Review: Hysteria (Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

Venue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Mar 31 – Apr 30, 2017
Playwright: Terry Johnson
Director: Susanna Dowling
Cast: Miranda Daughtry, Michael McStay, Wendy Strehlow, Jo Turner
Image by Robert Catto

Theatre review
Sigmund Freud is near the end of his life, and the past returns to haunt him. We all change our minds, but writers have the burden of their work set in stone. In Terry Johnson’s 1993 play Hysteria, a fictive version of Freud is made to regret his declarations about women’s rape fantasies. It seems that the legendary psychoanalyst had misrepresented experiences of his patients, turning their reality into imagination, so that his work would be better received. Johnson’s piece about the need to redress denials of rape and molestation, is a timely discussion in the current climate of renewed interest in feminism, but Hysteria is a dry, and often inelegant, work that proves to be less than captivating.

The production looks smart enough, with Anna Gardiner’s set and costume design establishing a splendid first impression. Projections of Julian Tynan’s cinematography appear later in the piece, equally delightful with the imagery it presents. It is an accomplished group of actors, each one demonstrating a good sense of presence and conviction, but chemistry is lacking, and the stories they tell never seem to fortify. We are left feeling confused and detached, unable to adequately follow its narrative or to satisfactorily engage in any of its ideas. It is a laborious exercise for the audience, trying to work out the point of the exercise, and when we eventually gain clarity, Hysteria‘s concerns fail to resonate.

Individual elements of the show all look to be at least adequate, but they coalesce to form something that is altogether disappointing. Its characters are not lifeless; Salvador Dali is written in, presumably, to further enhance the quotient of eccentricity in Freud’s colourful world, but there is little in Hysteria that excites. Art does not owe us entertainment, nor does it promise to always be meaningful. In art, there is no right and wrong, but a work can certainly fall short of the standards it sets itself.

www.darlinghursttheatre.com

Review: The Mystery Of Love & Sex (Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

darlotheatreVenue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Feb 10 – Mar 12, 2017
Playwright: Bathsheba Doran
Director: Anthony Skuse
Cast: Deborah Galanos, Thuso Lekwape, Nicholas Papademetriou, Contessa Treffone
Image by Steven Siewert

Theatre review
We have told many “coming out” stories over the last several decades. The agonising process of revealing one’s own queerness to inevitably heterosexual parents and a correspondingly straight world, is a mainstay of queer art. In Bathsheba Doran’s The Mystery Of Love & Sex however, we are concerned with how individuals come out to themselves.

Charlotte’s parents are open-minded, savvy individuals who are relaxed about homosexuality, yet she finds herself in a state of crisis when discovering that she might be gay. Her closest confidante Jonny, too, is taken by surprise. Even with all the intimacies that they had shared through the years, the assumption of heterosexuality never goes away. Best friends can tell each other everything, but when it comes to any possible deviation of sexual preferences, those remain a deep, dark private secret.

The play is about society’s persistent inability to makes structural adjustments, that will allow our children to grow into adults with sexual idiosyncrasies, without fear of discrimination or persecution. Doran’s approach for this political issue is subtle, very cleverly handled. It is an intriguing plot, with dialogue that amuse, resonate and challenge. Its ideas are not new, but they are presented in a manner that makes us feel only their relevance and urgency.

Directed by Anthony Skuse, the show has an enchanting warmth that appeals to our sentimental selves. These may not be our families and friends who tell their stories on stage, but Skuse makes us feel as though they are part of our lives. The production has a tendency to be overly polite and placid, but all its messages are relayed with clarity and a beautiful deliberateness.

Charlotte is played by Contessa Treffone, effervescent in personality and comic timing, for a central character impossible to dislike. Best friend Jonny is sensitively crafted by Thuso Lekwape who brings wonderful depth and complexity to a young man trapped between tradition and modernity. Nicholas Papademetriou as Howard is a loving father, almost too sweet for several of his more combative scenes, but we believe all the relationships he fosters. The fiery Lucinda is a memorable presence in actor Deborah Galanos who contributes an excellent vitality, and whose artistic instincts are relied upon for much of the staging’s authentic sense of time and space.

