Review: Grand Horizons (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Roslyn Packer Theatre (Sydney NSW), Jun 7 – Jul 3, 2021
Playwright: Bess Wohl
Director: Jessica Arthur
Cast: John Bell, Linda Cropper, Vanessa Downing, James Majoos, Johnny Nasser, Zindzi Okenyo, Guy Simon
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review
Nancy has asked for a divorce. Instead of congratulating her on daring to reach for happier days in the twilight years, her adult sons desperately try to change her mind, determined to keep her tethered to a life that she clearly deems unsatisfactory. At the centre of Bess Wohl’s Grand Horizons is Nancy and Bill’s 50-year marriage, offering a framework through which our basic values as individuals and as collectives, are interrogated. The very idea that a person’s efforts to end a bad relationship, are met with despair, is a clear indication of our capacity to be so distorted in the ways we conceive of existence.

It is a surreptitiously philosophical work, accomplished with a wonderful sense of humour, and often with a subversive streak. Wohl diminishes the persuasiveness of her own arguments however, by rendering the family’s wealth invisible in her discussions about female independence. The desire to lead us to a pleasing conclusion too, can feel somewhat of a cop out, but the play is undeniably enjoyable, full of wit and whimsy that makes for a hilarious and thought-provoking experience.

Nancy’s big beige sterile house, is an ironic picture of middle-class mediocrity and boredom. Production designer Renée Mulder delivers a comedic conflation, of aspiration and of depression, in her interpretation of boomer suburban resplendence. Lights by Verity Hampson and sound by Clemence Williams are subtly resolved, to honour all the clever ideas and the incessant jokes, that make Grand Horizons quite the unforgettable experience.

Certainly memorable is actor Linda Cropper, who brings extraordinary complexity, along with brilliant timing, to the role of Nancy. It is a remarkably intelligent performance, conveying great integrity for the older woman who finally realises that she deserves better. Also highly entertaining is Guy Simon as Brian, the gay son, who has a difficult time extricating his own identity from his parents’ parting of ways. Simon plays the flamboyant drama teacher with a dazzling theatricality, keeping the laughter sustained for as long as he remains on stage.

It is a strong cast overall, but supporting player James Majoos is exceptional in his single appearance, as the carefree Tommy, incredibly extravagant in approach, for one of the play’s more outrageous scenes. Director Jessica Arthur proves herself a formidable creator of comedy; her strategies vary from delicate to bold, demonstrating an adventurous creative spirit, and a serious commitment to tickling her audience.

We place far too much emphasis on the length of relationships, and invest far too little into understanding what makes a good one. Elizabeth Taylor married and divorced eight times, because she knew when she had become unhappy, and made sure to improve conditions whenever necessary. For that, she was routinely ridiculed and insulted. On the other hand, people like Nancy who tolerate untold decades of misery, are revered solely for the longevity of their unions, with the actual experience of those years and years, seemingly irrelevant. Few things are worth greater celebration, than when a woman finds the courage to walk away from a failed marriage. The danger and humiliation that she has to contend with, is a price that she is willing to pay, for the promise of a better life.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au

Review: Come From Away (Capitol Theatre)

Venue: Capitol Theatre (Sydney NSW), Jun 3 – Aug 22, 2021
Book, Music & Lyrics: Irene Sankoff, David Hein
Director: Christopher Ashley
Cast: Zoe Gertz, Sharriese Hamilton, Douglas Hansell, Kolby Kindle, Phillip Lowe, Simon Maiden, Sarah Morrison, Emma Powell, Katrina Retallick, Kellie Rode, Ash Roussety, Gene Weygandt

Theatre review
At the moment the disaster of September 11, 2001 occurred, hundreds of aeroplanes were mid-air across the Americas, thrust into utter chaos. Thousands of passengers had to be diverted as a result of the terrorist attack, to safer harbours, including the island of Newfoundland, at the outer east of Canada. The musical Come From Away comprises a collection of anecdotes from the five days, during which international strangers were welcomed by country folk into their homes, at a historic time.

Written by David Hein and Irene Sankoff, the material is warm and witty, offering a way for us to look back at a traumatic event, without having to engage directly with its immense darkness. Instead, it is the overwhelming goodness of ordinary people that comes to the fore. Directed by Christopher Ashley, the show eschews the usual manipulative cheesiness of the musical format, trusting in our collective memory of that fateful day, to transport us to a space of deep emotion and great empathy.

