Review: Cyrano De Bergerac (Sport For Jove Theatre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Jun 15 – 24, 2017
Playwright: Edmond Rostand (adaptation by Damien Ryan)
Director: Damien Ryan
Cast: Andrew Johnston, Barry French, Bernadette Ryan, Christopher Stalley, Christopher Tomkinson, Damien Ryan, Drew Livingston, Francesca Savige, James Lugton, John Turnbull, Julian Garner, Lizzie Schebesta, Madeleine Jones, Melanie Dobson, Thom Blake, Tim Walter, Wendy Strehlow
Image by Phil Erbacher

Theatre review
Women, no matter how intellectual or beautiful, are not to be trusted with their own decisions in Cyrano De Bergerac. Edward Rostand’s 120 year-old play is a romantic fantasy about an ugly man who successfully deceives and misleads the object of his desire, so that his feelings can be reciprocated. His nose, of legendary proportions, clearly does not stand in the way of human vanity.

Roxanne’s lust for the handsome Christian, is presented as foolish and absurd, hence illegitimate, in the old-fashioned play, because of course, the verbosely articulate Cyrano is the appropriate match, if a girl is to experience true love. Women are once again infantilised, and our sexuality subjugated, in order that patriarchal ideals can be presented as superior.

Tiresome ideologies of the original are retained in this recent adaptation, but there is no doubt that Damien Ryan’s remarkable wit and extraordinary talent with words, have polished up Cyrano De Bergerac, rolled it in glitter, and all but blinds us from its inferior politics. Ryan’s work is supremely clever, often very beautiful, and for the many who find enjoyment in its brand of outlandish romance, this is a play that will prove deeply satisfying.

Ryan’s work as actor too, is marvellous. Brilliantly funny, and irresistibly charming, he convinces us that sexual attractiveness is completely irrelevant, and that Cyrano is the only man for Roxanne. Lizzie Schebesta expends her efforts into the side of Roxanne that is repeatedly emphasised to be intellectual, and does all she can to elevate the role from the embarrassing gullibility that is Rostand’s creation. It is a very vivacious cast, relentlessly amusing, and audiences will be held captive for its entire 3.5 hour duration.

There are no big pertinent messages in Cyrano De Bergerac that need our urgent attention. We can certainly be entertained by other much more relevant stories, but this French play continues the perseverate tradition of European occupation of the arts in Australia. For over two centuries, we import these works, as though the purposes they serve are somehow irreplaceable or worse, more resonant than what we can find in the art of our own region. It offers an accurate reflection of the ongoing attitude of colonisation that persists (why else would all 18 actors on this stage be of Caucasian appearance?), even though we wish to think ourselves a modern, progressive and inclusive society.

www.sportforjove.com.au

Review: I Love You Now (Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

Venue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Jun 9 – Jul 9, 2017
Playwright: Jeanette Cronin
Director: Kim Hardwick
Cast: Jeanette Cronin, Paul Gleeson
Image by Robert Catto

Theatre review
The stage is disguised as a hotel room, and two actors play out a series of infidelities in short episodes. The fragments are unified by the amorous theme, but how they fit together as a complete entity is the creative, and intriguing, challenge it presents to its audience. Jeanette Cronin’s I Love You Now takes conventional stories and puts them in a poetic structure, so that the telling of an ordinary tale, can lead to the discovery of greater meanings in everyday life.

Things happen, forming chaotic and arbitrary moments, but the human mind has an insatiable need for narratives. We make connections between incidents, and are determined to read into things, as though the urge to understand, is as basic and inexorable as breathing. While we attempt to make coherence of the scenes as they unfold in I Love You Now, we find ourselves beginning to fall in love instead, with transience. Sure, it is possible to formulate a whole of the parts, but it is really the fleeting moments of beauty and genius that gives us nourishment. Our impulse is to dedicate our attention to a big picture, but what is of greater satisfaction, are the minute occurrences that can so easily slip away, if we do not let go of the desire to be master of every situation.

Director Kim Hardwick’s task is to find balance and harmony in the storytelling, so that appropriate weight is assigned to each of the play’s divergent intentions and concerns. The writing presents many possibilities, and Hardwick demonstrates great sensitivity and fortitude, in her ability to mine for resonance in the many unexpected corners of I Love You Now, persuading our minds to find appreciation for the layer upon layer of ideas and observations, that constitute this deeply textured work of art.

A remarkably polished production, with Isabel Hudson’s set design creating a very solid first impression (the hotel room is glamorous and incredibly convincing), and Martin Kinnane’s lights speaking softly but intricately, the visuals are sumptuous but never obtrusive. As though providing accompaniment to singers centre stage, music is performed live, by Max Lambert and Roger Lock, whose instincts compel us to remain engaged with the play, even when it veers off to slightly obtuse places.