It is a real privilege when the greatest obstacle for social acceptance comes from one’s self. Many of us who will see The Mystery Of Love & Sex, live in progressive communities who have learned about our LGBTQ neighbours, and the diverse expressions of love, sex and gender of all peoples, yet many of us struggle to face our personal desires and sexual experiences with honesty, and without shame. The things we are taught as children stick with us tenaciously. Values and beliefs that have long expired can retain their grip on how we think of ourselves. Each of us has to come to a full realisation that these old ideas have outstayed their welcome, and have them banished.

www.darlinghursttheatre.com

Review: A Life In The Theatre (Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

darlotheatreVenue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Nov 4 – Dec 4, 2016
Playwright: David Mamet
Director: Helen Dallimore
Cast: Akos Armont, Sunil Chandra, John Gaden

Theatre review
John and Robert work on a lot of plays together and have become more than familiar, but their closeness does not extend beyond the theatre. John is considerably younger, and although respectful of Robert, the generational gap that exists between the two is incontrovertible. The theatre that they practise is an ancient art form, passed down through the years from old to young, and in A Life In The Theatre, we are always conscious of John’s progression towards an inevitable taking over of Robert’s veteran position, in a perpetually reconstituting cycle of life and art, that tends to escape our daily consciousness despite its omnipresence.

David Mamet’s work of comedy is an acerbic yet deeply loving tribute to the people who make theatre, featuring fractured observations of the many absurd moments commonly experienced by those who work the stage, flattering and otherwise, but always meaningful on account of the honesty from which these vignettes are derived. All of human behaviour is funny from the right distance, and Mamet’s faux cynical attitude offers excellent opportunity for a great many laughs.

Director Helen Dallimore steers her production into madcap territory appropriate to the writing style, for a delightful and endearing portrayal of artists at work. The production’s rhythm suffers unfortunately, from frequent disruption due to its many sequences involving the cast going through costume changes on stage, causing energy levels to take a tumble at the end of every scene.

The actors however, provide detailed performances that insist on our attention at every step of the way. Both Akos Armont and John Gaden are resolutely present and thorough in their depiction of a profession fuelled by unbridled passion and ceaseless anxiety. Also noteworthy is Christopher Page’s lighting design, sensitively conceived and boldly executed, adding gloss and dynamism to an otherwise ordinary setting of backstage drabness.

Life is at its most real when the idiosyncrasies of individuals are able to be revealed. The quirky characters in A Life In The Theatre allow us to perceive the universality of our insecurities and irrationality, along with the benevolence and optimism that are fundamental to how we can make sense of existence. We may never come to a complete understanding of life or art, but it is the participation that counts for everything.

www.darlinghursttheatre.com

Review: Remembering Pirates (Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

darloVenue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Sep 16 – Oct 16, 2016
Playwright: Christopher Harley
Director: Iain Sinclair
Cast: Robert Alexander, Fraser Crane, Emma Palmer, Simon London, Stephen Multari
Image by Helen White

Theatre review
The stories we tell can either be fictional or factual, and things that happen in our lives can be real or imagined. These concepts reflect our reliance on dichotomies, and a tendency to think of the world in black and white binary terms. Christopher Harley’s play is certainly not just one thing or another. It might be about dreams, faith or rationality. It could also be about family, childhood and illness. A strange narrative, with a simplicity that allows us to interpret and understand it however we choose. Remembering Pirates is hard to engage with. Its characters are distant, humourless, and with emotions that seem plastic despite their intensity. Without a doubt, fantastic ideas can be detected in all of its dramatic moments, but we react with nonchalance, maybe because its need for mystery causes it to keep too much hidden from us.

There is much to admire in how the production works with both surreal and naturalistic elements, blurring the boundaries between the two, to formulate a world that keeps us guessing. Its dreamlike atmosphere is created well, albeit somewhat monotonously. The play has the potential to grow very ominous and menacing, but its sojourns into darker territory are few and far between. Actor Simon London leads the cast with impressive presence and commitment. His effortless charisma keeps us from becoming too alienated from the peculiar protagonist, successfully retaining our attention through his several mystifying junctures.