The staging feels deceptively simple, but in the absence of predictably flamboyant manoeuvres, thoughtful details are introduced instead, notably by Kelly Devine’s choreography, for a theatrical experience that is surprisingly sensitive in its rendering, to achieve an authentic expression of the human need for connection. Howell Binkley’s lights too, are memorable for delicately shifting us from nuance to nuance, never overly dramatic, but always precise in how they convey mood and tone for each scene.

The ensemble cast is brilliantly cohesive. Each performer is given plentiful opportunity to shine as individuals, but it is their tightness as a group that makes their presentation feel bulletproof. All are required to play multiple characters, and for the audience to discover every personality to be a likeable one, is truly remarkable. Similarly, musicians in the productions are no less than awe inspiring. Their work is spirited and exhilarating, incredibly rousing in this story about humans at their best, at a time of crisis.

Come From Away emerges from a horrific incident, yet we find it to be full of light and hope. In some ways, there is a sense that twenty years ago, even in the midst of tragedy, we knew clearly the distinction between right and wrong, good and bad. With the passage of time however, it may seem that an erosion of innocence has accelerated, probably through the Trump years, where seeing the worst of people is no longer a shock, but almost a matter of course. Fortunately though, the good people of Newfoundland do not seem fictitious; they only seem very far away.

www.comefromaway.com.au

Review: The Cherry Orchard (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), May 29 – Jun 27, 2021
Playwright: Anton Chekhov (adapted by Eamon Flack)
Director: Eamon Flack
Cast: Peter Carroll, Priscilla Doueihy, Nadie Kammallaweera, Kirsty Marillier, Lucia Mastrantone, Mandela Mathia, Sarah Meacham, Josh Price, Pamela Rabe, Keith Robinson, Jack Scott, Charles Wu
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
The Russian aristocracy as we had known them, were no longer to be, in Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard. Members of Ranevskaya’s household scramble around, filled with anxiety at the prospect of the old world’s demise, completely at a loss as to what to expect of the future, and how to continue existing as the inevitable begins to set in.

In director Eamon Flack’s 2021 version, the power transitions that occur in The Cherry Orchard are represented not only by the idealism of our young. An unmistakeable racial dimension is introduced, with the emergence of the middle classes expressed as a parallel dialogue, about the changing status of Australia’s people of colour.

It is a valiant attempt by Flack to breathe new life into the play. Aside from successfully locating a contemporary resonance for the old tale, he replaces early twentieth century naturalistic styles with a theatrical exuberance, that makes the show more appealing to today’s compromised attention spans. The freshly sharpened farcical tone is enjoyable, as are its efforts at broadening the scope of Chekhov’s work, to be inclusive of the marginalised, such as the LGBT community, and people living with disabilities.

Actor Mandela Mathia is captivating as Lopahkin, the businessman with a recent background of peasantry. Now riding on the wave of new money rising, the Black man is confident but still humble, which Mathia portrays with admirable exactitude. It is a precise and varied performance, from one who proves as likeable as he is compelling. The old white guards are exemplified in The Cherry Orchard by Ranevskaya, slothful and ignorant, but nonetheless well-intentioned. Played by Pamela Rabe, the role is appropriately comical, with an air of deteriorating glamour that becomes progressively fragile.

Funniest in the ensemble include Lucia Mastrantone, unforgettable as the kooky governess Charlotta, and full of mischief as she invents one trick after another. Charles Wu takes a more understated approach, but is no less hilarious as the incredulously suave Yasha, complete with perfectly timed hip thrusts, almost convincing us that it might be possible to bring sexy back to Chekhov.

Set design by Romanie Harper is surprisingly stark, but its clean lines and minimal approach deliver an elegant, if slightly nondescript vista. Harper’s costumes are more imaginatively rendered, with each character’s appearance distinctly and eccentrically conceived. Lights by Nick Schlieper provide a warmth that keeps us reminded of the notion of home, that is fundamentally embedded within this narrative about power and property. Stefan Gregory’s use of eclectic music styles bring valuable energy to the work, whilst establishing a sense of indeterminacy to time and place, that allows us to connect with The Cherry Orchard in personal ways.

