Review: I’m With Her (Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

Venue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Nov 9 – Dec 1, 2019
Lead Writer: Victoria Midwinter Pitt
Director: Victoria Midwinter Pitt
Cast: Gabrielle Chan, Shakira Clanton, Lynette Curran, Deborah Galanos, Emily Havea
Images by Robert Catto

Theatre review
Named after a prominent slogan from Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, I’m With Her features nine remarkable women, and their tales of resistance in relation to patriarchal structures that have tried to stand in the way of women’s achievements. Indeed these are success stories, representing only those who had made it in spite of immense opposition, but through them we observe not only the struggles that women everywhere encounter, but also how some of us have been able to emerge victorious.

Based on first-hand accounts by some of our favourite Australians, from Julia Gillard to Marcia Langton, as well as some lesser known but equally accomplished others, the work offers valuable inspiration to those who encounter roadblocks everyday on account of our gender. Created by Victoria Midwinter Pitt, the three-hour show is infrequently sentimental, but always powerful with what it says in terms of our capacity to weather storms and overcome obstacles. There is a uniformity in how each monologue unfolds, that reflects the similarity of experiences, and the journeys we have to make, in order to attain fulfilling lives.

Although repetitive in its form, I’m With Her is composed of anecdotes from highly compelling individuals, performed by an exceptionally sincere cast. Shakira Clanton’s emotional intensity, along with a precision in her motivations, give resonance to everything she utters. Similarly affecting is Emily Havea, who brings valuable zeal to the show. The whimsical Gabrielle Chan is memorable for her wonderful sense of humour, and Lynette Curran’s ability to convey vulnerability keeps us on the edge of our seats. Deborah Galanos is robust in her portrayals, and as with all the other actors in I’m With Her, presents an indelible impression of strength and resilience.

Audio-visual design by Mia Holton is noteworthy for delivering breathtaking imagery via a series of cleverly assembled projections. Further enhancing theatricality is sound and music by Tegan Nicholls, punctuating the journey with aural cues that help us absorb nuances as they arrive. Kelsey Lee’s lights are delicately calibrated, to guide us through shifts in mood and attitude, as we traverse these profound testimonies.

Many of these, are women at the top of their game, but it is important we remember that these games are often themselves the problem. One of the personalities we meet is Sister Patricia Madigan, who wishes for women to one day be ordained as priests, but we must not ignore the fact that even if a female pope should eventuate, the church is still Catholic. Having more women in power will certainly improve things for everyone, but we must not pretend that any tactic that retains old systems that thrive on the subjugation of vast numbers of people, is the way to solve our problems. As we continue with trying to get more women replacing men at positions of influence, it is imperative that we think up new ways to organise our lives. Glass ceilings can be broken, but the end game is to have all of us elevated.

www.darlinghursttheatre.com

Review: Rainbow’s End (Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

Venue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Aug 10 – Sep 1, 2019
Playwright: Jane Harrison
Director: Liza-Mare Syron
Cast: Frederick Copperwaite, Phoebe Grainer, Lily Shearer, Lincoln Vickery, Dalara Williams
Images by Robert Catto

Theatre review
Jane Harrison’s Rainbow’s End sees three generations of women from the Dear family, living together by the Goulburn River, navigating the challenges of being Aboriginal on colonised land. Things are hard, but these characters are upbeat, as though demonstrating a defiance in their very nature, that refuses to be subdued. The lighthearted quality of Harrison’s play makes for a charming portrait of Indigenous resilience; it resists our desire for a narrative that foregrounds these women in pain, choosing only to show us how they are able to overcome unremitting disadvantage.

Directed by Liza-Mare Syron, the production is full of spirit, with an enjoyable mischievousness that ensures we respond with a sense of admiration, for the Dear women and their people. Lights by Karen Norris are particularly well conceived, a dynamic element relied upon to provide visual variation. Actor Lily Shearer is a cheeky elder as Nan Dear, bringing considerable warmth to the piece. The vivacious Dalara Williams contributes exuberance in the role of Gladys, memorable for the ironic humour she renders as the unlikely monarchist. Teenage Dolly is played by Phoebe Grainer, whose innocence is a defining factor of this story about Yorta Yorta women in the 1950’s. Grainer is a charming performer, effective in making the play feel authentic, thus prompting us to question the progress of race relations in this country, more than 65 years later.

