Review: The Wolves (Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Mar 14 – Apr 14, 2018
Playwright: Sarah DeLappe
Director: Jessica Arthur
Cast: Brenna Harding, Emma Harvie, Sarah Meacham, Sofia Nolan, Michelle Ny, Cece Peters, Zoe Terakes, Nikita Waldron, Nadia Zwecker
Image by John Marmaras

Theatre review
Nine American girls, approaching the end of their teenage years, are in a soccer team together, warming up their bodies and figuring out their place, both on the field and in the larger world. Sarah DeLappe’s The Wolves is no preachy melodrama about burgeoning womanhood. These characters may have seen little by virtue of their youth, but they all demonstrate wisdom and strength; each of their lives are richly established, not to provide some kind of tense narrative drive, but to foster, through the theatrical form, a modern social conception of our young and all the promise that they bear.

Director Jessica Arthur uses fragments of insight granted by the text, to manufacture on stage, quite marvellously, a dynamic experience that is relentlessly engaging, and unexpectedly powerful. We are only ever offered glimpses into each personality, but find ourselves forming emotional attachments as the show progresses, falling in love with all of their idiosyncrasies and vulnerabilities. Unlike traditional, namely, patriarchal forms of storytelling, no protagonists and antagonists are necessary here, and for its 90-minute duration, we are intrigued, thrilled and fulfilled. The show is frequently very funny, and the poignancy it eventually inscribes, is stunning.

Performances are nothing short of brilliant. The cohesion and closeness of the cast is extraordinary, generating a warm joyful glow, palpable and wonderful, for all to share within the intimacy of the auditorium. Beautifully well-rehearsed, the actors deliver the play’s short and sharp dialogue with admirable precision and astounding nuance, precipitating meaning with impact and efficiency. The many sequences that feature legitimate sporting ability and fitness, are quite sensational, and thoroughly impressive.

Right in this moment, young people in the USA are fighting to force changes to gun control. They have galvanised in spectacular fashion and are out in droves, propelled by passion and idealism. The girls in The Wolves are no doubt part of that pack. Smart, fearless and loud, they discern the truth, along with the bullshit, and are now refusing to acquiesce where they do know better. We care for our young, but in that mode of protection, we often underestimate them. There is in fact, much to learn from the The Wolves, even if just a reminder of that youthful spirit, capable of achieving anything.

Review: Rudy & Cuthbert (The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Mar 13 – 17, 2018
Creators: Toby Blome, Zelman Cressey-Gladwin
Director: Ellen Cressey
Cast: Toby Blome, Zelman Cressey-Gladwin
Image by Phil Erbacher

Theatre review
We should be thankful when artists know their strengths and give us only what they do best. Two young men appear on stage, admitting that their intentions of staging Reginald Rose’s 12 Angry Men have not quite come to fruition. Instead, they perform a work of physical comedy, telling a charming love story; not only of the very special connection between these two innocents, but also of their shared passion for art and performance.

The trials and tribulations of putting on a show, provide Rudy & Cuthbert the context for their eponymous presentation. Toby Blome and Zelman Cressey-Gladwin play the quirky pair, in a traditional style that recalls all the famous duos from film and television history, with an emphasis on disciplines most associated with mimes and clowns. Both are excellent in their chosen field, but it is the chemistry between the two that is emphatically superb. They make magic happen, leaving us dumbfounded by their seamless union.

Ellen Cressey’s direction gives Rudy & Cuthbert a tenderness, that prevents the show from being a mere showcase for skill and cleverness. The element of emotion gives meaning to the humour being created so precisely, and the laughter that ensues is as much about being tickled, as it is about being moved. We live in extremely cynical times, and antidotes for hardened hearts are hard to come by. Rudy & Cuthbert is not the trendiest bit of theatre, but it is certainly the sweetest remedy for some very trying times.