A little more than a century after the completion of Chekhov’s final play, we find ourselves back at a point of disgraceful wealth disparity. What may have been a hopeful forecast of a new way of life, can now be seen to be overly optimistic. There is no doubt that things have improved on many fronts, but the inordinate concentration of wealth today at the top end of town, reveals the failure of efforts to redistribute wealth, and to alleviate poverty. People might no longer wish to call themselves aristocrats and peasants, but all we have to do, is to look at all the numbers, that never lie.

www.belvoir.com.au

Review: The 7 Stages Of Grieving (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Wharf 1 Sydney Theatre Company (Walsh Bay NSW), May 21 – Jun 19, 2021
Playwrights: Wesley Enoch, Deborah Mailman
Director: Shari Sebbens
Cast: Elaine Crombie
Images by Joseph Mayers

Theatre review
In popular understandings of psychological processes, there are well-known stages of grief, that relate to loss and anguish. Less commonly spoken of, are the sorrowful experiences of our Indigenous, that stem from over two centuries of colonisation. In The 7 Stages of Grieving by Wesley Enoch and Deborah Mailman, a veil is lifted with great generosity, on the burdens of Blackness in this country.

A one-woman play in which the soul of a people is laid bare, The 7 Stages of Grieving offers a valuable opportunity to obtain a condensed overview of challenges faced by our First Nations. Although living in divergent communities, these marginalised voices are given a unified focus, in order that we may cultivate an appropriate attitude and response, for the critical improvements needed for Black lives on this land.

The storyteller takes us through seven phases of Aboriginal history, namely Dreaming, Invasion, Genocide, Protection, Assimilation, Self-Determination, and Reconciliation. Performed by Elaine Crombie who takes on the daunting challenge of representing an entire non-monolithic culture, we see her indomitable and joyful spirit shine through, even as she makes her way through one catastrophic anecdote after another. Crombie resists being defined by adversity; demonstrating that it is in fact a combination of defiance and resilience, that is truly formative.

Directed by Shari Sebbens, the show is memorable for both its gravity and its levity, juxtaposing hardship with humour, to deliver what are arguably the most important messages of our time. Set design by Elizabeth Gadsby (inspired by the work of Megan Cope) too, contrasts shimmering surfaces against earthy shrines, to communicate a sense of struggle in those who fight harder than most to survive. Verity Hampson’s lights and video projections, offer impressive visual variety, while Steve Francis’ work on music and sound, take our minds to ethereal places, as though creating a momentary paradigm shift, in this communal sharing of theatrical magic.

At the show’s conclusion, we are spared the indignity of walking away with little more than melancholy or worse, resignation. The artists urge us to take action, even prescribing “The 7 Actions of Healing” to assist in transforming what is normally a passive audience, into an activated one. Indeed, there is always a danger that the hard work of minority communities, is consumed as a kind of perverse entertainment, or a vehicle to raise awareness at best, but nothing besides.

The labour of presenting one’s trauma, to those directly and indirectly responsible, is rarely received with any comparable urgency. 26 years after the first staging of The 7 Stages of Grieving, we can now take this time to acknowledge the advancements that have and have not been made, since 1995. Whatever we decide is the current state of affairs, it is hard to deny that the room to improve, remains infinitely vast.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au

Review: Tiny Universe (PACT Centre For Emerging Artists)

Venue: PACT Centre for Emerging Artists (Erskineville NSW), May 20 – 29, 2021
Directors: Margot Politis, Natalie Rose
Cast: Harrison Bishop, Desmond Edwards, Lana Filies, Lily Hayman, Steve Konstantopoulos, Matthias Nudl, Nick Vagne, Lucy Watson
Images by

Theatre review
In Tiny Universe by Margot Politis and Natalie Rose, eight characters are contained within their own eight-foot cubes, pondering aloud, their relationships with the outside world. We hear about their anxieties and their dreams, as they offer anecdotes and introspections, from each of their intimate personal spaces. These people are alone, but also part of something bigger. As the audience’s attention is spread across each of these individuals, who only make themselves fleetingly available, we begin to form a picture of our collective existence, and an idea of what humanity can look like.

