Review: The Homosexuals, Or Faggots (Griffin Theatre Company)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Mar 17 – Apr 29, 2017
Playwright: Declan Greene
Director: Lee Lewis
Cast: Mama Alto, Simon Burke, Simon Corfield, Genevieve Lemon, Lincoln Younes
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Faggots are a kind of meatball dish, but the word is not usually used for that particular meaning. Like the n-word and the c-word, we have learned that some language has to be curbed, due to the power it exerts over the disenfranchised, who have to be protected from the cruelty that linguistic ammunition can brandish.

In Declan Greene’s important and ultra-modern work, The Homosexuals, Or Faggots, we investigate the nature of this constraint, not only in how we speak, but also in the lived experience of how we negotiate with each other’s positions in society. It is a discussion about the levels of privilege different groups of people are perceived to be inhabiting, and the layers of truth and illusion within those differentials. We think of each other as being certain types of people who exist on various hierarchical levels, but these can be misconstrued.

Warren and Kim are an inner-Sydney gay couple, both white and cis-male*. Having emerged from the systematic prejudice of homosexuals in earlier decades, they are now a part of the establishment; wealthy and entitled. Being the first generation of gays who live openly and free from persecution, their lives are self-imagined, with no prior examples to emulate. Their values have to be invented, and what constitutes a good life becomes a confusing ordeal. New to being top dog of Australian society, they are expected to be compassionate and altruistic, having tolerated insistent subjugation in previous years, but the couple is engrossed in their newfound prosperity, unable to behave in accordance with the responsibilities required of them, or are perhaps simply oblivious to their own elitism.

It is a highly intellectual exercise, dressed up in a lot of low-brow theatricality. Inspired by classic European farce, the show is rowdy, rude and ridiculous, but each of its uproarious manoeuvres is meticulously informed by the progressive politics that burns at its core. The audience relates to the work with a demanding complexity, laughing at every antic but engaging intimately with its cutting edge ideas. The action happens very quickly, and our minds are in a frenzy trying to decide right from wrong, real from false. Director Lee Lewis leaves us no room to breathe, insisting that we are swept up in the anxiety-fuelled mania, of her timely and accurate portrait of life in Sydney, 2017.

The hysterical and sweaty ensemble gives us everything. Simon Burke’s portrayal of middle-aged hedonism is as frantic as the cocaine that cushions his luxuriant existence, and although the production provides little room for nuance, his Warren is a character many of us will find familiar, convincing and unexpectedly sympathetic. His husband, Kim is preoccupied with all things academic, but much as he thinks intently about the world, he too lives on the surface. Simon Corfield’s exquisite performance of that duality is perfectly tuned, and incredible to watch. Also memorable is Genevieve Lemon as Diana, the only person on stage with a real soul. Confidently comedic, yet persuasively moving, Lemon makes us laugh and cry as she wills.

Political correctness may seem to be outmoded, but it remains a necessary protection against ignorance, wilful or otherwise. When we see idiots get voted into government, it is clear that hate is a form of currency that never stops working. The harmful things that people say, do in fact benefit those who trade in fear and stupidity. It is understandable then, that those same people would want to expand the parameters of concepts around freedom of speech. This week, our Caucasian Prime Minister is trying to make it permissible that we use racial differences to offend, insult and humiliate each other. We should never be surprised when the powerful wish to extend their dominance in the world, but when those who have benefited from the fruit of arduous social movements refuse to give back after their ascendancy, the disgust is intolerable.

*Read about cisgender at Wikipedia.

www.griffintheatre.com.au

Review: Crimes Of The Heart (Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Mar 15 – Apr 8, 2017
Playwright: Beth Henley
Director: Janine Watson
Cast: Caleb Alloway, Rowan Davie, Amanda Mcgregor, Laura Pike, Renae Small, Amy Usherwood
Image by Rupert Reid

Theatre review
It’s not Russia in 1900, but the three sisters in Beth Henley’s Crimes Of The Heart are similarly oppressed and emotionally tortured. Where Chekhov had expressed these pains in more sociopolitical terms, Henley’s story is specific about the patriarchy that these Magrath ladies have to operate under. They are gregarious personalities who fight hard to make lemonade out of an endless supply of lemons, but things never pan out well. They are trapped, by forces that remain invisible to them, and in their minds, they only have themselves to blame.

