Review: Songs For Nobodies (Sydney Opera House)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Jan 23 – Feb 9, 2020
Playwright: Joanna Murray-Smith
Director: Simon Phillips
Cast: Bernadette Robinson
Theatre review
There are ten women in Joanna Murray-Smith’s Songs For Nobodies, a collection of five stories about famous singers and the ordinary lives they had touched. It is a series of juxtapositions, of diva and goddess, of women on stage and women from other walks of life, all being put through their paces in one form or another. Murray-Smith’s poignant humour works a charm, able to imbue each character with dignity along with a sense of the divine, not only for the celebrities, but also for the women-next-door that it depicts so lovingly. All women can be regarded with reverence, if we know to value them appropriately.

Bernadette Robinson is the extraordinary talent who introduces us to all the characters in Songs For Nobodies. When impersonating Maria Callas, Patsy Cline, Judy Garland, Billie Holiday and Edith Piaf, she is impressive not only for the likeness that she quite magically achieves, but also for the very virtuosity she displays in each of the unforgettable standards that she sings. Her portrayals of the every woman too, are commanding, whether American, English or Irish, Robinson is convincing, engaging and gloriously charming, able to elevate forgotten souls, as a reminder that all women are sometimes truly sublime.

Directed by Simon Phillips, the show is elegantly rendered, very subtle in approach, but nonetheless affecting. Orchestrations by Ian McDonald are dramatic and highly evocative, able to seize our imagination in a flash, to transport us through time and space for momentary immersions, that make us feel as though in the presence of legends. Malcolm Rippeth’s lights too are notable, for their romantic warmth, able to take us away from the humdrum and the mundane, that we too often think of as the only reality.

Very few women ever get to see things from the top, but there is no rat race that we should feel compelled to participate in. More than the rich and famous, are the many examples of fulfilling and self-determined existences that are plain to see. Many of us will not know what it is like to influence millions, and to never have succeeded in accordance with stipulations of dominant paradigms, but in this current moment of a new understanding around centuries of relentless destruction, we should more than ever before, appreciate those we think of small people, who have had no power in our collective journey to impending extinction.

www.duetgroup.com

Review: Family Values (Griffin Theatre Company)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jan 17 – Mar 7, 2020
Playwright: David Williamson
Director: Lee Lewis
Cast: Belinda Giblin, Danielle King, Andrew McFarlane, Jamie Oxenbould, Ella Prince, Bishanyia Vincent, Sabryna Walters
Images by Brett Boardman
Theatre review
It is indeed appropriate that white people in Australia should have serious discussions among themselves about immigration, and other matters that require them to challenge their own privileged positions. They are the ones in power, and so much depends on their ability to make concessions in order that all our lives can become more equitable. In David Williamson’s Family Values, we watch rich white people fighting about the right thing to do, ostensibly about Australia’s refugee intake and the worldwide asylum seeker problem, but in fact, the argument that happens in their dining room is much simpler.

The Collins make a lot of noise in Family Values, each of them fired individually by existential angst, but what should have been philosophical and moral debates are embarrassingly reduced to a basic issue of whether seriously ill people should be allowed to stay in Australia, while their refugee status is being considered. The play distracts us with a lot of hullabaloo, misleading us into thinking that privileged North Shore types are actually having broader conversations about immigration and the future of this country, when they are only actually fighting over the destiny of one very sick woman. Needless to say, how we regard people who require serious medical attention, should never be a matter of contention at all, no matter where they come from.

Director Lee Lewis makes sure everyone on stage gets really riled up, and the drama is often gripping over the 90 or so minutes; people are fighting tooth and nail, and there is an inherent pleasure in watching rich people tear each other apart from the sidelines. Dynamics between personalities may be manufactured but there is no denying the intensity of conflict that takes place. The more unrealistic the characters, the more extravagant the performances, which is understandable from the perspective of actors who wish to create something out of nothing.

Jamie Oxenbould and Ella Prince make very bold choices that are frequently jarring, but the alternative of attempting naturalism would clearly make for extremely flaccid interpretations. The one person of colour waiting to be rescued is played by Sabryna Walters, who as Saba, uses her monologue in the second half to deliver a moment of genuine theatrical magic. Her performance of pleading for mercy is powerful and wonderfully emotional, a real treat that reminds us, if only for a few minutes, what we must insist of our artists.