Rainbow’s End is an Indigenous story told by Indigenous Australians. In it, they demand improvements for their communities today, as the Dear women had done a lifetime ago. We are accustomed to the idea that progress is linear, but there is much evidence to show that we do not operate that way. As white supremacy makes a less than taciturn return to fashion, we have to take all precautions to ensure that its racist agenda, is faced with obstruction at every opportunity. It pretends to do good, when in fact it keeps doing bad, always using lying words to restrain us. They talk about intentions to make things better, but their actions only reveal the opposite. We must insist on recognising the truth, and not be swayed by their language. We must not be manipulated into thinking that where Indigenous Australia is today, is anywhere near good enough.

www.moogahlin.org | www.darlinghursttheatre.com

Review: Once (Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

Venue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Jun 26 – Aug 4, 2019
Book: Enda Walsh
Music & Lyrics: Glen Hansard, Markéta Irglová
Director: Richard Carroll
Cast: Joe Accaria, Stefanie Caccamo, Cameron Daddo, Victoria Falconer, Toby Francis, Conrad Hamill, Drew Livingston, Abe Mitchell, Rupert Reid, Alec Steedman, Joanna Weinberg
Images by Robert Catto
Theatre review
Guy meets girl, and girl decides to spend all her days helping insecure guy fulfil his dreams. Once is only about a decade old, but already feels like a story from an archaic era. The musical is however not unappealing, with an avalanche of beautiful melodies, and the now famous concept of having its cast double up as musicians for the show’s entirety. It is quite a spectacle, watching eleven performers playing instruments, singing and acting. Entertainment value for Once is predictably high, even with all of its unrelenting cliches.

Directed by Richard Carroll, the production is thoroughly sentimental, to emphasise the romantic nature of the central relationship, although it does seem to diminish the potential for greater humour through the plot. Set design by Hugh O’Connor elegantly transforms the stage into a very believable Irish pub, with Peter Rubie’s lights bringing a dusty melancholia to proceedings. Remarkable work by sound engineer Dylan Robinson translates all the live music into honey for our ears, making the sounds of Once a truly memorable feature.

Lead performers Stephanie Caccamo and Toby Francis are exceptional singers, both deeply impressive with their renditions of these saccharine show tunes; we are left wanting to hear their voices forever. Their acting however is rarely convincing, with chemistry between the two a conspicuous absence. Charisma is compensated by several of its supporting performers, most notably, Victoria Falconer and Drew Livingstone, who create adorable characters that try to bring a sense of effervescence to the stage. On occasions where movement director Amy Campbell has the opportunity to work her magic, everything comes to life, but those moments are few, in this frequently sombre presentation.

Once allows us to celebrate the extraordinary talent of those who live amongst us. There is so much that our artists are capable of, if only they have all the platforms necessary to demonstrate what they do best. When we first meet the protagonist, he had all but given up hope of finding an audience for his wonderful songwriting. This is sadly an all too common truth for so many. Humans are creative by nature, but the way we live today, so often negates those capacities, in favour of conventional systems that require the repression and impediment of our best tendencies. Artists need self-belief, and they need to be supported, especially when the going gets tough, as it invariably does.

www.darlinghursttheatre.com

Review: Small Mouth Sounds (Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

Venue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), May 3 – 26, 2019
Playwright: Bess Wohl
Director: Jo Turner
Cast: Amber McMahon, Sharon Millerchip, Yalin Ozucelik, Jane Phegan, Justin Smith, Dorje Swallow, Jo Turner
Images by Robert Catto

Theatre review
The story takes place at one of those spiritual retreats, where people spend days not talking, trying to access a state of deep meditation. Six characters in Bess Wohl’s Small Mouth Sounds gather at one such facility, each with their own set of problems, seeking prodigious revelations that could mean an instant moment of salvation, to release them from considerable pain. These personal tragedies, with all their human vulnerability and desperation, form the basis of Wohl’s comedy. Cynical but also honest, the play is distinctive for its scant dialogue, relying instead on actors’ physical capacities to chart a journey, through their amusing presentation of sequences that alternate between absurd and meaningful.

The show is often funny, always intriguing with its creative renderings of a unique theatrical concept. A clever cast works exhaustively for our entertainment, offering up personalities that are endearing, familiar and believable. While a cohesive team, each performer delivers their own memorable nuances, for a result that is surprisingly textured. Slightly less effective is Jo Turner’s voice playing the part of the unseen Guru, perhaps a tinge too obvious with his humour. As director, Turner’s enthusiasm is more well placed. There is an effervescence to the production that appeals, even if it does take some time to turn persuasive. Early sections have a tendency to feel forced, but our engagement improves incrementally over time, and when it wins us over, Small Mouth Sounds proves an enjoyable ride.

Jeremy Allen’s set and Jasmine Rizk’s lights make for a visually vibrant staging, but it is Tegan Nicholls’ work as sound designer and composer that truly impresses. In the absence of the usual voices that occupy our auditory attention, Nicholls fills ninety minutes with an intricate mix of sounds from nature, as well as an assortment of music and effects, to help manufacture a rich and magical experience of theatre. Our imagination is guided by her detailed ear, for subconscious manipulations that take us through a gamut of emotional responses.