Delusions are purely solitary experiences. When two people share the same, it becomes reality. Truth is a shifting entity in Remembering Pirates, and we often find ourselves kept outside of its hallucinatory indulgences. It is not clear if participants in the making of the show are able to find a unified vision for their project, but what they do make accessible needs greater depth and poignancy to accompany the big themes being discussed. Fantasy can always be found at the theatre, but it needs to be more than fanciful, before it can fuel our soul and give us what we truly need from art.

www.darlinghursttheatre.com

Review: Broken (Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

darlotheatreVenue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Jul 29 – Aug 28, 2016
Playwright: Mary Anne Butler
Director: Shannon Murphy
Cast: Ivan Donato, Sarah Enright, Rarriwuy Hick
Image by Helen White

Theatre review
Two extremely traumatic events happen in Mary Anne Butler’s Broken. Ash, Ham and Mia are regular people encountering dreadful circumstances, and their agony is positioned within their very ordinariness, compelling us to relate to their hurt with the most immediate intimacy. It is a poetic piece of writing, with characters speaking directly to us, or perhaps to themselves, but only occasionally engaging each other in dialogue. Instead of demonstrating incidents as they occur, we are given recollections, as though in psychotherapy sessions where the subject has to access memories, from which levels of understanding can be reached over time, as the dust begins to settle. The text is experimental, often very powerful in its description of shocking details relating to the horrors being faced and the accompanying emotions, but it is arguable if the words address sufficiently, the essentially spatial nature of a theatrical script.

The staging involves three stationary microphone stands, with a cast restricted by their apparatus. The play features crippled personalities, and what we see are three individuals confined to tight spaces, unable to gain a breakthrough for their struggles. Frustrated, stifled and depressed, they are caged in and try as they might to talk themselves out of darkness, their efforts are futile. The show is appropriately sombre, and although never short of emotional intensity, its dramatic qualities are subdued. Much is made of speech and sounds, including the slightly awkward incorporation of foley techniques, but physical and visual aspects of the production are heavily reduced. Without strong imagery to coincide with its verbal aspects, the production relies heavily on the audience’s imagination, which may not always be an effective means of allowing the story to connect.

Actors are uniformly strong, with impressive cohesion in their presentational style and tone. Thoroughly well-rehearsed and precisely executed, Ivan Donato, Sarah Enright and Rarriwuy Hick’s portrayals are confident and convincing. The harrowing nature of their depictions proves to be of no hindrance to the depth of exploration they are able to provide, and even though opportunities for interaction between players are infrequent, their timing as a group is beautifully polished, and a pleasure to witness.

Accidents can ruin us, and even though life must go on for those who survive, recovery is not always a surety. In Broken, we are subject to an examination of our being during the worst of days, without an opportunity to escape into the promise of a brighter future. Plunged into hopelessness, the play keeps our consciousness inside its pain, before we are able to again take a departure, and let our human resilience wipe it away from memory.

www.darlinghursttheatre.com

5 Questions with Ivan Donato and Rarriwuy Hick

Ivan Donato

Ivan Donato

Rarriwuy Hick: If your character Ham was a rock star what would be his name?
Ivan Donato: ShaHam

What’s your heritage?
I was born in Santiago, Chile and my family and I moved to Australia in 1987 seeking refuge from the military coup.

Why is setting the play in Alice Springs crucial to the story? And to Australian people’s consciousness?
Setting the play in the outskirts of Alice Springs immediately invokes a sense of loneliness and harshness due to the landscape. I’m not sure we would have achieved as intense a degree of isolation had we set it in Sydney or Melbourne. Having said that, and not trying to give too much away about the production, I think all great theatre engages an audience with its ideas and arguments as opposed to its setting.

Did you do any research about the play or your character before rehearsals commenced and what were they?
Obviously read the play first and then broke down all the lines that Ham speaks in the play to get a sense of character journey. One of the most challenging things about the play was learning the lines. The learning process was essentially memorising a series of non sequitur.

What’s your favourite line from the play?
It’s not a specific line in the play but I’m very fond of the section where Ash and Ham are getting to know each other for the first time.

Rarriwuy Hick

Rarriwuy Hick

You work extensively in both film/television and stage, what do you think are the main differences between performing for the stage and performing on film/tv?
The difference would be how big your performance needs to be on stage to how subtle it is for screen.
What’s great about working on Broken with Shannon Murphy is that we’re exploring the idea of making a theatre show slightly cinematic.

