only, what those things should mean.

www.presentedbybub.com

Review: Shepherd (Aya Productions)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Feb 19 – Mar 7, 2020
Playwright: Liam Maguire
Director: Liam Maguire
Cast: Mark Paguio, Cecelia Peters, Rose Riley, Adam Sollis, Grace Victoria, Jacob Warner
Images by Matt Predny

Theatre review
Anna is sort of a charismatic cult leader, but she would of course never call herself that. Inside what might be termed a wellness facility, we meet a group of seekers, overwhelmed with a sense of inadequacy, anxiety and narcissism, trying to attain a state of bliss, by surrendering themselves to the teachings of their Gwyneth Paltrow lookalike guru. Liam Maguire’s Shepherd is a self-effacing meditation on the disquiet of modern existence, with characters full of neurosis presenting a sardonic theatre that appeals to our most cynical selves.

Operating as both playwright and director, Maguire’s idiosyncratic humour shines through for a quirky style of show, delivering big laughs as well as ample opportunity for intellectual engagement. His mischievous approach reveals the people we have become, in what is now one of the world’s richest countries; seeing ourselves represented as complete idiots, is actually highly rewarding.

Although not an extravagant production, lights by Martin Kinnane and sound by Sam Maguire, work together to provide a polish that reflects the sophistication underpinning Shepherd. Their efforts combine to shift tensions and tone between each scene, so that we interpret the action from varying heights of comedy and drama, letting us in on the play’s intentions, in subtle subliminal ways.

The cast is extraordinarily funny, including a deadpan Adam Sollis, who as Mark utters just four words, but whose depictions of wilful ignorance proves unforgettable. Anna is played by Grace Victoria, who portrays quiet malice with a powerful sarcasm, and captivating flamboyance. Also very ostentatious is Cecelia Peters, an energetic and meticulous performer, whose exquisite timing and high campery as Elsa is a delicious highlight. Mark Paguio’s overwrought earnestness leaves a remarkable impression, for an irresistibly hilarious take on lost souls and their confused desperation. Rose Riley and Jacob Warner play a quarrelling couple, both actors intense and wonderfully ironic with the parody of romance that they bring to the stage,

Anna exploits these bewildered sheep, gaining money and power from those eager to give up agency and indulge in the comfort of blindly following a false god. The world can make us acutely aware of personal shortcomings, even though these ideas of lack, are rarely genuine. We need to learn to switch perspectives, and see that it is the economy and the ways we run society that are at fault. The structures we subsist under fail to accommodate our nature, and makes us feel as though we are the ones to be blamed for not being able to cope. It then sells us solutions to problems of its own creation, and sets us on a perpetual cycle of frustration and dissatisfaction. When we recognise that the system is not serving our purpose, radical measures must be taken.

www.ayaproductions.com.au

Review: The Rise And Disguise Of Elizabeth R (Sugary Rum Productions)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), Feb 13 – Mar 1, 2020
Book & Lyrics: Gerry Connolly, Nick Coyle, Gus Murray
Music: Max Lambert
Director: Shaun Rennie
Cast: Gerry Connolly, Rob Mallett, Laura Murphy
Images by Kate Williams

Theatre review
The Queen of England comes to terms with her long career, and the significant diminishment of her empire, in The Rise And Disguise Of Elizabeth R by Gerry Connolly, Nick Coyle and Gus Murray. Connolly himself too, faces a reckoning in the show, as we watch the star confront his achievements as entertainer and impersonator of the Queen, a man of a certain age unable to step out of a majestic shadow, forever eclipsed. These two stories form the basis of a rich tapestry, a multi-disciplinary presentation involving burlesque, cabaret and stand up, intersecting with conventional theatre and Broadway elements, for a witty exploration into the amalgamated phenomena of legacy and ageing.

Directed by Shaun Rennie, the production captivates our senses with its irresistible exuberance, and engages our minds through considered examinations of the Queen as cultural catalyst and icon. Costumes and set design by Jeremy Allen, along with lights by Trent Suidgeest, serve up striking imagery, able to create beauty for every scene, whether fantastical or realistic. Connolly’s performance is unfortunately tentative, but although lacking in confidence, occasional glimpses of genius are revealed in his knack for subtle but acerbic irony. A small but very strong supporting cast keeps us buoyant, with the spirited duo of Rob Mallett and Laura Murphy bringing exceptional proficiency and charisma to the stage. Also noteworthy are Leah Howard’s choreography and Max Lambert’s musical direction, both consistently surprising with their work, and valuable in helping to sustain high energy levels for the 80-minute duration.

No matter what a person does for work, it should always be personally fulfilling, but if an individual’s contributions to community are substantial, life can begin to take on real meaning. Both the show’s main characters are frustrated with the people they have become. They rarely see beyond the repetitive toil that dictates how each day pans out, even though what they do constitutes extensive benefit to societies. We are taught to think about work in selfish ways, always looking at it in personal terms of profit and advantage, ignoring the greater good that can result from a broader comprehension of one’s decisions. The Queen is a lucky woman, not only for the wealth and power bestowed upon her, but also for being affixed to a path that offers her endless opportunities to make the world a better place. The rest of us have destinies that are more pliable, and we need to rise to the challenge of making bolder choices as a result of understanding those freedoms and responsibilities.

www.facebook.com/sugaryrumproductions