It does not surprise anyone, spoiler alert, that the father of the household Roger eventually steps up and does the right thing, and of course gets celebrated for it, as though he is the true hero in this asinine effort. Powerful people seem to only do good things when they are rewarded disproportionately. Even when innocent lives are at stake, there has to be a profit motive to spur action, and worse, they see no shame in that. Roger Collins wants to be honoured and revered for following the rules set up by those who were just like him, that had come before him. We need to identify the damage that they cause, and establish new ways to get rid of them.

www.griffintheatre.com.au

Review: Bran Nue Dae (Opera Australia)

Venue: Riverside Theatres (Parramatta NSW), Jan 15 – Feb 1, 2020
Book: Jimmy Chi
Music and lyrics: Jimmy Chi, Kuckles
Director: Andrew Ross
Cast: Czack (Ses) Bero, Marcus Corowa, Adi Cox, Ernie Dingo, Damar Isherwood, Taj Jamieson, Tehya Jamieson, Teresa Moore, Andrew Moran, Tuuli Narkle, Callan Purcell, Bojesse Pigram, Ngaire Pigram, Tai Savage, Danielle Sibosado
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review
Bran Nue Dae is the semi-autobiographical story of Aboriginal music star Jimmy Chi, who as a teenager in the 1960’s, hitchhiked from his mission school back home to Broome. A musical of the coming-of-age variety, the work features splendid songs written some thirty years ago by Chi and his band Kuckles, now beautifully nostalgic and sentimental, with strong country and soul influences that move us evocatively to the Western Australia outback.

Musical direction by Patrick bin Amat and Michael Mavromatis provide an emotional dimension to the show, effective in conveying a sense of the Australian bush, and of Indigenous cultures through their sensitive arrangement of each and every tune. Directed by Andrew Ross, the comedy is a sleek one, but insufficiently humorous, often lacking in the energy required to fill the large auditorium.

Performer Ernie Dingo leaves a strong impression, with an easy charm and confidence as Uncle Tadpole that sustains our interest. Protagonist Willie is played by an equally likeable Marcus Corowa, who lights up the stage with his vocal cords whenever they get a workout. The ensemble is a nimble uplifting group, with the four women proving particularly memorable, when singing their bright and resonant choruses.

Being the very first Aboriginal musical, Bran Nue Dae is undoubtedly significant in theatrical history. What is more important however, are the subsequent shows that should follow, but examples are scarce. Of course, Indigenous peoples continue to practise other art forms that are culturally specific, and the wider community must always provide support when invited to, although the dream remains, where Western institutions can be much more inclusive, that more Indigenous participation can be seen in what has become this nation’s dominant platforms. The fact that our black sisters and brothers continue to be missing from so much of our cultural activity, is a seismic problem that we cannot afford to take lightly.

www.brannuedaemusical.com.au

Review: Night Parade Of One Hundred Goblins (Clockfire Theatre Company)

Venue: Art Gallery of NSW (Sydney NSW), Jan 16 – 25, 2020
Director: Emily Ayoub, Arisa Yura
Cast: Madeline Baghurst, Ryuichi Fujimura, Alicia Gonzalez, Masae Ikegawa, Emily Ayoub, Arisa Yura

Theatre review
Based on the illustrations of Toriyama Sekien (1712–1788) and Itaya Hiroharu (1831-82), the Japanese folklore of 百鬼夜行 Hyakki Yagyō is brought to fantastic life for a 21st century audience, in a modern iteration entitled Night Parade Of One Hundred Goblins. A long runway is formed, so that the stage action reads like a scroll, commencing with performers racing past us, a succession of curious entities travelling across time and space, to share ancient stories from a supernatural realm.

It is a thoroughly physical work, informed by traditions of dance, mime and clowning, featuring a cast of five taking on a variety of characters, each one stranger than the other. They are alternately comical, frightening and dramatic, but always intriguing, and certainly inventive with their bodily faculties. Dialogue is kept to a minimum, so we rely almost entirely on visual communication, although music does play an inordinately big part of the exercise.

Masae Ikegawa creates her music live, a thrilling feature that works magically with the echoes of the hall, to take us away from the mundane, as it thrusts our imagination into something altogether more mysterious and instinctual. Recorded sounds by Ben Pierpoint are an electronic counterpoint that keeps sensibilities within this modernity, complete with thumping beats that make sense of the dance, for bodies we see on stage, as well as the rhythmic pulsations we experience inside our seated selves.

Lights by Martin Kinnane are colourful and very dynamic, able to spirit us away from the interiors of a concrete jungle to somewhere far more mythical and magical. Tobhiyah Stone Feller does brilliantly as designer, with unforgettable work on costumes and makeup that deliver extraordinary whimsy and quite unexpected beauty.