The seekers in Small Mouth Sounds have big issues to wrestle with, but there is little poignancy to be found in their respective narratives. No great transformations occur as a result of their fleeting commitment in the countryside. It is a realistic conclusion to the tale, one that can feel somewhat empty, although its insistent refusal of a happy ending in the form of outlandish miracles, is admirable. There is great value in keeping silent and looking inward, but to expect enlightenment in an instant, is naive. When we hope to heal, we think about returning to an idealistic state of being, before the infliction of damage. It may be however, that all we can ask for, is to be able to move forward, with the minimum of encumbrance, even whilst bearing a soul full of scars.

www.darlinghursttheatre.com

Review: Russian Transport (Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

Venue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Mar 9 – 31, 2019
Playwright: Erika Sheffer
Director: Joseph Uchitel
Cast: Ryan Carter, Rebecca Rocheford Davies, Nathan Sapsford, Hayley Sullivan, Berynn Schwerdt
Images by Jeremy Ghali, Nino Tamburri

Theatre review
The lives of a Russian family in Brooklyn are turned upside down, when a relative comes to stay. Ex-crim Boris’ arrival leads us to question if turning a new leaf can ever be a simple proposition, for those who have spent all their lives exposed to immorality. Erika Sheffer’s Russian Transport is a slow burn, with drama that starts to engage late in the piece. Its themes are intriguing, but the promise of philosophical resonance is subsumed by a narrative that can feel somewhat hesitant, with perspectives that are inadequately critical. The characters we encounter are fiery, but the play is oddly short of passion.

Designed by Anna Gardiner, the production bears a striking appearance, with a robustness that keeps our eyes active and involved. Joseph Uchitel’s direction ensures an energetic, quite raucous stage, but struggles to achieve meaningful cohesion between his actors for their story to really captivate. Rebecca Rocheford Davies and Berynn Schwerdt play mother and father, both actors imposing and dynamic, but are ultimately insufficiently convincing with their portrayals of two very complex personalities. Troublemaker Boris is on the other hand, a more obvious role, given appropriate vigour by Nathan Sapsford. The show is stolen by Ryan Carter and Hayley Sullivan, who bring life to teenage parts in Russian Transport. Sullivan’s ability to inject nuance into her 14 year-old Mira is commendable, and Carter’s exceptional fastidiousness and intensity as Alex, is responsible for the show’s most powerful moments.

The loss of innocence is eternally fascinating. In migrant families, that process of a teenager having to emerge into adulthood is additionally complicated, with influences and expectations coming from disparate sources, all simultaneously insisting on adherence. Alex and Mira are American kids, but Russia is in their blood. The play allows us to see the extent to which cultural heritage can dominate the development of our young. Even when we have the privilege of choosing where to raise your children, it seems inevitable that the baggage we had intended to leave behind, can so easily return to materially affect future generations. We have ghosts that are both good and bad. The challenge is our own ability to discern, before having them unleashed on our nearest and dearest.

www.fishyproductions.com | www.darlinghursttheatre.com

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

Venue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Feb 1 – 24, 2019
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 for 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: Love (Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

Venue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Nov 17 – Dec 9, 2018
Playwright: Patricia Cornelius
Director: Rachel Chant
Cast: Rose Riley, Anna Samson, Hoa Xuande
Images by Robert Catto

Theatre review
In a polyamorous relationship and loved by two, Annie can sometimes feel like the happiest girl in the world. Often, however, things can get very rough for this nineteen year-old. Both her lovers are addicts, and money from Annie’s sex work seems to go only toward their drug habits. Patricia Cornelius’ Love is a portrait of broken lives failing to find salvation from romantic union. It dispels the myth that love will save the day, revealing instead the way we bring our damage into relationships, more likely to tarnish the other, than to attain a miraculous harmony that we all crave.

We watch as flaws of the three compound, each person bringing increasing misery to the others, with Annie’s suffering especially severe as a result of this toxic merger of lost souls. Magnificent direction by Rachel Chant turns this desolate tale into incredibly compelling theatre; even if the personalities feel far removed from our middle class realities, Chant’s exhilarating rigour from beginning to end, insists on our engagement. Design elements are cleverly imagined, by the wonderfully concordant trio of Ella Butler (set), Nate Edmondson (sound) and Sian James-Holland (lights), for a production rich and sophisticated in its impact.

Actor Rose Riley is sensational as Annie, bold and very powerful in her depiction of premature womanhood. No longer naive but still heartbreakingly innocent, Riley’s ability to convey dignity for a character suffering piteous circumstances, is remarkable. The morally confused Tanya is given palpable complexity by Anna Samson, who convinces us quite astonishingly, of a destructive nature that seems unaware of its own capacity for evil. Lorenzo is a user with no real redeeming features, a simpler role performed with brilliant exuberance, and made thoroughly entertaining, by Hoa Xuande. Timing and chemistry between all performers, whether as a “throuple” or in assorted pairs, are marvellously harnessed for a relentlessly provocative show.

There is no right way to be in love, no matter what religions or other experts might say. We watch Annie, Tanya and Lorenzo go about their painful business, wondering if they had been better off separate, but we arrive at no conclusive answer. As the saying goes, “hurt people hurt people,” and when we think nothing good can come out of dysfunctional partnerships, we have to remember that loneliness is by definition unbearable, and most of us will enter into arrangements against better judgement, for no other reason than that we are human. The mind is rarely a match for the heart, or to coin another cliché “the heart wants what the heart wants”. Romance will make us suffer its consequences, but to deprive oneself of it, is no less tormenting.

www.darlinghursttheatre.com