Review: Merrily We Roll Along (The Depot Theatre)

Venue: The Depot Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Mar 7 – 24, 2018
Music & Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim
Book: George Furth
Director: Alexander Andrews
Cast: Embla Bishop, Phoebe Clark, Blake Condon, Tiegan Denina, Caitlin Rose Harris, Patrick Howard, Tayla Jarrett, Katelin Koprivec, Jesse Layt, Victoria Luxton, Michael McPhee, Matilda Moran, Shannen Sarstedt, Zach Selmes, Richard Woodhouse, Victoria Zerbst
Image by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
It is the most straightforward rags to riches story, told backwards. Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along commences at the point where its protagonist has attained considerable professional success, but whose personal relationships are all falling apart. Observing the story unfold in reverse order, we discover little that is surprising, although Sondheim’s songs remain characteristically enchanting. The musical was first presented on Broadway in 1981, lasting only 16 performances, after 52 previews.

Director Alexander Andrews introduces an appropriate pizzazz to the production, working with a very exuberant cast for a standard of singing befitting the often tricky compositions. Leading man Patrick Howard gives his character Frank a strong presence, and a commanding voice, but lackadaisical costume design diminishes the personality transformations that the actor tries to portray. His besties are played by Zach Selmes and Victoria Zerbst, both accomplished and persuasive with what they wish to achieve. Shannen Sarstedt leaves a strong impression as first wife Beth, able to convey depths of emotion as well as unexpected dimension, for one of Merrily‘s many cardboard characters.

The two musicians, Conrad Hamill and Antonio Fernandez prove themselves reliably versatile and efficient in providing accompaniment for the entire duration, but the very small band can sometimes deliver underwhelming results. Similarly, visual design in terms of sets and costumes, are insufficiently ambitious, and the staging struggles to live up to Sondheim and George Furth’s quite grand piece of writing. Nothing however, can take away from the sheer delight of the master’s songs, all of which are sung with gusto and precision, and this for his legions of fans, is plenty.

Review: The Book Of Mormon (Sydney Lyric Theatre)

Venue: Sydney Lyric Theatre (Sydney NSW), from Feb 27, 2018
Book, Music & Lyrics: Robert Lopez, Trey Parker, Matt Stone
Directors: Casey Nicholaw, Trey Parker
Cast: Ryan Bondy, Andrew Broadbent, A.J. Holmes, Bert LaBonté, Zahra Newman, Augustin Aziz Tchantcho, Rowan Witt
Images by Jeff Busby

Theatre review
The best musical of all time, can only ever be a determination based on subjective assessment, but The Book Of Mormon is very possibly the funniest and cleverest, most unique iteration of a show in the Broadway musical genre, to have graced the stage. Two young men are dispatched from America to Uganda, to spread the word of their Mormon church. It is a simple story, but the layers of meaning that it explores are manifold and deeply trenchant.

From issues regarding religion’s inescapably oppressive nature, to the severe problem of poverty in developing nations, The Book Of Mormon is relentlessly, if subliminally, disturbing. It delivers big laughs at every turn, through an absurd sense of outrageous humour (the kind that is nothing less than exquisite, if shared by the right audience), but it is the savage evaluation of our humanity, and its pointed castigation demanding we do better, that provides impetus for its narrative drive.

The jokes are marvellously extreme, its songs are irresistibly charming and delightful, and everything is put together with extraordinary daring and finesse. There are elements that will likely offend sensibilities of those targeted by the pricey entrance fee, but the show is careful to couple soft with hard, tender with caustic, to make its lessons digestible. It ultimately retreats deftly into kumbaya territory, able to appease audiences of all persuasions.

Performed by a terrifically exuberant cast (and a fabulous orchestra headed by musical director David Young), this Sydney production is everything one could wish for, in a night of sensational, intelligent and thrillingly bawdy entertainment. The ensemble is given ample opportunity to showcase their talents, and they all rise to the occasion, as a group and as individuals, to present a work impressive with both its precision and nuance.

Ryan Bondy as Elder Price is suitably dazzling, all sharp moves and sonorous tenor, bringing youthful idealism to glorious life. Elder Cunningham is played by A.J. Holmes who charms the pants off of everyone, with splendid timing and inexhaustible zeal. The eminently memorable Zahra Newman gives us a Nabulungi so full of spirit, and so perfectly sung, that she shifts focus away from the Mormon boys to a greater story of international economic injustice.