Directed by Emily Ayoub and Arisa Yura, the presentation is a marvellous feast for the eyes, a clever blend of theatrical disciplines that playfully entertains, whilst challenging our artistic literacy. There is much that Night Parade Of One Hundred Goblins can offer to teach, but probably more significantly in terms of how we read its stories, rather than the stories themselves.

www.clockfiretheatre.com

Review: Anthem (Roslyn Packer Theatre)

Venue: Roslyn Packer Theatre (Sydney NSW), Jan 15 – 19, 2020
Playwrights: Andrew Bovell, Patricia Cornelius, Melissa Reeves, Christos Tsiolkas, Irine Vela
Director: Susie Dee
Cast: Maude Davey, Reef Ireland, Ruci Kaisila, Thuso Lekwape, Amanda Ma, Maria Mercedes, Tony Nikolakopoulos, Eryn Jean Norvill, Sahil Saluja, Osamah Sami, Eva Seymour, Carly Sheppard, Jenny M. Thomas, Dan Witton
Images by Victor Frankovski

Theatre review
Much of the action takes place in train carriages around the Greater Melbourne area, where more than anywhere else, an accurate cross section can be obtained of who Australians are today. Rich and poor have to sit together, as do black, brown and white, along with young and old. When extricated from our respective communities, classes and silos, we are forced to look at the real differences that define us, probably more so than the similarities that we like to imagine give meaning to our national identity. In Anthem, it is the very nature of discrepancies, of wealth, power and all that might constitute a person’s cultural capital, that are exposed and very powerfully discussed.

On a land that remains unceded by its Indigenous who make up only an estimated 3.3% of the current population, it is absurd that the rest of us should experience privilege of any description. Director Susie Dee does a splendid job of articulating, not only that injustice, but also the harmful collective delusion driving this nation, that some of us deserve more than others. Anthem makes it clear that no one here can legitimately possess more than others; for as long as Indigenous peoples are marginalised and unable to exercise rights of ownership, the rest of us can only ever be holders of dubious property and position.

The politics of the piece is made saliently resonant by Dee, who imbues every vignette of Anthem with accuracy and urgency, accompanied by a strident level of realism that defies us to ignore the problems residing in the very foundation of our Australian existences. An extraordinary cast keeps us mesmerised for the entirety of these 150 passionate minutes. Tremendously well-rehearsed and unbelievably cohesive, their performance represents some of the most gripping theatre one could ever hope to see. Actor Carly Sheppard is unforgettable, giving voice to Black Australia, able to portray humour alongside a virtuous fury, to make an important and conclusive statement about Indigenous rights.

Ruci Kaisila, Jenny M. Thomas and Dan Witton provide live music over the duration, sensational in their manipulation of atmosphere and emotions, through the very accomplished works of composer and sound designer Irine Vela. Set and costumes by Marg Horwell are intelligently executed, able to convey a sense of veracity for characters and situations, whilst offering theatrical dynamism to our experience of the show. Paul Jackson’s lights too, bring animation to the stage, and is valuable in establishing tone for every nuanced moment of this sensitively rendered play.

As Australians, we have grown accustomed to tolerating inequalities in our social order. It has become acceptable that the rich get richer, at the expense of the poor, who can obviously only get poorer as a result. Marginalised communities, most notably Indigenous peoples, are routinely subjugated and muzzled, as our structures continue to privilege voices that adhere to conditions stipulated by white patriarchy. We have learned to think of the downtrodden as deserving of their lack of position in society. Even when we find ourselves oppressed by those with money and power, we take on the blame in accordance with the conditioning enforced by those at the top. It is no wonder then that James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time is invoked in both the prologue and epilogue of Anthem. The only solution is a revolution, if only enough of us can see beyond the lies.

www.performinglines.org.au

Review: 1984 The Musical (New Theatre)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Jan 8 – 25, 2020
Book and Lyrics: Tom Davidson McLeod, Diana Reid (based on the novel by George Orwell)
Music: Riley McCullagh
Directors: Tom Davidson McLeod, Georgia Vella
Cast: Christie Auchamp, Jordan Barnes, Vevie Brook, Tom Davidson McLeod, Alex Gonzalez, Charlie Hollands, Jude Horsburgh, Elizabeth Jones, Joshua Karras, Jessica Loeb, Joshua Macqueen, Anna Della Marta, Ezara Norton, Emilie Ritchie, Sophie Roderick, Coco Veksner-Shaw, Olivia Siegloff, Georgia Vella, Olivia Wolff
Images by Zaina Ahmed

Theatre review
Turning George Orwell’s 1984 into a musical comedy, is more than a novel idea. The exasperation of experiencing, in the current political climate, a totalitarian dystopia so close to Orwell’s predictions, is indeed worthy of satire. With book and lyrics by Tom Davidson McLeod and Diana Reid, this farcical revisit to Orwell’s familiar text, is an appropriately sarcastic affair, as we witness imaginary scenarios from 7 decades ago come to pass, both here and overseas.

