Review: My Night With Reg (New Theatre)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Feb 5 – Mar 9, 2019
Playwright: Kevin Elyot
Director: Alice Livingstone
Cast: Michael Brindley, Steve Corner, Nick Curnow, James Gordon, Steven Ljubovic, John-Paul Santucci
Images by Bob Seary

Theatre review
In Kevin Elyot’s My Night With Reg, we meet a group of London gays, in the throes of the 1980s AIDS crisis. Just as a new post-Stonewall liberation had begun to inform the way these men were able to live, a dark period of oppression again descends upon them, threatening to quash any promise of a bright future for the community. The play portrays the intimate world of traumatised individuals, all suffering from the reverberations of a then mysterious killer disease, whilst demonstrating the undying vibrancy of an irrepressibly spirited band of brothers.

It is a sentimental piece, oddly apolitical, with an authenticity that today represents not just an enjoyable sense of nostalgia, but also provides opportunity for a valuable historical study of a society not long past. Elyot’s jokes are as funny as they would have been at their 1994 premiere, but his sorrowful expressions are less resonant, with the advent of significant medical advancement, so many years after the fact.

An endearing cast presents a heartfelt production, directed by Alice Livingstone who orchestrates an entertaining 95-minute exploration into queer identities, from the perspective of middle-class white gay communities of the time. Some of the acting is lacking in precision, and sensitive moments deflate as a result, but the show delivers sufficient poignancy for it to be an ultimately satisfying experience. Comedic roles in My Night With Reg leave the strongest impressions, with Steve Corner’s outrageously lascivious turn as Benny particularly delightful, diligently balanced with some very surprising vulnerability that proves affecting. Also memorable is Steven Ljubovic, whose quintessential rendering of cabin crew Daniel, is unapologetically camp, complete with one-liners that are simply irresistible.

There certainly are more relevant queer stories to tell for 2019, but to forget those who had fought hard for today’s freedoms, would be unconscionable. From living underground to nuptial vows, the journey for LGBTQI rights was (and in many other places, remains to be) long and arduous. My Night With Reg does not explicitly show external forces of subjugation, but the limitations and compromises to how we had lived, are clear. Having emerged triumphant, it is important that we know to value and to take advantage of these new liberties, and to revisit tales of our past, for a reminder of today’s privilege, is key.

www.newtheatre.org.au

Review: The Other Side Of 25 (Bontom Productions)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Feb 5 – 9, 2019
Playwright: Becca Hurd
Director: Ellen Wiltshire
Cast: Becca Hurd
Images by Jasmin Simmons

Theatre review
Amory is 27 and pregnant, but tells us that babies are not her bag. Life is taking her on a journey, and she believes that to fall pregnant, is to take a pause from her meaningful experience of something much greater. Becca Hurd’s The Other Side Of 25 is indeed about the meaning of life, and quite accurately, its protagonist discovers that there is little as wonderful about existence, as it is to be of service to loved ones. It is soon revealed that Amory is surrogate, on behalf of her sister who has a medical condition that causes problems with child-bearing.

The one-woman show format compels its playwright to make deeply personal revelations that in turn, inspire our own reflections on big questions surrounding convention and inventiveness, the mundane and the sacred, ephemerality and legacy. Its unpretentious honesty allows a deceptively simple story to be told, in a style that is strikingly casual, by director Ellen Wiltshire who catches us unawares with the philosophies that the show contains. Hurd herself performs the piece, with a disarming immediacy that makes us imagine that everything must be autobiographical. Her instinct for the stage insists on our undivided attention, and we follow her every progression in relaying Amory’s story.

When we stop to think about procreation, the amount of reasons that can dissuade an individual from taking the plunge can be daunting. Amory’s decision to carry her sister’s baby is one of logic, but the vast majority of pregnancies occur in a space of emotion and intuition. We can delude ourselves into thinking that we have complete understanding about our individual paths in the world, but in a moment of control being usurped, Amory finds herself unwittingly transported. What was once a hindrance, turns in a flash, into something to be cherished above all else.

www.bontom.com.au

Review: The Rise & Fall Of Little Voice (Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

Venue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Feb 1 – 24, 2018
Playwright: Jim Cartwright
Director: Shaun Rennie
Cast: Kip Chapman, Joseph Del Re, Geraldine Hakewill, Caroline O’Connor, Bishanyia Vincent, Charles Wu
Images by Robert Catto

Theatre review
Little Voice is the name of a young woman who spends her days and nights cooped up in a bedroom, listening to old records left behind by a father who had gone too soon. Her mother Mari too, has been unable to get over that death, hitting the bottle hard, and neglecting her all her responsibilities at home and in life. When it is discovered that Little Voice has an extraordinary ability to mimic the torch singers whom she obsesses over, we wonder if commercial success can finally lift the women out of their perpetual state of mourning.