Completed in 1978, the play is no longer lustrous, but with our refreshed interest in feminism, its themes have again become pertinent. There are dominant men in these women’s lives who wreak havoc, but we never see them. To many women, especially those in decades past, gender inequity is rarely conspicuous. The Magraths do not for one moment realise the cause of their suffering, and like many of us, we take the blame personally, unable to perceive the wider connotations of how we exist, and the deeply problematic contexts by which we go about our daily business. Janine Watson’s direction takes the comedy to delightfully dark and twisted places for many perverse laughs, but the production’s inability to make forceful, the presence of evil fathers and husbands, is a sore point that prevents the drama and poignancy to sufficiently take hold.

The people who do appear on stage though, are effectively presented. All three sisters, Babe, Lenny and Meg are convincing, and very compelling. Renae Small in particular, is fascinating as Babe, with a subtle but wicked sense of humour that gives the show a distinctive flavour of subversiveness. Her ability to make believable the contradictory qualities of a delicate lady in trouble, but free from the torment of guilt, is truly impressive. Laura Pike demonstrates excellent authority over her depictions of emotion in the role of Lenny, and Amanda McGregor’s energetic theatricality as Meg, give Crimes Of The Heart a richness that keeps us invested in how its characters develop.

Jonathan Hindmarsh’s set design is a remarkable achievement that converts an inconvenient space into the Magrath’s evocative American home of mid-twentieth century. Along with Alexander Berlage’s lights, the actors are framed perfectly, in a manner that represents a constant reminder of the women’s unconscious captivity. Our lives are controlled by forces insidious and surreptitious, and how we experience being, will always have elements that are under the manipulation of others. We may never be able to overcome them all, but understanding systems and their machinations, is how we can begin learning to benefit from them, or to dismantle and debase them. The sisters wish for happier days, but without knowing the cause of their agony, they can only leave their hopes to the powers that be, which in this case, remain concealed and malevolent.

www.imperialartistry.ontrapages.com

Review: Lady Eats Apple (Back To Back Theatre)

Venue: Carriageworks (Eveleigh NSW), Mar 16 – 18, 2017
Director: Bruce Gladwin
Cast/Devisors: Mark Deans, Simon Laherty, Romany Latham, Brian Lipson, Sarah Mainwaring, Scott Price

Theatre review
God told Adam that “in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die,” and so it seems, when Eve decided to take a bite of the forbidden fruit, it came to pass that humans would not be immortal beings. In Lady Eats Apple, the theme of death provides impetus for a three act show, featuring on one end of the scale, the most mundane of everyday interchanges, and on the other, some very extravagant explorations into esotericism.

In life, we see death, and through death, we see the heavens. It is existentialist theatre, with Director Bruce Gladwin offering us a close look at the simplest activities of our daily life, but with the rumbles of thereafter underscoring every action. What seems inconsequential begins to take on great meaning, when we come to an appreciation of the vastness in which we operate. The work is not preachy as its title might suggest, but it requires of the viewer to think of the afterlife, and to connect that conception with the here and now.

The staging is both minimal and staggeringly beautiful, both clumsy and incredibly exquisite. Mark Cuthbertson’s powerful set design does to the viewer what places of worship aim to do; it overwhelms us, creating a sensation of awe with each of its stunning transformations. Fascinating video projections by Rhian Hinkley are a riddle that challenges us at first, but goes on to deliver disarming images of glory and transcendence.

Lady Eats Apple features a very strong cast of actors, each one confident in their parts and persuasive with their stage presences. Scott Price is particularly impressive when setting the stage in Act One, playing a godlike figure, resolute and commanding with the vision he wishes to achieve. Also memorable is Sarah Mainwaring, who moves us with a very sensitive portrayal of empathy when attempting to rescue a man struggling to gain consciousness. Mark Deans and Simon Laherty entertain us, with their charming vibrancy, and with a healthy sense of humour that they bring to their respective characters.

Death can be frightening, if our imagination leads us astray. The play reiterates the line “we will take care of you,” offering us comfort and reassurance. We can only die alone, but our time on earth should be occupied with love and laughter. The community and companionship witnessed on this stage inspires us to remember, that whatever happens later, now is the time to make the most of things.

www.backtobacktheatre.com

Review: A Period Piece (Glitterbomb / The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Mar 14 – 25, 2017
Playwright: Gretel Vella
Director: Carissa Licciardello
Cast: Mikaela Atallah, Hannah Cheers, Julia Christensen, Clare Hennessy, Mat Lee, Julia Robertson, James Wright
Image by Omnes Photography

Theatre review (of a preview performance)
In Gretel Vella’s A Period Piece, menstruation takes centre stage in each of its madcap episodes. Mischievous and irreverent, its collection of short skits takes a look at the absurd taboo that surrounds the subject, and its significance as a mechanism of misogyny in our daily lives. The work presents entertaining observations, and an important perspective on how society is taught to be afraid and ashamed of women’s bodies, and how that irrational aversion informs the way we have constructed sexism through the ages.

