Review: Aphrodite And The Invisible Consumer Gods (The Sydney Fringe)

Venue: Kings Cross Hotel (Kings Cross NSW), Sep 25 – 29, 2018
Playwright: Sam Donvito
Director: Christopher Bond
Cast: Sam Donvito, Ellen Graham

Theatre review
The goddess of all things beautiful and fecund, Aphrodite arrives in Sydney, and even she is no match for the misogyny that rules this town. Guided by unbridled desire, Aphrodite finds herself vulnerable and exposed to the pervasive commodification of everything that relates to femininity and sex. From chocolate and selfies, to beauty pageants and cosmetic surgery, Aphrodite’s attempts at experiencing life as an earthling in Sydney, all involve attempts to degrade and humiliate her, and in Sam Donvito’s Aphrodite And The Invisible Consumer Gods, we watch the very thing we consider to be normal everyday life, determined to put the goddess through a relentless process of self-loathing.

It is an exuberant presentation, featuring two spirited performers, Donvito and Ellen Graham on a bare stage, with only their bodies occupying our gaze. Their communication style is admirably bold, for the urgent and unequivocal message that they wish to convey. As Aphrodite, Donvito is seductive and mischievous, and as Paige Burn beauty pageant cum reality show host, Graham is beguilingly malicious. Aphrodite And The Invisible Consumer Gods may not be a subtle work, but what it has to say, is substantial and pertinently consequential.

Men have always sought to control our bodies and our very existence. Industrialisation has channelled that ancient chauvinism into the creation of endless superfluous wants that have overwhelmed and contaminated our lives, by selling to us, an interminable sense of inadequacy. We respond by living in a constant state of commercial consumption, acquiescing to the every demand of capitalism as shaped by its sexist foundations. We spend money to feel better about ourselves, but that money circulates and returns as a further haunting that tells us, we are as yet incomplete. When the goddess concedes her power, a vacuum is formed that nefarious parties will seek to fill. Most of us however, can reclaim that magic at any time, and make ourselves whole again.

www.samdonvito.com.au

Review: Inner West Side (Seymour Centre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Sep 18 – 22, 2018
Book: Jake Bayssari
Music: Tom Cardy
Lyrics: Jake Bayssari, Tom Cardy, Lucille MacKellar
Director: Jake Bayssari
Cast: Amy Bennett, Georgia Britt, April-Rose Desalegn, Elouise Eftos, Lincoln Elliott, Britt Ferry, Alexandra Gonzalez, Freddy Johnston, Roy Joseph, Grant Loxton, Rhianna McCourt, Laura McDonald, Lily O’Harte, Gautier Pavlovic-Hobba, Ruby Teys
Image by Christopher Dinh

Theatre review
Andrea is leaving the parochial suburbia of affluent northern Sydney, to find a more grounded, but glamorous, existence in the city’s inner west. She sets out to denounce the shallow values of her birthplace, determined to create for herself something new and meaningful, only to duplicate old ills at a new locale. Inner West Side is a new musical, centred around the community of Newtown, where the dissonance of things earnest and ironic can coincide, and where million dollar apartments are dressed up to look shabby and resolutely anti-establishment. Featuring observational humour at its most scintillating, the show is as vibrant as it is incisive, enormously entertaining from the very start.

Directed by Jake Bayssari, whose rigour and talent shines through in every scene, the production offers an ingenious representation of our young, with all their contradictory concerns forming the basis of a most amusing work. Tom Cardy’s music is refreshingly varied in style, performed with admirable enthusiasm by a five piece band, although sound engineering does leave a lot to be desired. Antony Robinson’s set design is a simple solution that sets the tone with accuracy and efficiency, and costumes by Adrienne Dell deliver playful interpretations of archetypes that help us identify so distinctly the milieu being examined.

A wonderfully cohesive cast of energetic performers take to the stage, for an unforgettable venture into the formidable task of creating an original musical. Leading lady Laura McDonald is a spirited presence, splendidly funny and tremendously likeable as Andrea, the Collaroy rich bitch in exile. Elouise Eftos leaves a remarkable impression as sultry Monica, vampy queen of the hive, powerful in her depiction of a privileged woman believing herself to be a born ruler. Chameleon entertainer Ruby Teys is delightful in a myriad guises, displaying extraordinary skill, in each of her hilarious and scene-stealing incarnations.