Cronin herself takes on the female roles, while Paul Gleeson is the masculine counterpart. Both are fabulously accomplished; impressive with the complexities and elegance they bring to the show, and as a couple, their infallible chemistry is the main drawcard. It is always what happens between them that is captivating, and important. We watch how they treat each other, listen to the way they speak to one another, inside this room of secrets, and through a range of characters and their clandestine intimacies, our own fires of curiosity and passion, are stoked back to life.

www.darlinghursttheatre.com

Review: Oedipus Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (ATYP)

Venue: ATYP (Walsh Bay NSW), Jun 7 – 24, 2017
Playwright: Daniel Evan (after Sophocles)
Director: Fraser Corfield
Cast: Caitlin Burley, Jeremi Campese, Mia Evans Rorris, Joshua McElroy
Images by Tracey Schramm

Theatre review
The story of Oedipus and his mother/wife Jocasta has remained in our consciousness over the centuries. The resonance that it provides, whether emotional, moral or simply shocking, is unquestionably deep, but in Daniel Evan’s rendition, it is the tangents departing from the classic narrative that are its real concern. In Oedipus Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, the familiar tale of taboo and tragedy, provides the framework for a passionate and somewhat erratic theatrical experience. Less drama, more experimentation, Evan’s elaborate embellishments reflect a barrage of contemporary ideas that give an unmistakable impression of rejuvenation, although the sense of turmoil so characteristic of Sophocles’ creation is certainly missed.

Director Fraser Corfield uses the intricacies of the text, to formulate a dynamic staging memorable for its quick and vibrant episodes, featuring a host of colourful and surprising characters. The cast of four demonstrates extraordinary focus and conviction, along with an exciting inventiveness that gives their show texture, dimension and depth. Caitlin Burley and Jeremi Campese are confident players who connect effortlessly with the audience, both actors charming and entertaining with the diverse range of personality types they put forth. Mia Evans Rorris and Joshua McElroy provide stable grounding to the production, sensitive and considered in their approach to the many roles they inhabit.

The show is remarkably well designed. The formidable set, evocative of urban dilapidation is as dazzling as it is dangerous; Melanie Liertz’s transformation of the challenging space is quite an achievement. Emma Lockhart-Wilson’s lights address the play’s unrelenting movement of time and space, with excellent certitude and power. Sound by Steve Francis and Chrysoulla Markoulli’s music, give the show a splendid sophistication and cohesion.

It is not a particularly poignant retelling of Oedipus’ life, but we certainly come away gratified by the evidence of a successful collaboration, that showcases some very significant talent.

www.atyp.com.au

Review: The Village Bike (Cross Pollinate Productions)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Jun 7 – Jul 8, 2017
Playwright: Penelope Skinner
Director: Rachel Chant
Cast: Kate Bookallil, Sophie Gregg, Jamie Oxenbould, Rupert Reid, Gabrielle Scawthorn, Benedict Wall
Image by Andre Vasquez

Theatre review
Becky is unable to get laid because her husband has irrational fears regarding the baby in her womb. Increasingly frustrated, she finds herself seeking gratification elsewhere. Penelope Skinner’s very riveting The Village Bike makes a powerful statement about marriage and monogamy, and the ways in which these age-old institutions and ideologies continue to form restraints, allowing society to control the lives of individuals, women especially, from the most intimate levels.

It plays almost like a revision of the Aga saga; that genre of slightly camp, English middle-class country life drama. The characters are familiar, and their stories are set, invariably, in an unassuming domesticity. Certainly, the work is critical of the way we conceive of a respectable woman. It challenges the unquestioned rules dictating what is acceptable, and objectionable, of a woman’s sexuality, and also the language we use that gives definition, and weight, to those restrictions.

In mocking that romantic and pedestrian style of storytelling, we see the wildness of Becky’s narrative resist the confines of form. Our protagonist is not playing by the rules, so the rules quickly become visible. In breaking the illusion of happily ever after, we are compelled to study her situation, and because we can relate to Becky’s desires so completely, we have to interrogate the systematic failures that we all have to operate under.

Although political and intellectual, the production is equally stimulating on other fronts. Rachel Chant’s direction ensures each personality we meet is distinct and vividly manifested, so we know exactly what it is that makes them tick (and how they contribute to the play’s tragic circumstances). Sequences oscillate between comedy and drama effortlessly, with moments of breathtaking sexual tension giving an excellent sense of texture and dimension to what we see, hear and feel. Persistent issues with spacial use however, detract from an otherwise polished and very well-rehearsed presentation that is as engaging as it is titillating.