The production, directed by Carissa Licciardello, is delightfully high-spirited, with an energetic cast that zips gleefully from one comedic scene to another. A band of three musicians add even more vibrancy to the atmosphere, playing silly songs that keep us in a giddy mood, while driving home further, the show’s message of female empowerment. Set design by Nick Fry is a simple idea, but fastidiously executed to help illustrate the antiquated values we carry, with unforgivable obstinacy, in order that systems of patriarchy may be upheld.

There is a rawness to A Period Piece that is unapologetic, and very enjoyable. It is an untidy affair, but inviting and joyful, although a more philosophical approach could provide greater depth (and a more lasting impression) to its concerns. When Aristophanes dreamt up the story of Lysistrata and foregrounded the fact that a woman’s womb, and her sexuality, controls all our existence, we should have begun to see that her holding up half the sky is an understatement.

www.dasglitterbomb.com

Review: Calamity Jane (One Eyed Man Productions)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), Mar 8 – Apr 1, 2017
Book: Ronald Hanmer, Phil Park (from the play by Charles K. Freeman, and film by James O’Hanlon)
Lyrics: Paul Francis Webster
Music: Sammy Fain
Director: Richard Carroll
Choreographer: Cameron Mitchell
Cast: Laura Bunting, Virginia Gay, Anthony Gooley, Sheridan Harbridge, Rob Johnson, Matthew Pearce, Tony Taylor, Nigel Ubrihien
Image by John McRae

Theatre review
It is the story of a frontierswoman from American history, a tomboy type with a big heart and very tall tales. A neglected musical from mid-20th century, Calamity Jane is probably best remembered as a film starring Doris Day in 1953. No surprises then, that the writing is squeaky clean, conforming completely to the ideology of the McCarthy era, when the USA convulsed at its height of moral panic.

Director Richard Carroll’s version aims to subvert the obvious camouflages at work in the original, especially in terms of its delusory representations of gender and sexuality. Archaic notions of how a woman should dress, and how her libido should manifest, are confronted head on, in this uproarious and very likeable comedy about a woman in charge. This iteration of Calamity Jane does not obliterate the existence of patriarchal oppression, but it foregrounds our heroine’s resistance, culminating in the spectacular exposure of her homosexual impulses in the number A Woman’s Touch. Originally conceived to inflict upon her, the sacrosanctity of housework, Calamity takes the opportunity here to find redress and expression instead, for the lustful desires she feels for another woman.

Virginia Gay is irresistible in the title role, charismatic, supremely confident, and hilarious. Her singing alternates between musical theatre, country and jazz, bringing a surprising quality of rejuvenation to the show tunes. Although not all performers are equally suited to their parts, it is overall an effective cast, with Sheridan Harbridge and Tony Taylor particularly delightful, and very gleeful, as residents of the Golden Garter. The majority of instrumental accompaniment is provided by lone pianist, and musical director Nigel Ubrihien, who brings tremendous atmosphere and excellent character to the staging.

The production succeeds in its efforts at sending itself up, and in the process, confronts the subjugation of femininity in traditional forms of storytelling. There is a sense however, of the show losing steam, as it progresses into a more sentimental second act. Its actors remain strong and convicted, but the audience needs greater convincing to adapt to the significant change of mood, and its subtle shift in meanings. We stay loyal to the riotous nature of Act 1 because it strikes a chord. It is a time for wild women and unruly behaviour, and now is when we fall in love with Calamity Jane.

www.hayestheatre.com.au

Review: The Duke (Hoipolloi Theatre Ltd)

Venue: The Riverbank Palais (Adelaide SA), Mar 6 – 8, 2017
Playwright: Shôn Dale-Jones
Director: Shôn Dale-Jones
Cast: Shôn Dale-Jones

Theatre review
The Duke is entirely a one-man show, with Shôn Dale-Jones sitting at a desk, accompanied by two microphones providing variation to his voice (one with reverb, one dry), and a laptop on which he operates sound cues. Theatre is almost always a collaborative art form, but here, there are only the artist and his audience. It is a doggedly minimal approach for staging a play; all we have is a piece of writing, and the writer presenting it to us, without ever leaving his seat. A leftist aesthetic perhaps, which is probably the only appropriate style for a play that has the refugee crisis as its main propulsive force.