Unable to delve deep enough into any of these personalities, we can only appreciate the broad strokes of what is being presented. Even without the benefit of understanding the intricacies of what happens inside each box, Politis and Rose provides a tenderness to the treatment of their subjects, that move us to a certain state of empathy; both for those on stage, as well as the persons we are, silent and contemplative in our respective seats.

The performers are charming, and highly idiosyncratic with what they generously offer, in these stories about selfhood and of community. Attractive lighting by Liam O’Keefe proves memorable, for providing a pop aesthetic to the staging, that keeps sensibilities firmly in the now. James Peter Brown’s diverse musical stylings, usher us through a range of mood transformations, always gentle in his manipulation of feelings. Politis’ impactful set design is constructed by Will Jacobs and Sophie Ward, who bring to the production a pleasing sense of refinement.

It is perhaps in our solitude, that we can access that which is most true. Self-expression is often contingent on our expectation of how things will be received, but in Tiny Universe, we see the possibility of self-discovery in a way that is uncompromised, when we can find a space to be spared of judgement. This however, is much more involved, than to make the self physically detached. Society is so much in the mind, whether or not our bodies are in the company of others. Tiny Universe gives us examples of what could be, when a person simply exists on their own terms. We then lament how hard it is to remain as such, in interactions with the wider world.

www.shopfront.org.au | www.milkcratetheatre.com

Review: Bigger and Blacker (Sydney Opera House)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), May 19 – 22, 2021
Music and Lyrics: Steven Oliver
Director: Isaac Drandic
Cast: Steven Oliver
Images by Daniel Boud

Theatre review
For just over an hour, a gay Black man reigns supreme, in Steven Oliver’s cabaret outing Bigger and Blacker. Entirely live and intimate, Oliver performs self-written songs accumulated over the years, a greatest hits compilation that spans everything from love to politics, that take us from hilarity to devastation.

Much of the presentation is concerned with being on the outside. Marginalised for both his racial and sexual identities, there is no wonder that Oliver is famously funny. Like many whose very existence poses a threat to the hegemony, being comical is a defence, a mode of self-preservation that becomes second nature. In Bigger and Blacker, the artist is characteristically flamboyant, but the underlying gravity of his raison d’etre is always apparent. Through the sensitive eye of director Isaac Drandic, we discover a duality of the persona, whimsical yet dark, and we respond accordingly, sometimes with joy, sometimes with sadness, but most often with a melancholic combination of both.

Oliver’s songs are cleverly written, all of them beautifully melodic and lyrically meaningful, made more poignant by the performer’s sincere introductions for every number. Accompanist Michael Griffiths is his spirited companion, whose inspired musical direction guides us through a multitude of stylistic genres, for a seriously engaging one-person variety extravaganza. From torch song to hip hop, Bigger and Blacker keeps itself fresh and surprising, not a single dull moment permitted.

Brady Watkins’ work on sound design transports us to a sensual world, distinctly lush and enchanting, and coupled with Chloe Ogilvie’s tender lighting, the audience finds itself effortlessly lulled into a temporary theatrical romance. Oliver is dressed by Kevin O’Brien, resplendent in a deep pink tuxedo jacket, determined to steal our hearts.

Identity labels are tiresome, for people who do not have to wrestle with oppression. Those of us who are systematically and habitually excluded, however, learn to embrace that which others have used to define us. What others try to shame us with, we grow to love, and we grow to understand the positively formative power, of everything that is meant to be inferior or contemptible. Oliver talks a lot about being a minority; he is Black, and he is gay, and as we come to realise, is therefore extraordinary.

www.sydneyoperahouse.com

Review: Hyperdream (Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), May 15 – Jun 5, 2021
Creative Leads: Adriane Daff and Mikala Westall
Playwrights: Matt Abell-King, Adriane Daff, Nat Jobe, Angela Mahlatjie, Josh Price, Mikala Westall
Cast: Adriane Daff, Nat Jobe, Angela Mahlatjie, Matt Abell-King
Images by David Charles Collins

Theatre review
Hyperdream by Adriane Daff and Mikala Westall, takes us on a sci-fi joyride, in which individuals can visit a facility, where memories are replayed in a sort of virtual reality experience, so that one may be able to relive the past. Characters access best days of their lives, in order that they may escape the disappointments of today. Others reach back to traumatic moments, hoping to bring revisions to their personal histories. More than a mode of entertainment, it uses “total recall” to deliver what looks to be a futuristic psychotherapy, for when being in the here and now, is simply intolerable.