Those of us who get to choose where we live, must count ourselves exceptionally lucky. The world is often an ugly place, but when one comes across a tiny pocket that seems perfect in every way, it is the greatest of fortunes to be able to call it home. Whether an address is ideal, however, depends so much on how we are, on the inside. Newtown and its surrounds, are not for everyone, but for those who love it, the inner west is a beacon of beauty, peace and joy. Its characteristics are distinct, but the nourishment it provides, it must be noted, is by no means unique. The best town in Australia, is in fact, everywhere.

www.facebook.com/innerwestside | www.ultracult.com.au

Review: Stalker The Musical (The Depot Theatre)

Venue: The Depot Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Sep 19 – Oct 6, 2018
Music: Andy Peterson
Book and lyrics: Alex Giles, David Russell
Director: Kaleigh Wilkie-Smith
Cast: Melody Beck, Levi Burrows, Steph Edmonds, Luke Lamond, Michele Lansdown, Peter Meredith, Haji Myrteza, Harrison Riley, Emma Taviani
Images by Grant Leslie

Theatre review
The story takes place in a town ruled by the heartbroken, where all physical contact is forbidden, but where its inhabitants are encouraged to police and lust after each other, using only their eyes and binoculars. In Stalker The Musical by Alex Giles, Andy Peterson and David Russell, a fantasy world is created out of dejection, with a great deal of palpable ambition, but neither its creativity nor its imagination prove convincing enough, to entice us into its outlandish manifestations. We observe it to be an oddity, a strange concoction of ideas, that struggles to find resonance on any level.

Every song sounds overly familiar, as though a paint-by-numbers take on the musical theatre genre, unoriginal and painfully predictable. Problems with sound engineering on opening night, certainly do not help with the experience.

The cast, although likeable and committed, struggle with the production’s attempts at comedy and drama, unable to make any meaningful or lasting impact with the material. There is an abundance of energy and conviction on stage, with Zoe Ioannou’s clever choreography bringing some visual coherence to the show, but the performers are consistently let down by the writing’s deficiencies.

Love is a bad word in Stalker, and those who have denounced romance, however momentary, will understand the necessity of being able to see one’s own existence as independent and sovereign, before the joys of life can be truly appreciated. Characters in the show may or may not find their romantic match, but more important is their capacity to love, whatever the objects of desire turn out to be.

www.stalkerthemusical.com

Review: Uz: The Town (The Sydney Fringe)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Sep 17 – 22, 2018
Playwright: Gabriel Calderón (translated by Verónica Barac)
Director: Verónica Barac
Cast: Christie Aucamp-Schutte, Lily Balatincz, Joshua Morel, Cooper Mortlock, Daniel Pollock, Mau Salinas, Lucy Starita, Renae Valastro, Tiffany Wong
Images by Elizabeth Chua

Theatre review
It appears God has done it again. Grace, a Stepford wife type, is charged with the task of killing her own child. Just like Abraham’s celestial conversations all those centuries ago, Grace is a woman of faith who listens to everything that God orders, especially when his voice booms down from the heavens directly into her kitchen. Gabriel Calderón’s Uz: The Town is a subversive work, tackling issues around foolish pietism and the social hypocrisies that derive from religious beliefs. Its premise may seem a tad too familiar, but its humour is scintillating, and defiantly outrageous as it proceeds to demolish all that is held dear.

The production is appropriately hammy in style, with exaggerated performances helping to make the caustic dialogue slightly more palatable. Director Verónica Barac manufactures a wild and enjoyably chaotic energy for the piece, but some of the play’s more dangerous statements might require a clearer sense of irony to prevent misinterpretation. As Grace, actor Lily Balatincz is at her best when the character turns irredeemably maniacal. Her portrayal of religious fervour may not always be sufficiently nuanced, but the actor is certainly well-rehearsed and spirited with what she brings to the stage. Mau Salinas is memorable as Grace’s husband Jack, an absurd and grotesque figure that provides a touch of extravagance to the experience.

We can all have our own nonsensical preoccupations, in fact those are what give colour to the magnificence of life, but when we intrude upon each other’s freedoms, as we so often do, is when life turns dark. People know what it is like to be on the receiving end of transgressions, but we continue to inflict harm on others in spite of our better judgement. We recognise that Grace should know better, but we also understand the weakness that allows us to succumb, to the convenience of surrendering agency. Standing up for one’s own principles is hard, and sadly, many are incapable of it.

www.facebook.com/uzthetown/

Review: Accidental Death Of An Anarchist (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Sep 10 – Oct 27, 2018
Playwright: Dario Fo (adapted by Francis Greenslade & Sarah Giles)
Director: Sarah Giles
Cast: Caroline Brazier, Julie Forsyth, Bessie Holland, Annie Maynard, Amber McMahon, Susie Youssef
Images by Daniel Boud

Theatre review
It is all over the news that an anarchist had fallen to his death from a Milan police station. The official word claims it a suicide, but there are suspicions of foul play. For Accidental Death Of An Anarchist, Dario Fo took inspiration from an actual incident of 1969, and inserted a Maniac into his 1970 imagination of events following the controversy, essentially accusing authorities of murder and corruption. It was a spectacularly clumsy cover up that required questioning, and Fo’s play has proven itself a timeless piece of writing that can always be relied on to help civilians weather any political storm. It reminds us that we are pawns in the game of the powerful, and that we have to endeavour to see beyond the wool that is constantly being pulled over our eyes.