In Jim Cartwright’s The Rise & Fall Of Little Voice, colourful personalities deliver an amusing plot, buoyed by witty dialogue and the alluring promise of spiritual transformation. Actor Caroline O’Connor is scintillating as Mari, a lost but energetic soul, determined to find a man to rescue her from misery. O’Connor’s magnetism is the highlight of the piece, detailed and humorous; she keeps us totally engrossed. Geraldine Hakewill plays the eponymous role with an admirable intensity, particularly charming in her impersonations of Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe and Billie Holiday, but it is arguable if her narrative arc is conveyed with sufficient power, for the show to sing with poignancy.

Ray Say is a pivotal character, the dastardly male who brings out the worst of Mari, and the best of Little Voice. Performed by an irrepressible Joseph Del Re, who makes his part vibrant yet surprisingly authentic, with a confident presence that never fails to secure our undivided attention. Also captivating is Kip Chapman, who takes on jester duties as Lou Boo, a club manager of disrepute, brilliantly quirky and very funny. Bishanyia Vincent and Charles Wu shine in their quiet roles (as Sadie and Billy, respectively), both tugging at our heartstrings with gentle restraint.

It is a sumptuously designed production. Isabel Hudson’s striking set cleverly addresses the play’s various requirements for locations, memorable for the use of obsolete audio tape in its rendition of a tinselled backdrop. Lights by Trent Suidgeest are often spectacular, appropriately splashy in this tale of show business and poverty. Sound design is thoroughly explored by Kingsley Reeve, who makes rich and enjoyable, the show’s important auditory dimensions. All these immense talents are brought to an elegant harmony by director Shaun Rennie, for a show that is perhaps less than the sum of its parts, but he does manage to create a consistently entertaining night of theatre, out of a lightweight piece of nostalgic writing.

We find it hard to be moved by Little Voice’s final realisation that she needs courage, because this revelation is of course, no revelation at all. It is true that a woman needs to learn how to roar, in a place that routinely robs you of your worth, but revenge is not the essence of Little Voice’s story. We become great, not because of bad men (or women), but in spite of them. The talents that she possesses had always existed, and to give her nemesis any credit of her burgeoning, is simply uninspired storytelling. The playwright insists that Little Voice is nothing without her father, her talent agent and her love interest. We know otherwise.

www.darlinghursttheatre.com

Review: Dorian Gray Naked (Popinjay Productions)

Venue: Limelight on Oxford (Darlinghurst NSW), Jan 30 – Feb 16, 2019
Libretto: Melvyn Morrow
Music: Dion Condack
Director: Melvyn Morrow
Cast: Blake Appelqvist

Theatre review
A fictional character provides the inside scoop on his author Oscar Wilde, in Melvyn Morrow’s Dorian Gray Naked. Resurrected to speculate on the inner workings of a novel, from a time when homosexuality was an abomination that would render entire existences underground and secret, Dorian the Adonis/Narcissus of queer literature offers a revised perspective for our comparatively liberated times.

Imaginative and appropriately flamboyant, Morrow waxes lyrical about what might have been. Together with Dion Condack’s music, Dorian Gray Naked paints a melancholic and often abstract picture, about artistic creation, highly sentimental but insufficiently witty. Performer Blake Appelqvist’s affected approach, punctuated by incessant sharp inhales, executed like DIY sound effects, can be alienating, but his presence is a strong one that fills the room effortlessly. It is basically a one-man show, but with Condack positioned onstage, passionate on the piano, interplay between the two men are inevitable in this exploration of gay culture and history.

Choreographer Nathan Mark Wright uses exaggerated body shapes to make a statement about camp, and to disrupt the meanings of masculinity in Wilde’s suspicious narrative of heterosexual love. The effect is skin deep, but it reveals an aspect of gayness that is obsessive about surface. Although Dorian Gray Naked is thorough with its reinventions and fabrications, it seems incapable of reaching greater emotional or psychological depths that will achieve meaningful resonance. It remains mainly a cerebral experience, and for some, that could be enough.

www.limelightonoxford.com.au

Review: Intersection 2019: Arrival (ATYP)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Darlinghurst NSW), Jan 30 – Feb 16, 2019
Playwrights: Georgie Adamson, Joshua Allen, Grace Chapple, Hannah Cockroft, Sasha Dyer, Meg Goodfellow, Flynn Hall, Jasper Lee—Lindsay, Brooke Murray, Emma Skalicky
Director: Sophie Kelly
Cast: Marvin Adler, Teodora Avramovic, Salem Barrett-Brown, Bebe Bettencourt, Toby Blume, Apsara Lindeman, Ryan Hodson, Kelly Nguyen, Grace Stamnas, Sophie Strykowski, Harry Winsome, Emma Wright
Images by Tracey Schramm

Theatre review
To arrive, implies a destination, an end to travels, but at the conclusion of every journey, if conclusions exist at all, are inevitable new beginnings. In Arrival, we witness young people undertaking an act of emergence, one that is propulsive rather than stagnant. Ten short plays present them as a force to be reckoned with, full of hope and exhilaration, in an event that will no doubt provide inspiration to the young and young-at-heart.

The material is light, almost blithe in attitude, that director Sophie Kelly uses to her advantage in cultivating an irresistible vivacity for a show that keeps us wanting more. Set design by Tyler Ray Hawkins is attractive and sophisticated, cleverly utilising abstract patterns to stoke our imagination. Martin Kinnane’s lights are called upon to inject drama, highly effective in enhancing all that the cast aim to unfurls on stage.