The staging utilises a big projection screen, positioned front and centre, with four performers and an omnipresent video camera, creating scenes in different nooks throughout the space. We find ourselves gradually losing sight of reality, as we watch these people in digital pixels and in the flesh, frantically rollicking in their chaotic green screen fantasia. Buoyed by the adventurous musical stylings of Julian Starr, we all get caught up in an undefinable space, half lucid and half catatonic. It is an effervescent work, derived from an incandescent experimental spirit. Although not always coherent or resonant, the atmosphere being generated is full of wonder, with moments of comedy that truly tickle.

Performer Matt Abell-King is especially funny, able to inspire laughter with a twitch of the eyebrow, and a flamboyant flick of a leg. Angela Mahlatjie too is hilarious, most memorably in a delightful sequence in which she flashes back to a cherished time of romance, for a sarcastic look at women’s relationship with love and marriage. Also thoroughly enjoyable, are Adriane Daff and Nat Jobe, whose bold approaches to Hyperdream‘s humour, offer an opportunity for viewers to revel in a brand of absurd extravagance infrequently seen in Australian theatre.

The way me make sense of today and tomorrow, depends entirely on how we understand the past. If one is given the ability to delve back into old narratives, so that they can be re-examined, and be given renewed interpretations, then returning to the now, could mean a complete revitalisation of being. So much of what is broken today, is a result of memories that have taken us, and continue to take us, down the wrong path. The past cannot be changed, but the ways in which we understand it, should always be evolving, in service of a better tomorrow.

www.redlineproductions.com.au | www.thelastgreathunt.com

Review: Ulster American (Outhouse Theatre Co)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), May 13 – 29, 2021
Playwright: David Ireland
Director: Shane Anthony
Cast: Harriet Gordon-Anderson, Brian Meegan, Jeremy Waters
Images by Richard Farland

Theatre review
Ruth has come to London, from Northern Ireland, to begin rehearsals on her play. Unlike the show’s lead actor Jay, and its director Leigh, Ruth the playwright is not a star of the stage, and neither is she a man. This gendered imbalance of power is apparent right from the start, in fact even before Ruth appears, when the two men involve themselves with political conversations, in the absence of anyone who might understand first-hand, any experience of marginalisation. Ruth’s subsequent entrance proves an unbearable disruption, as we witness the savage implementation of patriarchal violence upon the young woman, at her every attempt to exert her rights, as a supposed equal creator in the artistic process.

All of this happens in David Ireland’s satirical Ulster American, a piercing interrogation of the uncomfortable relationship that the privileged have, with what seems to be a trendy phenomenon, of performative virtue signalling. Both Jay and Leigh believe themselves to be on the right side of history, always consciously using language that demonstrate their purported progressiveness, but it is their action that speak louder. In Ruth’s presence, the men cannot help but operate from positions of power and authority, fiercely protecting their status of dominance, and therefore the status quo.

Irreverent and genuinely funny, Ireland uses searing comedy to make palatable, ideas that are usually conveyed too dry and sanctimonious. It is perhaps an ironic choice to have a white man at its helm, but director Shane Anthony injects excellent nuance to ensure that we are always made aware of meanings and intentions. The production is fast-paced, enjoyably so, and Anthony validates that entertainment does not have to come at the price of a valuable message. Additionally, set design by Veronique Bennett and costumes by Claudia Kryszkiewicz, contribute a sleekness to the staging’s imagery, further convincing us of Ulster American‘s dissections of the contemporary bourgeoisie.

Actor Harriet Gordon-Anderson brings to the role of Ruth, a marvellous complexity that prevents her from devolving into a simple victim of circumstance. There is a confidence to her presence that offers fortitudinous juxtaposition against the two hysterical men railing against her. Oscar winner Jay is played by the highly engaging Jeremy Waters, who once again establishes himself as a storyteller of the highest calibre, in a brilliantly amusing and sarcastic take on the vacuous Hollywood monster archetype. Brian Meegan as English theatre director Leigh, is comically imposturous, and wonderfully authentic in its portrayal of a man who imagines himself a much better person than he actually is.