No work of art can solve world hunger, but in The Book Of Mormon‘s tale of the haves and the have-nots, our culpability is clear. The West has always looked abroad for resources to pilfer, but we do little to mend the devastation that is inevitably left behind. Missionaries from our churches go with the best of intentions, trying to do what they can to bring relief to those who suffer, imposing belief systems on foreign lands that have thus far proven only to be inadequate. Thoughts and prayers can do wonders, but the miracles we wish to see the most, require real sacrifice.

Review: Being Dead (Don Quixote) (MKA Theatre / Unofficial Kerith Fan Club)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Mar 6 – 10, 2018
Creation and performance: Kerith Manderson-Galvin

Theatre review
In Being Dead, Kerith Manderson-Galvin is constantly “corpsing”, or “breaking”, unable to commit to the theatrical device known as a character. This is all a ruse of course, in this avant-garde variant of the Don Quixote story. A work of art is to be created, a show is anticipated to be staged, and the accompanying ambitions are, as always, unimaginably grand. Artists needs to be brave; we expect performers to be polished up, ready and flawlessly poised, but that does not mean a negation of their humanly vulnerabilities.

Manderson-Galvin’s presentation embraces qualities normally prohibited. Hesitant, apologetic, confused and very nervous, the actor reveals all that conventional wisdom deems unsuitable for theatrical consumption. These states of being, although negative, are unquestionably authentic, and within the text’s radical employment, they become saliently relevant to its story of wild aspiration. To dream big, one’s weaknesses cannot be ignored. In throwing one’s all into a project, imperfections too require attention.

The character we see, never really knows when their show begins. They are fearful and indecisive, in a perpetual state of procrastination, but for the audience, it is clear that the performance is underway the moment we see the genius Manderson-Galvin pacing on stage, portraying the fear that grips anyone who wishes to accomplish something extraordinary. It is a strange discipline that is being flaunted, an odd coupling of overt awkwardness and concealed deliberateness. It is false bravado turned inside out, for an experience wonderfully unusual and perversely delightful.

Equally enjoyable are its several sequences of sheer beauty, unpredictable and comforting, gestures of kindness perhaps, to release us of its otherwise stubborn edginess. Lights by Jason Crick and sound by Jules Pascoe, keep the production contained and coherent, pleasant elements that we cling to, like a security blanket, amid Being Dead‘s resolve to challenge and disturb.

Unbeknownst to themself, our protagonist succeeds in their search for something magical. Preoccupied with anxiety, they fail to detect all the good that is being created. Fear is a monster, an adversary to be combated with great fortitude and ferocity. Strength will deliver victories, but stillness is necessary, if the rewards are to be appreciated.

Review: Kill Climate Deniers (Griffin Theatre Company)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Feb 23 – Apr 7, 2018
Playwright: David Finnigan
Director: Lee Lewis
Cast: Eden Falk, Sheridan Harbridge, Emily Havea, Rebecca Massey, Lucia Mastrantone
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
In the current state of evolution with information technology, it can often seem that everyone has extremist tendencies. As social media becomes an increasingly rudimentary part of modern existence, we are compelled to contribute to its constant stream of content creation, by discovering voices that we never before possessed. We manufacture opinions and outrage, in order to participate in the new society, to feel that sense of belonging every human requires.

As a result, we are more fractured than ever. Everything turns into contestable binaries, and every person must take a position on all matters. Ambivalence or disinterest has no place in this iteration of Western civilisation. In David Finnigan’s Kill Climate Deniers, the idea of an extremist shifts from anomaly to commonplace, and all its characters hold strong adversarial views about the strangely contentious issue of climate change. As its title suggests, “terrorist activity” fuels the narrative of Finnigan’s play, but it is only good intentions that we find guiding its ruminations.

In an anarchic fantasy, where our real-life passions are transformed into radical action, it is not the decimation of the other side that Finnigan wishes to accomplish, but an understanding of opposing perspectives that he hopes for. By imagining a worst case scenario, in which everyone loses, doors are open for a discussion that aims to unite us. We are accustom to looking at all the differences between left and right, but Finnigan is interested in finding similarities.