Performers Teodora Avramovic and Sophie Stykowski are especially memorable in Flynn Hall’s Fish Fingers, a cheeky piece about teenage masturbation and self-discovery in a carnal sense. The pair’s extraordinary chemistry, along with their confident timing, deliver some very big laughs, in a joyful display of promising new talent. Georgie Adamson’s Real Dry is a refreshing take on a classic lesbian story, featuring BeBe Bettencourt and Kelly Nguyen, who offer a sensitive and intelligent interpretation of girls experiencing crushes. It is noteworthy that queerness is represented beautifully in the production, to reflect a new evolution in the understanding of human sexuality that Sydney youth has so readily embraced.

We may not be able to find anything radical in these works, but the energy derived from each of these artists’ optimism is palpable. There is a quality of bravery that shines through, even if things can feel somewhat contained and safe. It is clear that our affluence in this lucky country compels an overprotection of ourselves, especially our young. Art, like most things of significance, can only be accomplished with risk, which is perhaps the hardest of all to teach.

www.atyp.com.au

Review: Are You Listening Now? (Five Foot Productions)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Jan 29 – Feb 2, 2019
Playwright: Xavier Coy
Director: Ed Wightman
Cast: Martin Bell, Xavier Coy, Fiona Mahl, Emily J Stewart
Images by Becky Matthews

Theatre review
Mez and Gaz are intruders in a 6-million-dollar house, with intentions not only to burgle but also to teach the affluent homeowners a lesson. Even though Xavier Coy’s Are You Listening Now? makes its point about wealth distribution with no concern for subtlety, the message is nonetheless an important one. By embedding plenty of comedy and drama, the writer ensures his play to be an amusing one, and laughing about class is certainly a worthwhile activity, at these times of unprecedented prosperity for the top end of town.

Directed by Ed Wightman, the staging is energetic, with a high level of intensity fortifying the hour-long piece. Coy himself performs the role of Gaz, adept at delivering laughs in his portrayal of a surprising innocent. His criminal mentor Mez is played by Fiona Mahl, who in her strongest moments, can prove impressively convincing. Emily J Stewart is riveting as Claudia, one-half of the rich couple under siege, a persuasive presence who brings much needed nuance to the production. Multimillionaire Charles is a predictable personality that Martin Bell is able to make believable, for a familiar portrayal of Sydney-style privilege.

It is sometimes surprising to observe the degree to which Australia has embraced neo-liberalism. For generations we have prided ourselves on our egalitarianism, but it appears that greed is truly indomitable. The moral at the centre of Are You Listening Now? is timeless and pertinent; money is a complex beast that if left unchallenged, will inflict harm and turn us inhumane. Mez’s refusal to obey rules that are designed to subjugate her, is admirable, but without compatriots joining her rebellion, we see that a one-woman movement can amount to nothing more than empty gestures.

www.facebook.com/fixedfootproductions

Review: Brown Skin Girl (Black Birds / Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Jan 29 – Feb 9, 2019
Playwrights: Ayeesha Ash, Emily Havea, Angela Nica
Director: Ayeesha Ash
Cast: Ayeesha Ash, Emily Havea, Angela Nica

Theatre review
Three mixed-race women offer their perspectives as young Australians living while brown. In Brown Skin Girl, creators Ayeesha Ash, Emily Havea and Angela Nica are themselves on stage, delivering autobiographical accounts of challenges faced by women of colour, on a land that although never was ceded to white colonists, has had to struggle with racism since the very dawn of European invasion. The work arises from dark experiences, but it is a passionate and brilliantly joyful encounter that results, featuring anecdotes, observations and sheer poetry that aim not only to bring light to what is normally repressed, it proves to be immensely uplifting, especially for those of similar backgrounds.

The women have fathers who are African-American and Cherokee, Grenadian, and Tongan, so their appearance makes them a target, of constantly being othered in a society that never fails to exert its whiteness, no matter how much we call out its illegitimacy. This absurdity is effectively transposed into comedy, and the show is uproariously funny, with all its subversive and critical denunciation of the prejudices being perpetuated on people of colour. Ash, Havea and Nica are extremely appealing personalities, warm and effervescent, charming even when dispensing their most cutting beratements. Their chemistry is honed to perfection, on a stage replete with fiery, feminine confidence.

As people of colour, we need to be the ones to lead this nation’s discussions on race. The project of dismantling white supremacy in our spaces and structures, simply cannot be left to the powerful. We need to remember that there is little incentive for them to change the way things are, even as they profess a seemingly genuine desire to help better our communities. We must stop being fearful of radical thought and action, and at the same time, learn to manipulate these broken systems to our advantage. This will require our coming together, our refusal to be kept apart by a white patriarchy that benefits from our fractured and dispersed existences. Brown Skin Girl is a rare moment in Australian theatre, that does not imagine a white audience; it dares to speak to its own, and for once, the minorities in the audience feels seen. This is the beginning of empowerment, where hopes can begin to turn into reality.

www.black-birds.net