So much of art education, involves a certain inculcation of humility. Whether in the making of, or in the appreciation of it, one learns that the ego, is almost always a destructive force. In Ulster American, we watch egos get in the way, and observe how a person’s sense of aggrandized selfhood, prevents the creation of anything good. This manifests as a fight for space in David Ireland’s play, with the implication that those with privilege can only conceive of justice as a zero-sum game. When under threat, Jay and Leigh scramble to win back lost ground, always thinking in terms of deprivation, instead of dreaming up possibilities of more for everyone. Ruth has to fight tooth and nail, even resorting to unscrupulous means, but that is only because no real recourse is available to the oppressed.

Greed is not good, yet it remains central, in the pursuit of what so many of us perceive to mean success. Our lives need redefinition. Priorities and values need to be adjusted so that justice can prevail. It is debatable if a revolutionary overhaul is the answer, or if small steps and big words can count towards improvement, but to do nothing is without question, reprehensible.

www.outhousetheatre.org

Review: Fun Home (Sydney Theatre Company / Melbourne Theatre Company)

Venue: Roslyn Packer Theatre (Sydney NSW), Apr 27 – May 29, 2021
Book and Lyrics: Lisa Kron (based on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel)
Music: Jeanine Tesori
Director: Dean Bryant
Cast: Gilbert Bradman, Ryan Gonzalez, Emily Havea, Mia Honeysett, Lucy Maunder, Jensen Mazza, Maggie McKenna, Adam Murphy, Marina Prior
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review
In the American musical Fun Home, based on the autobiographical graphic novel by Alison Bechdel, we observe the cartoonist hard at work on her drafting table, looking back at memories of her difficult father. Bruce was a baby boomer, and like many queer people of that generation, never came to terms with being gay. Even as Alison began to come out as lesbian, his personal anguish never diminished, struggling even to offer support to his own daughter at a time when she had needed him most.

Clearly intended to be an emotional theatrical experience, the show’s reliance on an unlikeable character is risky, and even though the music is predictably and relentlessly sentimental, it is doubtful if audiences could ever feel the full impact of the hardship that this family had gone through. Alison goes to considerable lengths to find forgiveness and understanding for her father, but it is arguable if the musical provides sufficiently for us to respond with deep compassion, or even to care enough for these characters, to be able to invest adequately into their story.

The staging is a polished one, with Alicia Clements’ design facilitating efficaciously, the need for frequent oscillations of time and space. Matt Scott’s lights are beautiful, especially when depicting illusory moments during which we see characters suspended in the undefined abyss of Alison’s imagination. Director Dean Bryant introduces an excellent sense of pizzazz to the production, making sure that we are entertained to the fullest of the show’s potential. He ensures that the story is told with clarity, including the unsavoury revelations relating to Bruce’s life.

We see Alison at three periods of maturity, from childhood and her college years, to the grown woman she is today. Child star Mia Honeysett is fantastic as Small Alison, wonderfully nuanced and authentic, in her portrayal of a child navigating complicated family dynamics, as well as her own blossoming homosexuality. Medium Alison is performed by Maggie McKenna whose singing voice proves a divine pleasure, and Lucy Maunder is captivating as Big Alison, bringing a palpable tenderness that underpins the show. The striking Adam Murphy does his best to honestly depict Bruce, warts and all, but it is Marina Prior who leaves a strong impression playing his wife Helen. When she finally breaks her silence and delivers a faultless solo number, Prior’s technical prowess brings momentary elevation to the production, inviting us to luxuriate in the sheer genius of her singing.

It should come as no surprise that humans are sometimes much more troubling, than a 100-minute Broadway musical can accommodate. The formulaic nature of these creations, requires a form of storytelling that follows many rules, and we discover that truth can sometimes become its nemesis. Bruce’s sexual encounters with underaged boys, is not forgivable, especially in this space of commercial theatre. Fun Home requires us to regard Bruce’s past sins with generosity, the way his daughter has to, in order that our emotions may become engaged in accordance with the traditional peaks and valleys of a conventional musical. Bruce’s transgressions however, are much too severe, at least for the old-fashion song-and-dance format.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au

Review: seven methods of killing kylie jenner (Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