This new adaptation by Francis Greenslade and Sarah Giles is a refresh, but a faithful one that retains the extravagantly farcical spirit of its original. Dialogue is given a stylistic update, but time, place and characters are left unmarred. Giles’ direction of the work is raucous, vigorously so, for a very broad comedy that might take some getting used to, but laughs are certainly to be had.

An all-female cast is charged with the joyful task of lampooning men in power, with Amber McMahon occupying the central role, exhibiting extraordinary verve and inventiveness as the irrepressible Maniac. Julie Forsyth is genuinely hilarious as Inspector Bertozzo, distilling masculinity to its ugliest components, for a cutting study in physicality and speech that conspires flawlessly with her remarkable theatrical timing. Also delivering uproarious hijinks is Bessie Holland, whose Inspector Pisani is a breathtaking invention of caricature at its finest, astute and acerbic in her observations of repugnant boys club behaviour.

The media landscape feeds us endless morsels of information that fight for our attention and outrage. An unexplained death today, is replaced by a racial slur tomorrow; even with the best intentions, we are unable to decipher the truth, much less find the wherewithal to contest the wrongs of the world. Those in power understand this, so they disseminate frivolous scandals that seem so important in the moment, and absorb all our time and bandwidth, until there is no way we can hold them to account.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au

Review: The Elements Of An Offence (New Theatre)


Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Sep 10 – 16, 2018
Playwright: James Gefell
Director: Alice Livingstone
Cast: Amelia Robertson-Cuninghame, Sarah Aubrey

Theatre review
Rachel is Christine’s boss and girlfriend. They work at the police department, trying to do the right thing for the public and for themselves, negotiating endless bureaucracy along with the precarious nature of being both colleagues and lovers. It is also a story of competing principles, in a space where we expect virtue and decency to reign supreme. James Gefell’s The Elements Of An Offence also talks about corruption, as well as the au courant matter of power imbalances that pervade all our lives. We watch the women divided by their opposing positions concerning a case that they undertake, gradually being torn apart by an office culture that emanates from their patriarchal authorities.

The desk-bound characters are allowed little that could facilitate a more effective exploration of physical space, but both women are richly imagined for what is ultimately a fascinating work, with an engaging plot and very dynamic dialogue. Alice Livingstone’s direction is nuanced and enjoyable, although a greater sense of gravity to certain sections would provide emphasis to the play’s more pertinent ideas. Actors Amelia Robertson-Cuninghame and Sarah Aubrey find excellent chemistry as a team, convincing as bedfellows and captivating as duelling policewomen. They present a well-rehearsed show, fuelled by the formidable pairing, of conspicuous talent with remarkable conviction.

When systems are discovered to be unjust, those at the bottom will formulate strategies of disobedience. When one realises that playing by the rules will only reinforce one’s own oppression, defiance becomes a useful device, if not for the effective subversion of structures, then at least for the sake of maintaining one’s integrity. Rachel and Christine learn that doing their jobs well, ironically contributes to their own detriment. The choices they make, can no longer be pure, but they can help to make things better.

www.newtheatre.org.au

Review: Everyone I’ve Ever Loved Or Slept With Or Both (Blood Moon Theatre)

Venue: Blood Moon Theatre (Potts Point NSW), Sep 4 – 8, 2018
Playwright: M. Saint Clair
Director: Liz Arday
Cast: Alana Birtles, Mirian Capper, Eleni Cassimatis, Oliver Harris, Melissa Hume, Ian Runekcles
Images by Liz Arday

Theatre review
When a relationship ends, it is only natural that one should take stock of past loves. It is unclear how many characters are being discussed in M. Saint Clair’s Everyone I’ve Ever Loved Or Slept With Or Both, but all the emotions it explores, are honest and real. It features young people, for whom romantic love is mysterious and irresistible, almost necessary in their emergence into adulthood. The writing is poetic, sometimes transcendental, sometimes silly, but always beautifully rhythmic, and a pleasure to devour.

Stories of love and lust are presented by six spirited actors, in combinations that defy conventions of society and of the theatre. Roles are taken on by different performers, who swap their parts throughout the production, resisting our desire to lock people into types and categories, intentionally elusive to achieve a broader sense of universality in how it addresses the audience. Heteronormativity too is dismantled, not only in terms of the gay-straight binary, but also in its challenge of monogamy’s dominion, by allowing the ensemble to interact in combinations that exceed the ordinary romantic pair. Director Liz Arday demonstrates intellectual verve, whilst keeping us sensorily engaged with her fast, inventive show. The cast is excellent in collaborative scenes, delightful with their execution of some very fascinating choreography.

There are times in life, when lovers are our everything, and we cannot imagine existence without all the intense passion, and drama, that they bring. There is always much to enjoy of such relationships, but as the years pass, it is likely that these partners will gradually slip down one’s hierarchy of needs. Everyone I’ve Ever Loved Or Slept With Or Both resonates with a kind of innocence, a sweet wistfulness of when other people were able to fill the void. How one emerges from that misconception, is never a simple process, and unsurprising if it turns out to be a lifelong endeavour.

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