The play is about the tension between opposing sides of our conscience, clear and guilty. It explores the parallels between selling out as an artist, and our greed as nations vehemently protecting borders; all the twisted things we do for money. A further dimension of sentimentality is brought into the show, with a narrative concerning the author’s widowed mother and the replacement of a broken heirloom at all costs. Dale-Jones’ humour is poetic, sometimes charmingly wistful, and his ability to move us seamlessly from one reality to another, with only his words as a theatrical device, is quite magical. He proves to be a marvellously imaginative writer, with an engaging, although sometimes slightly caustic, presence on stage.

The Duke demonstrates that it is easy for us to know right from wrong, but in spite of our natural instincts to do good, we are often led down the garden path by fear and money. Instead of creating heated and condescending arguments that ask for greater compassion to those seeking asylum, Dale-Jones simply speaks to us with respect, understanding that our humanity is intact. It is political theatre, seeking to effect change, not only because half the box office takings go to the Save the Children’s Child Refugee Crisis, but it reminds us gently, of the things we should hold important in our lives. The show’s separate stories talk to us on different levels, and helps us consider the various spheres of our Western existence; the professional, the personal and the social, how we can find harmony in each, and how it requires us to dare to do good.

www.hoipolloi.org.uk

Review: Richard III (Schaubühne Berlin)

schaubuhneVenue: Her Majesty’s Theatre (Adelaide SA), Mar 3 – 9, 2017
Playwright: William Shakespeare (adaptation in German, by Marius von Mayenburg)
Director: Thomas Ostermeier
Cast: Thomas Bading, Robert Beyer, Lars Eidinger, Christoph Gawenda, Moritz Gottwald, Jenny König, Laurenz Laufenberg, Eva Meckbach, Bernardo Arias Porras, Sebastian Schwarz, Thomas Witte
Image by Arno Declair

Theatre review
In Thomas Ostermeier’s Richard III, the spirit of anarchy reigns supreme. One can easily think of Richard as a nihilistic figure, a rebel without a cause perhaps, in a constant state of discontentment. Enslaved by his atypical physicality, he has an insatiable need to antagonise and annihilate, but to what end, we can only speculate. It makes perfect sense then, that Ostermeier’s production feels like punk, and his Richard, a rock god that is all flamboyant angst and tantalising danger. The show is spectacular, thrillingly visceral, and profoundly inventive, challenging our senses to discern new from old, making us wonder what it means to have seen it all before, and why it is that we must always have theatre that exists on the cutting edge.

The production is designed to perfection, giving every action on stage an irresistible sense of drama, keeping us captivated without a hint of anything ever being too flashy or distracting, even though it operates stridently on an extraordinary level of sensory extravagance. Jan Pappelbaum’s set is versatile and purposive without requiring a single moment of laborious conversion. Understated contraptions facilitate an endless sense of movement, all achieved with the greatest of elegance and efficiency. Visually sumptuous, and incredibly cool, lights by Erich Schneider, along with Sébastien Dupouey’s video projections, provide the space with a dystopian air of foreboding, while imbuing a seductive glamour impossible to resist.

Leading man Lars Eidinger confronts us with a Richard that can only be described as blisteringly au courant, and dripping with sex. It is tempting to dismiss a star’s magnetism as somehow natural and an enigma, but Eidinger redefines the concept of an actor inhabiting a role, with this interpretation of Shakespeare’s notorious freak of nature. It is a phenomenal level of comfort and familiarity that is on display, with actor and character completely melding with each other. We feel his rigorous mastery but can only see a singular existence on the stage, with no whiff of contrivance, no sign of a man putting on an act. Eidinger is fantastically theatrical, but it never crosses our mind that he should only be pretending.

When the show comes to its inevitable tragic, and very gloomy end, we are forced into a shift in tone that must take place, in order that Richard’s unparalleled exuberance may be stripped away forever. Musicians Nils Ostendorf and Thomas Witte’s brilliant noises that had injected us with an almost orgiastic, bloody passion, are finally tamed, along with our mournful protagonist who must now cower to his fate. As he dies, we are left to lament the end of something unequivocally sensational. The last minutes may seem bitter in comparison, but there is probably no other authentic way that can conclude the story of our rambunctious king. Fortunately, as the poem goes, it is “not how did he die, but how did he live,” and even though there may be regret at his last breath, this Richard III leaves us only with unimaginable delight and breathtaking inspiration.

www.schaubuehne.de