It is however, a stylistically progressive piece of writing, with an aggressive sense of the haphazard driving its plot, in firm repudiation of traditional storytelling structures. Director Lee Lewis brings a wildness to proceedings that captivate with a caustic energy. Trent Suidgeest’s lights and Steve Toulmin’s sounds bring organised chaos to the stage, for a show that is unpredictable and messy, occasionally frustrating, but ultimately persuasive with its spirit and conviction.

Actors are charismatic, each one proving themselves to be seasoned and skillful, consummate entertainers we can rely on. Sheridan Harbridge and Rebecca Massey are irresistibly appealing with the broad comedy that emanates effortlessly from every fibre of their being. Emily Havea and Lucia Mastrantone deliver stronger acerbity to the politics at play, both impressive with the authentic gravity they introduce into the important issues being dissected. Eden Falk is perfectly cast as narrator/author, tenaciously believable and endearing, offering us a marvellously coherent interpretation of the text’s complex nuances.

The point of Kill Climate Deniers is neither controversial nor unexpected, but the experience it provides is unforgettably exhilarating. It is theatre that grabs you and throws you around, impressive in its inexhaustible capacity to keep us fascinated. At the end though, it is an extremely tall order for any work about climate change to be satisfying. Art can help us move towards resolution (if we allow ourselves to be completely optimistic), but there is perhaps no way any artist can give us a solution to those problems. What the play wants to say, is anticlimactic, but it remains true, that change requires action, and we are poised at a crossroads where our choices will determine our very survival.

Review: Strangers In Between (Seymour Centre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Feb 14 – Mar 2, 2018
Playwright: Tommy Murphy
Director: Daniel Lammin
Cast: Simon Burke, Wil King, Guy Simon
Image by Sarah Walker

Theatre review
Not everyone is lucky enough to have families who offer affection and support. For many LGBTQI people, the system of kinship is often a manufactured one, relying on families that we have chosen for ourselves rather than the ones we were born into. The prejudices that continue to divide us, are very alive in Tommy Murphy’s Strangers In Between, a story that takes place in the early years of this new century. Shane has left the country town of Goulburn, for the bright lights, and acceptance, of the broadminded city folk in Sydney. The teenager runs from the systematic bigotry of home, in search of a community he hopes would be welcoming. Queer children will always be birthed by straight parents, so the threat of domestic conflict will perhaps never completely diminish, therefore Murphy’s tale of belonging can be thought of as a timeless one.

Actor Wil King is dramatic, but convincing, in the role of Shane. Delivering both theatricality and nuance, King is as compelling as he is sensitive, for a depiction of innocence that is unexpectedly moving. His intensity can occasionally prove overbearing, but there is no denying the trenchant perspectives he brings to the stage. The middle-aged gay man Peter, is played by the delightful Simon Burke, who creates a camp and compassionate personality many will find endearingly familiar. It is a delicate performance that combines a cool exterior with a warm heart, to accurately portray a Darlinghurst “scene queen” type. Also very accomplished is Guy Simon, who impresses in his dual roles of Will and Ben, characters as different as night and day, but both equally authentic with all that they convey. Director Daniel Lammin does exceptional work in bringing the play to life. His minimal approach ensures that the bonds that form between the men, are depicted with clarity and profundity, so that the audience is transported to a space of reflection and appreciation for the communities that we are part of.

The LGBTQI rights movement has delivered significant change to perceptions and acceptance, but the more freedoms we attain, the less likely we seem to want to attach ourselves to ideas of community. The Darlinghurst in Strangers In Between, from just thirteen years ago, has now lost its vibrancy. What was once a tight-knit locale, is now dispersed and aloof. The queer city slickers today are powerful and entitled, protected by advancements in attitudes and legislation. We no longer hold on to each other for dear life. In the past, young ones like Shane were able to fall into the nurturing arms of Oxford Street, but what happens today and hereafter, looks to be ever less optimistic. |