Gabrielle Scawthorne stars as the woman who fucks up. Honest and vulnerable, she keeps us in love with Becky through every transgression. Scawthorne is sensational in the part, thoroughly psychological and physically detailed, turning a confronting role into a beautifully empathetic creature full of charm and disarming authenticity. Supporting actors too, are impressive, each one complex and humorous, all bringing a delicious, and rare, boldness to the telling of an uncompromisingly sexual tale.

By play’s end, Becky is rendered powerless. Entrapped by a world that permits only narrow definitions of motherhood and marriage, she has nowhere to go, but to accept her subjugation. Some have said that bicycling had contributed immensely to the emancipation of women in the 1890s, but today, calling a woman a bike, is to call a woman a harlot, whore, slut, skank; a common and convenient means of suppressing female sexuality, in order that the myth of the weaker sex is perpetuated. There is no greater threat to the patriarchy than a sovereign womanhood that rejects the Madonna/Whore dichotomy. When our sex is no longer tethered to imagined virtues in concordance with family, society and culture, is when a greater liberty can be found, for all the genders.

www.crosspollinate.com.au

Review: The Clean House (New Theatre)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Apr 25 – May 27, 2017
Playwright: Sarah Ruhl
Director: Rosane McNamara
Cast: James Bean, Colleen Cook, Mary-Anne Halpin, Alice Livingstone, Keila Terencio
Image © Bob Seary

Theatre review
In Sarah Ruhl’s The Clean House, sisters Lane and Virginia are exemplary women who spend their days obsessing over having to do the right thing. One pursues a fabulous career in medicine, and the other indulges in an irresistible urge to clean houses. Both live in accordance with values our societies deem admirable and righteous, but neither are rewarded with enduring happiness. In fact, the only incidents of true elation in the play, are accompanied with certain death.

The perpetual state of tension between order and chaos, is a succinct way of describing all of human existence. In our desire to put things into structures of subjective logic, we come into conflict with nature, or a conception of nature, that is separate and external to the supreme beings we think ourselves to be. It seems we are the only creations of Mother Earth that insist on agendas that run contrary to the will of all else that makes up the universe.

Ruhl’s magical realism has a feeling of unassuming banality, delivered through its unmitigated look at our relationship with domesticity, yet its imaginative explorations into the often overlooked quirks of simply being, turn the everyday into something endlessly fascinating. The greatest purpose of art, is that it can re-contextualise humanity, so that the unseen is made visible, in order that we may gain new knowledge of the infinitely mysterious self. The Clean House places us firmly inside normalcy, and then reveals what lies beyond its superficial veneers.

The writing is gloriously funny, and under Rosane McNamara’s direction, Ruhl’s humour, along with an undeniable poignancy, are given full illumination. Rich with meaning and amusement, the play is captivating, thoroughly inquisitorial, and McNamara’s subtle approach with its messaging, keeps us keenly intrigued.

The actors tell the story with excellent clarity and conviction, but performance rhythms require finessing for their presentation to communicate at a tighter pace. The impressive Dr Lane is played by Mary-Anne Halpin, focused and decisive with motivations, but slightly lacking in complexity with the interpretations brought to her character. Alice Livingstone is delightful as the decidedly sad Virginia, outstandingly acerbic, and scintillating with irony. The cleaning lady, and aspiring comedian, Matilde is a vivacious presence in Keila Terencio, who delivers impressive theatrical energy, and a powerful sense of purity essential to the work’s ideology.

The personalities in The Clean House are shown for their flaws, but we know that these people cannot help themselves. We can try, and we should try, to be better people, but there is nothing that can turn us invincible. Feelings will be hurt, mistakes will be made, no matter how much we dream up safeguards and assurances. We make it a habit to act as though we are the sole determinants of fate, but there is no certainty to be found in how life wishes to pan itself out. There is however, tremendous satisfaction to be had in the experience of kindness, as we see at the show’s end, and the way acts of compassion are always able to defy regret, is one comfort we can hold on to.

www.newtheatre.org.au

Review: How To Build A Home (Ever After Theatre)

Venue: Balmain Uniting Church (Balmain NSW), Jun 1 – 3, 2017
Contributing Writer: Emily Dash
Directors: Natalie Rose, Alice Osborne, Marnie Palomares
Cast: Kerrie Ann Bezzina, Christine Blanche, Matthew Cutmore, Emily Dash, Glennen Fahey, Sophie Grivas, Tom Hancock, Emma Plant, Roddy Salinas

Theatre review
The idea of a dream home is explored by differently abled performers in How To Build A Home. An opportunity for all to reflect upon concepts such as personal limitations and aspirations, social obligations and privacy, the often abstract work may leave a lot to our imagination, but there is no mistaking the statement it makes about the importance of security and care that we all need in order to have fulfilling lives.