Venue: Darlinghurst Theatre Company (Darlinghurst NSW), Apr 7 – May 2, 2021
Playwright: Jasmine Lee-Jones
Director: Shari Sebbens
Cast: Vivienne Awosoga, Moreblessing Maturure
Images by Teniola Komolafe

Theatre review
Twitter is blowing up, and Cleo is unable to go to sleep. The idea that an extraordinarily privileged white woman could be declared a “self-made billionaire” is not just absurd, it is proving completely enraging to the young Black student living in her tiny English flat. When Cleo whips out her phone, and starts to tweet her feelings in response to the announcement of Kylie Jenner’s newly minted status, her words come fast and furious. For those who have nothing to lose, anonymity in the Twittersphere is especially useful, in challenging authority and for exposing injustice. Speaking truth to power is incredibly seductive, as we see in Jamine Lee-Jones’ very twenty-first century play seven methods of killing kylie jenner, until one discovers that the incendiary capabilities of social media, can work in all directions.

Playwright Lee-Jones is so ahead of the curve, one is tempted to label her, an original. Her ability to distil incredibly complex concepts pertaining to discussions around race, feminism and queerness, that have been swirling like confused wildfire in recent years, into a coherent and powerful 90-minute two-hander for the stage, feels so much to be a sort of inconceivable genius. The way Lee-Jones is able to focus all our messy arguments into something persuasive and lucid, is completely remarkable. Also very noteworthy, is the wit that she introduces into every scene, no matter how heavy things get, that demonstrates a deep understanding of how theatre operates. The laughs are incessant, as are the searing hard facts that Lee-Jones exposes unapologetically.

Bringing scintillating life to Lee-Jones’ words of wisdom, is Shari Sebbens’ meticulous yet spirited direction of the work. There is an exuberant boldness to Sebbens’ approach that delivers to the audience an exceptionally jubilant experience; her show is full of infectious joy yet, importantly, we are never let off the hook. Every morsel of difficult truth is driven home with a fierce stridency. seven methods of killing kylie jenner however is not a didactic exercise. One can hardly imagine its tone to be conducive for the conversion of any adversaries, but for preaching to the choir, it is pure gospel.

Actor Moreblessing Maturure inhabits Cleo with unparalleled authenticity, making it impossible to discern any disparity between the performer and the role she brings to the stage. There is not one ounce of fakery in Maturure’s depictions. The intensity with which she conveys every political assertion, coupled with the sheer perfection of her comedic timing, delivers to us a theatre that is nothing less than life affirming. Also very dynamic is Vivienne Awosoga, who plays Kara, the lighter-skinned queer counterpart, offering crucial balance to Cleo’s sometimes sanctimonious beliefs. Awosoga exhibits impressive versatility, for a character who has to traverse a wide range of emotions and intentions within the duration. The pair’s glorious chemistry (along with so much else of the production) is one for our herstory books. They are splendid together, so impossibly tight in sensibility and rhythm, keeping us hopelessly captivated and wishing that their show would never end.

Cleverly paced video projections by Wendy Yu, that display text and imagery from Twitter, play a significant part in the storytelling. Along with sounds by Kim ‘Busty Beatz’ Bowers, the production never fails to stoke our passions, and to have us riled up at will. Kate Baldwin’s lighting design accurately and sensitively calibrates tone or mood for each sequence, while Keerthi Subramanyam’s set and costumes work with our imagination, to establish time and place for this tale of the Twitterati.

It has taken a long time for a show of this nature to materialise in our city. It has taken so much effort for culture to shift in so many quarters, in order that two Black women could appear on a prominent stage, be supported by other women of colour behind the scenes, to make grand pronouncements aimed at taking down the white supremacy that has plagued this land.

There is no guarantee however, that this seminal occasion will not just be a flash in the pan, that everything would revert to old ways. The worry that all energies have been depleted is not unfounded, as what seems on the surface to be an auspicious beginning, has in fact required years of investment and sacrifice. On the other hand, activists have always been tired. In fact, we become activists precisely because we are tired, of all the nonsense that fills our days. Being tired is not new to us, and our capacity for hope continues to lay beyond the bounds of human possibility, online and in real life.

www.darlinghursttheatre.com | www.greendoortheatrecompany.com