What is your heritage?
My Father is from Plymouth, England. My Mother is Yolngu from North-East Arnhem Land.

The play Broken deals with people either following their heart or their brain. Which one would you say you follow and listen to the most?
I definitely follow my heart. I live by that rule.

What do you think is the most challenging thing about being an actor?
Being away from all of my family.

As a young female, what advice would you give other young females considering a career in the arts?
Just be yourself and don’t be afraid to be opinionated. Being intelligent and passionate is admirable.

Ivan Donato and Rarriwuy Hick are appearing in Broken by Mary Anne Butler.
Dates: 29 July – 28 August, 2016
Venue: Eternity Playhouse

Review: A Man With Five Children (Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

darloVenue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Jun 3 – 26, 2016
Playwright: Nick Enright
Director: Anthony Skuse
Cast: Jemwel Danao, Chenoa Deemal, Charlotte Hazzard, Jody Kennedy, Ildiko Susany, Anthony Taufa, Aaron Tsindos, Jeremy Waters, Taylor Wiese
Image by Helen White

Theatre review
Like the “Up Series” from British television, Gerry in Nick Enright’s A Man With Five Children begins documenting the lives of five Australian seven year-olds in 1964 with his camera. Initially revisiting the group once a year, he becomes increasingly embroiled with his subjects, and the films he produces begin to lose their objectivity. The nature of Gerry’s art and his relationships are constantly transforming. We think about his responsibilities as film-maker, the validity of his work, and consequently, our collusion as a public that encourages intrusions of this nature. Enright’s play is highly sophisticated, with a big number of themes running through its stories, all thoughtful and sensitive, but its admirable complexity comes at a sacrifice of dramatic tension and focus. Several plot twists are revealed too abruptly, and its ambition to feature all five children with equal weight creates a narrative structure that our emotions struggle to find suitable empathy for.

The work is directed with excellent ingenuity by Anthony Skuse whose combination of live action and film expresses beautifully the way time and space is intertwined in the text (Christopher Page’s lights and Tim Hope’s AV design work together in perfect harmony for a presentation that will be remembered for its precise and elegant aesthetic iterations). Humanity is at the foreground, and Skuse’s remarkable compassion for every character is clear to see, but the ambiguous interpretation of Gerry’s traits and motives is ultimately too mild for its audience to respond with greater passion. Actor Jeremy Waters’ solid stage presence anchors the show appropriately with Gerry’s experiences, regardless of the character’s dubious attributes. It is a performance with power and sincerity, and although not a likeable role, we cannot help but be impressed by Waters’ professionalism and the obvious refinement of his craft.

The cast of nine forms a cohesive and engrossing ensemble. Every scene is lively and authentic, and every line of dialogue is delivered with wonderful conviction. Jemwel Danao plays the innocence and tragedy of Roger to great effect, creating the most poignant moments on stage with an approach that is unique in its subtlety, but also emotionally rich. He speaks directly to our sentimental sides, bringing us back to the play’s tender heart amidst its complications of ideas and incidents. Similarly heartbreaking is Jody Kennedy as Zoe, the girl who believes herself to be “ordinary”. The actor takes her character through many distinct transformations, each one striking in their accuracy, and is consistently charming with every portrayal. The “five children” perform to us not only in the flesh but also through the camera lens, and it is noteworthy that their work on screen is equally accomplished.

The media has played a major part of our lives for decades, but its increasing ubiquity from year to year cannot be understated. A Man With Five Children first appeared before the era of social media, so its major concerns are dealt with in ways that are perhaps slightly outmoded. Gerry is in a position of power that influences lives, in a way not dissimilar to how our own lives are being manipulated by corporations that seduce and insist on our reliance. On the surface, it is a love-hate relationship, but the play leaves little doubt as to the damage that any media can cause when we invite it into personal realms. Gerry’s children would have escaped his domination if their parents had not volunteered their participation but we can scarcely withdraw from the gaze of the modern world through the prevalence of smartphones and their infinite applications. There was a time before screens, and we all fall into the trap of yearning for those simpler days, but the truth is that humans have never been pure and life has never been easy. We have to identify the challenges of our times and their prevailing evils, and do our best to turn things for the better, even in the knowledge that the next malice is just around the corner.

www.darlinghursttheatre.com