The show is full of spirited whimsy, with an enthusiastic cast offering up vim and vigour, along with a genuine vulnerability that is quite captivating. A collaborative segment featuring Emily Dash reciting a poignant monologue, alongside Tom Hancock on piano establishing an atmosphere of sombre drama, is beautifully, and hauntingly, rendered. Also memorable is Sophie Grivas’ idea of a house with three disco rooms, reminding us that our bodies, whether moving or stationary, are to be loved and pampered.

Visual design by Mirabelle Wouters, and James Brown’s work on sound and music, give the production an excellent sense of polish. The space they have created is glamorous yet unpretentious, a homely environment we find to be simultaneously comfortable and inspiring.

As long as we are alive, every individual has a right to space, and that space must be treated with respect. The home is both mundane and sacred, and recognising it as such, encourages us to honour every breath taken and every second that ticks past. Life is too short for any of us to be perfunctory about the time that we have been gifted. When we realise that every here and now is special, each moment experienced, and its corresponding place, has the possibility to nourish and fulfil, as though always at home, sweet home.

www.everaftertheatre.com

Review: This Is Not Mills And Boon (Glorious Thing Theatre Co)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), May 23 – Jun 3, 2017
Playwright: Erica J Brennan
Director: Richard Hilliar
Cast: Alison Bennett, Emma Chelsey, Gabe Fancourt, Lynden Jones
Image by Liam O’Keefe

Theatre review
When we first meet Abby, she surprises us with her prudishness. We think of sex as being universally appealing, and in this day and age, talking about sex is certainly de rigueur, if not interminable, so we wonder what problems Abby is struggling with, that makes her so uncomfortable with the topic.

The story unfolds as Abby begins reading, in secret, a collection of erotic stories. Written by her boyfriend’s mother, Nikki Sex’s book is titillating and wild, but also deeply cheesy and frequently nonsensical. We watch as the far-fetched tales begin to unravel the riddle surrounding Abby’s mystifying sexual nature.

Erica J Brennan’s This Is Not Mills And Boon is a smart, ambitious piece that deals with a young woman’s sexual awakening, or more accurately, it is about Abby’s self-discovery beyond the indoctrination and traditions that our young are subject to. There is good attempt at depicting sexuality as being individualistic and idiosyncratic, and hence, a fundamentally deviant feature of what we consider to be human nature, but Brennan’s characters remain bound to an ideal of monogamy and heteronormativity, which prevents the play from foraging deeper into its philosophical interests, thus losing an opportunity to be truly subversive, or edifying, with its declarations.

Director Richard Hilliar introduces a wanton sense of humour to fantasy sequences that makes the show very enjoyable, but a tendency to be overly earnest with our protagonist’s central predicament, can make its naturalistic scenes needlessly severe. Abby needs to lighten up, as does the show.

Funny lady Alison Bennett delivers laughs in all of her extravagant guises. Sharply intuitive, and wonderfully campy, it is a very bawdy performance that pushes all the right buttons (look out for some physical work featuring Bennett’s extraordinarily dexterous tongue). Also very comedic is Gabe Fancourt as the endearing boyfriend Sol, whose unabashed approach to the portrayal of sex object, is as refreshing as it is hilarious.

Although Emma Chelsey’s interpretation of a plain and reserved personality can often feel too literal and hence lacklustre, her Abby is dignified and honest, with a sincerity that makes the whole exercise convincing. The troubling relationship between Abby and her father is a crucial part of the narrative, and Lynden Jones is strong in that role. His lines are perhaps not written with sufficient elegance, but Jones demonstrates excellent conviction even when the dialogue turns precarious.

The show makes fun of “Fifty Shades Of Beige”, but is itself shy with its own interrogations. It may not be Mills and Boon, but it is certainly no Marquis de Sade either. There is a naivety in how it thinks about sex, but its fervent need to reject convention in favour of a self-determined experience of sexuality and of identity, must be celebrated.

What makes each person feel good, is rarely the same, but what makes us all the same, is the need to discover the truth that lies within. It is human to want to poke and prod, to find something that feels resolutely at the core of our existence. Whether through art or through fucking, we can get to the thing that resides deep at the centre, that holds the meaning of life.

www.gloriousthingtheatreco.com