Music by Riley McCullagh provides consistency to McLeod and Reid’s humour, which ranges from clever to puerile. Although a raw work, 1984 The Musical is energetic and inventive on many fronts, with direction by McLeod and Georgia Vella contributing a valuable exuberance to the staging.

Performer Charlie Hollands is a likeable Winston Smith, able to balance tragedy and comedy in his interpretation of the everyman under tremendous stress. His love interest Julia is played by Anna Della Marta, who impresses with a sonorous voice. The memorable Joshua Mcqueen demonstrates considerable comedy chops as the antagonist O’Brien, although his singing does leave a lot to be desired. The role of Charrington is taken on by director Vella, who proves herself equally accomplished on stage, delivering many laughs as the unscrupulous undercover agent.

Sometimes all you can do is laugh, and it does feel as though we have arrived at a point in our evolution, where we can only respond to the state of things with incredulity. There is an idealism in Orwell’s writing that represents a spirit of resistance against what he knew was to come, but it may seem today that most of us have submitted to the tyranny not only of governments but of corporations, that conspire to exploit and subjugate all of us. We have become accustomed to constant surveillance, and are no longer fearful of our desires being manipulated by nefarious interests. Increasingly, we learn to sleep with the enemy, to accept catastrophe as the new normal, and understand reality to be disappointing and irredeemable. In 2020, Orwell’s 1984 no longer reads like a precautionary tale, but a documentation of the beginning of our extinction.

www.1984musical.com/

Review: Six (Sydney Opera House)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Jan 4 – Mar 5, 2020
Creators: Toby Marlow, Lucy Moss
Directors: Jamie Armitage, Lucy Moss
Cast: Kiana Daniele, Kala Gare, Loren Hunter, Vidya Makan, Courtney Monsma, Chloé Zuel
Images by James D. Morgan
Theatre review
King Henry VIII of England is famous for having had six wives, and each of those women are in turn remembered only for her short reign as queen, having to share that position with many others. To tell the story of quick successions between the years 1509 and 1547, Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss create a work of musical theatre, by having the queens form a pop group in the tradition of the Spice Girls; each member bears a distinct personality type, but are collectively a cohesive whole. The show takes the form of a pop concert, comprising solo numbers during which each individual provides an account of her instalment in the narrative arc, and two group songs bookending those episodes.

Cleverly conceived, but insufficiently witty, Six feels to be squarely targeting a teenage crowd, complete with a multitude of bleeped out expletives. Composition and arrangement of music is undoubtedly joyful, and completely scintillating, and like most pop concerts, Six relies on a connection of instincts, rather than appealing to our analytical capacities. At just 75 minutes, many stones are left unturned, but the show is probably satisfying enough for those seeking light entertainment without a lot of nuance and complexity.

The six Australian performers present an imaginary girl group so dynamic and technically proficient, one can hardly recall ever seeing the real thing anywhere near this level of expertise. Kiana Daniele and Chloé Zuel are sassiest of the bunch, with presences so strong, one often wishes that the staging focuses only on their two characters, Cleves and Aragon. Funny ladies Kala Gare and Courtney Monsma bring on the laughs, as Boleyn and Howard, both with splendid timing offering a sense of much needed theatricality to proceedings. Big sentimental ballads are sung by Loren Hunter and Vidya Makan, memorable for knocking our socks off with some truly remarkable vocal acrobatics.

Six tries to offer an opportunity for the queens to reclaim power, even if they seem destined to remain in their king’s shadow. It is now the dawn of 2020, and the Duchess of Sussex has announced intention to “step back” from responsibilities as a senior royal. This comes after persistent abuse by the English press since announcement of her ascendance in 2017. It can be interpreted that Meghan Markle is in fact taking charge of her personal destiny in the most daring and radical way. We have all operated within systems not of our own choosing, but few of us have been willing to cut our losses, and go where our integrity tells us. For women, this is the difference between yesterday and today. It might be true that we continue to find ourselves inadvertently falling into situations that we recognise to be unjust, but for many of us, to disengage is now a realistic option.

www.sixthemusical.com | www.sydneyoperahouse.com